Friday, July 28, 2006

Lord Knows I'm a VooDoo Chile

It's tough out there for an action figure. Now, I don't consider myself as dashing as this guy (just ask my wife), but at least I know to properly wield a TV camera. Fellini here looks like G.I. Joe snuck up from behind and rearranged his forearms in a frenzied display of kung-fu grip. The very sight makes me want to call a chiropractor for the swarthy little fella. Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps - but if some nameless corporations is gonna crank out molded doppelgangers of my grizzled breed, they could at least get the ergonomics correct. What's next, Barbie Dolls with impossible figures, killer wardrobes and androgynous boyfriends? Don't answer that - but for the love of all that's holy - pick up the playroom, would ya?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Impending Schism

I’m no futurist. In fact I’m something of a caveman - one who swings a TV camera instead of a club. But even a knuckle-dragger like me can’t help but shudder at the rumblings underfoot and wonder if it’s the impending schism is upon us. For if the bison doodles on the wall are correct, a great media upheaval will soon erupt and plunge mouth-breathers like me into the craggy abyss of yesteryear. From my ashes, a new species of journalisapien will arise from the primordial news: Citizi-lensicus, the jacked-in, hyper-skilled platform-crossing telecommunicator - borne of laptop and shorn of corporate yoke. No wonder the Cro-Photog set is getting their loincloths in such a wad. Intelligent design can be uncomfortable!

But evolution is unquestionably at work.. Consider the following, randomly collected yet highly connected media developments:

About ten days ago, network TV experienced its lowest rated week ever. At the same time, web visitors watched 100 million videos a day on YouTube - the top spot to catch moving images on-line. Broadcast executives who fail to comprehend this seismic shift in viewer habits do so at their company’s peril. Be it the plasma fatty hanging on the family room wall, or the tiny screen on some cubicle-farm workstation, consumers want their moving images updated cue-up and commented on 24/7. Can you blame them?

Despite a less than stellar reception, VJ’s are here to stay. Working alone, these multi-tasking journalists shoot, write and edit daily news stories. Sure, aesthetics suffer - as does any pretense of in-depth reporting, but that won’t stop budget-minded media outlets from outfitting eager young wannabes with the latest in stripped-down gear and call the pioneers. As Rosenblum has so definitively proven, a newsroom relying solely on these ‘backpack journalists’ will soar to new heights of mediocrity - but a media outlet that peppers their two person crews with experienced one-man-bands will reap untold rewards. Let’s just hope the stations kick in a little for all that extra effort.

TV stations are finally getting it: the internet is more than an afterthought. Instead it is an incredible opportunity for fostering loyalty among viewers old and new. What better way to expand your audience than by making your product available anytime anywhere? Modern news consumers demand nothing less. Thus, broadcast outlets are streaming newscasts, throwing open their archives and inviting discussion and even debate from the people they used to consider inert eyeballs. We’ve come a long way from smarmy spots showcasing glitzy newsreaders hurtling lofty facts from on high. Okay, maybe we haven’t - but at least we’re headed in the right direction.

Lastly, more and more newspapers are beefing up their own burgeoning websites with edited video reports - some of which are actually coherent! Sure, it’s easy for a licensed cameramanthropologist like myself to pick these early efforts apart, but doing so helps no one.. I don’t claim to know how my print brethren hope to use these newly available gifts of sight and sound, but once they achieve a balance of artistry, execution and economy, look out! Eventually, some Herald or Tribune or Daily Trout-Wrap is gonna get it right and new languid form of visual storytelling will bubble to the surface. These will be fertile waters for the journeyman photog - if he or she is brave enough to take the plunge. (I for one am searching furiously for my swim-fins.)

For now though, I remain a humble hunter-gatherer, one who’s secretly delighted this continental shift of media platforms is finally shaking things up. You see I’ve been eyeing that horizon for quite some time, sharpening my skills, exceeding expectations and confusing my superiors - who could never wrap their foreheads around my radical views on newsroom evolution. A new world of possibilities is shimmering in the not so distance, at first the change may be a little scary, but from the depths of my photog DNA, I believe this looming quake is exactly what my diminished industry needs to avoid a well-earned extinction. You don’t need a bone through your nose to smell the decay all around us.

I’ll be in my cave if you need me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lilly's in Israel

Lily OverseasHaving worked with many a talking hair-do over the years, it's not uncommon to catch an old colleague reporting from some far off locale. But I must say, I did a double-take this afternoon when I saw my old pal Erik Liljegren go live(!) from Israel. Since leaving our newsroom less than two years ago, Erik's made the most of his correspondent's gig at Fox News Channel. From Hollywood to New Orleans to Manhattan, Lilly's popped up at more stateside imbroglios than I can list. Now he's gone global, filing live reports from war-torn Haifa and other less-ravaged parts of Israel. When I rang him up in Tel-Aviv, the intensely casual New Jersey native scoffed at my words of praise and concern. Instead, he wanted my thoughts on a manuscript idea he was noodling with on his downtime. If I didn't love him so much, I'd hate that guy...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Flirtin' with Disaster

“Yeah, he sounds like a ‘prince’.” Jon sneered as he silenced all those crying doves with one jab of his bony finger. When he did, the Rebel’s radio switched over and the Southern thump of Molly Hatchet filled the old car’s darkened interior. This pleased my best friend greatly and he settled back in the passenger seat, a picture of Country Boy Cool in his cowboy boots, faded jean jacket and wispy blonde hair. Too bad he topped out at 95 pounds. Of course I wasn’t a hell of a lot huskier myself - at 16 years of age, I weighed in at maybe 110 pounds, provided I stuff the pockets of my baggy khaki pants with extra quarter rolls for the Galaga machine at Take Ten.

That was precisely my destination on that distant Fall evening. The last of the autumn afternoon’s long shadows had since grown together and draped the back roads of Wayne County in unseasonable darkness. Not that I noticed, mind you. With my hand slung over the wheel and sockless feet swathed in faded Vans, all I could think of was the romance to be had on the selling floor of Berkeley Mall - Goldsboro’s only shopping mall and premier punk-ass hang-out. After a slice of greasy pizza and a few distracted video games in the arcade, Jon and I would strut and preen along with the rest of the food court hoodlums of 1983. First though, I had to get there…

I was well on my way I ran afoul of physics, friendship and fuel efficiency. It started with an old lady in a wood-paneled station wagon; the back of her blue had lit up my by cocksure headlights. When she insisted on navigating the twisty rural road at a reasonable rate of speed, I gunned the engine of my aging chariot and blew the proverbial doors of Grandma’s Vista Cruiser. That I executed this particular move on a blind curve didn’t seem to bother either Jon or me. Apparently we were wearing our childhood cloaks of immortality along with copious amounts of Polo cologne. Whatever the reason, we just cackled like dumb school kids as I clipped the edges of the winding two lane road. When a low-slung Camaro tapped its brake lights up ahead, I stood on the 17 year old car’s accelerator and sang along with Molly Hatchet:

“Yeah, I’m travelin’ down the road and I’m flirtin’ with disaster…”

As if to prove it, I veered over into the oncoming lane and tried to pass the Camaro before the narrow road doglegged to the left. I’d just gotten past the screaming muscle car when the white-hot glare of headlights blanketed the Rebel’s windshield. In an instant that still feels like slow motion, I swerved back over into my lane, almost running the Camaro off the road in my haphazard attempt to get out of the way of the oncoming car. Through sheer luck and not experience I managed to squeeze past both cars without anybody trading paint. My driving prowess however was not refined enough to prevent my buddy riding shotgun from exploding in threats and curses and judging from the rapidly growing headlights in my rearview mirror, he wasn’t alone in his wrath.

When I realized I was being chased, I punched it. Looking back that was probably a mistake, as the last sip of gas I had on board at the time surely turned to my fumes underneath my lead foot. But having grown up on fresh ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ episodes, I knew only to floor it and I sure wasn’t about to falter on my very first high speed pursuit. That’s not to say I wasn’t frightened, as I trembled in my vinyl Members Only jacket as the Camaro’s headlights smothered the Rebel in its angry glare. ’ Don’t sweat it dude, we’ll lose in him town.” I offered bravely, lost in the youthful bravado borne of a dozen Starsky and Hutch reruns. In my rearview mirror, the Camaro closed in, almost bumping the Rebel’s rear as the road stretched out straight before us. I’d almost convinced myself I could ditch the angry driver once I reached the city limits when the last of the gas evaporated and my means of escape began rolling to a slow stop.

Inside the Rebel, reality set in. While my best buddy Jon fidgeted in his denim and cursed the day he met me, I sat frozen solid to my side view mirror, hypnotized by what I saw. The Camaro had pulled up within inches of my crippled steed; when the door opened the dueling gee-tar work of Lynyrd Skynyrd poured out, followed by the biggest hillbilly silhouette I’d ever seen. As the hulking mass rose to his full height and stomped toward my door, the tunnel vision started. Swinging my head from side to side, I took in swirling images like a punch-drunk prizefighter: the knuckle dragger closing in on my side of the car, the fuel needle buried left of the ’E’. my best friend cradling his own door handle and waiting for the best possible moment to bolt, leaving me to deal with Hood Swamp’s angriest felon all by my puny lonesome.

‘What the hell was that back there?” the hulk-billy roared at my rolled-up window. When I didn’t answer he landed a ham-sized fist on my driver side door, jolting the car and instantly purifying a good portion of my bowels. “We ran out of gas.” I offered weakly as the giant grappled with the door handle and cursed a Southern blue streak. Throughout all this, I did what any underage dumb-ass would have done - I scrambled to Jon’s side of the car and nearly gouged his eye out trying to open his door in the darkness, wanting only to run as fast as I could from the roadside, the Rebel and the redneck. That’s when the angel spoke.

“Styu-wert? Is that you?” Though I couldn’t see her for the towering inbred clawing at the door, I immediately recognized Rene’s voice. A friend of my older brother’s, she was all too familiar with my fondness with my own voice. Despite this, she chose to save me that fateful evening.

“Leave him alone, Charlie!” she spat at her colossal date. “That’s Richard Pittman’s little brother - He ain’t nobody!”

“He’s gonna be a dead nobody, he don’t learn to drive!” With that Charlie planted one more fist square and deep in my car door, then spun on his boot heels to shoo Rene back in the Camaro - where they were no doubt now late for the romantic tour of some tractor pull or another. As they pulled off, Charlie flipped me a big fat middle finger and mouthed an obscenity through his Rally Sport's own smoked glass. Showering my car with gravel, the Camaro sped off, leaving me with my entrails intact, my gas tank empty and my young friend nearly catatonic.

“So,” I said eyeing the farm house lights in the distance and thinking about the rusty gas can in my trunk, “you still feel like pizza?”

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ghost of Promos Past

I’ve always held that TV news promos do NOT age well. However, I’m almost willing to issue an exception - having just watched an old KTVY spot featuring its many hotshot news shooters. It’s 29 seconds of cinematic brilliance. There’s the discount bin mid-seventies musical soundtrack, that fleeting glimpse of the world’s ugliest live truck - there’s even a inexplicable Hall and Oates cameo! Yes, this clip has everything ... If for no other reason, this 21 year old promo is worthy of time-capsule inclusion for its stilted summation of just what it is those scruffy photogs actually do, delivered in the patently paternalistic style of the times:
“Their purpose is to focus on the pictorial images that make the news clear to you”
Huh? “focus on the pictorial images?” Like I often bellow from an edit bay when laying footage over a line I crafted a few minutes earlier, “Who writes this crap?” Oh well, at least the lowly lenslingers of Oklahoma City circa 1985 got some well-deserved props. We're likely to see more of these gems surface as archivists everywhere shove their longheld bounty through the rickety series of tubes that is our internets. Thank you, Al Gore! Still, if my own promo gurus came to me with cameras rolling and a script as lousy as that, there’s only one thing I’d tell them...

“Get my good side, would ya?”