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Wonderland Productions Completes Documentary For CSTV

Soho-based company provides editing, music, sound design, audio post and finishing (September 17, 2004)

Wonderland Productions has built a reputation as a full-service company with high-end talent that can take a film from concept through completion. Recently, owner Bill McCulloughs award-winning skills as a director and producer -- and his companys roster of editing, finishing, scoring, sound design and audio post production services -- were called upon by the CSTV: College Sports Television Network for its riveting new documentary about the high-pressure world of ?The National Collegiate Debate Championship.

The CSTV documentary takes viewers inside the world of the high-stakes event as the powerful cinema verite-style film follows numerous teams exhibiting extraordinary feats of mental gymnastics and personal endurance in hopes of winning the prestigious title of National Collegiate Debate Champion. The producer/director followed through with his vision of the film, returning to his Soho-based facility where the project was edited and finished and where affiliate companies No Wonder Music created the original score and Wonderland Sound provided the sound design and audio post services.

?Never in its 58 year history has the National Collegiate Debate Championship received national television coverage of this magnitude, notes Andy Regal, vice president of original programming at the CSTV. ?When I saw a preliminary debate at defending champion Northwestern University it sparked the idea that a documentary on the tourney could catch the imagination of the public much the same way the hit feature doc ?Spellbound, about the 1999 National Spelling Bee, did.

?There were a lot of conversations and negotiations before the National Collegiate Debate Championship even considered allowing us to document the event, Regal recalls. ?They were dubious about letting cameras in. So it was incumbent upon me to find a production company that understood their passion. Bill McCullough brought a great sensitivity to the project. He was as enthusiastic about it as I was, if not more so, and that was exactly what I was looking for.

Fielding six camera crews, McCullough worked out the complex logistics of the production as it followed debate teams from Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, The University of Louisville (Kentucky), Northwestern, Michigan State and Cal State/Fullerton during the marathon four-day tournament, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. last April.

McCullough and his crews shot mini DV footage of the debaters guerrilla-style with Sony PD-150 cameras. ?The challenge was to work with existing conditions and keep the production virtually invisible to the participants, points out Wonderlands managing director, Vanessa McCullough. ?We couldnt intrude or bring in extra lighting or anything else that would distract the participants.

?The students spent 40 hours a week, aside from their coursework, starting in August 2003 to prepare to reach that point, Bill McCullough explains. ?At the Championship they were pretty much up around the clock which meant we had to be too. The pressure was really on. As one of the participants put it, ?This is Top Gun for dorks!

The documentarys story centers on the debaters and their coaches. ?Watching a debate is not like watching a basketball game, Bill McCullough notes. ?Debaters speak at a rate of 400 words a minute, and each debate is two-and-a-half hours long. Its hard to follow such rapid speech about a subject -- US foreign policy in European relations -- thats unknown to most viewers. So we had to devise ways to bring the characters of the participants through. Emotions run high at the championship; theres so much at stake. We tried to give viewers a sense of how much is on the line for the students: Its about winning, losing, frustration -- like any sport.

After the shoot McCullough returned to Wonderland where he collaborated with CSTV senior producer, Gary Cohen, and prepared to meet the challenge of posting the documentary.

Back in New York, Wonderland editor Gideon Brown honed over 150 hours of footage into a one-hour show on the Avid Media Composer.

?The majority of the viewing public knows very little, if anything, about The National Collegiate Debate Championship. As its an extremely fast-paced and complex event, my biggest challenge in editing the footage was to make sure the audience was quickly brought up to speed about the subject, notes Brown. ?Then they could fully understand the four-day event and appreciate the talent and tenacity of the participants. After that was accomplished, the next task was to work through 100-plus hours of footage and build the character stories which were interwoven with fast-paced debating footage to create a well-rounded story.

Bill McCullough and John Wiggins co-composed the original score for the film, under the banner of the original music house, No Wonder Music, which they co-own. CNNs Aaron Browns narration of the film was the perfect complement to No Wonders soundtrack which conveyed quirkiness reminiscent of Thomas Newmans soundtrack for ?American Beauty. The Roger Lynn-designed Adrenaline, a drum machine with arpeggios that can plug into a guitar, gave them just the sound they were looking for.

Wiggins, who also heads up a third affiliate, Wonderland Sound, handled the audio post and created the sound design for the project. ?Our crews had to be so mobile and low profile around the debaters that we couldnt use boom mics, Bill McCullough says. ?We werent always in the best locations to get pristine audio and had a lot of background noise. But John was a master at EQing, notching out noises and cleaning the audio.

?We couldnt be more pleased with the approach, organization, energy and creativity Wonderland Productions showed, says Regal. ?Were thrilled with the documentary. The ?National Collegiate Debate Championship broadens the base of our network and its programming. The debaters are student athletes with the same kind of intensity for their sport as students playing basketball and lacrosse, swimming and wrestling which we show on a daily basis.

The ?National Collegiate Debate Championship premiered September 1 on CSTV with subsequent airings scheduled throughout the fall. CSTV launched April 2003 as the first 24-hour college sports network. It currently has agreements with distributors that represent more than 52 million homes nationwide, including the top three distributors: Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable.

For Wonderland Productions: Producer/Director/DP, Bill McCullough; Managing Director, Vanessa McCullough; Field Producers, David Leepson, Jason Sealove, Susan Walker, Vanessa McCullough; DPs, Dan Akiba, Michael Ford, Amy Flannery; PAs, Radiance Salem, Heather Gillespie; Editor, Gideon Brown; Producer, Jason Sealove
For Wonderland Sound: Mixer/Sound Designer, John Wiggins
For No Wonder Music: Composers, John Wiggins and Bill McCullough

For CSTV: Vice President of Original Programming, Andy Regal;
Senior Producer, Gary Cohen

About Wonderland Productions
Four-time Emmy Award-winner, Bill McCullough launched Wonderland Productions in 1998 as a full-service resource for documentary and broadcast filmmaking. Along with affiliate companies, No Wonder Music and Wonderland Sound, it offers an open-architecture, creative environment with a collaborative approach to production, editing, post production, finishing, original music, sound design and audio post services. For additional information about Wonderland Productions contact Managing Director, Vanessa McCullough at 212-966-9049 or go to


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Related Keywords:Wonderland Productions, CSTV, Bill McCullough, College Sports Television Network, National Collegiate Debate Championship, No Wonder Music, Andy Regal, Sony, PD-150, Gary Cohen, Gideon Brown, Avid Media Composer, John Wiggins, Wonderland Sound,

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