BEWARE OF THE BLOG
Lots of news to report. But one thing isn't new: Much has happened and I haven't been able to find the time to document it all.
I spent some time building the PR section of the Web site. Click on the Newsboy icon to read newspaper articles, hear radio reports, and see some other neat stuff about BOTM.
Jeff Schneider has been helping me keep track of the stations that have signed up to carry BOTM. It's hard to stay on top of them all. Many just run the program and don't tell us about it, which is pretty much okay with us, but we would like to know if a station runs the show, and get a measure of the response. We can tell sometimes by the number of video orders that come in. That's not a very good measure, though, since some PBS stations cut off the billboard with the order information. If you see BOTM on a station we haven't listed (or that we have listed, for that matter), please drop a note to email@example.com. The most up to date list of affiliated stations is on the right hand side of the BOTM home page.
So, heck. The kids are getting good grades. I continue to enjoy life with Kathy, who has been my wife since 1976. The important stuff like that continues to click along, and I am blessed with the opportunity to truly enjoy more trivial things, like work.
The largest event in the past few weeks was, without doubt, my trip to my home town of Milford, Nebraska. The Milford Fine Arts Boosters hosted a special fundraising screening about a week before BOTM was on Nebraska's PBS affiliate. I would be a fool and a liar if I were to say anything other than that this was an ego trip, big time.
I should start from the beginning, which was Wednesday, November 3rd
My mother in law, Gwen, and I went out for dinner at WheatSomething (can't remember the name of the restaurant, it was nearby just off Pacific Street in Omaha). I liked it a lot and had a really interesting "Iowa crepe" with ham and cheese. She had a dinner salad which she was going to split with me, but I'm happy to say that she ended up eating almost all of it, including the bits of chicken and the bacon-type-eating-substance. We got to bed early because I had to be in Milford around 8:15AM Thursday. Brother Don said it would be crowded on I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, but I think maybe most of the crowd is going into Omaha at that time of the morning. At least that's the way it seemed, because I got to Lincoln just as the sun was rising, well ahead of schedule.
The old jr/sr high school looked about the same when I entered it, except there was this huge new section on the north, including the cool new auditorium and a new elementary school. (New to me, that is.) I talked to three 8th grade social studies classes starting at about 8:30 on Thursday. There were about 17-20 in each class. That might have been the best part of the trip for me. They were all pretty attentive and interested. We talked about Manifest Destiny and I showed the segments about the Blackhawk War and the St. John Mine. And I got a few questions along the lines of "What was it like when you went to school here?" I had fun with that, telling them some of the boys would be in trouble for long hair (which wasn't long, for the most part, as it happens), and almost all of the girls would be in trouble for not wearing dresses, and there were no beards allowed (this really shocked the 8th graders), and how we didn't have air conditioning in the school so when it was hot we all piled into the lunchroom, which had a few window units (MAJOR SHOCK AND AWE!). Mucho fun. After that, I saw my old English teacher, Joyce Caleca, who is about to retire, and told her how much I appreciated what she did. We had a few good laughs. She said we were without doubt her favorite class of all time, because we knew how to think. That was neat. Then I drove to the county seat of Seward and toured around the old countryside, then stopped by and saw Don for a while.
House Of Davisson in Seward.
The most interesting furniture & appliance store in the world.
So then I had supper with Don and his wife Donna and daughter Jo, who was staying with Don starting that night. She's on semi-bedrest, with a baby due in early December. She lives in Red Oak, IA, where she works as a mechanical engineer. She is on maternity leave now. The father is a friend of hers that she doesn't want to marry. Buncha buckskinners, I tell ya. And my family. Sometimes I wonder how Kathy puts up with being related to children with such weird genes. Anyway, I had a good time at dinner ... er, sorry, supper with them. After that, I drove to Milford for the setup, and we had maybe 80 people show up. And 80 is an operative number, come to think of it, since many of my friends' parents came, and they were about my age when I was in high school and got in all that trouble over the Present Toon underground newspaper I edited when I was a senior (geeze, that's a story in and of itself). So now they're all 33 years older. That was interesting. One of the girls in the theater class introduced me (she was SOOO sweet) and another kid shot video of the presentation, which came out pretty good. BOTM and the Milford Fine Arts Boosters split the door and video sales. Afterward, I stood around with some old friends and parents of old friends and Jane Reinkordt, another even more influential teacher and good friend. I was really tired by then. Really really tired. So tired that I forgot to ask the camera kid to take some still pictures, like I had intended. Too bad. I drove to Lincoln, and crashed at the Embassy Suites, where I had a really nice breakfast by myself (yay!) the next morning.
I had hoped to get together with Sam Welsch on Friday morning. Sam is a friend from Milford who was instrumential in setting up the fundraiser. If you buy the DVD of BOTM and listen to the commentary track, pay attention when you get to the part at Effigy Mounds National Monument and you'll hear Sam get a deserved credit. Unfortunately, Sam had another appointment, so I couldn't see OneCert World Headquarters. (www.onecert.net) Instead, I stopped into the Daily Nebraskan, where I worked umpteen million years ago. They expressed interest in doing a story on the show, but we haven't made contact yet.
The trip generated some good press, including a blurb in the Daily Nebraskan, and articles in the Omaha World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, Milford Times, and a report on the Nebraska Public Radio Network (click on the Newsboy icon to check them out).
After visiting an old friend at the Nebraska Historical Society, I was standing on P Street, killing time before going to Reinkordts' for dinner, shooting pictures of the statuary, when I became aware of a guy standing next to me, also looking at the statues. Then he got closer and I could see he had a shaggy white beard with hair to match, and he was wearing scarlet and cream, so I figured he was a local, and I also figured he was a street person. I glanced at him and smiled as he further invaded my space. Then I turned to say something like, "Nice day" to size him up, and instead I said, "Bob!!!" Because he was Bob Losee! My old college roomate, and a respected computer analyst at UNL, not a street person.
So anyway, I then went to my nephew Larry(Lash LaRue)'s birthday party in a part of Omaha on south 24th Street where (I was told) you know you haven't gone far south enough if you ask for directions and the person answers in English instead of Spanish. Then I stayed the night at Sister Joyce's house and got off in good time and home late because I took lotsa back roads. I stopped at WinneVegas Casino that the Omaha Indians run in Iowa. There's a really interesting story about why. It has to do with a lawsuit they launched that showed the river had been diverted by the Army Corps of Engineers and that the treaties still gave them rights to land on the Iowa side of the Missouri. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa has state gaming compacts. There also a CasinOmaha, or something like that, nearby. Anyway, neat history. And nice that I won $60 there. (Also won $110 on the way down at the Lower Sioux casino in Granite Falls, MN. So that paid for the hotel room and some food.) I stopped and took digital pictures at the Grotto Of The Redemption in West Bend (an incredible hidded gem in north central Iowa -- let's just call it a Sunday School Project gone wild, ask for pictures if you're interested or better yet, visit it sometime). Then I enjoyed a beautiful drive home after a beautiful drive away.
My first home
three miles north of Milford
This trip was a shot in the arm for me. After spending so much time promoting the drive along the Upper Mississippi -- and not being able to report on it all in the program at that!! -- just driving along and seeing stuff was enjoyable.
Some day, maybe I'll get the funding to tell you about the Loess Hills of Iowa, and the Utopia that was there until the leader ran away with the money. Or how the surveyers decided to fudge their connections a bit in the town of Correctionville. Or more about the Grotto of the Redemption. Or Pilot Knob, the second highest point in Iowa. All good stories ... and only part of the northwestern corner of Iowa, part of a part of a part of this crazy land.
Enjoy the pictures! Christmas is coming, and I don't know when I'll get the chance to write any more. BOTM will be showing on PBS affiliates over the course of the next year or two. I hope to write a few more entries before I move on to other projects. But knowing how life is, well, I'll just make sure now to thank you again for your interest.
Driving through the loess hills.
A guy I met in Iowa
I have resigned myself to the fact that I won't be keeping the updates updated as much as I would like. It's an odd thing. In a few months, BOTM will be old news, and nobody will care to read about its past. So I should write more about it now. But I don't have the time because things are still popping. And when the merry go round slows down, I'll have more time to write, but nobody will care, so nobody will read it.
Is this some sort of metaphysical sophistry, or just self indulgence? (I suspect it's the latter, so I'll just keep enjoying the ride while it lasts.)
Before going any further, I would like to once again thank Jim Maloney and Paul Markland for all they have done. It goes beyond work. They have put tremendous effort into the project and, like me, done their best to enjoy the ride.
Jim is an old friend from way back in 1979 when we worked at Campbell-Mithun (an ad agency in Mpls). Back then, I had just recently moved to the Twin Cities from Chicago. I grew up in Nebraska, and spent about four years in Chicago while Kathy (my wife) attended the University of Chicago Medical School, and I worked at an incredibly cool ad agency called Keroff & Rosenberg. I didn't know more than a couple of people in Minnesota when we moved here, and my friendship with Jim is the oldest and longest lasting in what is now my permanent home.
Paul almost literally dropped from the sky. So I guess I should say he figuratively dropped from the sky. Literally, he walked down the street. With over 20 years' experience in marketing at 3M, he had started his own video production business (Landmark Media Productions), then noticed that Jim had a video production business (ZIBI Video, LLC) and lived just a few blocks away. Paul called Jim, walked over to visit, came to breakfast with us shortly thereafter, and the die was cast. I seriously believe that Back On The Mississippi would have fallen apart several times without him.
Paul, Jim and I maintain a balanced entity in a way I still find fascinating. It's a combination of talent, optimism, pessimism, realism and drive that I wish I could have been part of twenty years ago when I had the energy.
But enough of that. The rest of the crew helped make Back On The Mississippi as popular as it is, and I don't want to slight them. It's just that I owe Jim and Paul a great debt of gratitude and I give them my eternal friendship.
So, in other news, I presented a show at Red Balloon Books and another at Bound To Be Read, both in St. Paul. And both were quite enjoyable, although underpopulated (that's a good word for it). Four people were at Red Balloon, including Megan Maloney and my kids' former preschool teacher, Heidi Rodgers. Plus a really nice lady and her preschooler. The sound system was subpar, but seemed workable until the store suddenly filled with people. So I had to wing it and talk about the show rather than presenting the videos. I really like showing the videos, because it gives me the chance to show the project in development, outtakes, odd clips, and the like. The DVD of BOTM includes some of this stuff, but there was only so much we could put on one disc, and it's fun to show that stuff to a live audience. I have backed off from scheduling more book store gigs for now, because we're about to go up on satellite (more on that below), and I can't take the time. Anyway, the Red Balloon presentation was not what I would have liked, but it was nice to have just a few people to talk to, and the store sold a couple of DVDs. Didn't sell anything at Bound To Be Read, but there was a pleasant and attentive audience of six to ten people. Good fun.
Selling videos (DVDs and VHSs) is neat, but not a way to make much money. So, as a desperate act of creativity, Back On The Mississippi put an underwriting credit up for auction on eBay. Didn't get any bids, but did get about 800 hits, and coverage on the Future Tense radio program (which reaches NPR affiliates all over the USA, plus all of Canada via the CBC). So that's worth some karma, I guess.
I met the authors of Mississippi Escapade last week. Paul Clifford Larson and Pamela Allen Larson. They were giving a presentation at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in conjunction with the MIA's exhibit about the Mississippi River. Nice people. I'm still hoping we can get some funding for our Mississippi Connections project, so we can get their book into the hands of school kids all along the Upper Mississippi. Fun read for all ages.
(Personal review of the MIA show: I was not overly impressed. The MIA seemed to miss the point of the Grand Excursion. They covered the Upper Mississippi okay, but not well, and the fact that they included the river below the Quad Cities is indicative of the whole problem with the exhibit. I don't think they got it. New Orleans didn't belong in a show inspired by the Grand Excursion, and they were remiss in not showing any of the fascinating drawings of Fountain Cave, among other things. Rant over.)
National distribution news: Back On The Mississippi is going up on satellite later this month! The info for those who understand it is 9/27 1000-1100ET/511. (Okay, it's not that hard; it just means the show will go out on September 27 at 10AM Eastern Time, on transponder 511, but I don't know what satellite.) Jeff Schneider is helping me tell about 135 public television entities, and the response has been pretty good. Watch the home page as the list of stations grows. I'm trying to keep up, but I have abandoned my quest to include all of the dates and times. If you see your local station there, you should call them and ask when the show is airing. If you don't see your local station there, you should call them and ask why not. Also, if you want to tell them you won't contribute to the station unless they air Back On The Mississippi, that would be nice too. Or you could say your uncle is a rich manufacturer who gives vast amounts of money to the station, and he'll also stop if they don't show BOTM. Maybe you could say your other uncle is the President of the United States, or the head of the National Guard, or something equally threatening. Be creative, and use your own best judgement.
Jim and I got together with Mike Sullivan and made three promos for BOTM. They'll be attached to the end of the program when TPT does the uplink on 9/27. But if you want to see them now -- and you should, I think they came out pretty darned good -- you can by clicking right here. They're mpgs that you need to download. One is 60 seconds, one is 30 seconds, and one is 20 seconds. Mike is a true voice talent.
Incidentally, I'm available with BOTM for fundraising. Any PBS affiliate that wants to run the show during pledge week should contact me and we'll talk. Also, any other group that wants to do a fundraiser with me should call or drop an email. We have some creative ideas for bringing funds to your organization, and would love to tell you more.
Summer is winding down, even though it doesn't feel like it, with Minnesota September temperatures in the 90s some days. But the kids are back in school, and I'm enjoying concentrated time in my home office again. Our family camped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in August. It was a challenge. And it made me feel old. Kathy and I went up there several times when we were younger. The last time was in 1982. This time, the portages were about 22 years longer, and the canoe was 22 years heavier. But we did fine, no major injuries, decent weather, and only had to chase a bear out of the camp after dark one time. Good bonding experience. I really enjoyed the time with both kids, and Will's canoeing style fits mine. Summarizing it all, Inga put it best when she commented that "It was fun, in an evil sort of way." Well put.
The BWCAW is more than Back On The Mississippi. It's WAY Back In Minnesota. We were close to the Canadian border. But I had an even better Back In Minnesota experience last week. Two of them, in fact. One was a visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. I put up a Web site for an acquaintance who was interested, and you can view it at www.giz.com/spam if you are so inclined. There are about 150 pictures, some duplicates and some just junk, but you can scroll through them for a virtual tour at your own pace. This week, Austin got hit with torrential rains, and they had to close down the Spam Museum due to flooding. Glad I got there when I did. Wish I would have made it there before they removed the Al Franken/Jesse Ventura exhibit. The mind boggles.
Even more Back In Minnesota, in the gestaltiest use of the idea (yeah, I know, gestaltiest isn't a real word, but the Germans say a glove is a handschuh and a bra is a bustenhalter, so I think I can go with this one), is this: Mousenik.
Tucked away on a back road leading to another back road near Lansing, Minnesota, there's a little triangle where a one room schoolhouse probably stood at one time. While driving by, I noticed something interesting there. I circled around looking for a place to pull in, but I had to park on the road (which was no problem because nobody else was on it while I was there). I found my way onto the "island" and walked over rough ground to see what in the heck it was. Click on the Mousenik rocket at the left for a brief trip down a back road.
I wonder if any of these boys are still around. Anybody know? Sure would be interesting to talk with them.
I hope all is well and good with you and yours. Watch for Back On The Mississippi in your area, and if you don't see it, feel free to rag on your local PBS affiliate.
Sure enough, things have happened too fast for me to keep y'all informed. I'll try to catch up a bit now.
First off, the Web site's ISP got hit with a mean virus that did some odd things. It was mostly of the "look what I can do" hacker variety. I had to restore a couple of files and, fortunately, that was about it. This blog was one of them. Glad I had saved everything.
Last week, I did a presentation at a bookstore in Hastings called Just Thinking ... Books & Ice Cream. They have a great display and are selling DVDs and VHSs at a good rate. I brought a DVD of the TV news coverage we got on the shoot, a VHS of the original demo we did in Hastings (when I was over 2 years younger and 30 pounds heavier -- nothing like a demo tape in everybody's hands to make you lose weight), the projector, etc. ... and precisely zero people showed up. No, that's not exactly true. One guy came in for the 9/11 book, and there were some other people who bought ice cream. Pat (the owner) and I agreed that we need to promote the next appearance better. And we will. I look at it as a learning experience. It was an incredibly nice day and, oddly enough, the day of the big shindig at Steve Bauer's Little Log House (site of the spiral bridge recreation), so everybody was either there, walking in the park, gardening, or otherwise enjoying the wonderful Hastings climate. I'll probably talk at the book store again sometime around Christmas.
The Bound To Be Read presentation is set for August 31. We're doing our best to get the DVD and VHS in as many stores as possible. We have quite a few lined up or already selling, but it sure would be easier if we could find a good distributor.
We had a great vacation on the north shore of Lake Superior. We have stayed at Fenstads Resort for about 20 years now, almost every summer and for a couple of winter ski trips. Great place. Blaine and Mary Fenstad are outstanding hosts, and the resort is wonderful in its lack of phones and televisions. (You can see pictures in our family photo album at www.strinz.com/family/photos.htm if you're interested.) This is noteworthy because I met Steve Meger there two years ago. Steve wrote and performed the theme for Back On The Mississippi. We had a chance this year to sit down on the rocks and talk for a while. Nice guy, nice family. He even gave me a Coulee Celtic Band beer can holder. Thanks, Steve!
Iowa Public Television is running BOTM today at 9PM and August 11 at 7PM. Wisconsin has slated it for September, and several other PBS affiliates are going to run it but haven't started scheduling yet. We're looking into renting satellite time so we could get it to as many stations as possible for as low of a cost as possible (it takes about $150 to send an acceptable tape dupe to a station), and our friends at TPT are helping us through the process. Once again, they come to our aid. Multiple thanks to Bill Hanley, Brendan Henehan, Tom Holter and the rest of the crew there.
We're getting a pretty good boost because the show got good ratings in the Twin Cities. Hanley characterized the ratings as “exceptionally strong,” reaching a total of over 100,000 households in the Twin Cities viewing area alone. And Tom Holter (the Program Director) wrote this:
"We were very surprised at the viewer response to BACK ON THE MISSISSIPPI. We had a number of viewers ask if we would be airing it again - always a good sign. Of course we had scheduled 4 broadcasts of the program to let people know about, so that part was good. Each broadcast slot drew an audience that was almost double what we would normally draw for the time period. I expect viewers enjoyed the fresh and off-beat approach to storytelling that you took. We know our audience has an insatiable appetite for history, so thank you again for making it available for TPT broadcast."
The Dakota County Historical Society is selling the videos at the Dakota County Fair this year. They have a nice booth near the entrance. Check it out if you can.
That's about the long and the short of it. I spent a bunch of time working on an order tracking system for video sales, and that seems to be under control now. I'm starting to find room to breathe here and there. This fall, I'll be looking hard for advertising copywriting work to help pay for the production of Back On The Mississippi. With the reception we're getting, I have no regrets. My dear old departed Dad would have said I'm paying for a dead horse. But I'm convinced I'm mining star dust.
Too much to tell, too much to tell!
First off, Back On The Mississippi has had its four broadcasts on TPT. I don't know how it did in its last three showings, but Bill Hanley (VP Executive Producer at TPT) said the ratings were "exceptionally strong." They're happy. So we're happy.
I gave a presentation at the Twin Cities Creative Community meeting that went really well. They're an interesting group! Thanks, Alan, for introducing me. And thanks, Mark, for being such a good host (and for buying a DVD!).
Red Balloon has asked me to speak at their book store on August 8. That should be fun. Bound To Be Read wants me to give a presentation, too. We'll set the date soon, and I'll let you know. Both of these book stores are in St. Paul, by the way (but you probably know that if you care).
My segment on Almanac went well, and you can see it by clicking on the link to the left on this screen. Thanks to Brendan Henehan for setting that up. It was fun. My one regret is that, at the end of the segment, I should have said, "We've shown what we can do. Now we're ready to do it again for any group that wants to underwrite the effort." Ah, well. The Germans call it Treppenwitz.
But the real topper had to be the opportunity to be part of the Grand Flotilla on July 3rd. Mucho fun! I left Red Wing at 6AM on the Julia Belle Swain, and we arrived in St. Paul with the other six Big Boats (and a bunch of little ones) at about 3PM. Unfortunately, it opened up and rained buckets just as we rounded the bend by the St. Paul airport. But no matter, it had been a fine trip with cool air and beautiful skies up to then.
The Julia Belle Swain is the only authentic steam-driven paddlewheeler on the river. It has a real working calliope, and the chef cooks great meals right on board! And I mean great! No rubber chicken on the Julia Belle Swain. The owner was also on board, which I'm told is unusual. He's a good guy who let me take his picture wearing a BOTM hat (which I'll post soon).
Since the boat departed so early in the morning, and Red Wing is about 90 minutes from home, I stayed at the Red Gables Inn in Lake City. Mary DeRoos, the owner of this fine B&B, put us all up for free when the crew was shooting last August. I had to leave Sunday before I could enjoy her typically outstanding breakfast, and she graciously knocked a huge chunk off my bill for the night. Thank, Mary! You're one fine human being.
The summer is suddenly upon us, and our family is planning a week-long getaway on the north shore of Lake Superior next week. Chances are, I won't be writing anything until I get back. I know I left out a lot of neat stuff that you may or may not be interested in. But it's all I can do to keep up to the extent that I have been able to. So I'll have to leave it at this for now.
Wow, what a great Premiere Party! I didn't realize we were going to have a big screen TV in the TPT conference room. In fact, I was thinking we were to gather in a different, smaller room. Great surprise!
The TPT folks were wonderful, even to the point of printing up badges for guests, and including TPT's logo and BOTM's logo bug on them. Now we have true collector's items, I guess.
Special thanks to Patrick Seeb and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation for covering the cost of the food and coffee, which was skillfully catered by our friends at Old Man River Café in St. Paul. John and Chuck did a super fine job with the decorations, too, complete with a Gumby waterskiing behind a boat filled with "Paddlewheel Pitas." There were Mississippi Mud Bars, we had Expedition coffee, and lots of other goodies. And thanks to the folks at Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings ("Where the grapes can suffer") for providing their wonderful wines for our guests.
About 40 people attended, plus members of the crew (Jim, Paul Markland, Paul Busta, Rod, Jinny, Meg, Alan) and some spouses. We had hoped to see more members of the media there, but traffic was jammed in downtown St. Paul. Mexico's President Vincente Fox was in town, so security was high. Laura Bush was in the Cities earlier in the day. And it was the last home show on Prince's current tour. So some of the media folks from Minneapolis decided to skip it. I can't blame them. But at least we can take some comfort in the fact that we were outdone by a President, a President's wife, and a Prince.
You know, I've been thinking about the debut of the show on the 27th as the peak experience in this whole venture – from my perspective, at least – but sometime early in the afternoon last Friday, I realized that showing clips of BOTM to the group at the Premiere Party would be the most exciting time. That turned out to be the case ... and even more so because, at the suggestion of several people, we showed the entire program instead of clips. It was a good move. The audience was favorably disposed to the situation (and to the show, of course), but I still got a lot of pleasure out of noting that people laughed where they were supposed to laugh, said "Aaahh!" when shown some interesting and obscure fact or location, and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.
Heck, "a lot of pleasure" doesn't really say it. This was the neatest thing I've ever experienced as a writer, bar none! To all of my friends and colleagues who couldn't be there, geeze, you really missed it.
We now have the DVDs and VHSs, and they're available on the Web site (click on the top image on the left side of this screen) or through Grand Excursion 2004. The VHS is $19.95 +s&h (and tax in MN). The DVD, which has some nifty extra features (a "behind the scenes" minidoc of the shoot, commentary tracks, and other goodies), is just $24.95 + s&h and tax. If you see the show on TV and like it, please order a copy of it on VHS, or buy the DVD and get double the content for just five bucks extra.
Video sales are about the only way we'll make any money back on the investment in BOTM, so your help is truly appreciated, and I think you'll be rewarded with a good program for your library.
You can also buy hats, flying discs, and even copies of the script while they last. Check it out.
Everything is happening pretty fast now. We're working on getting the videos into stores, I'm nervous about being on live TV this Friday, lots of little things are going wrong or right or both .... I suspect I'll survive this, but I'm not sure at this point. At least I'll go out smiling.
I don't know when I'll get back to the blog, so if you don't see anything for a while, don't be surprised.
A lot has happened, and I'm not sure I can catch you up on it all. I have tried to find time to write, but other things have taken my attention. So I'll do my best to summarize events and happenings now.
Paul and I presented at the Young Authors Conference at Bethel University in late May. It was a good experience, and we hope some of the contacts we made will be able to help us flesh out and develop our Mississippi Connections curriculum. The kids ranged from 4th through 7th grades, and came from all around the Twin Cities. Paul and I had three classes per day, one hour each, about 100 to 150 kids per class, an impressive auditorium (complete with pipe organ) that seated about 1500. The DVD and VHS weren't ready yet, so we sold the show's script at the book fair. That was Jim's idea. We have lots of "script books" left over, which we're offering as special premiums for future DVD/ VHS orders. I don't know if anybody has ever thought to sell a script like this before, but it seems like a natural idea.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press printed an op-ed piece I wrote. I'll put a link to it in the PR section of the Web site (click on the little TV). I need to put links to some other articles in there, too, including the cover story from TPT Magazine about BOTM.
Brendan Henehan has scheduled me on TPT's Almanac June 25th (two days before the show debuts), Channel 2, at 7PM. Almanac repeats several other times on Channel 2 and Channel 17. It's TPT's most popular program (locally produced). Live TV isn't my favorite medium to be on. Wish me luck.
And later this week, TPT is hosting our Premiere Party. Invitations have already gone out (let me know if you didn't get one). We'll kick off the fun at 5PM, watch a clip from Back On The Mississippi, then everyone who's interested to can stick around to be in the studio audience for Almanac (that's the week before I'll be on Almanac, of course).
There's a Guest Book on the Web site now. Please sign it! We would love to hear your river stories, or just see your name and a 'hi' to us.
Dave Matthews, one of our interns, recently finished working on the MTV Awards program in L.A. Yay, Dave!
Chris Dorsano, the other intern, was accepted into the University of Wisconsin Madison's prestigious Filmmaking program. We're proud of his achievement. They don't accept just anybody.
I'll be on KFMP 107.1FM in the Twin Cities on June 12. Tune in after 9PM to listen. Thanks to Paul Busta for setting this up! Also, Skyway News has indicated an interest in writing something about BOTM. Like I say, I'm way behind, but I'll post copies of the PRs when I can.
That's it for now, too much to do. Hope I can write more in about a week.
The media buzz for BOTM is starting to pick up. Now that the Grande Excursion celebration is approaching, print and electronic media outlets are looking for stories. And ours has to be one of the best.
Iowa Public Television has slated the program for August, exact date to be announced in a few weeks.
I'll be presenting on the Julia Belle Swain July 3 as we cruise ihto St. Paul with the rest of the Grand Excursion flotilla. We leave from Red Wing at 6AM and arrive around 3PM, depending on the weather (on-the-river travel isn't like over-the-road travel).
BOTM airs on KTCI Ch 17 that evening, and we're hoping some folks will want to buy our VHS or DVD on the boat (click on "Flotsam & Jetsam" on the left side of the screen for more info). Since we're leaving so early, I needed a room for the night of July 2. But there was nothing in Red Wing. Even Treasure Island was booked. Fortunately, Mary DeRoos at the Red Gables Inn in Lake City came through with a room. Too bad I won't be able to stay for one of her incredible breakfasts.
Several book stores have asked me to give presentations. I'll put a link to them on the BOTM home page somewhere. Please stop by if you can.
Thanks to everybody! We're busier than heck, but that's all good at this point.
5/4/04Not quite two weeks between entries this time. Yay! But it may be a while before the next entry. Lots to do, lots to catch up on.
Paul and I are still working on the YAC seminars. We hope to test it next week, or the week after at the latest, at Black Hawk Middle School.
I'm signed up to give a presentation on the Julia Belle Swain, a river boat that's part of the Grand Excursion 2004 flotilla. It will arrive in St. Paul on July 3rd. I get on at 5:30AM before it departs Red Wing, MN. It's scheduled to arrive in St. Paul at 3PM, but the river can be tricky, especially if the weather gets persnickety.
Thanks to Brenda Erickson for contacting me on that, and to Peggy Knapp for giving her our contact info.
TPT Magazine will be doing a piece about BOTM for their June/July issue. We submitted several photos that they might want to use. It will probably be a small piece, but we appreciate any coverage.
Brendan Henehan has expressed interest in featuring BOTM on the June 25 edition of Almanac. That would be broadcast live at 7PM on the night before BOTM debuts on TPT. This is fun.
And speaking of fun, Jim and I spent the morning in a sound studio a week ago yesterday, recording the commentary tracks for the BOTM DVD. The VHS will sell for $19.95 and be a straight presentation of the show. The DVD will include a 45 minute Behind The Scenes feature in addition to the show. And if that's not enough, you will have the option of listening to Jim and me comment on the show if you select the show's commentary track. And … AND! … if that's STILL not enough overkill, you can select to listen to the commentary track for the Behind The Scenes segment! Oh, Joy! Never do what you can overdoooo.
(Can you say Outtakes & Bloopers?)
Thanks to Eric for putting us in touch with Norton Lawellin at Track Record Studios in St. Paul. He did a great job for us, and we had a lot of fun.
We're continuing to have a lot of fun, while trying to keep our heads above water.
So far, so good.
Busta was the grip, best boy, assistant to the everything on the BOTM project. He lives in his world of filmmaking and has some nifty stuff to show for it.
When Busta isn't putting things where they belong for his clients, he's traveling in his van, laying down stakes at the speedway, and making some of the neatest racing videos available.
And when he isn't doing that, he's busy promoting his Beatles tribute band. Talk about a renaissance man!
Busta helped us kick off the whole BOTM thing by volunteering his time for the demo we did back in, geeze, April of 2002, I think. All I remember is, it was Cold! He schlepped tripods and cameras over the ice-covered stairs by the Vermillion Falls in Hastings, MN, to help us present something just about nobody saw. There was no immediate reward, no food or gas budget, no refuge from the cold, no way to point at what Busta helped us do most of those days (we threw out a LOT of footage for that test; someday, maybe we'll be able to tell you about Hastings' own Bailey Vinyards, "where the grapes can suffer").
You can learn more about his company, P.A.B. Digital Video Productions (The Fastest Cameras On The Salt!) by dropping him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's a good guy if you can keep up with him, and even better if you want somebody to keep up with you.
See, this is why I never want to announce my plans. Now I look stupid, because I haven't written anything in some time, when I said I would try to add a note or two weekly. More like weakly, as it turns out.
But that isn't to say nothing has happened. Much has transpired, and the longer I wait to try catching up, the worse the task becomes.
So I'll just jump in with the news of today. Tom Holter, the Executive Director of Programming at Twin Cities Public Television, finalized the time and date for the first broadcast of Back On The Mississippi. I received the email today, and here is the broadcast schedule:
Wednesday, 6/30 - 9PM - TPT17
Saturday, 7/3 - 7PM - TPT17
Sunday, 7/4 - 9:30AM - TPT2
(For those of you outside the Twin Cities, TPT2 is KTCA-TV Channel 2, the flagship of Twin Cities Public Television, and TPT17 is KTCI-TV Channel 17. The programming for TPT2 is mainstream PBS fare, while TPT17 focuses more directly on the urban community.)
These dates essentially put us in the heart of the Grand Excursion celebration. The June 27 broadcast is part of TPT's "Mississippi River theme Sunday" when the hoopla really gets rolling. And Back On The Mississippi is substituting on July 3 & 4 for Almanac, which is taking a break for the week. Almanac is TPT's highest-rated program.
This is the most exciting news I have. But not the only news. Here's a bit more, in brief:
Paul and I are finalizing the powerpoint script for our seminar at the Young Authors Conference in May. Marilyn McGowan and Nancy Bosse are our contacts with the event coordination group, and they have both been great. We whittled our handouts down to two. And we have a pretty good idea of what we'll do and how we'll do it. We haven't even begun to time it out. Nick Cobbett at Black Hawk Middle School has offered the eyes and ears of his students when we are ready for a test run.
Laying out the DVD and VHS packaging was a chore. Paul and Jim performed admirably. Now we're working on putting together the right distribution and fulfillment deals. It's boring and frustrating at times, but has to be done.
Several publications and other media outlets in the Twin Cities have expressed interest in our story. Looks like we have a good chance of getting some nice publicity.
A few other PBS affiliates have joined the list of those who would like to run the program. Some were waiting to hear when TPT planned to run it, so now we'll be passing that info on to them.
And finally, I'm pleased to announce that while we haven't even been on the air yet, already we won an award. Back On The Mississippi is a proud recipient of this year's Silver Telly Award in the Culture category. You can learn more about the Tellys at www.telly.com. The Silver Telly is awarded to the best in the category, which a very few of the entrants win. It's not an Emmy, but we're still proud. And there's always next time.
No musings on the production past this time. Too busy catching up.
Thanks for your interest and indulgence. We're having a lot of fun. And going crazy. Or, as one of my favorite bumper stickers says, Hopelessly Lost But Making Good Time.
2/24/04Just got word that Back On The Mississippi is going to air on Twin Cities Public Television KTCA Channel 2 in June. We're looking forward to the highly visible part we'll be playing in the celebration of the Grand Excursion of 2004! The exact date isn't fixed yet, but BOTM will definitely be instrumental in the ramping up the festivities, and positioning TPT as a stakeholder in the whole shebang!
2/21/04It's been a busy week. Paul wrote a summary of the Mississippi Connections educational initiative, which you can read by clicking on MISSISSIPPI CONNECTIONS to the left of this screen. Jim is editing editing editing. He has to be tired of my face by now. I've made some minor improvements to the Web site, and am sketching out more.
One of the most difficult things Jim and I have to do is eliminate points of interest. There's only so much time in an hour. Plus, it's important that we present all of this in an interesting way, and sometimes that means cutting a wonderful part of a wonderful scene because it drags out too long. Actually, it happens all too often. Marilyn Hauth of Potosi, Wisconsin, dug up a permission slip that gives us clearance to use Valley Of Drunken Men. We really wanted that, but there's some doubt it will make it to the final cut. If nothing else, I'll post the poem (written many years ago by the late John Doser) here on the BOTM Web site later.
What's it all about, and why is it important to the history of the first lead mine in North America? Guess you'll just have to wait until the program airs to find out.
This week, Jim also went back to the Well Of Illustration, also known as Eric The TV Geek. Eric agreed to do yet another drawing for us, this one of a certain Winona who will go otherwise nameless at this point. Eric does fine work indeed, and you can view it at Holm Digital. It's a fun Web site. At first I thought Eric would help by substituting his illustrations for others that had rights we wouldn't be able to obtain reasonably easily. But he has managed to capture the spirit of the show so well that we're jettisoning a number of visuals we intended to use from the beginning, regardless of the clearance issues. Thanks, Eric!
I would be remiss were I not to make mention of Robert Stumm, and his wonderful book A Postcard Journey Along The Upper Mississippi. Bob's book was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. But that's meaningless compared to the overall value of the book. It's a grand overview of the region, based on picture postcards dating from roughly 100 years ago, give or take a few decades, when a vacation trip along the river was a more common Great American Travel Adventure.
On that 1996 trip I took (mentioned previously), one of the sites that intrigued me was the Dickeyville Grotto in Dickeyville, Wisconsin. (Actually, the Dickeyville Grotto is yet another thing we had to cut from the TV show, which I hope to rectify by giving you more info about it here on the Web, or maybe in a still-to-be-written book.) A couple of years later, the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a small picture of the Grotto. This was part of a "Roadside Distractions" column the paper featured back then. Their idea was to show a picture of something along the road in the Upper Midwest, and if you could identify the location, you won a T-Shirt. I recognized the Grotto. I won the shirt. And I was happy.
Then, a bit later, I received an invitation to a book signing. It was handwritten by the author, Robert Stumm, and the bookstore (now gone, alas) was in Hastings, MN, one of my favorite river towns then and now.
I attended the signing, talked to Bob, and learned that he had picked my name out of the article that announced I "won" a Roadside Distractions T-Shirt. I guess Bob figured that anybody who knew about the Dickeyville Grotto would appreciate his book. And he was sure right in my case.
In fact, Back On The Mississippi originated as a plan to take Bob's book to TV. Jim and I started working on the script and locations for the demo version over two years ago. As often happens in such circumstances, we all soon agreed that the TV program and Bob's book were going down two different paths. Moreover, Bob wanted to concentrate his time on writing a new book commemorating the Grand Excursion celebration of 2004.
But if you have any appreciation for the Upper Mississippi at all, if you like history, if you are a fan of the American experience, you could do no better than to pick up Bob's outstanding book. It's available at many libraries. But I urge you to purchase a copy of A Postcard Journey Along The Upper Mississippi for yourself at your local bookstore, online via the best book outlets, or at any of many museum book shops.
Wow! Only one week and one day between entries!
Less than a week after the last entry. This is more like it!
Paul and I continue to work on the program for the 2004 Young Authors Conference. We have a basic program plan in place, and it should be fun for the kids and a learning experience for us, or vice versa, or (hopefully) both.
Peggy Knapp of the GE04 Education Committee gave a talk today at Black Hawk Middle School, where Nick teaches. If your school isn't among those that have signed up for her steamer trunk program, you should look into it. You can find out more about that on the Rivers Of Life Steamer Trunk page.
I spent some time at the vast ZIBI Video complex with Jim yesterday. We needed to cut out some of Judge Dennis Challeen in Winona. Too bad, because every minute he spends on screen is a treat. But there's only so much time in an hour, and we have many other subjects to cover. Jim also showed me his edits of the "rap segment" (for lack of a better term). I don't know why the heck I tortured myself by writing that into the script. But I did. You'll probably like it -- at my expense -- especially in the form Jim has presented it.
Speaking of the rap sequence, it seems odd to look out now at the snow and remember when we shot that rap sequence. It was hot all through that period in late August. Before we left, I told everyone I knew to pray for sun. Guess they did. Paul scored free rooms every night, and free food most days, but we gave a lot back to the communities in payment for water on the set. I don't know how many bottles we went through. The pinacle of the suffering probably came when we shot the rap segment. I found myself on top of a tin roof in 97 degree weather, wearing a winter starter jacket and sweat pants over my regular clothes. Anything for art, I guess.
Actually, the day we spent on the Cassville Ferry was probably just about as bad, if not worse. Not so bad for me, because I wasn't wearing a heavy costume in the heat. But poor Paul! His British Canadian blood was showing. (Or, to be more accurate, it was rushing to his extremities as he nearly went into shock on a windless trip across the river. Running the a/c in his car for an hour afterward probably helped the local economy, too -- or the gasoline business end of it anyway.)
Jim has the show about 1/2 edited now. We're on track to get it done on time, barring unforseen circumstances I don't even want to think about. If your local public television station hasn't scheduled Back On The Mississippi yet, please drop a note to them and to us.
Whoa! More than a month went by in the past few days. Writing a short entry once or twice a week just isn't happening!
Jim is maybe about 65% to 75% done with the editing. Paul continues staying in contact with potential underwriters. We have put a lot of time into a finishing grant from a group known for providing funds for such things. All in all, we're doing what we can to be creative in the funding department, as well as the writing and editing departments.
One really good bit of news is that the 2004 Young Authors Conference here in the Twin Cities has selected us to give a presentation this May. The income is appreciated, and we look forward to talking with 4th through 8th graders about writing for television documentaries. This fits in very nicely with our evolving education component, Mississippi Connections. In fact, it was in a meeting about Mississippi Connections that Nick Cobbett told me about the Young Authors Conference. Thanks, Nick! If you haven't already done so, you should read about Nick in our BIOGRAPHIES section. (His Future Cities middle school group did well again this year, with 4th place in the state!)
Jim was picked to shoot some footage and do some other work for a production company that is documenting the NHL All Stars game in St. Paul this weekend. He loves his work. But love hurts. On the way back to his van earlier this week, he was attacked by a traffic barrier that decided to drop down on his head just as he was lugging his equipment past it. I know Jim likes to work with stars, but not the kind that come out when a 1 by 4 konks your noggin. Jim's company is ZIBI Video, which you should visit sometime.
Paul has Landmark Media Productions, another place you should visit. Through Landmark Media Productions, he does a great job of capturing personal memories, and infusing the most mundane corporate productions with a human quality. He has also carved out a nice niche for himself in deposition and other legal media work. As a longtime marketing professional, we count on Paul to work with underwriters and other contributors to provide them with what they need to make the most of their support of Back On The Mississippi.
I took a little trip to New York City last weekend. Got back to my car and, as I was leaving the airport, the transmission gave out. Not a good thing. You don't want to hear about it. Nonetheless, I'm pretty upbeat about some of the contacts I have made in my efforts to promote Back On The Mississippi, and I'm looking forward to hearing how it plays in as many markets as possible. If you would like to see it on your local public television affiliate, or if you want to hire Paul and/or me as a speaker for a business or civic or educational presentation, please drop me a note. I'll get back to you with more information on what we can do for you and your group.
I promised myself that I would keep these bloggy bits short, but I also promised that I would write about how we got to where we are, not just what's going on now.
This is a sort of "Where to start? Where to start?" moment. I'm tempted to leap into the middle, and tell you something about the shoot. Those twelve days culminated this whole experience … so far, anyway. And I will jump around in time as I relate some of what happened. But now, maybe a good place to start would be at the beginning.
I like to drive. I like to drive the back roads. I like to drive the back roads alone. So as part of a family negotiation some years ago, my wife, Kathy, said it would be okay for me to take a week every year, drive off by myself, and explore.
In 1996, I discovered the Mississippi River. I had crossed it hundreds of times since moving to the Twin Cities. And I had visited parts north of here. But I never drove along it.
So I headed south to see how far I could go in a week. I found a treasure of wonders. And I wondered if, some day, I might be able to put them together for others to enjoy.
Now, as I watch Back On The Mississippi come into being, I think about the fun I had discovering places that are part of the show, like the St. John Mine, and the things that didn't quite fit, like the Dickeyville Grotto. Ah, the Dickeyville Grotto. Maybe I'll write more about that another time.
So that's how it started, in 1996. Then the Grand Excursion 2004 came along a few years back, and the project took form.
What happened after that? Well, I hope I can get around to telling you all about it. But that's it for now.
For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can take a breath.
The script was finished yesterday. Again. But this time, it includes all of the interview material.
Plus, we finished recording the voiceovers yesterday. I'm sure we'll decide to redo some of them. And I'll think of some other way to say something, which will necessitate yet another script rewrite.
Jim is busily editing. The process is sequential, so any change made in the first minute of the show affects everything he has edited after that. But the man has the patience of Job, which is good because I tend to throw him a lot of script curves.
I have not wanted to spend much time on the Web site while the script was hanging over my head. I hope that will change now. I considered starting a blog about a year ago, but I didn't want to jinx the project by investing too much time and karma up front. Now that the shoot is over, the tape is in the can, and the editing process is well underway, it seemed like a good time to begin relating what an overwhelmingly wonderfully frighteningly taxing and exciting adventure I have had over the past two years.
There's still plenty to do. Paul and I are working on PR documents, personal speaking engagements, and expanding the number of stations that will carry Back On The Mississippi (four PBS affiliated stations/networks, so far). On top of that, finding underwriters these days is easier than finding teeth on a hen, as my mom used to say.
But we're excited to be in the home stretch now, ready to present a program about the Upper Mississippi River that is as unique as it is entertaining. Plus, we anticipate seeing it continue to live for years, as it motivates K-12 students across the region to look at their part of the river, and even make their own television programs about it.
Back On The Mississippi is a reality. We're all looking forward to sharing it with public television viewers later this year. Moreover, we all hope it's just a start.
And so is this entry! I want to keep these blog messages short. My intention is to use this format to update interested viewers, educators, television stations, and underwriters. So I'll just end this by saying that Jim Maloney is an outstanding friend and editor, Paul Markland walked into our lives when we needed him and stayed to become part of our hearts, the crew showed how well eleven people can spend twelve days on the road together in ninety-five degree heat, and we all feel confident that Back On The Mississippi will rock the socks off of folks in TV world.