Posted by Glenn Lazzaro for his series “Adventures in Television”
“I am a blackhole supernova, colliding with a proton, genetically-engineered from a hooker, mutated into a circus clown, riding on a unicycle. What I mean is: my words make me extra powerful.”
Patrick Anderson. Poet.
In 2000 ESPN was bringing the Winter X Games to the east coast for the first time and they were looking for an entirely different way of packaging the show. The games were going to be broadcast on the ABC network for the first time and they wanted to make a big impression. I had been attending “Poetry Slams” at the Bowery Poetry Club for a while and thought that Slam Poets were similar to extreme athletes in many ways. Both groups push the limits of their chosen field, both are misunderstood by the general public and both compete as individuals.
I had been doing quite a bit of work with ESPN at the time so I presented the idea of using poetry as a way to package the show to VP of Event Production, Jamie Reynolds. The concept was to take five young poets from the streets of New York City, and ask them to write poems for the Winter X Games. The poems would celebrate both the games and the people and lifestyle associated with it. I chose Sage Francis, Patrick Anderson, Beau Sia, Laurel Barclay and Amanda Nazario- all nationally recognized Slam Poets to write poems specific to the games.
We set off to film on location at Mt. Snow Ski resort in Vermont. We were hoping to shoot on top of the ski mountain with vistas of the valley as a backdrop. Of course when we arrived in January a huge cold front swept thru the area dropping temperatures to 10 below zero with wind chills on the mountain-top at 30 below zero. Mt. Snow closed the mountain the day we arrived. We though we would have to reschedule the shoot but my Cinematographer Trish Govoni was undaunted. We scouted the area and found great snowy landscapes that could only exist in Vermont. We made an old barn with hubcaps nailed to it our home base. We also used the forest behind the motel to shoot. (On that location we were able to use hair dryers to warm up the Poets between takes)
Everyone in the action-sports world at the time was “cut crazy.” I was also “cut crazy” but felt as a Director I needed to do something different with the Poets. I really wanted showcase their intense performances. We shot the poems in their entirety without worrying about how long they would be. We did very little coverage because I did not want the poems to be “edited” after the fact. (We did have to do some cuts because the poets were freezing and had trouble doing the long poems without making some mistakes) Somehow we got it done and no one froze to death.
ESPN had expected the poems to be inter-cut with action sports so when I showed them the pieces they were entirely surprised. To their credit they realized that they had a great opportunity to do what they had wanted to do all along. That is: to do something unexpected. The poems formed the framework for the 4 days of live programming and ran unedited just as I hoped.
On February 6th, the X-games began with a haiku by Patrick Anderson.
There is a snowman
his eyes are two perfect x’s
the snowman is me
BONUS: A cut featuring all the Poets reading their haikus.