Public access director aims to air more original programs
For the longest time, Zebulon Schmidt thought that video production and film editing would be something fun to dabble at while he figured out what to do with his life.
It seems, however, that his avocation has become his vocation. The 27-year-old Schenectady High and Schenectady County Community College graduate is the programming director and operations manager for Open Stage Media, the local public access station for Schenectady County and Time Warner Cable.
Schmidt oversees three different stations that make up Schenectady’s cable access network: OSM Public Access, OSM Arts and Education and OSM Government. Found on the second floor at Proctors, the entity was known as SACC-TV (Schenectady Access Cable Council), and the station was originally on Broadway around the corner from Proctors until 2009. Schmidt has been with the station since 2005.
He accepts amateur videos and shows from just about everybody as long as there is a tie to Schenectady County. Among the original programming produced by Open Stage Media is “Masterminds,” a game show featuring teams of students from various high schools in the Capital Region. Sean Fagan serves as that show’s host.
Other programs produced in the OSM Studios include “The Schenectady Today Show with Ann Parillo,” “Santabarbara Now,” “The Carla Page Show” and “Impact” with Nick Barber.
Dominating much of Schmidt’s time these days is a move that will take both Open Stage Media’s offices and studios from the second floor at Proctors to a nearby location right on State Street adjacent to the Proctors’ entrance. Schmidt and his assistant Tim Vaus expect the move to be complete later this month.
Q: How did you decide on this job as a career?
A: I was always focused on the entertainment industry, and that’s why I went into the theater realm at SCCC. That was the closest thing they had, but even after school I was aimless for a while. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in. I worked briefly at odd jobs in Philadelphia and Boston, and then I came back here and finally landed a job at SACC-TV. I had already been into video editing for a while. I had bought myself an editing machine a while ago and started using it to make videos for people. Then I thought, “Well, it’s a shot in the dark, but I might as well get a job that I love in this business.” So I feel very fortunate to have got my job at SACC-TV.
Q: What is it you do at Open Stage Media?
A: I wear a lot of different hats in this job. I do the programming schedule, I direct productions that we do here, I update our website, and I facilitate the programming for our education channel, our government channel and our public access channel.
Q: How does someone get a show on public access?
A: If someone is interested in doing a show and using our facilities, we set up an appointment with them, they come into the studio and typically I train them on our equipment. I will do the show myself for them, but the best-case scenario is they come in and learn how to do it themselves.
That’s what I encourage, but I realize that if you haven’t done much of this, walking into a TV studio can be a little bit intimidating. But we can get everything set up for them, and we try to make things as simple as possible. If they don’t want to worry about that then Tim or I will direct the show. For shows that are produced outside the studios, say at someone’s home or some other place, they can just drop off the video and we will put it on our schedule.
Q: Are there guidelines or standards that must be met to get something aired?
A: On public access, we show anything the public wants to drop off for us, but yes, there are some guidelines, and the guidelines are on our website. They have to meet decency standards, and I’m happy to say I haven’t gotten anything that’s objectionable in quite a long time. We can’t do anything too commercial that we don’t have the rights for, and by now people are aware of most of those rules. We do ask the producer of whatever show we get to put his or her name at the end of the show, and they must have a title. It can be any length, from 15 minutes to two hours.
Q: What are your goals for the near future?
A: We want to create more original programming, and we want to improve the professional value of our average show here. We’re OK with people shooting things and just dropping it off to us, but we’d like to see our viewer-created content also improve on the production end when people come to us with an idea. Without burdening the producer of the show, my job is to make things as simple and professional as possible.
Q: When SACC-TV became Open Stage Media and moved to Proctors, there were some people who were upset with the move. How did you handle that?
A: I decided to just stay out of it. My job was to not get too occupied with what was happening and just make sure that we could make the move without our station going down. We bought a new server, and we had to restructure everything at our new location, so it was quite a challenge. Initially I thought we might be down for weeks, but we ended up being down for only six hours. I wasn’t paying attention to all the other stuff that was going on.