Feature Fun at the Smithsonian

Feature Fun at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution allows Washington’s visitors to do everything from seeing rare wildlife close up, to touching a piece of the moon all within the greater D.C. area.


They also care for an amazing collection of artifacts from America’s past and only about 1 percent of the collection is ever on display at any given time! Some of the artifacts are so rare, valuable or difficult to display that they are kept in storage permanently.


At the National Museum of American History, there are even objects belonging to some of our most famous Presidents, locked away for safe keeping.


That’s where I found myself one Tuesday morning, helping out on a feature shoot for CTM. The show was being broadcast from the glass enclosed courtyard that joins the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery the following week so we included some pieces on their collection to highlight their work.


Bill Plante and curator Rubenstein check out exhibits in the American History Museum.


Bill Plante was the correspondent and representing the museum was museum curator, Harry Rubenstein. My job was nothing more than to hold doors and Bill’s reading glasses, but being so close to the objects I was about to see outside of their display cases and the lessons I learned about taping a piece in tight quarters was an invaluable experience.


It’s one thing to stand where George Washington did in places like the porch of his home at Mount Vernon, but it’s another to have objects from his childhood right in front of your face. That was how we began our visit, with a look at George Washington’s christening blanket. It was only a tiny, faded piece of cloth but knowing that held our foremost founding father as an infant made the moment surreal.


Bill and Curator Rubenstein look at buttons from

George Washington's presidential campaign.


A similar feeling came over me when we were shown Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch. It had a flawless gold sparkle and made the President featured in “Lincoln” and immortalized in his memorial and our pennies seem more human.


Making the interview portions of the piece look good on television is critical for any broadcast news feature. A good backdrop has depth, texture in the foreground and a background that isn’t overly distracting with some dark colors to make the shot look even deeper. National news photogs (short for photographers... means camera-people) are very good at that.


For this piece, they took a narrow passageway between storage cases for campaign buttons and all sorts of other small objects for a sit-down Q&A session. The space was crammed with chairs and lighting equipment and drawers were left open to make the whole scene seem more active and dramatic.


Taping the sit down interview in the narrow aisle.


Staying out of the way and quiet was difficult. The whole room was filled with hard surfaces that made every footstep echo, so I had to move around gingerly while the taping was going on. The producer for the piece and I watched the sit-down portion through a crack in the storage cases an aisle over. Staying out of sight while I tried to watch the walking shots was even tougher. Everyone is moving around in different directions and the worst thing you can do is trip someone or unexpectedly walk into the interview.


Luckily, there were no problems and the feature turned out great!


Take a look: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/smithsonian-treasures-revealed-take-a-rare-tour-of-worlds-largest-museum-and-research-complex/




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