When a High Point woman dove through the glass of her bedroom window the other morning, she didn't just escape her burning home. She did it in an interesting way. Had the 48 year old woman found more reasonable egress, chances are two news crews wouldn't be circling the block. But puncture the panes she did, falling a good four feet before crumpling in the dust - bloodied, stunned and badly cut. Neighbors noticed the smoke and the broken lady under the tower of smoke and clumsily punched 911. Seconds later, cooler heads within City Dispatch flipped the alarm switch, causing more than one crosstown fireman to pull up his pants. When the boops and beeps subsided, a leathery voice came over the air and crackled the facts... Structure Fire, Jefferson Street, One victim injured after jumping through a window... Miles away, a mornng assignment editor looked up from her beatchecks and scanned an empty newsroom. No one here yet, she thought - but when a dayside photog rolled in, she'd have him 'put some eyes on it...'
That smoke plume was enteringthe stratosphere by the time that I arrived. The lady too was gone, scooped up by paramedics and whisked away to the nearest E.R. Even the firefighters were rolling up their hoses. No sweat; that smoldering carcass of a house stood firm: hole in its roof, water on the porch, a smear of blood under a front bedroom window. I parked my car up the block and pulled my gear out of the back. Twenty seconds later, I power up, switch to Filter 2, zero-out timecode, turn to white-balance on Unit 4, wedge earbuds in and ROLL ... Looking around, I locked eyes with a few bystanders while picking my next shot. Wide, Medium, Tight - it ain't rocket surgery. After finding a few, I picked up my rig and moved closer in, stepping over hoses and nodding at guys in turn-out gear as I went. They nodded back, some hoping to get on television, others wanting to turn the hose on me. I smiled like I'm invited all the same, taking special care to stay out of their way. Mostly I just slow-danced with my tripod, using my lens and powers of observation to illustrate the story taking shape in my head. But was there enough story there - something to strecth ot past the point of a twenty second blurb on the evening news? too early to tell, but the way I look at it, if I'm I'm gonna smell like a house fire all day, it damn well better be a package.
Package: that's Tee-Veese for a pre-edited reporter-narrated news story, the kind of thing Chet McDimplechin likes to toss to well before Weather. Usually they're produced by two people but I tend to work alone, shooting, writing and editing a piece that an anchor will voice. 'Anchor Packs' we call them - after the person least involved in the process. Anyhoo, all the shimmering cinder shots in the world won't result in a package without some SOUND, so seconds after I pulled up to 703 Jefferson, I began profiling the crowd. See it's not enough to score a story's backdrop, you need some characters reciting their lines. Chances are the lady who took a plunge through two panes of glass was going to show up any time soon, so I'd have to start with some supporting players ... like that fire chief talking to the cop over there. Have I ever told him how my brother's a career fireman? Turns out I hadn't and after a delghtful conversation about Greenville nightlife he happily pinned on my microphone and held forth about the fire and the body's strong will to survive. Best of all he stoos State Trooper still the whole time, allowing me to frame him tight and step to the right of my viewfinder. This came in handy a few minutes later when a passing cousin wandered into my wide shot an danswered my every question, all while holding his pants up with one hand and gesticulating with the other. He even toned down the huther-mumpers, so I wouldn't have to spend extra time bleeping him out. Who says there's no hope for the youth of America?
I just wish the piece turned out better.