Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Fakery That Makes Us

7.1 009Tonight I find myself intrigued by an internal mandate from Britain’s Channel 5 - which seeks to destroy the very cliches traditional TV News is built upon. Good luck with that. It seems those broadcasters across the pond are embroiled in another episode of Deception on the Telly - the details of which, frankly bore me. What I do find interesting though is the resulting hullabaloo, if only because I get to use the word 'hullabaloo'. But I digress; check out three freshly forsaken tenants of electronic newsgathering:


Heh-heh, those crazy Brits. It's like they got a different word for everything in the English language. By 'noddys' though, I believe they mean those vapid 'reporter reaction' shots, in which a glossy correspondent nods understandably at a potted plant, lightstand or photog belt buckle. They're mean to convey interaction between asker and askee, but who's kidding who? They're all about face-time. Down here we don't do 'em too much - though we do sometimes employ two camera set-ups to capture all that hot brow-furrowing action. That usually saves the reporters I know from having to eye-flirt with that comatose goldfish floating in the backdrop. Careful, Chet - they can smell fear...


No more cutaways? What's next? No more editing? Again, I gotta chalk this one up to the language barrier, as over here in The States we think of cutaways as any close-up or otherwise differently framed shot to vary composition and aid in pacing. Watching a documentary on dyslexic circus clowns? That tight shot of Schmucky slathering toothpaste on his eyelids ... Cutaway. No, I suspect my accented colleagues are again referring to awkward shots of tagalong talent preening on-cue forfuture resume fodder. Those are a problem, but ones we probably won't be expelling from the lower 48 anytime soon. Not until we ban those giant cans of hairspray, anyway...


Pee-pull! A little clarification, please! You start bandying about buzzwords like 'contrived' and you may as well close up most domestic broadcast shops! This entire freakin' business is contrived - a malady contracted at the dawn of TV news when only old white guys in horn-rimmed glasses were allowed to intone the day's events. Or the guffawing weatherdork pedaling knock-knock jokes and high-pressure systems? Sure, we've updated our schtick, but lotsa vaudeville still remains on screen. For example, those ghastly sequences of interview subjects walking awkwardly into nowhere? It's like pushing mannequins down a hall.

Ambiguities aside, I applaud the intentions of Channel 5 - even if it does smack of deck chairson the Titanic. Nod-shots, cutaways, awkward walks; they're all stylistic issues intrinsic to the idea of reporter as 'celebrated narrator'. Until we in TV news drop the model we've so perfected, our product will never fully evolve - no matter how many bad camera-moves you blacklist. I'm reminded of the many newspaper staffers forging ther own brand of visual storytelling. They're smart to eschew the many silly things we do in the name of news and if so many of them weren't such total assholes, I'd tell 'em. Instead, let us remember that solo newsgatherers like myself have been using this approach for years, when we weren't feathering backlight on high priced hair-do's, that is.

When I work alone, I never find myself wishing someone had come along to hold the viewers' hands. I'd much rather spend my lens on the folks whose story I'm trying to tell. It is a more satisfying approach, but it's just one of many we serial news shooters must keep in our arsenal. You want cinema-verite? Grab an intern and we'll get as loopy as the law allows. Going for that glossy Dateline sitdown look? Fetch my light-kit and find some ferns. Or perhaps it's the Blair Witch Project you seek to employ. My sticks are in the shop and Starbucks is right up the corner. Just don't ask me to shoot a bathroom cruising re-enactment. I got some standards.

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