When the quarantine began in March, the lifestyles production unit at GBH Studio Six in Boston — which is responsible for a range of programming content, from cooking and travel television to documentaries on social and health issues — paused all upcoming shoots. “There was such a stoppage for everything,” said Associate Producer Pam Gaudiano. So rather than researching chefs and destinations for “Moveable Feast,” a yearly food and travel show, or hiring a film crew for chef Ming Tsai’s cooking show, “Simply Ming,” the producers brainstormed new concepts and ways to film them.
The outcome was a quarantine cooking special for broadcast television filmed remotely by GBH for the first time. The special consisted of two half-hour TV episodes called “Eating in with Lidia,” featuring Italian-American television host, author, and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich cooking and sheltering in place with her 99-year-old mother. I asked Gaudiano how they did it.
I’ve been a production intern at Studio Six since June, so I’ve had a chance to see Gaudiano at work. Over the summer, I met with her to discuss assignments — organizing show materials, looking for background footage — but I wanted to know more about how she juggles so many tasks with such seeming ease. She collects, digests, and sorts through large volumes of information in short periods of time. She knows the location and access to any clip you might need. And when she collects footage, she learns it inside and out. For a show that relies heavily on originally shot footage like “Moveable Feast,” she’s the go-to when you didn’t get enough in the field.
In short, she knows how to find and gather all the pieces-parts needed to tell a full story.
The fact that she can juggle so much so much information is, no doubt, a hard-earned skill. Before Studio Six, Gaudiano worked for American Experience, another GBH department that makes long-form documentaries about American history for broadcast television. She researched historical events and watched hundreds of hours of archival footage, filtering for accessible and usable clips that would help tell a compelling story. Gaudiano received Emmy nominations for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research” and “Archival Research” in 2005 and 2019. She also worked on “JFK” (2013), a four-hour, Emmy award-winning series about John F. Kennedy, and “The Amish: Shunned” (2014), an Emmy-nominated feature-length film about seven ex-Amish, based on actual events.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did the idea for “Eating in with Lidia” first appear?
In March, Studio Six was looking at ways to still do outreach in spite of COVID. Everybody in media was posting on social media sites. With the help of GBH’s social media department, we did one Facebook Live with Lidia, and Ming Tsai (of “Simply Ming”) did an Instagram with his sons. Both did really well. So it was out of the social media shows that the staff started saying, “We could do a show and get into the PBS primetime listing of COVID specials.” And instead of it being news, we had something that was fun. Lidia understands that she’s just talking to the camera. She’s very personable, and it was a very controlled environment. From the time we decided to go forward, PBS already had a time slot for us, so it was a really quick turnaround.
What production challenges did you face due to the new way of working during COVID? How did you overcome them?
Just Lidia’s family members could film. Her grandson, Lorenzo, was the one helping out the production team. We wanted broadcast quality footage. Could he handle this? This was where our business manager, Salme Lopez, came in and looked at a way to actually talk to Lorenzo, knowing there couldn’t be any other people coming into the house. We sent video and audio equipment. Salme and three other team members were all on a Zoom call, so they could see what was going on and direct Lorenzo from the laptop.
We took some of the older shows that Lidia’s team had already produced. We had Lidia do new stand-ups with her mom to open and then answer some questions that she couldn’t address during the Facebook Live. And we ended with a sweet moment with her mom.
We already knew what the outline and topics were: potatoes, bread, and simple stuff — staples. The biggest part was figuring out what she had in the house and what we could get food-wise that she could talk about. We focused on what people would have in their house.
When editing a show with a set structure like “Moveable Feast,” what is it like to put the story together in the edit room?
“Moveable Feast” really falls into order because it’s such a cookie-cutter structure. We start in a location. We’re going to end with the feast. In the middle we’ve got to hit certain spots, so how do we do that and how can we fit this together? This is one of those areas where an editor is also the writer. He’s going to work with Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly to put the script together as they do that first pass. She’s looking at sections and then they’re building it out.
It gets tricky: What did they get in the field? Do we have enough to tell that? One time, one of our camera guy’s flights got canceled, and he was delayed a day. The team got someone else to help them, but they lost some of what they needed. When the footage comes in and they’re missing stuff, that’s when I come in, because now we have to find a way to put in some other footage.
For a show that relies almost entirely on original footage, what happens when you need more film?
I always go back to the people who were on location or talk to the chefs or their representatives and say, “Hey, we have this footage but we want to add more to it. What do you have?” A lot of times they take their own photos for Instagram. I’ll also go to their Facebook page and say, “I found this and would love to include it. Can we get permission?” When I started, I didn’t really bring a camera but now I also take pictures with my phone. We always want to stay within what the actual product was.
In a lot of places, it’s really tough to hire a drone operator to get an aerial so that’s the stuff we add. There are so many issues around using a drone. It’s a lot cheaper to get an aerial shot from a stock house.
When you’re researching for a long-form documentary like “JFK,” how do you organize your reporting?
We all split up different areas evenly: You’re going to work on this event and get what you can, and you’re going to work on the family stuff, and you’re going to work on this person, and so on. In the very beginning, I create a timeline for myself. I usually start with newspapers because you’re trying to see if they have photos or headlines of what has happened. They may talk about places and things in other media that give you a lead.
The biggest thing is books. If we’re basing something on a particular book, I pull apart what they’ve cited, double check that stuff, and then go from there. You’re doing that until you start picking the visual elements. From there, it’s, “What do we have media-wise that we can film?” We look at video, audio, music, other interviews, and other documentaries. I’m often doing it all at the same time because even if we have nine months for a two-hour documentary, it’s never enough time.
Kristen Chin is a graduate journalism student at Boston University, documentary filmmaker, and writer. Having traveled to 25 countries and lived in two, she aspires to work on documentaries and docu-eries about travel, food, and lifestyle.