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Howard Lake native wins Emmy for directing newscasts

November 17, 2008

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

KARE 11 newscast director graduated from HLWW in 1995

HOWARD LAKE, MN - As a professionally polished KARE 11 newscast rolls live on the air, behind the scenes, hidden in a dark control room lit only by a wall of television monitors and hundreds of glowing buttons, sits a Howard Lake native who is key to the success of the show.

Amy Schmieg has come a long way since graduating Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School in 1995. She recently won an Emmy at the Upper Midwest Regional Emmys for directing newscasts at KARE 11 in Golden Valley.

Schmieg’s schedule is constantly changing. Some weeks her schedule is dominated by directing morning shows, while other weeks she directs evening shows. However, the Saturday morning news show is a regular responsibility of Schmieg.

A director for a newscast is in charge of everything that is said and shown on-screen. The director calls for videos and graphics to be shown, puts together a format for the crew to follow, and coordinates the anchors’ scripts.

“The director is basically like a quarterback calling plays and starting plays. That’s the best way to describe what I do,” Schmieg explained.

About an hour before any newscast, Schmieg can be found in the newsroom “marking scripts.” Those scripts are then given to the news anchors, and she keeps a copy as well.

The scripts, written by the producer, are accompanied by a format that has been tailored to the show. The format details what videos, graphics, or audio will be shown on screen or “pulled up” while the anchors are speaking.

While marking scripts, Schmieg sits near the producer of the show, and they talk about what changes or additions may take place, or what delays are being experienced.

Ten minutes before the newscast is to air, Schmieg heads to the control room.

Working closely inside this dark room are Schmieg, the producer, the technical director, and in a small attached room directly behind Schmieg, is the audio director.

“We try to keep it light hearted in here,” Schmieg explained. “That way, on the days that are more serious, the show works better.”

A large digital clock is dominant in the control room. Timing is kept precisely. In fact, a teaser for the upcoming newscast that night was planned to air precisely at 4:54:35 p.m., and it did.

“We must start the 5 p.m. show at 4:59, and we have to be done by 5:30 because that’s when the network news begins,” Schmieg said.

Preparations intensify just seconds before the show

For the last few minutes before the newscast was to air, Schmieg began counting down the minutes, and later, the seconds.

Dialog between Schmieg and the producer that evening, Rieta Buttaro, included the fact that an audio piece was missing for footage that was to air right at the beginning of the show.

“Well, we still have a minute-thirty,” Schmieg casually said. Last minute, or last second, additions are not uncommon and can be expected in this fast-paced venue.

As the show aired live, Schmieg began firing out commands such as, “Key, key, roll blue, swipe to two, mic check from Croman, take red,” and so forth.

The missing audio still hadn’t arrived, and Schmieg was scrambling to find out whether it would arrive in time, and with seconds to go, moments actually, the audio dropped in, and a smooth transition was seen on air.

A sigh of relief was heard by all in the control room, and a big thank you was called out to the audio director Bob Rivard, nicknamed “Chooch.”

“Good job, Chooch,” Schmieg said.

“Shows can change quickly,” Schmieg explained, and said that if a missing piece isn’t delivered on time, that the producer will then substitute a backup piece, all the while the show is airing live.

If a segment is running long, the producer will often call to cut it shorter, or “kill” something else, to ensure the show runs on time.

As viewers at home were watching a newly produced video clip of an upcoming feature, dialog in the control room included compliments to Rivard for the “funky” music that went along with it.

“I asked for something funky,” Buttaro laughed.

“The name of it is ‘Too Cool,’” Rivard said over a loudspeaker that can only be heard in the control room.

Television monitors in the control room show just about every room at KARE 11. At any given time, just about anyone could be spotted on any given monitor from inside the room.

While the news anchors sit at the news desk just feet from the control room, moving cameras in front of the anchors are not operated by people, rather by robots. Someone sits in a nearby booth and moves them remotely.

“It’s like they’re playing a giant video game,” Schmieg said.

The remainder of the newscast played out smoothly, with Schmieg regularly calling out cues in a relaxed manner, and with occasional dialog amongst those in the control room.

After the newscast, the anchors leave their news desk. A small table sits behind the desk, just out of the camera’s view, and holds the anchors’ water, brushes, mirrors, and such.

The news set sits in a large, richly, and brightly colored room, with a high ceiling. The famous “backyard” is to the anchors’ right, and the set for the new 4 p.m. show is further to the right.

Every nook and cranny on the set appears to serve at least one, if not many, functions.

Schmieg’s humble start

Upon entering college, Schmieg didn’t have any particular designs on going into broadcasting, but eventually, that’s exactly where her schooling at Brown Institute led.

Schmieg’s first job right out of college was in Sioux Falls, SD at the television station KDLT. She worked there for about a year and a half before beginning her current career with KARE 11.

She started out as a production assistant for KARE 11 in December 1999, worked her way through the ranks, and directed her first newscast April 17, 2004.

“I remember that day for a lot of reasons. Sadly, it was the day they found the body of Dru Sjodin,” Schmieg said.

And the Emmy goes to . . .

Schmieg found out about a month ago that she had been nominated for the Emmy, but that the winner wouldn’t be announced until the Oct. 25 awards ceremony in Minneapolis.

She couldn’t attend the event, so a co-worker took the Emmy to her that evening. When Schmieg received the call from her co-worker that she had won, she said, “There was a moment of shock, and then the thought that the co-worker that called me was playing a joke on me.”

“I was completely surprised, first with the nomination and then with actually winning the award. I did not expect to win considering I was up against a director who had won the award the previous year,” she explained.

The newscast that won the Emmy was of the 10 p.m. show the night after the 35W bridge collapse in August 2007.

“It was a technically difficult show depicting the aftermath of the bridge collapse. There were multiple live shots with reporters in the field, so before the show I had to coordinate with where the reporters were, and make it all come together on air,” Schmieg explained.

Amy is the daughter of Barry and Teresa Schmieg of Howard Lake.

“Amy winning an Emmy was a pretty big thrill for us,” Teresa said. “She’s a St. James Lutheran School and HLWW graduate – she was born and raised here,” Teresa said.

Schmieg isn’t the only director at KARE 11, but regularly directs evening newscasts, and is in charge of the Saturday Morning show.


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