Saturday, July 23, 2005

Meeting Nico

In my business, the newcomers I meet often go on to become household names in the immediate viewing area. Such will be the case I predict with our newest reporter and weekend co-anchor, Nico Belha - whose mellifluous name and bilingual chops should quickly separate her from the reportorial pack. Fresh off a stint at a Montana affiliate, she’s a 2002 honors graduate of the University of Miami and a mighty nice lady to boot. Now if only she’ll tolerate my word-nerd’s crush on her particularly poetic moniker. Say it with me now: Nico Belha..."Nee-ko Bell-uh". Remember this when you're bandying her name about the watercooler six weeks from now: you heard it here first!

A Beleaguered Breed Are We

In the highly-recommended book Kitchen Confidential, executive chef Anthony Bourdain peals back the layers of his own profession to reveal a lurid life in the culinary trenches. I seek to do the same for the lowly photog, for the characters and the calamity packed into our craft beg to be written about. Thus, the following: an ode to a photog, if you will (and even if you won‘t).

With our blinking cell phones and shoulder-mounted glass, the TV news shooter regularly bears witness to a region’s randomness, greeting the most unlikeliest of feats with quiet urgency and knowing indifference. It’s a grueling kick. Crisscrossing the countryside in our many pimped-out rides, we race about on a never ending news-quest - be it breaking or boring, the deadline’s the same. So it’s not all that surprising that a certain morbidity manifest itself in the typical news veteran, a careworn sarcasm honed from years of lurking on the edge of mishap and pageantry. What else would you expect from the battle-hardened foot soldiers of your nightly newscast war? Serendipity? Hah! Visit your local photog’s lounge and you’ll no doubt find gallows humor, colorful (ahem!) language, and a room full of people who can see through bullshit. Or so we tell ourselves.

Besides, life is a repeat. That’s what I’m starting to believe after covering countless twelve month cycles of murders, morons and meetings. From the inner city stand-off to the cub scout day camp, I’ve put it all on Tee-Vee a time or nine. I know there’s more in store for me someday, but for now I‘ll continue swooping in on climax and cliffhangers with the dead-calm agenda of sharing it with the world - or at least the tri-county area. But all that continued team smotherage has a lasting effect on those of us in the trenches. Swing a lens in the same town long enough and you’ll start to identify various landmarks by the catastrophes that occurred there. You know, right past that corner where the three kids died...

This ain’t the only gig that’ll make you do that; cops, fireman and paramedics I know can recite an even grislier roadmap. Still, as a licensed camera jockey I’m far more cynical and weathered than if I sold stereos for a living. Oh well. The least I can do is study the likes of my kind. The photogs I work with (and the agents of other broadcasts I encounter in the field) are affable enough, casually dressed yet intensely focused individuals who make a habit of making it happen. But they’re not just deadline monkeys, they are practitioners of street level cinema, logo‘d ambassadors, tool-packing technicians, cop-car contortionists and to varying degrees, artists. I’m proud to be counted among their ranks, even if the viewing public does consider us mere caddies to the nearly famous.

Friday, July 22, 2005

All Apologies

A pox on me for not updating the blog in a few days, but the sweltering heat and too much time at work seemed to have zapped my extracurricular creativity. Fear not though, my half dozen readers, as I have a few epistles simmering in my brain pan and will do my best to share them over the weekend. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to venture out into the pungent force-field that is North Carolina's summertime humidity. If you hear a splash, it's just me walking outside. Seeya.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Rashunda: Citizen of the World

Through the magic of interweb technology, I've reconnected with an old friend and colleague - one that those in the Piedmont may recognize. Rashunda Tramble and I worked together off and on for years, profiling local acts, artwork and antics for the nightly What's Happening segment. We went everywhere - from seedy garage band practices off Summit Avenue to the subterranean spas of The Grove Park Inn, from storm-ravaged streets in a dying live truck to a behind the scenes tour of the People's Court.

It wasn't always easy, but lucky for me, Rash was a natch. Initially a TV news novice, she quickly fused her radio chops and refreshing looks to create an appealing energy all her own. Her considerable tech skills, soap-making acumen, Mensa membership and overall funky vibe make her much more than just another talking hair-do. If you can't tell - I miss working with her. I'll never forget holding on for dear life in the backseat of a maniacal New York city cab driver's taxi, only to look over and see Rashunda quietly meditating amid the jostling camera cases, unperturbed at a our driver's apparent death wish.

These days, Rashunda lives outside the confines of television news in Zurich, Switzerland, where she continues to be one complex cat. Go say Hi.

WKRN: Inside VeeJay Training

Via the ever intriguing Nashville Is Talking, word of WKRN's continued experiment with the Rosenblum Principle. As reported here previously, the Nashville ABC affiliate is overhauling their approach to newsgathering, decimating the classic news crew structure in favor of a solo-journalist model. Having already purchased 30 three pound Sony cameras and 16 Dell laptop editors, WKRN staffers are now learning to use them. They're currently undergoing a rigorous eight week training course - one that will transform 13 traditional news crews into 30 video journalists.

Two of those staffers are providing a fascinating (if not vague) glimpse into the training. Todd Dunn is a traditional photojournalist at KRN, learning what he calls a whole new way to gather news. From his blog:

"For those of you who are an NPPA photographer and have been to the workshop in Norman, Oklahoma, it is easy to understand because you have basically been through the training. The ideas and principles of telling a good story were drilled into our head and we were even sent out to shoot and edit a story with a public critique session to follow."

Neil Orne is a morning anchor at WKRN. His blog is a bit more forthcoming:

"Our photojournalists, George and Todd, were most worried about how to write the story, the two reporters, Mike and myself, worried about how to make the pictures and editing match up with the story. We were all working at a very familiar task in a very unfamiliar way. I can best describe our new method of developing a story as a 180 degree change from the traditional model. From the way you immerse yourself in the subject to the process of assembling the pieces, everything has changed."

To those outside the cloistered halls of TV News, this may all seem like so much inside baseball. But the changes proposed by Michael Rosenblum and embraced by KRON, WKRN threaten to forever alter the way we gather news and change the way the local broadcast looks in your living room. What could be more sacred than that?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Schmuck Watch: Kenny Makes It Easy

Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers, who's turned being an ass into performance art surrendered to authorities on Monday after being charged with misdemeanor assault after going toddler on two TV photogs June 29th. We here at Viewfinder BLUES have been monitoring Rogers' mental collapse since he first began haranguing hard working camera-ops. (We first sought to determine WHAT exactly fueled his rage, but then we got bored and chalked it up to undersized genitalia.) During today's proceedings, the pampered simian could barely contain his seemingly limitless contempt for lenslingers far and wide.

"You're getting really close, you know that?" Rogers said to WFAA-TV photojournalist Mike Zukerman who was taking pictures of the booking procedure. "You must be pretty proud of yourself, too," Rogers added.

While I'm sure Mike is proud of his honest profession, that's really not important now, Kenny. What IS important is that you get help. Switch to decaf, cut back on the steroids, read a book (soemone will help you with the big words), whatever it takes for little Kenny to finside his inside smile. Do it NOW, before some weisenheimer judge sentences you to your very own reality show, and we all have to suffer. Schmuck.

Alphorns and Inmates

“Everybody in?”

The sliding metal door behind us groaned to life, pushing most of the light out of the dead-end hallway. As the shadows fell, I looked around at the small crowd gathered around me. On my left a square-jawed Major stood ramrod straight, to my right, a shaggy, bearded fellow stared at the low ceiling and smiled serenely. Behind me, Sheriff Deputies waited at parade-rest. As soon as the door clanged shut, the wall in front of us began slowly moving leftward. Filtered sunlight poured into the space, revealing a cavernous cell block beyond the threshold, where nearly a hundred idling inmates loitered and paced. Without a word, we all stepped forward; the cameraman and the goat-herder, flanked by Randolph County’s finest. As we entered the cell-block, incarcerated eyeballs washed over us.

‘Yeah, that’s right...we bad...’

A few minutes later the old man pursed his lips and a low mournful sound wafted out of his strange horn. Slowly rising, the strange tone rose, filling the highest reaches of the two-story lock-up with a sound born in the Swiss Alps. As it did, the inmates stopped shifting in their jumpsuits. Those sitting on the bolted down picnic tables slowly tapped their feet, their county-issue shower shoes bobbing in time. On the balcony above me, a shirtless inmate leaned into a urinal and smiled serenely at the foreign music. Even the deputies seemed more placid than before, as they silently fanned out into the crowd. Off to the side, I peered through my viewfinder, struggling to bring this latest absurdity into finer focus.

Halfway into the next desolate tune, I abandoned my tripod and shouldered the camera. As I skirted the perimeter of the incongruent gathering, more than a few inmates watched my every move. I knew better than to point my lens directly at them; instead I framed up shots from across the room while stoic deputies tracked my progress from behind mirrored sunglasses. That’s when a squirrelly looking gentleman in an orange jumpsuit motioned for my attention. When he got it, he began whispering loudly about being attacked. With the low drone of the alp-horn filling every crevice of the great space, I could only catch every other word. But when he pulled back his stenciled collar to reveal a scabbed-over bullet wound, I knew he wasn’t asking what time this would be on.

Up front, the old man and his assistant stopped blowing their horns. With the help of a third man, the old goat-herder barked out a message in what I guessed to be German. In a voice oddly reminiscent of the Burgermeister from that old Santa Claus cartoon, the old man’s translator barked a message of love and forgiveness. I didn’t expect his jumpsuit-wearing audience to be very receptive but as I panned the camera around, I saw more than one inmate nodding in silent agreement. After a few more pleads and platitudes, the trio of foreigners fell silent. Taking the horn’s mouthpiece into his weathered lips, the old goat-herder from Switzerland began blowing a familiar series of plaintive notes. As ‘Amazing Grace’ filled the highly-disinfected hall, more than one crusty inmate looked to be on the verge of tears. Me, I glanced at my watch and thought about my next stop: a sit-down interview with a local politician. Whatever the elected official wanted to discuss, it couldn’t be any weirder than this.

Or could it?