A Conversation with Emmy Award-Winning Director, Ed Wiseman
We are honoured to have Ed Wiseman, an Emmy award-winning Director and Producer, be part of the inaugural edition of our "Penny for your Thoughts" series.
Ed started his career as an intern on the pilot of the PBS series Reading Rainbow; an educational show with a mission to encourage children to read. The show was a huge success running for over twenty years (1983 to 2000s) nurturing the love for reading in kids all around the world. Ed takes pride in the fact that he worked on every episode of the original series, including the pilot. His passion for reading and learning drove him to become one of the youngest directors and producers for national television, while still in his 20s, and later becoming the show’s main and eventually the solo director.
Currently, Ed produces and directs projects with purpose with his wife Orly Wiseman through their company Moving Pictures Inc. Their latest project, AIRWAY: The Battle to Breathe, explores the importance of the human airway for a healthy and fulfilling life. The documentary follows Sydney Avis who, having struggled with severe exhaustion, seeks an end to her ordeal. Sydney, a smart and personable young woman, has bravely ventured on an uncertain journey to find answers. With the help of her physician father, Dr. Victor Avis, she has consulted leading experts and has endured numerous tests and procedures in search for a real and permanent solution.
Thanks for joining us Ed and for sharing your unique perspective. Let’s start with the hit show Reading Rainbow. Something we have discussed at length is our shared love for reading and learning; Reading Rainbow’s primary goal was to encourage children to read.
Given that we have come a long way from the 2000s when the show last ran, what recent advances in technology or other trends are you particularly excited about when it comes to nurturing children’s love for books?
Ed: Reading Rainbow’s mission was to encourage kids to read. And it achieved spectacular results. We worked hard to make sure this PBS series met all its goals. One of the reasons for its success is that we didn’t try to teach or instruct. We enthused and motivated. We wanted kids to love to read. We nudged them in the right direction and showed them how imagination could light up their world.
Most adults would prefer that their children read good literature. Well-written children’s books and articles top the list. That’s worthy but reading is reading. Some kids are inspired by video games. I know an American child that taught himself to read and write in Japanese so he could play, and win, Japanese language video games. He now works in Japan in the video game industry. He was motivated by what he loves.
Today, young people really love music. Some genres like Rap have complex lyrics that are powerful forms of poetry. Reading, learning, and reciting these poems, can foster a love of the written word and inspire kids to write and express themselves. We should still elevate great books.
But let’s encourage kids to read everything, everywhere. We want them to love (and live) to read.
A side note. Everyone learns differently. If a child is struggling to read, get them help. Do it early. Whatever the reason, it’s likely it can be resolved when dealt with early. If you let time pass, a child may grow to dislike and become afraid of the very thing that can set them free.
If we were producing Reading Rainbow today, we would incorporate everything kids read from digital messaging to interactive video games.
Let’s move to the process of filmmaking and the entertainment industry in general.
Technology has reshaped many industries in the past couple of decades. In your experience, what aspects of filmmaking or distribution have experienced the greatest transformation?
Ed: Filmmaking has become much more accessible today. Digital production and post tools have made it easier to create. Digital cinema cameras with flat dynamic range and RAW video codecs allow us to capture much more detail and provide more picture information for post production.
LED lights are not only less power hungry but are lightweight and cooler on the set. They also can be warmer or cooler, color temperature-wise, at a turn of a knob, reducing the need for gels and other accessories. This means the production can focus more on the content and craft and less on how to haul around bulky equipment.
In the edit room, we now have very fast hardware and clever software that allow us to work with many footage sources and a variety of effects so we can imagine wildly and collaborate seamlessly. We can work from anywhere. This means that content creation is much more affordable and accessible.
Since we do a lot of documentary style work, this boosts our performance and capabilities. We can capture more material more quickly, use very nimble crews, work with footage sooner, and deliver rough and fine cuts faster. We can have collaborators or clients review material in minutes, across the globe. They can make specific notes on a cut or work on a scene and have it back to us as soon as they are finished.
In the time of COVID, the ability to work remotely without missing a step, has been a lifesaver.
In your opinion, what could be some potential disruptive forces that might reshape the filmmaking or entertainment industry over the next decade?
Ed: What I find interesting about new tech is that much of the best stuff is fashioned or merged from what existed before. The designers and engineers just figure out how to make it all work together with new tools or materials.
For example, the digital cinema cameras are a blend of the DSLR and video camera. iPods took music that existed in the analog world, recorded in studios and played on CD, tape, or record player, and transferred it to a digital random access player. The Peloton takes the old-fashioned exercise bike and adds a connected screen with an interface to interact with the instructors, track metrics, and achieve goals. These are complex disruptors that use a mix of simple concepts.
I can see storytelling going to this next level. An idea we kicked around years ago was merging the video game with exercise to create health adventures.
Imagine using an exercise machine or even a simple floor mat to travel inside an interactive video game where you meet personal goals, win tokens, and climb in rank. The game urges you forward by using your body to complete missions.
Picture a chase scene where you meet interesting characters as you run or pedal toward the goal. The physical exercise machine is tracking your speed, heart rate, and resistance. You are choosing paths to take, people to meet, and objects to grab, building your own personal adventure. Perhaps you experience this on a screen, virtual reality goggles, or mobile device. Filmmakers would create the content, fascinating living stories, that run on this new tech, and present them in animation, live action or both.
You want to exercise because you not only feel better…you experience better. We started toying with this idea about ten years ago when the tech was not quite there.
Your latest project, AIRWAY: The Battle to Breathe, explores an important area of public health. Could you tell us more about this project?
Was there anything you found especially surprising about public health during the making of the film?
Ed: We are currently producing an independent feature documentary, called Airway, about an insidious health challenge affecting tens of thousands of people. We started off following this young woman, Sydney Avis, who since she was a toddler, battled with exhaustion and breathing issues.
Now in her mid twenties she still is exhausted and compensates with all these coping mechanisms. It turns out that her condition is fairly common, often misdiagnosed, and rarely treated well. We’ve journeyed with her to numerous doctors and tests that have helped her narrow down potential treatments. We still have a year left of filming to find out if Sydney discovers a permanent solution.
We published a website, airwaydocumentary.com, with clips, production blog and trailer. And we were amazed how many people connected with us who have similar issues and challenges.
We thought we were creating this small personal film and it turns out we waded to an international health crisis.
There are so many people struggling with airway issues who cannot find a real cure. And in many cases it’s killing them slowly. Even worse, we are discovering that a large percentage of these problems could have been prevented with early intervention, starting as early as 2 or 3 years old.
We went into the film with no agenda or pre-conceived notions. We are cinematic travelers capturing a ton of information and stories, learning from experts and patients, and preparing to share this with the world.
New tech tools like HindexRV, the variable heart rate tracking system; DISE, the drug induced sleep endoscopy; and, the ACG system, a line of prosthetic oral devices, have opened the door to treatment and healing. We believe Airway will have a profound impact on the healthcare community and potentially save lives.
Reminiscing the pre-COVID era, let’s talk a little bit about travel. In your line of work, you have had to travel far and wide.
Could you tell us a bit about the most exotic places you have visited or one of your trips that you consider most memorable, and why?
Ed: We travelled to many fascinating places and met really cool people over the years. One story which is fun to share is when we filmed in Hawaii. When Kīlauea on the Big Island began to erupt we headed up in our RV and car caravan. As we wound up the volcano, we saw the roads next to us covered with lava from past eruptions, unusable and abandoned. The roads we were driving on would likely disappear too.
Soon we heard a sound that cut through the background roar of the eruption. At first we thought it was rain pattering on the RV roof. Soon we realized it wasn’t raindrops but ash and pebbles pelting us from the eruption. We reached the top as the debris bounced off the windshield.
Even though we were close, we weren’t close enough. So a small group jumped into helicopter to land within a mile of the cone. The chopper could only take one or two at a time. I was an assistant back then so I stayed back at home base.
After several hours it was getting dark and the helicopter returned with the crew. They had a successful trip capturing amazing material. But someone was missing. Our beloved video engineer, Howie with the flaming red hair, was still at the eruption site with the field geologists. It was too dark to fly him back. He had to wait until morning.
Sadly, we drove back down the mountain, the red plume shooting up behind us, like a giant inflatable tube man dancing in front of a used car dealership. At the base of the volcano, we decided to stop the caravan so everyone could get out and salute Howie. At that moment he became a legend…St. Howie Maui of Kīlauea. St. Howie ended up sleeping on the ground, warmed by the lava beneath the surface, letting the camera run on magnificent night shots of the Kīlauea cone. Howie was, and still is, a trouper.
Following on from the previous question, where would you most want to visit once the COVID restrictions are behind us, and why?
Ed: When we hit the PLAY button again, I think I’d like to revisit Tel Aviv.
The city is vibrant, young, and full of new tech.
There are so many cool things coming out of Israel now. It’s also more diverse than people realize. We’ve met smart people from many cultures there. We found the people warm and welcoming. They spend a lot of time with their families, often on beautiful beaches. And now, more than ever, business is thriving.
Beyond that I always wanted to visit Australia. There are great people there doing wonderful things in another beautiful setting. Of course, there are many more fun places to go but those two popped into my head right now. We can’t wait for the challenges of this year to be a fading memory.
Thanks for your time and these great insights, Ed. We couldn't be more thrilled to have you be part of our budding community.