Saturday, November 11, 2006

Putting the 'Porter' in Reporter

Jeff n SticksMy most recent Top Ten, Things I'd Teach Rookie Reporters, has sparked both praise and derision among the chattering classes. One entity even wants to include it in their forthcoming periodical! Among my immediate peers however, I've received warm shrugs and energetic indifference on the subject of my scribblings - a dismissive condition I too often exacerbate with both surliness and silliness. One such occasional partner who tolerates my tone better than most is Jeff Varner, who holds a Doctorate in Southern Man Melodrama. No longer a rookie himself, Jeff is promising a rebuttal of sorts - an itemized account of photog foibles certain to provoke and irritate. Well, Bring it on, Prom-Date! But make sure you include at least one item on that time-honored reportorial role: Support-Gear Portage. Otherwise, I'll be tempted to abandon you the next time some excited waitress erupts with breathless questions about Season 2...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Life After Idol

Bucky Covington in BoothI'd barely parked the rental car before Bucky Covington bounded out of the studio doors. "Hey ya'll," he said - thrusting an Apple iBook our way, "watch this..." With that, the gangly good ole boy pressed play and a YouTube clip of a foreign gameshow sputtered to life. On screen, timid, middle-aged men desperately try to repeat a singsong tongue-twister before being hit squarely in the nuts. Every time an aging Japanese gentleman dropped to his knees, Bucky convulsed with jagged laughter, almost dropping the laptop in the process. Only when the sixty second clip ended did Bucky formerly greet us, hugging the very pregnant Shannon Smith and high-fiving your humble lenslinger. A few minutes we set up our gear deep inside producer Mark Miller's family studios - a rambling, mannerly spread somewhere outside Nashville.

Bucky Covington Blur 1"When I first came over here, I told them I don't want overnight success, I want 20 years, I want a career."

Mark Miller, RightTo help build that career, the 29 year old American Idol finalist has sought the counsel of those who've gone before him. As the first ever winners of 80's talent show juggernaut Star Search, the guys from Sawyer Brown know alot about turning a title into a dynasty. For now though, lead singer Mark Miller's happy just to twist the knobs on Bucky's debut CD - especially since he loves what he's hearing. During our visit, the ballcapped impresario and his fellas exchanged reassuring glances as Bucky belted out finishing tracks to "Empty-Handed" - a Sweet Tea twist on 'Welcome to the Jungle' that is still eching somewhere in my subconsciousness. Miller agrees. "All the musician's who played on this album kept coming up to me saying this is going to be BIG - guys who have been around the business and don't just throw comments out like that."

Bucky Covington Blur 2"It really all comes down to a good song, you get a good song out there and that's what it takes..."

Lenslinger LitAs I skulked about Miller's well equipped recording lair, I found myself bobbing my head and singing off-key back-up. Over on the zebra-print couch, Shannon and her baby grooved in unison as Bucky's smoky snarl filled in the gaps of the Southern-Fried anthem. As outright throbbing as 'Empty-Handed' is, it isn't the only sound Bucky and the Sawyer Brown gang have captured on their Masters. Percolating on a hard drive nearby is at least two honky-tonk ballads that showcase the softer side of this goofy good ole boy. It's those kind of Tear In Your Beer drenchers that will appease Covington''s female fans - many of who are pining for a little roadhouse tenderness. On that he can deliver, for the former body shop worker fairly oozes swamp grease and Sunday School. For now though, Bucky's gettin' his growl on.

Bucky Covington Blur 3"I knew I wanted to make a country album -- but I'd like to get as much rock in it as I can get away with..."

Bucky Covington & ShannonWhat Bucky Covington ultimately hopes to get away with is a full-blown music career. American Idol brought him to the attention of millions, but the show's hokey pop structure failed to showcase this giggly hillbilly's impressive pipes. With veteran producer Miller at the helm, the oldest Covington twin is about to surprise alot of people. Sure, Chris Daughtry can breathe fire through an amplifier stack and Kellie Pickler's still damn cute in red high heels, but my boy Bucky has the homegrown tone, the vocal chops and the goofball charisma to blow the back-doors off the Nashville star factory. Here's hoping country radio will give him a chance, before some hotshot Hollywood producer builds the next Hee-Haw Variety Hour around him. S-a-a-a-LUTE!

(Thanks to all the Bucky fans who looked forward to this report. Be sure and check out the sneak preview, the photo gallery, the bloopers and of course the three minute opus Shannon Smith and I crossed a mountain range to produce. Lenslinger...OUT!)

Slow Your Roll

At a quarter past ten The Stranger burst through the door. Bearded and wet, he spoke to no one. Instead, he skirted the edges of the raucous crowd, his long coat glistening with angry raindrops. For all the armed law enforcers in the room, no one unsnapped their holsters - at first. Instead, the deputies and debutants strained to hear each other’s small talk as syncopated jingoism poured out of hidden loudspeakers. The Stranger seemed grateful for the cover. Scanning the far end of the room, he spotted his target by the refreshment table: a rumpled incumbent surrounded by a pack of supporters high on victory, Sweet Tea and Lee Greenwood’s greatest hits. Though no smile crossed The Stranger’s face, his grim expression did brighten a little as he made a bee-line for the freshly re-elected Sheriff.

Side-stepping past a group of grannies, the dripping interloper squeezed by three bailiffs stuffing brownies down their throats. They too didn’t ignored him as crumbs collected in the folds of their polyester shirts. With every deliberate step, The Stranger drew closer to the man whose name adorned cock-eyed yard signs near and far. Not until he came within feet of the county’s top lawman, did someone notice the uninvited guest. Yards away, am off-duty vice detective in a J.C. Penny suit clocked the visitor in the shiny wet cloak. Instinctively, the detective moved forward - knowing only that The Stranger’s grimace was out of place in such a festive atmosphere. Quickening his own pace, the veteran investigator slid through gaps in the packed house. Something about the way The Stranger kept his hands jammed in his pockets struck the detective as hinky, and he aimed to beat the man to his beloved boss...

That’s when my photog senses started tingling and I realized I was about to be searched, shackled or simply shot by a man whose paranoia my tax dollars pay for. With that in mind, I slowly removed my hands from my pockets, flashed a TV station business card to all who would look before handing it over to the grumpy incumbent. Minutes later, the three of us stood by my camera, As the sheriff answered the inanity emmiting from his earpiece, the vice cop and I took turns staring at each other. While he did his best to burn white-hot holes through the side of my skull, I made a mental note not to bum-rush a show outside my jurisdiction without first flashing an official logo or two. And you wonder why I abhor politics...

Adam's Crib

I've noted here before what a small business broadcast news can be. Now, beFrank proves it. The West Coast news shooter was doing time at a media encampement at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night when he noticed a burly young photog surfing some familiar blogs. But that's not just any burly young photog: that's Adam "News Hawk" Krolfifer! Not too long ago a hulking youngster with a half dozen police scanners and even more enthusiasm rolled into El Ocho. Before half of us could figure out how to spell his last name, Adam transformed himself from handycam stringer into a grizzled veteran of a thousand news wars. In other words, Adam got good -- fast. Along the way, Krolfifer earned a solid rep as a dead-eye shooter and caught alot of heat for his...inherent clumsiness. But just when I thought might get our news logo tattooed on his forehead, Adam shocked us all by following some familial whim to Kolly-fonya! These days, he's mannng the Sacramento bureau for SanFran station KPIX and, from the looks of it, spending way too much time with his laptop. Good on ya, Adam. But call home once in a while, wouldya?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Shooting for Borat

Back in July of 2005, I publicized my love for a certain journalist from Kazakhstan - to which many of you said, "Who?" ... What a difference a year and a half makes. Now, you can't pick up a grocery list without seeing a picture of Sacha Baron Cohen's offensive correspondent staring back at you from behind one seriously obscene moustache. Borat, it seems, has arrived. Of course, those with HBO have known about British comedian Cohen's twisted brilliance for years now - his Da Ali G Show has been splitting sides and confounding sensibilities ever since he got too popular in the U.K. to pull off his pioneering schtick. Now that Borat's dominating domestic multiplexes, his cover in the states is blown as well. But I didn't log in to extoll the virtues of this comic daredevil; I came to talk about his photog.

Now, I haven't a clue as to shoots for Borat - be it his TV show or currently ubiquitous 'movie-film'. But I do know a thing or three about TV cameras and the weirdly hypnotic effect they have on some people. Though I've never accompanied such a reckless satirist as Cohen into the Great Unknown, I have escorted most every personality type into situations both somber and silly. Along the way, I've had more than one interviewee cut glances my way, as if to say "Is this for real?". Sadly, it has been and I've had to feign credulousness long enough for my partner to stop asking any number of inane questions. What it must be like to bite your lip and keep rolling while this badly-accented goofball utters the most God-awful things to gladhanding tight-asses, I. Simply. Cannot. Imagine. So, here's hoping some enterprising entertainment reporter will profile the brave folks who make up Borat's camera crew. Until then I offer these anonymous souls a respectful Dip of the Lens - or as Ali G himself would say, "BOOYAKASHA!"

Ten Things I'd Teach New Reporters

Purloined from The Lenslinger Institute, the Top Ten Things I’d teach at the New Reporter Academy - none of which applies to the fine journamalists I currently toil beside.

1. Write To Your Video!

I know it seems remedial, but this prime directive can befuddle the glossiest of correspondents. Just ask any photog whose jugular throbbed as he tried to stretch three shots of some bit player over a minute and a half of impromptu profile. Scour every second of that fresh footage, embrace its rhythms and fill in the gaps and every the surly burn-out at the end of the hall will want to work with you.

2. Have A Plan

I can set up stories at 70 miles per hour while fondling a dollar menu cheeseburger . Imagine what you can do from the comparative luxury of stationary news cubicle. Make some calls. Hey, I’m not above the occasional cold-call or drive-by - but don’t ask me to circle the block nine times while you try and decide which Cadillac belongs to the city manager . In short, don’t waste my time. I ain’t got a lot of it.

(2.5) The Story Is Not You

This is TV news we’re talking about; reporters shouldn’t be invisible. But if you find yourself knocking the little sick kid off his pogo stick so you can bounce and twinkle on-cue - then you Sir or Ma’am have bum-rushed the wrong spotlight. Don’t fret though, we got lots like you. A little time out in the field and we can beat the drama-queen out of you. Otherwise, look into Entertainment News or Reality Television. But be warned: It’s a long line and the conversation is mind-numbing.

3. Try Not to Over Explain Things

You’re putting a microphone on someone’s lapel, not shoving them through an MRI tunnel. That little speech you like to give about ‘don’t be nervous just because we’re attaching this piece of audio recording equipment to your person’ achieves the exact opposite. Try this instead: Engage them in polite conversation during set-up, then start in with the questions once you know I’m rolling. No one need yell ’Action!’ (Yes, it happened once).

4. DON’T Touch the Radio

File this one under professional courtesy. See, that news unit you’re primping in is your partner’s office. He (or she) knows its every content by heart and has probably already driven the damn thing to the moon and back. Thus, the lowly car radio is an intimate part of the photog’s psyche - it’s probably the only non-logo’d gizmo he has complete dominion over. So don’t jump in and twists its knobs to the new hip-hop station - especially if your driver’s sportin’ Dead Head stickers on his windshield.

5. DO Touch the Tripod

Hey, here’s a contraption your more than welcome to fiddle with - it’s the lowly tripod, that three legged beast that refuses to walk on its own power. Dragging it along will do wonders for your video and chances are your photog will be more than happy to leave you in charge of it. So hoist that baby on your designer-clad shoulder and try to keep up. Just don’t complain. Your partner has easily schlepped that and more up steep gravel driveways and through revolving doors and has yet to bitch about breaking a nail.

6. Mind the Nats (SHUT-UP!)

You know that little black tubular thing hanging off your partner’s camera? It’s a microphone! It records sound - long after you finish your prophetic stand-ups. With that in mind - put a sock in it, wouldya? Natural sound can often drive the drama of a piece, interview subjects will spout out the greatest sound-bites known to man once they’re up and moving. But we can’t use any of this impromptu theater if you’re yammering on about prep school or your famous husband! So do whatever it takes to remain mum for awhile. Remember, there’s duct tape in the car.

7. M-0-S’s - Curse of the Weak

Man on the Street Interviews. Producers love ‘em - mostly because they’ve never had to loiter outside a Wal-Mart and pepper strangers with obtuse questions. Still, they’re a necessary evil in broadcast news - so learn to do them well. Easy in, Easy out, no one gets hurt. As much as we hate them, they can spice up a narrative. Just don’t get carried away. If your nightly pieces each contain forty-five seconds of some yak in a parking lot scratching his head - you ain’t tryin’ hard enough and everyone knows it.

8. Be Nice!

Maybe it’s just the Southerner in me, but I’m a big believer in manners. Remember, a wireless microphone and perfect teeth don’t make you any better than the people at home. It is, after all, their town, their trends, their TV’s. Run roughshod over their sensibilities and you’ll find yourself getting less respect, fewer insider tips and worst of all you’ll incur the wrath of the photog staff - who probably plan on living here long after you’ve ridden an escape-tape out of town. Remember, no one likes a pompous ass - not even the ass himself.

9. Know When to Blend

The greatest story-tellers I’ve ever worked with were gifted with invisibility. Okay, so maybe they never achieved total transparency, but they all knew how to ratchet down their personalities long enough to let their subjects of their stories take center-stage. They also possessed a certain chameleon-like quality, an ingrained ability to reflect the room around them. This comes in handy whether you’re visiting grieving hill-folk, lecherous politicos or senile witnesses. You know - like last Wednesday. Or the day before that. Or the day…you get the idea.

10. Write To Your Video!

So important, I had to include it twice. Why - because no matter where you ate lunch or who you gossiped about in the car, telling the best story possible is your Prime Directive. Your partner thinks so - otherwise he wouldn’t have bullied those three grannies out of the fast lane to get you back in time. Use those well-earned minutes to craft your oh-0-important words around the sights and sounds they brought back. Do this well and every photog in the building will have your back. Slather some crap on a page with little thought to the footage it will adorn and screams of anguish and doom will ring out from the edit bay. Quickly, shooters will wiggle out of working with you and curse your very name. Some of us may even post thinly-veiled diatribes on our personal blogs - and who’d want THAT?