The University Record, August 16, 1999

Hollywood comes to the Diag

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Northville’s Riddell Television Productions used a stop-and-start recording process in filming classics Prof. David S. Potter to avoid including the beeps of construction trucks running in reverse, a crane working on a nearby building and the Westminster chimes of Burton Tower to get the interview on tape. Photo by Joanne Nesbit
With boom mics, a fully-stretched parachute for shade, wires, cords, a monitor, some white cardboard, two folding chairs and an orange traffic pylon all in position on the Diag, a California director and a Michigan videographer set up shop for an interview with classics Prof. David S. Potter.

Potter, whose research and most recent book concentrates on Life, Death, and Entertainment in Ancient Rome, was the star of the videotaping, which is scheduled to air in February as an hour-long special on “Blood Sports: The Life of a Gladiator” on The Learning Channel.

John Pattyson, producer, director, writer and researcher for Los Angeles-based Pattyson Meadows Productions, found Potter via the Internet while searching for the world’s leading experts on Ancient Rome. Potter’s expertise on entertainment prominent in the ancient city made him a natural for Pattyson’s project, geared to coincide with the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Dreamworks production “Gladiator.”

“Studying the entertainments is the best way to find out about a culture,” Potter says. “It tells you what made them tick.”

And, he notes, those great gladiatorial events held throughout the Roman Empire were staged entertainments not unlike today’s professional wrestling. Price controls governed how much could be spent to put on the games, with the amount varying with the geographic location and the projected audience. The number of events scheduled for Rome’s Coliseum depended on the whims of the current emperor and how many he wanted to stage. As today, the large crowds used the events as a means to rid themselves of inhibitions, with behavior that never would have been considered on an individual basis but was fully acceptable in a large crowd.