Lights, Camera, Take Action

by Guest Writer Mavra DeRise



Morris County NOW's TV Task Force has produced more than 25 programs.  Pictured, standing, from the left are Dave Stravach and Matt Simpson, with Sammons; Debbi Warren, Susan Small, Winifred Bunch, Barry Burd, Carolyn Lowther, Diana Ritchie and Barbara Castellana-Stasiak.  Middle Row, from the left, Tim Burke with Sammons, Shirley Henderson, talk show host Mavra DeRise and Paula Kassell.  Front row: Geri Silk and Susan Waldman.  Task Force members not pictured include: Karen Arnold, Chris Barnett, Eva Jacobus, Terrie Juskovic and Rebecca Lubetkin.

Tired of being vilified by right wing extremists in their area, Morris County NOW (N.J.) activists decided it was time to define themselves to the public.

 People in Morris County had very little exposure to our philosophies and goals. As TV Task Force Chair, I knew that the local press had been generally friendly, but rarely did stories about us and our accomplishments. We decided it was time for us to do more than just write letters to the editor to let people know what we stood for and who we really were.

 Inspired by a suggestion made by well-known feminist Flo Kennedy at a woman's festival in the Spring of 1993, chapter activists began to explore the possibility of producing their own television show. The local cable company, Sammons Communication, provided 10 weeks of training to the 18 members of the newly formed TV Task Force, covering all aspects of TV production. The activists learned how to operate the cameras, work the video and audio control panels, run the video tape machines and use the right lighting. At the end of the 10 week training period the crew was ready to roll.

 Since August 1994, Morris County NOW has produced 25 programs. Each edition is broadcast on Sammons' public access channel for four consecutive weeks. Soon after the shows began airing, three other cable companies in the area picked up the program as well.

 A seven member programming committee meets every eight weeks to suggest program topics that will then be presented to the general membership for approval. The committee also serves as a steering committee for the task force.

 While Sammons Communications provides the studio, equipment and technical advice free of charge, there are some costs to the chapter for tapes, postage, travel expenses for guests and equipment used on location. The chapter hopes to attract funding from women-owned and feminist-friendly businesses.

 We want to keep this exciting and fulfilling for all the crew members. We don't want anyone to feel that they've stopped learning. Just because someone becomes skilled in one crew position doesn't mean they are going to be stuck there indefinitely. With the size crew we are working with, there are enough of us to allow members to apprentice in any position they choose.

 As with any long-term project there is a certain amount of attrition, but new activists have joined the crew since the initial training. Many of the crew members are professional people with a wide range of contacts in the business and academic communities, making it quite easy to secure program guests.

 Once the program topic is selected, we've never encountered any difficulty in finding an expert to appear on the show. It's fabulous!

 The program, Morris County NOW Presents, uses a discussion format, with some location footage included. Programs have covered such topics as: Abstinence Legislation: The Threat to Family Life Education, The Aging Woman -- Debunking the Myths, Abortion and Parental Consent Law, Peer Sexual Harassment in Schools, The Women of the Gay Activist Alliance and The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

 The production process is exhilarating. Every taping is a learning experience.

 Chapter activists were excited that a resolution passed at the National NOW Conference in Columbus, encouraging NOW chapters to explore the possibility of developing a feminist cable channel. "It's critical and inevitable that we develop this," said DeRise. "We are ready and willing to help any chapter get started."

 For information contact Morris County NOW at P.O. Box 394, Morristown, N.J. 07960, or by calling 201-285-1200.

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