Friday, March 25, 2005

The Big Link

This week on The Big Link, meet the Chief Meterologist of the Piedmont Triad Blogosphere...Double Doppler notwithstanding.

The Exhaustive Dichotomy

Ah, the redemptive qualities of an Easter Egg hunt. No matter how surly you’re feeling, it’s hard not to grin when two year olds are scrambling at your feet for brightly colored candy eggs. This year it was the toddlers of greater Archdale taking part in the pint-sized rite of passage. I’ve probably shot a dozen egg hunts over the past fifteen years. Before I had kids of my own, it was little more than a pleasant interlude. Now that my own girls are well past the pull-ups stage, it’s a chance to reconnect with the Crayon Years. It’s enough to make a burned-out photog forget about all the misery he documented the day before. Almost.

But then again, that’s what life in news is all about. One day you’re lowering your lens as the body-bags roll by, the next you’re tracking a group of adorable infants as they scoop up pastel-colored plastic. In my world, it ain’t gotta make sense - it’s just gotta make deadline. So I got about my reflective way, taking assignments and exceeding expectations. Occasionally, the subject at hand shakes me to the very core - but most days I don’t even stop to notice. Besides, who has the time to pause and ponder when the next outrage or ecstasy is only a cell phone ring away? I sure as hell don’t.

Still, some of the images do stick. At night they replay in an endless loop on my bedroom ceiling. Most times I can roll over and feign rest until I fall asleep. I’m betting the homicide detectives I know have an even harder time shutting down that particular hit parade. But I do wonder what my own accelerated intake of other people’s peril is doing to my psyche. I am, after all, a man of limited education. Most of what I know of this world came to me through a television news lens. Before signing on as a TV stevedore, I had little grasp of crime scene protocol, didn’t know just how crazy they were at City Hall, had never visited a homeless person’s underpass campground. Now that I’ve endured all this in spades, where does it leave me? Far more experienced in the ways of the world, but still not sure what to make of all the data I‘ve collected.

Now, back to the Easter Egg hunt. This I do know. When shooting such an event, chuck all plans of crisply sequenced video.

Forgo all pretense of proper framing. Silence the familiar inner chant of wide-medium-tight. To try and control the actions of two dozen hyped-up two year olds is a lesson in futility. You may as well try herding cats. You’ll come back with much better footage if you simply lose the sticks, shoulder up and roll with the moment. You’ll have plenty of chances to forge new ground in news lens cinematography at tomorrow’s drive-by shooting. Just don’t be late - the lead investigators don’t like repeating themselves.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Reluctant Scavenger

As much as I‘d like to regale you with stories of behind the scenes silliness, it just wasn‘t that kind of day. For only an hour after hearing of a fatal four car pile-up on the morning news, I was wiping angry raindrops off my lens as cops and firefighters sifted through the wreckage in question. What followed was a long miserable day of unforgiving deadlines, pouring rain and broken live trucks. I could fill page after page with details from this torturous ten hour day, but it just doesn’t feel right.

Why? Two people died in the crash, one a promising 17 year old on his back from feeding the homeless at a nearby shelter, the other a quiet, giving woman loved by all. I did not know Daniel Cupit or Betty Hardin, but after reluctantly re-tracing their steps, I feel like I should have. It’s the part of my job I hate the most. Life is precious, much too valuable and meaningful to be distilled into ninety seconds of close-ups and soundbites. But that’s exactly what I did today, and while I know better than to try read logic into their untimely deaths, it’s human nature to try. So while I try to put these details out of my mind, understand if I don’t mine the story for humorous incidentals.

Check back later for happier fare. Until then, hug your loved ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Intoxicating Madness of Bent Sheet Metal

I found myself on the edge of yet another auto accident today. Twenty minutes earlier I’d been sequestered in a dimly-lit edit bay, reviewing freshly-shot footage of Governor Easley. Then a co-worker burst into the tiny room with a proclamation of Earth-shattering importance .


Sensing my fate was already sealed by this cataclysmic event, I stormed off to my news unit and headed for the heart of Davidson County. Just past Lexington’s city limits, the unfettered lanes of Business 85 became clogged with traffic. Ahead, unsmiling officers waved motorists onto exit ramps to nowhere as flashing red lights twinkled in the distance. After no small amount of windshield pantomime, I convinced the deputy to allow me past their impromptu barricade.

Parking behind a line of pick-up trucks, I grabbed my gear and schlepped forward on foot. Up ahead, an eighteen wheeler lay on its side, blocking all three southbound lanes. As the wrecker crew moved in with chains and winches, I powered up my camera and stepped into the eyepiece. Scanning from one end of the wreck to the other, I failed to spot a giant ball of yarn. Whatever cartoon image my producers had in mind for this particular story, they’d have to settle for a garden variety highway mishap. Wondering if the footage I was about to shoot would ever make it on-air, I popped off a few shots and looked around.

And that’s when I saw them. Two dozen people if not more, standing outside a nearby shopping strip and hanging on every turn of the tow truck’s winch. ’Had Bigfoot made a break from the nearby tree line, caused the trucker to flip his load and mesmerized these fine citizens in the process’ I asked myself. No, I thought as I zoomed in on the crowd, they were simply enjoying the entertainment value of a good ole American traffic tie-up. Through my lens, I saw grandmothers and adolescents, retirees and construction crews. There was even a family of four sitting on their car, looking much the same way my own brood does at the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. Pulling back from the viewfinder, I searched for a picnic basket in the crowd and red checkered tablecloth, but came up empty.

‘Who would be transfixed over a simple traffic accident?’ I asked myself. Why would a group of strangers loiter en masse to watch a wrecker crew wrestle an eighteen wheeler back over on its round rubber feet? Don’t these people have lives? I was still marveling at the spectator’s fascination with bent sheet metal when I caught a glance of my own reflection in a nearby fire truck. If I considered this idle audience buffoons for being so easily hypnotized, what then did I think of myself? After all, I was the one who’d driven at the maximum allowable speed to take in all this skid mark grandeur. Sure, it’s my job - but is that supposed to make me feel better about myself? If reporters are in fact the first historians, was does that make me - official stenographer of all things trivial?

Not really wanting to hear the answer, I packed up my gear and headed back to the edit bay. Some questions you just shouldn’t ask on a Monday.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Technical Difficulties

For some reason my computer is mad at me and won't allow me on-line. While I cure this most vexing hex, consider the works of others:

The good folks at Eastern North Carolina DTV are unearthing disturbing images from the days of broadcasts past. Most notable is this frame of my former partner and occasional nemesis, Speight Williams. Buring his brief sojourn into television news, Speight and I worked together ALOT - protests, stand-offs, prolonged court cases, you name it, we turned it. Though our styles and approach differed greatly, we had many a twisted adventures in the name of news. Eventually Speight got smart and left broadcasting for real estate.

Another fellow I use to work with is still in the biz. In fact, his cubicle is a few desks down from mine at work. Not that Bob spends alot of time there. Instead you'll find this most erudite chap traversing the Piedmont Triad, dragging an exhausted photog behind him on a never ending quest for better television. From the ritzy enclaves of a Presidential stop to the most hunkered-down of hurricane encampments, Bob always holds me to a higher standard.

These days, Bob prefers esoteric issues over fuzzy scanner noise, whcih is a good thing since no one does smart TV news like Bob Buckley. But there was a time when he was BOB BUCKLEY BIG BOARD SPORTS! I used to see him on the sidelines of high school football games, jostling a camera and cracking wise. He doesn't jostle that many cameras anymore, but the wisecracking, I assure you, continues unabated.

Lastly, Mark Childrey over at Monday Night Live blog has posted a few thoughts about the TV news photogs he encountered in his time as Public Information Officer for the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department. I think he's being too kind, but I never argue with a man with a handgun.

We now rejoin our Technical Difficulties...