Shasky's passions

Professor stumbles upon TV career, overcomes attention-deficit disorder.

On his first day of classes at Arizona State University, Jim Shasky made a wrong turn and wound up in the television department. Instead of turning back, he began a love affair with the small screen and the people in front of the camera.

"It was my saving grace," he said. "I said to the lady there, 'I've always loved TV. Can you major in TV?' They said yes. I found something I was really good at and that I liked to do."

Shasky, a telecommunications professor at Ball State, went on to direct newsmagazines, variety shows and soap operas in New York and Los Angeles, winning multiple Emmys and working alongside such stars as Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and Liza Minnelli. But he remains fascinated with the little guy.

"Anybody can do a story about a star," he said. "Most of them are like you and me. There are thousands of interesting stories in Muncie and Central Indiana. "

A native of Minnesota, Shasky styled himself as the family photographer while growing up. But as a severe dyslexic with attention deficit disorder, he barely made it out of High School, and even then drifted through a series of junior colleges and nervous breakdowns for five years before settling on Arizona State. It was because of his dyslexia that he made the wrong turn on his first day of college.

"On that first day I was an English major," he said. "Whatever they do I would have flunked out. I couldn't read very well then."

Working in television Shasky found that his ADD actually served to his advantage.

"When I started off in live TV my disability served as an oasis," he said. "The more complicated the show was in the control room, the more monitors, the more things going on, the better I was. I was good at doing shows with lots of camera, lots of activity."

Over the years Shasky estimates he's logged in about 6-8,000 hours worth of television production. Among the programs he's worked on are "Hard Copy," "Young and the Restless" and "Capitol" (which eventually became "Bold and the Beautiful").

In 1987 he and his friend, producer Bonnie MacBird (who wrote the 1982 movie "Tron") formed their own company, Creative License/SkyBird Pictures which created corporate films for such companies as IBM, General Electric and Prudential. The company closed in 1997, after MacBird decided to pursue an acting career. Shasky decided to try teaching and taught part-time at UCLA for two years before moving to Ball State.

"I came here and I was in awe," he said. "It was like God dropped a jewel in the middle of nowhere. UCLA doesn't have a television station on campus. They don't have two radio stations. The students here don't know how lucky they are."

In his office on the second floor of the TCOM building Shasky keeps a drawer full of remote controls for the television in front of him and the assortment of VCRs and DVD players behind him. On his wall hang pictures of his acquaintances, campus television shows he's worked on and two black and white photos of his days at Arizona State. One shows him in front of a control panel, another has him interviewing a young lady, during his early years as a reporter for the CBS affiliate in Phoenix.

Shasky can be a bit gruff and tough talking, but he doesn't put his ego on display. He seems more eager to discuss Ball State's facilities than he does himself, takes more pride in the accomplishments of his students than his own.

"There are a lot of students here, who are better than me," he said. "And I love working with people who are better than me. I'm learning from a few of my students right now. They're younger and more with it than I am. And I like being around that type of creativity and passion."

"His reward is in the students," said senior Jess Carfield, who has worked with Shasky on several projects. "He doesn't care about letting you know how much he knows. He's not talking for the sake of talking. He simply tells you what you need to know."

Ball State, Shasky believes, has more talent than UCLA.

"The students out here are more open, more willing to take chances," he said. "Of course there are good students at UCLA too. But I like it here. The people are nice. They have a harder work ethic and are open to ideas, whereas in L.A. they teach you how to make 'Halloween 22.'"

Shasky tries to teach his students more about storytelling than mechanics.

"Telling a story is telling a story," he said. "Whether you use an $800 camera or $100,000 model, it makes no difference. I try to impress that upon students here. There are too many people trying to teach them how to be operators without being storytellers. My students, I think it's more important for them to control the content, direct and write, than it is running the equipment. The cameras don't tell the story. It's the people."

"He has allowed students to go as far as they can creatively," said TCOM professor Steve Bell, who recruited Shasky from UCLA. "When they have the interest and talent, he gives them the time and attention they need."

A self-described news junkie, Shasky reads several newspapers each morning, including the New York Times and USA Today. In recent years, as more research has been done, he's worked to overcome his dyslexia and ADD.

As well as teaching single camera courses in the TCOM department, Shasky continues to produce features for newsmagazines around the country, as well as advise "Connections Live" on WIPB. Most recently he traveled to Japan to film a documentary titled "Squeakers" about the relationship between computers and education.

But his favorite stories are about people. Not any particular type of person. Just someone willing to tell their story.

"I'm very nosy," he said. "Which is why I like doing people stories so much. I'm extremely interested. Once I'm hooked on doing a story about someone I want to know everything about them, their past life, who their mother and father are. Everyone has a story and everyone is interesting to me.


More from The Daily

Loading Recent Classifieds...