Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Making of Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies

Part 1

For a time we shall digress from the issues surrounding Dr. Perk and the hunt and lay a more thorough ground work by discussing another important project of the mid to late 1990s.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was in the process of developing a video on the elk herd when I made my first trip to the elk range in late February of 1995. It is unclear at what stage the project was in at this point.

My goal was to produce wildlife documentaries at some level, even if only for my enjoyment, but I did hope to achieve some level of public distribution. With that in mind I purchased a Panasonic AG-455Mup S/VHS camcorder, two Panasonic AG-970P editing VCRs and an edit controller. This was the industry standard for entry-level professional equipment.
Panasonic AG-455MUP
Computers were just starting to break into the video editing field,but they were not yet a truly viable option, at least at the prosumer level. (Prosumer is a term used in the video industry which denotes an item that is more advanced and costly than that which the casual user possesses, but it is not so expensive that only large businesses can afford it). Wedding and event recordings are usually produced with this type of equipment, and it also used in independent documentary production.

If I remember correctly the PGC did acquire computerized editing equipment while the elk video was being completed, but it was not pressed into service in time for this project. Although based on the same technology their editing system was somewhat more advanced than what I was using.

One assembled the tape, using what natural sound that was desired as the scenes were assembled. They had the option of recording additional sound on a single track at a later date. When one started this process they had to read the narration and have any additional effects one wanted to add ready to play at the appropriate moment. It is an understatement to say that this was a difficult undertaking. The computer would shortly make this task much easier or at least much easier to plan and control.

Generation loss was the big enemy of quality with analog video. At a minimum one had to transfer the scenes they wished to utilize to a master tape, and then transfer the master to a VHS cassette for distribution, which meant that the final product was third generation and each generation resulted in quality loss . If one wanted to add the narration and music in stereo, another generation was used which resulted in additional loss. The end result was usually as good or somewhat better than the original recording from a consumer VHS camcorder.

When I returned from my September trip in 1995, I edited my first elk tape. It was quite primitive, but most were not used to seeing anything like it produced in a home studio.

My immediate law enforcement supervisor at the time was District Wildlife Conservation Officer, Mark Crowder. He was amazed at the video and took it along to a meeting at The Southcentral Regional Office in Huntingdon where the Regional Law Enforcement Supervisor, Ron Clouser, and the Superintendent of The Ross Leffler School of Conservation, Bill Hutson saw it and were impressed also. Mr. Clouser contacted me by telephone and indicated that while the PGC was in the process of making a lengthy video that it could be several years until it was completed. He and Mr. Hutson felt that a short video such as mine would be an excellent item to show to sportsmen’s clubs, civic organizations, in the meantime.

I submitted a copy with a signed release authorizing them to use the video for those purposes, but heard nothing more. Within the next year, the video production department of The PGC released a short video of twenty minutes or less to fulfill this need. I had to admit that it was superior to mine in every aspect.

No matter the quality of the work: however, there seems to be an ingrained attitude among some in the agency that, information and education people were hired to do this type of work and it was not appropriate for untrained maintenance workers and deputy conservation officers to develop and produce such programs for agency use.

There were a few notable exceptions, one being that all agency employees who were also photographers were invited to submit photographs for consideration for inclusion in the Game Commission calendar.

Another exception was that of my immediate Maintenance Supervisor, Billie Cromwell. Billie is nine years older than I, but we both began photographing wildlife about the same time frame, (early to mid-1970s) and continue to photograph together at times to this day.

Billie Cromwell with film SLR and 35-350 lens: 1999
He purchased what was a superb prosumer camcorder for the time, the Canon L2.This was an interchangeable lens Hi-8 camcorder,which we will discuss in detail in the near future.

Canon L2 Camcorder
Billie worked out an agreement with the agency videographer, Harold (Hal) Korber and shot a large amount of the footage which was used, especially of the part about the rut, but this was to end in a great deal of controversy not the least of which was that someone high in the ranks of upper management did not want his name ( Billie's) mentioned anywhere on the video. When it was released it was included in the credits at the very end, and he did get to attend a banquet or so where he received a degree of public recognition for his contribution.

To be continued:


Anonymous said...

This post brought back a lot of memories.

I got the idea to make videos showing people how to do specific kinds of writing from the very old medieval styles to more modern styles. We were in a mail order business then and supplied everything from parchment to vellum and pens and so on. So I went looking for a "portable" camera and the only thing then available came in three units. The camera itself was an RCA and was huge and looked like those first cameras used at stations. The battery unit weighed about 10-12 pounds and came in two pieces or two separate units. And the actual VHS tape player/recorder weighed another twn pounds without the tape. And then I had to find a small television set in color to use as a monitor and that weighed a ton too. The tripod was huge and heavy. I used it all in my studio and made a lot of VHS tapes on handwriting and calligraphy and so on and those were seen and led to me doing a 13-week television series for PBS and Parker Pen Ltd.

Believe it or not, I set the stage up to record something and was alone. SO i sed a long bamboo pole with a rubber eraser taped on the end to touch the on switch on the camera and had it set to "fade-in" to the scene so any movement was not seen. It worked.

So this post of yours brought back a lot of those memories and the only thing I need to add is that the whole thing cost more than $5,000 grand--money we didn't really have but I took the chance and learned how to do all the stuff and it paid off in the end.

Kerri said...

Wow Willard....it sounds like there was a lot of "office politics" involved in the PGC Certain people not wanting others to get credit etc.... just seems so cold. But still....you tell a great story....and I can't wait for the next installment :)

Willard said...

Interesting comment. I'm glad you posted it. When I bought my first VCR it showed an optional video camera in the manual which was not as large as you are talking about, but it had to record to an external recording unit.

I know two persons (one since deceased) that used an outfit like you are talking about to videotape weddings.

This is just an educated guess, but I probably bought my first video camera within five years or less of the time they combined the camera unit and recorder into one package which was then dubbed the camcorder. I still usually shorten the name and still call they cameras, but the correct term now is camcorder.

It is still common to shoot live events with multiple cameras which feed into a mixer and then the mixer sends the signal to a separate VCR or hard disk recording unit.

lv2scpbk said...

Lights, Camera, Action!

Tina Leigh said...

So let me sum this up..... the whole thing is about cotton pickin politics!!!!