Saturday, January 21, 2006

Heroics at 11

If I really did have some Viewfinder BLUES virtual t-shirts, I'd send a whole box of them to fellow FOX affiliate photog Bobby Hughes for keeping his cool at a recent news scene. It happened in the wee hours of Friday when the Saint Louis news shooter happened upon a burning car, an unconscious driver and a few dazed onlookers. Not waiting for someone to call 'ACTION!',the veteran lensman bolted forth and helped drag driver Corey Abernathy 20 feet to safety. True to his DNA, Hughes rolled the whole time, proving you can shoulder a TV news camera and some responsibility at the same time. Check out the footage, currently bouncing around the internets. It speaks well of the KTVI shooter, who above all remained calm when the real-world calamity began spilling off-screen. Bravo!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Slicin' Time In Edit 4

Edit Bay HAze With my bum ankle still keeping me from full photog status, the chiselers here at El Ocho have insisted I pull a few edit shifts to better earn my keep. 'No sweat', I thought, I'll just crack open a breakroom soda, grab some stale cheesy poofs out of the machine and plant myself in front of a warm, dry keyboard. After all, what possible challenges could mere mortal editing present to a highly-seasoned photojournamalist like myself? Remind me to shut up the next time I spout off with those smug, rhetorical questions - would ya?

Feed Room First of all, we're not talking some sequestered closet where I'd leisurely tweak another boutique piece. No, the suits signed me up for a stint in Edit 4 - that bastion of broadcast anarchy some TV stations call 'The Feed Room'. It is a less than soothing place. With its racks of whirring tape decks, bleating playback stations and screeching phones, Edit 4 has the frenzied atmosphere of a front-lines triage unit and Air Traffic Control. All of which makes sense, as this is the nerve center of the newsroom. Every piece of tape, video snippet and digital timeline gathered by our staff passes through these four cluttered walls before spilling out into the region's living rooms. That's where your friendly gimped-up lenslinger comes in...

Run DownFor it's my duty to sort through the soundbites, map out the mug shots and spruce up the segues that go into your above average newcast. Along the way I have to take in feeds from grumbling field crews, slice out a half dozen teases and send out clips to disembodied voices from far off lands. That's a lot of organizational skills to ask of a guy who loses his car keys every sixteen hours. Nonetheless, I've stayed on-task for two solid nights, working the candy-colored keyboard of my humble workstation at maximum speed, knowing that a single case of photog fat-finger will bring a whole newscast down in flames and spark a post-show investigation that could very well end in me washing Neill McNeill's car.

Angie RileyLuckily though, I'm under the command of our Senior Editor, the all powerful Angie Riley. Chief Surgeon of Edit 4, she can revive a dying line-up with but a whiff of her perfume. Just don't let all that estrogen fool ya, fellas. The lady is a menace!. A proud graduate of HardAss U, she can rip the throat out of a cowering cameraman at a dozen paces. She's the Darth Vader of El Ocho. Ask any news shooter about the sound of her approach - a stirring in the Force followed by a curvaceous shadow and an ever so polite voice telling them they have twice as much work as they thought they did. As the walls of the small room shrink and the clockhands spin, Darth Angie is know to spin on her designer heels, scrape any unfortunate photog-plasm off her shoe and sashay back to Edit 4. And it's geting worse! Last night I watched her make a confused young shooter's eyeballs bleed simply because he didn't slow-mo his recuts! What's up with that? If she reads this, a sore ankle will be the least of my problems.

Help Me Obi-Wan!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fly On The Wall

You can do a lot of things with a TV news camera on your shoulder - chase cops and robbers up crack pipe stairwells, do the one-eyed backpedal as a Governor glad-hands his way through jam-packed ballrooms, grab for balance as your small boat scrapes the roof of a flooded school bus, we’ve ALL been there.. God knows when I started lenslinging, I wanted to do just that; strut up and down the crime tape with badly-scratched battle-axe atop my station freebie fleece. But the older I get, the more I find myself parking my one-eyed beast on a tall tripod and turn on its cloaking device. What? Never heard of the Invisible Switch? Oh yeah - we got one. It comes in damn handy at heated hostage situations, fallen hero funerals and those goofy outdoor dramas...

Of course, every shooter worth his or her sticks knows the worth of the proper perch. Be it small-plane crash or bigwig visit, TV lensers do their best work with all five feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s a hard concept for young shooters to accept, who doesn’t wanna shrug up and swashbuckle at age 23? You can slam-dance in the camera pit of life but for so long; eventually you’ll realize your three-legged friend in the back of the car can bag far better shots than you or your shoulder. County Fair midway, one-way glass stake-out, pissed off polar bar watch - it doesn’t matter where. Someday those with a zoom lens in their life will wrap their arms around their static rigs and embrace the power of the Still Side. Only then can they begin rendering themselves into the distance.

Crowds can help, as can loud noises and the deafening silence of recent grief. Mostly though, laying low behind the lens requires slow, deliberate motions. Act like you’re only babysitting the camera until the real guy gets there. Putter about like you’re supposed to be there and life forms from all walks of life will grant you unthinkable access to their inner selves. Both casual passers-by and shackled defendants assume that, like a still-camera, you have to look through the lens to capture an image, Untrue. Even before the advent of flip-out color screens, real photogs everywhere were fluent in low-key recording. How else you gonna get the good juice at the courthouse squabble?

Cop a squat, frame a shot, hit the record button and tie your shoe. While you’re lacing up the finest in photog footwear, you trusty weapon is committing all that passes through its tractor-beam into digitally pixilated full-motion memory. I cannot tell you how many times this simple technique has landed me the catch of the day, be it a handcuffed dentist mouthing curses at my camera, a construction worker falling off a three story scaffold or SWAT team members dropping a shotgun-wielding hillbilly on his front porch. So here’s my advice to all those shoulder-happy rookies with thoughts of COPS in their heads: Bring your three-legged friend, mark his territory and get to know the outer reaches of the zoom lens zone. A million vistas await the patient. Be persistent and you’ll learn to shoot whole epics from a lone camera-position. Unless, of course you’re following a troupe of break-dancing midgets through an old folks home. Last time that happened, even I had to ditch the sticks and live a little.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Introducing Chris Daughtry...

Chris and StewartI'd like you all to meet someone you're going to hear a lot more of in the coming months. Meet Chris Daughtry, a local vocalist who is about to go GLOBAL, thanks to his blistering pipes and a little juggernaut named American Idol. If you watch FOX at all, you've already seen him rendering the celebrity judges speechless with his soaring voice. Quite simply, this dude can wail.

I first met him on a September afternoon here in Greensboro, days before he flew to Denver for a chance to audition for Paula, Randy and Simon. Shannon Smith and I sat him down for a quick interview in downtown Greensboro before wandering over to a nearby parking lot where he could sing for my camera. When he opened up his throat, Shannon and I could hardly believe what came out. Chris' voice sounds like he just gargled broken glass and chased it with the finest of Kentucky bourbons. Hell, I still wanna buy him a drink, then make him sing my favorite Alice in Chains songs.

When we left Chris that day, Shannon and I agreed he had what it took to break through the din of American Idol wannabes. Whether he'll make it anywhere near the end of this schlocky yet oddly endearing talent contest depends on too many factors to list here. But one thing's for sure: Chris Daughtry's world is about to change. I sure hope he's ready.
Visit for more stories of clamoring on the edge of disaster and pageantry. For sixteen years I've covered everything from murders to hurricanes to more City Council meetings than I can remember. Check for daily dispatches from the ludicrous news front at C'mon, do a photog a favor...

UPDATE! To no one's surprise, Chris made the final 24. Check out our Hollywood chat with America's favorite bald rocker dude...

UPDATE!! Chris rocked the house last night with 'Wanted Dead or Alive', showing the rest of America just a little of what he's capable of. Look for more vocal virtuosity from him in the coming weeks. Until then, read how this silliest of talent shows is taking over my life! Or, check out my many sordid encounters with Idols past. Don't say I didn't warn ya...

DSCF0002UPDATE!!! Okay, so Chris just poured on the Fuel and even Simon liked it. After interviewing his old bandmates last night, I see why. Chris has been at this a long time, slogging through the nightclub circuit with potent, original material. The remaining three members of 'Absent Element' struck me as righteous dudes and they all wish him well. They probably also hope he'll drag them along for the ride, but that's not important right now. What IS important is how everyone I interview from Chris' past raves about what a inherently great guy he is. That makes cheering for him all the easier. Next week I'm jetting back to Hollywood for a red carpet event with the final 12 contestants and I'll be sure to tell him how many fans he has here at Viewfinder BLUES. Check back for continuous updates! Seachrest...OUT!

(Did I just say that?)


Shannon Smith & Chris DaughtryJust returned from a red event with the Final 12 Contestants of American Idol! Not only did I interview Chris at length, but I huddled with him for a few minutes at the after-party. He's doing well, checking out this site and appreciative of his on-line admirers.
"Everybody that’s doing that, writing about me, I’m reading it. Thank you so much and thank you for voting for me."
Chris was on cloud nine when we saw him the other night, as barely an hour had passed since he'd been named to the Final 12. He promises a blistering take on the upcoming Stevie Wonder theme night and confirms trhe rumors that Fuel offered him the lead singer gig after they heard him cover their song.
"They called me yesterday. It’s crazy when you got a band that you’ve been listening to ever since you were like 14 and you respect them as songwriters and they inspire you as a musician and they’re calling you offering you the job as their singer..."
Chris Daughtry  Answers UpIt's been a big week for our little bald rocker dude. Follow this link to read more, and check out the rest of my extensive American Idol Final 12 Red Carpet Coverage. Here's hoping Chris gets through any upcoming show-tunes...

UPDATE!!!!! What the hell just happened? Chris got booted. Read my thoughts on this most unexpected development...

Chris Daughtry, Soul Patrol!UPDATE!!!!!! Having just returned from the American Idol finale, I'm just now shaking the body glitter from my microphones. While I'm at it, I'm also doling out photos and details out on my blog. Check out my multi-part series on the last two 18 hour days of American Idol Season 5. Comprehensive web coverage of continuous team smotherage, TV style. Hoo Boy! Now let's talk about Chris. He seemed supremely stoked the night of Taylor Hick's final ascension to American Idol. "I love him like a brother." he said.

DSCF0105One gets the impression there is little if any ill will among the finalists (male, anyway). All the finalists raved about Hicks rightful place as Idol, in such a way that's rather convincing. As for Chris, he's excited about the future, as any new household name should be. I've gotta think the crowds at this summer's upcoming Idol tour will screech ther loudest when our favorite bald dude takes the stage. After that, the sky's the limit, with rock god status the most likely destination. Still, Chris was playing it fairly humble the night of American Idol's triumphant finale.

Chris Daughtry Up Close"I'm can only hope this isn't the end for me...", he said, gazing out at the rabid fans and adoring press. But we know better, and judging from the look on his face, so does he. At some point, Chris will return to central North Carolina, but globally known singers usually don't spend too much time kickin' it around the Piedmont. If I see him on any upcoming swing-throughs, I'll post something about it here. Until then, thanks for, reading, check out for other varied fare, and be sure to check out the incredible string of reader comments nestled below. Seeya!

LONG TIME, NO UPDATE!!!!!! But now there's a reason to. Chris just dropped by the studio, plowed through an acoustic version of "It's Not Over" and even did the weather. Check out my latest entry and follow the links. Also, check back soon, as fellow blogging photog Chris Weaver caught up with Daughtry as he recorded tracks in L.A. Weaver will soon post photos, details and video links and I'll update it at Viewfinder BLUES. Here's looking forward to the CD!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Reasons To Stay

I clicked on this thread hoping to find reasons to stay in TV, for it’s an issue I’ve been struggling with lately. First though, some background:

I never planned to work in TV news ... never studied, never interned, never petitioned my local anchor for a fifty cent tour. Instead, I wandered into a tiny CBS affiliate on a dare and quickly fell in love with the lights, the cameras and the kooky characters that roamed those rundown halls. Before anyone could stop me, I wormed my way behind an unmanned fancy-cam and proclaimed myself a certified pho-TOG. Suddenly I found myself ferrying reporters across town in my very own logo-mobile, pushing past mere mortals for an up-close look at the latest sensation, atrocity or fender-bender. A deep kick indeed! Unconcerned with the lowly pay and long hours, I became rapidly addicted to the access my oversized lens afforded me. By my late twenties, I rightfully considered myself the weathered veteran of a thousand-plus newscasts, one who was all too aware that most of what I knew about the world came from looking at it through a tube. Like most young men, I equated who I was with what I did. And what I knew myself to be was a lenslinger, though it would be a few more years before I started using that word in public.

But that was long ago. These days, everything that is wrong with local TV news (and there is a LOT wrong) has pretty much eclipsed the moon-faced joy I used to feel while assembling all those ninety second video vignettes. Justified or not - rookie reporters, endless live shots and the mindless repetition of a million newscasts have turned this once eager scanner-hound into a volatile burnout prone to cubicle outbursts and news unit swearing matches. An all too predictable transformation perhaps, but it ain’t the guy I’d hoped to become when I first took up the glass all those years ago. Whereas I was once the youngest guy in the newsroom, I am at 38, something of an old-timer, a grizzled used-to-be who can deconstruct a damaged industry but still can’t quite figure out his place in it. So, literary aspirations aside, I began to look around for other ways to spend my workdays.

Trouble is, few lines of work compare to chasing news. I don’t want to fix stereos, sell real estate, deliver packages or any other skull-numbing gig out there. Why should I - when I’ve spent the better part of the last sixteen years focusing on something different every shift? As much as I detest the window-dressing and hollow glitz of local TV news, there is absolutely no more satisfying feeling than rolling up on a breaking news and kicking glass, or silently stalking citizens as they allow me (and a million viewers) a peek into their lives, or turning a small, seemingly unimportant event into water-cooler chat for the region’s masses. Recently, I had an opportunity of the cyber-variety, a chance to put down the camera and pick up the pixel. At first the idea excited me, until an interior voice I’ve learned to listen to began asking questions I’d yet to answer. Did I really want to hand over my Sony, move out of my beloved my news unit and pass up the chance to clamor at turmoil’s edge - all so I could ride a desk, take longer lunches and baby-sit a website? Hell no. I may as well turn in the keys to my storyteller’s soul.

Thus, it is with an inward grin and a hint of resignation that I once again admit a long-known fact. I’m a hopeless news geek. I’ve done this so long it’s engraved in my DNA. As much as I may bash my broadcast habit, so many other endeavors strike me as equally insipid, profoundly pointless, inherently empty. If that sounds overly negative, well, you got a point. But for me, this ingenuous outlook fits far better than a feigned disposition of optimism and light. Besides, I don’t intend to wallow in obscurity forever; instead I plan to become the Poet Laureate of the Photog Nation. A strange goal for sure, but it’s the only destiny I feel equipped to fulfill. For now however, I got a book to write. Lock up on your way out, would ya?

Back From The Slopes

Slope Time No scathing diatribe here; just a quick note to explain why the blog has been so quiet as of late. Yes, I did indeed trek West for a brief but needed family ski trip. Though my still-twisted ankle prevented me from hitting the trails, I had a great time snapping photos of all the females in my life as they handily dominated the kiddie slopes. All in all, it was a great weekend of memory-making that had absolutely nothing to do with deadlines, laptops or super-times. Now that I'm back in Viewfinder BLUES Central, I hereby pledge to get back on the blog and crank out something of worth. I'll try to make it TV-related but allow me a book review or two, won't you? I've been tearing through other people's pages lately and, as always, I'd like to blather about it. Now if you'll excuse me there's a salt-encrusted station wagon to unpack and the wife and kids are looking at me like it's MY job. I'll be in the garage if you need me...