When I was 10 years-old, like many children, my parents got a divorce. In my family, this meant my mom had to go back to work after years of being a stay-at-home mom.
We were poor. My brothers were only four and six at the time, and because we couldn’t afford a babysitter, most of the time we looked after each other.
As I got older, I realized what an enormous role the television played in our lives. We spent hours watching and in a way, it became like a babysitter. I used to love to watch old sitcoms from the 50’s and 60’s. Those classic shows brought me a lot of comfort, and at times, strength.
Mary Poppins was also a tremendous source of comfort. I loved the books and the film and memorized the songs from the time I could talk. I wished Mary Poppins would float down and take care of my brothers and I; but being on the other side of the screen had her somewhat limited, so I got to take the role of caregiver while our mom had to work. I made lunches, filled sippy cups, thought up games, went for walks, and made sure the house was tidy — like I thought Mary Poppins would have.
When I was 15, I thought about all the other kids who might be home during the day without a caregiver — children who could really use another caring adult voice in their lives. By this time, “reality TV” seemed to becoming more and more popular. I wondered how we could have drifted so far from the comforting, whimsical programs of the past, to what seemed to be the glorifying of bad behavior through these new reality TV stars.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I knew that I wanted to make a television program that could help children feel the same way I did about Mary Poppins when I was growing up.
A friend of mine up the street had gotten a new video camera, so I convinced my mom to let us use the garage to make a makeshift studio so we could film our very own children’s program. I cleared out a space and then our handyman neighbor helped me build a little set to look like the inside of a house.
My friends and I filmed extensively, not only late into the evening, but we’d wake up early to edit before school. However, it soon became clear our work wasn’t quite Disney quality.
I was disappointed. If we really wanted to show people that we were serious, we were going to need better lighting, better cameras, better sound, better everything — but how?
After much researching, I discovered a local public access television station about half an hour from our house. It was there, members of the community could actually produce their own kind of television programs. And the best part of all? It was all free!
I spoke with the gentleman in charge and told him about my idea. He invited my mom and I to visit the studio. I excitedly packed my carpetbag with some of my hand-made puppets; and a few days later, we were standing on a real-live sound stage. The man in charge greeted us warmly and showed us around. It was as exciting as it was terrifying to my 15 year-old self. He said we were welcome to use the studio; however I would have to be trained on how to use the equipment. Unfortunately, I was too young to be trained on my own, so my mom would have to be trained along with me.
This was indeed a tall order seeing my mother was a single mom and already working a full-time job. But nonetheless, she was willing to be there for me. So after being at work all day, three nights a week she’d get back in her car, fight traffic up to the studio, and be trained along with her incredibly excited son.
We learned about lighting; editing; makeup; how to use a microphone; how to construct and tear down a set; how to operate the cameras; and how to work a control board among other things. We even got to work on a few other people’s productions and learned as much as we could. It was hard work and we wouldn’t get home sometimes till after 10 o’clock at night, but I loved it.
When we finally graduated from the course, I was ready. I’d been writing lots of scripts and songs and even made some new puppets. I even built a set all on my own this time. It was lightweight so it could be transported back and forth easily to the studio.
Eventually, we filmed our first few episodes. But again, after reviewing some of our footage, it was clear our production was still nowhere near the quality of something that would be seen on regular television. My 15 year-old brain couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I thought we must need even better cameras, better lighting, better sound, better everything — but again, how?
Not long after, I contacted a local public television station who put me in touch with their video and production services department. I explained as best I could what I had in mind in terms of the kind of program I hoped to create, and again, surprisingly, my mom and I were invited to the studio.
Once again I excitedly packed my carpetbag with puppets and songs and scripts to show them. They welcomed us with such kindness and respect. However, it soon became apparent that to produce the kind of program I wanted, would cost a great deal more than we could afford. That’s when I came up with the idea for a fundraiser.
Official Website: www.michaelkinsell.com