November 17, 1998
Photo Credit: Michael Belk
by R. Bruce Brasell
If you have cable and ever watch channel 6, you may have noticed there is actually one art show on the channel among all the imitation talk and sports shows and religious services. That show is "Art Is..." produced by Melinda Klotz. Melinda is a one-woman production team, shooting, editing, and narrating "Art Is..." completely by herself. The only role she does not play is that of the guest. That role is reserved for the various regional artists that she encounters along her exploration of the southern art scene.
"I've known since I was very young," Melinda told me, "that I wanted to go into TV because I saw how much power television had with people my own age. And that there was nothing else I could do that would bring about positive change that would be as forceful. I believe that we all have a mission in life and should leave the world a better place than when we arrived. And I knew for me that would be through TV."
Melinda not only knew early in life that she wanted to work in television, but she also began preparing early too. She attended the local magnet high school for fine arts in order to learn television production. "It was a great experience because when I started out as a sophomore at high school I was in a professional television studio with millions of dollars of equipment. It's a great studio and we had good teachers and good equipment. I was exposed at an early age to a lot of technical things. I'm more the creative type, concerned with visuals and pretty shots. But I knew I would have to learn the technical part in order to be able to do the business." During high school and college Melinda also worked on a couple of films to obtain some professional work experience to go with her classroom training.
While still in high school Melinda began her own business, Wind River Video Production, Inc. "I would video tape weddings, graduations, and birthday parties." She used her business earnings to began building her now state of the art production studio from which she produces her weekly television show "Art Is..." Her first studio was composed of crude VHS editing decks with no audio control capabilities. In time she progressed to S-VHS editing decks with audio controls. And then two years ago she invested in DVC PRO, a new digital format that recently came on the market. "It is incredible. The color is so vibrant and the images are very crisp." Unfortunately, according to Melinda, the TV stations are still transmitting from the three-quarter Beta analog format. "If my show could air on digital," she mentioned in passing, "you would be amazed at the difference in quality. I'm already there, it's just the stations are not."
Melinda said she got the idea for doing a TV show on artists during a trip with friends a few years back to see the Saint Petersburg exhibition in Jackson, Mississippi. "On the way home I got talking about how A&E is the arts and entertainment network but there is no art. They do a lot of biographies about famous people but no down-to-earth hometown artist who you can relate to. I started doing some research and found that there was not a single TV show in the country on artists. There is nothing that caters to educating people about art."
According to Melinda the inclusion of the dots in the show's title, "Art is...," is very significant. It reflects her whole philosophy toward art in the show. "I want people to be able to add on what ever they think art is. I don't want any limitations with my show. I have so many definitions of art. Each time I meet a new artist my definition changes." Because she approaches art as "anything that is creative," she includes such activities as cooking, landscape design, interior decorating, and pottery as well as the more traditional fine arts such as music, painting, sculpture, and the theater.
Because she has a broad definition of art, not all of the people Melinda highlights on her show are full-time artists. Some of the artists financially support themselves through other careers and use art as a means of self-expression. Melinda hopes her show "helps people to reflect on their given talents and provide them with an opportunity to find a piece of themselves that's just them. Everybody's life is stressful. And to cope with it you need something fun that you can do on a daily basis for an hour that is a stress reliever. And to me art is a great stress release. It is fun and when you are having fun you are releasing stress. I want people to see ordinary people doing things and think well maybe I could do that too."
Melinda told me that when she started "Art Is..." she had no idea how to produce a TV show. "I had no clue." Although she had studied broadcast journalism at Ole Miss and learned how to do a newscast, she had never been taught how to put together a TV show. "I figured the best way to learn is by doing it." So she taught herself everything. She informed me that each week she can see an improvement in the quality of the show as her range of technical capabilities expand, especially as she learns more about her new digital editing equipment. "There is so much that I can do with this piece of equipment that I don't know how to do yet. In a year my show will look a 100% better than it does now."
When I asked Melinda how she went about putting together a show she told me the first thing she does is look for artists to feature. "I get referrals from museums, gift shops, galleries." She said the response from artists when she contacts them about being on the show has been incredible. "They are so excited because there is very little going on right now to help promote local artists."
Once an artists agrees to be on the show, she then interviews them. "I shoot everything myself. I do the lighting. I do the audio. I ask the questions. Everything. That's why when you watch my TV show I'm not on camera. I can't afford to hire someone because I'm using the money from my sponsors to pay for the air time. I wish I could hire a crew. But in a way I'm glad I can't because I have learned how to do everything."
Once the taping of the interview is completed, Melinda then brings the shot footage back to her studio and transcribes it onto paper to assist her in determining how to organize the material into an actual show through editing. "I edit it on my Media 100 which is my new baby toy. I love it. It's a non-linear editing system and it enables me to compete with the major networks." With film one physically cuts the film and slices it back together to edit it. Since video cannot be physically cut, one must copy the raw video footage linearly to make an edited tape. To make a change on the edited tape, every shot following the change must be recopied from the video footage. Non-linear video editing eliminates this time consuming hassle. The video footage is transferred into computer format for editing, thereby allowing non-linear editing. Once the computer version of the raw footage has been edited, then the computer uses it to compile the raw video footage into a final version on tape.
Although the original taped interview is composed of Melinda asking questioning and the artist responding, her editing turns the material into a seamless flow of the artist talking to the viewing audience. "I tie it all together so it seems like just one long stream of talk." She uses shots of the artist working or of their art work to cover over the breaks "so it flows from beginning to end" and "it never dawns on you that there are breaks in between it." After she has edited the footage into a completed show with her Media 100 computer software she then masters it to the DVC digital format.
As a result of putting together the show, Melinda said she has "made so many wonderful friendships and gotten to know so many great people." And she hopes the style of the show contributes to the viewer also getting to know these people. Most shows she said have "two people talking to each other, turned away from the camera. I always feel like when I'm watching these types of shows I'm on the outside looking in. I would much rather feel like somebody is talking to me because it makes me feel like I am getting to know them." In other words, she prefers a direct address narrative style. She does not want to show herself interviewing the artist because "I don't want the focus to be on me. I want it to be on the artist." She reminded me that you only see her at the beginning and ending of the show. She acts as a guide leading the viewer to the artist and then tying the over all show together. As she put it, "The entertainment is not me. It's the artist."
"Art Is..." airs on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast cable channel 6 in Mobile county and TCI cable channel 98 in Baldwin county, and on Sundays at 1:30 p.m. on WFGX television in the Florida panhandle. In addition the show recently began to air on Fridays at 6 p.m. on Galaxy cable channel 12 in the Oxford, Mississippi area. Melinda Klotz can be reached at (334) 476-9773 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melinda only includes commercials in her show in order to pay for the air time at Comcast which only offers the citizens of Mobile a lease access channel. Too bad the cable company in Mobile does not also provided a public access channel because Melinda's show serves as an excellent example of the type of quality local programming that could run on such a community-based, commercial-free channel.