Sunday, December 12, 2004

Footage Shouldn't Fizz

A colleague from Australia tells the story of how a single ant brought his newsgathering day to an unceremonious finish. I can relate. Though never been infested with ants I pulled the equivalent a long time ago in a news bureau far, far away...

It was back in my one-man band days when I toiled as a reporter-cameraman-roadie. Lodged away in my seedy little office, I hacked away at an ancient typewriter, trying to bring a little wisdom to the rash of break ins I was covering that day. As usual my desk was a mess: shoot tape, Chinese take out plate, soda, car keys, pager, camera batteries, all the weaponry of a modern day news warrior. Hey, who has time for desktop feng shui when you're committing television in the first degree, anyway?

No, office ergonomics were the farthest thing from my mind as I stared at the corkboard and mumbled aloud like broadcast writers have done for decades. Not happy with the cliché on my tongue I turned my trusty thesaurus for another one. That's when my elbow collided with can, toppling the freshly opened Dr. Pepper onto my freshly ejected shoot tape.

Before I even noticed an arcing carbonated plume instantly soaked my news gathering efforts, leaving my bright yellow beta tape a sticky, syrupy mess.

After a few moments of staring in disbelief, I made a very unpleasant phone call to my News Director. There wasn't much I could do: it was ninety minutes to Showtime and my important news footage was covered in frothy cool refreshment. Lacking the acumen to repair the tape, I meekly offered to do a live shot from the bureau and act out the rash of break-ins using shadow puppets.

My bosses were not amused.

Since that day I've cleaned up my desk and adopted the wise practice of using tape boxes, something I should have figured out on Day One. Now that I'm recording straight to disc, I'm equally paranoid - not wanting to pioneer news ways to corrupt Sony's much-heralded format. Though I'm scatterbrained by nature, I always know where my media is, as without it - I'm just a bystander in logowear.

And though the skill has always escaped ME, I've witnessed incredible tape-endectomies over the years. In the edit bay, the engineer shop, the live truck, I know photogs who can perform emergency surgery with nothing more than a Leatherman and a looming deadline, Long after I would have given the patient up for dead, they've rescued sound and images from that Great Tape Pile in the Sky. I've always considered that ability to be a hallmark of a True Photog - not some lens-pretending, squinty scribbler like myself.


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