Thursday, November 30, 2006

Attack of the Show Stacker

Dork at Large
Longtime readers of this blog (shouldn't there be a support group for you people?) may recall my lamenting the loss of one Mark Grzybowski, the veteran show producer who left the biz back in 2005 to pursue his dream of slum lordship. Well, he's back and I for one couldn't be giddier. Why? He cracks me up - be it his patent sarcasm or his inexplicable contention that Tears for Fears is the greatest band ever. Most of all, I dig his mojo. He almost never loses his cool (and let me tell you, the guy radiates cool), always tucks in his shirttail and steadily deflects the poisonous barbs of your somewhat surly lenslinger. For that alone, he ranks at the top of my list of Favorite Producers Ever (which in all fairness, is a v-e-r-y short list). So join me in welcoming this lifer-in-disguise back to The Suck. Just cut him some slack, wouldya? Dude has to put up with me everyday. If you think I can bellyache on-line, you oughta catch me at the water cooler sometime...It ain't pretty.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fish Wrap Video

As a TV news photographer who fancies himself something of a writer, I’m naturally infatuated with the newspaper industry. Too bad the feeling isn’t returned. Ever since the first local broadcaster rose up from the primordial ooze, newspaper folk have heaped endless derision on what they clearly view as a lesser journalistic species. ‘Shallow‘, ‘superficial’ and a few other ’S’ words are the usual slurs. Many times of course, we’ve more than earned those taunts. What with our penchant for hyperbole, our infatuation with talking hair-do‘s and our garish, swooping graphics - it’s no mystery why those in the print realm consider us so inferior. Of course, we in TV have our own opinions of our cross-town rivals, but I can honestly report the distaste isn’t nearly as fervid. Still, we rarely mix. Instead we resign ourselves to long-held prejudices and segregate ourselves into vastly different disciplines. Until now.

You see, newspapers are dying. With readership diminishing and new consumers flocking to on-line information sources, many in print are having to reconsider age old tactics. (To be fair, we TV geeks are also embroiled in upheaval. Participatory media and the twin tubes of the internets are rewriting the rules for everyone in the game - not just those goobs at the local paper.) At the recent ConvergeSouth conference, I sat in on a gathering of very educated print folk as they almost gnashed each other to pieces over the dire state of their medium. It was like watching a flock of piranha turn on each other for lack of suitable prey. At least that’s how it appeared to this TV simpleton and being such, I kept my own mouth shut. When I was called on, I suggested the crowd forgo the infighting and embrace - gasp! - video. Cue the crickets.

Of course, many newspaper websites have done just that, long before I feebly suggested my own brand of heresy. These days, a simple Google search will uncover countless newspaper sites doing new and exciting things with the moving image. But what exactly this new version of video news will look like is a subject of great debate. Long form analysis, hometown quirk, nat sound operas - you can do as many different things with a video camera as you can a ball point pen. Wisely, many in print are urging their fellow scribes to forge a new medium onto itself: a brand of video storytelling vastly different from the shrill thundering of the nightly newscast. But in rallying their masses, some newspaper people prove once and for all that we in TV hold no patent on myopic arrogance:
"It’s my personal bias of course, but I think newspaper journalists naturally produce better video stories than TV. Newspaper reporters begin with two advantages — no preconceived notions about time limits, and no preconceived notions about hyping up the story — they are more likely to let the story tell itself and edit it for interest, not time."
Bold words from an industry hemorrhaging market share. Honestly, I wish them all the luck in the world, for the amalgamation of our two mediums would greatly improve the information stream - and where better to showcase it than on-line? Trouble is, too many in the print realm dismiss local TV efforts as entirely without merit. They gleefully point to the lowest common denominators, the “Killer Dust-Bunnies Hiding Under Your Child’s Bed” series-piece syndrome. Granted, the worst of my lot is guilty of such tripe, but I for one don’t deal in this bottom-feeding and neither do those who share my logo. Print folk would do themselves a huge favor by putting aside their contempt and taking a long hard look at the very best of broadcast news, starting with the NPPA reels readily available on-line. Perhaps TV news isn’t the pristine verbiage currently rotting in my driveway, but neither is it graffiti. Come to grips with that and you just may have a future in moving pictures. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the revolution.

I’ll be the one eating your lunch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Book Review: Thunderstruck

Ocean travel, emerging media and a salacious murder - three favored themes that have kept me hooked on Thunderstruck since I first laid down cabbage for the hardback. 392 pages later, I'm still glad I did. Why? Because Erik Larson has a knack for exposing the underbelly of history's most seminal moments. He first nailed the formula with Isaac's Storm, then nearly did it again in The Devil in the White City (which I always contended needed a little more Devil and a little less White City). Apparently Larson got my memo, because Thunderstruck is a leaner, meaner weave of global achievement and gutter subterfuge.

The year is 1910 and Guglielmo Marconi's burgeoning wireless technology is anything but a bonafide success. Dogged by rivals, haunted by setbacks and mired in his own self-absorption, the Italian upstart seeks to rule the ether of the Edwardian Age. But despite possessing a technology that strikes many as nothing less than supernatural, Marconi just can't seem to wrangle the imagination of a most fickle public. Enter Dr. Hawley Crippen (and his cross-dressing lover), a most unlikely pair of fugitives whose encounter with a swaggering sea captain and a seemingly magic series of dials and antenna suddenly holds both sides of the Atlantic enthralled. In what could be described as a turn of the century slow speed pursuit, Crippen's capture crystallizes Marconi's strange new invention as a true tool of upheaval, one that could not only send dits and dots across the ocean, but could imprison a killer in thin air.

(3 of 4 Stars.)

Weatherman On the Lam!

Charles 'Elwood Blues' Ewing
If seventeen years in local television has taught me anything, it's Never Let a Weekend Weatherman Drive a Police Car. Those dudes may understand low pressure systems, but they don't know squat about your average PIT maneuver. You're w-a-y better off with the Sports Guys: they'll barrell through a roadblock for a few locker room soundbites and a press pass. Throw in a souvenir lanyard or a free buffet and they'll damn near take a hostage...

Monday, November 27, 2006

All Scenes Considered

Broadcast News - it’s the ultimate team sport. Too bad only a few of the players are visible from the cheap seats. Still, you can spot the craftwork of countless others, if only you’ll remember...
For every perky young morning reporter leading a lens through a carnival funhouse, there is a cramping photog nearby who’s pretty sure his kneecaps will explode before the anchors in his earpiece ever stop chortling over his shot.

For every man on the street interview seen pouring into your living room, a half dozen other citizens were queried, many of whom declined the on camera portion of the interview but insisted on sharing their extended views on the matter anyway.

For every series piece that opens with a flashy montage, there is a red-eyed editor who still wonders if he should have shaved off a few frames in the middle, reworked the beginning or just ended the damn thing on a cross-fade dissolve.

For every quick encapsulation of an overnight crime, there is a smug desk jockey nearby, who uncovered the morsel during her frenzied ritual of morning ‘beat checks’ - otherwise known as the Dewey Decimal System of newsrooms everywhere.

For every sudden loss of audio during a live shot, there is a control room full of irritated technicians, an engineer peering over his eyeglasses at a nearby screen and one photog who really wished he had replaced those cursed 9 volts back when he first thought about it.

For every shimmering backlight feathering the anchor team’s glossy silhouette, there at least a couple of pale studio goobs with shadowing acumeninfinite Hobbit knowledge who spent more time than you would tweaking squeaky barn-doors from atop a wobbly step-ladder.

For every effortless live remote involving multiple microphones, there is a harried audiophile on scene who, given enough time, thinks he could improve upon G-n-R’s Appetite for Destruction using only duct tape, clothes pins and the rattiest of Sure Mixers.

For every newscast that ends on time, there is a show producer somewhere, crumpling up script paper and pushing the last eight hours of detail-wrangling, hand-holding, and ego-stroking out of her mind, lest she refuse to come back tomorrow and do it all over again.
By the way, if you see said newscast-stacker carrying a box full of desktop possessions to her Camry - let us know, wouldya? The show must go on.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Amazing Pace

I’m crazy about The Amazing Race: the mad dash travel, the oddball obstacles, the way the editors make booking airline tickets feel like edge of your seat cliffhanger theater. I also dig the incredibly athletic camerawork on display, courtesy of one Bertam Van Munster, early architect of the COPS shooting style (or lack thereof) and a guy who knows written the book on following the action. Yes, The Amazing Race is by far my favorite reality show, a sped-up, real world version of Survivor in which absolutely no one lies on a tropical beach and flexes their triceps. In fact, I love this show - even if it does remind me of work.

You heard me: work. Take away the Kiwi host, the world travel, and any chance of a million dollar pay-off at the end and you got my job in a nutshell. Why every morning I receive an improbable task with intense time-restrictions, forcing me to race from place to place with a rotating cast of (not always) friendly competitors nipping at my heels. Like the show, road conditions vary wildly; from the steep gravel driveway of an accused murderer’s trailer park to the gilded elevator of some lofty corporate headquarters, my gig can take me anywhere - and almost always in a hurry.

Trouble is, I’ve become accustomed to the pace. So used to ringing people up and announcing my camera and I were on our way, I’m truly taken aback when someone won’t drop everything and entertain my lens. Of course nine times out of then they will, which only encourages me to scramble from one deadline to another with barely my manners in place. But who can take time to be all Southern and polite when flashes of sworn rivals are shimmering in the distance - well-equipped crews giddy with the very thought of your potential downfall. No, I’ve yet to race chariots on the outskirts of Morocco, but I’ve hung from salt trucks while the plowed frozen interstates, backpedaled down stair wells as flash-bangs exploded and faked out opponents in courtroom hallways. There may be no grinning host with a million dollar check waiting at the finish line, but hopefully I’ll look back one day and see more than thirty years of meaningless Lightning Round.

In the meantime, a consolation prize or two wouldn‘t hurt.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Float The Creek

Bocephus Me
This week on Deliverance Theater, it's a very special Thanksgiving when Elbert and Durwood hit the creek for a little pre-meal mischief. All is well until an encounter with a noxious woodchuck spooks the duo and sparks a watery inferno that leaves the cousins frigid, withered and grizzled. From long-lost contraband to a brief (but diarrhetic) Bigfoot scare, good ole boy voodoo ensues as they stumble their way back to the double-wide. But will they make it to the table in time? Or will Big Mama get pissed and finally impound the Rally Sport? Tune in to find out...

Brought to you by AmberVision!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Remembering Altman

Over at the Photog Nation's favorite watering hole, longtime contributor David R. Busse is sharing a treasure. Fourteen years ago, the Los Angeles news photographer went to a West Hollywood hotel for what he thought would be another soulless press junket. Instead, he was treated to a languid lunch with famed director Robert Altman. The legendary filmmaker instantly recognized the veteran photog as a kindred spirit of the lens. Over sandwiches, Altman spoke excitedly of his new film The Player and quizzed Busse on his own background...
We had an all-encompassing lunch conversation about the state of the entertainment industry, our favorite places in the Midwest (his was Michigan, for reasons I can’t recall), and the reasons I liked my job. Altman seemed to “get it” the minute I described a typical day. “No two days alike and you get to be producer, director and DP (Director of Photography) all in one, making little movies for the news...” he said.

Read the whole thing, then go rent Nashville.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Schmuck Alert: Kramer's Harangue

By now, m-u-c-h has been written of the Michael Richards meltdown. No surprise, there - after all it ain't everyday one of TV's wacky neighbors lets loose with a racial tirade that would've made Archie Bunker run for cover. Couple that with Richard's spacey explanation on Letterman last night and you have the professional suicide of everyone's favorite hipster doofus. Bummer, that - I always preferred my Seinfeld taint-free. Hopefully by the weekend, some soap star will plow his Beamer into a plam tree and we can all guffaw at an invective-free mug shot. For now, Kramer's arse is on the hot seat and the cable nets won't quit until they've dissected his on-stage flip-out like the Zapruder film. What must the aliens who monitor our deep space TV signals think?

Beats me - I can barely keep up with the terrestrial analysis. Amid all that clatter I've yet to see much on the gadget that captured his career-defining moment: the lowly camera-phone. That's right, Kramer went down in flames via the diminutive lens of some civilian's cellphone. Sure, that hardly lessens the blow of his hurtful words, but I can't help but wonder if the sight of a schlub like me behind a fancy-cam may have stopped Richards in his hysterical tracks? Would the sudden realization that his implosion was being recorded for posterity be enough to make him wise up and shut his pie-hole? We'll never know. One thing I am sure of however, is we'll see more of this in the future. Camera-phones, YouTube, a grillion snarky bloggers ... slow-motion scandals will be forever be just a click away.

Remember that the next time you're tempted to pick your nose at that stoplight.

Money Shot

Over at Under Exposed, Richard Adkins explains what an average Amber Alert can do to your day. It started with a carjacking in Rocky Mount. But this heisted whip had a baby on board, causing the mother to rightly lose her mind when she strolled outside to her a patch of gravel instead of her late model sedan. Who knows if the carjacker passed a TV station sat truck on his way out of town, but a battered fleet of the lumbering beasts did begin racing toward the City on the Rise. When the media arrived at the Police Department they found the story was almost over: A deputy found the car with the baby in it and was bringing the child safely back to Mom and Dad, who were huddled somewhere deep inside the PD. With the baby on the way and five different news crews laying in wait outside, the game was on. That's when Adkins' spidey sense started tingling and he followed a feeling around back. Moments later...

"I walked around the building and told the rest of the media pack they could relax, the little girl was inside. There was a lot of grumbling, a little disbelief and a few four-letter words."

Read the rest of Part of the Job.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Daughtry and the Weave

Weeks before my recent Nashville dash, Weaver jetted to L.A. to catch up with another local American Idol alumni: Chris Daughtry. When he and Shannon Smith caught up with the local vocalist, he was laying down last minute tracks at a legendary L.A. studio. Behind the dials, an all but finished album featuring his own soulful material, celebrity guests aplenty and of course, his chrome-plated pipes. Now that the CD's about to drop, he and his new band will go on a whirlwind press tour of national TV, radio and live appearances. Not bad for a guy that was writing up service orders at the nearby Honda dealership a scant twelve months ago or so. He sure gets my vote for Best Year Ever!

As for the Mighty Weave, he ain't exactly parkin' cars. In fact he was just nominated for a local Emmy (or two), a natural by-product of his infinite enthusiasm for the craft. He's the only shooter I know who can be heard regularly squealing out in joy from a distant edit bay. On his L.A. jaunt he pulled off the now standard trifecta: reams of well-lit footage, impromptu digital photospread, scriptable tidbits and of course a few promos - all of which is now available via cable, airwaves and website. These days, precious little gets left on the cutting room floor. Call it customer service, viewer enhancement, or just plain transparency. Up next, an exclusive look at all our rental car floormats and restaurant receipts. Wait - I can explain all those burritos!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back to the Future

In the little seen sequel Back to the Future 2.5, Marty McFly travels back to the Year of the Bicentennial for a sweltering summer of minimum-wage newsgathering. He's about to topple rival Biff for the coveted weekend anchor spot when Doc Brown shows up and transports everyone to the scene of the Rodney King police beatdown. Ironically, Marty has to ditch his TK-76 camera in Jacksonville after he can't fit the massive gear into the Delorean. As a result, he misses recording his own startling version of the infamous 1992 attack and L.A. burns right on time. Co-Starring Ben Vereen as Rodney King and Ernest Borgnine as Darryl Gates.

Straight to Betamax. 2 stars.

A Reporter's Retort

Varner hears voicesAs promised, Jeff Varner weighs in with one reporter's take on my most recent Top Ten list, Things I'd Teach Rookie Reporters. Please, no wagering...

1. Buy me lunch sometime. I don't make any money either.

2. If I buy you lunch, two words I expect your selfish ass to say -- THANK YOU!

2.5 I'll carry your sticks, if every now and then you leave them in the truck.

3. Speaking of sticks, if a great moment is breaking and I miss it because you're setting up a friggin' tripod, it's Hammerin' Time!

4. If you're nice to me, I'll set up a story at a swimsuit competition and request you.

5. On-cam divas suck. Behind-the-cam divas suck more.

6. Talk to me like I'm two and I'll tell that reporter you hate to work with that you love it when they tell you what to shoot.

7. After two hours of Sports Talk Radio, I'm touching the radio.

8. If I'd rather not be working one day, your sour ass disposition ain't gonna make it any better. Quit Yer Whining!

9. That cellphone vibrating your crotch as the perfect soundbite is about to rollout of a mouth needs to keep buzzing. Whispering "hello" in the middle of a soundbite next to a boom mic is rude and screws up those valuable nats you love so much.

10. I'll write to the video if you'll shoot what I want?

Ode to the 10-Code

From what I’m reading in the newspaper, it looks like 10-Codes are going the way of the clattering Teletype. That’s probably wise in a post 9/11, super-smart cell phone world, but the loss of these police scanner hieroglyphics makes the newsgathering world just a bit more antiseptic, which I suppose is only inevitable. For the uninitiated, 10-Codes are of those abbreviated alpha-numerics favored by first responders the nation over. “10-4” is of course the most ubiquitous example - it can mean everything from “Yup” to “Hey - the hot donuts sign is flickering at Krispy Kreme!” But “10-4” is just the beginning. Stashed away somewhere in your favorite photog’s news unit is a crumpled call sheet filled to the margins with countless other 10-Codes. When I first started in this silly business, a crisp 10-Code translation sheet was issued with every antique tripod. After all, you can’t beat the first on scene if you can‘t understand the cryptic directions pouring from beneath your news unit’s dashboard. Is it any wonder so many young shooters committed countless codes to memory before ever twisting every button on their aging cameras? It sure explain all that footage of squad cars idling at the corner of Fuzzy and Blue, doesn’t it?

Trouble is, the 10 Code was always a frighteningly malleable shorthand. What one department used for ‘Suspected Jaywalker’ could mean ‘Escaped Ice-Pick Slayer’ one county over. That lack of universality can really raise a person’s pulse, whether they’re reaching for a loaded service pistol in a dark alley, or juggling a cheeseburger and a cheat sheet in a nearby drive-thru. On 9/11 this discrepancy became painfully amplified when neighboring police and fire agencies couldn’t understand each other’s codes, all that intentional obfuscation only adding to the tragedy. Couple that globe-changing day with the onslaught of quantum-leap communications technology and the 10-Codes do indeed seem as outdated as all those Adam-12 reruns.

Perhaps we should let the 10-Codes go. Hell, I never learned ‘em all anyway. Instead I've always used my amped-up auto-reflector as distant emotion detector. I still remember standing beside my tripod outside a freshly razed apartment complex a good ten years back, smoke and hoses everywhere . With my shots in the can I was debating whether to stick around for any sound, when I noticed a nearby fireman engaged in terse conversation with the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. Listening in, I kept hearing a single, repeated 10-code. I didn't know what it meant but could instantly tell from the way they grimly bandied it about that not everyone had made it out alive. 10-65, I think it was - or 10-42 maybe. Perhaps now I can stop pretending I know what a fellow photog is saying when he starts spitting out letter-number combos like a bingo-caller on Steroids. 10-4?

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Marines of Montford Point

Dustin MillerWhile I crank out a steady diet of disposable vignettes, a friend of mine focuses on far more resonant fare. You all remember Dustin Miller - my old cohort and collaborator from The Stupid Years. Back then, he was a snickering college kid with bangs in his face and a sputtering Volvo full of REM bootlegs. Upon entry of his first TV establishment, he fell under the sway of a strangely eloquent camera-dork and together we tore through the corridors of one badly aging CBS affiliate. These days Dustin’s all growed up and living in Wilmington, where he’s the director of UNCW’s Department of Media Production. Academia, however, hasn’t encumbered Dustin’s storytelling verve. He continues to produce potent documentaries - and his latest just may be his greatest.

The Marines of Montford Point weaves together archival photos and survivor interviews to chronicle the segregation of black Marines in World War II. Trained at Montford Point, North Carolina, many African-Americans Marines fought and died in the Pacific Theatre and elsewhere to precious little acclaim. It’s reported that even combat photogs of the day assiduously avoided recording any non-Caucasian valor. It’s the kind of deeply woven racism that turns battle footage into war propaganda, lessening the value of those captured images considerably. Now, Dustin and company seek to reconcile this particular sin of the moving image.

Written and directed by , UNCW Professor Emeritus Melton McLaurin, the hour long documentary is narrated by Lou Gossett Jr., who bagged an Oscar for detonating his role as the explosive drill instructor in An Officer and a Gentleman. More importantly, the Montford Marines themselves took part, sixty of them sitting down before Dustin's cameras to lead the way back through their painful, pioneering ordeal. Last week, about forty of those men attended a premiere screening, where they later commiserated with far-flung foxhole buddies as well as Gossett himself. My buddy was there too, giving soundbites to a curious press and explaining how the University is aiming for a national audience by pitching their film to PBS, BET and The History Channel. My only hope is that at some point during the gala evening, he realized just how far he'd come from roaming the halls of Channel Nine after midnight.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Dudes Abide

The Dudes AbideGive it up for Kevin Woodard and Michael Van Dyke - two righteous Greensboro dudes I caught chillin' by a most odiferous Sam's Club trashcan this morning. Why, you ask? They're part of the Gamer Nation, a global cabal of sore-thumbed hoodlums currently agog over the pending arrival of PlayStation 3. Since the last console I owned was the original Nintendo, I can't speak to the finer points of the PS3's staggering graphics. But I do know a thing or two about electronic obsessions and since one man's blog is another man's game box, I won't cast aspersions on the fellas idea of a good time. Besides, as I sit here warm and cozy in my upstairs lair, these cats are still fidgeting in the shadow of one smelly-ass trashcan. Here's hoping it'll all seem worth it when they're soon immersed in the wholesale slaughter of homicidal space creatures from the relative safety of their favorite couch...

Master of Happenstance

Danger AheadAs a kid I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, but I always knew I’d end up writing about it. (Aren’t you glad I don’t clean septic tanks for a living?) Instead, I run around with a TV camera on my shoulder, fashioning ninety second operas out of life’s random notes. It ain’t exactly the priesthood, but it sure beats harpooning sewer-lillies. Or does it? Some of those wastewater warriors make pretty good coin, and their services are in demand all over the planet. Me - I’m merely adept at showing up on some impromptu scene and acting like I belong there. Left to my many devices, I can skirt the perimeter and pull the trigger - all the while distilling visuals for mass consumption. It may sound exciting, but it pales in comparison to an unobstructed flush. At least from where I sit…Don’t ask.

Okay, now that the laptop’s stashed and I’m back in Viewfinder BLUES Central I can get back to the reflection at hand. Sorry, it’s just the way my noggin’ works. Fact is, I can’t go to the can without twisting a thesis out of stale magazines and air fresheners. Most aren’t worth the ether they evaporate into, but I can’t stop the monologues I my head if I wanted to - which I don’t. Rather, I willingly scribble my every impression in a battered notebook and keep them to myself until publication feels just. For every successful post I share, reams of snatched dialogue and broken song lyrics tattoo coffee-stained pages. Consider them the thwarted pick-up lines of a Gregarious Loner.

Which, if you think about it, makes my chosen role a perfect match for my particular personality disorder. Prone to scribbling missives, I could do no better than my role as professional observer. What better possible gig for the constipated scribe than that of calamity chaser? Where else could I scan pure coincidence for meaning, cull the maddening randomness of highway fatality for some kind of twisted pretzel logic -- Port-A-John Prophet? I think not. No, I’ll stay on point, thankyouverymuch - feigning a psuedo-literary stance that reflects the expression of all those lenslinging lifers clamoring at the edge…Heck, I know guys whose sole reaction at the sudden appearance of an alien spaceship overhead would be mild irritation that it was so damn backlit. That, is the attitude I hope to capture here and I implore you to stick with me during my periods of mental constipation.

Or don’t - I’ll still crank out this drivel by the truckload and pretend it’s worth its weight in human waste - even if it is just a bad case of keyboard diarrhea. By the way, you smell that?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Mr. Bill Show

Dollar BillPlease join me in wishing a Happy 56th Birthday to Bill Welch - a great guy to hang out with at a train wreck, peace rally, county commissioner meltdown or double homicide. In fact, I can't think of a single tense incident this veteran wise-ass hasn't mollified with his biting patter and ever-present ballcap. An elder Jedi of the Piedmont News Council, Bill's been materializing at the edge of imbroglios for longer than I can truly fathom. In that time he's achieved a street-level Zen of sorts; a prolific insider with a vast knowledge of back roads and happenstance. In other words, Dude's been a-round...

Bill Welch at WorkBut all that newsgathering has not always been a few scratches on the soul. One simply cannot log as much time behind the glass as Bill has without occasionally getting a few shards in the mind's eye. From heated regime changes to missions improbable to the gutless bloodshed of a thousand newsroom wars - Bill's been there, and he's usually classed up the joint. These days he's back where he belongs, slinging a news lens and espousing the virtues of his new employer. As for just how many years he's been at it, I can't quite say, for every time Bill tells me I lose consciousness and wake up with a headache... I hate when that happens.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rebels Aging Badly

Badly Aging RebelsSweeps, Kids, Wife - they're enough to keep a cameraman away from his beloved blog. But fear not dear reader (Hello?), regular posting will soon resume. Until then, click on this hours-old photo and see what twenty years does to a bunch of dorks who once considered themselves high school revolutionaries. Remember kids, this could happen to YOU...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Putting the 'Porter' in Reporter

Jeff n SticksMy most recent Top Ten, Things I'd Teach Rookie Reporters, has sparked both praise and derision among the chattering classes. One entity even wants to include it in their forthcoming periodical! Among my immediate peers however, I've received warm shrugs and energetic indifference on the subject of my scribblings - a dismissive condition I too often exacerbate with both surliness and silliness. One such occasional partner who tolerates my tone better than most is Jeff Varner, who holds a Doctorate in Southern Man Melodrama. No longer a rookie himself, Jeff is promising a rebuttal of sorts - an itemized account of photog foibles certain to provoke and irritate. Well, Bring it on, Prom-Date! But make sure you include at least one item on that time-honored reportorial role: Support-Gear Portage. Otherwise, I'll be tempted to abandon you the next time some excited waitress erupts with breathless questions about Season 2...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Life After Idol

Bucky Covington in BoothI'd barely parked the rental car before Bucky Covington bounded out of the studio doors. "Hey ya'll," he said - thrusting an Apple iBook our way, "watch this..." With that, the gangly good ole boy pressed play and a YouTube clip of a foreign gameshow sputtered to life. On screen, timid, middle-aged men desperately try to repeat a singsong tongue-twister before being hit squarely in the nuts. Every time an aging Japanese gentleman dropped to his knees, Bucky convulsed with jagged laughter, almost dropping the laptop in the process. Only when the sixty second clip ended did Bucky formerly greet us, hugging the very pregnant Shannon Smith and high-fiving your humble lenslinger. A few minutes we set up our gear deep inside producer Mark Miller's family studios - a rambling, mannerly spread somewhere outside Nashville.

Bucky Covington Blur 1"When I first came over here, I told them I don't want overnight success, I want 20 years, I want a career."

Mark Miller, RightTo help build that career, the 29 year old American Idol finalist has sought the counsel of those who've gone before him. As the first ever winners of 80's talent show juggernaut Star Search, the guys from Sawyer Brown know alot about turning a title into a dynasty. For now though, lead singer Mark Miller's happy just to twist the knobs on Bucky's debut CD - especially since he loves what he's hearing. During our visit, the ballcapped impresario and his fellas exchanged reassuring glances as Bucky belted out finishing tracks to "Empty-Handed" - a Sweet Tea twist on 'Welcome to the Jungle' that is still eching somewhere in my subconsciousness. Miller agrees. "All the musician's who played on this album kept coming up to me saying this is going to be BIG - guys who have been around the business and don't just throw comments out like that."

Bucky Covington Blur 2"It really all comes down to a good song, you get a good song out there and that's what it takes..."

Lenslinger LitAs I skulked about Miller's well equipped recording lair, I found myself bobbing my head and singing off-key back-up. Over on the zebra-print couch, Shannon and her baby grooved in unison as Bucky's smoky snarl filled in the gaps of the Southern-Fried anthem. As outright throbbing as 'Empty-Handed' is, it isn't the only sound Bucky and the Sawyer Brown gang have captured on their Masters. Percolating on a hard drive nearby is at least two honky-tonk ballads that showcase the softer side of this goofy good ole boy. It's those kind of Tear In Your Beer drenchers that will appease Covington''s female fans - many of who are pining for a little roadhouse tenderness. On that he can deliver, for the former body shop worker fairly oozes swamp grease and Sunday School. For now though, Bucky's gettin' his growl on.

Bucky Covington Blur 3"I knew I wanted to make a country album -- but I'd like to get as much rock in it as I can get away with..."

Bucky Covington & ShannonWhat Bucky Covington ultimately hopes to get away with is a full-blown music career. American Idol brought him to the attention of millions, but the show's hokey pop structure failed to showcase this giggly hillbilly's impressive pipes. With veteran producer Miller at the helm, the oldest Covington twin is about to surprise alot of people. Sure, Chris Daughtry can breathe fire through an amplifier stack and Kellie Pickler's still damn cute in red high heels, but my boy Bucky has the homegrown tone, the vocal chops and the goofball charisma to blow the back-doors off the Nashville star factory. Here's hoping country radio will give him a chance, before some hotshot Hollywood producer builds the next Hee-Haw Variety Hour around him. S-a-a-a-LUTE!

(Thanks to all the Bucky fans who looked forward to this report. Be sure and check out the sneak preview, the photo gallery, the bloopers and of course the three minute opus Shannon Smith and I crossed a mountain range to produce. Lenslinger...OUT!)

Slow Your Roll

At a quarter past ten The Stranger burst through the door. Bearded and wet, he spoke to no one. Instead, he skirted the edges of the raucous crowd, his long coat glistening with angry raindrops. For all the armed law enforcers in the room, no one unsnapped their holsters - at first. Instead, the deputies and debutants strained to hear each other’s small talk as syncopated jingoism poured out of hidden loudspeakers. The Stranger seemed grateful for the cover. Scanning the far end of the room, he spotted his target by the refreshment table: a rumpled incumbent surrounded by a pack of supporters high on victory, Sweet Tea and Lee Greenwood’s greatest hits. Though no smile crossed The Stranger’s face, his grim expression did brighten a little as he made a bee-line for the freshly re-elected Sheriff.

Side-stepping past a group of grannies, the dripping interloper squeezed by three bailiffs stuffing brownies down their throats. They too didn’t ignored him as crumbs collected in the folds of their polyester shirts. With every deliberate step, The Stranger drew closer to the man whose name adorned cock-eyed yard signs near and far. Not until he came within feet of the county’s top lawman, did someone notice the uninvited guest. Yards away, am off-duty vice detective in a J.C. Penny suit clocked the visitor in the shiny wet cloak. Instinctively, the detective moved forward - knowing only that The Stranger’s grimace was out of place in such a festive atmosphere. Quickening his own pace, the veteran investigator slid through gaps in the packed house. Something about the way The Stranger kept his hands jammed in his pockets struck the detective as hinky, and he aimed to beat the man to his beloved boss...

That’s when my photog senses started tingling and I realized I was about to be searched, shackled or simply shot by a man whose paranoia my tax dollars pay for. With that in mind, I slowly removed my hands from my pockets, flashed a TV station business card to all who would look before handing it over to the grumpy incumbent. Minutes later, the three of us stood by my camera, As the sheriff answered the inanity emmiting from his earpiece, the vice cop and I took turns staring at each other. While he did his best to burn white-hot holes through the side of my skull, I made a mental note not to bum-rush a show outside my jurisdiction without first flashing an official logo or two. And you wonder why I abhor politics...

Adam's Crib

I've noted here before what a small business broadcast news can be. Now, beFrank proves it. The West Coast news shooter was doing time at a media encampement at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night when he noticed a burly young photog surfing some familiar blogs. But that's not just any burly young photog: that's Adam "News Hawk" Krolfifer! Not too long ago a hulking youngster with a half dozen police scanners and even more enthusiasm rolled into El Ocho. Before half of us could figure out how to spell his last name, Adam transformed himself from handycam stringer into a grizzled veteran of a thousand news wars. In other words, Adam got good -- fast. Along the way, Krolfifer earned a solid rep as a dead-eye shooter and caught alot of heat for his...inherent clumsiness. But just when I thought might get our news logo tattooed on his forehead, Adam shocked us all by following some familial whim to Kolly-fonya! These days, he's mannng the Sacramento bureau for SanFran station KPIX and, from the looks of it, spending way too much time with his laptop. Good on ya, Adam. But call home once in a while, wouldya?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Shooting for Borat

Back in July of 2005, I publicized my love for a certain journalist from Kazakhstan - to which many of you said, "Who?" ... What a difference a year and a half makes. Now, you can't pick up a grocery list without seeing a picture of Sacha Baron Cohen's offensive correspondent staring back at you from behind one seriously obscene moustache. Borat, it seems, has arrived. Of course, those with HBO have known about British comedian Cohen's twisted brilliance for years now - his Da Ali G Show has been splitting sides and confounding sensibilities ever since he got too popular in the U.K. to pull off his pioneering schtick. Now that Borat's dominating domestic multiplexes, his cover in the states is blown as well. But I didn't log in to extoll the virtues of this comic daredevil; I came to talk about his photog.

Now, I haven't a clue as to shoots for Borat - be it his TV show or currently ubiquitous 'movie-film'. But I do know a thing or three about TV cameras and the weirdly hypnotic effect they have on some people. Though I've never accompanied such a reckless satirist as Cohen into the Great Unknown, I have escorted most every personality type into situations both somber and silly. Along the way, I've had more than one interviewee cut glances my way, as if to say "Is this for real?". Sadly, it has been and I've had to feign credulousness long enough for my partner to stop asking any number of inane questions. What it must be like to bite your lip and keep rolling while this badly-accented goofball utters the most God-awful things to gladhanding tight-asses, I. Simply. Cannot. Imagine. So, here's hoping some enterprising entertainment reporter will profile the brave folks who make up Borat's camera crew. Until then I offer these anonymous souls a respectful Dip of the Lens - or as Ali G himself would say, "BOOYAKASHA!"

Ten Things I'd Teach New Reporters

Purloined from The Lenslinger Institute, the Top Ten Things I’d teach at the New Reporter Academy - none of which applies to the fine journamalists I currently toil beside.

1. Write To Your Video!

I know it seems remedial, but this prime directive can befuddle the glossiest of correspondents. Just ask any photog whose jugular throbbed as he tried to stretch three shots of some bit player over a minute and a half of impromptu profile. Scour every second of that fresh footage, embrace its rhythms and fill in the gaps and every the surly burn-out at the end of the hall will want to work with you.

2. Have A Plan

I can set up stories at 70 miles per hour while fondling a dollar menu cheeseburger . Imagine what you can do from the comparative luxury of stationary news cubicle. Make some calls. Hey, I’m not above the occasional cold-call or drive-by - but don’t ask me to circle the block nine times while you try and decide which Cadillac belongs to the city manager . In short, don’t waste my time. I ain’t got a lot of it.

(2.5) The Story Is Not You

This is TV news we’re talking about; reporters shouldn’t be invisible. But if you find yourself knocking the little sick kid off his pogo stick so you can bounce and twinkle on-cue - then you Sir or Ma’am have bum-rushed the wrong spotlight. Don’t fret though, we got lots like you. A little time out in the field and we can beat the drama-queen out of you. Otherwise, look into Entertainment News or Reality Television. But be warned: It’s a long line and the conversation is mind-numbing.

3. Try Not to Over Explain Things

You’re putting a microphone on someone’s lapel, not shoving them through an MRI tunnel. That little speech you like to give about ‘don’t be nervous just because we’re attaching this piece of audio recording equipment to your person’ achieves the exact opposite. Try this instead: Engage them in polite conversation during set-up, then start in with the questions once you know I’m rolling. No one need yell ’Action!’ (Yes, it happened once).

4. DON’T Touch the Radio

File this one under professional courtesy. See, that news unit you’re primping in is your partner’s office. He (or she) knows its every content by heart and has probably already driven the damn thing to the moon and back. Thus, the lowly car radio is an intimate part of the photog’s psyche - it’s probably the only non-logo’d gizmo he has complete dominion over. So don’t jump in and twists its knobs to the new hip-hop station - especially if your driver’s sportin’ Dead Head stickers on his windshield.

5. DO Touch the Tripod

Hey, here’s a contraption your more than welcome to fiddle with - it’s the lowly tripod, that three legged beast that refuses to walk on its own power. Dragging it along will do wonders for your video and chances are your photog will be more than happy to leave you in charge of it. So hoist that baby on your designer-clad shoulder and try to keep up. Just don’t complain. Your partner has easily schlepped that and more up steep gravel driveways and through revolving doors and has yet to bitch about breaking a nail.

6. Mind the Nats (SHUT-UP!)

You know that little black tubular thing hanging off your partner’s camera? It’s a microphone! It records sound - long after you finish your prophetic stand-ups. With that in mind - put a sock in it, wouldya? Natural sound can often drive the drama of a piece, interview subjects will spout out the greatest sound-bites known to man once they’re up and moving. But we can’t use any of this impromptu theater if you’re yammering on about prep school or your famous husband! So do whatever it takes to remain mum for awhile. Remember, there’s duct tape in the car.

7. M-0-S’s - Curse of the Weak

Man on the Street Interviews. Producers love ‘em - mostly because they’ve never had to loiter outside a Wal-Mart and pepper strangers with obtuse questions. Still, they’re a necessary evil in broadcast news - so learn to do them well. Easy in, Easy out, no one gets hurt. As much as we hate them, they can spice up a narrative. Just don’t get carried away. If your nightly pieces each contain forty-five seconds of some yak in a parking lot scratching his head - you ain’t tryin’ hard enough and everyone knows it.

8. Be Nice!

Maybe it’s just the Southerner in me, but I’m a big believer in manners. Remember, a wireless microphone and perfect teeth don’t make you any better than the people at home. It is, after all, their town, their trends, their TV’s. Run roughshod over their sensibilities and you’ll find yourself getting less respect, fewer insider tips and worst of all you’ll incur the wrath of the photog staff - who probably plan on living here long after you’ve ridden an escape-tape out of town. Remember, no one likes a pompous ass - not even the ass himself.

9. Know When to Blend

The greatest story-tellers I’ve ever worked with were gifted with invisibility. Okay, so maybe they never achieved total transparency, but they all knew how to ratchet down their personalities long enough to let their subjects of their stories take center-stage. They also possessed a certain chameleon-like quality, an ingrained ability to reflect the room around them. This comes in handy whether you’re visiting grieving hill-folk, lecherous politicos or senile witnesses. You know - like last Wednesday. Or the day before that. Or the day…you get the idea.

10. Write To Your Video!

So important, I had to include it twice. Why - because no matter where you ate lunch or who you gossiped about in the car, telling the best story possible is your Prime Directive. Your partner thinks so - otherwise he wouldn’t have bullied those three grannies out of the fast lane to get you back in time. Use those well-earned minutes to craft your oh-0-important words around the sights and sounds they brought back. Do this well and every photog in the building will have your back. Slather some crap on a page with little thought to the footage it will adorn and screams of anguish and doom will ring out from the edit bay. Quickly, shooters will wiggle out of working with you and curse your very name. Some of us may even post thinly-veiled diatribes on our personal blogs - and who’d want THAT?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Daughtry Drops By

Me and Chris DaughtryBefore I left to rendezvous with the hillbilly, a smoldering bald rocker rolled through the station's double door. Enter Chris Daughtry - sans entourage, just him in a hoodie. I was waiting for him in the lobby with a camera on my shoulder, a stiff yellow cable in tow. I backpedaled as Chris strode down the hall toward the green room, and he cut me a questioning look. 'We're On The Air' I stage whispered, even though there was no audio being transmitted from my camera. Chris eyes widened and he nodded. I then wanted to blink some kind of morse-code message at him, warn him that a building full of seasoned local TV pros were giggling with anticipation and wanted nothing more than to swoop down upon him with hearty back-slaps and enthusiastic high fives. Instead, I backed into a lightstand and almost made the angst-filled vocalist shoot bottled water out of his nose. There's never a shortage of humiliation when you're a shooter.

Later I tried to redeem myself, shooting handheld footage as Chris and his band tore through a stripped down version of his upcoming single, "It's Not Over". Truthbetold, we weren't expecting the band. When the young hipster musicians began showing up we scrambled for microphones and stools as the second hand ticked toward showtime. When the stoked and steady hand of the morning director took our shot, the edges of the studio were filled with curious coworkers. When Chris' last turbo-note faded, applause broke out and I unplugged my camera. Outside, Unit 4 sat trip-laden and late for the road. I meant to say later to the local boy gone global, but giddy cohorts enveloped him in a sea of adulation. To his credit, he stuck it out, posing for pictures, taking calls and from the looks of this photo, fullfilling his longheld ambition of doing mid-morning weather.

I guess dreams really do come true...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Spot News Apocalypse

While I hunched over my newsroom computer last Wednesday, Eastern Guilford High School burned all around me. Harried coworkers bustled back and forth, barking sentence fragments like soldiers under fire as telephones exploded on evey desk. On the cavernous room's many monitors, flickering images of a smoke plume atop a red brick building signaled conditions at The Front. Four of the screens blared audio as well, a mishmash of excited colleagues - panting voices of people I know, postulating on an event I still didn't quite believe. It was getting hard to focus on the forgettable words before me. But hammer on I did, knowing the minute-fifteen script I was whittling on would probably never air. Not with a fireball swallowing a public school on live television.

For awhile I was giddy not to be there. A fire of that size demands a full-metal racket - wall to wall team smotherage that doesn't come without a few new battle scars. I've stormed that hill a time or ten and no doubt will again, but not today. With a fluff piece in the can and gear to pack for my Nashville sortie, I was initially tickled to loiter at The Rear. But as the compelling pictures poured in I found myself fidgeting in my news cube. History was goin' down a few miles away and I wasn't there to smell it. Foot soldiers like me hate when that happens. So I hunkered low and waited for the hit that never came.

Instead, I watched an awful lot of co-workers and combatants at the top of their game. From the first plume of smoke to the eventual conflagration, lenses twisted and microphones poked, creating a teeming stream of sight sound and data that captivates the audience like no other media can. Breaking news on live television news ain't art, but neither is it visual vandalism. Rather, it's rich with iconic imagery, from the fiery gutting of a public school to the titters and tears of the student body watching. In the end, I was okay with watching this one from afar, but only because my peers provided such a truly bracing view. Can't wait to hear their war stories...

In The Studio

Lenslinger Lit
I was gonna hold off telling you why I dashed to Nashville, but a certain giggling hick's rabid fansite figured it out: I went to see Bucky. Covington, that is - former American Idol Contestant, fellow Carolina Boy and official Friend of the Show. I found him in a recording booth outside Music City, slathering swamp grease vocals all over his post-Idol polish. He and his hosts - the fellas from Sawyer Brown - were perfect video specimens, ignoring me completely as my lens and I skulked about their swanky digs. While they twiddled knobs and laid down tracks, I moved around like an assassin and tried not to tap my foot. It was tough, though - as the song being built around me was both highly approachable and surprisingly potent. (Think young Charlie Daniels channeling Axl Rose...if you can.) My bosses ask that I not say much more before our series piece airs and since on their stipend I rely, I'll happily comply. Coming Thursday: Quotes, photos, video links and enough southern fried charm to choke a Possum Queen. For now though, Bucky Fans - scrawl down these two words: Empty-Handed.