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Q&A; with Matt Lee, Director, CNN International

An Inside Look at Being a TV Director

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As a director at CNN International Matt Lee has to stay calm, despite all the craziness that production jobs in live television can bring.

Early in Lee’s TV career staying calm was more difficult, “I was working as a video journalist and had to put a microphone on the host of one of our talk shows.  She had on an unusual outfit and I couldn’t figure out how to get the microphone through her blouse… she could tell I was nervous so she just grabbed the microphone, looked me in the eyes and said just go up there and slip in on.” Lee recalls with a chuckle.“So I did as she told me to and ran my hands up her blouse – very respectfully – and slipped on the microphone in an appropriate manner…As appropriate as you can be while your nervous, shaking hands are up another person’s blouse.”

When did you decide to pursue a career in Sports TV?

I’ve shot and edited video since I was 14 years old.  I used a VHS video camera and would shoot my friends and me skateboarding.  I would then attach two VHS recorder/players together and start editing.  These movies I made with my friends were such a hit at high school that my art teacher started showing them to the school.  Eventually once a month the school would have an assembly to show these videos to the entire school.

Matt Lee’s Sports TV “Stats”

matt lee director cnnEducation: University of Central Florida

Production Jobs held: Audio Engineer, Master Control Operator, Cameraman, Video Editor, Technical Director, Director

Stations: WOFL-TV (Orlando, FL), CNN, CNN/Sports Illustrated, CNN International

Most memorable moment working in Sports TV: Meeting Cal Ripken Jr.

Best piece of advice: You have to put yourself out there – make the effort to learn because no one is going to help you as much as you can help yourself.  Use your time wisely.  Don’t waste all your time on Facebook and the internet; use your time to improve.

You went to the University of Central Florida, how much did it help you in your Sports TV career?

UCF has an extremely good program for Television Production jobs.  While in the TV Program at UCF we held actual newscasts and I was the sports TV reporter.  I never really had a desire to be on camera, but it was fun and I knew more about sports TV than I did about News.  It was my first production job and a great experience learning how to make a television broadcast.  I did everything from running prompter to directing/technical directing, writing and reporting.

Did you have fears it would be tough to land your first Television Production Job?

No.  I didn’t think about that.  After graduating from UCF I heard about CNN’s Video Journalist program and sent a resume there before I moved to Colorado.  A few months later I received a call from CNN and had a few interviews over the phone.  I couldn’t believe it and seriously didn’t think I did all that well because I was not current on my current events. I thought to myself – I may not know all the answers, but I know how to sell myself as a hard worker, talented individual and someone eager to learn.  This must have worked because I received an offer to start as a Video Journalist and they wanted me to start in one week.  Needless to say I moved from Colorado to Atlanta, Georgia.

What is the most difficult thing about working in Television?

The hours can be tough to handle at times.  There are some stressful situations because of last second changes or breaking news or the equipment isn’t working properly. In a television production job you have to think quickly because 1 minute can last a long time.  I’ve learned to make quick decisions and hope I make the right ones.

How has your career developed in titles, responsibilities and locations?

Started out as a Video Journalist at CNN where I basically ran prompter and assisted the in studio wherever needed.

I learned how to run audio and was promoted to an audio engineer in news.  I was responsible for micing all the guests and setting up the studio for our news programs.

CNN/Sports Illustrated was launched and I applied for a position in Master Control, Audio and cameraman.  I was hired for that position and from there I learned how to run the technical director switcher and eventually was promoted to that position. My responsibilities were increased from setting up the studio to more of a supervisory roll making the shows look good.  I was more involved with the editorial department and how they wanted the shows to look.  I also felt more responsible for what went on in the studio; where the cameras were and how the shows looked.  This is where I realized I wanted to become a TV director and with more responsibilities as a technical director I gained confidence and knew I could become a TV director.  I was eventually hired after a year of Technical Directing as a TV director and have been doing that ever since. 

What advice would you give someone considering a career in Sports TV?

Make a point to meet as many people as you can.  Get an internship and learn.  Spend time learning and find mentors that will help you get started with what you want to do.  Most people don’t mind teaching others, you just have to find them and take initiative.  Use you time wisely.  Don’t waste all your time on Facebook and the internet, use it to learn a skill or talk with people.

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