Thursday, March 15, 2007

Scurry, Schlep and Scorn

I came to work in TV News quite by accident, you know. Sure, I'd honed my broadcasting chops in the Navy, but there just wasn't much of a market for seaborne deejays in my part of the Carolinas so I wandered into the local CBS affiliate and proclaimed myself versed in all things television. At the time I was barely getting by selling cars and I've come to believe it was my polished pitch that got me that magnificent job and its minimum-wage paycheck. Not that I cared. I was just happy to be in the game, egregiously stoked not to be sitting in the middle of the ocean and taking hair-metal requests from the fellas in the mess-decks. Unshackled and not wholly sober, I sequestered myself in that small market station and learned all they would teach me, secretly convinced the whole time I was one stipend away from being dismissed as the broadcast fraud I truly was.

Imagine my shock when that sudden dismissal never happened. Instead my new employers fed my ambitions with all manner of in-house chores: lightbulb maintenance, soundboard babysitting and the finest in studio camera slow-dance. After a year or so I got bored, started poking my mullet into other departments and scored a gig writing copy for local car lots, pawn shops and more high-dollar dress boutiques than I ever wished to know existed. Soon I was accompanying the commercial photog on out shoots, where I learned the power of the cue-card, the glory of the second-take and the pitfalls of drop-cord origami. Once I proved I could hold a camera without dropping it, the chiselers upstairs pronounced me a prodigy and curtly dispatched me to helm another shockingly bad thirty second spot all by my lonesome. Suddenly I was an auteur - albeit one whose reel consisted mainly of used car salesmen in chicken suits.

There I would have probably stayed had it not been for a scared frat boy, a SWAT team and a plastic gun. That encounter has been much covered in these pages so I'll spare you a re-cap. Let's just say I stumbled away from my first stand-off punchdrunk and giddy. Never before had I pointed a lens at something so dangerous, so unplanned, so damned intoxicating. I wouldn't wish that day on anybody, as a friend of mine suffered before she was released. I, however, found religion that day. Not the kind you find in church, but the type practiced at courthouses, crime scenes and sat truck encampments. With great relish, I traded my brand new production van for a second-hand news unit that reeked of old french fries and excess street cred. Confident I already knew more than most, I proceeded to profusely suck at my new position.

But I was lucky. With nowhere to go but up, I gradually got better. Much of my improvement came from sheer repitition. Coem back with blue video enough times, and even the numbest among us begins to realize he'd better start white-balancing. That and a slew of folks I now consider mentors helped me stay employed while I learned to craft nuance from crap. To be sure I was a punk-ass at times, but the competitors and colleagues that held my hand back then earned my undying love because they helped me shake any vestige of sheltered house cat from my broadcaster's repertoire. No more would I puff up in the newsroom and crow about the stories being served on a silver platter. No more would I profess to grasp something I'd only learned about secondhand. No more would I confirm my immaturity by dissing people who'd been making hard deadlines before I'd ever learned to make my bed.

Now that I'm older, I'd like to say the favor of respect had been returned. But alas, it isn't always so. Sure, the people that matter know what I do and count on me to do so on a hourly basis. For them I do my damndest to bend space and time, to twist the daily dribble of everyday life into easily-digestable newscast nuggets. It can be silly, fruitless, soul redeeming work and I love it more than I hate it. What tips the scale however is brazen contempt from those still wet behind the ears; easy scorn for those whose specialty demands physical labor on top of critical thinking. I'll chalk it up to youthful stupidity but it's just bad mojo - the kind that causes some people to pound furiously on their computer keyboard while others toss and turn 'cross town, wondering if, for once, they've pissed on the wrong photog.

Sleep tight.

No comments: