It's been said that TV news is the only business where when it's five o clock in the afternoon, you wish it were four. Why? Well, obviously, you've never raced down the hall waving a tape over your head as some guy with a better parking space than you flexes his eyebrows and reads words you wrote a half hour earlier off a gleaming teleprompter. It's the kind of desperate run depicted in the beginning of the movie Broadcast News and it's a very real part of the daily chase. Of course, non-linear editing has replaced that frantic dash with a simple drag and drop. These days when I've finished whittling away on my timeline, I merely click a box, sending fresh electrons hurtling toward to the station's servers. As a result, there are fewer mid-hall collisions but the pressure to make slot remains the same. Take today for instance, in which a simple shift ramped up into near-panic...
4:00 My photog-senses tingle as I realize I'm not sitting in an edit bay. Looking at the rundown, I confirm the story Jeff Varner and I spent most of the day shooting is scheduled to air at 5:04. A quick glance at Jeff's cubicle finds him hunched over his computer and mumbling to himself. Hey look, Oprah's on...
4:10 Loitering in a cluster of photogs, I tear my attention away from the war stories and Knock-Knock jokes long enough to establish a visual on my partner of the day. Jeff's cubicle is empty but I spot him doing the Macarena over the newsroom's row of printers. In an effort to get his attention, I employ a rude hand gesture and a friendly smile. He ignores me.
4:15 After an intense game of Rock-Paper-Scissor with my fellow lensmen, I walk by the assistant news director's office and find he and Jeff locked in negotiations over adverbs and innuendo. Shooting both of them dirty looks, I'm rewarded for my enthusiasm by a series of reciprocating sneers. To the break room...
4:20 Cheeto's and Sprite in hand, I settle into an edit bay and hover over a workstation. Stashing my snacks so a passing engineer doesn't freak at my No Food policy infraction, I open a blank timeline in the editing software and wait for Jeff to bring me his script. He does, I take mouse in hand and make it do what it do.
4:30 Ten minutes have passed since I began the backwards puzzle construction process that is desktop editing. Using the time-codes on script, I lift soundbites from my shoot disc's image bin and drag them into place on the timeline. Rather than assemble the soundtrack from beginning to end, I whittle away at the opening, feathering background noise underneath Jeff's narration again and again. Much time is wasted.
4:40 Realizing I've dawdled too long, I quickly change tactics, dropping in the soundbites and placing Jeff's pre-recorded voice in between. With the flick of a wrist I chew my lip and highlight clips, drag them into place and constantly hit 'Control-S'. Falling into a groove, I rock back and forth as I build the story's soundtrack. Suddenly, the edit bay's phone rings and I answer it - in a bad Scottish brogue, of course.
4:50 On the phone is my assignment editor, who wishes to discuss tomorrow's story. For a good ninety seconds, I'm lured into conversation - until a glance over at the clock quickens my pulse. With my story set to air just after the top of the story, I have about ten minutes to complete what will be a 120 second heavily-edited story arc, complete with narration, natural sound and nuance. My leg shakes and I begin twitching like a junkie on the verge of a fix.
4:53 The A-roll is complete. In fact, the whole thing would be done were it a radio piece. With background noise woven between interview sound and reporter track, I tweak and stretch the audio before hitting 'Save' for the fortieth time. Scrolling back to the story's beginning, I began dropping in appropriate cut-away shots and deciding transitions. Behind me the door opens and Jeff pokes his head in. Seeing the veins pulsate through the skin of my temples, he wisely retreats without a sound.
4:56 With a series of hand motions and keyboard shortcuts that is by now innate, I fill in most of my story's visual blanks. Feeling like the kid who saves the world in the closing moments of War Games, the blood in my capillaries changes gears as I close in on the only reamaining gap in my timeline. That's when the damn computer locks up.
4:57 The walls of the edit bay melt away in my peripheal vision as all sound leaves the small booth. On screen a tiny hourglass rotates slowly in a taunting, coronary-inducing manner. I have at least fifteen seconds of timeline to filet, but am rendered inert while the computer hangs on the verge of re-boot. Unaware of the impending peril, Jeff saunters in only to be sucked in to my swirling stress-vortex. Time. Stands. Still.
4:59 Burping up the timeline, the cantankerous hard drive mysteriously decides to once again work as advertised. Abandoning the impromptu circle I'd been spinning, I regain control of my senses and fall on the mouse. Slicing and dicing shots off the disc, I place them onto the timeline's remaining blanks with great prejudice. Behind me, Jeff makes a series of litle girl noises as the 5:00 news music echoes down the hall. Hunkering down over the keyboard I recite a certain strain of phraseology I learned in the Navy. Blood pounds in my ears.
5:02 Despite the edit bay's chilly temps, sweat drops off my brow as I fill in the last defiant blank space on the timeline. Dropping in two dissolves, I hit "Save' for the last time - then rifle back through the talking head shots so Jeff can scribble down the exact time their names should pop up in the lower third portion of the screen. Super-times in hand, Jeff flees the edit bay with the grace of a third grader losing control of his bowels. I hit 'Send' and clench my own but-TOCKS. Don't laugh, it helps.
5:03 Seconds before anchor Julie Luck is scheduled to read the introduction Jeff wrote for his story, I watch as my computer screen's half-finished progress bar wallows in eternal still-birth. Lunging for the edit bay's phone, I try to dial the control booth, only to fat-finger the three digit number. On the second attempt I'm succesful, and when a producer's bored voice answers, I bark out in the halting tones of a dying hostage taker that Jeff's. Story. Is. Feed. Ing...Strangely, the voice didn't seem to care.
5:04 Staggering into the news room, I collapse at my desk and try to decide whether the twinges in my left arm are real or imaginary. As I blow deliberate breaths into a paper bag, a passing manager pauses at my cubicle and raises an eyebrow at my twitching form. "I'm okay" I say, "just had to bend space and time to make slot, that's all." Glancing at a clipboard, the manager kept walking and over his shoulder said, "Mmmm, yeah - Jeff's story. The show was running heavy so we decided to hold it until tomorrow."
5:06 I drive home in silence, wondering what greeting card artists stress about.