My Return to Television

It's been 16 months since I walked out of a TV newsroom for the last time. Since then, I've haven't had anything to with the content of television programs. That changes tonight when a program I put together will air on the local TV station here in Vava'u.

But this program is unlike anything I've ever done before and by US standards, I would be the first to say "it sucks". However, by Tongan standards it's a leap forward in local TV.

The TV station here has been on the air for just less than a year. The equipment is VERY basic and they have no way to edit what they shoot. For a 30 minute program, they shoot 30 minutes of tape and then play it back the way it was shot. If there is something that must be edited out, they will dub the tape to a DVD. Stop the tape then skip past the part that needs to come out and then start the DVD again. The station only broadcasts in the evenings unless there is a special event. It's most popular programs are those that it downlinks off of Sky TV (Like Directv) and rebroadcasts, especially Rugby matches. In the US, of course, that would be illegal and copyright infringement. Here is it just the way they do things. (Tongans see no reason to pay for something they can get for free, which is why all the software and movies here are bootleg versions)

The TV program I put together is about the Alonga program, which is a program for mentally and physically disabled Tongans. The group wanted to get something on TV and asked me if I would help. I said sure, not fully realizing what I was getting myself into. I did tell them that if I was going to edit it, I would perfer to shoot it myself it they could get my a camera to use.

Last Thursday, the guy who runs the local TV station showed up at the Alonga class with his gear, which is a decent pro-consumer camera. He handed me the camera, tripod and microphones and left. As I was shooting the battery died. I tried the second battery, it was dead as was the third. I had about 10 minutes of raw footage at this point and no interviews. Clearly not enough for a 30 minute program. One of the Alonga volunteers got in her car and tracked the guy down who returned with a charger. However, as it turns out, it was a problem with the camera. To get the batteries to work, you had to switch to play mode and then back to record mode and then the batteries worked fine. (Of course, he didn't tell me this when he dropped off the gear.)

One of the Alonga teachers interviewed two parents who had children in the class while I manned the camera. I then interviewed the teacher, asking my questions in English and having her respond in Tongan. Finally, I had about 50 minutes worth of tape and said I was done even though I had only a vague idea of what the interviewees had said.

I packed up all of the gear and the guy from the TV station asked for the tape I had just shot. I asked him if I could hold onto it until I got it transferred to my computer where I would edit it. At this point, he tells me the program airs in a few hours and he'll just air it the way it was shot. Clearly this would not work. It was not shot the way he was used to shooting. After a few minutes of discussion, it was agreed I would come to the TV station on Monday to dub the tape into my computer and he would delay airing the program until tonight (Wednesday).

Once I had everything on my computer, I started editing. I had decided not to use a narrator and just use video and interviews (sound bites) together to tell the story. With a narrator, I would have had to write a script, had it translated into Tongan, get it recorded and then edited. I simply didn't have the time to get that done by today.

Using a dictionary and my basic Tongan skills, I went to work on the video editing. It was a lot harder than I expected. It was especially hard to edit down the sound bites because my grammar is not good enough to know if the next word or phrase is relevant.

Now you might be wondering why I didn't have anyone from the Alonga program with me. Turns out, they were all in a conference and were not available or they didn't speak Tongan either. I finally recruited my counterpart at the Tonga Development Bank to help me. I could not have done it without him.

So I get everything edited and I'm as happy as I can be with what I have, but it's only 22 minutes long, not the necessary 30. What to do? In the US, I would grab a camera and go shoot some more interviews and footage. But I don't have a camera and have to make do with what I have. I decide to put together a basic music video at the end and edit the footage I have with some Tongan music. So I put together a four minute music video and then insert it twice into the end of the program. It's now 30 minutes.

In a million years, I would NEVER have done something like this in the USA. But I'm not in the USA, I'm in Tonga. As I said earlier, I might think it sucks, but an edited local program on TV is a first in Vava'u. And since the people here have only had TV for less than a year, it will probably look pretty good to them.

I have been teaching myself to edit. Even though I was in TV for 23 years, I did very little editing. However, since being in Peace Corps, I've been playing around with it. I put together two good-bye videos for fellow volunteers who were wrapping up their service and my friend Scot and I have been working together on a video for Peace Corps but Scot is doing the editing on that one.

Group 74 Arrives

They're Here!! The newest Peace Corps trainees arrived in Tonga last Thursday. These 24 folks make up Peace Corps group 74. (I am group 73)

After spending a few days on the main island of Tongatapu, they flew up here to Vava'u on Tuesday. They are very lucky they got to fly. My group had to take a 22 hour boat trip to get here. However, the boat is out of service, being repaired in Fiji, so they missed out on that experience.

My fellow volunteers and I met the new group at the airport to briefly say hello as they left to meet their homestay families. They will be here in Vava'u for six weeks and we all are looking forward to getting to know them better. I'll get to know the business volunteers as I'm helping out with their training.

Tonga Development Bank Workshop

Last week, we held an "Improving Your Business" workshop in the village of Falevai, which is located on an outer island. The workshop is designed to help Tongans learn important business skills such as record keeping and money management.

There is no electricity in this village and no tables and chairs. We rented a generator so we could show our presentation on a screen to the participants who all sat on the floor.

This photo was taken after the workshop inside the hall. From left to right are my counterpart, Kolokesa, the bank manager Fuka and myself. These are the two people I work closest with every day at the bank. And Kolokesa is the one who assisted me with the video project described above. 

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  1. I'm sure your TV program will be a great success. The locals may just learn a bit about the process from you. Just a reminder (not that you need one) this is Tonga!

  2. good stuff they need you
    malo e ngaue

  3. Myra, thanks for the comment (and the reminder)