Monday, December 7, 2009

No Starburst Were Harmed in the Making of this Documentary (well, not that many...)

On Tuesday evening, VPR will air "States of Marriage," a documentary examining how several states have approached legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples. VPR's Patti Daniels shared her experience producing this project:

Most mornings last week I came in to work thinking, ‘this might be the final day of production and we’re done!’ But today it’s official – VPR’s documentary on same-sex marriage airs tomorrow evening and we’re ready to go. Our crack production engineer Chris Albertine and I will finalize a few details this afternoon, but right now I have a few minutes to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the final stage of producing a radio documentary.

We’ve logged many hours over the past few weeks in an editing suite working to finalize the elements of this broadcast. This is the detail work, tinkering around the edges. We stare at a computer screen with row upon row of audio files as Chris engineers the sound to make it just right.

The bigger part of the challenge has already been overcome by now. We started in the spring with one big question: how to tell the story of so many different states finding their own approach to the question of same-sex marriage? Our initial research generated a multitude of possible directions. Over the summer Jane Lindholm and I recorded at least 20 interviews, some of them lasting hours, with key political and advocacy leaders in five states. In addition to that, we combed through hours of archival sound to document the events that unfolded in Vermont and elsewhere. All of those dozens of hours of tape needed to be transcribed, prioritized, and developed into a cohesive, compelling story... all in just 51 minutes. Throughout the project, we wrestled with journalistic questions of balance, interpretation, and historical record.

And now, Chris and I are down to the nitty gritty: fueled by coffee and Starburst candies, we fixate on mere seconds of audio: should the music fade in more gently here? Where can we shave off seconds to meet the time limit? Do we have another take of that voice track? Can we get more cowbell? (Just kidding about the cowbell...)

You can learn more about States of Marriage at I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

-- Patti Daniels, producer, “States of Marriage: The Debate Over Gay Rights”

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