Friday, May 27, 2005

It's What I Do

Shoot. Write. Edit. No matter where the assignment desk sends me, it is this trinity of skills that I employ to get through my day. Take Thursday for instance…


I began my shift with a quick jaunt to Mayodan, one of many Rockingham County towns crippled by the loss of the textile industry. As I toured the weed-choked grounds of yet another manufacturing cadaver, I couldn’t help but think of the recently razed Burlington Industries building. But this case is a little different. Shut down in 1999, the old Washington Mill sits on the Mayo River - a winding waterway that the leaders of Greensboro would kill to have in THEIR downtown. But Mayodan’s river walk is overrun with neglect - as is the cavernous mill that many say started the town in the first place.

Now a group of local developers wants to transform the Mill’s rotting carcass into a glitzy showcase. Their 35 million dollar proposal is impressive: a theater, condos, restaurants, banquet halls, spas and more - all built into the sprawling brick structure that anchors downtown. At the center of their plans, the piece de resistance: a North Carolina Gospel Music Hall of Honor. I don’t know a lot about gospel music, but if such a place would help bring this part of Rockingham County back to life, well - somebody pass me a tambourine. Dennis Sparks, one of the developers, showed me around the old mill, answering my questions and carrying my tripod. He didn’t even flinch when I handed my digital camera to his assistant and asked her to take a picture. Nice guy, that Mr. Sparks.


After an hour and a half on site, I had what I needed to file my report. But I couldn’t just stick my raw footage on air and go get a sandwich. No, my raw material requires intense examination, thoughtful contemplation, and one heck of an edit session before it can invade living rooms around the Piedmont. This I bid Mr. Sparks and company a fond adieu and made a beeline to High Point. I’d like to tell you I thought about my assigned story al the way back to the station, but in reality I jammed out to William Shatner’s incredible CD, ‘Has Been’ while wolfing down a drive-thru window burger. Hey - a guy’s gotta eat…

Once back at the shop, I found every one of our tricked-out edit bays filled with swarthy photogs, antsy reporters and over-dressed interns. Knowing better than to cross this hostile crowd, I grabbed my camera and my headphones and plopped down at my desk. Sitting there, I rifled through the footage on my disc, transcribing sound-bites, making notes and trying to ignore the producers who were challenging each other’s movie trivia knowledge from opposite sides of the newsroom. Forget exhausting shoots and unforgiving deadlines, the hardest part of my day is staying focused on my story at hand while the night-siders play grab-ass all around me. The headphones help. Perhaps I should have brought in my Shat...


In the third act of my day, I move to the edit bay. Once fully hunkered, I create a timeline on the non-linear editor and begin ingesting footage into a virtual bin. With a click and a drag, I can access the audio narration - words I wrote only minutes before handing the script over to an anchor to voice. Once those dulcet tones are fully loaded, I use them to frame up my ninety second sound structure. Of course there is the inevitable audio tweaking, understandable, since audio is the very lifeblood of all broadcasting. After slicing and dicing anchor track and sound-bites, I had a NPR-worthy aural masterpiece. But this ain’t radio. Scrolling through my footage, I searched for just the right shot to back up each spoken moment. If I’ve done my job right, it all falls together like per-cut pieces to a perfect puzzle.

I love to edit - and not just because it involves sitting down. Sometimes it’s like conducting the world’s most perfect orchestra. Other times, it’s like crash-landing a wounded helicopter. Either way, each edit session is a lesson in good and bad decisions in the field. With the advent of computer editing, a whole new realm of visual storytelling is at hand. Difficult effects that used to require bribing the control room gang down the hall is now just a click or two away. I’m far less articulate than other editors in my shop. Friends of mine can recite 17 level edit-moves backwards and forwards and their work shows it. But me - I’m more of a Zen Master than dry technician. I feel the focus should be on storytelling, not technique. Of course that doesn’t stop me from screaming for for a Edit-Master’s council when the need arises.

Is that so wrong?


Smitty said...

I want to learn a 17-level edit move!

Great insight for readers into your work day. And since I've seen it with my own eyes.. I'll also add that you post "reeks" of accurate details, great descriptions and simple storytelling.

It's what you do. At work. And in the blogosphere. Excellent job.. You deserve a raise!

Keep setting a high standard for all of us!

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I stumbled onto your blog while just messing around tonight after dinner...


jon said...

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I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL