Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Man Bites Dog

Way back on June 3rd I received an email from Antoinette, a researcher at a Dutch television program called Man Bijt Hond (Man Bites Dog), asking if I might be interested in participating in some broadcasts they were planning to do in New York in early September. I was told that Man Bites Dog is a long-running show that's on the air five nights a week in the Netherlands and that they'd be coming to the city to commemorate the discovery of New York by the explorer Henry Hudson 400 years ago. Someone had the idea of including a segment about a real New York cab driver as an unusual angle for a story and they found me right here at this blog. Filming would take place during the first week of September for shows that would be on the air in Holland from Sept. 7th through the 11th.

You get five minutes of fame, right? I realized I've only used up about a minute of it when I was interviewed on BBC Breakfast back in November and so I still have about four minutes left on my account! I said "yes".

Thus began a long series of emails between myself and Antoinette that culminated in a plan: I would show up at the crew's hotel in the Flatiron District in a taxi for three consecutive nights; the cab would be outfitted with special lights, sound equipment, and cameras, and I myself would have a microphone attached under my shirt; I would meet with Cas, the interviewer and cameraman, and Pepijn, the sound man; and the three of us would cruise around Manhattan for three hours each night in search of material that could later be edited for the show.

And so I became part of a real television production.



One of the crew setting up a camera angle on the big star of the show

Cas, the cameraman and interviewer, with the hand-held

Crew member setting up the back seat camera

Passengers shared the back seat with sound man Pepijn

On the second night Cas set up this camera on the hood of the cab

Cas, "NYC Gene", and Pepijn

Video clips from the show:

So how did it go? Mostly it was great fun. And quite flattering that such attention was being paid to me. I will admit to feeling a bit of vindication in the sense that taxi driving is normally a relatively anonymous occupation without any group support. Many things happen that you wish could be witnessed or acknowledged by others. So it was gratifying to finally have that happen in such a big way. They told me close to a million people watch this show every night.

It was also a learning experience. We accumulated more than 7 hours of footage. From that only about 8 minutes of material were actually used. So I learned something about the power of editing. Unless the person being interviewed has some kind of agreement that he has approval rights over the final cut, how he is portrayed is very much in the hands of the editor, or the director via the editor. In this case, I didn't think the material about my personal life was relevant or particularly interesting and I thought the bits at the end of the segments were pretty lame. I wouldn't have included them.

On the other hand, I thought my comments about taxi driving and the interactions with the passengers were presented very well. We had to get the know-how down about getting people to come into the cab, by the way. We found that passengers hailing us from the street didn't want to get into a cab with two guys in the front and another guy with odd machinery in the back. So what we eventually learned was that it was best to park the taxi in a busy night-life area and then Cas would go out on the sidewalk and solicit volunteers. Plus offering a free ride didn't hurt.

My favorite sequence with the passengers was the one with the screaming actress. I should point out that the video she had been in earlier that day was a spoof of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. I think an impression may have been given that she had been in the original, which was not the case. Also the decibel level of her scream was not given justice in that shot. It was much louder! Unfortunately, my comment of "I think you broke my windshield!" was not included. She nearly did! Her name, by the way, is Mika Henderson and she can be contacted at should anyone reading this be in the market for a superb screamer.

Another thing that was left out was that the girl who was with the guy who was so enthusiastic about the celebrities I've had in my cab surprised us, when she learned that the show we were doing was from Holland, by speaking Dutch fluently! It turned out she is from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America. I thought that was pretty amazing.

So there it is. Cabs Are For Kissing takes to the airwaves. Hope it brings some smiles.


Violette said...

Hi! I usually never watch 'Man Bijt Hond' (although it's a nice program) because I'm not home when it is broadcasted. But in the 'Hudson week - 400 years The Netherlands and New York' we recorded all the progammes about NYC. I visited NYC last march and since then I even like it more to see and read things about the city that never sleeps! (although it takes a nap on mondays, a capdriver told me!). Anyway, I really liked watching your cabdriver item! So now I have youre blog and pictures from a taxi sites bookmarked in my toolbar so I can get a glimpse of what is going on. Keep up the nice work.
I might visit NY again, hope so, and who knows.. I might be sitting in your cab.

Greeting from Holland!

G.S. said...

Hi Violette, Thanks for the encouragement. Anytime you feel like making a comment, please do so. It's much appreciated!

Yuriy Akopov said...

Glad to see your face! Great blogs you've got.

Thanks again for keeping them alive for so long, every your post is a remarkable event for me.

NYC taxi photo said...

excellent pieces. I particularly liked when you talked about the reasons people come to new york, as I feel sort of tangled within this too. everyone comes to new york at the time when they are my age, and yet I came to new york only because it was home, and my visions and goals feel more comfortable when aimed in other towns.

thanks for linking back up there, I only saw the fist gene piece when I was looking for myself on it, i'm in the opener for less than a split second where the meter reads 40.00, but I've finally seen all three, and they don't disappoint.

Anonymous said...

don't feel unappreicated- it is literally my dream to get a taxi ride from you if i ever come to NYC!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gene,

What a nice surprise to see you on dutch tv, after reading your blog for 2 years now!
greetings, Louis from the Netherlands.

G.S. said...

Louis - you know, I was wondering even before it aired in Holland if Louis from the Netherlands will see it. So glad to know that you did! You're Number One!

april said...

It is wonderful to be able to hear and see you "in action" as you are fleshed out to your devoted readers. I so hope you realize your life's dream to be a successful commercial playwright; however, every blog installment you write is a one-act smash in itself. I hope you sell every word of it one day and retire comfortably, a montage of your photos covering a brand new medallion - your gift from the TLC for promoting and presenting NYC to the unenlightened so enticingly.

april said...

I think the last clip with the personal info is charming and I'm glad the editors included it. This reader was left with warm fuzzies and an acute sense of what she's missed as an ex-pat (in FL) for far too many years. (In this neck of vanishing woods, yellow cabs are scarcer than hens' teeth.)

G.S. said...

Thanks, April! Comments like yours really help me keep creating. Best wishes to you.