In her office, Director of Fayetteville Public Access Television Anne Shelley reads from a poster:
“The purpose of Public Access Television in Fayetteville is to provide training for residents of Fayetteville in the techniques of video production for Public Access Television and to provide an opportunity for residents of Fayetteville to provide programming in a first-come, first-served, content-neutral, nondiscriminatory manner, in accordance with the First Amendment.”
“I think it’s a beautiful statement,” she says. “Our purpose is to teach people how to make TV and help them make shows and express their First Amendment rights. This kind of access — regardless of race, gender or income — is a powerful tool. It is a precious gift in which I believe strongly.”
Shelley joined the Public Access team in 2011, when Fayetteville city government contracted Your Media, a nonprofit organization, to oversee the day-to-day operations of Fayetteville Public Access.
Within the past year, Fayetteville Public Access has made self-produced television even more accessible by making it free. The nonprofit organization eliminated the $25 fee for production classes, increased the number of classes held and varied class times to accommodate a wider range of schedules. The programs can be seen on channel 218 on Cox Communications and on channel 99 on AT&T.
“(Public Access) went from one class a week to at least six classes a week. We have trained so many more people,” Shelley said.
“We heightened our efforts to become a first-class training facility for Fayetteville residents,” reads the 2011 Provider’s Report for the telecom board, compiled by Fayetteville Public Access. In comparison with 2010, Fayetteville Public Access offered 490 percent more classes and workshops to the public, which resulted in 407 percent more Candidate Producers. “With a greater number of new producers, we hope to see more programming. The more people we educate, the more shows we have,” explains Shelley.
After taking the necessary classes in video production, residents can check out field cameras to take on location. Shelley says users can “film events or anything important in your life.” In accordance with the Public Access guidelines, the only restriction against content is that it cannot be for commercial use.
Becoming a producer takes at least seven hours of training. Once a resident has completed the
necessary coursework — orientation, a field production class and an editing class — the student is considered a Candidate Producer and is allowed to check out the equipment needed to create their first program. There is also a studio production class that must be completed for residents who prefer to film in the Public Access Studio.
Lindsley Smith, who is an aspiring Public Access producer, served as a state representative for three years and is currently the communications director for the city of Fayetteville. She is working on producing a program that would promulgate the message of women in government office.
“When I served in the state legislature, I read a lot of books in preparation, and they were very masculine,” Smith said. Her concern over the absence of a feminine perspective in politics was amplified when a friend’s daughter asked the question, “Can a woman be president?”
Smith has yet to title her program or plan any segments, but it is the type of creative endeavor that could be part of the diverse 2012 programming that Shelley anticipates as a byproduct of the past year’s heightened commitment to education.
Fourteen-year-old Teah Flynn is the youngest producer at Public Access Television. Her involvement in self-produced television began at the age of 10, when she co-created an awareness video about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Teah’s ambition is fueled by personal tragedy: her mother was killed in an accident caused by a drunken driver. The awareness video is now used by MAAD and the local police department. The video gained enough attention to land Teah face time on the local news.
Witnessing the impact of televised media has encouraged the Farmington High School student to continue producing films on community topics to raise awareness.
Teah, who began working with Public Access at the beginning of 2011, is now producing the series, “My Kid’s Point of View,” which discusses mature issues from a teen’s perspective. She has produced a segment on the dangers of texting and driving and is in the process of editing a segment on the theory of a DNA criminal database.
For now, Teah says, film production is just a hobby. Her plans are to be an actress or a model, and she says being in the spotlight helps her feel confident that she can achieve her goals and land auditions. “Seeing myself on camera is fun. To see this on TV and YouTube, it makes me feel so accomplished, and it’s not even close to where I might be later on.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Roger Henry and Dan Vega have been producing television for 19
years, and are edging up to the 500th show mark. “One Whirled View,” which airs every other week, is what Henry describes as “a little known Colbert or Jon Stewart.”
The show evolved from Henry and Vega’s kitchen table discussions over news clippings, during which the two would drink beer, while joking and talking about the implications of current events.
“We take awful news, scary news, and laugh about it because we don’t know how to deal with it,” says Henry. The duo also uses a lighthearted approach to capture the ear of those who may oppose their views.
Though controversy has been rare over the years, Henry and Vega received a nasty letter from the president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce in 1995 in response to Vega’s decision to cross-dress on-air.
In a segment concerning estrogenic chemicals being injected into food, Vega wore women’s lingerie, tights, and pulled his hair into pigtails. The letter threatened to get the city council involved with the intention of shutting down the entire Public Access operation.
In response, Vega and Henry dressed in suits during their next show and made lewd references to the definition of commerce in the context of “intercourse.” They joked, saying that even in suits there was no way to tell if a man was wearing lingerie underneath. The controversy put the show on the map, and the humor dissolved the tension between the city and the show.
“We try to deflect controversy with humor,” explains Vega. “We use levity toencourage people to listen. If we get too serious, (the audience) will shut it out.”
For residents who would like to produce television with mature content, there are “after dark” slots for adult programming. The most infamous of these programs is the longstanding “Abbey of the Lemur,” a show that for years has tested the boundaries of art and expression in dark, psychedelic and raunchy ways. On their MySpace page, you can view the members of the cast being spanked, toying with a severed pig head, spouting reflective monologues and even reciting poetry.
Shelley says that all complaints submitted to Public Access are taken seriously and reported to the telecommunications board.
“I don’t think you can have Public Access without having people having issues with artistic expressions, beliefs or ideas,” says Shelley. She notes that there have been no major controversies in her year as director or in recent years.
In addition to being a platform for residents to express their first amendment rights, Fayetteville Public Access and Your Media are available to provide production services to nonprofit organizations. An example of this service is the Lion’s Club annual telethon which aired last week.
Those who wish to enlist the services of the Public Access studio are subject to a competitive market rate, which is an average of the market value. Your Media can provide out-of-studio production at a reduced cost for service-oriented projects.
Last month the city council voted to renew Your Media’s contract as overseer of the Fayetteville Public Access network. Councilman Matthew Petty said it was the right decision to rehire the organization, calling the organization “phenomenal.” He continued, saying, “I’ve been very impressed with the leadership there.”
J.R. Curtis, the director of education for Fayetteville Public Access, says the greatest achievement of the past year has been reaching a wider audience, not in terms of viewers, but in terms of students and producers. “A lot of people don’t realize how different it is,” he says.
“It’s a great part of Fayetteville that not a lot of people know about,” says Shelley. “When people find out about it, they’re really excited.”
For class schedules and more information, visit faypublic.tv.