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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jamie Convey, Radio Dreams and Judgment Calls

          “Radio Dreams” is the story of Jamie Convey, a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, his own Internet sports talk show, and indomitable spirit.   The making of “Radio Dreams” raised a couple of sensitive issues around Jamie’s disability.
          One was subtitling.  Jamie’s speech can pose a challenge because cerebral palsy affects a part of the brain that controls motor skills such as speech.    Producer Heather Lombardo and E:60 brass considered subtitling Jamie’s comments.
           Typically, subtitles may be used - for the same language as the intended audience - if the speaker has impaired speech. They also are used to translate language foreign to the intended audience.  Subtitles can be used for song lyrics, rapid dialogue, and for accents unfamiliar to the intended audience.
          “If he says something and the viewer has to stop and think, ‘What?’ and then misses the next ten seconds, it takes the viewer out of the moment,” said Lombardo. “With subtitles there would be no questions about what he said.”
          But Lombardo was wary.  She once produced a story that involved an aging heavyweight boxer, James ‘Quick’ Tillis, whose speech was slurred from his life in the ring.  She subtitled Tillis, and incurred the wrath of his girlfriend.
          “You made him look stupid!” the woman complained.
            Lombardo stands by her decision, but says it can be a tough call. 
          “It’s sensitive because you are dealing with pride and ego and emotion,” she said.
          In Jamie’s case, because speech is central to his role as a broadcaster, subtitles were deemed “insensitive”.
          With careful screening of Jamie’s shows - archived as well as the two shot by her crew - Lombardo found ample bites that were clear and understandable.
          “It’s about a kid doing a radio show,” Lombardo said.  “We want people to understand Jamie, but we don’t want to embarrass him.”
           “Radio Dreams” posed another sensitive decision.  Just past the five-minute mark it includes a scene with Jamie and his father, at an outdoor track, where Jamie goes for exercise.  From a distance, the camera catches Jamie, on his walker, exhausted and discouraged.  At one point, he collapses onto his walker, with tears in his eyes.  Then, with his father’s help, he collects himself, and completes the circuit.
          Lombardo’s first inclination was to leave out the moment of discouragement, and show him at the moment of completion.  But the more she thought about it, the more she liked the scene.
          “In order to show what Jamie has accomplished - for the story to resonate - we had to show the challenges that he endures on a day-to-day basis,” Lombardo said.
          Yet, Lombardo knew that “Jamie might not be happy with that scene because it captured a vulnerable moment.”
          Another judgment call, but this was different.  The track scene, she decided, is more about Jamie’s courage and spirit than weakness.  She used it.
          After the piece aired Lombardo talked with the father, Jim Convey, and sure enough, Jamie is not happy with the track scene.  On the other hand, as a veteran talk show host, he knows to respect her professional prerogative. 
          “He understood,” Lombardo said.

Posted by Steve Marantz on October 13, 2011