Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Countdown to Vegas

Chris and Stew's Excellent Adventure
Like a couple of wooden Indians, Weaver and I have been spotted on the loading dock lately, rendered utterly agog by our fancy-schmancy passes to NAB. What is NAB, you ask? Only the world's largest electronic media show, a 5 day city-state of TV geeks, evil geniuses and cyber-nerds of every description, held every year in squeaky clean Las Vegas. This time Chris Weaver, Brad Ingram and I will be among the 100 thousand some in attendance. While we're there, we'll launch a hard target search for the latest in technology, the scariest convention-goers, the most righteous freebie, plus a slow drizzle of adult beverages and casino peanuts. Look for all the ugly details to splay out on our respective blogs, and be sure to check out, where we'll post a series of mostly-in-focus video segments from the jam-packed floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Ingram SchemesAlong the way, Weaver and I hope to hook up with the always entertaining JL Watkins of Little Lost Robot fame, before crashing the scene at the tenth anniversary B-roll Bash. Of course Brad Ingram is also making the trip, but judging from this picture, the NPPA Region 6 director has his own ideas about killing time in Vegas. Stay tuned for details...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Walk-downs, Round-Ups and Ride-Alongs

I don’t chase too many squad cars these days, but there was a time when my sole journalistic focus was that of the crime and grime variety. Homicides, bank robberies, stand-offs and drive-bys; grisly scenarios that played out with great regularity in the housing projects and trailer courts of Eastern Carolina. Despite its small size, it was a highly competitive TV news market brimming with rookie news crews and enough steady downtrodden suffering to keep their dilapidated live trucks crisscrossing the region at break neck speed. With a growing Rolodex of weary detectives, ghetto preachers and assorted kingpins, I feasted on the underbelly of the evening news until eventually I grew full. These days I follow a rather mellow beat but not so in the beginning. As a result, memories of my early twenties play out like one long, black and white episode of COPS.


In an area where TV stations lived and died by the police blotter, the walk-down was king . Every night, the cops paraded a new defendant through the region's living rooms, but only after they marched through my lens. Back-pedaling with a face full of viewfinder, I learned to navigate every pebble of the Detective Building’s gravel parking lot as shackled strangers cursed my camera or most often, hung their heads in blame . To astute viewers it was little more than cop-shop filler. But to my buddies and me, every walk-down was an athletic event and we threw out our shoulders and contorted our souls to document them in proper cinematic style. From low slung 'Darth Vader entrance' shots to the extreme tights of the suspect's eyes to the obligatory cuffed-hands close-up, my pals and I learned to bag a dozen different shots in the half as many yards between the idling police car and the battered back entrance of the Detective's Building. When the cops really want their bad guy to make the news, they's park as far away from the door as possible, giving me and lenslinging hoods plenty of time to swarm. Many a newscast opened with footage from that very lot and the slow-motion highlights still loop endlessly in the edit bay in my head. I suppose therapy would help.


But who needs an overpriced analyst when I can pour it all out to you good people? Don't answer that, just keep your eyeballs moving and we'll get through this. Next, I wanna talk about round-ups, that time honored tradition of following law enforcers as they serve warrants based on all those proverbial 'six month investigations'. Operation: Street Sweep, Code Name: Fishnet, the cops always came up with some loopy name for their planned apprehension of street level drug dealers. I didn't care what they called it; I was just stoked to be along for the ride (in the front seat, no less!). I remember hiding behind scraggly trees as beefy undercover detectives who didn't want to be on TV banged on trailer doors in the middle of my viewfinder. I recall squinting through a lens at a groggy crackhead as he blinked repeatedly at the men in blue windbreakers standing over his head. Looking over at me, he gave an acknowledging nod, much like he would if we'd passed each other outside a convenience store. And I remember the prison yard death stares of countless shackled strangers as men in clip-on ties and flattop haircuts high-fived each other around them. Good times.


But my interaction with the PO-lice wasn't always on foot. I've ridden shotgun in more marked cars than some rookie cops. Sometimes I've tagged along with a particular officer just to get footage of him or her behind the wheel, but the fun doesn't usually start until I join them for patrol. Seatbelt enforcement, impaired driver watch, speed limit crackdown; I've tagged along with Johnny Law on almost every kind of mission there is. Not only did it throw my shoulder out of whack but it changed the way I drive. Take speeding for example. I used to race fifteen miles over the posted limit no matter where I was going, but finally the ride-alongs (and expensive tickets) finally slowed me down. Why? Karma, baby. Hovering over a police officer as they issue some poor schlub a citation isn't just awkward, it's wrong. God knows the last thing I want to see when I'm diggin' my liscense out of my wallet is some loser with a lens pushin' in for a better shot of the veins bulging on my forehead. No, with my luck, Geraldo Rivera himself would pop out of the squad car and demand to know why my sordid floorboard is the gore-splattered bone-yard of a thousand doomed ketchup packets.

Maybe I don't miss working the cop-shop beat after all.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Kiggins Takes Atlanta

Steve KigginsNothing livens up an achingly dull press conference like a buddy with a zoom lens and sense of humor. Steve Kiggins has both. I should know, having held impromptu rendezvous with the jolly photog for a couple of years now. Ribbon-cuttings, house fires, student protests; Steve and I have chatted at many an ill-timed incident. Now the burgeoning journeyman is taking his eye and enthusiasm to CBS 46 in Atlanta, where he'll no doubt find the faster pace of newsgathering he's looking for. I meanwhile, will remain in mid-market squalor, where I'll no doubt miss the wit and wisdom of one Steve Kiggins the next time I'm stranded at an all day train wreck. Just be careful, Steve. Atlanta's a long way from Reno.

How to be a Photog (in 3 Easy Steps)

Aim Like a Sniper

We TV news cameramen (and women) pride ourselves on our aim, our eyesight, our stark acknowledgement of the otherwise unnoticed. Be it a hostile crime scene or a crowded farmer’s market, we train our vision on the periphery and bag points of view like hunting trophies. But we don’t draw blood; we draw interest. Though they rarely ever think about it, all those slobs on the couch watch the world through the crosshairs of a master craftsman. Unless I’m having an off-day, of course. Then they’re lucky if the pictures ain’t all shaky and blue.

Drive Like a Fireman

Okay, we don’t save lives or property. We merely fill in the black between commercials. But to ask a young scanner-geek to drive cautiously to a breaking news scene is like asking a drunk to take it easy on the sauce. I alone have surpassed speed limits by twenty miles per hour just so I wouldn’t have to fight for a spot at a Rotarian luncheon. Of course time and the approach of a middle age have a way of easing the lead foot syndrome. God knows I don’t jump curbs to get to ribbon-cuttings anymore. But if there’s a smoldering bus wreck on the horizon, I still reserve the right to hog the breakdown lane for miles at a stretch.

Dress Like a Tourist

Amid all the high speed pursuits and press conference cat-napping, we photogs like to keep it casual I’m not sure why, exactly. Certainly the humble task of lugging and deploying clumsy TV gear requires a certain utilitarian approach, but we shooters take it to another level. Tropical shirts, hiking boots, trousers with a criminal amount of pockets - we can’t get enough of them. Perhaps we’re just trying to compensate for the sartorial splendor of our overdressed, on-air partners. After all, what looks more natural than a reporter going live from a burning cornfield in a magnificently tailored suit? No, those of us behind the lens are just trying to keep it real. Me personally, I’m just channeling my inner Magnum P.I.