Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It occurs to me I haven't been sharing my toy. Actually it hadn't dawned on me until I received a couple of rabid e-mails accusing me of holding out. To that I say, 'Easy fellas! The only thing weirder than a grown man playing with dolls is a bunch of other guys wanting to watch'. But hey, I'm game - so here's a shot of the little dude doing something I've done precious little of in the past couple of of days: writing. Instead, I've been chauffering the kids, catching up on my reading and standing constant guard over a pile of pristinely wrapped presents. Tomorrow I make a mad dash Downeast for a Pittman Family Christmas before returning to the Piedmont for a blessed day of rest and gluttony. But fear not, crazed e-mailers - I'll be back on the beat before you can return that singing catfish Aunt Marge re-gifted you with. Until then, dig on the above doppelganger and know that I have big plans for this humble site in the coming year. Now if you'll excuse me I have to grab that bottle of Maker's Mark in the background and check its fluid levels. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pop Quiz at Center Court

Center Court TreeSomehow I made it to my Christmas vacation without once dragging a camera to the killing floor - er, shopping mall. Well, there was that one time in late November - when I previewed the fact that the local retail superdome would fling open their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving. But since then I haven't zeroed in on a solitary Goth zombie, interviewed the first PR vixen or suffered the slings of a single swaggering food court cop. That's a first! Usually I'm on first name basis with the some of the regulars by now. Last year I remember holding a three week sporadic conversation with a nice Greek couple who ran a calendar kiosk at center court. I suspect they only wanted coverage, but I was always happy to chat - and duck behind the daybooks to lose any stalker-tweens from outside the arcade. By the way, someone should tell that 12 year old that throwing gang signs is no way to get on 'tee-vee'.

But it's that very kook factor that makes shopping malls such a target rich environment. Whether you're perched high up on a walkway scanning the Santa Claus line for yummy-mummys, or trawling for soundbites down by the escalator landing, there is no more fertile ground than the highly-buffed corridor by The Gap. In fact, I think I'll make the holiday shopping mall an annual field test for all those photogs studying at the Lenslinger Institute. I'd start 'em off in the parking lot, where they'd have to sweet-talk a security goon or two before squeezing through a reapidly spinning set of revolving doors. Once inside, they'd have 30 minutes to shoot a b-block package due to air in three hours. And they couldn't get away with one tripod position and a couple of God shots. No Sir, I want characters, soundbites, color. I wanna hear from a frazzled Soccer Mom on an Elmo-quest, I wanna drop in on a couple of drooling Dads cast-off at Radio Shack, I even wanna see a clip featuring a middle-age merchant whose very gender is a source of open and heated debate...

They're out there, in every shopping mall tattooed upon this tortured orb. If you as a solo shooter can't strike gold in under a half hour - well, you're not worth your weight in dead camera batteries. Now ge back in there! Meanwhile I'll be out in the live truck, sleeping off those three Cinnabons and dreaming of greatness...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Keep Hope Alive

A New Hope
It's a very Caddyshack Christmas as Don Shea and the gang interview dead celebrities in this week's episode of 'Me and My Boat Anchor'. All's going swimmingly until moisture from a nearby water trap seeps into the recording deck and plays havoc with their deadline. Will they make it to the Winnebago-sized live truck in time? Or will they get busted sneaking into Tony Orlando's dressing room trailer to score a badly needed hair dryer and perhaps a crack at Dawn's digits? Tune in to find out...

(Me and My Boat Anchor, Episode 42. Starring Don Shea as Guffawing Sports Guy, John Cline as Swaggering Lens-Stud and his state-of-the-fart TK-76 as its bicentennial bad-ass self. Special Cameo by the cryogenically preserved Bob Hope.)

Spontaneous Compunction

As a lifelong lover of language, I’m quite used to strange words popping in my head. In fact, I thrive on it. It’s why I fill out crosswords, scribble song lyrics and read non-stop. (That, and all three of those activities involve sitting - something I’m really good at.) Thing is, all that consumption is gonna cause some back-up; I’ll be off somewhere chasing soundbites and some jumbled phraseology will pass through my lips. It happened again the other day in traffic. I was at a stoplight, staring holes through Unit 4’s windshield when I heard someone repeating the same six twisty syllables. It took a second before I realized the voice was mine. I brushed it off, as it happens a lot. (If you find that strange, you’re obviously not a word nerd - but while you’re up and being so smart, explain something I can’t grasp: Fantasy Football - what is that? And how about America’s Top Model? Can you provide an affidavit for that little Eureka moment?) I got more important things to do, like figure out just what the two words I keep pronouncing actually mean. Are you ready? Huh? Here we go…

Cognitive Dissonance

Yeah, I know - not exactly musketeer dialogue, but what are you gonna do? Maybe next week I’ll be speaking in thee’s and thou’s - this week it’s Cognitive Dissonance, which - I believe, is Hospital Talk for feelin’ shitty. But you ain’t here for guesswork, so I’ll try and stick to the facts. Roll that beautiful bean footage...
Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The theory states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.
If you say so…but I gotta tell ya, for a guy who spent most of high school blowing smoke rings, it’s a bit high-falutin’. Let’s break it down to street level, where a schlub like me can understand it. Let’s see, ‘uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time’…Hmmm. You mean the way you feel when you’re covering a tense police stand-off and you hope that whether he gives up or gets gunned down, the guy in the crosshairs has the courtesy to do it before your favorite Chinese lunch buffet closes? Or maybe it’s the emotion that accompanies you up the widow’s porch, where you beg pardon for intruding before asking permission to stick a camera in the homemaker’s soul. Perhaps it’s the conflicting twinge you experience as you gun the engines and giggle at that smoke plume on the horizon.

I don’t know how cognitive all that is, but it’s damn sure dissonant. And that line about tension ‘compelling the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs’... That’s a little thing we camera pointers call Life. At least those of us who stop the question the madness before the glass. Most of us settle for merely keeping it in focus. But not me. No, I’m cursed with thinking above my pay-grade - savoring the insinuations of all those facts and finks I funnel to the Great Unwashed. I’m no genius - just a guy whose learned most of what he knows by processing happenstance into bite-size nuggets for the nightly news. If you doesn’t drive you up an antenna tower, it’s one hell of an edumacation. I’m just dreading the test at the end...

Gordon Davis Killed

My sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends of Gordon Davis - a veteran television photojournalist killed overnight in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The fifty-one year old news veteran was fatally struck by a car as he was leaving the scene of a strip mall fire around 2:40 a.m. A longtime overnight photog, Davis was known by many and well-regarded by all who came to recognize him at late night emergency scenes in the Washington metro area. He leaves behind a wife and a 14 year old daughter. I didn't know Gordon Davis, but I've met my share of overnight news photogs. Few fostered the kind of reputation Davis apparently did. It is not an easy shift, filled with spot news, dark set-ups and plenty of early morning live shots. That Gordon Davis could perform this arduous task for so long with such obvious aplomb is a testament to his character, and one of the many, many reasons he'll be missed. Go in Peace.

ADDENDUM: From someone who did know Gordon, 'pre-set' from
He was the only true "overnight" shooter in the market, and he excelled at it. It was almost a relief to see him there.... You knew if Gordon was on it, you weren't missing something bigger. If you didn't see him, you always wondered why he wasn't there, and what else he was covering that you didn't know about....yet. I couldn't even count the times I've spent at some stupid police barricade or house fire or car wreck, standing next to Gordon, bullshitting with him, telling bad jokes (ussually the same ones over and over), complaining about the weather or gossiping about work, and just hanging out waiting on the PIO. He was the epitome of the quiet professional. Always where he needed to be - ussually before you got there, getting the video, and always happy to see a fellow shooter.

I'm gonna miss you, Gordo. But you'll still be with me out there... I promise.

Photog Feng Shui

Gear StashAsk any TV news reporter and they’ll tell you, we photogs are a picky breed. Sure, many of us dress like roadies on break from OzzFest, but even the sloppiest of our lot is still pretty stickling when it comes to the gizmos. You have to be, when your expected to upload continuous team smotherage at the drop of a wrecking ball, edge of a manhunt, or lobby of a proctologist’s office. Zeitgeist aside, Job One is to be there when the shit goes down, or at least in time to establish an electronic beachhead before all the casualties are carted off.

That kind of situational readiness requires forethought and constant vigilance - especially when it comes to ancillary gear. You know…dying batteries, fraying cable, torn softbox - all tools of the trade that need our attention, if not our love! Hmm-Mmm. Sorry - just trying to explain to any reporters out there why their partner for the day gets his britches in a twist every time you wrap the lavaliere cord too tight. See, that jumbled mass of broadcast implements jostling in the back is more than just high-dollar hardware. It is an craftsman’s palette, a sniper’s arsenal and a work of art in its very arrangement. Disrespect at your own peril. Just ask that shifty sports intern who used to lunch-line everyone’s rig on the weekend. The one they now call ‘Lefty‘.

But don’t let one case of inter-office vengeance scare you off. More times than not we’re happy to give you a guided tour of our toolkits, from the everyday utensils like spare light bulbs and duct tape - to the less obvious tchotchke: clothes pins, tinfoil, even a beat-up hairdryer from back in the day. Truth is, keeping up with all this crap is a full-time job. Schlepping it around the Greater Metro Tri-State and perching on the edge of politics and plunder is quite another. Is it any wonder you off-air partner is constantly glancing in the rearview mirror - moving his lips in silent inventory as he wonders if he’s got enough drop-cord on board. As long as he’s not separating his condiment packets by food group, he’s okay. (Unless he’s a she - then she’s really good at multi-tasking.) Either way, try to embrace your photog’s proclivity for anal-retentive hardware-care. How else can you expect the shooter in your life to be ready to roll when the Governor decides to break dance.

Miss that and you'll never hear the end of it...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cloak of Smoke

While I'm at home playing with dolls, the Australian cameraman known as WIDESCREEN is busy being an action figure. Last week he took daily chopper trips into Victoria's latest burn zone, where he donned protective gear before mining the blaze's edge for billowing imagery. Come late afternoon he's back in the bay, processing shots for an upcoming broadcast he might get around to watching. Not that he needs some talking hair-do to tell him where he's been...
"By night, I am heating up leftovers at home, watching some TV and as my eyes fade to black upon the pillow I can still taste smoke and smell it and if I close my eyes, I can almost be back there."
Dreams at 11...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Wish Fullfilled

Rarely am I rendered speechless, but the Mighty Weaver nearly accomplished that very feat a couple of days ago at work. Summoning me into the production studio, he presented me with an oversized Christmas present and wielded his nifty new stealth-cam as I hesitantly removed all that shiny paper. Imagine my delight when I uncovered a certain doppelganger, courtesy of a few on-line buddies. I'll let the above YouTube clip tell the rest, but first, let me extend a sincere Thank You to Kevin Johnson, Billy "The Blogging Poet" Jones, J.L. Watkins and Newshutr himself for their generosity. Of course a special thanks to Chris Weaver, who not only engineered this act of kindness, but also shot and edited a frighteningly thorough video of the whole gift-giving process. Thanks fellas, look for the little guy to pop up in his own series of blog-posts coming soon. For now, I have to rescue him from the grip of my youngest child, who's, as expected, enamored with 'Daddy's new Barbie'. Sheesh!