I recently attended a high school production in their 200 seat little theater, with its blue velvet curtains across the stage and “Go Ravens” banners adorning the walls. You were there, you just went to the one close to you—some really well-meaning kids had varying degrees of success in remembering their part, in between the scenes the long pauses and sounds from backstage made it clear that changing clothes can be difficult, and in the end everyone had a great time and everyone was a star to the people who came to see them. A bunch of families went out to dinner that night with smiles all around, and no one was discovered as the next big thing. They cleared the stage, and when they do an assembly in that room the next day, it will look as though the whole thing never happened.
As I was leaving, I did something not many people do. I stopped at the booth and told the kids working the sound and lights they did a great job. I did not tell them I was taking them all to Disneyland, although that’s what it looked like they heard the way they jumped around. I was thrilled to have made their day but I was also a little sad. I wanted to hug them all. It shouldn’t have been Disneyland-type news to hear a little gratitude and appreciation.
I meant it, too. If you pay close attention, most of the time the problems with the show aren’t from the booth. The lights are on, the mics are on—they may be terrible, but you can’t blame the kids for run-down equipment—and we pay no attention to the cues because their job is to be not-noticed. The actors get the spotlight, and the guy who runs the spotlight only gets attention when he messes up. If you can see and hear the star, the kids in the booth are doing a great job, even if the star can’t remember their lines, and when those kids walk to their mom’s car at the end of the night, they aren’t carrying balloons and roses.
I’m pondering the grown up version of this. In film, with the exception of a handful of daring artistic choices, the only time the audience notices the technical details is when there’s a problem. We want our post production team to sneak in, wave their magic wands, make everything look better—smoother, more natural, consistent between shots—and then sneak away, listed somewhere in the middle of a long run of credits that no one stays in the theater to watch.
And so, I would like to raise a glass, tip my hat, and offer a small bow to the invisible ones—the teams of creative people who work tirelessly and without attention to make the films we enjoy as perfect as they can be. The next time you watch a film, stay through the credits, and try to picture the post production team at work. When they were in high school, those were the kids in the booth, and they deserve a hug.