In my recent post about my love affair with ACTV in the 80s, I somehow included only one video you could view directly. As someone who believes in the storytelling principle “Show, don’t Tell,” that made little sense.
So here’s a few tidbits from productions I mentioned in that prior posting, along with a bit of their back story.
Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, 1981-1987
No one in their right mind would’ve tried to videotape the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in 1981 — the lighting was terrible, and sound was almost impossible to record well for video. But the Dillo allowed me with my camera in precisely because I never disrupted the show with any extra lights or microphones shoved in people’s faces. Of course, this means that some of the video is dark to murky to “not quite there” and the audio quality ranges from sometimes terrific to tolerable to truly terrible. But as Bruce the Bazaar Czar acknowledged more recently, the “historical value” of some of that footage is incomparable.
I went back year after year and shot another show. I often bragged this was ACTV’s slowest moving series, with only one new episode annually. These are just highlight reels from those shows but catch most of the flavor.
Each year, I would shoot, edit and cablecast a half-hour program featuring live music and artists and gifts and behind-the-scenes stories.
That quick turn-around time was unusual for ACTV programs back then, and I had to convince several sequential ACTV program directors that I would indeed deliver the goods in time to fill the scheduled time slot. Never missed a deadline with this series.
Better Than TV Players
What was better than TV in the 80s? Better Than TV Players on ACTV, that’s what!
See, Austin had this great comedy sketch troupe here in the 80s, the Better Than TV Players, and I managed to videotape some of their stuff for ACTV. Here’s a taste from their first anniversary show, held inside Liberty Lunch — lotsa old Austinites probably never even knew there were performances inside the hall!
Mostly we taped some of their live theater performances, but we did tape a handful of skits in the old Cablevision studio one time. Again, that means that portions of the lighting and sound quality weren’t always the best — but every last skit is certainly Better Than TV.
Live music — the Ladyfingers
ACTV emphasized field productions in the 80s, since we had no dedicated access studio. This meant a lot of live music shot in underlit bars with over-driven amps, or unusual outdoor settings — such as a friend’s backyard party.
Here then are (left to right) Rebecca Stone, Emily Kaitz and Marilyn Fowler (neé Cain) — the Ladyfingers.
This program was shot on one of the earliest location multi-cam set-ups that ACTV had. I set up one camera locked down on a safety shot showing all three musicians, and had a good friend running the other camera. I used my VW van as a control booth to run the video mixer.
Of all the musical performances I videotaped for ACTV, this is probably still my favorite.
So Ya Wanna Hit?
For this original video comedy, I took 3 ideas from my dear, dead friend Duane, expanded them into short scenes and wrapped a framing story around them. Let’s be clear, though — Duane came up with a lot more ideas for lame TV show titles — I just went for these three for the sake of brevity.
This one remains a personal favorite as well, between Duane’s quirky concepts and the able execution by an outstanding cast of volunteer players.
Back when I first start uploading my ACTV programs onto YouTube, they had a 10-minute limit on the length of each clip, so I had to split this one into three parts, so be sure to watch all 3 if you want the full impact.
YouTube has opened the internet even more than public access ever opened the cable systems. Still, Austin’ public access scene supplied something more, something intangible.
With the forced physical nexus of the ACTV headquarters (shoehorned into the back half of the Dougherty Arts Center as it was) and the limited number of access channels, that filtering produced a fine creative blend for access programming through the 80s.
Then, the “Cable War of ’87” forced the cable company and the city to finally build the long-promised dedicated access center with studio space, providing fertile ground for the Austin access producers of the early 90s’ era such as Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Scott Spurlock, comic Bill Hicks and even the incendiary Alex Jones.
All of these folks crossed paths at the crossroads that marked ACTV. A current Kickstarter campaign seeks to recapture and preserve parts of those stories for a documentary to be called When We Were Live.
You know how crowdfunding works, folks — this documentary will only get funded and made if he raises his goal. Today is his fundraising deadline, so kick in a bit on the campaign and let’s do what we can to share some nearly forgotten memories.