Analogue Wayback, Ep. 12

The smoke was so thick…

One of the many things that’s changed for the better is that smoking is no longer common nor even allowed within most video facilities and recording studios. Watch any of the documentaries about legendary music studios or more recently Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” and it will strike you how prevalent smoking was – even around sensitive gear.

When I joined Century III, our first facility (prior to Universal Studios) was the former Bee Jay Recording Studios, which had its own classic rock history. We remodeled most of the building, but left some of the original studio control rooms intact, including all of the smaller B Studio. One of the essential tasks was to clean the windows, whose double-pane glass was quite hazy. Carefully removing them revealed years of nicotine build-up on the inside from cigarette (and other?) smoke that had seeped in through the wooden walls. You can only imagine that any delicate electronics and even patch bays suffered from the same fate.

Most of our clients weren’t heavy smokers or at least had the courtesy to step outside for a smoke break. However, smoking was still not verboten at that time and we endeavored to accommodate clients in any reasonable manner. The online edit suites at our brand new Universal facility were larger and designed to handle plenty of clients in a session. The suites include a raised platform for a producer’s desk and behind that, a large sofa and arm chair. That was the scene for one of our more uncomfortable sessions.

The booked session was for a large corporate presentation involving a short turnaround with some long nights. It was supervised by an older producer, who was a heavy smoker, and his younger associate producer. One of the other editors started out the session, but after the first day the client complained that the editor was too slow. So I pulled the short straw and continued the session in his place.

If this wasn’t the session from hell, then it was close. First of all, the senior producer spent much of the session making demeaning comments about various people. You know it will be over soon, so you just buckle down to get through it. As we worked later into the evening, he simply fell asleep during the session. Then, it was mainly the associate producer and myself – finally we could make progress.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the senior producer was a heavy smoker. He was planted in the arm chair the entire time with an ash tray resting on the arm. As he smoked, he would flick ashes from the cigarette in the general direction of the tray, missing it most of the time. Therefore, on the carpet around the chair leg was a rather large circle of cigarette ash. Although the suites were large with tall ceilings, the smoke simply accumulated. There was quite literally a fog in the room. If you looked from the hallway door across the room towards the window into the machine room, the view was pretty hazy.

Fortunately we got through the session and thankfully never saw them again. I know my colleague wasn’t and isn’t a slow editor, so I didn’t think their criticism was ever justified. But I’ve often joked to him that he must have been purposefully going slow just to get away from this awful client!

©2022 Oliver Peters