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Original Issue

At a show that's outta sight

I'll be calling the shots for you—giving you the best camera angles. If you have a 35-millimeter, pick yourself a shutter setting right now.

I am sitting in the stadium at Cypress Gardens, Fla., waiting for the famous water-ski show to begin. I'm surrounded by people with cameras, and the man who will be giving us the best camera angles is sitting somewhere in our midst with a microphone.

I think most of us could pick a 250 on f4 and a distance of about 50 feet. Remember, there's a lot of reflection around water—your skiers might come out dark.

He's the professional photographer on duty at Cypress Gardens today to make sure that we get good pictures of the show. I don't care about good pictures. I don't even own a camera. I just want to see the show.

Movies: 16 frames per second, halfway between 5.6 and 8. You folks with Kodachrome and Ektachrome should....

My fellow tourists are as busy as only fellow tourists with cameras can be—fiddling and adjusting, loading and winding, peering through meters and rummaging through cases appended to them by straps. We are a sea of straps.

If you have a zoom lens, now's the time to take it out and put it in a handy place.

Why am I here? I am here because I am destined to be here. Cypress Gardens has been locked into my consciousness for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the age before television, when my only chance to catch a few moments of big-league baseball—aside from going to a game—was in the Fox Movietone news-reel that preceded the feature at our local movie house. It always had a sports segment near the end, after the inevitable fire in an oil storage tank and just before Lew Lehr ("monkeys is the cwaziest people"), and sometimes, if I was lucky, I could see one of my flanneled heroes like Mel Ott in action. I didn't even insist on baseball—it could be any decent sport that I had been following in the sports pages. Football or tennis or golf. But usually it was Cypress Gardens.

Remember, folks, as they come from the left, stop your panning and let them ski out of the picture before you cut. Otherwise your skiers will look like they're bumping into each other.

Once in a while Fox Movietone News avoided water skiing and covered some other sport that nobody wanted to see, like archery. They loved archers at Fox. But that didn't mean I was off the hook. There were still a few travelogues and "short subjects" to be traversed before I could reach the feature film. Is there anything longer in human experience than a short subject? I can still hear the flatulent opening words: "Hidden as if by magic from the bustle of Florida's teeming highways, Cypress Gardens is an enchanted paradise where breathtaking feats of aquatic agility...."

It's fairly cloudy today, folks, and the light may vary after the show starts. If it moves half a stop one way or another I'll let you know.

Now it was rendezvous time with my destiny. Driving along Florida's teeming highways I had noticed the billboards and heard them calling me to Cypress Gardens. They said that I had seen the water skiers in movies and I had seen them on television and I had seen them on postcards. Now I could see them.

If your camera jams up on you, there's a darkroom right back of the stadium. Feel free to use it.

In the stadium we are agog with preparations. The show is about to start—the peppy strains of water-skiing music tell us so. Cameras are at the ready. Here they come! Six girls trot down to the edge of the water and step into their skis.

Stills: if you wait and let 'em stand up on water you'll get a prettier shot.

The girls stand up on water. They are as pretty as a picture. Everybody gets a shot.

Movies: roll 'em!

Movies roll all around me. The girls ski past us in formation and are gone.

We'll swing 'em around in front of the stadium one more time in case you didn't get 'em.

The girls swing around one more time.

Shoot it! Good. Now you want to watch Laverne. He'll step off and ride on the soles of his bare feet at 35 miles an hour. He's getting ready for the step-off. He's on 'em! Roll 'em, Movies! Stills, shoot! Cut, Movies!

Laverne goes by on his bare feet. I watch him with wonder. Around me the stands are alive with the sound of whirring and clicking.

On your left, taking off on one ski backward, is—wait, let him turn around. O.K., he's turned around. Oh-oh, he's down-hold it, folks, save your film. All right, he's up again. Movies: you can see him now. Go ahead!

The uprighted skier hurtles by backward on one ski.

Instamatics, remember to let 'em come in as close as possible.

I hear a few belated clicks. The Instamatic crowd.

Over to the left you'll see your Aqua-maids. They're coming out for the Semaphore Salute. Use your regular lens for this. They'll only pass by one time, so be ready. Everybody looking through your view finder....

Six girls with red, white and blue semaphore flags come skiing past.

Go, Movies.... Cut. Now you'll want to get set for the Adagio. You Instamatics, take your flash cubes out and shoot a faster shutter speed.

The Adagio consists of two men on skis holding a girl poised in the air between them. The main announcer says that it's one of the most graceful acts in water skiing. It is, and I think all the other people will agree when they get home and have their films developed.

Now use your telephoto lens for the next three acts.

Feverish activity all around me.

Focus in on those two high jumps. The distance markers would be infinity for the most of you.

High jumps! This is where I catch up with my newsreel past. I focus in on the high jumps, using my two eyes. How familiar they look, those wooden ramps sitting out in the water, waiting for breathtaking feats of aquatic agility. Sure enough, here come "The Rampmasters"—Laverne, Brad and Rollie—and what they do is every bit as dazzling as it was on the silver screen. Two go over the jump, and the third one crosses under them while they are still in the air.

Stills: follow 'em over. Shoot!

After that, all three go over the jump together. I like the precision and the speed of the skiers and of the motorboats. I marvel that the three men don't become entangled—never to be disentangled—in each other's ropes.

Here's your Helicopter Spin, folks. Watch Brad. Be ready for this one.

Brad does a Helicopter Spin—a complete turn in midair.

There he goes! Shoot!

Brad lands safely and skis out of camera range.

Now they'll do a Double Helicopter. Pick up Rollie and Laverne on this side. Roll 'em, Movies! Cut.... We'll have one more, which will be the best shot of all. They'll be coming from the left. You can see 'em now. Go, Movies!

Brad, Rollie and Laverne do a Triple Helicopter Spin.

Quick! Over to your right! That's your Aqua Ballet. Pull your distance back about 50 feet. Stills: in close, all framed up.

The Aquamaids ski past in chorus-line formation, arms linked, one leg raised in the knee-forward position, borne forward on the straining chords of The Impossible Dream. Next I see two ballerinas circling around.

There's your Double Swan Ballet, folks. They'll pass by one time. Movies: catch 'em at the turn. Good.... Folks, there's JO minutes more of show time. You've got a minute and a half to check your film supply because there's some of the better acts still coming up.

My seatmates put the minute and a half to strenuous use. Some of them run down to buy more film. Out on the water three clowns cut some capers. I am always glad to see capers cut. Up in the sky, the sun pokes through a cloud.

Folks, we've picked up half a stop of light. Everybody move down half a number on your f/stop. Do it—you've got time. Movies: we're holding 16 frames on f8. Did everybody close 'em down? Good. Out front, Movies—a good shot for you. Corky the Clown. Corky will be over this way in just a minute. He'll make the jump this time—no fooling.

Corky makes the jump, loses his skis in midair and zooms hilariously into the water, head first. It's a good shot for movies. A skier comes out with an enormous kite fastened to his back.

If you want a closeup, pick him up now. Then we'll get set for his flight. O.K., everybody go to your telephoto lens, distance markers on infinity. He'll make his touchdown over to your left. Try to get him in front of those trees—he'll show up better. He's airborne now, out behind. He'll be coming right over the stadium in just a minute. There he is! Shoot quick!

The kite skier splashes to a perfect landing, right in front of the trees.

Cut, Movies!

We're near the end. A voice on the loudspeaker tells us about some other sights that we might like to take pictures of before we go. "The girls in old-fashioned gowns in various parts of the gardens are there for photographers. Please feel free to ask them to pose." He recommends the boat trip through The Big Lagoon, "perhaps the most photographed part of Cypress Gardens," and the Isles of Movieland, "which you've seen on many TV shows." But there's still work to be done in the stadium.

Here's your Human Pyramid, folks, the most photographed act in the world. Pick 'em up on the right, Movies. Stills: hold it. Roll 'em, Movies! Shoot, Stills!

Four people standing on the shoulders of seven other people go by in a flashing of white water and a flapping of flags. Sensational. Movies roll and Stills shoot. And that's it—the show is over. Fox Movietone News, wherever you are, I saw Cypress Gardens with my own eyes. I wonder if anyone else did.

Now, folks, if you didn't get everything, don't worry. We have plenty of readymade movies. You might want to pick one up and splice it in with your own.