Behind the Scenes of Loma Linda's New TV Show


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Melody George attended film school at Southern Adventist University, and then freelanced in Los Angeles for several years before joining the “Life on the Line” team. She directed and edited Episode 3: “End It Now,” and assisted in editing and shooting some of the other episodes. She talked to Spectrum about the creation of this new national Adventist show.

Question: Loma Linda University Health’s new TV show, "Life on the Line," premiered at the beginning of this month on PBS. Can you tell us about the show?Answer: “Life on the Line” is a very special collection of stories borne out of Loma Linda’s work both locally here in southern California, and around the world. The show features courageous individuals — from a newborn fighting heart disease to a young survivor of the 2010 Haitian earthquake — and turns their journeys into a documentary series for television. There are six episodes in the first season of the show, and each of those six episodes focuses on a person who exhibits tremendous courage in their fight to survive. It’s like “Frontline" meets "Boston Med" meets Lisa Ling’s “Our America."

Question: Were you surprised that PBS agreed to pick up the show? How did this come about? Do you have a contract for a certain number of episodes?

Answer: We were all very excited to learn that our show had been picked up for national distribution on public television and the WORLD Channel. Our goal was to get these stories to a national audience, and we worked very hard over a long period of time to make that happen. Martin Doblmeier, Producer of “The Adventists” and our Executive Producer for “Life on the Line," has had a longstanding relationship with NETA (National Educational Telecommunications Association; one of only three distributors that distribute content to public television). Martin encouraged us to submit our pilot episode for review. We prayed consistently during that time that Loma Linda’s transformative stories would be able to reach a broader audience.

Question: Life on the Line replaces Loma Linda’s previous show, "Loma Linda 360," is that right? How is the new show different? What are you trying to accomplish with the show?

Answer: "Life on the Line” grew out of Loma Linda’s previous show, which aired locally here in the Inland Empire and desert cities. But “Life on the Line” focuses in on a specific theme — “the resilience of humankind” — and targets a broader audience. The show exists to share powerful and inspiring stories from Loma Linda. And film as a medium gives us a unique opportunity to do that, since audiences can really experience Loma Linda visually through these powerful and captivating stories of transformation and hope.

Question: How do you choose who to feature in different episodes?

Answer: That’s an uncontrollable process to some extent because, as with any documentary film, you sort of have to wait for things to happen and for stories to emerge. But we keep our cameras rolling — and believe me, there are always compelling stories unfolding in a hospital setting. When we begin to see a story take shape that fits the theme of “Life on the Line,” we zero in on it. It’s a big place; Loma Linda has six hospitals, eight professional schools, 800 physicians and about 14,000 faculty and staff. Fortunately the different departments know we’re here, and they often come to us with the stories.

Question: In some episodes, you have cameras right inside an operating theater, and film crews interviewing patients and parents. Doesn’t this distract the doctors and upset the patients? Presumably, you are filming many more people and situations than end up making it onto TV. Is this intrusion really justifiable?

Answer: It’s a great question. The ethics of documentary filmmaking is certainly a topic that calls for some inspection. In every case, we have the permission of the patients and/or their parents and physicians before we start rolling. The camera wouldn’t be there if the people in the shot didn’t want it there. And our team has a combined two decades of experience shooting in medical settings, so we are very adept at staying out of the way and asking for interviews only when the moment is right. The camera does not interfere with procedures at any time. Also, it’s important to realize that in many cases, these people want their stories to be told. Take episode 3 for example, titled “End It Now.” In this episode, victims of child abuse share some very personal stories on camera. But in each case, they choose to do so because they know that speaking out about their experience will help others avoid the same fate. With each of these episodes, there’s a sense that we’re telling a story that needs to be told. The filmmakers sense it, the patients and their families sense it, and the physicians sense it. So everyone agrees that it’s worth it, in order to pass on the story.

Question: How big is your budget for the TV series, or for each episode? How big is the team that produces the show?

Answer: We’re a team of five people: four filmmakers, and a production coordinator. We’re all tasked with directing and editing specific episodes, but we work together as a team on all of them. The show was funded by a handful of individuals who saw the value of sharing these stories with the nation.

Question: What do you think viewers will most like about the series? Is there anything you think might prove less popular?

Answer: I think what viewers will like most is that real-life context for the stories. It’s like watching reality TV, except that what you’re watching is actually real! We didn’t alter the stories; they’re true to life. And I think audiences will really engage with that, because they can relate to that struggle we all eventually experience in life. What might prove less popular? Well, since it is real life, the stories don’t always end the way you want them to!

Question: Do you see "Life on the Line" continuing for a long time to come? What are Loma Linda’s plans for the show?

Answer: We are already shooting season two of the show. Beyond that . . . we’ll have to wait and see!

Question: What are your goals as a filmmaker?

Answer: My goal is to produce content that uplifts and inspires people, and has the potential to catalyze positive societal change. I work with a fantastic team, and collaboration is the key to all of our success.

Air times can be found at www.lifeontheline.tv. Read Spectrum's review of the pilot episode here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5960