Interview: Critictically accliamed TV worker Rick Fernandes

From Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House, to PBS’s Reading Rainbow, and countless others. Top notch editor, director, and producer Rick Fernandes has done it all in children’s television. With 11 Emmy nominations, it’s no mystery how he’s gotten to where he’s at now. But it has to go back to his early days for Nickelodeon in the late 80’s and early 90s that gets me the most of course. You see Rick worked with the best of the best and from editing shows that were either live to tape, or AD on a kids show, he never stopped working! From the time Nick Studios opened in 1990, Rick was hired as lead editor and you can say he knew just the right formula on how visually appealing a show can look like. You can read all about in our interview on just what good came out of the studio at one point and how working in children’s television made a landmark on his career. Please take a look at the college and foundation he’s at now http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/

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Cast 5

1. How did you first get started working for Nickelodeon?
My very first experience was an intern on show called Livewire hosted by Fred Newman in NYC, when I was 19. Then I was an Associate Director on another Nick show called Total Panic in 1988-89. Just before Nick Studios was opening they called me and asked if I would be interested in being their editor and I thought it would be a great learning experience and jumped at the oportunity.

2. What was your first impression of Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?
It was a very impressive set up. It was state of the art for the time and the atmosphere was filled with energy. I think a good part of that energy was due to the fact that it was a very young staff and the attitude was to try to new things. In a way I always thought of it as a professional college campus. We knew the rules, but were willing to break them.

3. What was a typical day like being there?
As an editor the days were fairly long, but fun (I once did 48 hours straight). You have to realize the amount of content that was being generated at the time and all the additional promos to accompany that content. You have to realized everything gets edited, even game shows. Not to change any outcomes, but to edit away inessential material to get the shows to exact times. I was fortunate to work with some amazing people people and I learned so much that you lost track of time. We were all striving for the best we can so if it meant spending an additional hour in the edit room at midnight, we did. Also, I was the only editor for the first six months and they realized our output warranted another editor (Karen Powell) to join the staff.

4. You were the assistant director for tv shows there. Did you primarily have to work hard to get an episode done since these were shows involving children?
At the studios I only AD one series and that was Clarissa Explains it All (I Technical Directed a few shows as well)l. And you could not get more of a professional than Melissa Joan Hart. Even at her young age she was better prepared than most adult actors. You also have to realize that most young people in a scripted series are professional and understand that it is a job. It is different when you deal with young people who have never been in front of a camera. The limitations in general are restricted hours – so the young actors can get their tutor time to stay on track with their school work.

5. Did you ever get to keep any type of props at the studio?

Nothing from the studios, but I do keep a memento for each series I direct.
6. For something that was live to tape, such as Roundhouse and Nick Arcade, you were the editor of. Can you explain the process of making that happen being those shows were so fast-paced?

Even though its live to tape, each camera is recorded separately to edit. The live cut is there for a couple of reasons, pacing for the live audience watching and for the director to show us what they have visioned. Nick Arcade was mainly a fix and get the show to time, if Phil Moore stumbled on a question, he would repeat it after the audience has left and I would replace the stumbled line. Roundhouse was taped a couple of times in front of an audience plus additional pick ups. So in that show (or in any scripted show) I would go line by line and compare all the takes and pick best performance. Once you string the best performances together then you go and make it look good ( make it look as if it were all one take with no edits). After you finish a cut, the director will look at it and give you their notes and then after his notes it goes to the producers. If I remember correctly, its been a long time, Bruce Gowers directed the pilot for Roundhouse. Bruce is a legendary and brilliant director (look at his credits and history) and I remember being so nervous showing him my first cut. He looked at it and he said it was great except every edit was off by a few frames! He spent five minutes explaining to me why I was off, but understood why I did the edits. His five minutes, which I am sure he wouldn’t even know who I am or remember explaining this to me, changed how I edited (and directed) music forever. I have passed his wisdom on to countless assistant editors I have had over the years. That was the thing about the studios, you would have these amazing people stop by to do a show and what you learned from them was priceless. I can go on and on about various directors, writers, AD’s, actors that made me see production in a whole new light. And the technical and engineering staff at the studio was phenomenal. The assistant editors that I had the privilege to work with were second to none till this day. They were not only incredibly smart and fast, but were some of the funniest and nicest people. And when you are working crazy hours, those are the people that keep you going and on your feet. And more importantly make you look good because they catch your mistakes!
7. If you can remember things about the studio tour or shows having a live studio audience what was the best part about that?

I am a fan of studio audiences because it adds another level of energy to a production. I find you feed off their laughter and their applause, after all you are making these shows for their entertainment. So to see it happen before your eyes is a great feeling. The tour was a little awkward for me because it felt as if you were in a fishbowl. I believe the edit room was original scheduled to be part of the tour, but was removed before the studio open. It also is boring to watch someone edit from a window, if they were in the edit room and I can walk them through what I was doing on would be different.

8. There was so much talk about Florida becoming Hollywood East back then but never materialized. For you what was one of the good things about living and working in Orlando?

I hated that they were calling Hollywood East and was telling everyone to stop it. The moment you try to compare yourself to anything, you have already conceded the fact that you are trying to be like them. They should have been proud to be Orlando and not set up expectations that were unrealistic. Hollywood is Hollywood for a reason, it has been around along time and took a while to become the entertainment capital I remember colleagues visiting from LA saying this isn’t Hollywood east! Of course not. If they came in with no expectations they would have loved it for what it was. Orlando had the brand new studios, latest equipment, and a small but talented group of entertainment professionals. Plus great weather, no traffic and it was very affordable! I left my tiny one bedroom apartment in NYC and had a great house with a swimming pool for less money! I could get to the studio form my home in 10 minutes! But what I really enjoyed was the people, everyone was very nice.

9. Have you ever been slimed?

Literally, no! Figuratively many times 🙂

10. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?

Back to the future.
11. How great was all the staff who worked at Nick? I always hear positive stories.

They were great and I stay in touch with quite a few of them. As I said before, in many ways it felt like a college campus. Also, many of us lived very near each other and often in the same housing complexes. So often we would say – see you on campus or at the dorms.

12. During the early 2000s, when Taina was taking place, did you see anything different in the studio as far as less activity going on?

It was very sad for me to see as I left in in 1993 and could not believe how much of it was shut down. In fact the second season of Taina was shot in LA. I can’t remember, but I believe some regional sports network took over most of the studio space. The only thing that was still the same was the wall murals on the second floor where the control room and edit rooms were. They were designed by the talented Don St Mars who was our graphic artist. Don and I worked hand in hand on almost every nick project.

13. Throughout your career you have been employed by not only Nickelodeon but PBS and Disney. What would you say makes Nick ,the network, stand out from all of them?

They all have their reasons why they standout. What I can say at the time I was working at nick was the atmosphere of let’s try something different. Everyone says they try something different, but we truly lived it and I give Gerry Laybourne, who was president of Nickelodeon at the time, for creating that atmosphere.

14. Favorite behind the scenes memory.

It really is impossible to pick one!
15. Do you think your experience there was a learning process in terms of the work you do now in a beneficial way?

Without a doubt. Where else would I have had the opportunity to work every imaginable format (Sitcoms, games shows, promos, etc) with people who shared their experiences and their wisdom with you. Those five minutes with Bruce Gowers on Roundhouse about directing /cutting music. Doug Rogers on directing /cutting,
sitcoms. And working with Mitchell Kriegman who created and wrote Clarissa Explains it all. Watching him dissect a script and work on a concept was fascinating. I ended up working with Mitchell for many years post Clarissa.
16. Do you mind explaining what you have been up to now?
The past five years I was working with Turner Broadcasting in Asia overseeing production and development for local content – everything from Indian Soap Opera’s to Korean reality shows to Japanese subculture documentaries. That was an amazing experience and I loved working with production teams through out that region. I have since come back to the states to work for the non profit Fred Rogers Center. The center carries on the legacy of the amazing Fred Rogers through various programs to work with those who work with young children. It a very rewarding place to work and see the impact the center is having in communities.

17. How do you feel knowing that 90s Nickelodeon shows made such a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?
It is always nice to know that you played a small part in making someone feel good. I say small part because these productions take so many people to pull off and they all play a critical part.
18. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?

It was the right time and the right place. You have to remember at that time cable was exploding and they needed content. They also recruited people across the country to join some talented local Orlando residents. Though it doesn’t seem organic- it was and not forced. This isn’t to say there weren’t issues or an occasional big problem, but it all seemed to work out. It was a magical time and place that I don’t think you can create it even if you tried intentionally.
19. Would you like to see it be re-opened?

Sentimentally – yes. But logically -no. I believe it is the next generation of creators to decide what would be the right set up. They may not want a studio complex, Today content is created in a different manner and that should dictate what comes back and not, not my sentimental feelings.

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