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Thursday, October 23, 2014         

OUTTAKES


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Groundbreaking concert was high-wire act with no net

By Mike Gordon

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Living as we do in an age where communication technology connects people oceans apart — and from their cellphones — it's hard to imagine the novelty of a concert that reached a global television audience.

But when Elvis Presley took the stage 40 years ago in Hono­lulu, the only thing bigger than "The King" was that his "Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii" concert was beamed live via satellite to 40 countries in Europe and Asia. (It would not be seen in the United States until three months later.)

A mainland production crew from NBC-TV flew to Hawaii and used camera operators from KGMB, the local CBS affiliate, to broadcast the concert. The site was the Hono­lulu International Center, which is now called the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

They wheeled a KGMB production trailer into the center parking lot and started the show at 12:30 a.m. to hit all the time zones live. It was a high-wire act without a net.

"Because it's live, that adds the element of tension," said Phil Arnone, a program director and production coordinator at KGMB when the concert aired on Jan. 14, 1973. "Knowing that you only get the one shot, you can't retape a number or change anything. You shoot it as it happens. A mistake, a camera shot that is wrong or a button pushed wrong or Elvis is flat, you live with all of that because it is a live broadcast."

Arnone, now 76, watched the broadcast from inside the production trailer. Television veteran Marty Pasetta, who would go on to direct 17 Academy Award show telecasts, was the director.

"Everyone gets kind of puckered up in that situation," Arnone said. "Your attention level, your focus, is high. You can feel it inside your body."

The broadcast featured multiple images of Presley being shown at the same moment using split-screen effects, something that was not easy to do and not done often back then.

Camera operators had sheets of acetate marked with rectangular patterns, one for each planned split screen. When a shot called for an image of Presley in a specific spot on the screen — for example, a close-up of the singer in the lower center of the screen — a camera operator would focus the shot in the corresponding rectangle.

"Everybody had to frame their cameras weirdly and put taped plastic over their viewfinder so you knew where to put your shot so it would fit in an effect," said Ken Libby, a KGMB camera operator who helped with the camera crane during the concert.

"You did a funny framing, and you had Elvis way down in the corner and lights somewhere else," added Libby, now 64 and living in Washington state. "They could use just a quarter of the screen."

In the trailer, the crew would blend the separate images into a collage of Presley, sometimes including scenic shots of Hawaii, and then broadcast it as one image — a task that today would be seamlessly and quickly handled by computers.

Fellow KGMB cameraman Jim "J.R." Rothschild worked on a platform in the middle of the audience to capture "head-to-toe and waist-up shots," he said. Now 67 and retired (also in Washington state), Rothschild called the experience "the peak of my career."

"We knew we were doing something that had never been done before," Rothschild said. "And director Marty Pasetta was very creative and a step ahead of the times."

But the director was also quite demanding.

"There was a lot of pressure," Rothschild said. "At the dress rehearsal the night before, Marty yelled so much that the night of the show he couldn't talk. He would call the shots with a really hoarse voice."

AND that's a wrap …

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. Read his Outtakes Online blog at honolulupulse.com. Reach him at 529-4803 or email mgordon@staradvertiser.com.






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