Doing the “AVL Commitment: was real fun. It was the project, the people, and the place.
The Place: AVL was located in an old schoolhouse in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.
Atlantic Highlands is in Monmouth County, and Monmouth County is the first place along the New Jersey coastline that can actually be called “the shore.” The Ocean starts at Sandy Hook, at the tip of Monmouth County, and continues on down for the rest of the state.
To the left of Sandy Hook, on an east-west path, is Route 36, and along that you will find Atlantic Highlands, Leonardo, and Highlands. They are located on Sandy Hook Bay, and New York City is visible from them. The most picaresque is Atlantic Highlands, with a large Marina, a restaurant filled small town, and a hourly ferry service to NYC.
I fell in love with Atlantic Highlands. I flew into Newark, rented a car and drove to the Garden Styate Parkway’s exit 117, crossing the massive bridge over the Raritan River. It was summer. It smelled like summer, and, as a New Jersey boy, this felt like summer– hot, sweaty, and begging for air conditioning (well, I was born in New York City. An outdoorsman I’m not.)
I knew the place had to be part of the story. My script called for pictures of the flags that herald Atlantic Highlands along the median on Route 36, the Marina, the Casino Restaurant, and of course, the AVL “HQ” itself.
The People: The first trip involved getting tours of HQ, the Manufacturing site on Atlantic Highlands Central Avenue, and interviewing various personnel about what they did and what made AVL different. Everyone in the multi-image game knew some of these characters from trade show booths or dealer meetings and despite the humble surroundings, they had a sort of rock star status.
Although we had three photographers on staff, Ric chose to make the next trip with me. He photographed the town, the flags, the bay, and finally, his crowning achievement and multi-step zoom into AVL HQ and the giant logo that could be seen through the window. To accomplish that, he climbed a tree, steadied himself between two limps, and operated the camera like a human servo-controlled zoom.
The only person I couldn’t interview was the co-founder and owner of AVL, Chuck Kappenman. He was ensconced in a hotel in Palo Alto with wife Maureen (more than wife, co-conspirator, sounding board, voice of reason, and cheerleader, and a major presence at AVL trade show booths). She was pregnant with a boy on the way. They were there for the public offering of the AVL spin-off, Eagle Computers. They were waiting for their house to be finished.
Nicer people I have never met. Maureen was glad to see someone from “Jersey” (by way of Milwaukee) and we discovered we had similar roots, spending our early years in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge in the Washington Heights and Inwood.
They put me up for the night, on a pull out couch. The next day I drove with Chuck to Eagle Computers and interviewed him there.
It was there I decided I would compress all the interview quotes into perfect quotes I would write for the script. This way I would be able to intermingle narrative and documentary styles and keep the script short (I was known for writing long.)
We did a cursory interview and then went out for lunch where I really got to hear the unofficial chuck, and get insight into his thinking, which he freely shared. It was an enlightening experience, one brightened by laughs and tempered with tears. It was deep.
Corporate buyers– want to know the secret to getting the best work from your suppliers at absolutely bargain rates? Be youself, treat your suppliers like humans, and let them do their thing. Chuck did all three.
I was determined this would be the greatest thing we ever did.
The Project: Ric and I were determined to make this the best thing we had ever done together, and now we had an excellent staff to back us up. We also had gear… a Dichomed Computer Graphics system that could create cutting edge graphic animations, a large motorized Marron Carrol animation stand, two audio studios, the AVL Eagle II, and an Apple II computer with CPM card and Wordstar word processing software.
Yes, an Apple II. They were cheap, capable, and in some ways, portable. And Wordstar wasthe software I had learned word processing on, on our first microcomputer, the not-very micro called an “Archive Computer.” Control QW, anyone?”
I worked in my office late, smoking cigars and typing madly. Although we had secretaries to whom we had dictated scripts and correspondance, it seemed important to me for this to be hands on. Somehow, it kept it lean. I don’t like typing. I didn’t “patchwork” this script– I wrote it one draft, beginning to end, in one session. The night started slow, but as I got the first words on paper– the most important words, the words that set forth the goals, meaning, the whole point of the show– things began to speed up.
“Can you imagine (pause) Multi-Image (pause) without AVL?”
As I wrote those words, I heard a voice. And despite the voiceover trends of the day, it wasn’t a deep-voiced male.
It was a woman. An east coast woman. Allyson Steele.
Allyson Steele was a New York City FM Legend, a disc jockey, or host, of New York’s progressive WNEW-FM all-night show, where she held forth as “The Nightbird”. She had a smoky, distinctive voice, elegant and measured.
As I wrote, I wrote in her voice, and that did the job.
For the interviews, I wrote brief snippets based on the voices of the people who would be featured.
I spec’d in natural sound to run under scenes to add to a slightly documentary feel.
And, knowing what Ric’s graphics team was capable of, I simply called out the “Bumper” words (sectional breaks) to turn into animations.
What do you put in the visual column? Well, what the audience will see, of course. Sometimes it’s very specific, LS, MS, CU, Cutaway), sometimes it’s just a general description, leaving room for ideas and interpretation of the eyes on the scene.
And of course, ID’s, supers, graphic specifics, and fades to black or places of transition.
I delivered the script to Ric, before passing it on to the client. He loved it. Then he said, “It’s lacking some Brien Lee”.
NEXT: “Trading Places”: Part Three and Final.