Thursday, April 17, 2008

NAB 08: The B-Roll Bash

By the time the B-Roll Bash kicked off, Team Slinger had been on the ground for twenty six hours. That’s an eternity in Vegas, where a strict city ordinance requires all visitors to forgo sleep in lieu of sensory overload. Add a few time zone jumps, an enthusiastic bar tab benefactor, six hung-over hours of convention floor camera schlepping and you have an inkling of how spent Rick, Chris and I were when we finally rolled into the Harley Davidson Café.

Not that a restraining order would have kept us away, for of all the distractions so readily available here, it was this humble summit that drew us to the desert. See, is a tight community - a cyber-tribe of news shooters who spar and commiserate on a daily basis. Many industries have vibrant message boards, but few match the breadth of Kevin Johnson’s creation. Network freelancers, station staffers, television legends and the rawest of rookies trade tips and spittle on a website that’s grown to encompass most of the English speaking TV News community. Not bad for one photog’s odd hobby.

That photog would be Kevin Johnson. More than a decade ago he returned from an assignment overseas with a passel of pictures he wanted to share. Soo, he stuck ’em on the Information Highway and waited for something to happen, When it didn’t, he began to tinker with his own site and b-roll was born. A thousand hacks later and a message board rose from the ooze, enabling shooters from every greasy crease in the map to get in on the rhetoric. Suddenly, the Photog Nation had a watering hole, a place to stop in and chat while the reporter chick gets her hair-did.

For the past few years, Johnson and others have gathered outside the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention for a beer-soaked gathering in glorious 3-D. This year that assemblage promised to be bigger than ever, with nearly twice the number of news shooters set to attend than just last year. Three steps into the Harley Davidson Café, we found the place bursting at the chrome-covered seams with photogs of every description. ‘These are my people’, I thought as I took in the crowd. About that time someone placed a hefty vessel of barley and hops in my hand, at which point the observations grew a little less clear.

A bleary brand of fellowship ensued. Among the throng, strange faces with familiar screen roamed the room. Latin Lens, (Sin)ical, Todio: just a few of the many cryptic monikers floating through the room. High fives and How Ya Been’s filled the air as a breed known for their aloofness truly came together as one. Once everyone was properly sloshed, Kevin Johnson stood on a chair to address the crowd, a useless maneuver for a cat who’s already, what - nine foot six? No matter, he had everyone’s attention the moment he started hurling b-roll schwag into the crowd - for no profession values a free t-shirt than those who walk beneath the lens.

With light kits and a tricked out tripod given away as door prizes, most everyone had their eyes on the numbers tattooed on their tickets, in hopes a badly needed piece of gear would soon be their own. Not me. I was too busy meeting readers, as half of the caustic bastards in attendance stopped to say hello. It was ... highly affirming. What else do you call the act of receiving praise? MaybeRick Portier can say as the Turd Polisher himself was being recognized as well. This pleased me greatly, for I wanted him to know just how many TV geeks know his name. But more on him later...

As the evening raced by, I thought back to something I worried about when first I began sharing my war stories with the Photog Nation. Sure, my friends and immediate family dug my budding lore, but would my stories cut it among those who knew all too well the life I was trying to write about? Would my penchant for hyperbole wreck any shred of credibility? Would I alienate those in the know by simply pouring it on too thick? Would members of a notoriously cranky profession see through my thwarted ambition and deem me a poser to the throne?

No. At least not judging from the acknowledgements I received there among the Soft Tails and Hogs hanging on the walls. Ego unduly boosted, I made a mental note to keep on writing in hopes of this niche would only grow. Heady stuff for a schlub who props up others all day and sits down alone to write about NAB 08 Les Roseit every night. So don’t be surprised if I campaign the wife to return next year or so, for the love of the prickly cinematographers is reason enough to endure the sleaze, the fees and the endless neon of Las Awful Vegas. It even beats free beer.

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