Friday, November 25, 2005

The Coolest Thing

"How long you been doin' this?" the store manager asked as I hunched over my rig.

"About sixteen years now," I said as I rack-focused the lens off a long row of gleaming iPods, "I think I'm gettin' the hang of it."

The portly electronics geek chuckled at my pat answer and ran his eyes over my Sony XDCam. I was twisting the focal tube when he flummoxed me...

"So what's the coolest thing you ever done with one of these?"

I looked up abruptly from the viewfinder and stared into space. A thousand scenarios flickered inside my head...

...Plucking leaves off treetops from the basket of a hot air balloon, floating over school buses after a biblical flood altered my homeland, stalking deputies as they swung axes on an early morning moonshine bust, driving Unit 4 through a Class 2 hurricane with the car speakers set at 11, hanging off a balcony full of drunk Halloween revelers as illegal fireworks arced and sparked over crowded downtown streets, running from an out-of-control truck and giggling about it moments after, watching the sun rise over the Mile High Bridge at Grandfather Mountain, leaning over a surgeon's shoulder as he sliced into an nice lady's eyeball, chasing SWAT team cops up a training tower as flashbangs echoed off concrete walls, hunkering on the edge of the stage as my favorite college band played their final show, breakdancing underwater with a drowning fancycam, following cops through the door as they rounded up drug-dealers, hovering under the belly of a giant tanker jet in flight as the attack helicopter I was riding in took on fuel...

"Man, that's a tough one," I offered feebly. "I once met Enos from 'Dukes of Hazzard'.

The manager's eyebrows wrinkled behind his bus-window frames as he pursed his lips. "The new X-boxes are over here," he said and walked off, assuming I'd follow. I did, a little less cocky about my exploits but newly determined to come up with a better answer to a question I'd surely hear again. Maybe next time, I'll simply hand them a business card with my web address on it. Anything's better than Enos.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Longing for Kong

With Peter Jackson readying his King Kong re-make for global release, the world's most famous oversized ape is on alot of folks' minds. That includes me, for I may be the one person on the planet who didn't think the widely-reviled 1976 version didn't profusely suck. Of course, I was nine when I saw it. But despite my lack of cinematic sophistication, Dino De Laurentis' big gorilla re-do was an easy sell. C'mon - Jeff Bridges as the hippy photog, Charles Grodin as the snarky oil executive, Rick Baker in a bad monkey suit...throw in a ravishing Jessica Lange and you have a film that stirred me in ways my nine year old brain didn't even understand yet.

Of course, one year later Star Wars came along and scrambled my pre-adolescent brain to the point I forgot all about giant primates straddling World Trade Centers (but not Jessica Lange). Now that Kong is once again about to dominate the nation's collective imagination, I'm increasingly stoked to see what director Jackson does with source material he so obviously holds dear. I may even rent the '76 version, though I'd hate to think my childhood favorite won't seem quite as brilliant as it did back in the summer of the Bicentennial.

Those polyester shirts with the butterfly collars I use to wear back then sure don't.

Flashbacks on Parade

It’s Thanksgiving morning and the wife and daughters have banished me from the kitchen, lest I further molest the makings of a fine meal. Thus I’m relegated to the den, with only my trusty laptop and slowly-dying big screen TV to keep me company. After a quick trip around the horn, I’ve settled in on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, an annual diversion that I deem fairly acceptable - once you get past Katie Couric and all that credibility-destroying lip synching. But I can’t watch much of it, for it gives me flashbacks...

No, I’ve never belted out show tunes in the streets of New York City. What I have done is stick a lens in many a frostbitten face as yet another papier-mache masterpiece rolled over my foot. Let me explain: Once upon a time I was a beleaguered promotions manager for a small-market television station. Among my many duties was helping coordinate, promote and execute live coverage of local Christm --- er, sorry, Holiday Parades. Greenville, Kinston, Goldsboro - no Downeast town was safe from our ragged band of TV dorks. Our approach was less than scientific. Hours before the parking lot on the edge of downtown filled with beauty queens, fire trucks and marching bands, we’d set up three cameras along the parade route, hook them to our dilapidated production truck, pepper the line-up with our on-air talent and pray for rain.

Rarely did Mother Nature bail us out. Instead, some town father would strike up the band, the first float would lurch forward and an exercise in ugly television would take over our airwaves. I always seemed to ride point, manning a street-level shoulder-cam while a hopped-up colleague wrestled with heavy cables behind me. Inside the viewfinder, it was a blur of smiling faces, jutting instruments and tipsy Shriners. I loved it. Having temporarily sold my soul to the Devil, I was just glad to get away from my sinister General Manager and get back behind the lens. The fact that had to dodge slide-trombones, kamikaze batons and all manners of horseshit along the way didn’t matter, for running a live camera has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Something about the crowd at my back, the director’s voice in my ear and a staggered line of costumed locals always made me feel...well, alive.

Not that our field productions were without its technical glitches. Far from it. No matter what the town, we featured unfocused shots, over modulated band noise and the occasional frat boy F-bomb in our wall-to-wall parade coverage. As for anchor cameos, they rarely went as planned. Just as we’d come back from a commercial break to show our weather bunny on the back of a convertible, a volunteer fire truck would careen into view and render our audio guy sterile with its screeching siren. More than once I stood like a wooden Indian, zoomed in all the way down the street as our wacky morning guy chortled and waved just out of view. As I learned early on, no amount of production truck screaming and desperate arm-waving could make a parade run on time. By the time the dime store Santa brought up the rear, my co-workers and I were exhausted, demoralized and eager to get out of town before the teeming crowds realized what a butt-ugly broadcast we'd smeared their town's good name with.

God, I don't miss those days.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Day of Thanks

From the Lenslinger Archives...

I'm thankful there are wonderful people who prepare Thanksgiving Dinner for the less fortunate down at the homeless shelter...and that for once, I won't be there, loitering in the kitchen with a betacam on my shoulder, drooling over discount turkey.

I'm thankful the good people of our fair city put on one heckuva holiday parade... and that some other schlub will get to discover the joy of backpedaling with one eye open while cub scouts pelt him with candy and trombone players try to blind him.

I'm thankful that the day AFTER Thanksgiving, a shooter other than I will delve into the retail hell of Black Friday, prowling the local mall for talkative store owners and sober shoppers, all while keeping an eye on the rent-a-cop eyein' him from the food court.

And I'm thankful that once the sun sets on the eve of that extended holiday weekend, I won't be the one perched on some interstate overpass, untangling extension cord and trying not to strangle the on-air goob while he plucks his eyebrows in the side view mirror.

I'm thankful for a little time off. But I know that come next week, I'll be back on the front lines, checking the center court Santa's criminal background, hovering over bell-ringers as they lay jolly guilt trips on Wal-Mart patrons, and launching an unflinching televised manhunt for that perfect poinsettia.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Destination: Photo Op

Pilot MountainMoments after strolling into the newsroom this morning, I strolled right back out, jumped in trusty Unit 4 and plotted an immediate course due North. The trip to Caana took about an hour but I didn't really mind. It gave me a chance to listen to my new Gorillaz CD in its entirety, chew a toothpick to smithereens and snap this 70 mile an hour photograph of Pilot Mountain - a place I still refer to as 'Mount Pilot', thanks to all those Andy Griffith episodes I watched as a kid. But I couldn't let nostalgia slow me down, for I had a date...with a big goofy check.

Wacky Giant CheckUnderstand, this isn't the first oversized promisory note I've crossed mountains to put on TV. In this silly business, giant checks are as common as gold plated groundbreaking shovels and giant ribbon cutting scissors. Something about these broadcast props hold a powerful allure over assignment editors. Wave a freshly-faxed press release under the right nose and they'll strap me to a rocket just so someone's magic-marker masterpiece can make their television debut. But enough of my bitterness; are we there yet? Ah, here we go...The Lucky Horseshoe, a lottery ticket disperal emporium that just happens to sell beer and cigarettes.

Lottery WinnersInside, a dozen grizzled factory workers from nearby Mt. Airy squirmed and giggled like nervous school girls as Virginia Lottery officials checked their I.D.'s. Seems the workers had pooled their resources in hopes of cracking the 315 million mega-million drawing. They missed the unthinkable fortune by one number, but managed to score the second prize of 250 thousand dollars. That's about 12 thousand bucks a piece after taxes, not enough to retire on but more than enough to get on Tee-Vee. As I moved in with soggy toothpick and fancy-cam in tow, the group stiffened, uneasy around strangers with lenses. Within minutes however, we were the best of friends. As they chortled at all the attention I rode the focus and realized that, big goofy check aside, all this giddiness was well-worth the trip.

Pictures That Move

Jerry Wolford at restI don't know Jerry Wolford well, but I see him alot. Usually it's out of the corner of my eye while I'm stalking someone through the glass; my preternatural photog senses will tingle and I'll look up to see Jerry moving in slow and deadly with his lenses of his own. Rarely do our eyes meet but when they do, it's like two apex predators silently acknowledging each other from across the jungle floor. It's not that print photographers and TV shooters are natural enemies. If anything, we're two breeds of the same species, distant cousins with different stripes, but the same keen sight.

Trouble is, Jerry's one dangerous cat. I know this because I see his marksmanship in my driveway every morning, jaw-dropping images that make me scratch my bedhead and wonder how me bagged that shot. You know, the one he obviously popped off while standing within feet of me the day before...Part of it I'll chalk to up to our differing formats. While I specialize in moving pictures, Jerry and his ilk produce pictures that move. My motion and sound can titillate and sway, but nothing resonates like a frozen image. And never has that been on better display than with The News and Record's latest multimedia endeavor, Pirates' Tale: The Story of Page's Football Season. Expertly edited to a natural soundtrack, this collection of stills presents one high school's football program in a way that is downright cinematic.

It's no secret newspaper circulation is waning. Forward-thinking publications like the N&R are smart to delve into high quality multi-media, even if their broadcast brethren do scoff it off as an act of desperation. Not me. I look forward to the day when the box I get my news from offers the immediacy of video, the analysis of print and the depth of the internet. Until then, I'll keep a close eye on what Jerry's bosses are up to and hope that my own industry will recognize this progression in news delivery for what it truly is: natural evolution.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Part Plumber, Part Poet

Subterranean Egress When you schlep a TV news camera around for as long as I have, you stop marveling at where it takes you long before you put the damn thing down. Instead, you accept the next stupefying locale for what it is: the reason you're along for the ride in the first place. If I wanted to toil in climate-controlled comfort, I'd find me a nice dry cubicle to grow soft in.

At least that's what I told myself this morning as I rooted around the muddy crawlspace of a North Greensboro home. The overnight deluge didn't end our drought, but it did make my producers wonder what well-diggers were up to these days. I know it doesn't make any sense, but question the house cats' news judgement too closely and you'll find yourself hanging out by the post office quizzing strangers about their thoughts on Avian Flu. With that in mind, I had a pair of well-diggers in my sights by ten, who it turns out, weren't digging wells at all. Rather, they were ripping a doohickey out from under some nice gentleman's house and wondering why the local news geek was stalking their every move.

I get that alot.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Respect for The Man

With Walk The Line new to theaters this weekend, the once young and troubled Man In Black is all over the blogosphere. This pleases me greatly, as no other purveyor of popular Americana is more worthy of our clamor than the late, great Johnny Cash. At least that's how I see it. But then again I've always been a fan of blue-collar troubadors, especially those who've yet to quell all their demons. Headed for an early grave, young Johnny was a thunderbolt of promise and pills when he met an awkward daughter of musical royalty. June Carter didn't tame her man, but she did teach him how to live a much longer life than even he knew he was due. That he lived to be grandfather of such gravel and grit that music lovers as young as my eight year old hold his name in reverence, is testimony of this strong woman's power. Don't believe me? Listen to 'Jackson' sometime.

Which reminds me, anybody seen my Best of Johnny Cash CD? The last time I heard it was in Live 1; Whitey and I were speeding toward a late-day live shot and needed The Man to soothe us. Since then it's vanished, but I have no doubt that sacred disc is spinning for somebody, somewhere. As for the movie, I only hope that 'Walk The Line, fresh on the heels off 'Ray', will spur a long line of 20th century musical biopics. Maybe then, Mr. Rodriguez will stop making kids' movies and work on the long-delayed SRV film. Either that, Robert, or sell the rights...