Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 26, 2010
Lots of people saw the PBS premiere of Wyatt Earp last night. I know because I have been getting comments, emails and blog postings about it all day. Most have been positive.

I really didn't like my performance. I looked pained and not unlike a grizzled old man recovering from a heart attack. Plus, I flubbed a line about Virgil Earp walking out of the "Oriental Hotel." I was thinking about Virgil walking back to his hotel from the Oriental Saloon and it got crosswired in my brain. I don't even remember saying it, but there it is for all time, on YouTube and network TV. It's a bit of a hot seat situation doing these gigs. Here's a peek behind the curtain of working on these type of documentaries:

Last May I accompanied the writer and director Rob Rapley on a tour of Cochise County. We met in Tucson, where I taped my talking head segment in a small recording studio on east Speedway. Paul Hutton had been there in the morning taping his part and another talking head was leaving as I came in. It was a wet, rainy day and the recording studio space we used to tape in was very tight (it was not a TV studio, but a sound recording studio in a small strip mall set back from the road). I literally had to snake myself around a ton of cords to get behind the desk and into position. All sorts of baffles and reflectors took up the space around the camera. It was like looking down a narrow, blanket wrapped tunnel, into the lens of the camera. With strong lighting from multiple directions in your face it's what I would expect a police interrogation to be like.

The director, Rob Rapley had two or three pages of questions and they always start by asking you to state your name, spell it, and give the credit you want under your name when you first appear on the show. I said, "I'm Bob Boze Bell, executive editor, True West magazine." This is so the editor, back in New York or Washington, doesn't say, "Who is this yahoo and how do we spell his name?"

About a month ago I got a phone call from Rapley lobbying me to use the credit "Writer" instead of executive editor, True West magazine. I wasn't thrilled about this because it's a chance to promote the magazine to a national audience, but Rob kept saying this was their policy and I suppose it does make the show less commercial looking (it is PBS). However, in the future I will demand, up front, that the credit goes in, or I don't do the show.

Then come the questions. It is tricky, because you have to start your answers so that it almost rephrases the question, like this: "Do you think Wyatt Earp had weak bowels?" The temptation is to say, "No, I think Wyatt Earp often let loose like a goose in a silo," but that will not edit into the piece. You pause, so the question doesn't end up overlapping your answer, then: "Wyatt Earp had the intestinal fortitude to eat beans almost every night of the week and still ride a horse."

See? It stands alone and can be used anywhere.

The second hardest thing to do for me is to remember dates, "The Earps came to Tombstone in late 1879. . ." (I don't remember the date so I fudged using "late") and names, especially a series of names: "Wyatt, along with Doc Holliday, Sherm McMasters, Warren Earp and Turkey Creek Johnson came in the back door of the Cosmopolitan and ran into Sheriff Johnny Behan. . ."

Whew! That's a mouthful and I usually avoid it. I noticed no one else attempted it either. Ha.

Now keep in mind that the other talking heads are getting most of the same questions, so you sit and keep score about who got the better answer, because that's who they used in the show. I did okay, but Hutton, Tefertiller and Gary Roberts probably won the face-time war.

The interview lasts for about two hours, then the director says, "That's all the questions I have, do you have anything to add that I didn't ask?" I usually answer: "On behalf of the band, I hope we passed the audition."

The next day we took off in a rainstorm for Cochise County. Do you recognize any of these scenes from the show?

"Those who know how to win are more numerous than those who
 know how to make proper use of their victories."
—Old Vaquero Saying

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