Saturday, November 20, 2004

I, Photog

My wife sometimes accuses me of ‘living inside my own head’, and perhaps she’s got a point. After all, when you spend your life wrenching images from a TV news camera, it’s easy to become a tad detached. Squander enough time peering through that glass and you’re sure to get tunnel vision. After a while, it all those black and white images look the same.

There may indeed be a millions stories in the naked city, but they could all be divided into a mere dozen categories. So instead of dwelling on the slow parade of pedestrian news events, we photogs concentrate instead on the art of the grab, working filmmaker flourishes into our commando-cam format. The revolving cast of victims, villains and grandstanders is often secondary.

Personally, I often wear my camera like a shield, brandishing it for battle but mostly just hiding behind it. It’s the facet of electronic news gathering I enjoy the most - the spectrum of broadcasting that has nothing to do with overstuffed anchors, delusional producers and smarmy consultants. TV news photography practiced at street level, where the almighty deadline rules the day. In the daily hunt, little else matters.

Except lunch, of course. Lunch is VERY important.

Shout Out?

At the behest of my newfound blogging buddies, I have added a 'shoutbox' (that little gray box of text to the right) to my site. Hopefully, one of these kind souls will now inform me as to how to use it. Ain't technology grand?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Level of Discourse 2

More Terms from the Newsgathering Vernacular...

GRIP N GRIN: A photo opportunity with a candidate for something or other who shows up to shake hands, smile and get on tv. See also DOG N PONY.

HOUSE CATS: Producer types who never leave the building. Usually quite blustery and full of bravado - as long as the nearest air-conditioning vent is pointed directly at them.

LANDSCAPE: Exterior shot of crime scene. What you may be stuck with if you arrive late. See also REAL ESTATE.

LOOK-LIVE: a pretaped segment that intentionally mimics the look and feel of a live shot, but never displays a 'LIVE' bug.

MAN BAG: A male reporter's make-up case.

NEWSGASM: An assignment editor's term for breaking news that actually breaks in time to cover it. Hurricane, Bigfoot, Plane Crash - all spawn Newsgasms. See also SNOWGASM.

NUTS N BOLTS: On a big story with team coverage, one crew does 'nuts and bolts' (the basic facts)

ONE MAN BAND: a person who shoots, edits and reports their own news story. Once relegated to smaller market positions, this electronic multi-tasker's role is enjoying a comeback, due to smaller cameras, and laptop editing. See also BACKPACK JOURNALIST.

PACKAGE: A reporter's story told on tape with video clips of people he or she has interviewed, plus animation, graphics, stills or other visual elements.

"PUT SOME EYES ON IT": A common assignment editor directive, used when sending a photog to a questionable story in a far off region. Sure to make the average shooter's blood boil.

More to follow...

The Gathering

Huddled with a few strangers at a cafe last night and found we all spoke the same language. The Greensboro Blogaholics (or whatever they/we call it) was an invigorating scrum of personalities, from the published poets to the broadcast junkies to the politically apoplectic. Not sure where I fit into the mix, but I'm glad to have shared air with a group of people who have a thing or three to say. This site has already evolved thanks to their help and I implore everyone (all three of you) who visit this humble place to visit the many "Others" links listed on the right below.

Happy Blogging! (Did I just say that?)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

TV Panhandling

The Man On the Street (M.O.S.) Interview is a time honored tradition in television news. But as the person who often has to ask total strangers dopey questions, I hate them. really, it's one step above pan-handling - especially when you're doing it solo. Lurking in the bushes outside of a post office and trying to figure out which passerby to ask about Bosnia - these are not things normal people do.

I once worked for a station that relied on a good chunk of Man On the Street interviews to pad out their early afternoon newscasts. It fell on us in the field to gather this fascinating material and I grew to loathe the process. As anyone who's stuck a lens in a passserby's face knows, you get ALL kinds of responses - from the thoughtful pause to the drunken shout-out. Or worse yet, the dreaded "Well, I don't wanna be on camera, but I tell ya what I think..."

Here's a hint: If you DON'T want to share it ON camera, the guy behind the lens couldn't care less about your thoughts on The War on Terror. Or Global Warming. Or Paris Hilton's Lost Dog, or whatever inane query some moron back at the shop came up with. KEEP MOVING PEOPLE!

Hmmm Mmm. I remember a particular low point in the public opinion pendulum. A law regarding abortion rights had just passed and some producer wanted a whole string of citizen reaction soundbites. With more than a little trepidation I took to the field, loitering outside a busy shopping center with wireless microphone and betacam in tow.

I don't remember the particulars - only that I nearly sparked a holy war between one uptight soccer mom and two scary hillbilly chicks. That was a conversation I didn't need to have and I soon told the desk where they could shove their questions. I know other newsgatherers who really dig this kind of thing, but it ain't me.

Now if you'll excuse me, this skinny dude in the Black Flag t-shirt looks like a talker. Wonder how he feels about the county's new waste-management program?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Things Isabel Taught Me

A Tale of Hurricanes, Friendship, & Granola Bars

The Level of Discourse 1

Like every profession, we TV News people have our own language. Always instructive and usually indelicate, the following terms describe a world of deadlines, crisis and gadgetry. The first in a series...

ANCHOR-PACK: A package that's written usually by someone (ME!) other than the anchor, but the anchor's voice is on it.

BRICK: Camera battery.

DOG LICK LIVE SHOT: A live shot performed at a place and/or time that is fundamentally irrelevant to the story. Spawned by consultants, done by rote. Named for the old joke "Why does a dog lick himself? Because he can."

ELBOW FIESTA : Colorful name for hurried, crowded group interviews. See also GANG-BANGS.

FACE TIME: The amount of time each anchor gets in a show. More calculated than you might think.

FIFTEEN MINUTES: How long assignment editors think it takes to get from one story location to another, regardless of what the map might indicate. Often used in conjunction with the term "just swing by." (Robert Carver)

FLAK: Derisive term for Public Information Officer. See also SPIN DOCTOR, HACK, SUIT, FACE, PEEPS.

FLOAT: What happens to a videotape package that doesn't get finished in time for its scheduled airing (e.g., it "floats" until the producer can slip it in later that block or into the next block). Guaranteed to make producers upset.

FUZZ N WAS: sensational stories involving cops & dead bodies. See also CRIME N GRIME.

More to follow...

Sunday, November 14, 2004

More to Come...

MUCH LOVE to the Triad blogging community for assisting me with this work in progress...

Focus on the edge of the viewfinder and you’ll find you can watch just about ANYTHING. But don't be surprised if the World's out of focus when you put that camera down.

It's called VIEWFINDER BLUES, a condition I was diagnosed with shortly after peering through the lens for the first time. That's been many years ago and while there is no known cure, I've found it does help to talk about it.

So join me here, as I make endless jaunts into the Great Unknown - all for a few more fleeting moments of pixelated gossip.

It's a living.

I 40 U-Boats

"The Interstate's UNDERWATER!" a voice spat through the phone.

'YEAH it is,' I thought. But fifteen minutes later I was perched on a overpass exit ramp, looking down on a patch of interstate that resembled a concrete waterpark ride. As I cursed the rain and flipped the gain, I saw four rows of parked headlights idling at the water's distant edge. Those motorists no doubt wanted nothing more than to continue their journey West. But as the sparkle of emergency flares lit up the water's surface, the cars stayed put, while the highway behind them turned into a four-lane five-mile parking lot.

Eventually of course, one brave traveler gave it a go. A high sitting narrow pair of headlights entered the watery breach, slowly at first and then faster as the driver's confidence increased. As it passed through my raindrop-spotted viewfinder, I saw it was a Toyota Forerunner plowing past. The SUV kicked up quite a wake as it slowly made it's way through the temporary river. Panning my camera back to the row of headlights, I watched another vehicle inch forward into the drink.

But these headlights were farther apart and sat a good deal lower than the Forerunner. I pulled them into focus and once again wished a spotlight-wielding helicopter would hover overhead and light this mother up. No luck though, I was reduced to reading silhouette edges on the one-inch screen, seeking details through the noisy static of artificial camera light. Luckily, I was dead center over the watery breach and the second pair of headlights slowly filled my screen.

But as the twin beams of light came closer, they took on a weird muted appearance. I realized they were completely submerged. As the vehicle's top-half passed in front of my perch I got a better look at it. An Acura maybe, or a Lexus - one of those low-slung roadsters that look so good on the showroom floor but so lousy underwater.

Low-slung or not, the car inched forward until the dirty floodwater splashed around the bottom edges of the windshield. That's when the engine seemed to sputter and die, and a diminutive figure started crawling out of the driver's side window.

"I'm on the highway! There's water EVERY-WHERE!"

It took me a moment to realize the voice was coming from the shadowy figure emerging from the car. Abandoning my viewfinder, I squinted into the rainy darkness and saw the driver was a small woman, a soccer mom with purse held high and a cell-phone cradled in her ear and shoulder.

"The highway! It's CRA-ZEE!"

The woman continued shouting her litany of exasperation as she crawled off the hood and down into the waist-high water.

"I'm gonna be LATE! Call Max and tell 'em...."

Pushing forward, the woman stomped through the water, leaving her car behind and continuing to shout into her phone, totally oblivious to my camera's gaze just feet above her. She never even looked up when a firemen yelled for her to climb up the embankement. She simply proceeded to slow-motion walk through the water, deeper into swirling impasse and eventually disappearing into the stormy night.

I was on scene for hours after, and never saw the woman again. Her car continued to sit and the water soon covered it completely. After awhile, it began to float and scraped against the divider wall before coming to a undignified rest. I perched just above it from the safety of the exit ramp and recorded funky close-ups of the car's side hazard lights flashing underneath the dirty water's surface.

As for the woman, I'd like to think she walked all the way to her destination - late, soaking wet, and with one hell of a story for Max. Whatever the case, her one-woman flash-flood stampede made for yet another surreal episode, one of those weird photog moments that will bounce around my skull until something even more absurd takes it place.

In my business, that shouldn't take too long.