Chicago—October 4, 2013—“Hello, I’m Sid Ordower and welcome to ‘Jubilee Showcase,’ the program presenting songs truly American: gospel, spiritual and jubilee songs - the great inspirational music of the past and present.” Every Sunday morning from 1963 until 1984, these words opened a unique local television show in Chicago - a half hour of African- American gospel music hosted and produced by a straight-laced white man who seemed part reporter, part politician, part preacher all at once.
Fifty years ago, Ordower, a civil rights activist, had little idea he was beginning to build one of the most comprehensive collections of gospel music ever, let alone a vital piece of Chicago’s and America’s history. He wanted to bring what he called “that fine American music” to a larger audience. Jubilee Showcase featured inspiring performances by the Barrett Sisters, Jessy Dixon, Albertina Walker, the Staple Singers and many other gospel luminaries. There was an even an appearance by Thomas Dorsey, the father of this musical genre. The show aired on the Chicago ABC affiliate WLS-TV (Channel 7) and won a National Emmy Award for a “pioneering project in television.”
Jubilee Showcase will celebrate its 50th anniversary during a PBS (Public Broadcasting System) Special. The show, Gospel’s Jubilee Showcase, will air on WTTW, the Chicago PBS affiliate, on October 10, 2013 at 9 p.m. (central time) and in December, will be shown on PBS stations throughout the United States. The hour-long broadcast will present historic footage from the television show. Clifton Davis will host the program. An actor, singer, songwriter and minister, Davis is best known for his roles in television sitcoms That’s My Mama and Amen. He was recently featured on TV One’s Life After and is a regular host on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. When asked why he agreed to serve as the pledge show’s host, Davis explained, “First of all, I love gospel music. I love historic gospel music. Every time we review this on television, a new generation has a chance to be introduced to something that inspired us back then.” Portions of the broadcast were filmed at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Headquarters on Chicago’s South Side.
The Jubilee Showcase archive is the single largest collection of historic Gospel music television footage in the world, and consists of 100 half-hour programs, which have never been seen by a national audience on television. And now, for the first time, these rare performances have been compiled into a true ‘best-of’ program and are available for all to see. For people who grew up with this music, it will not only be a joyous experience to hear these amazing artists perform, but for most fans, it will be their first time seeing them perform as well.
Steve Ordower has a big idea to pay tribute to the legacy of his father, TV pioneer and civil rights activist Sid Ordower. He is developing a seven-part, high-end gospel music documentary series, in the spirit of the feature doc “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” with the goal of PBS or cable release.
Ordower manages the 100-episode collection of the renowned gospel music TV series “Jubilee Showcase,” which his father Sid Ordower produced for its entire run from 1963 to 1984. The show went on to win a national Emmy award for a pioneering project in television and featured several Grammy award-winning artists, such as Andraw Crouch, Pop Staples, and Albertina Walker.
Ordower has so far shot over 30 hours of interviews, which he is combining with his deep reservoir of archival footage. “Interviewing musicians and activists, I'm getting to know in an intimate way how much my father influenced society, both through his show and through his activism,” Steve Ordower said. “And I'm getting to know him better as a man. He was the most universal person I ever met, able to cross racial, ethnic, and social boundaries with no hesitation, just being himself,” he said.
“Jubilee Showcase” is credited as one of the greatest platforms for gospel, featuring the TV debuts of many of the music's leading figures. Sid Ordower was active in progressive causes, particularly in the African-American community, and was instrumental in the elections of Mayor Harold Washington, U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis.
Ordower is seeking a minimum of $1 million per episode to shoot on HD. He expects a three to five year production period and aims for an eventual run on PBS or cable. He's incorporating the nonprofit Rhythm and Light Foundation to solicit foundation funding.
Ordower plans to focus on the relationship between gospel and blues and civil rights. “It's not just Chicago history & this is an important part of American history,” he said.
Steve Ordower (Producer/Editor) and Phil Donlon (Director/Writer) reteamed for their third film project, The Man In The Silo, which was featured at The Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago, held at The Gene Siskel Film Center in August of 2013. Ernie Hudson, who starred in the movie, was flown in for the festival, and was greeted by a sold-out theater. The question & answer session after the film (which included Hudson, Donlon, Ordower, and writer Christopher Ellis) had to eventually be cut off since the conversation was so lively and engaging after the film, and would have easily continued for another hour or two. “We couldn’t have asked for a better screening of our film,” Ordower commented. The film received some press prior to the screening in the Chicago Tribune, as well as Steve and Phil conducting an interview on WBEZ radio, the Chicago NPR affiliate station.
While at THE METHOD FEST with their film A Series of Small Things, (see article on A Series of Small Things) Steve (Producer/Editor/Sound Designer) and Phil (Director/Writer) met Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters/“Oz”) at one of the parties. Donlon was considering Dennis Haysbert from the popular TV show “24” but saw Hudson speaking at the festival. At a break in a conversation Hudson was having with someone at the festival party, someone asked Ernie, “So, what's next for you?” When Ernie replied, “I'm just waiting for the next interesting thing to come along,” Ordower took that as his cue to introduce himself and Phil to Ernie. Hudson subsequently spent the next 24 minutes listening to Donlon's pitch for The Man in the Silo with funky music blaring in the middle of a Ferrari dealership.
The Man in the Silo tells the story of an African-American man (Ernie Hudson, of Ghostbusters fame) who cares for his racist mother-in-law after the death of his wife and son. The action takes place mainly on the mother-in-law's farm, where the main character believes there is a man in the grain silo who is out to get him. All three films Donlon and Ordower have worked on have been directed by Donlon, with Ordower serving as Editor on all of them and working as Producer on both A Series of Small Things and The Man in the Silo. The first of these films, Wrestled, was picked up by the Independent Film Channel. Ordower took on producing duties with the second film, A Series of Small Things, which was accepted into the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
“The production was pretty intense,” said Ordower while reminiscing about the LA portion of the shoot. The shooting schedule was from 6pm to 6am for 6 straight days, and then the crew flew back to Chicago to finish up filming in the greater Chicago area and Wisconsin. There were multiple locations around LA, and the crew, which was lead by director of Photography Joey Domaracki, did a fantastic job. Ben Brammeier, the 1st A.D., also stepped up to the challenge. Brammeier, who was brought up under Director Bruce Terris, was excellent at keeping the film on schedule. There were no dropped shots and the production did not go into overtime. This was quite a feat considering the complexity of shots that Director Phil Donlon wanted to accomplish. Camera/Steadicam Operator Dave Ortkiese welcomed the challenges of this film by nailing intricate steadicam moves time after time. Ordower and Donlon were so impressed by Ortkiese and gaffer John Luker, whom Domaracki insisted work on the project, that the two were flown to the Midwest to complete the last few days of production, instead of hiring people locally to fill these positions.
However, the production didn't have to fly some production crew and Ernie Hudson to the Midwest just once; they had to do it twice. While filming one of the two days at the farm location in Bristol, Wisconsin, Ordower had to make a painful call to shut production down only a couple of hours into the production day. While doing exterior work, rain started to fall and preparations were immediately made to work through the weather. But when the forecasts became increasingly worse, Brammeier took Ordower aside and lent his experienced perspective. “What’s the rush, Steve?” Brammeier asked. “I see a lot of productions rush to finish a film, instead of taking their time and making a great film.”
Steve knew that Brammeier made a lot of sense in what he was saying, but as the Producer, Ordower was struggling with a lack of money coupled with the fear of not being able to get Ernie Hudson back on a plane to the Midwest. The production already had to reschedule the shoot three times due to Hudson's schedule, and paying for another day’s shoot was difficult for Ordower to think about, let alone pushing the last shooting day to late November. It can get pretty cold outside in Wisconsin at that time of the year. However, Ordower called an emergency meeting with Brammeier, Director Phil Donlon, and D.P. Joey Domaracki. They all came to a fairly quick decision, and Ordower made the call to shut production down for the day. About an hour before this happened, though, the words that Director Alrick Brown, who was visiting the set that day, said to Ordower rang in Steve's head for the next few weeks. When Ordower met Brown and explained the situation, Alrick bottom-lined it by saying, “It will test your resolve.” It sure did.
The next day, however, went very well while filming on the Metra train on the route from Chicago to Harvard, IL. It was all steadicam work for Ortkiese on a moving train, and all went well. The lighting that day was particularly gorgeous, and the timing of the production had to be precise with no mistakes allowed. Union Pacific, the company that owns the railroad and runs the train operation, allowed the production to film on a Metra train. Filming was allowed on a run from Chicago to Harvard and then back again, with some work done on a still car in between. Moving 45 extras around from train to train was a challenge, but things went pretty smoothly, with Ben Brammeier working closely with Ordower on logistics and 2nd A.D. Alex Lee going above and beyond the call of duty.
One of the main challenges, though, was to get Hudson to the airport in time for his flight back to L.A. for a shoot the next day. Hudson didn't ride the train all the way back to downtown Chicago from Harvard. It was arranged to have someone pick him up from a stop in Arlington Heights, close to O'Hare Airport, so the crew would have the maximum amount of time with him — and they used every bit of it. Hudson's bags were waiting for him by the door up to the minute of his departure, and Hudson was wrapped for the day about a minute before the train pulled in to his stop. It was a quick goodbye and off to the airport for Ernie.
Now, the challenge came to get the last day of production on the farm in Wisconsin to happen. The last day was scheduled and then rescheduled. Camera operator Dave Ortkiese and Gaffer John Luker were set to fly in, the crew in Chicago was ready, and then the phone call from Hudson came into Ordower the day before his flight was to come in to town. “Steve, I'm a trooper and all, but did you check the weather forecast for the area?” Ordower said, “Yes, Ernie, I am aware. We have made preparations for it.” An outdoor heater was rented for Hudson to keep him warm between takes and extra layers were prepared for him and the crew. Fortunately, Ordower's talk with Hudson went well and on November 18th, the last day of shooting got in the can.
“The day went really well,” explained Ordower. “Ernie was in a great mood. It was cold, but not brutally so. There was no wind or rain, and the mood and energy on the set was very positive.” The location was fantastic, and the owners of the farm, Ed and Juanita Cruey, were extremely accommodating.
From Donlon's and Ordower's perspective, the production as a whole was a blessing. Only a couple of the locations for the entire production required compensation. The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society granted unprecedented access to it for a very modest fee. The production was able to set design weeks in advance, as well as use a plethora of props and furniture that were on hand, which worked very well for the film.
Rhythm & Light was called upon to capture the historical and magical Gospel concert at Liberty Baptist Church, directed by the legendary recording artist Jessy Dixon in April of 2007. Since Jessy appeared on Sid Ordower's show, “Jubilee Showcase,” numerous times, it was natural for Jessy to connect with Sid's son Steve to produce and direct the multi-camera shoot. With a packed house of over 1,500 people, the atmosphere was electric as numerous choirs and performers took the stage to showcase their skills, including Vernon Oliver Price, who also appeared on “Jubilee Showcase.”
Steve's goal was to bring the highest possible production value given the budget, so he chose to shoot on the Panasonic DVD Pro50 standard definition video format with the SD X900 cameras. "I was really pleased with the images we captured. Panasonic did a great job with their answer to Sony's Digibeta format, but has a great deal more flexibility," Ordower said. Not just for the concert itself, but also for future documentary purposes, Steve chose to shoot the concert widescreen at 24fps, converting to 30fps in the camera, progressive, widescreen.. "I knew if we lit this correctly, it would match quite well with Panasonic's DVC Pro100 HD codec, which is what I will shoot documentaries about Gospel Music on," Steve said. This is why Steve flew in Director of Photography Joey Domaracki from LA. Domaracki lit the concert using a variety of color schemes for different groups and artists. The church didn't have the lighting needed for such an event, so a great deal of par cans and extra lighting was brought in for the concert.
With a three-and-a-half hour live performance and no breaks, everyone worked very hard. "The camera men did a fantastic job," Ordower said. Dave Moravec manned the jib with a great deal of dexterity, while Mike Torcha captured striking profile shots of the performers as well as audience shots. The third camera, manned by Aaron Britton stationed in the balcony, caught the wide shots as well as intimate close-ups of the artists. "I wanted a minimum of six cameras for this event, but the budget just didn't allow for that, which is why the camera operators had to work their tails off... and they certainly came through with the goods," Ordower said. Jessy Dixon's intros for the DVD project were also shot with the DVC Pro50 codec, but with the Panasonic HVX200 camera, which proved to work quite well for this application.
The audio was recorded by Accutrack Recording, spearheaded by David Levit, with 24 tracks that were re-mixed by Mat Prock of Area 44 Music. "It was a real pleasure to place the final mix in the project," Ordower said. "Dave and Mat did excellent work capturing the amazing music that was created that day."
Stationed in a chapel to the side of the main sanctuary with a bank of monitors, Ordower called out the shots over headphones, envisioning the edit as the concert moved forward. "The budget did not allow for a live switch, so I chose to edit the concert using Final Cut Pro's multi-angle functionality, which worked very well," Ordower explained. All of the editing, color correction, and DVD authoring was also done at Rhythm & Light, with this project set for international distribution.