Editors Note:


EDITOR'S NOTE: Fresh off a three year managerial stint, your friendly neighborhood lenslinger is back on the street and under heavy deadline. As the numbing effects of his self-imposed containment wear off, vexing reflections and pithy epistles are sure to follow...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bones of Calamity

I was congratulating myself for having avoided Presidential visit duty all day when the scanners in the newsroom began barking words nobody wants to hear…

…School Bus…head-on collision…multiple injuries…

School Bus WreckHoping the evening crews would cover this late-breaking news, I slithered into an audio booth and watched the newsroom go nuts through the sanctuary of sound-proof glass. For a brief moment I thought I’d escaped, but when my reporter for the day began pulling on her red station raincoat, I knew I was screwed. Moments later, we pulled onto the cold wet windy interstate, headed due north. As the petrified wipers smeared streaks across the windshield, I cursed myself for not yet replacing them and punched the home button on my cell phone. Beside me, Caron Myers did the same. Together we told our respective spouses we wouldn’t be home for dinner, as we were suddenly late for a place we didn’t want to be.

School Bus WreckA word on school bus wrecks. I hate ‘em. Seriously, there’s nothing that strikes dread in the hearts of those with children than the prospect of little ones injured or worse on the cold, hard highway. Why, if I were a producer, I’d say it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Since I’m not, I’ll skip that particular cliché and admit I’m somewhat inured to the suffering of others. Not that I don’t empathize with victims of tragedy, God knows I do; but it’s my job to remain detached, remote, neutral. Luckily (or not), it’s my nature to compartmentalize such things, choosing to deal with any resulting scar tissue late at night through deep reflection and half-baked prose. On scene, however, I’m far more focused on looming deadlines than humanity’s excessive woes. It’s a wholly undesirable occupational hazard, one achieved with long lenses, thin cynicism and a dollop or two of self-absorption. It ain’t noble, but it’s honest.

Tara Live ShotSo as I stood there in the rain, breathing heavily as I pointed my fancycam at the bus in question, I was as relieved as any father of two would be to discover the wreck wasn’t quite as sever as the scanners made it sound. However, it was still news - or it would be, provided I spent the last half hour of dying sunlight very wisely. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Far from it, for the news suits back at the shop had thrown every available crew at what sounded like a very big story. When I first pulled up to the phalanx of flashing lights, I noticed one of our live trucks parked nearby, it’s mast slowly poking upward over the fire trucks and ambulances. Inside, nightside photographer Chris Morton flipped switches and dialed the station, attending to all the details that go into establishing a live shot. I didn’t see his partner Tera Williams, but I figured she was there as I jogged awkwardly underneath the strain of camera and tripod.

Bateson, MyersThe next eight minutes passed very quickly. With Caron Myers trailing behind me, I swept my camera over the scene, from the bus’s crushed hood to the accordion car to the group of middle school students shivering by a neighbor‘s driveway. When the door of a nearby ambulance swung opened and a paramedic jumped out, Caron caught sight of a young boy strapped to a stretcher inside. Eyeing the crowd of kids in the distance, I loitered by the ambulance, camera on shoulder. When the paramedic returned and climbed in back, I captured three seconds of a sheepish young man laying on his back and looking around the ambulance before the door swung shut. As if on cue, a single file line of school kids walked right by me, their adult escort hunched forward to escape the stinging rain. Caron grabbed my wireless microphone and before I knew it, we were interviewing an 11 year old. Seconds later, an out of breath Dad walked by with kids in tow. Inside the viewfinder, I squinted at his image as he thanked God his little girl was okay. By the time he walked on two minutes later, we had everything we’d come for.

Tara WritingBut all was not done. Back at the truck, Chris (“C-Mo”, to his coworkers) couldn’t align the shot. The truck he’d arrived in had a shorter mast than most, its dish couldn’t reach above the canopy of trees to shoot a signal back to our tower. Luckily, even more back-up had arrived. Tim Bateson and Nico Belha, fresh from babysitting Air Force One on the airport’s tarmac, pulled up in another live truck, one with ’a bigger stick’. Soon, all of six of us gathered around the second truck. While I furiously edited the footage into a forty second sequence of shots, Bateson and C-Mo pulled cable to a tripod they’d left on the side of the road. Caron and Tera hammered details into a workable script and Nico fielded phone calls. When the 5 o clock newscast’s opening music rolled a few minutes later, Tera was the only crew member to appear on camera, but both her message and her medium were very much a group effort. I love it when a plan comes together.

Me, C-Mo, BatesonAfter the anchors pummeled Tera with a few follow-up questions, they moved on to another story and the director cleared our shot. With a entire hour before we were due back on air, we all chuckled nervously and caught our breath. Tera crawled inside the live truck to refashion her five o clock words into a six o clock script. The rest of us loitered outside as she did, trading gossip, talking shop and bitching about our silly jobs and the cruddy weather. It was then a familiar attitude fell over our group. With deadline met, excitement thwarted and tragedy averted, we chatted and joked like any group of office mates would. The fact that we were huddling by a rainy accident scene mattered little; our idle chat and sophomoric jokes were like that of any water-cooler gathering - albeit one involving workers who deal in disaster and hype, instead of widgets and sales figures. However strange our roadside rendezvous may seem to you, for me, it is the picture of normalcy, small talk among reluctant buzzards as we rip apart the still warm bones of calamity…

Beats selling Amway, I'm told.

5 comments:

Jorge_Guapo said...

Killer post, 'slinger! Personally, I love the multi-staffed/over-staffed lives. It's the moments of shop talk and BSing that make for a fun evening...Even though we'd all rather be at home in a pair of warm slippers.

Chris Morton said...

Warm slippers, I wish I could have had. Or rubber boots. My feet were soaked through and through. After the first Hurricane like rain and winds, a second came during the final live shot at 6pm. I can only hear the song..."Why does it always rain on me?" by Travis. I'm gonna be sick.

Billy Jones said...

I spent most of yesterday in the rain as well, but it's nothing compared to this.

yesweekly said...

Damn.... You're getting pretty good at this.
bc

jsykes said...

Lens:

Good insight into the strengths of live TV journalism. Great work. Be careful, or you might soon find yourself on the speaker's circuit.

I enjoy your site.