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Not Just Amateurs At Channel 10

At Channel 10 any show, regardless of quality, can get on the air.

But of all the show ideas that come through the front door of Fairfax County's cable access station, very few will ever be produced.

"What do they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions," said Paul Wilmot, a production assistant with the station. "A lot of people start out with a great burst of enthusiasm, then burn out. It’s not because the policies are bureaucratic. It just takes a lot of work."

Most of the shows on channel 10 are created by volunteers. An aspiring producer must first take a series of classes, and must volunteer as a crew member on several shows, before he or she is given a chance to produce. Wilmot has volunteered on six shows during his four months with the station, doing camera work and lighting. A former student of George Mason University, Wilmot came to the station intending to produce a show profiling local nonprofit groups.

After some volunteer work with the station, though, Wilmot was offered a full-time job as a production assistant. The job put his nonprofit show on hold. He had hoped to unveil the show this summer, but now he is shooting for this coming fall.

"This place kind of sucks you in," Wilmot said. "It’s a lot of fun, but there are a lot of things to do."

Hugh Staples, a part-time actor from Alexandria, produces "Backstage Pass," a monthly show featuring local performing artists. Staples and his seven-member crew use several cameras to film the show, and he said it takes around nine hours to edit each half-hour episode.

"I’m putting my heart and soul into it," Staples said. "And the people I work with do also. I don’t settle, and people know me. They know I won’t just say, ‘It’s good enough, let’s put it on TV.’"

THE SHOW IS SHOT live in the field, at several different venues in the area. Recently he has been filming several music shows at Alexandria’s Zig’s Restaurant. But he has also filmed shows on dance and the visual arts. He has produced a series of shows on plays performed by local theater companies. He is also planning shows on spoken word performers, on a documentary photographer and on local filmmakers.

"Even if the subject is just a person on a stage, we’ll shoot up at him, down at him, we’ll have crowd shots," Staples said. "The physiology of the eye is that it needs to be stimulated, or the person will get bored, and want to look at something else."

Wilmot said some people come to the station in order to launch a career in television. Others have a specific interest, and simply want to provide information to the public.

"On group did an hour-long special on Alzheimer's. They talked to family members and health workers. They had no interest in TV, though. They just wanted to get the word out."

Staples currently has a full-time job in the human relations department of Fairfax County Public Schools, but he would eventually like to be a filmmaker. He is using his show as both a launching pad to a career in show business and as a way to get his message out. He came up with the idea for the show after talking to some of his friends in the performing arts. According to Staples, many film and television productions in the area use actors from New York or Los Angeles.

"I was just hearing other people saying they didn’t feel the Washington performing arts community has been given serious attention," Staples said. "I wanted to create a venue where local performing artists could work on their craft and get experience. And a guy who is playing at local clubs is going to get more exposure if he is on TV."

FOR HIS NEXT FILM Chantilly’s Bert Morgan envisions a super close-up shot of a Civil War private. Dirt and blood is smeared across the soldier’s face. His rifle is shaking as he scans some nearby bushes for enemy soldiers. It is raining hard, as it did throughout the Battle of Chantilly.

"It’s raining on him, but it’s just a garden hose," Morgan said. "And the blood is made with Karo Syrup and red food coloring."

Morgan, who works in security at Fair Oaks Mall, came to Channel 10 with experience in television and video. In the late 1960s he worked at a San Diego station and he currently works part-time videotaping local weddings and producing instructional videos.

His productions of Civil War re-enactments air sporadically on Channel 10, but the Civil War has not been a lifelong passion for Morgan.

"My worst subject in school was American History," Morgan said. "I got a ‘D.’ I just barely passed."

A friend of Morgan’s, from Fair Oaks Mall, is a re-enactor. He told Morgan about a re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, so Morgan decided to come and take a look. He brought his camera, shot some video, and made a short 20-minute film.

The shoot went so well that Morgan decided to make a longer, more professional version. He organized 1800 to 2000 re-enactors, and several cameras. That version has run on channel 10, and copies are also available for purchase on Morgan’s Web site, www.blmproductions.com.

Morgan has taped several other short re-enactments for Channel 10, and may put together a program on Civil War surgery.

"They were still using leeches back then," Morgan said. "I’ll compare it with the surgery of today."

He has taped a full-length version of the First Battle of Manassas, which is currently in post production. He will send the tape, when it is finished, out to 250 PBS stations across the United States. He also hopes to air the film in Europe.

"Hopefully it will make me a known producer and writer," Morgan said. "Then anything I do will have more weight. I will get money, instead of having to rob Peter to pay Paul."

It cost less than $1,000 to tape the battle of First Manassas when it should have cost $1.5 million. The shoot included three locations and 150 actors. By using Civil War re-enactors, who worked for free, Morgan was able to cut costs. He said re-enactors know their roles so well, and are so committed, that they need very little direction.

"They go out for the weekend, and they do all the same things Civil War soldiers would have done," Morgan said. "They eat the same things, they use the same tents, everything. Even when they smoke they use real rolled cigarettes and cigars."

One room of Morgan’s home is filled with video editing equipment. He has a Casablanca non-linear editor, a DV player that plays different sized tapes, an audio mixer, three video tape decks and a high-powered Macintosh G4 computer.

"Four years ago I probably couldn’t type." Morgan said. "Now I do all of this on the computer."

In editing the Battle of First Manassas, he may take two hours to put together what will be, ultimately, 20 seconds of footage. If he wants the film to be aired on PBS, he said, it must be perfect. He said he enjoys the meticulous, painstaking work.

"I like it." Morgan said. "I can sit here for hours and hours without getting bored. I could do it for 20 hours a day if I didn’t have to sleep."