Meet: Bethany Sefchick
Associate Producer/Director for "What's In The News"
Who I am
I'm the Associate Producer/Director for the "What's In The News" series, overall. I spend a lot of time selecting the video that will be used in our programs and putting the show together with the help of editors, technical directors, and the rest of the crew, as well as directing the in-studio portions of the show. I also spend a lot of time in the field directing remote video shoots.
For the Neurolab project, I spend most of my time working with Jeff Hughes, our technical director/ graphics designer, to create the graphics that we will be using in our show. The graphics that we are currently working on will be used throughout the entire season to give the Neurolab segments a consistent look and feel within the WITN program. Typically, it will take us two months to create a logo and related graphics, so that leaves me very little time to do much else on the project. I also acted in some of the segments describing the experiments. We were low on crew people one day so I filled in as the "teacher" conducting the control experiment at the pool.
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be involved in the media industry. At first, I thought I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, in a kind of "Lois Lane" sort of way. Once I started really researching careers in the media, though, I discovered that television might give me more of the freedom and creativity that I craved. Then, in the sixth grade, my class produced a series of skits for the younger students. I had the role of the producer of a television show called "Action Snooze." To make sure that I really understood what the part required of me as an "actress," I researched real TV producers. What I found fascinated me.
That was the point when I really knew what I wanted to do with my life. After that, it was a matter of actively seeking out opportunities in the real world where I could learn as much as possible about television and the media in general. I didn't limit myself in my search for opportunities. I looked at radio, television, newspapers (again), and even the theater. Those seemingly different areas were, at least in my mind, connected, and I felt that if I was going to be the best producer or director or whatever, then I had to have a basic understanding of how each area worked.
Likes/Dislikes about Career
One of the greatest things about my career is the creative freedom that it gives me. I have a chance to create what I call "small-screen works of art" every week for the show. It's a chance to use my mind in challenging ways every single day, and no day is exactly like any day that came before. Plus, it's truly a team effort to create television. Even for a 15-minute program, you need technical directors, audio people, camera operators, tape operators, and the list just goes on and on. One person alone cannot produce a TV program.
But perhaps the greatest thing, is that my job is just plain FUN! For me, it's a blast to play around with new technology and figure out how to create something that is just a little bit better than the last project we did. It's not just about adding some text to some video, it's creating "technical magic" for others to see and enjoy. As my brother says, "It's a job where you get paid to watch TV all day." That's not quite true, but sometimes it seems like it.
On the down side, this type of career requires a lot of dedication. It's not an average 9 to 5 job that you can just forget about when you leave the office for the day. There are times when you go out on a remote video shoot at 7 a.m. in sub-zero weather, or don't get home until 11:30 at night because you were working in the studio to create graphics. You're "on-call" 24 hours a day, including nights and weekends. It's hard sometimes giving up so much of your personal time for your job, but the rewards are so great that it more than makes up for the extra time this job requires.
Preparation for Career
Growing up, I loved to write. But after awhile, the writing just wasn't enough. I wanted to tell my stories in a more visual way. I wanted people to be able to see the pictures that I saw in my head. That's when I knew that I wanted to work in television. I started reading everything I could about television history, television production, and the possible future of television. I knew that if I wanted to produce a show, I needed to first know how the equipment worked. So I read everything that I could get my hands on, almost literally; not only technical journals, but a lot of fiction as well. To be able to technically produce a story is one thing, but to be able to weave a coherent and interesting story is another. From that point on, it just snowballed. I got involved in my high school's news and sports report that aired on a local radio station every Saturday. By the time I got to college, I knew that I had found the career that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to.
First and foremost, read and learn! Learn everything you can about the technology and what makes it tick. Read a lot of books. Fiction and non-fiction. Good and bad. The broader the base you have in the beginning the better producer, director, technical director, or whatever you'll be. The more you know about all positions in the field, the more effective you'll be. Actively seek out opportunities for you to get behind the scenes at a local television or radio station. If your school has a student-run station, get involved in that. Make your own opportunities, if you have to. Whatever you do, don't just sit there and wait for the opportunities to come looking for you. You need to go look for them.
Also, be prepared for whatever might come your way. This is a highly competitive field, so getting started might not be easy. It might not pay a whole lot, at first. Be willing to work long hours in not-so-nice conditions, if you have to. It'll make you a better professional in the long run.
Most importantly, find a mentor, someone who's been in the business awhile. That person can do more for you than you might ever realize. Not just helping you find a job, but providing the "inside information" and real world examples necessary to be as prepared as possible when you finally do start your career.
In high school my parents were probably my greatest influences. They always told me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, and if I wanted to be a newspaper reporter or a television producer, then that's what I should do.
It wasn't until I reached college that I really found my professor/mentor, though. Deane Runyon was the first professor in the School of Communications at Penn State that I ever met. He was in charge of most of the department's sports production, and at the time, that's what I thought I really wanted to do. His focus was on television production, and not so much administration. So the summer of my freshman year in college, I started working for him. Mostly it was logging hockey games tapes and getting a feel for the basic video editing equipment.
From that point on, Deane was my guide and my mentor in my college career. He gave me opportunities that I had never even imagined were possible for a young college student. Everything from being the traveling videographer for the Penn State Icers (the men's ice hockey team) to co-producing a sports highlight show was available to me. Deane always pushed me to be my best and never let me settle for mediocre work. There were times when I thought that he was harder on me than his other students and that maybe my work wasn't really as good as I thought it was. Looking back, I see that he *was* more demanding of me, but only because he somehow knew what kinds of results I was capable of producing. His willingness to give me opportunities, along with a desire to see me succeed, are what made all the difference in my career.
When I'm not working at WPSX, I can usually be found at home playing my French horn, writing short stories, reading, and babying my lazy, old cocker spaniel, Fletcher. His favorite activity these days is sleeping. He's 13 years old (which works out to 91 in dog years), so I guess he's allowed. To relax, I usually watch "The X-Files" or "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." On my more ambitious days, I play a little ice hockey for fun.