They are the essential element to any production running calmly and on time: the Floor Manager.
But what’s it like working on the studio floor as the person sandwiched between talent and the control room?
TV Tonight hears from 4 of the best in the biz:
Rob Mascara, FOX Footy
Mitchell Healey, Sunrise
John Murphy, Nine News
Darrin Oakley, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell
1. How did you become a floor manager? What are the main duties of the role?
RM: I started out at Network TEN working in staging and location assistant on Neighbours in January 1990. I was also employed as a trainee Floor Manager (at age 17) and within weeks I was thrown into the deep end. It’s the only way to learn! Most importantly, the FM is the communication link between the Director / Producer and the on air talent and studio personnel. Also, ensuring the production runs as smoothly as possible and to the scheduled time if in a pre-recorded situation.
MH: I was first employed as a stage hand and eventually worked my way through various roles within the studio. I was a camera operator for quite some time, which I really loved. But when the opportunity came up to take on the role of Floor Manager I jumped at the chance to try something new. I’d describe the role of a Floor Manager as the medium between Yin and Yang – Yin being the control room and Yang, the studio floor. Maintaining balance here is what leads to a smooth and fun operation for all staff, both in the control room and studio.
“I did Starting Out ….It was a terrible show.”
JM: I first started at Channel 0 before it became Channel 10 in 1975. My first shift was staging. From there you find an area that you particularly want to go into and I chose floor managing. And back in those days I used to floor manage Young Talent Time, The Roy Hampson morning program, News, and VFA Footy. But I left because my parents bought a pub so I went and learnt that trade, got bored with the country life so I came back to Melbourne and was lucky enough to start at Channel 9 in 1982. Max Morrison took me under his wing and I started in staging, you’ve got to work your way up. I got a break and started floor managing. I did Starting Out which was a drama with Gary Sweet, Peter O’Brien and Nikki Coghill. It was a terrible show. It was embarrassing actually. Then I got the chance to work on Sale of The Century with Tony Barber, The Daryl Somers Show, Hey Hey. I’ve pretty much done most of the programs that Nine were doing at that time. The main duties of being a floor manager is being the link between the control room and the floor. You’re responsible for everybody on the floor and to liaise with producers, to make sure you know what’s going on, what’s coming up. Because everyone will come to the Floor Manager to say ‘What are we doing next? When are we having a meal break?’ Just all those sort of things. You are basically the mouthpiece and try and run the floor accordingly as professional as possible.
“You’ve got to be able to talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable.”
DO: As an 8 year old kid I was part of a theatre group. The TV Show Shirl’s Neighbourhood came and filmed a story on us one day. It was great fun and I loved watching the filming process. From that moment I knew I wanted to work in TV when I grew up. I got to know the Shirl’s Neighbourhood Producer Jenny Hooks quite well and she would invite me to come and be in more segments with them for the next few years. Near the end of my schooling I applied for jobs at all the TV stations until the ABC offered me a job in the mail room. I worked in the mail room for a while until I got a job in the ABC’s Drama Department as a Unit Manager, which was basically towing a portaloo around and setting up tea and coffee for the cast and crew on location. The Assistant Directors would use me as an extra set of hands, for cueing actors and extras. With that experience I was eventually asked to train as a Floor Manager for the 7pm News. That was 30 or so years ago and I’ve Floor Managed / Assistant Directed a huge variety of shows since then. The main duties of a Floor Manager are that I’m in charge of the studio floor, co-ordinating cast and crew to the wishes of the Director. The Director sits upstairs in the control room and I wear a radio headset (cans) with the Director permanently in my ear telling me what they want to see and I organise it for them. I have to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and ready to go for either a pre-recorded take or if we’re going live to air. A rather important duty is I have to keep the production running on time as per the schedule or call sheet for that day. I’m constantly thinking about the scene we’re shooting, as well as the next couple coming up so I can try and minimise delays if I become aware of a problem. We can have technical problems sometimes or maybe an actor fluffing lines etc so it’s not always easy to do but most times we manage to achieve it. You have to be able to think on your feet as things can change rapidly and keep your ears and eyes open at all times. We’re also responsible for Health and Safety on the floor. I work with people from Prime Ministers, actors and musicians to people on the street, so you’ve got to be able to talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable. I’m very lucky at the ABC in that I generally work with very experienced and talented crew that help make my job easier.
2. What shows have you worked on and which have been your favourites?
RM: The list is way too long! My favourites definitely include The Panel, Thank God You’re Here, Talkin ‘Bout Your Generation, Rove, Have You Been Paying Attention, Dancing With the Stars, Family Feud, RocKwiz and Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton.
MH: I’ve worked on Sunrise, The Morning Show, The Daily Edition and Seven News bulletins. They all provide different experiences but it’s Sunrise I really call home.
“That’s something now they can’t seem to get in their heads, these young producers”
JM: I loved doing the Midday show especially when Ray came to Melbourne and if they travelled interstate, we would go. We did the Movie World opener and was lucky enough to meet Clint Eastwood. He was my hero. I forgot my name when I was being introduced to him. I love Logies, I love Carols. It gives you a real buzz when you are standing out there at the Bowl and looking back over the crowd. My first Carols I did as floor manager was with Brian Naylor. Back in those days we only had like 2 commercial breaks. They were sponsored by Kraft and went for about 3 minutes. I used to pick up Brian and we would go to the Hilton and we’d go through the show and just do it. Ray Martin was great, Karl and Lisa and now Lisa and David. I like The Footy Shows. I love live TV. The good thing about live TV is that you only get a chance to do it once. You can’t just stop and do it again if you made a mistake. I love it. I think everything that we pre-record should be treated as live. And that’s something now they can’t seem to get in their heads, these young producers. Because they think oh we’re only recording this. We’ll go back and do that segment again. I can’t think like that. You gotta think live. All the time.
DO: I’ve been fortunate to work on so many varied productions over the years. Everything from News, Sport, Drama, Comedy and lots in between. Shows like the News, 7:30 Report, Countdown Revolution, Recovery, The Big Gig, Seachange, Something In The Air, Phoenix, Corelli, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries, The Slap, Kath & Kim, The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, Welcher and Welcher, The Micallef Program, Mad As Hell, Q&A, Dirty Laundry Live, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, AFI Awards, Election coverage, Anzac Day Parades and heaps of live Sport. I’ve got a few favourites. Kath & Kim was such fun to work on. You can’t beat going to work just to laugh all day, often to the point of uncontrollable tears where we just had to stop filming and have time out to recover. It was one of those shows where everyone had such a fun time making it. It was very cleverly written. The girls and Ted Emery the director were brilliant in how they crafted every scene to bring the ordinary situations to life and make them so recognisable to the audience and hilarious. It was a joy to watch and be a part of. I firmly believe that if we’re having fun making it, then that will show on screen and the audience will enjoy it too. Another favourite is Mad As Hell with Shaun Micallef. I’ve worked on shows with Shaun for 20 years and they’re always really fun to make. The cast and crew on Mad As Hell are wonderful and everyone brings their A game. It’s one of the very rare shows where we barely have to ask the cast to come onto set. They seem to leap up onto set when it’s their turn. I think it’s got a lot to do with the cast and crews respect for Shaun and a love of what they are doing. Doesn’t happen on many shows so it’s lovely to see.
3. What else comes into play for a Live broadcast? Is it extra pressure or an adrenalin rush?
RM: There’s nothing better than Live TV. You know when the show starts and when you’re off air. The unpredictability and spontaneity makes any production exciting. Most of my employment these days is at FOX Footy and all of the shows I work on there are Live.
“My mother always told me that you can only control the controllable”
MH: Where to I start!? Again, it comes back to balance. Growing up my mother always told me that you can only control the controllable, and when it comes to live television this is also the case. The focus on the ‘controllables’, but during breaking news or when something goes horribly wrong then bring on that adrenaline rush!
JM: It’s both extra pressure and an adrenalin rush. You don’t want to make any mistakes. You gotta make sure you dot the I’s and cross the T’s but it’s an adrenalin rush. When you hear that opening theme for Logies or whatever it’s a buzz and it’s a great feeling. Because it’s all we did at Nine. Apart from the game shows. Hey Hey was live, Daryl Somers Show was live. I love live.
DO: Live TV is my absolute favourite thing to do and I really wish we did more of it. I wouldn’t say it’s extra pressure as every show has that, but it’s definitely an adrenalin rush. I love the countdown to going live to air. Nothing is going to delay the show starting when that red light comes on. The viewers in their lounge rooms are going to see us if we’re ready or not. It’s exciting that while we’ve rehearsed and done everything to make the show run smoothly, you know that anything can happen and you’ll have to be extra alert to adapt to it. May sound strange, but sometimes you can almost feel the electricity in the studio during a live show which never happens during a pre record. You can really notice the cast step their performance level up a notch when the show is live. In principle, going live is the same filming process for a pre-recorded show, except we take away the safety net of doing another take. However, when things do go wrong live, I think it makes for the best TV and the viewers love it. If you think back to some of the funniest moments on TV that you see on those best of TV shows, they’re mostly all from a live show. I think television in this country is screaming out for an evening live variety chat show if it was done well. I’d definitely watch it or even better, get to work on it!
“People still think my real name is Belvedere.”
4. What have been some of your highlights?
RM: The variety of different shows you can work on as a freelancer. One day I’m dealing with an AFL footballer and the next The Real Housewives of Melbourne! And of course 14 years working with Bert on GMA is definitely up there, especially meeting some of my childhood idols who appeared on the show over those years. It was an amazing time and fantastic learning experience. By the way, people still think my real name is Belvedere.
MH: There are many highlights. I’ve been fortunate working on Sunrise to travel with the show both around Australia and internationally. Not to mention the number of incredibly talented and inspiring people you meet along the way, both crew and guests. My main highlight though would have to be Bieber Island – working on this major outside broadcast with an exceptional crew in such a beautiful, iconic location.
“I love it. Been involved here since 1982”
JM: Just being part of the network is a highlight. I love it. Been involved here since 1982. The good thing about it is that I’ve seen the best days. And I feel sorry for the younger ones who are coming up through the ranks because they won’t be able to experience what I have. We had a reunion not so long ago and I said the same thing, the younger ones won’t be able to experience it. Because it’s all very different now. The highlight: being part of the Nine Network and everything I’ve worked on I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and given it my best best shot.
DO: I’m very fortunate through my job to meet and work with some pretty amazing and talented people. Working with famous people is just another day at the office, but occasionally I’ll get to work with one of my idols. One highlight that stands out was meeting Dame Edna. I confess I’m a bit of a fan so was a bit excited to meet her. She was having her hair and makeup done in her private dressing room with a firmly closed door so no one had seen her yet. I had to knock on the door to tell her we were ready on set, however the reply back, via her manager Barry, was that she was not. I relayed that to the Director and let her be as long as I could. The Director then eventually said we’d waited long enough and he wanted her now. So I knocked more urgently this time. Suddenly the door swung open and there she was standing in front of me in all her glory. Our eyes locked and I was speechless. It felt like we looked at each other for an eternity. At any second I was expecting one of her barbed comments directed at me which thankfully didn’t happen. She eventually broke the silence with “Where do you want me, possum?” and off we went to the studio, where she was of course hilarious. Another was the time I nipped out to the car park of the studio for a quick ciggie before a show. In the distance I heard this lady yelling at her kids to hurry up as they ran into the car park. She asked me breathlessly where she needed to go for the audience and said she’d been caught in traffic driving up from Moe (a 2 hour drive) for the show. I pointed her in the right direction and off she ran screaming at her kids for making her late. A few minutes later I walked into the foyer and she was in tears. It was a popular show and the audience was full. Security was turning her away as she was late. I felt really sorry for her. So I told Security it’s ok and for her to come with me. Since I’m in charge of the floor I went and got 3 extra chairs and made room for her and her kids in the best possible position. She was so thankful and now in tears of happiness. During the show I looked over at her a few times and she was really enjoying herself with the biggest smile on her face. It was such an easy thing for me to do but something that helped someone else have a better day. It’s really nice when you see the positive effect the shows we make have on people.
5. Time to spill. What moments do you never want to relive?
RM: On Good Morning Australia we had thousands of cooking segments over the years. I used to come on and recite a limerick after tasting each dish. On one occasion I looked up ready to read my limerick and I just went into hysterics and couldn’t speak.The chef, crew and viewers didn’t know why I was in fits of laughter. Bert had got into the autocue and replaced my limerick with It tastes like shit’.
MH: Live television… it’s an experience and there is something different every day. There is no real moment I would never want to relive… except maybe my alarm clock that rings at 2.30 every morning. Now that is living the dream!
JM: There was a time where I wasn’t a very good cameraman. I think I was the only one at Channel 9 who was allowed to be a floor manager without doing camera. And I was doing the news one night up at Studio 5 at Bendigo Street. Brian Naylor was doing a live voice over and they didn’t have anyone to operate camera 2. All it was, was two shots. A wide shot of weather and pulling back for a closing shot. At that time there was a tin ashtray in the studio and I’ve come back and I’ve hit it. The lid of it’s come off and gone ‘Waow waow waow.’ And Brian Naylor said “I can assure you the Floor Manager wasn’t at that particular lunch, because the voiceover was about a lunch.”
“We got word that a bomb threat had been phoned through to the station”
DO: Some of my favourite memories have come from working on live TV, but one of my worst also comes from live TV as well. We were doing the Saturday morning show Recovery which was 3 hours live to air with no commercial breaks. it was a big show with lots of people running around. About half way through the show we got word that a bomb threat had been phoned through to the station. All the crew wearing headsets were aware of the discussion happening up in the control room with us on the floor all giving each other worried looks. A lot of people on the floor don’t wear headsets like the cast and audience etc so they didn’t know what we were hearing and we had to continue on while the control room was discussing what to do. We’d just started interviewing one of the bands on the show when the call was made to evacuate the studio. Without alarming the host I had to use hand signals and cue cards to get the host to abort the interview and throw to a taped item. Once I got him to throw to the clip I had to run in to let him and the band know what was happening. I then had to turn and give the command to evacuate the studio as fast as possible. I remember it being absolutely frightening at the time. The studio was thoroughly searched by the authorities and it turned out to be a hoax thankfully. They ended up catching the person. We have much tighter security these days since then.
6. Can ‘automation’ replace experience and human interaction?
RM: Automation is the way of the future in television especially in news and current affairs. Unfortunately when it fails live on air it leaves the host without a guide as they’re usually isolated in the studio with no Floor Manager. And now…here’s Moira.
MH: I don’t believe so. Automation does have its place but only in certain situations. In saying that, a great crew enables presenters to engage audiences with the warmth and transparency breakfast television provides.
“When I grow up I’m going to get real job. Not like my dad’s.”
JM: Look we knew that the automation was coming, it probably just came a little quicker than we thought. But I think while Peter Hitchener and Tony Jones are here, they just like that familiar face, that’s why the floor manager is still around. Well, someone’s gotta laugh at Tony’s jokes. So while they are still on board they still require us. A lot of boys, didn’t lose their jobs but decided to leave because they wanted to continue with their craft. Floor managing changed a long time ago with IFB. We used to give all the instructions from the director to the talent. They get it through their ear now which I hate. But you still need to have a Floor Manager to make sure everybody on the floor knows exactly what’s going on, that what I pride myself in. The fact that I do communicate with people. I think you have to be a good communicator to be a Floor Manager. My son said, when he was 3.. ‘When I grow up I’m going to get real job. Not like my dad’s.’ So I took that on board. He’s now a pilot. And I think I’ve done pretty well.
“We’re equal parts parent, partner, friend, amateur psychologist and peace negotiator”
DO: The short answer is No. Automation is really only used for shows like the News where you’ll just have a newsreader sitting in front of camera reading an autocue, who is listening via an ear piece to the Director for cues. That system works ok when everything is going along well, but as soon as things start to go pear shaped in the control room, the one person sitting in there controlling everything by themselves suddenly becomes incredibly overworked. There is no way possible that one person can fix the technical problems and keep the talent informed at the same time. A full crew is trained how to step in when things go awry and immediately cover any problems. One thing I see on air occasionally on automated shows is presenters looking at the wrong camera, or recently the newsreader who was caught playing with her pen as the camera cut back to her. No floor manager worth their pay packet would ever let that happen. A Floor Manager will always remain calm even when poo has hit the fan in the control room. With automation the presenter hears all that confusion in the control room which obviously effects their performance. As a Floor Manager, I’m constantly working with talent and crew face to face. I can tell immediately if they need an extra bit of reassurance or if nerves are getting the better of them. I think we’re equal parts parent, partner, friend, amateur psychologist and peace negotiator standing by to help smooth over any problems before they become big ones. A computer is never going to be able to do that. Automation is good for one thing though. Lots of funny goof tapes on Youtube! 🙂