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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Seminara

My Micro-Soft and Paul Allen story. A few days after his passing.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen
Bill Gates and Paul Allen - Photo by: ?


Many years ago I made a series of promotional and educational films for a little company called Micro-Soft. They paid us in some cash and some stock. We spent a very long day shooting the team outlining the programs that they had and were still developing.

Micro-Soft was in the process of purchasing Lotus, a software company in Massachusets. This video presentation was the cornerstone of their big push to corporations interested in computers. (Wow that was a long time ago!) Like, I said it was a long day. Around hour 16 the very nervous, Paul Allen, walked in front of my Camera. He was very anxious, all day long he stalked around our offices trying to verbalize the actual programming that went into the accounting program that would eventually become Microsoft Excel.

He had prepared a script that was so long and unmanageable and he had made so many changes that we couldn't enter it into the teleprompter. It was decided that he would read it from his notes. But first, he wanted to rehearse it. 28 minutes. (the average was around 7) We asked if he could cut some of that. He agreed that some of it was a little slow. (a little slow?) We went through it again and made various suggestions for cuts. In the end, after several rehearsals and editing suggestions, it was decided that he would go back to the original.

It was now hour 18. Everyone was tired and it was an effort. This was an industrial, not a music video. There was no energy supplying drugs here. It was time to shoot. My camera was mounted on an ancient television dolly. I had a zoom control in my right hand and pan and tilt in my left. I was on the headset to give set direction and listen to the control room.

We began, after a few misstarts. Paul found his groove. Well, not a groove actually. A slow plodding through the applications of their new program. He so wanted to get everything he valued in the program into the film. I felt for him. I did. But I had been working for over 20 hours.

Soon the chatter from the control room vanished. Not long after, Paul Allen's words lost their meaning in my ears. Blah, blah, blah, bl... ah, buh... b ... - "THE LIGHTS! THE LIGHTS!" I snapped to, woke up, quickly tilted from the lighting grid and framed Paul up in a medium shot. The producer came out of the booth like a bat out of hell. "Okay, we're going to take a quick break." to Paul, "It's great! Really Great.. Don't forget your place." we went to the kitchen and he forced me to drink two cups of sweet black coffee and eat five Excedrins.

For five minutes I was lectured on the necessity not to shoot the lights with an Ikegami camera. How the sensor could burn out or be scarred for life. All things, I had originally taught him.

We returned to the set and I apologized for nodding out. (In the 36 years since it has never happened again.) Everyone laughed and Paul admitted it was a bit dry.

The rest of the shoot was completed in an hour and we all went home. Though I have worked for Microsoft many times since that was almost the last time I saw Paul Allen. 20+ years later I was on my way to Seattle from New York City. I had somehow gotten into the first class club and was drinking free soda and eating snacks when I noticed a fellow staring at me.

He came over and he wasn't sure if he knew me or not. I have to confess that did not look like the same person for various reasons, hair, gut, whiskers, etc. I recognized him from out of the deep miasma of my brain. "I'm the cameraman who fell asleep while shooting you!" He thought about that and smiled. "That was a very long time ago." We chatted some but we were each a bit uncomfortable. As people who have met but don't know each other. They called our flight and he took his seat in first class and I took mine in coach.

Rest in peace, Paul Allen. You helped change the world.

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