By Zach Collier
Abbie Vance is a Student Producer for BYUradio’s Highway 89. The show just celebrated its 5 year anniversary last week.For the last two years of the show’s run, she has filmed and edited live performances for artists from all over the United States – from Spokane, Washington’s Tyrone Wells to Provo’s own Foreign Figures. We got to talk with Vance in studio at BYU Broadcasting headquarters about her duties on the show, how Highway 89 began incorporating video into their programming, and how filming a radio show presents unique challenges to her as a filmmaker.
How long have you been working at BYUradio as a student?
I have been here since the end of 2014, so we’re coming up on two years. Not quite two years.
So as a film major, did you expect to be working in radio?
No. Not at all, actually. [Laughter] Honestly, in the beginning I didn’t know I was going to be working in radio. I just wanted to work in this building [the BYU Broadcasting Building]. I came to school, and everyone was like, “Oh! You’re going doing film? You should work at BYU Broadcasting!” And I was like, “OK!” This job just sort of fell in my lap, and it was everything that I wasn’t specifically looking for, but when I met with my supervisor and met Jackie [Tateishi, producer of Highway 89] for the first time, everything just kinda clicked. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is everything I want to do!” I plan to be here until I graduate. It’s pretty much the best thing ever. I get to use the skills that I want to be using for the rest of my career on a weekly, daily, hourly basis while I’m here. Everything from producing to directing to editing to coloring to operating. The only thing that I really don’t do is sound, because that’s taken care of for me [Laughter]. It’s amazing. But not only do I have that, I’m a musician myself, so being able to take part in such a wide, diverse range of experiences and artists and music is fantastic. I can feel myself not only growing as a musician but as a music appreciator. Which I feel like are two separate skills that everyone should have.
I’ll come back to talking about the job, but as a musician, what instruments do you play? What do you like to do?
I’m a classically trained pianist. I have been since I was four. I am nationally certified with the National Guild of Piano Teachers as an accompanist. So… that’s a thing. [Laughter] I have performed. I’ve competed in multiple competitions and in different festivals and things all growing up. I was a piano teacher for about three years. I took voice lessons for a while. I’m a singer more as, like, a recreational slash keeping myself awake on long car trips type of situation [Laughter]. I did take voice lessons for a number of years and I do theatre, so I sing in that way. I can play anything with a keyboard. I play organ and I’ve done organ for about 4 or 5 years now. I can do keyboard-ing in a pop sense. But that’s it. I want to expand. I took one French Horn lesson and loved it, but was not able to get my hands on a French Horn. So, I do not count that in my list of skills [Laughter]. I could get sound out of it, and that was it. It’s my dream to sit down and learn guitar one of these days so I could have an instrument that’s actually portable [Laughter]. But yeah, music is just a part of my life.
What instilled that in you?
My grandfather is a prolific composer and arranger of music. He and my grandmother met on BYU Young Ambassadors back in the early days. Music was in my household growing up, too. All of my siblings – we all play piano. My dad and my mom and all of us go to Ward Choir every Sunday morning. There’s just constantly music playing in the car, in the house, everywhere. That really left an impression on me. We’d always go to concerts. Good orchestras, recitals. Everything.
So Highway 89 – the contemporary side and the classical side – is like a perfect marriage of your interests?
It really is, it really is. My personal music tastes are very eclectic. So it’s perfect. I get just as much enjoyment out of Mojave Nomads as I do out of Vassily Primakov, the Russian pianist. Rivers versus the Symphonia Salt Lake. It worked out really well working here. I really like it!
What was the position you were officially hired on as?
On the books I am a Student Producer. In the show, depending on the episode, I’m credited as Associate Producer or Film Assistant. That’s the show credits you’ll hear at the end of tapings. In reality, I kind of do whatever Jackie needs me to do. Mostly that work goes around the filming, because that’s solely where my expertise lies as far as the team. Everyone is super talented, but that’s my one little niche that I do. But I’ll help Jackie with script research and social media, and I’m in charge of web entries for new shows and keeping track of all that. That’s sort of the producer side. On the filming side, Jackie does still produce that so she’s the ultimate authority as far a shots and what we end up publishing. But I direct when we have other operators besides myself – I coordinate with them. I’m in charge of all the DIT: file organization and logging and reviewing. I do all the editing and all the coloring and all the publishing onto YouTube and things. I do all the equipment, I do all the lighting. Equipment setup and takedown: that’s also a process because we have in-building equipment, so you have to check things out and get things up here. I climb on the ladders and work with the lights. I do a little bit of everything, but it’s all pretty great.
[Jackie, interjecting]: If I’m not here, she’s me.
Abbie: That too [Laughter]. Sometimes I’ll run the show when she’s not here. I’ve only done that a handful of times.
Jackie: She’s amazing. I was on maternity leave for three months, and she had just been hired. She worked independently for three months. She got lots done. It was amazing.
Abbie: It was like, “Hi! Here’s your new job. I’m gonna go have a baby.” [Laughter].
So you were in charge of the show?!
Abbie: Oh no. There was very much a hiatus [Laughter]. Everything falls apart without Jackie around! We can handle one episode, maybe, on a good day.
But not an entire summer?
Jackie: She’s totally qualified, though.
Abbie: Also, I help with people wrangling sometimes when we have groups in. I’m REALLY good at getting water bottles and telling people to turn off their cell phones and all that jazz [Laughter].
Very important skill to have! How has Highway 89 – a radio program – started incorporating video into the show?
Well, it started before I was brought on the team. That was really only to test the waters. We do have some of those videos actually published to our YouTube page. You can check ’em out. The idea was that because we are sort of the young, hip child of Classical 89 – you know, the one who’s a little rebellious, who doesn’t quite do the same thing and we want to like talk to people and we wanna get folk artists, like, what is this? – because we bring in real life people with real lives and real careers and real social media presences, we thought we should expand our exposure not just for our sake, but for theirs. It’s 2016. In the world we live in, there’s no such thing as single media anymore. Everything is interconnected, everything is holistic, everything is tied to each other. The idea of marrying radio to video is no longer taboo. It’s no longer unheard of. It’s starting to become commonplace. There’s the Tiny Desk Concerts NPR does. Everyone, even if you don’t do it a lot, every radio station nowadays just to keep ahead of things has a Twitter feed, has Facebook, has everything. Those mediums operate well with visual content. That’s how they perform best. That was sort of the idea. Again, going back to the fact that we have real people in our studio, we kind of want to prove that [Laughter]. We want to have some neat, concrete evidence of that. And we want to give them the best experience possible. So we want to give them the biggest, happiest, all around: “We appreciate you, we are happy to have you in our studio, we want you to come back. We want you to get the best out of this as much as you possibly can.”
Was video a part of the plans from the get go?
We’ve always taken in-studio photographs. That was the barest, barest bones of a beginning. Then we did those tentative video explorations. I was brought on specifically to do video. That was why I was hired. So we started out really rough. We didn’t have a lot of equipment. We didn’t have a lot of expertise. I was brand new to the space and to the show layout and everything. But it’s been a really neat process. A very dynamic and an organic process, I’d say, as all the pieces start working together. It’s not just I set up my camera, the show happens, I take my camera away, and everything’s perfect. We’ve had to incorporate filming into how we run the radio show. Where we place performers in the studio influences how the shot looks. Our recording engineer is long suffering and sometimes lets me make requests as far as where he puts people [Laughter]. Things like our social media has changed. We target [the filming] for where we are going to be publishing it. For example, sometimes I’ll take small, visually interesting clips away from sound at all for the sole purpose of being GIFs. Sometimes I’ll film full songs. That requires a number of different angles to keep things interesting and to get full coverage. We communicate with the performers so we know what they want to be filmed. Those full songs are used on YouTube and for promoting rebroadcasts. Remember, once you’re on the show you go on rotation forever, so you’ll keep airing and airing and airing indefinitely.
So… don’t screw up.
[Laughter] Oh yeah. Everything’s live. This is essentially the most nutshell documentary process I’ve ever experienced. None of my peers or people I’ve worked with on sets or people I’ve met in the industry work in conditions like this. I don’t mean conditions like, “We are in the jungle.” Because they’re good conditions. They’re just 100% different from anything else that exists in the film industry. It’s not like making a music video. It’s not like making a documentary. It’s not like filming a concert. These are all different from what we do here. So yeah, it’s one take. It’s one shot. It’s as if live. “No stops, starts, retakes, do overs, or edits” as Jackie likes to say. And that goes for me as well. So if I miss something, it’s missed forever. If I spend a minute and a half on just one person and one shot, we have a minute and a half of one person and one shot.
How does shooting Highway 89 challenge you as a filmmaker?
It requires sort of a paradigm shift as far as how you film things. I do lots of other side projects because I’m a film student, so I work on a number of sets and I do some freelance things too. So it’s always kind of fun for me to come back to work here because it’s like an exercise almost. It’s like a stretching. Like Yoga for your film muscles. Everything they teach you in class, everything that the industry professionals will teach you on a set doesn’t really apply here necessarily. I mean, definitely the principles and techniques still do, of course. But this experience of what you’re filming: musicians who are performing for radio. So they’re oriented for radio, they are miked for radio. Audio is number one. Audio always beats me. I am always outranked. Always. You have to cater for audio first and foremost. You have to cater to the space. This is not a film-friendly space. This is a very film unfriendly space. The lights are a bad color and the walls don’t match the floor. It’s wonderful for audio – audio’s always king. So anyway, I’m going to go back to your original question. [Laughter]
How has filming changed?
Really, if I were to summarize, it’s just been coming together. We’ve been getting streamlined. We have our processes. We have our protocols. We have our checklists. We know how to light and how to shoot any combination of instruments and people. Whatever you want to throw at us, we can handle it now. It’s great. I think it’s what sets us apart. I think it’s what sort of keeps us active.
Keeps you on your toes.
Highway 89 airs in Utah on 89.1 FM – Classical 89 – and worldwide on BYUradio at Sirius XM 143. Make sure to like both Classical 89 and BYUradio on Facebook. You can check out some of Abbie’s work from Highway 89 below. You can also read our interview with Steven Kapp Perry, host of Highway 89, by clicking here.