Saturday, January 07, 2006

Scenes from a Perp Walk

Time was every story I put on the air featured somebody in handcuffs. Curbside cuff-n-stuffs, driveway drag-alongs, crowded courthouse camera clots: I've shot every kind of bracelet parade there is. Some I even remember...

"Love to take these boys to the double-wide, watch 'em bleed." One big, mullet-headed felon to his beefy inbred friend, as they glared at me and my lenslinging buddies. When two deputies hustled the handcuffed pair past us in the all too narrow hallway, the oversized thugs filled our lenses with hillbilly menace. All was professional until a dreaded expletive and some creative shouldering caused an off-camera colleague to pipe up with three words that still crack me up: "Enjoy your jumpsuit..."

When fire fighters found a murdered woman inside a burning apartment building, police issued an All Points Bulletin for the victim's ex boyfriend - a U.S. Marine known for his temper. An hour or so later military police captured him at a Marine Air Station an hour away. When word of the arrest broke, camera crews raced to the local detective building, where MP's were supposedly rushing the accused Marine. Six. Hours. Passed. It was just shy of midnight when the unmarked van finally pulled up. Two oak trees in jungle cammies jumped out and slid back the side door. Inside a man hung his head, bruised, wild-eyed and dressed in the flimsiest of hospital gowns. Seven seconds later, the heavy steel doors of the Police building slammed shut and the camera crews stopped recording, but the footage has never stopped playing inside my head.

"I love ya'll." The last thing televangelist Jim Whittington told us media jackals, as two baliffs stuffed him into the back seat of an idling prison van. Minutes earlier, he and four other people had been convicted of stealing $848,532 from wheelchair-bound admirer Valeria Lust. As the van rumbled out of sight down a New Bern street, I realized Whittington would miss all that attention as much as, if not more, than his personal freedom and extravagant lifestyle. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

Of course no mention of Walkdowns without mentioning the King of the Back Pedal, my buddy Vernon. Low of gravity, barrell chested and insistent, Vernon would get in the face and under the skin of anyone with a police escort. But he wouldn't just hover over their shoulder as officers rolled their fingertips in ink, he'd quiz them on the reasons for their whereabouts. In much the same way the late Chris Farely interviewed Paul McCartney on SNL, Vern would fairly antagonize them with innocuous questions..."Why are the cops saying YOU killed her?" I heard him offer more than once. The questions often illicited the juicy soundbites Vern loved, but at least twice they landed him colorful, profane on-camera confessions that his station played until the videotape melted or was subpeonaed. Years back, Vern left the news biz for the private sector where, as far as I know, he makes for one hell of a telemarketer.

I've even been spat at. One backwoods thug had enough of his D.N.A. strand intact to dig deep and come up with the biggest, nastiest redneck loogie ever captured on videotape. He let it fly as he passed our position - the lethal concoction of snot, Mountain Dew and tobacco juice warbling in slow-motion right for me. Luckily, the inbred saliva projectile fell just short of full contact splashdown and only a little spittle struck the center of my lens. Instinctively, I racked focus to highlight the hillbilly spit running down my camera's eye. It made for great tease video and my esteemed colleagues played it back in the edit suite about a million times before eventually losing interest. But not before a half dozen photogs offered their finest analysis of the snot-rocket's aural qualities, phlegm-consistency and intended flight path.

And think , All this AND benefits!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Phone Cam Follies

Despite having written extensively on the impact of diminutive lenses, I really haven't explored my own cell phone's various camera functions. I'd like to change that in the new year, since the infernal contraption accompanies me everywhere I roam. It's a safe bet that if spindly-fingered aliens ever do tumble out of a freshly-wrecked spaceship, their images will first be captured by these ubiquitous gizmos. Thus, I hope to grow proficient with my own weapon , lest I ever get the chance to become the Joe Rosenthal of the camera-phone set. My first step in that quest: Rid my cellie of all any residual imagery build-up...

Phone Cam - Talisman The first photo that has to go is this one, a low-rez shot of my at-work talisman, a rubber-limbed skinny alligator outfitted with the finest in Betty Spaghetti day-glo camcorder. Countless are the days I've stared at this little bugger as the afternoon cacophony of a typical newsroom afternoon erupted all around me. The patron saint of all photogs who cop a passing squat at my desk, little Greenie promises met deadlines and trusty tripod legs.

Phone Cam - Cindy & Danny Speaking of legs, this veteran news team's got 'em. Eternally perky Cindy Farmer and Sat Truck Cowboy Danny Spillane have been cranking out newscasts since cell phones came swaddled in shoebox-sized leather cases. Here they fiddle with a much later model, demonstrating to yours truly how the modern day phone can juggle hundreds of numbers, image and sounds. Either that, or they were playing Tetris, I can't remember.

Phone Cam - Matt Down the hall, Major Matt Jensen ain't got time for no stinkin' cell phones. Instead, the Edit-Bay Jedi is using all his skills and magic to implement sizzle to the most mundane of reports. Slicing and dicing, stretching dissolves and launching the occasional flying box - watching someone edit is like watching a stoner carve soap. Still, if you're gonna hang out where the minions spin gold into straw, there's no better guide than this most bitter of hippies. Just don't jostle him. We've lost three interns that way ...

Phone Cam - Angie I'd planned to show you more of El Ocho, but a certain senior editor stopped me in my tour guide tracks. Whereas I might crank out a story a day, young Angie Riley is in charge of the dozens of ancillary elements that go into the average newscast. Teasers, bumps, hot opens - all different names for snippets of video and sound. Here, Angie uses her advanced penmanship to tell me, pioneering technology or not, she needs that shot of the dog in the funny hat and she needed it NOW.

Knowing better than to vex this editing vet, I closed the phone and got on it. Otherwise she'll wait until I leave and harrass me via telephone, bludgeonining me with confusing tape numbers while I'm at home, twirling bourbon and trying to get my blog on. That's a close encounter I don't need...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Media and the Miners' Plight

An old buddy of mine called from the cockpit of his news cruiser today. Scott was speeding away from his beloved Pittsburgh, straight for the hospital where the one surviving coal miner was being treated. It was his second mad dash to West Virginia in so many days and the fatigue tinged his young voice. Having left the station at midnight, he spent the first half of the two and a half trip en route to a celebration. But a phone call from his producer changed the mood as it altered his course. Now he found himself racing toward a community reeling in disbelief . As he closed in on the mushrooming media circus, we discussed the joy and sorrows, and scars of The Job. Scott’s shock and dread paled in comparison to the victims’ families of course, but as an ancillary attendant with an all-access pass, he’d already felt the ache and the heartbreak in a way those of us watching from afar never will. Mostly, I listened while he whiled away the last dozen miles. He spoke of little sleep, endless live shots and too many cigarettes. I asked about his bride and his voice brightened. After that and a little office gossip, I handed the cell phone off to another co-worker eager to chat up an ex-colleague.

Later in the day, as I passed a bank of monitors shouting details of the miners’ plight, I thought of Scott. I remembered his first immersion into televised tragedy, a impressionable morning at Richard Childress Racing headquarters the morning after Dale Earnhardt’s final, fatal race. Scott was agog at the instant army of empty-eyed mourners, the countless, network news crews and the massive, sat truck encampment. ’Welcome to the Shit’, I told him at the time, but I wasn’t as wise as I pretended. Shell-shocked or not, chasing the salacious and the sad is part of the gig. The trick is to not become immune to it, to retain a level of decency underneath that crusty journalist shell, to keep your emotions in check but not incapacitated. I’m reminded of another morning in Norfolk, Virginia, when I ambled out of a TV truck in mid-giggle only to remember why I was there in the first place. Whole families clad in black ambled past, some weeping openly while clutching framed portraits of young dead sailors, unexpected victims of the USS Cole attack. Shame washed over me as the pier-side memorial service began and I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the aircraft carrier looming overhead and thinking of my own treasured shipmates.

As much as I love mass communication, the modern day 24 hour news cycle can leave one hell of a burn. Whereas distant calamities used to be hammered into print by a few on-scene scribes, today every nuance is played out live as it happens, to a spinning globe of wide-eyed voyeurs eager to teeter on the edge of their sets. That includes me, a person who clamors at the edge of massacre and catastrophe for an hourly wage. But I do wonder where this ramped-up, amped-up, endless telethon of suffering and strife is taking us. I’m not suggesting we forsake technology and return to the primordial ooze, mind you - but what effect does all this team smotherage have on the collective psyche? News doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and satellite trucks don’t park in limbo. Our mere presence, loud, lit and heavily logo’d, influences events as much it does cover them. We are not silent scribes in the back of the pack, but outfitted gear-heads with a thousand bristling gadgets, impinging on the perimeter when not taking center stage. At what price? When distant crisis becomes a global commodity before the pixels are even dry, where does the unexamined tribulations of the lesser exposed rank in the grand scheme of things? Don’t ask me. I just point and shoot for a living.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Careful What You Wish For...

'Do you remember when you weren't in the TV business?' asked the on-line thread...

I remember...

I remember when the six o clock news seemed like a dispatch from God, delivered by silver-haired, infallible beings in sharp suits and huge lapel microphones.

I remember when the rundown shack of a radio station down the street enthralled me with the magic voices that emanated from within.

I remember when the burned-out hippie photog from the local newspaper struck me as the most dashing human on the planet.

I remember dropping to my knees in adolescent wonder as the Raleigh TV station unveiled their latest toy - an honest to God news chopper named 'Sky Five'.

I remember being interviewed by a local reporter about the weather, and then racing to my girlfriend's house to catch my dopey mug on Tee-Vee.

I remember watching young reporters in my small market town and imagining what their glitzy, glamour-filled lives must be like.

I remember riding past the ramshackle CBS affiliate two towns over and coveting the fate of those lucky enough to be allowed inside.

I remember shooting pool with my old man and proudly announcing I'd scored a production job at that very station. He broke into a wide grin and slapped me on the back, congratulating me for landing the minimum-wage gig.

After that, it's pretty much a blur...

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's 2006! Now what?

So it's the third day of the new year and, aside from the rather skeevy Chinese buffet still roiling in my gut from yesterday, I ain't got alot to report. Sure, I could tell you about my last workday - but do you really want to read three paragraphs about how I spent eight hours in a small room editing American Idol footage? Don't answer that. Instead, join me as I spin the globe and check in with those delighful photograbloggers ...

Out in L.A., beFrank took a break from his usual diet of crime scenes and showbiz premieres to shoot an event that strikes dread in the heart of most photogs: A WEDDING! No sweat, though - it was for a buddy, he was shooting stills and the resulting envelope almost made him put the the FrankMobile in a ditch. Do they have ditches in L.A.?

Closer to home, Colonel Ken Corn covers a raucous New Year's Eve celebration in Charlotte that went stupid w-a-y before midnight. 'Why are teenagers allowed to rumble in the streets while their parents doze in the La-Z-Boy?', ask the Colonel. Good question - one I have no answer for. All I know, is you don't shoot a riot ... you're IN a riot. Now GET OFF MY LAWN!

Over in Hippieville, Jorge Guapo is standing Schmuck-Watch and the dolt in question is our very own Kenny Rogers. This time out, the overpaid pitching-thug isn't dragging cameras off photog's shoulders, HE'S CHEATING ON HIS WIFE! Or so it appears. Either way, the Texas Rangers have sent this simian packing to Detroit, where he'll no doubt bring further shame to his sport and suffer the wrath of the photog nation. Happy New Year, Schmuck!

In the City That Never Sleeps, eWink continues to lay down a most righteous blog. Recently he lamented the lack of local illumination while covering the darkest crime scene in the world. As anyone who's stared through a noisy, viewfinder will attest, that BITES! Once Winky's vision cleared, he took a good long look at himself and vowed to quit smoking come 2006. Good Luck on that, Erin...

But of course, photog woes aren't limited to the contiguous U.S. W-a-y down in New Zealand, a news shooter who goes by 'Invervegas' files regular reports that sound awfully familiar. Wild goose chases, stubborn gear and labored productions: these are facets of the trade anyone who's squinted through the tube can identify with. Personally, I take great solace in the fact that The Job is the exact same all over the globe - even where the toilet water swishes backwards.

That's all for now. Check the 'Photogs Who Blog' section to the right for even more misadventures behind the lens. Meanwhile, I gotta get ready for work! Someone has to pay for that wide-screen ...