Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Doc StewI've no top ten lists, no words of wisdom, no parting shots at 2006 - just a big, hairy Happy New Years to you and yours. The past twelve months have not signaled my meteoric rise to literary superstardom but they have seen me sit down and write almost every day. Thus, I'm considering the past twelve calendar pages more than a crumpled mass of scribbled grids - I'm officially deeming it a success. Of course I couldn't do that without thanking you - the returning reader who's suffered through my every other screed, from my misguided series of mullet pictures to my attempts at media analysis, from my often bloated prose to my every instance of outright adjective abuse. Thanks - that couldn't have been easier for you. As for what you can expect in 2007, well - I think I pretty much listed it. That, and a few vlogs - granted Weaver will show me how to push all the right buttons on my new Sony.

Stay Tuned...

Every Soul a Stringer

I guess its no surprise that Saddam’s snuff film ricocheted across the web before the former dictator’s remains were ever stuffed in a box. It would only have been alarming had someone not thrust a cell phone forward and hit RECORD’, not uploaded it to the globe via YouTube, instantly enabling heretic and housewife alike to witness Hussein’s short drop into the past-tense. No, most weekend newscast producers were counting on the footage to lead their shows before ever the deposed overlord was ever served his last incarcerated meal - and not because they’d stationed news crews underneath the gallows. Who has to?-when all the world’s your stringer. ‘Stringer‘, you say?
That squirrelly dude talking to the cop, the one with the camcorder and the home-made logos. His name’s Gordo and he’s got more scanners than you. He’ll beat you to a lot of scenes ‘cause he sleeps in his car. He’s also a preacher. Don’t ask...”
Hmm? Sorry - just flashing back to the day I first learned the term. At the dawn of the 90’s, ‘Stringer’ meant freelance journalist (though ‘ambulance chasing drifter’ could sometimes apply), one who responds to breaking news, shoots home video and peddles it to local TV stations for all the cash and glory that be squeezed from two minutes of shaky, strobe-lit carnage. I’m being too harsh, though. Fact is, more than a few freelance cameras have prevented producers from calling me at four a.m. ‘cause the freight train ran into the mental hospital’. For that I’d like to thank each and every one of them. Just give me the number to that Waffle House by the interstate and I’ll get started.

But I digress. What I really came to fathom at was the speed at which news travels these days - and the footage of Saddam-a-swingin’ was news. Just ask the millions of people with broadband in their dens - the same folk who own a cell phone and a Tivo or two. They are the new ‘stringers’ - a citizenry bristling with newsgathering tools, a global populace smitten with those blinking gadgets on their hips. As these incredible tools (the machines, not the people) shrink and extrapolate, expect more of the same. Whenever a plane plummets, a governor gropes or a dictator swings - increasingly clear phone-footage will emerge, long before the talking heads finish putting on the pancake. Where that leaves an over-seasoned cameraman is still out of frame, but I can‘t help but feel like the photog’s role is diminished a bit. After all, what good is a fancy-cam and a sense of entitlement when Joe Dirt’s packin’ a tricorder? I should’ve gone into waterbed sales. Those guys still got a corner on their market...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Wes Goes to Washington

We don't have alot of photog turn-over in our shop. That's why it's a big deal when a long-timer leaves, which is the case with one Wesley Barrett. Seems the Roanoke Rapids native slash diehard State fan has tired of chasing clamor in the Piedmont and is blowing off our fair series of 'burgs for Capitol City. There he'll shoot his share of monuments, nutjobs and politicians in a bustling D.C. bureau. No doubt Wesley will excel, as he has the chops to thrive in any venue - even among the many windbags he will encounter inside the beltway. Speaking of windbags, it was during Hurricane Ophelia that Wes made his most memorable appearance here on Viewfinder BLUES.

7.1 009In this shot - one of my favorites - Wes can be seen executing an early morning satellite shot from the comfort of his hotel room. Having spent my own dawn outside shooting video and dodging flying trashcan lids, I was grateful for the temporary shelter and the granola bars! Not that the fellas noticed. Chad Tucker - the lucky reporter we'd lashed to the balcony, was filing his umpteenth live report of the morning, his image popping up on every other channel of the hotel's cheap TV. Fishing out my digital, I fired off a shot and inadvertently immortalized Wes in ... less than formal attire. It's no biggie in my book, but to a guy normally so nattily dressed, it's immediate webification couldn't have been with out a cringe or two.

Thanks, Wes. Knock 'em dead in D.C. Wait! Let me rephrase that!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Access to a Master

In Presence of a MasterDue to the limitations of my digital camera, this picture just doesn't do justice to today's encounter with Matthew Lewis. But how could a hastily-taken shot compare with the work of this revered Lensmaster? It can't. In the quarter century he wielded a 35 millimeter for the Washington Post, Lewis captured shot after staggering shot of century-shaping events. JFK's funeral, Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, the launch of Apollo IX, Vince Lombardi at his zenith: this third-generation photographer was there - and the images he walked away with usually became icons.

Today he enjoys semi-retirement here in the Piedmont, but he's still willing to walk virtual strangers through his jaw-dropping portfolio. Reporter Caron Myers and I dropped by to take a peek at his old White House shots of former President Ford. Mr. Lewis obliged and even threw in a rambling tour of his incredible career. Leafing through his tattered masterpieces, I shook my head in in awe at the pony-tailed old man beside me. Though he claims to have wandered through history quite by accident, his indelible images are the hard-won trophies of a fierce competitor. It was then I realized I had a new hero.

And that was before I noticed the dusty bronze medal hanging off a downstairs doorknob was in fact a 1975 Pulitzer Prize.

Stick Figure Theater

Stick Figure Cinema
The new dry-erase board at work is proving itself a frightening portal to the darkest reaches of the photog psyche. In the above recently discovered hieroglyphic, a lone shooter wields his lens from the edge of a great precipice, while his co-horts zoom in from below and an angry mob chants enthusiastically for his death. Jeez - maybe we should get the fellas a cheese-log or somethin'...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Get the Widow on the Set

While I was stewing on how to add to the Gerald Ford death smotherage, the great beFrank delivers this press-orgy postcard from lovely Palm Springs. The L.A. photog was but one of many West Coast news operatives bivouacing overnight outside the Ford Estate - all so the morning hairspray brigade would have a suitable perch from which to furrow their brow. In our media-saturated 24/7 world, the late night passing of an ex-President is highly-crafted commodity before the sun ever breaks over the Executive Deathbed. From sleek obituaries already 'in the can' to the instant phalanx of Presidential news experts, we of the chattering classes have electronic retrospect down to a fine art. I'm not complaining, mind you - just noting what an ever-ratcheted Information Rennaisance we currently find ourselves in. Just ask beFrank, whose recent jones for decent spot news is probably diminishing with every hour of lost sleep.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Interviewing Wilson

Interviewing Wilson
I've interviewed folks through prison glass, from hot air balloons and via dual interpreters...but I don't think I've ever collected soundbites from someone across a fence - until today. You see, 'Wilson' here didn't see the flames, didn't hear the fire trucks and didn't even know his most unlucky neighbor. None of which discouraged him from telling Chad Tucker and a region full of viewers all about it today, of course - as long as he didn't have to leave his yard.

Sometimes, this job is too easy.

Stuck Behind the Lens

Proving that parallel universes do exist, yet another news photog has taken up the blog. Meet Aaron K - a Salt Lake City shooter who's hit the scene with tales of school lockdowns, camera orgies and house fires. Man, what a kick-ass job that must be! Seriously, young Aaron seems to have everything he needs to sustain an insightful site: unfettered access to the Daily Goop, a shiny new digital camera and the undying urge to over-communicate. I like him already...

(SLC, huh? Wonder if he knows Fields Moseley?)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Soul Brother Gone

As A white guy from the sticks, it took me years to fully appreciate the Godfather of Soul. In fact, I never gave him much thought at all until the movie Purple Rain hit theaters while I was still in high school. Suddenly on a quest to become a Prince completist, I collected the Purple One's earlier work, unknowingly nodding at the inevitable James Brown comparisons. Still, I'd never spent much time with Mr. Dynamite's body of work until years later, while apprenticing as a commercial cameraman. Saddled with producing an upscale ladies dress shop spot, I set up my lights at the local country club one night and ushered giddy golf wives past my lens.

The very next day I locked myself in an edit bay, where I sliced the resulting footage to the requested sounds of "I Feel Good". Only problem was, the song is well over thirty seconds, - the alloted runtime of my theater of cheese. Unwilling to lay down the first or last half-minute of said tune, I whittled away all day at the staccato horns and bawdy howl of the Brown's trademark tune. When I finished , the re-mix featured a beginning, a middle and the familiar crescendo end. But as any editor will tell you, you cannot replay a trillion times without the ditty seeping into your DNA. Thus, to this day, whenever I hear "I Feel Good", I think of that marathon edit-sesh, the truncated results and the slow-motion frolic of well-heeled housewives spinning in sequined glory.

I just hope the ghost of James Brown will see fit to forgive me.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It occurs to me I haven't been sharing my toy. Actually it hadn't dawned on me until I received a couple of rabid e-mails accusing me of holding out. To that I say, 'Easy fellas! The only thing weirder than a grown man playing with dolls is a bunch of other guys wanting to watch'. But hey, I'm game - so here's a shot of the little dude doing something I've done precious little of in the past couple of of days: writing. Instead, I've been chauffering the kids, catching up on my reading and standing constant guard over a pile of pristinely wrapped presents. Tomorrow I make a mad dash Downeast for a Pittman Family Christmas before returning to the Piedmont for a blessed day of rest and gluttony. But fear not, crazed e-mailers - I'll be back on the beat before you can return that singing catfish Aunt Marge re-gifted you with. Until then, dig on the above doppelganger and know that I have big plans for this humble site in the coming year. Now if you'll excuse me I have to grab that bottle of Maker's Mark in the background and check its fluid levels. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pop Quiz at Center Court

Center Court TreeSomehow I made it to my Christmas vacation without once dragging a camera to the killing floor - er, shopping mall. Well, there was that one time in late November - when I previewed the fact that the local retail superdome would fling open their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving. But since then I haven't zeroed in on a solitary Goth zombie, interviewed the first PR vixen or suffered the slings of a single swaggering food court cop. That's a first! Usually I'm on first name basis with the some of the regulars by now. Last year I remember holding a three week sporadic conversation with a nice Greek couple who ran a calendar kiosk at center court. I suspect they only wanted coverage, but I was always happy to chat - and duck behind the daybooks to lose any stalker-tweens from outside the arcade. By the way, someone should tell that 12 year old that throwing gang signs is no way to get on 'tee-vee'.

But it's that very kook factor that makes shopping malls such a target rich environment. Whether you're perched high up on a walkway scanning the Santa Claus line for yummy-mummys, or trawling for soundbites down by the escalator landing, there is no more fertile ground than the highly-buffed corridor by The Gap. In fact, I think I'll make the holiday shopping mall an annual field test for all those photogs studying at the Lenslinger Institute. I'd start 'em off in the parking lot, where they'd have to sweet-talk a security goon or two before squeezing through a reapidly spinning set of revolving doors. Once inside, they'd have 30 minutes to shoot a b-block package due to air in three hours. And they couldn't get away with one tripod position and a couple of God shots. No Sir, I want characters, soundbites, color. I wanna hear from a frazzled Soccer Mom on an Elmo-quest, I wanna drop in on a couple of drooling Dads cast-off at Radio Shack, I even wanna see a clip featuring a middle-age merchant whose very gender is a source of open and heated debate...

They're out there, in every shopping mall tattooed upon this tortured orb. If you as a solo shooter can't strike gold in under a half hour - well, you're not worth your weight in dead camera batteries. Now ge back in there! Meanwhile I'll be out in the live truck, sleeping off those three Cinnabons and dreaming of greatness...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Keep Hope Alive

A New Hope
It's a very Caddyshack Christmas as Don Shea and the gang interview dead celebrities in this week's episode of 'Me and My Boat Anchor'. All's going swimmingly until moisture from a nearby water trap seeps into the recording deck and plays havoc with their deadline. Will they make it to the Winnebago-sized live truck in time? Or will they get busted sneaking into Tony Orlando's dressing room trailer to score a badly needed hair dryer and perhaps a crack at Dawn's digits? Tune in to find out...

(Me and My Boat Anchor, Episode 42. Starring Don Shea as Guffawing Sports Guy, John Cline as Swaggering Lens-Stud and his state-of-the-fart TK-76 as its bicentennial bad-ass self. Special Cameo by the cryogenically preserved Bob Hope.)

Spontaneous Compunction

As a lifelong lover of language, I’m quite used to strange words popping in my head. In fact, I thrive on it. It’s why I fill out crosswords, scribble song lyrics and read non-stop. (That, and all three of those activities involve sitting - something I’m really good at.) Thing is, all that consumption is gonna cause some back-up; I’ll be off somewhere chasing soundbites and some jumbled phraseology will pass through my lips. It happened again the other day in traffic. I was at a stoplight, staring holes through Unit 4’s windshield when I heard someone repeating the same six twisty syllables. It took a second before I realized the voice was mine. I brushed it off, as it happens a lot. (If you find that strange, you’re obviously not a word nerd - but while you’re up and being so smart, explain something I can’t grasp: Fantasy Football - what is that? And how about America’s Top Model? Can you provide an affidavit for that little Eureka moment?) I got more important things to do, like figure out just what the two words I keep pronouncing actually mean. Are you ready? Huh? Here we go…

Cognitive Dissonance

Yeah, I know - not exactly musketeer dialogue, but what are you gonna do? Maybe next week I’ll be speaking in thee’s and thou’s - this week it’s Cognitive Dissonance, which - I believe, is Hospital Talk for feelin’ shitty. But you ain’t here for guesswork, so I’ll try and stick to the facts. Roll that beautiful bean footage...
Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The theory states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.
If you say so…but I gotta tell ya, for a guy who spent most of high school blowing smoke rings, it’s a bit high-falutin’. Let’s break it down to street level, where a schlub like me can understand it. Let’s see, ‘uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time’…Hmmm. You mean the way you feel when you’re covering a tense police stand-off and you hope that whether he gives up or gets gunned down, the guy in the crosshairs has the courtesy to do it before your favorite Chinese lunch buffet closes? Or maybe it’s the emotion that accompanies you up the widow’s porch, where you beg pardon for intruding before asking permission to stick a camera in the homemaker’s soul. Perhaps it’s the conflicting twinge you experience as you gun the engines and giggle at that smoke plume on the horizon.

I don’t know how cognitive all that is, but it’s damn sure dissonant. And that line about tension ‘compelling the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs’... That’s a little thing we camera pointers call Life. At least those of us who stop the question the madness before the glass. Most of us settle for merely keeping it in focus. But not me. No, I’m cursed with thinking above my pay-grade - savoring the insinuations of all those facts and finks I funnel to the Great Unwashed. I’m no genius - just a guy whose learned most of what he knows by processing happenstance into bite-size nuggets for the nightly news. If you doesn’t drive you up an antenna tower, it’s one hell of an edumacation. I’m just dreading the test at the end...

Gordon Davis Killed

My sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends of Gordon Davis - a veteran television photojournalist killed overnight in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The fifty-one year old news veteran was fatally struck by a car as he was leaving the scene of a strip mall fire around 2:40 a.m. A longtime overnight photog, Davis was known by many and well-regarded by all who came to recognize him at late night emergency scenes in the Washington metro area. He leaves behind a wife and a 14 year old daughter. I didn't know Gordon Davis, but I've met my share of overnight news photogs. Few fostered the kind of reputation Davis apparently did. It is not an easy shift, filled with spot news, dark set-ups and plenty of early morning live shots. That Gordon Davis could perform this arduous task for so long with such obvious aplomb is a testament to his character, and one of the many, many reasons he'll be missed. Go in Peace.

ADDENDUM: From someone who did know Gordon, 'pre-set' from
He was the only true "overnight" shooter in the market, and he excelled at it. It was almost a relief to see him there.... You knew if Gordon was on it, you weren't missing something bigger. If you didn't see him, you always wondered why he wasn't there, and what else he was covering that you didn't know about....yet. I couldn't even count the times I've spent at some stupid police barricade or house fire or car wreck, standing next to Gordon, bullshitting with him, telling bad jokes (ussually the same ones over and over), complaining about the weather or gossiping about work, and just hanging out waiting on the PIO. He was the epitome of the quiet professional. Always where he needed to be - ussually before you got there, getting the video, and always happy to see a fellow shooter.

I'm gonna miss you, Gordo. But you'll still be with me out there... I promise.

Photog Feng Shui

Gear StashAsk any TV news reporter and they’ll tell you, we photogs are a picky breed. Sure, many of us dress like roadies on break from OzzFest, but even the sloppiest of our lot is still pretty stickling when it comes to the gizmos. You have to be, when your expected to upload continuous team smotherage at the drop of a wrecking ball, edge of a manhunt, or lobby of a proctologist’s office. Zeitgeist aside, Job One is to be there when the shit goes down, or at least in time to establish an electronic beachhead before all the casualties are carted off.

That kind of situational readiness requires forethought and constant vigilance - especially when it comes to ancillary gear. You know…dying batteries, fraying cable, torn softbox - all tools of the trade that need our attention, if not our love! Hmm-Mmm. Sorry - just trying to explain to any reporters out there why their partner for the day gets his britches in a twist every time you wrap the lavaliere cord too tight. See, that jumbled mass of broadcast implements jostling in the back is more than just high-dollar hardware. It is an craftsman’s palette, a sniper’s arsenal and a work of art in its very arrangement. Disrespect at your own peril. Just ask that shifty sports intern who used to lunch-line everyone’s rig on the weekend. The one they now call ‘Lefty‘.

But don’t let one case of inter-office vengeance scare you off. More times than not we’re happy to give you a guided tour of our toolkits, from the everyday utensils like spare light bulbs and duct tape - to the less obvious tchotchke: clothes pins, tinfoil, even a beat-up hairdryer from back in the day. Truth is, keeping up with all this crap is a full-time job. Schlepping it around the Greater Metro Tri-State and perching on the edge of politics and plunder is quite another. Is it any wonder you off-air partner is constantly glancing in the rearview mirror - moving his lips in silent inventory as he wonders if he’s got enough drop-cord on board. As long as he’s not separating his condiment packets by food group, he’s okay. (Unless he’s a she - then she’s really good at multi-tasking.) Either way, try to embrace your photog’s proclivity for anal-retentive hardware-care. How else can you expect the shooter in your life to be ready to roll when the Governor decides to break dance.

Miss that and you'll never hear the end of it...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cloak of Smoke

While I'm at home playing with dolls, the Australian cameraman known as WIDESCREEN is busy being an action figure. Last week he took daily chopper trips into Victoria's latest burn zone, where he donned protective gear before mining the blaze's edge for billowing imagery. Come late afternoon he's back in the bay, processing shots for an upcoming broadcast he might get around to watching. Not that he needs some talking hair-do to tell him where he's been...
"By night, I am heating up leftovers at home, watching some TV and as my eyes fade to black upon the pillow I can still taste smoke and smell it and if I close my eyes, I can almost be back there."
Dreams at 11...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Wish Fullfilled

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but the Mighty Weaver nearly accomplished that very feat a couple of days ago at work. Summoning me into the production studio, he presented me with an oversized Christmas present and wielded his nifty new stealth-cam as I hesitantly removed all that shiny paper. Imagine my delight when I uncovered a certain doppelganger, courtesy of a few on-line buddies. I'll let the above YouTube clip tell the rest, but first, let me extend a sincere Thank You to Kevin Johnson, Billy "The Blogging Poet" Jones, J.L. Watkins and Newshutr himself for their generosity. Of course a special thanks to Chris Weaver, who not only engineered this act of kindness, but also shot and edited a frighteningly thorough video of the whole gift-giving process. Thanks fellas, look for the little guy to pop up in his own series of blog-posts coming soon. For now, I have to rescue him from the grip of my youngest child, who's, as expected, enamored with 'Daddy's new Barbie'. Sheesh!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Book Review: Manhunt

Where IS John Wilkes Booth? That was the question gripping the nation seconds after the dastardly actor publicly executed Abraham Lincoln. In fact, the .44-caliber ball had barely scrambled the Great Emancipator's brain before Booth staged a hasty and, as always, theatric escape. Dropping from Lincoln's box to the stage, the famed tragedian wheeled on the ankle he'd just broken, declared 'death to all tyrants', and hobbled away to a waiting horse. In his wake, the stunned patrons of Ford's Theater could only reel at this unrehearsed climax - for no American audience had ever before witnessed a Presidential hit. This was more than the deranged act of a famous thespian turned slavery sympathizer, this was assassination as performance art.

Of course, the events of April 14th, 1865 are well known to anyone whose eyes have glazed over in history class. What James L. Swanson does in his book Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, is follow the erudite actor on his speedy journey South - an unplanned trek into the wilderness in which the crippled and cosmopolitan actor was horribly miscast. Swanson paints a vivid picture of Booth and his accomplice ensconsed in the Pine thickets of Maryland as Union Troops thunder past. Later, we watch as the vain dramatist reads pilfered newspapers and recoils at his disastrous reviews. Instead of propelling him to Secessionist superstardom, his murderous deed earns him the hatred of a nation and forever cements Lincoln's status as beloved martyr and liberator.

With 'Manhunt', Swanson provides illuminating details to a story many of us think we know well, probing not only Booth's distorted psyche but also the motivations of those Southerners who chose to help him elude authorities. In the end of course, the asssassin's fellow rebels turn on him, tiring of his pompous demands and promptly locking him in an old tobacco barn. When the cavalry arrives soon after, the results are a farcical back-and-forth round of 19th century negotiations, followed by an impromptu arson and a fatal shot to the head. Defiant, delusional and debonair to the end, John Wilkes booth died like common rabble nonetheless, a grisly fate far removed from the Southern glory he so envisioned for himself. Read 'Manhunt' for the thrill ride, but also for the hundred and forty year old reminder that truth has always been stranger than fiction.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Places I've Been

DSCF0063From cat-napping in a gold mine to stealing a ride on the Good Year blimp, the press pass around my neck has afforded me access to a life of stilted intrigue. But like the copier salesman who dreams of being a dashing day-trader, I have chased cadaver dogs in the rain while fantasizing about a nine to five desk job. The grass is always greener of course, but when a jostling Sony is riding shotgun on your shoulder and the deadlines are gaining ground, the opposing turf is downright iridescent. Luckily though, I usually find time to reflect before doing anything rash, lest I foolishly remove my self from the chase. True, my years of adrenaline abuse have crystallized into chronic detachment - but even I can get juiced about some of the places I’ve been…

Ever pulled up to a fresh plane crash in a dusty live truck, only to be yelled at by men in windbreakers for driving across the debris field? My Bad!

Ever started a near riot at a middle school pep rally, just by walking across the gymnasium floor? Personally, I’d have killed for that power back in the 7th grade.

Ever waded through an angry crowd outside a midnight murder scene and acted like you belonged there? It’s all in how you carry the tripod.

Ever tried to keep up with a screeching platoon of cleavage and baby strollers as they raced toward a shimmering mirage of desert camouflage? Don’t get caught in the middle...

Ever made elevator small talk with a handcuffed evangelist facing federal charges and widespread scorn? Try to avoid the touchier subjects - like God, politics and reasonable sideburn grooming..

Ever shadowed a prize patrol of corporate cheeseballs they bestowed trailer park residents with fabulous cash and prizes? Watch out for the crush of relatives pouring out of back rooms.

Ever tried like hell to avoid hitting the co-pilot controls with your big lens as the guy in the aviator glasses to your left looks for a place to ’set her down’? Man, I hate when that happens!

Ever jammed a finger in one ear and your cell phone in the other as the packed courtroom around you erupts in unexpected verdict fury? Trust me, spent vengeance has no volume control.

Ever hunkered over an upturned viewfinder as blue-haired college kids walked all around you, waving manifestos on homemade poles while they cursed the cabal behind your logo? Lousy punks.

Ever hid behind your camera as a couch-bound zombie described the loss of a recently-slain loved one? Do yourself a favor - skip that one...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Don't Make Angie Mad

Photog Law!
Back during Sweeps, Weaver thought a dry-erase board posted outside the edit bays would come in handy. It did, but now that the ratings period is over, our message center has devolved into the usual scribbled taunts and intra-office ridicule. Most recently, we've used the board to issue the kind of decrees normally found in corporate beer commercials. Personally, I love the idea of 'Photog Law' and plan to wrap my noodle around the concept as soon as I stop spending every evening at some holiday recital/program/concert. Until then, I leave you with Law #1, an important piece of legislation that anyone inside El Ocho would highly recommend. As I've explained before, the lady's a menace!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Stiff in the Wind

Hey, is that a stiff hanging from your tower or are you just glad to see me? Turns out, it was neither. Instead, some poor delusional mannequin climbed up this TV tower in Milwaukee and leapt to that great display window in the sky. That, or someone with w-a-y too little to do scaled the 1,200 foot antennae, affixed said dummy to broadcast noose and climbed down to enjoy all the lofty hijinks. That's alot of effort for a simple prank, but authorities are pursuing that lead and totally ignoring my theory of suicidal store dummies. Oh well, at least they'll have no problem spotting the culprit - as anyone who scales such a broadcast tower will suck up some seriously unhealthy radiation. With that in mind, Milwaukee police are scouring area frat houses for the Beavis or Butthead with the purplish complexion and nifty new forehead eyeball. Wouldn't it have been easier just to roll the station in toilet paper?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Delusions of Grandeur

It Could Happen....
Hey, anybody in the market for an overwrought memoir of a TV camera-toting nobody? A rollicking account of one lenslinger's journey from starry-eyed scanner hound to all-weather auteur? The tortured manifesto of a photog facing forty? A blithering collection of half-baked blog posts? A slim volume of scribbled song lyrics and Guatamalan coffee cup rings? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Okay, so it's still in the raw data/fantasy stage, but I'm pretty sure it'll hit bookstores by early 2017. (Look for it in your local discount bin shortly thereafter...)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Steve Albert Passes

I didn't know Steve Albert, but when the WPLG photographer died unexpectedly on Wednesday, those who did paid tribute to him on the station's website. The result is a touching portrait of a rare creature - a veteran photog who never let the absurdity of the chase skewer his positive outlook. Steve's co-workers speak of a guy who ate fruit for lunch every day, bragged on his kids to all who would listen and made a habit of never missing a deadline. Those are qualities to admire in any endeavour, but in a business where too many of us let a back-stage pass to life foster apathy and cynicism, it is an anomaly indeed. In my nearly 17 years in the business, I've met damn few veteran lensers who've retained such a radiant disposition (Woody Spencer and Timmy Hawks come to mind). Personally, I fall spectacularly short of that glory - which enables me to recognize a class act when I see it. Steve Albert was apparently just such a person - a trusted pro whose aptitude and attitude made him the very best of our breed. Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To Serve Man

Say what you will about The Seventies, but they had the threads, the cars, and from the looks of that guy on the right, some really kick-ass jetpacks! That, or the dude strapped a dormitory fridge to his back. Either way, I like his thinking - for what could two wild and crazy camera guys need more after panning some late model sedan than a couple of cold ones, right? I just worry how Mr. Moustache there is gonna hold up with the la-dees after hoisting that rig all day. I don't want to alarm anybody, but I'm pretty sure I just saw that same camera enslave the entire human race from the ramp of a Late Night Movie's rather chintzy flying saucer. I guess prop budgets were a little leaner back in the day...

Phonajournalism, 101?

So, Yahoo gets in bed with Reuters and pundits the globe over announce the death of photojournalism. Easy, fellas. I've been examining this ugly trend ever since a horde of housewives tried to block my shot of a local implosion a year and a half ago. Since then, a cell phone captured the first images of a crippled London subway, YouTube gave everyone their own TV station and that doofus from Seinfeld went absolutely batshit. On second thought, maybe there's good reason to panic. But then again, what good would it do? A planet full of cameraphone addicts ain't gonna re-think that Blackberry purchase just because we seasoned lensers prefer things in focus. Are they?

My guess is no. In fact, it's estimated that one billion cameraphones will be in circulation globally by 2008. That, my friends, is an awful lot of jittery pixels. And while today's cam-phone footage often makes 'The Blair Witch Project' look like 'Citizen Kane', it's becoming clear the folks we used to call our audience just don't care. Not when they can put Aunt Gertrude on hold and record their own footage of the fender-bender, the Bar Mitzvah, that angry giant lizard scaling City Hall. Of course breaking news has always temporarily suspended longheld production values. Unedited news footage aired unexamined, silver-templed anchors pausing mid-sentence to listen their earpiece, unscreened phone calls patched in live. Compared to today's technology, these improvised methods seem as quaint and antiquated as those hideous blazers with the oversized pocket logos management used to make the anchors wear. Yick!

But I didn't log in to issue fashion advice. One look inside my closet full of wrinkled cabanawear should disqualify me from that mission. But as someone who funnels images to the masses for a daily wage, I feel compelled to comment on the democratization, not death, of photojournalism. As I first wrote more than a year ago, 'the advent of digital camera phones will be viewed by historians as a touchstone event in the Information Age - a landmark development that first harnessed hi-fi imagery with wi-fi dissemination; sleek, marvelous machines that fit in your palm and plug into the world. These ever-evolving tools may well prove to be the great equalizer in the new media frontier; hand-held, high-tech devices capable of generating new streams of information where not so long ago there was noisy static, and once, only silence.'

Well, that silence is long gone. Much like Marconi's wrangling of wireless technology forever ended The Great Hush of pre-Edwardian times, so too has the lowly cell phone caused the era of limited image dispersal to come to an abrupt and often ugly halt. But then again, aesthetics don't seem to matter much to the millions of viewers watching their neighbors re-enact the forbidden dance on YouTube. Nor will proper camera management mean alot to the private citizens who will capture the next global calamity from every possible angle. Lastly, proper cinematography won't be on the minds of news executives who will, if they're smart, be way too busy shoving these myriad of images on-line, on-air and in your face.

No, the only ones who will balk at the new 'phonajournalism' will be self-important schlubs like me, who've spent the last fifteen years perfecting their grasp of the heavy lens, only to have their once captive audience discover the freedom of phoning it in themselves. I'll be in back, replaying a bunch of stilted news stories from my past if anyone needs me. Until then, hold all my calls...

The Legend of Kev

In this, the latest in a coincidental series of pictures of men with their arms raised, we check in with founder Kevin Johnson, seen here downing a brewski at last year's Las Vegas Beer Bash. But the long-limbed photog isn't always this undignified. Usually you'll find him soberly plying his trade in the nation's capitol, when he's not tinkering with his landmark website, that is. Recently he even added to that impressive cyber-domain by launching his own nifty Wordpress blog. So far it's mostly gadget blurbs, but I for one am hoping he'll soon favor us with a few sto-ries. I know he's got 'em. But for a guy who's encouraged this and many other photogs to take to the web with abandon, he sure doesn't let loose very often. Unless there's beer involved, of course. Then, he's a wild man.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Adventures in Radio

Shortly after I conned my way into my first TV job, I struck out to do the very same in the exciting world of radio. Hey, if I can push antique cameras around a warped studio floor, surely I could master the local FM airwaves! Or so I thought as I leafed through the yellow pages in search of a station to grace with my undeniable talent. Maybe I was feeling cocky, having just scored a minimum-wage gig at the CBS affiliate. Whatever the case, I set aside my lack of ambition just long enough to ring up a couple of program directors around town. Besides, I thought as the phone rang, once they heard my dulcet tones, I’d probably spark a bidding war. After all, I was Captain Nemo.

No bigger than a broom closet, the radio booth aboard the U.S. S. Mount Whitney had been my island of solace in a sea of discontent. A shipmate first turned me on to the small compartment just down the passageway from the flag bridge, a dusty little booth with Vietnam War era turntables and boxes of LP’s from the Armed Forces Radio Network. The buddy who first let me in to that tiny space had no idea I‘d be back so soon. But once I got a look at the antiquated control board, with its oversized knobs and still shiny toggle switches, I was hooked. The fact that the noise produced within radiated all across the ship via close circuit radio was but a distant thought;. I was seeking refuge.

I found it - soon skipping precious sleep just so I could sit and spin the finest in late 80’s hair-metal. Though I’m still not sure any of my shipmates ever really listened, I quickly developed an evening radio show and a persona to go with it: ‘Captain Nemo’s Taps to Midnight - featuring an eclectic mix culled from the official onboard library and a dozen shipmates private CD stashes. I guess you could say I was playing radio, but it was one of the few things that kept me sane as my ship did lazy circles off the coast of Guantanamo Bay for weeks at a time. I’d pull the lights down low in my inner sanctum, crawl into a pair of government issue headphones and forget all about all the haze gray world on the other side of the hatch..

The Navy didn’t make me a radio star, but it left me convinced I was born to broadcast. That realization deepened when the second program director I got on the phone that day invited me to come in for an interview the very next day. Eighteen hours later, I steered my battered Toyota into the gravel lot of a rundown one-story building on the edge of town. After checking in with the world’s most disinterested receptionist, I sat and waited in the chintzy lobby - mostly sober, over-cologned and excited about my new career as a radio stud. Imagine my surprise when the Program director - a fellow in a wrinkled sweatshirt and sleepy eyes - poked his head through the door and motioned me back.

Though the guy looked like he slept in his clothes, he was all business. Tossing aside my copy of Captain Nemo’s Greatest Hits, he jammed a few sheets of paper at me without ever listening to the homemade cassette. I was halfway through filling out the forms when I realized I had the job. Beaming inside, I stole glances at the aging equipment around me. Only some of it looked familiar, but that didn’t matter; this guy obviously knew talent when he heard it. Half an hour later, the scruffy Program Director escorted me out, told me to report back the following Sunday night for my first on-air shift, and promptly dead-bolted the door behind me. I skipped all the way to the car, ecstatic at being discovered and in awe of the Program Director’s quick grasp of my immense talent. Little did I know, he’d just been happy that I had a pulse.


I listened to the station all the way in. Drumming the steering wheel to its cheesy top forty beat, I followed the strengthening signal to the edge of town. At the end of my journey I found the same gravel lot, anchored by a slab concrete building and a rusty transmitter tower. Parking beside the only other car there, I strutted to the front entrance, tapping the faded station logo on the door with newfound affection. As the last minutes of sunlight left that summer evening, I pressed the buzzer underneath a pockmarked loudspeaker. Nothing happened. Shifting from foot to foot I bobbed and nodded as the door continued to ignore me. Suddenly the half-gallon of sweet tea I’d downed the hour before roiled to the surface, making the barely reformed country boy inside me eye the woods behind the transmitter. Just as I turned to dash off to the shadows, a heavy metal click sounded from behind me and the door clicked open.

Inside, I found the lobby darker than before. It was a small room with a desk, chair, sofa and coffee table that looked like it was picked up at a trailer park fire sale. On the wall, scratched plaques from the local free weeklies competed for space with black and white framed photographs of the radio station’s on-air talent. Amid the white man afros and gold chains, I recognized the familiar face one of the disc jockey’s - a grinning jackal of a man I’d one day build a series of used car commercials around. But that particular travesty was a good nine months off. For now all I knew was that radio superstardom was a mere thirty-five minutes away. I was literally about to piss my pants with excitement when I grabbed hold of the interior door‘s latch - only to find it disturbingly dead-bolted.

With my face jammed against the door’s heavy-wired glass I could see the on-air booth at the end of the hall. Inside, a dumpy silhouette hunched over the control board, perfectly still. This lasted through the better half of the Milli Vanilli song echoing in the distance one beefy wrist hove into view and twisted some unseen knob. Just then Rob and Fab faded and the slightly less gayer sounds of Hall and Oates filled the deserted halls of the South’s dumpiest radio station. Rapping my knuckles on the door, I tried in vain to get the deejay’s attention. But no matter how I motioned and waved, no matter how I pee-pee danced around the lobby’s dated furnishings I could not tear the disc jockey’s stare away from the board. In fact, he barely moved at all, appearing as if a surgeon would while immersed in his lifesaving work, instead of some broadcast drop-out spreadingthe last of his curly fries over a Mr. Mister CD.

My bladder quivering to a breech and my inaugural radio shift just minutes away, I grew increasingly spastic there in my shag-carpeted hell. Despite my convulsive display, the deejay never seemed to notice. So I forgot about him, training my direction instead on the gaudy vase dominating the scuffed glass coffee table. Normally not one to vandalize, I seriously considered filling it to the rim with recycled tea, lest I soil the pants I’d so deliberately picked out earlier in in my slummy duplex. I was about to desecrate the discount ceramic when the silhouetted deejay finally unlocked the door, and a pasty Dungeon-Master with skin issues stuck his head out.

“You the new guy?” he asked in a booming voice normally heard only at tractor pulls and beach music parties.


In my own feeble tone, I asked him where a fellow could take a piss and he pointed a beefy forearm down the hall. I stiff-kneed it in that direction and found a Mens Room with a tinny speaker blaring out the station’s on-air signal. Though I tried to drown it out with the thundering cascade of a spent bladder, I could clearly hear a familiar British metal track winding to a bombastic yet girlie finish.

“That’s the latest from Def Leppard on Hits-96! I’m Your Man Stan and I am Outta Here! Up next, The New Guy with all the music you need to rock the night away! But first here’s Peter Gabriel!”

With that, the ex-lead singer of Genesis launched into a syncopated dirge about sledgehammers. As he did I burst out of the restroom, anxious to pick the Dungeon Master’s brain about the control board before I had to fly solo. But he wasn’t in the booth at the end of the hall. Nor was he in any of the offices I passed along the way. “Stan” I called out, not feeling so much like a hero of the airwaves anymore. Overhead, Peter Gabriel asked the sledgehammer to call his name as well. Neither answered and it dawned on me to check the booth for nay of Stan the Dungeon Man’s belongings. I found none, and with a trace of panic bolted for the lobby door. Pressed against the glass, I saw the car I’d parked beside earlier leaving the lot, gravel and dust kicking up in its wake.

About that time the slow-motion kicked in and I found myself running back to the booth as if underwater. Peter was still screeching his love for certain implements but experience and the CD player’s red countdown clock in the middle of the board told me that would soon end. Lunging forward, I grabbed a stack of 45’s and began flipping the few switches I recognized. As I did the speakers fell silent, but a row of herky-jerky needles told me the board was still transmitting sound. Next I fumbled through a stack of liner carts, befor finally giving up when the countdown timer marched backwards to zero. A half second before the goose egg popped up, I dropped the needle and podded up the source. I Still couldn’t hear anything, but the audio meter needles began dancing to a new beat. With relief not felt since just emptying my bladder, I fell into the rolling leather chair and caught my breath. This control board had a lot more buttons and dials than I was used to, but it also held a lot more possibilities. Wiping my brow, I looked the antiquated board up and down, a sly grin overtaking my expression of doubt. Abandoned or not, I could figure this out, I thought, because I, I possessed genuine broadcasting talent. Trying not to gloat, I looked down and saw all a telephone flashing six different lights. Eager to chat with any new fans, I picked up the receiver and in my most booming carefree tone, bellowed “Rock 96! Captain Nemo speaking!”

The voice was that of an adolescent; its crackling pitch deflating my newly swollen radio ego with its simple message..

"I think you’re playing this song at the wrong speed."

Needless to say, I had a very short career in radio. I was much more adept at escorting antiquated studio cameras through their daily news moves, than forging new paths in FM territory. I’m hoping eventually all this television will pay off. I'll let you know.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Year End Liquidation

Sat Dish SkyIn the grand tradition of TV in December, I'm breaking out the retrospectives. While I have to save the smarmy wrap-ups and obituary montages until after Christmas, I can share with you the very finest in residual imagery. That's right, reheated leftovers from my Flickr account...

Kitty TripHey, ever tranquilized a lion and stuffed him in a minivan, all in a hundred percent humidity? I haven't either - but I did hover over a sweaty group of good hearted souls who enacted that very slow-motion mission one sweltering July day. Some scenarios cannot be rushed and man-hauling a catatonic apex predator is one of them. By the time the big cat was was stuffed and cuffed in a jumpy vet's backroom, I wasn't sure what was worse - enduring the ungodly heat or smelling what Mufasa had for breakfast. Warthog and Meerkat, I think.

Gear StashAs much as I like to feign existentialism, I'm really just a guy who drives around with tools in his truck. With that in mind, you'll understand how nothing is more sacred (or guarded) than a shooter's arsenal, pictured here in all its new/antique, dead battery, color-coded glory

The KingHalloween was the farthest thing from my mind when I blew into Madison, North Carolina on Ocotober 31st. So you can imagine when my surprise when seemingly every citizen of the tiny Rockingham County town turned out to meet me - in disguise, no less. Sure the DA candidate I'd come to interview said something about an annual trick or treat event downtown, but I knew the pimps, vampires and zombies were there just to screw with my head. On the way out of town, I couldn't help but grab a snapshot of this Elvis worshiper - in hopes he'd stop following me. When I got back and really looked at the shot, I realized the dude really wasn't in costume. To him, it was just Tuesday.

Rig and RideSpeaking of days of the week, all mine kind of blur together. But that's bound to happen when you spend all your time racing from unplanned calamity to scheduled event. After a while all those tireless stops seem the same, whether they center around chalk body outlines or golden shovels.

Idol CrewLadies and Gentlemen, I give you Lenny and Squiggy. Okay that's probably not their names, but in my mind they will always share the monikers of Laverne and Shirley's skeevy neighbors. This particular shot comes from outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, hours before Taylor Hicks reached full American Idol ascension. Tall and Skinny I don't know so well, but Short and Swarthy I recognized from all those Idol audition shoots. Dude's probably shot more delusional humans than Bob Barker's floor crew. Think of him the next time some hysterical pair of glitter twins is bouncing off Ryan Seachrest and your TV screen. Hope he gets combat pay...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Roadside Snowgasm

No, snow didn't blanket the Tarheel State, but it did pummel the Midwest, where photog-blogger CJ broke out her new camera and captured her toothy co-workers in action. The result is a delightful series of images in which her fellow broadcast-nauts frolic, hurl snowballs and file breathless live reports from beneath their logo'd parkas. Here in the Piedmont of course, we'd also advise viewers to construct temporary shelter, stock-pile weapons and scavenge every bread aisle within ten square miles of their homes.Call us alarmists if you will, but zoom in on a few southern fried soccer moms as they gun their SUV's over icy overpasses - and you'd spread a little panic too.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Attack of the Show Stacker

Dork at Large
Longtime readers of this blog (shouldn't there be a support group for you people?) may recall my lamenting the loss of one Mark Grzybowski, the veteran show producer who left the biz back in 2005 to pursue his dream of slum lordship. Well, he's back and I for one couldn't be giddier. Why? He cracks me up - be it his patent sarcasm or his inexplicable contention that Tears for Fears is the greatest band ever. Most of all, I dig his mojo. He almost never loses his cool (and let me tell you, the guy radiates cool), always tucks in his shirttail and steadily deflects the poisonous barbs of your somewhat surly lenslinger. For that alone, he ranks at the top of my list of Favorite Producers Ever (which in all fairness, is a v-e-r-y short list). So join me in welcoming this lifer-in-disguise back to The Suck. Just cut him some slack, wouldya? Dude has to put up with me everyday. If you think I can bellyache on-line, you oughta catch me at the water cooler sometime...It ain't pretty.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fish Wrap Video

As a TV news photographer who fancies himself something of a writer, I’m naturally infatuated with the newspaper industry. Too bad the feeling isn’t returned. Ever since the first local broadcaster rose up from the primordial ooze, newspaper folk have heaped endless derision on what they clearly view as a lesser journalistic species. ‘Shallow‘, ‘superficial’ and a few other ’S’ words are the usual slurs. Many times of course, we’ve more than earned those taunts. What with our penchant for hyperbole, our infatuation with talking hair-do‘s and our garish, swooping graphics - it’s no mystery why those in the print realm consider us so inferior. Of course, we in TV have our own opinions of our cross-town rivals, but I can honestly report the distaste isn’t nearly as fervid. Still, we rarely mix. Instead we resign ourselves to long-held prejudices and segregate ourselves into vastly different disciplines. Until now.

You see, newspapers are dying. With readership diminishing and new consumers flocking to on-line information sources, many in print are having to reconsider age old tactics. (To be fair, we TV geeks are also embroiled in upheaval. Participatory media and the twin tubes of the internets are rewriting the rules for everyone in the game - not just those goobs at the local paper.) At the recent ConvergeSouth conference, I sat in on a gathering of very educated print folk as they almost gnashed each other to pieces over the dire state of their medium. It was like watching a flock of piranha turn on each other for lack of suitable prey. At least that’s how it appeared to this TV simpleton and being such, I kept my own mouth shut. When I was called on, I suggested the crowd forgo the infighting and embrace - gasp! - video. Cue the crickets.

Of course, many newspaper websites have done just that, long before I feebly suggested my own brand of heresy. These days, a simple Google search will uncover countless newspaper sites doing new and exciting things with the moving image. But what exactly this new version of video news will look like is a subject of great debate. Long form analysis, hometown quirk, nat sound operas - you can do as many different things with a video camera as you can a ball point pen. Wisely, many in print are urging their fellow scribes to forge a new medium onto itself: a brand of video storytelling vastly different from the shrill thundering of the nightly newscast. But in rallying their masses, some newspaper people prove once and for all that we in TV hold no patent on myopic arrogance:
"It’s my personal bias of course, but I think newspaper journalists naturally produce better video stories than TV. Newspaper reporters begin with two advantages — no preconceived notions about time limits, and no preconceived notions about hyping up the story — they are more likely to let the story tell itself and edit it for interest, not time."
Bold words from an industry hemorrhaging market share. Honestly, I wish them all the luck in the world, for the amalgamation of our two mediums would greatly improve the information stream - and where better to showcase it than on-line? Trouble is, too many in the print realm dismiss local TV efforts as entirely without merit. They gleefully point to the lowest common denominators, the “Killer Dust-Bunnies Hiding Under Your Child’s Bed” series-piece syndrome. Granted, the worst of my lot is guilty of such tripe, but I for one don’t deal in this bottom-feeding and neither do those who share my logo. Print folk would do themselves a huge favor by putting aside their contempt and taking a long hard look at the very best of broadcast news, starting with the NPPA reels readily available on-line. Perhaps TV news isn’t the pristine verbiage currently rotting in my driveway, but neither is it graffiti. Come to grips with that and you just may have a future in moving pictures. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the revolution.

I’ll be the one eating your lunch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Book Review: Thunderstruck

Ocean travel, emerging media and a salacious murder - three favored themes that have kept me hooked on Thunderstruck since I first laid down cabbage for the hardback. 392 pages later, I'm still glad I did. Why? Because Erik Larson has a knack for exposing the underbelly of history's most seminal moments. He first nailed the formula with Isaac's Storm, then nearly did it again in The Devil in the White City (which I always contended needed a little more Devil and a little less White City). Apparently Larson got my memo, because Thunderstruck is a leaner, meaner weave of global achievement and gutter subterfuge.

The year is 1910 and Guglielmo Marconi's burgeoning wireless technology is anything but a bonafide success. Dogged by rivals, haunted by setbacks and mired in his own self-absorption, the Italian upstart seeks to rule the ether of the Edwardian Age. But despite possessing a technology that strikes many as nothing less than supernatural, Marconi just can't seem to wrangle the imagination of a most fickle public. Enter Dr. Hawley Crippen (and his cross-dressing lover), a most unlikely pair of fugitives whose encounter with a swaggering sea captain and a seemingly magic series of dials and antenna suddenly holds both sides of the Atlantic enthralled. In what could be described as a turn of the century slow speed pursuit, Crippen's capture crystallizes Marconi's strange new invention as a true tool of upheaval, one that could not only send dits and dots across the ocean, but could imprison a killer in thin air.

(3 of 4 Stars.)

Weatherman On the Lam!

Charles 'Elwood Blues' Ewing
If seventeen years in local television has taught me anything, it's Never Let a Weekend Weatherman Drive a Police Car. Those dudes may understand low pressure systems, but they don't know squat about your average PIT maneuver. You're w-a-y better off with the Sports Guys: they'll barrell through a roadblock for a few locker room soundbites and a press pass. Throw in a souvenir lanyard or a free buffet and they'll damn near take a hostage...

Monday, November 27, 2006

All Scenes Considered

Broadcast News - it’s the ultimate team sport. Too bad only a few of the players are visible from the cheap seats. Still, you can spot the craftwork of countless others, if only you’ll remember...
For every perky young morning reporter leading a lens through a carnival funhouse, there is a cramping photog nearby who’s pretty sure his kneecaps will explode before the anchors in his earpiece ever stop chortling over his shot.

For every man on the street interview seen pouring into your living room, a half dozen other citizens were queried, many of whom declined the on camera portion of the interview but insisted on sharing their extended views on the matter anyway.

For every series piece that opens with a flashy montage, there is a red-eyed editor who still wonders if he should have shaved off a few frames in the middle, reworked the beginning or just ended the damn thing on a cross-fade dissolve.

For every quick encapsulation of an overnight crime, there is a smug desk jockey nearby, who uncovered the morsel during her frenzied ritual of morning ‘beat checks’ - otherwise known as the Dewey Decimal System of newsrooms everywhere.

For every sudden loss of audio during a live shot, there is a control room full of irritated technicians, an engineer peering over his eyeglasses at a nearby screen and one photog who really wished he had replaced those cursed 9 volts back when he first thought about it.

For every shimmering backlight feathering the anchor team’s glossy silhouette, there at least a couple of pale studio goobs with shadowing acumeninfinite Hobbit knowledge who spent more time than you would tweaking squeaky barn-doors from atop a wobbly step-ladder.

For every effortless live remote involving multiple microphones, there is a harried audiophile on scene who, given enough time, thinks he could improve upon G-n-R’s Appetite for Destruction using only duct tape, clothes pins and the rattiest of Sure Mixers.

For every newscast that ends on time, there is a show producer somewhere, crumpling up script paper and pushing the last eight hours of detail-wrangling, hand-holding, and ego-stroking out of her mind, lest she refuse to come back tomorrow and do it all over again.
By the way, if you see said newscast-stacker carrying a box full of desktop possessions to her Camry - let us know, wouldya? The show must go on.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Amazing Pace

I’m crazy about The Amazing Race: the mad dash travel, the oddball obstacles, the way the editors make booking airline tickets feel like edge of your seat cliffhanger theater. I also dig the incredibly athletic camerawork on display, courtesy of one Bertam Van Munster, early architect of the COPS shooting style (or lack thereof) and a guy who knows written the book on following the action. Yes, The Amazing Race is by far my favorite reality show, a sped-up, real world version of Survivor in which absolutely no one lies on a tropical beach and flexes their triceps. In fact, I love this show - even if it does remind me of work.

You heard me: work. Take away the Kiwi host, the world travel, and any chance of a million dollar pay-off at the end and you got my job in a nutshell. Why every morning I receive an improbable task with intense time-restrictions, forcing me to race from place to place with a rotating cast of (not always) friendly competitors nipping at my heels. Like the show, road conditions vary wildly; from the steep gravel driveway of an accused murderer’s trailer park to the gilded elevator of some lofty corporate headquarters, my gig can take me anywhere - and almost always in a hurry.

Trouble is, I’ve become accustomed to the pace. So used to ringing people up and announcing my camera and I were on our way, I’m truly taken aback when someone won’t drop everything and entertain my lens. Of course nine times out of then they will, which only encourages me to scramble from one deadline to another with barely my manners in place. But who can take time to be all Southern and polite when flashes of sworn rivals are shimmering in the distance - well-equipped crews giddy with the very thought of your potential downfall. No, I’ve yet to race chariots on the outskirts of Morocco, but I’ve hung from salt trucks while the plowed frozen interstates, backpedaled down stair wells as flash-bangs exploded and faked out opponents in courtroom hallways. There may be no grinning host with a million dollar check waiting at the finish line, but hopefully I’ll look back one day and see more than thirty years of meaningless Lightning Round.

In the meantime, a consolation prize or two wouldn‘t hurt.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Float The Creek

Bocephus Me
This week on Deliverance Theater, it's a very special Thanksgiving when Elbert and Durwood hit the creek for a little pre-meal mischief. All is well until an encounter with a noxious woodchuck spooks the duo and sparks a watery inferno that leaves the cousins frigid, withered and grizzled. From long-lost contraband to a brief (but diarrhetic) Bigfoot scare, good ole boy voodoo ensues as they stumble their way back to the double-wide. But will they make it to the table in time? Or will Big Mama get pissed and finally impound the Rally Sport? Tune in to find out...

Brought to you by AmberVision!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Remembering Altman

Over at the Photog Nation's favorite watering hole, longtime contributor David R. Busse is sharing a treasure. Fourteen years ago, the Los Angeles news photographer went to a West Hollywood hotel for what he thought would be another soulless press junket. Instead, he was treated to a languid lunch with famed director Robert Altman. The legendary filmmaker instantly recognized the veteran photog as a kindred spirit of the lens. Over sandwiches, Altman spoke excitedly of his new film The Player and quizzed Busse on his own background...
We had an all-encompassing lunch conversation about the state of the entertainment industry, our favorite places in the Midwest (his was Michigan, for reasons I can’t recall), and the reasons I liked my job. Altman seemed to “get it” the minute I described a typical day. “No two days alike and you get to be producer, director and DP (Director of Photography) all in one, making little movies for the news...” he said.

Read the whole thing, then go rent Nashville.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Schmuck Alert: Kramer's Harangue

By now, m-u-c-h has been written of the Michael Richards meltdown. No surprise, there - after all it ain't everyday one of TV's wacky neighbors lets loose with a racial tirade that would've made Archie Bunker run for cover. Couple that with Richard's spacey explanation on Letterman last night and you have the professional suicide of everyone's favorite hipster doofus. Bummer, that - I always preferred my Seinfeld taint-free. Hopefully by the weekend, some soap star will plow his Beamer into a plam tree and we can all guffaw at an invective-free mug shot. For now, Kramer's arse is on the hot seat and the cable nets won't quit until they've dissected his on-stage flip-out like the Zapruder film. What must the aliens who monitor our deep space TV signals think?

Beats me - I can barely keep up with the terrestrial analysis. Amid all that clatter I've yet to see much on the gadget that captured his career-defining moment: the lowly camera-phone. That's right, Kramer went down in flames via the diminutive lens of some civilian's cellphone. Sure, that hardly lessens the blow of his hurtful words, but I can't help but wonder if the sight of a schlub like me behind a fancy-cam may have stopped Richards in his hysterical tracks? Would the sudden realization that his implosion was being recorded for posterity be enough to make him wise up and shut his pie-hole? We'll never know. One thing I am sure of however, is we'll see more of this in the future. Camera-phones, YouTube, a grillion snarky bloggers ... slow-motion scandals will be forever be just a click away.

Remember that the next time you're tempted to pick your nose at that stoplight.

Money Shot

Over at Under Exposed, Richard Adkins explains what an average Amber Alert can do to your day. It started with a carjacking in Rocky Mount. But this heisted whip had a baby on board, causing the mother to rightly lose her mind when she strolled outside to her a patch of gravel instead of her late model sedan. Who knows if the carjacker passed a TV station sat truck on his way out of town, but a battered fleet of the lumbering beasts did begin racing toward the City on the Rise. When the media arrived at the Police Department they found the story was almost over: A deputy found the car with the baby in it and was bringing the child safely back to Mom and Dad, who were huddled somewhere deep inside the PD. With the baby on the way and five different news crews laying in wait outside, the game was on. That's when Adkins' spidey sense started tingling and he followed a feeling around back. Moments later...

"I walked around the building and told the rest of the media pack they could relax, the little girl was inside. There was a lot of grumbling, a little disbelief and a few four-letter words."

Read the rest of Part of the Job.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Daughtry and the Weave

Weeks before my recent Nashville dash, Weaver jetted to L.A. to catch up with another local American Idol alumni: Chris Daughtry. When he and Shannon Smith caught up with the local vocalist, he was laying down last minute tracks at a legendary L.A. studio. Behind the dials, an all but finished album featuring his own soulful material, celebrity guests aplenty and of course, his chrome-plated pipes. Now that the CD's about to drop, he and his new band will go on a whirlwind press tour of national TV, radio and live appearances. Not bad for a guy that was writing up service orders at the nearby Honda dealership a scant twelve months ago or so. He sure gets my vote for Best Year Ever!

As for the Mighty Weave, he ain't exactly parkin' cars. In fact he was just nominated for a local Emmy (or two), a natural by-product of his infinite enthusiasm for the craft. He's the only shooter I know who can be heard regularly squealing out in joy from a distant edit bay. On his L.A. jaunt he pulled off the now standard trifecta: reams of well-lit footage, impromptu digital photospread, scriptable tidbits and of course a few promos - all of which is now available via cable, airwaves and website. These days, precious little gets left on the cutting room floor. Call it customer service, viewer enhancement, or just plain transparency. Up next, an exclusive look at all our rental car floormats and restaurant receipts. Wait - I can explain all those burritos!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back to the Future

In the little seen sequel Back to the Future 2.5, Marty McFly travels back to the Year of the Bicentennial for a sweltering summer of minimum-wage newsgathering. He's about to topple rival Biff for the coveted weekend anchor spot when Doc Brown shows up and transports everyone to the scene of the Rodney King police beatdown. Ironically, Marty has to ditch his TK-76 camera in Jacksonville after he can't fit the massive gear into the Delorean. As a result, he misses recording his own startling version of the infamous 1992 attack and L.A. burns right on time. Co-Starring Ben Vereen as Rodney King and Ernest Borgnine as Darryl Gates.

Straight to Betamax. 2 stars.

A Reporter's Retort

Varner hears voicesAs promised, Jeff Varner weighs in with one reporter's take on my most recent Top Ten list, Things I'd Teach Rookie Reporters. Please, no wagering...

1. Buy me lunch sometime. I don't make any money either.

2. If I buy you lunch, two words I expect your selfish ass to say -- THANK YOU!

2.5 I'll carry your sticks, if every now and then you leave them in the truck.

3. Speaking of sticks, if a great moment is breaking and I miss it because you're setting up a friggin' tripod, it's Hammerin' Time!

4. If you're nice to me, I'll set up a story at a swimsuit competition and request you.

5. On-cam divas suck. Behind-the-cam divas suck more.

6. Talk to me like I'm two and I'll tell that reporter you hate to work with that you love it when they tell you what to shoot.

7. After two hours of Sports Talk Radio, I'm touching the radio.

8. If I'd rather not be working one day, your sour ass disposition ain't gonna make it any better. Quit Yer Whining!

9. That cellphone vibrating your crotch as the perfect soundbite is about to rollout of a mouth needs to keep buzzing. Whispering "hello" in the middle of a soundbite next to a boom mic is rude and screws up those valuable nats you love so much.

10. I'll write to the video if you'll shoot what I want?

Ode to the 10-Code

From what I’m reading in the newspaper, it looks like 10-Codes are going the way of the clattering Teletype. That’s probably wise in a post 9/11, super-smart cell phone world, but the loss of these police scanner hieroglyphics makes the newsgathering world just a bit more antiseptic, which I suppose is only inevitable. For the uninitiated, 10-Codes are of those abbreviated alpha-numerics favored by first responders the nation over. “10-4” is of course the most ubiquitous example - it can mean everything from “Yup” to “Hey - the hot donuts sign is flickering at Krispy Kreme!” But “10-4” is just the beginning. Stashed away somewhere in your favorite photog’s news unit is a crumpled call sheet filled to the margins with countless other 10-Codes. When I first started in this silly business, a crisp 10-Code translation sheet was issued with every antique tripod. After all, you can’t beat the first on scene if you can‘t understand the cryptic directions pouring from beneath your news unit’s dashboard. Is it any wonder so many young shooters committed countless codes to memory before ever twisting every button on their aging cameras? It sure explain all that footage of squad cars idling at the corner of Fuzzy and Blue, doesn’t it?

Trouble is, the 10 Code was always a frighteningly malleable shorthand. What one department used for ‘Suspected Jaywalker’ could mean ‘Escaped Ice-Pick Slayer’ one county over. That lack of universality can really raise a person’s pulse, whether they’re reaching for a loaded service pistol in a dark alley, or juggling a cheeseburger and a cheat sheet in a nearby drive-thru. On 9/11 this discrepancy became painfully amplified when neighboring police and fire agencies couldn’t understand each other’s codes, all that intentional obfuscation only adding to the tragedy. Couple that globe-changing day with the onslaught of quantum-leap communications technology and the 10-Codes do indeed seem as outdated as all those Adam-12 reruns.

Perhaps we should let the 10-Codes go. Hell, I never learned ‘em all anyway. Instead I've always used my amped-up auto-reflector as distant emotion detector. I still remember standing beside my tripod outside a freshly razed apartment complex a good ten years back, smoke and hoses everywhere . With my shots in the can I was debating whether to stick around for any sound, when I noticed a nearby fireman engaged in terse conversation with the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. Listening in, I kept hearing a single, repeated 10-code. I didn't know what it meant but could instantly tell from the way they grimly bandied it about that not everyone had made it out alive. 10-65, I think it was - or 10-42 maybe. Perhaps now I can stop pretending I know what a fellow photog is saying when he starts spitting out letter-number combos like a bingo-caller on Steroids. 10-4?

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Marines of Montford Point

Dustin MillerWhile I crank out a steady diet of disposable vignettes, a friend of mine focuses on far more resonant fare. You all remember Dustin Miller - my old cohort and collaborator from The Stupid Years. Back then, he was a snickering college kid with bangs in his face and a sputtering Volvo full of REM bootlegs. Upon entry of his first TV establishment, he fell under the sway of a strangely eloquent camera-dork and together we tore through the corridors of one badly aging CBS affiliate. These days Dustin’s all growed up and living in Wilmington, where he’s the director of UNCW’s Department of Media Production. Academia, however, hasn’t encumbered Dustin’s storytelling verve. He continues to produce potent documentaries - and his latest just may be his greatest.

The Marines of Montford Point weaves together archival photos and survivor interviews to chronicle the segregation of black Marines in World War II. Trained at Montford Point, North Carolina, many African-Americans Marines fought and died in the Pacific Theatre and elsewhere to precious little acclaim. It’s reported that even combat photogs of the day assiduously avoided recording any non-Caucasian valor. It’s the kind of deeply woven racism that turns battle footage into war propaganda, lessening the value of those captured images considerably. Now, Dustin and company seek to reconcile this particular sin of the moving image.

Written and directed by , UNCW Professor Emeritus Melton McLaurin, the hour long documentary is narrated by Lou Gossett Jr., who bagged an Oscar for detonating his role as the explosive drill instructor in An Officer and a Gentleman. More importantly, the Montford Marines themselves took part, sixty of them sitting down before Dustin's cameras to lead the way back through their painful, pioneering ordeal. Last week, about forty of those men attended a premiere screening, where they later commiserated with far-flung foxhole buddies as well as Gossett himself. My buddy was there too, giving soundbites to a curious press and explaining how the University is aiming for a national audience by pitching their film to PBS, BET and The History Channel. My only hope is that at some point during the gala evening, he realized just how far he'd come from roaming the halls of Channel Nine after midnight.