Thursday, March 23, 2006

So Nice, that Bo Bice

Stew and Bo Bice
Having not really watched American Idol last season, I held no opinion of runner-up and fan-favorite Bo Bice. But that changed two weeks ago in Hollywood, when the southern-fried hippie did me a solid. Shannon Smith and I were scrambling to find a guest for a last minute satellite shot when the affable performer wandered up and chatted at length without even a cue. Impressed by his on-camera etiquette, I popped off a great still-shot of the singer and made a mental note to pay him some respect on-line. But later that evening, while fumbling with my Fuji in the dark, I mistakenly deleted the picture. Honestly, I was just trying to flush a shot of that lecherous boob Constantine when I fat-fingered the wrong button. Oh well, chalk up that loss to jet-lag, jittery digits and Jim Beam.

So imagine the fun today when I tore my attention away from a scintillating report on lottery tickets to stalk the very vocalist as he dropped in on the noon news. Working the local press circuit in support of his new release, Bo ambled mannerly through yet another building filled with excited strangers. Before he and his buds boot-scooted out the door, the Birmingham rock singer turned American Idol poster boy yucked it up with the talking hair-do's, plugged his new CD and even did a little green-screen weather schtick. This, is one cool cat. Somewhat humbled by his near-coronation as last year's Idol, Bo Bice seems to aggressively appreciate his fans. Either that or someone taught him a long time ago how to work a room. During his brief stop at El Ocho, the pony-tailed vocalist smiled for a hundred photos, be it with hyped-up account executives, swooning interns or just a lowly lenslinger who knows good blog-fodder when he sees it.

G. Lee Goes to Court

“Please place all metal objects in the basket….”

Garrett winced at the implication, then started pulling gear off and placing it on the pudgy bailiff’s desk. Betacam, fanny-pack, cell phone, pager and a few spare nine volts. Fishing out a fistful of change, he tossed it into the basket and let the clatter of the coins convey his contempt. The bailiff didn’t notice, instead he just stared at the newsgathering equipment and blinked in slow-motion.

“What’s in the bag?”

Garrett leaned over and unzipped a pouch. “Tapes, batteries, a few Tic-Tacs.”

The bailiff, whose eyelids seemed too tight, leaned in to get a better look at the potentially lethal breath mints. As he did, Garrett looked at the pockmarked ceiling and exhaled slowly before glancing over at the strung-out looking woman standing behind him. With great effort she looked at Garrett through a dirty curtain of spent euphoria. Sensing she’d be of no help to him, he scanned the crowd while the bailiff dug through his run-bag. That’s when he saw him.

It was a face he’d seen in his peripheral vision hundreds of times; at train wrecks, ribbon-cuttings and drive-by shootings. This time however, the shooter known for his walrus moustache and ugly tropical shirts materialized far across the courthouse lobby, deep in the process of squeezing into an already overburdened elevator. Poking a divorce attorney in the hip with his tripod, Casky turned around as the doors began to shut. When he spotted his fallen protégé staring back at him from the row of metal detectors, he grinned broadly and made sure he had his attention. Just before the doors met in the middle, the man who could easily pass for a younger Wilford Brimley winked and shot his more junior competitor the bird.

A full four minutes later, Garrett jabbed his own middle finger at the same elevator’s faded Up button. Above him a chipped number six shone weakly, telling him his ride was far from on the way. Mumbling under his breath, Garrett shifted the camera’s weight, trying to alleviate the stress of the heavy leather strap digging into his shoulder. When that didn’t work, he choked up on the tripod in his grip and, shaking his head in disgust, jogged toward the stairwell door. Two flights up a prominent orthodontist faced charges of indecent liberties with several female patients. For weeks, Garrett’s station had sprinkled their ten o clock newscasts with snippets of the diddling dentist and nothing short of a coronary on his part would excuse Garrett from missing the good doctor’s first appearance in open court. Taking two steps at a time, the 25 year old news photographer propelled his gear and body upward, putting off that heart attack for a good twenty, twenty-five years.

By the time Garrett made it to the third floor, the wide hallway was packed with victims, defendants and enough attorneys to exploit them all. Fat shafts of sunlight from the scratched-up windows made it hard to see at first, but when his irises contracted he spotted a familiar frumpy form in a powder blue suit. Making his way over to the assistant D.A., he squeezed by a clutch of migrant workers in matching cowboy hats and tapped him on the wrinkled shoulder.

“What courtroom’s the dentist in?” he asked without introduction.

“3A…” said the future judge as he juggled an overflowing folder and half-filled coffee cup, “but First Appearance started a half hour ago. You’re late, G.Lee

With yet another painful sigh, Garrett spun on his heels and almost took out a couple of gang-bangers. Miming an apology, he slid past them and almost made it to Courtroom 3A’s entrance when the heavy oak door burst open and Casky’s ample backside threatened to run him down. On instinct, Garrett side-stepped, stashed his tripod behind a trashcan and powered up his camera. Blue light erupted from the viewfinder and the audio needles sprung to life as he pressed his face to the eyepiece. Inside, a one inch screen displayed the image of the tooth doctor himself, flanked on all sides by what looked to be four very pissed-off dental hygienists. The largest one, a severe looking woman with hand-painted eyebrows took her wrath out on the backpedaling Casky.

“I don’t know why you media people insist on getting’ in our face!” she spat as she thrust her purse toward the veteran photog’s lens. Garrett flinched a little as the enraged hygienist’s jewel encrusted handbag came near his camera, but Casky held his shot, allowing the woman to make a complete fool of herself as she tried to shield her boss from view and thus guaranteeing they’d both be kicking off the two different newscast’s opening segments in the process. As Casky stayed close and tight, Garrett pulled out wide and included his old mentor in the shot, careful not to show the competing station’s flashy logo. When Nurse Furious spotted a new lens, she turned on the scruffy young man with the camera stuck to his face

“A man’s innocent before he’s proven guilty!” she exclaimed, making her employer seem far more shadier had she not appointed herself spokesperson. “Until then, ya’ll can all go to hay’ll!” With that, she and her fellow over-manicured bouncers whisked their boss through the stairwell doorway and disappeared. When the door shut, Casky and Garrett giggled like smitten school girls.

“Man,” Casky said, as he played back the woman’s apoplectic image on his viewfinder’s tiny screen, “She’s sure earnin’ her bonus.”

“Should we chase ‘em?” Garrett asked as the older photog walked over to the window that looked out over the courthouse parking lot.

“Nah, nothin’ we’re gonna get will top that.” Casky said as he spotted a brightly decorated Ford Explorer pull into a judge’s reserved parking space below. “Besides, let Channel 4 get a piece of the action. Hoyle could use some of that love for his escape tape, anyway.”

Monday, March 20, 2006

Goofy, Gifted and Gallant

The last time I saw Rocky Covington, we were both swilling free drinks at a swanky showbiz party in Beverly Hills. Today I met him in a far more temperate environment: The Carolina Grill in Rockingham, North Carolina. It was there Shannon Smith and I ended our whirlwind tour of a town once known for Nascar and now renowned as the hometown of that lanky dude with the hefty twang on American Idol. While brother Bucky is polishing up his vocal repertoire in Hollywood, Rocky’s back banging out dents in the family’s Richmond County body shop. But don’t feel too sorry for him. Every time he pokes his ponytail outside, pre-pubescent girls grow faint, traffic snarls and grown men abandon their families to give him a hearty, off-center high-five. Most think he’s Bucky and no amount of protest will change their minds. Those willing to accept reality pump his hand nonetheless and tell him how much they’re hoping his identical twin makes it at least another week. Magnanimous to the core, Rocky aw-shucks and grins through it all, knowing that while American Idol won’t change the world, it’s already spun his globe off its axis.

A singer himself, Rocky also tried out for American Idol and admittedly choked during the first round of open auditions. Bucky, of course, did not and made it all the way to Hollywood, where he continues to impress people with his endearing drawl and surprising staying power. Meanwhile Rockingham is embracing the Covington boys the way they used to jump all over race weekend. In my short trek across town I saw ads for Bucky Burgers, Bucky Bucks and enough hand-drawn signs to deplete the resources of every office supply store for fifty square miles. All of which makes even a short trip to the grocery store a brain-scrambling sojourn for the brother left behind. All I can say is it’s a good thing Rocky’s such a nice guy. From halitosis-laden old ladies to touchy-feely first graders, he stopped, chatted, joked with and hugged more strangers than most people talk to their entire lives. It’s for this (and a few other inherenty Southern) reasons that I feel a special kinship with the Covington boys. Here’s hoping we get a chance to down a few more Hollywood highballs in the near future...

The Revolution WILL be Televised...Poorly

As Lord Cornwallis ordered his men over the ridge, I couldn't help but watch the Nascar Dad with the itchy trigger finger. He was no more than five feet from me, hunched over a garage sale camcorder and squinting in pain. Every time the distant cannons barked, he all but dropped his battered camcorder and I yearned to snatch it out of his hands. Instead, I rocked back from foot to foot as my nine year old squealed in delight as an army of out of shape Redcoats ran past. I should have enjoyed the show, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the backyard cinematographer to my left. With his twitchy digits, total lack of a tripod and zoom button addiction, he was making me more nervous than the gaggle of armed tax accountants and milkmen who were struggling to take the hill ever could.

But that’s the life of an off-duty photog. No matter where I take the kids on a Saturday afternoon, I’m more enamored of the camera cluster than the spectacle at hand. And in the past couple of years, I’ve had an awful lot to look at. Shiny Sure-Shots, tricked-out digitals, cell phones sporting tiny lenses. It’s enough to make this veteran videographer high-tail it back to the 80’s, when lens-caps still swung on stringy pendulums and the finest in consumer camcorders were still very much toys. These days the average citizen packs fancier gear than I worked with during my first five years in television. That’s cool by me - I just wish they’d learn to use them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Joe Six-Pack gettin’ his Scorsese on. But the total lack of camera acumen seems to have held strong, even as the cameras have shrunk and features extrapolated. Tiny lenses are now everywhere, and they’re coming to even more unlikely gadgets near you. But until Dad or Mom stop fat-fingering the controls, Junior’s birthday party footage is still gonna trigger spasms in two or out three family members - even if they did use the new Crock-Pot to shoot it. But I digress. I came here to talk about the rampant outbreak of First Degree Lens Abuse I witnessed at this weekend’s Revolutionary War re-enactment. Before the first fast guy in old clothes dropped from imaginary musket fire, all vestiges of proper camera-handling fell victim.

Record. Pan. Zoom. Check Shot. Pan some more. Stop Recording. I swear those instructions must come with every consumer cam these days. I watched one father of three simply hold his tiny camera over his head, swaying back and forth with it as the Redcoats and Continentals pretended to kill each other. Between the herk and the jerk, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to document the battle or deep in the throes of a Whitesnake concert flashback. He wasn’t alone. A few feet away, a little weasely guy leaned on his tripod with a camcorder jammed to his face, trying desperately to follow the action a quarter of a mile away. Past him, a Soccer Mom frowned at her darkened screen as the still-secured lens cap thwarted the best of her intentions. I wanted to reach out and pluck the tiny round shield off her lens, but I didn’t dare break the Prime Directive of Parenting: When gathered en masse, start no riot that could endanger your children. So I just stood there, biding my time while the t-shirted citizenry desecrated the very foundation of viewfinder virtuosity. Then I saw him.

Or it, rather. Above the crowd, a heavy lens panned slowly across the crowd. I wiggled out of the pack to get a better look at what colleague had pulled the weekend duty short straw and was shocked to see a sweat-suited Dad at the controls. With a sniper’s aim he peered upward into his eye-piece, never noticing the bearded guy running his eyes over his rig. Professional tripod, big battery, honest-to-God glass in the lens. The man himself looked pretty unkempt, which meant he could very well be a real photog. He may as well, as his equipment package bested that of a few stringers I know. As I stared at his camera, I felt a couple of eyeballs looking back. When I met his gaze, I got the overwhelming sensation I was weirding him out. “Are you shooting this for somebody,” I sputtered, “or are you just takin’ pictures?” “I’m just takin’ pictures.” He said as he glanced derisively at the undersized digital in my grip. “Oh...okay.” With nothing less to say, I slunk back to my spot in the crowd, feeling a little less of a man than before. I hate camera snobs.