Monday, December 31, 2007

Thrift Store Mischief

It’s the last day of the year and I shoot TV news for a living, so is it any surprise I should finds myself in a thrift store? If you answered yes, you’ve never sat through a morning editorial meeting - where those who never leave the building conjure up adventures for those of us who do. If it sounds like I’m complaining I’m not. After my generous offer to fill ninety seconds of newscast with shots of me cleaning my garage was turned down, I pretty much ran out of story ideas. Thus I opened myself up to the fickle winds of fate, or to be more exact, the whims of a producer who swore he saw rows of secondhand wide-screen TVs at a Goodwill store this weekend. Not about to point out that (1.) the store in question was an hour and a half away, (2.) the weekend crew already turned a thrift store story, or (3.) I was pretty sure there weren’t any plasma fatties to be found amid the busted toasters and dated pantsuits pile of your average secondhand store, I (4.) feigned enthusiasm and headed that way.

Imagine my surprise at the line of cars outside the Goodwill store on Battleground Boulevard. ‘People really do unload their crap on the last day of the year,’ I thought as I watched people unload their crap on the last day of the year. Knowing we’d already examined this phenomenon a few newscasts back, I only loitered outside for an instance, before crossing the threshold of said thrift store and entering the heart of darkness. Okay so it wasn’t that dark, but the piped-in soft rock and fluorescent bulbs did make for less than optimal shooting conditions, so I popped on my camera’s top-light and looked around. That’s when I saw the zombies’ eyes and smiled. Moneyed housewives rubbing shoulders with men who smelled of Mad Dog, old women in Christmas tree sweater vests trading elbows with aging gang members, suburban teens ducking for cover, less they be photographed shopping anywhere but Abercrombie & Fitch … who needs wide-screen TV’s when you got extras like this?

Not me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Awe of Chic Poppe

Lug a news camera around Cincinnati and you'll quickly get used to seeing this: Chic Poppe, kickin' yer ass. It's been that way for a staggering 45 years. That's right, it was way back in 1962 when the Ohio native failed to meet the weight requirement for the police force. So he strapped on a vintage heavycam, hit the mean streets of Cincy and wrote the book on cop-shop reporting. Monday, the legendary lenslinger officially retires, sidelined by prostate cancer. Before he does however, he'll have to endure the praise of reporters, station suits and even street cops, for the accolades are already pouring in. Seems the only ones not bummed to see Chic hang up the viewfinder are his direct competitors, a gruff enough group that long ago grew weary of eating his dust. I don't know Mr. Poppe myself, but I recognize his breed: the towering pioneer type who's forgotten more about the local news game than most of us poseurs even pretend to know yet. Not only does he possess a mental map of every city street, he's got half the flatfoots and a quarter of the criminals on speed dial. Rumor has it he even sleeps in his car! I don't have to tell you what a formidable opponent a man like Poppe can be. It's enough to make this mouthy rookie glad he only has to pay tribute from afar, instead of going up against this Goliath in some unfriendly scrum. Simply put, I ain't worthy...

(Photo by Glenn Hartong of The Enquirer)

2007: The Buzz That Was

I don’t like it any more than you do, but the guys in legal say I gotta post at least one Year in Review post before close of business hours on said diminishing daypart. I don't really know what that means so I’m getting it out of the way now, in hopes my attornies will submit to my whims more favorably the next time I got half-cocked with teh newspaper people or start firing off Schmuck Alerts. Now then, If you consider yourself a regular - feel free to move along. Newcomers however are invited to browse, as I might not resurect this dreck for at least a couple of fortnights. As for me, I’ll be bookmarking this this one - as the evidence of my obsessions will make for powerful evidence, should I ever have to explain how I spent the evenings of 2007...

Idol Edit BinJANUARY ... Upon entering middle age, I currupted some Buffet with A Photog Turns 40. I was still looking behind me when something on the ground caught my eye. That's when I found Faro’s Broken Arrow. Only after slogging through that mythology did I return to the station, where I immediately began Stressing the Edit.

Jet and Pony ShowFEBRUARY ...Life on the Risers is my attempt to capture just that: the smell of your competitors breath as you lean over for the wide shot. Careful though, studies show it leads to Pixelator’s Twitch. It was all I could think about until I traveled to Lillington and filmed Silence of the Pervs. Yick!

Chris Daughtry Up CloseMARCH ... With And the Winner Ain’t I got my britches in a twist - a uncomfortable postion I suffered with for weeks until a certain bald rocker came to town and I soaked for hours in his Remnants of Hipness. By month's end, the rash was all but gone, allowing me to go all TK-76 on your ass with That Seventies Cam. Sorry!

Blacksburg Sat CityAPRIL ...After appearing as Snake Pliskin in Escape from Chocowinity, I told the story of a dude named Dan'l. He carried Rocks in his Pockets. I was about to break out the overalls myself when some loser shot an awful lot of people at Virginia Tech. Soon I was rubbing shoulders with The Scrum and the Numb.

DSCF0781MAY ... In trying to educate the public on how to deal with the chattering classes, I revealed The One Word that almost always makes us go away. Not satisfied, I unleashed a three part treatise on just How I Roll. Stumbling in from the wllderness, I cavorted with reporters at Grahamapalooza.

Happy FeetJUNE ...In Escorting Slobot, we travel back in time to a warped studio floor, where sleepy slackers slow-dance with ornery floorcams. Of course dayshifts are hot and hazy this time of year so I always find A Time to Chill. When I returned I was so refreshed I finally explained just Why I Ditched the Logowear.

Abandoned CellieJULY ... It isn't just a Zeppelin tune! Communication Breakdown is also what happens when you leave your cell phone on your bumper. It ain't the only gizmo that failed me; my damn fancycam almost gave me a heart attack in Back from Iraq. About then, shit got serious and I thought about The End of Immortality.

Serge Brockman ReportingAUGUST ...The dog days of summer always hit me hard, which explains the whiny tone of Vaudeville in a Box. In a true story called The Wireless Incident, I get shaken down by a homeless dude with MY hardware. I was so shook up I coughed up a few Confessions of a Failed Reporter and went home to bed.

Dock at TwilightSEPTEMBER ...Late summer found me in a nautical mood and so I weighed anchor, causing
Tension on Deck. Then Simon freakin' Cowell nearly ran me over and I distinctively smelled the Rot of the Juggernaut. If that weren't enough even the simplest orders continued to befuddle me and I could barely Follow that Bus.

Bald Eagle TrailOCTOBER ... Find out just why that schlubby scribe thinks I'm the dolt in A Tale of Two Mediums. See how an innocent bicycle ride turns into a chilling gorefest in Terror at Twenty Plus. Or bathe in the spirit of broadcasts past, as I eulogize an American giant by the name of Slim Short. RUH-spect!

Tim Bateson, Soccer HooliganNOVEMBER ...Though my fingers were numb, I still caught a case of the Subterranean Fuji Blues in early November. Then Chris Burrous piped up and demonstrated for all to see just Why They Hate Us. Hanging my head in shame, I used the c-Word repeatedly in Confessions of a Cameraman. Is that so wrong?

Eddie and WhiteyDECEMBER ... No sooner had Sweeps ended than every other photog went on vacation, putting me firmly In the Mix. In No Joy in Mudville, I damn near risk my Man Card with a cautionary tale. You might whine too, if you spent eight hours a day staring Through the Looking Glass. Maybe that's why I'm so farsighted.

The Lizard Dweeb

I can’t call Walk Hard a perfect movie, but if - like me - you’ve loved Dewey Cox for years and you like John C. Reilly, then I can think of no better music legend biopic spoof to see this winter. Hell, the costumes alone are worth the price of that leftover bucket of popcorn under your seat. From Dewey’s early days on the rockabilly circuit to his bell-bottomed heyday to his triumphant return as a sampled snippet in a hip-hop dirge, this is the cautionary tale of a schlubby everyman who warbles and croons his way through Johnny Cash's backstory. Along the way, the mercurial Reilly vanishes as the pasty spirit of Cox nearly smothers him. Throw in a bunch of showbiz cameos (Elvis!), some killer tunes and a simply ravishing Jenna Fischer and you have the funniest film featuring machete fight flashbacks that I’ve seen in some time. Of course, I don’t get out much.

Can’t Get There From Here

George HarrisonAsk any reporter who’s ever engaged me in conversation behind the wheel, I get lost pretty easily. It’s a lifelong malady; I probably got turned around in the womb. Since then I’ve explored the derriere of nowhere more times than I care to admit, usually with a logo on the door and some disaster in the distance. See, I was born with no sense of direction. Years of missed exits and lurid u-turns have left me resilient though, and more than a little dizzy. Now, with a Lenslinger’s Zen that transcends mere spatial awareness, I travel on a higher plane, ferreting out hidden tempests on nothing more than momentum and my own goofy mug. You’d learn to compensate too, if you had the internal compass of Mr. Magoo.

On Da PhoneMost men hate asking directions. I can suffer no such luxury. Instead, I’ve elevated the act of orientation inquiry to nearly that of an art form. Think those bickering couples on The Amazing Race can find their way around on the fly? You ain’t seen me chase down a school bus wreck. I can wring coordinates from the average minivan passenger in the time it takes a yellow light to turn red, I can decipher the swollen tongue of a moped pilot if I have to, and my acute astigmatism allows me to spot El Ocho through fifteen dingy windshields. In short, I ain’t too proud to panhandle. Yeah, the ole logo helps, but I got to think my winning personality comes somewhere into play when it comes to hijacking information at fifty miles per hour. Sure ain’t my looks.

MapquestIt also helps if you like to drive. Most photogs do, even if the millions of miles that pass under our wheels have worn down our initial enthusiasm. I personally drive thirty minutes to work before I ever climb in Unit Four. From there I might travel anywhere within a dozen counties or so, from the swanky enclaves of the rich and entrenched to the boarded up barrios of the chased and displaced. Wherever I roam, there’s a chance I’ll get lost along the way. When I do, I’ll not hesitate to flag down a mailman, accost a trucker or quiz a gas station attendant. Unless they’re fans of my competitor, they’ll most likely point me in the right direction, provided I know that corner where the Moose Lodge used to be in front of that dried-up creekbed by the old doorsill factory…

Maybe I should buy that GPS system.

He Arose

We interrupt this programming delay to bring you a special bulletin. After a protracted lapse in electronic missives, a rested yet disheveled lenslinger has been spotted puttering about his upstairs study. Sources close to the stakeout report the delusional shooter has also been seen clipping his toenails, staring at post-it notes for hours and in one embarrassing display, attempting to moonwalk. Whether or not this behavior will result in fresh messages is undetermined, but with a crew on the way, choppers hovering overhead and our body language expert due on the set any moment, we should be able to milk this for another half hour or so. Now this:
Say Cheese!Ten days into my blogging sabbatical and I’m still not certain if it was even a good idea. But one thing’s for damn sure: That freakin' slide show has got to go! One more loop through that daft parade and I’ll be sick of me. If you're already there, forgive me. It's just that my hobby the blog was beginning to feel like a job. Whenever that happens, I punch out, for there is such a thing as too much therapy. Now that I've had a break I'm lemony fresh and ready to regain my status as the world's wordiest TV stevedore. In the process I hope to spotlight the plight of the TV news photog through an endless series of stills and exposition. If that sounds a little dry, it is, so understand if I work in some morphology, pop culture, attempted memoir, nautical history or the occasional recipe. I’ll always get back to the business of ferrying fancycams and damsels. After all, an adulthood spent doing so has left me hunched over, farsighted and qualified to do little else than slather my part of the blogosphere in war stories and snapshots. Speaking of snapshots, I’m on that too, having just retired my sewer-drenched Fuji FinePix for a gleaming new Canon PowerShot. Thanks Santa! And thank you dear reader, for your patience and lack of anything else better to do truly does fuel my dreams. And here you thought you were dickin’ around on the internets. You really should give yourself more credit...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Needed Reprieve...

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

2007's almost in the can and your faithful lenslinger is feeling spent. Thus, I'm taking a break; my first real sabbatical since November of 2004. Viewfinder BLUES will return in January. For now I need to rest, open some presents, nibble on my memoir. While I'm away feel free to poke around the archives, lodge a complaint or groove on the above slide show. Finally, thanks to each and every one of you who stops by this sacred (to me, anyway) site. Know that your visits have been a great source of encouragement over the years, leaving me more determined than ever to file something of worth. I'll get back on it when the calendar flips, promise. Until then, here's wishing each and everyone of you a grievance-free Festivus. See ya in '08!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Grim Business

“This sucks.” I nodded at Whitey’s words as we looked out over the apartment complex parking lot. In the distance, a firefighter tossed clumps of debris from a second story window as a half dozen detectives watched the curtain of soot fall to the ground below. Nearby, a women slumped around her cell phone and rubbed her eyes. A steady breeze whipped the ribbons of hastily strung tape back and forth, but the rustling of the bright yellow plastic was drowned by the roar of a half dozen fire trucks. I saw it all through my viewfinder, where tragedy and happenstance are clinically rendered in black and white. Zooming in on the where the glass once spanned, I opened the iris until I could make out flashlight beams dancing in the black window space. Not sure if I’d use it, I recorded the shot anyway. In truth, I was just mopping up.

Hours earlier, I’d rolled up in a live truck only to have to debate a police officer on where I might park it. Once we came to terms, I grabbed my gear out of the back and began walking up the street toward the fire trucks, only to be summoned back by another officer. ’What’s their trip?’, I wondered as I returned the cop’s sour gaze, A few minutes later I found out, when the morning producer called my cell phone. Seems the apartment complex I was standing across from was more heavily damaged than I could see. Ninety minutes earlier, flames erupted from one unit, eventually gutting it before damaging three others. Firefighters arrived and kept the blaze from spreading, but once they entered the unit, they found two people inside. An ambulance rushed the pair to a nearby hospital, where doctors pronounced the younger of the two deceased. Jaden Shoffner was five years old.

The death of the child had not been confirmed when Eric White crawled in Unit Four and roared out of the station’s parking lot. Thirty minutes later he’d join me on scene, review my footage of the smoldering apartment complex, pick a soundbite from my interview with the fire department’s Public Information Officer and write a terse, forty second script around it. After trying like mad to establish a signal, we were forced to drive our live truck two miles away to the police department, where we knew we could ‘get a hit’. Once we did, heavy cable unfurled, a tripod magically erected and brisk editing ensued. By the time they took our shot at noon, that frenzy had faded. Standing center screen, Eric delivered the news with the appropriate grimace as the director punched up the heavily-edited clip I’d fed to the station ten minutes earlier.

“This sucks, all right,” I said to Whitey when we returned to survey the scene, “but what sucks worse is how comfy we've become here..."

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Joy of Lonecasting

Tree LensSo it’s a week before Christmas and much of your reporting staff has wrangled a day off. What do you do? Well, if you’re the suits at El Ocho, you turn to your industrious photogs, most of whom only wish they had the day off. That’s what happened this morning as a trio of lensmen fanned out across the Greater Piedmont Googolplex to make some television -- all by their lonesome. In that, there is nothing new. Shortly after those guys in the horn-rimmed glasses fired up the first test pattern, some joker grabbed a camera and went hunting solo. Since then, thousands of anti-social auteurs have hoisted the lens, asked the questions, written the script and edited the footage - usually without all that pesky credit!

But this isn’t about credit. Rather, it’s about the art of the grab; that practiced act of gathering data with one eye in the viewfinder and the other on the clock. Why the emphasis on punctuality? Simple, when some caffeinated housecat is counting on you to fill a two minute news-hole come five o clock, you ain’t got time to dick around. Sure, I wanna sprinkle my coverage with nuance and beauty, but it doesn’t matter how splendiferous my pictures if I don’t get the damn thing done in time. It’s this economy in thought and action that separates the broadcast news photographer from the filmmaker, the commercial producer, that dude in park interviewing squirrels with his camcorder. No sir, they’ll be no masterpieces forged on our watch. What we do is TV news - with or without a reporter.

Now, I’m not here to slam the reportorial race. God knows I’ve done plenty of that in the past (most satisfactorily in this magazine article). What I do hope to drive home is this: electronic news can be collated a variety of ways. Most polished of course is the two person crew. We in TV have refined that approach to the point of parody. The over glossed correspondent, the ubiquitous live shot, the impromptu nod shot after the fact: all perfectly acceptable components to the clattering machinery that is your local broadcast. But the solo paradigm is equally viable when used correctly. My bosses seem to understand this and it’s kept me in the game far longer than if I simply piloted live trucks. The only reason I even bring it up is to show the sages and the haters that shooting stag ain’t so damn newfangled after all. Now on with the show:

Joey Flash was first out of the gate. A relative newcomer to the solo mode, he more than makes up for it with enthusiasm and an oddball persona. Before I could even set up my story, Joey was out the door, mumbling something about car dealers putting toys together in Burlington. What he returned with was a cogent piece of coverage that was shot, written and sliced with care. Will it affect the rotation of the Earth? No. Is it better than some day-of projects I’ve seen two people produce? Damn skippy.

Next up was Weaver. If we haven’t heard much from this consummate cameraman as of late, it’s because he’s been too busy raising the bar around here. Always in demand by reporters seeking a top-notch showcase, the Mighty Weave doesn’t get out that much by himself. When he does however, he proves himself a suitable foe for yours truly. Today he tackled the otherwise mundane subject of holiday shipping with a lesson in how to shoot and edit repetitive action. It may not be the slickest minute-twenty on his reel, but if I know Weaver, he’ll find a trophy-race where it will no doubt dominate.

As for our last piece of TV tonight, it’s yet another look at retail hell. Actually today was the first time I set foot in a mall in six months. But my vague directive to do something on holiday shopping called for a visit to a local thunder-dome, so I saddled up. Not wanting to take to the chest, I avoided Greensboro’s Four Season Town Center and headed straight for Hanes Mall. There I noshed on a Cin-a-Bon, battled food court zombies and pitted the sexes against each other. The resulting piece will win me no awards, but I’ve a lot less on air with a lot more help.

So, what’s the point of this overlong epistle? I dunno - just wanted to show you how the sausage was made. I don’t expect to sway non-believers. They’ll no doubt point to a lack of hard-hitting facts or poofy hair-do’s as reason for their disdain. That’s cool. But maybe now you’ll better understand why my colleagues have to choke back our bile whenever some new media windbag lectures us on how to produce video alone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photocalypse Now

We may come across as low level technicians, but within the ribcage of every TV news photographer beats the heart of a storyteller. Why else would an otherwise lucid individual scramble down a rainy riverbank to shoot video as would-be heroes plunged into the drink? Or fight Mad Max traffic to catch a few electrons of an upturned turkey truck? Or prop up in the catacombs of some county-owned space while a yak in a thousand dollar suit yammers on about fiscal responsibility. Why else would one spend their time fanning inanity? Trust me, it ain’t the paycheck. Rather it’s the insider’s high, the daring to bear witness, the insatiable need to communicate that’s driving most of us behind the logo. That and the job makes for potent anecdotes at the holiday cocktail party. Just sayin’.

These days such occupational blather translates well to the web, where fractured dispatches and smarmy yarns litter the fruited plain. I for one have been aping the great beFrank for more than few years now. In that time, the Photogs Who Blog sidebar has grown exponentially; a living compendium of the kind of lies, truths and alibis once found only in the courthouse hallway scrum. Like the serial news-gatherers behind them, the pixilated missives display an well-honed insouciance, a disregard for authority and a practiced grip on their sense of the absurd. Yeah, I know milkmen have blogs too, but for my lack of money I’ll stick with the outgoing interlopers to the right. I pour over their every post but I’ve not pimped them out nearly enough.

All of which brings me to one Duff McMandar, the Sacramento news shooter we’ll call ‘Chris’. An accomplice of the nomadic El Guapo, this lens-toting joker has been a favorite here at Lenslinger Central for quite some time. The only problem: dude makes me feel old! Here I am waxing pathetically on my midlife crisis while Duff’s doing kegger headstands, vedging with The Hedgehog or serving up guerilla cinema. Man, to be twenty-four again! Of course, when I was that age the only home computers to be found were in dungeon master bedrooms - and since my dice don’t roll that way, I remained unplugged. Now however, anyone can slather their thoughts on-line- but it takes one serious clown to make it entertaining. Duff sure does and on the occasional fortnight I ignore my site, it’s his silly ilk that forces me back to the keyboard.

Not to mention, he's got one of the most incredible skydiving photos I’ve ever seen. Makes me wanna step step off the skids again!

Friday, December 14, 2007

No Joy in Mudville

Loser of the LeagueProfessional baseball is awash in chemical corruption and I cannot force myself to care. Those who know me won’t be surprised, as my reputation among the sports fans of El Ocho is that of a non-believer. I got my reasons. In fact, my disdain for the hippodrome began with the boys of summer and - at the risk of losing my Man Card - I’m prepared to explain why. To do so however, you’re gonna have to climb aboard my Way-Back Machine. Settle in, as I set the dial for the painful Summer of 1978...

At age 11, I had too much hair on my head, thick corrective lenses encased in bus-window frames and a host of other issues. By then I’d lived in the crossroad township of Saulston, North Carolina for more than seven years. My mother had moved my older brother and I there when she remarried in 1970. It was no doubt her hope that Richard and I would find friends among our new rural community, for there were many boys our age that also called eastern Wayne County home. Trouble was, the young men of Saulston weren’t looking to import any compatriots - especially some dork in Coke bottle glasses who read encyclopedias for fun. Certainly I didn’t help matters, what with my shocking lack of athleticism and penchant for polysyllables. Factor in an unfortunate stutter and you have yourself a prime candidate for ostracization. I wasn’t the only kid who ever got picked on, but I was acutely aware of my outsider status. In time, I embraced it.

But that self-realization was a good decade away on the afternoon my well-meaning Mother suggested I try out for the church youth baseball league. After all, we lived right beside the baseball diamond and every other boy my age was itchin’ to take the field. Internally, I grimaced at the notion. Donning a polyester uniform wasn’t going to increase my speed, agility or coordination. If anything, it would only make me more of a target for extended ridicule. I knew this to be true, but being eleven and unsure of most everything else, I acquiesced and suited up. It was a wholly miserable experience.

The new team forming behind the church was a source of great excitement among my peers and as I lined up to play, I feigned both enthusiasm for and knowledge of the game. I should have saved my energy, for as soon as someone tossed a ball my way, I proved my incompetence by never coming close to catching it. Meanwhile, the other boys my age made impossible saves, hurled threaded orbs to and fro, and wrung great distance out of aluminum bats. From day one, I knew I was doomed. See, no one had ever really shown me how to hold a bat, throw a ball, or look cool in those doofy socks. What little instruction I received from my new teammates were couched in scorn, laced with guffaws and swaddled in derision. For the most part I could take it; I was already learning how to deflect mockery with humor and the occasional middle finger. What I could not combat however was the highly-targeted taunts of the Coach himself - a tobacco-spitting jackass we’ll call Mr. Mike.

I’m not sure how an insufferable lout like Mr. Mike came to helm the local church’s youth baseball team, but it obviously came with strict orders to take the new team to some mythical state championship. How else do you explain Mr. Mike’s policy of playing only the athletically gifted and haranguing all others who failed to measure up. I became his favorite target. The man fancied himself a wiseacre and never passed up a chance to pinpoint my many weaknesses. When he wasn’t rolling his eyes at me, he’d send me deep into right field during practice and scoff as he hit a few my way. I returned the favor by missing even the simplest of grounders. The burning spurn of this loathsome authority added to my unease and it showed itself as I entertained the troops with my clumsiness. Miss. Suffer. Repeat

But my practice field exile was all the action I ever saw. In the entire season I suffered in uniform, I did not play a single game. Instead, I wore a steady groove at the end of the bench and learned hard and fast how not to care. My teammates saw this castaway status as clear signal to pile on and within their juvenile repudiation, I watched time stand still. I wasn’t the first kid to suffer childhood ridicule, but as I sat there dressed just like the rest of my teammates, I felt totally alone. That feeling of abandonment crested late in the season during another torturous practice - the only time I was allowed to walk on the field. Mr. Mike was at home plate, calling out players names and batting balls to their various positions. Half-joking he called my name and popped a fly ball to wherever I was daydreaming in right field. Sticking up my oversized glove, I somehow managed to catch the damn thing. Instantly, applause broke out as young and old alike pointed and jeered, stricken with mocking awe that Stewart Pittman had actually caught a ball. Standing there with the unfamiliar weight of an actual ball in my glove, the crowd’s cat-calls and laughter washing over me, I made myself a promise: If I could only get off this cursed ball-field, I would never again take part in any organized sport. Tothis day, I've kept my word.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no victim. Nor am I apparently, a born athlete. But the open hostility of the adults in charge of a bunch of eleven year olds never left me. The following season I refused to go anywhere near the team; choosing instead to spend my time lost in cheap paperbacks, fresh episodes of M*A*S*H and my beloved Steve Martin comedy albums. Today, at age forty, I’ve gotten over the summer of ‘78. I’m even a reluctant sports fan at times, faithfully watching my Carolina Panthers every Sunday - even as they insist on stinking up the joint. As for Mr. Mike, I resisted the urge to cut the brake lines on his pick-up truck and soon forgot about him altogether. Until, that is, a decade later - when I spotted my old tormenter in chief at the Emerald Isle Beach Music Festival. I was a young cameraman working weekends. He was a shirtless drunk, harassing a bikini-clad Budweiser girl easily one-third his age. It was with great precision and glee that I hoisted my lens and pointed it his way. That night, his intoxicated buffoonery dominated my coverage of the popular event. I don’t know that he even cared, but I’d like to think in some small way, it caused him some pain. Now, Play Ball!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

WXII Guy 2 4When I first started humping lenses for a living, I figured I’d missed the revolution. After all, it was 1989. Videotape had long since replaced film as the medium of choice and even my sleepy little affiliate was cuttin’ checks for flashy new betacams. Ever so lovingly I’d place that Sony in the back of my white Ford Bronco, finger the squawk button on the oblong pager hanging off my hip and wonder if newsgathering could get any more futuristic. Convinced it simply couldn’t, I’d climb behind the wheel of that shiny logo mobile, pop in a Whitesnake cassette and drive off feeling like a freakin’ astronaut. Eighteen years later, I look back with no small amount of shame at the acid-washed jeans, the thoroughly shitty music and my naive assumption that broadcasting technology had truly peaked.

Truck EditHad you told me back then that every computer on the planet would be one day be connected, that teenagers with laptops could out perform my station’s control room, that newspaper folk would consider themselves master of the moving image, I’d have probably asked for an introduction to your dealer. No, back in the waning days of the 1980’s, I was simply incapable of grasping the ramifications of the looming techno-renaissance. Besides, I was busy. Consumed with mastering my craft, I set aside any real critical thinking for an extended lesson in street-level data-gathering. Eschewing any and all owner’s manuals, I learned just enough to be fairly dangerous with my fancycam. Like my entire generation of TV news shooters, I was soon editing tape-to-tape by feel, driving live trucks past police barricades and swaggering about the place like I was some kind of one-eyed Jedi.

Austin from FMYBut a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a hologram. Technology caught up. Suddenly college kids could crank out kinescopes on their iMacs, cell phones started sprouting eyes and clunky concepts like the information superhighway gave way to the far sleeker Blogspot-Google-YouTube paradigm. Virtually overnight my breed became dinosaurs. Velociraptors in matching logowear perhaps, but dinosaurs nonetheless. Trouble is, we’re not stumbling off to die. In my medium market alone, there are scads of multitasking action figures, many who can shoot, plot and edit better than I. Past evolution aside, it’s a treacherous landscape for my beleaguered species. Never at the top of the broadcast food-chain, we now stand a good chance of being replaced by bad actors with a fetish for emerging gadgetry. That, I suppose, is the way of things - but I can’t help but wonder what the next generation of news shooters will look like and wether or not a fossilized photog like myself will still be allowed to roam the Earth.

At least there will be no hair metal at the tar pits...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Erecting the Eclectic

By quarter to noon, I was on story idea number 42. Okay, maybe not 42, but after h-o-u-r-s of phone tag, two Krispy Kremes lifted from the break room and heaps of derision from my assistant news director, I’d pretty much lost count. In the parlance of the newsroom, my assignments ‘fell through’. Instantaneous investigations, gauzy feel goods, an early angle on last minute shopping; every notion I tried to shore up with a few phone calls collapsed under the scantest of inspections. Few things are more demoralizing - especially when giddy superiors are taking side bets on what urban myth I’d eventually be forced to televise. Scrunching down in my news cube, I worked the horn like a sinking sailor, but every story idea drifted just out of reach, Dead in the Water. Other terms I learned in the Navy drifted through my mind as Bateson ambled by. “What up, Stew? No band camps to cover?” Smiling weakly, I shot the Canadian an international digit as yet another PR flack told me my producers were high on paint fumes. I didn’t doubt that, but if I couldn’t conjure up something to point a camera at, I might find myself part of that scrum at the City’s insipid crime meeting later in the day. Debriefed, beaten and nearly defeated, I slumped in my chair and pulled up the Led Zeppelin clip on YouTube. Page and Plant were just getting sweaty when, for probably the twenty-fifth time this morning, the cell phone on my hip began to vibrate. Never taking my eyes off the Hammer of the Gods, I flipped open the phone without much thought.

"Yeah, hi - this is Lisa over at Glenwood. I know this is last minute, but the art students are putting up sculptures in the park ---"

"Sculptures in the park? SCULPTURES IN THE PARK? Hells bells, lady - why didn’t you say so?"

At that point I lost track of all dialogue as familiar convulsions racked my body. Scribbling down the address, I thanked my savior and hung up on her in mid-sentence. Bounding from my desk, I couldn’t resist a victory lap, so I ran up and down the aisles of el Ocho’s newsroom like a jacked up housewife on the Price is Right.

Of course it didn’t really get weird until I lost my tube-top.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reflections On Ice

Dirty News(Via Ed Cone) Though its hard to fathom on this oddly balmy evening, the Great Ice Storm of Aught-Two was five years ago today. I’ve not the words to express how much it sucked. Neither do I possess total recall of how much ice fell, how long whole towns went without power or how many insipid live shots I personally thrust upon this unplugged populace. What I do remember is a dull throb, an unending ache caused by marathon shifts, unmatched frozen socks and a wife who wanted to strangle me for not being Paul Bunyan. It was not my finest hour. But then again, what would you expect from some joker from the coastal plains? Besides the hallucination that was boot camp, I’d never seen an ice storm do what it do. How was I supposed to know frozen water weighs down tree branches until they snap power lines and erase civilization as we know it? Hell, where I come from the quarter inch of snow that spawns all that mass insanity is pretty much a puddle by noon. Here in the Piedmont, that crap can stick around for days - weeks even! You’d think by age 35, I’d have been better versed on the whims of Mother Nature, but that crazy bitch nearly froze me solid sixty months ago and I ain’t forgot about it yet.

Being a proud Southerner and all, I got no business driving on ice - but since there’s a logo on my soul I didn’t have much choice. No sooner had dawn broke over the frigid moonscape that was my neighborhood did my cell phone begin to overheat. Thus began my indoctrination into the driving arts; a crash-free course in keeping all manners of two-wheel drive news vehicles betwixt the ditches. I’m not saying I could last up North, but after slinging nasties across the tri-county region without breaking any glass, I feel pretty good about my intrinsic skidability - even if I do insist on yahooing like Bo and Luke Duke anytime the back tires lose traction. Man, reporters hate that.

Speaking of reporters, they got it doubly rough during winter weather. After all, they have to appear coiffed and capable during all that team smotherage - whether they’re kicking at the icy sidewalk on cue or trotting out one of those oversized thermometers. All I gotta do is get the two of us to said remote location, find a spot where drooping power lines won’t zap us both, throw juice to the retractable mast, drag all manners of gadgets onto the tundra, plug ’em in, establish a signal, toss some light onto the subject and try not to cough up any bile when the anchors gush all over my partner for toughing it out there on the ice. I knew I should have studied harder in school!

Still, no amount of education will help when the only thing between you and home is extended live coverage from the most blizzard-stricken spot a building full of warm housecats could come up with. Worse yet, my own home was among the power-free; a condition not unnoticed by my lovely bride. When I did drop by the house that first afternoon, I found her tacking up blankets across doorways, shoving logs into the fireplace and cursing yours truly for allowing the children to freeze while I cavorted with my camera God knows where. Glancing out the window, I noted that if the kids were cold it was because frozen slush was getting in their snowsuits as they and their sleds sped downhill. Yeah, we laugh about it now, but I can assure you the passing housecat enjoyed more wifely body warmth that night than your badly shivering lenslinger.

Ya know, I think I’d prefer working a couple of hurricanes to a single ice event. And considering this, that’s saying something.

Hippie McLensquint

The Mullet and the Squint I cant remember the last time I dug up a mullet photo for you all to enjoy, but since the humiliation of hockey hair knows no season, it still feels like yesterday. However after viewing the God like follicles of the now cleanly shorn Rick Portier, I felt it was time again to join the big-haired fray. Thus, I submit the above offending frame, suitable for your Monday morning mockery. Laugh all you want; I was free back then. Sure, I don’t remember everything from way back then, but I clearly recall the milieu of said photo-op. It was a chilly spring afternoon in 1990. I’d just gotten off from my nifty new job at the TV station and was kicking back with some fellow slackers at Greenville’s Town Common. Frisbees were in the air, Jane’s Addiction was blaring from someone’s boom box and I was late for an afternoon of downing pitchers at Sub Station Two. I’d yet to leave ny studio gig, hadn’t so much as pointed a news-cam this way or that and wasn’t sure I even wanted to. As for the mullet, it hadn’t reached its full mobile home glory just yet, but I could already pass for a young Dog the Bounty Hunter (minus the pepper spray and racial slurs, of course) Still, for one brief shiny moment in the Emerald City, I was blissfully aware of but a few things. (1): A round of disc golf could cure any ailment. (2): Working in TV would always be a stone-cold blast and (3): This is one bitchin’ haircut that will never go out of style…

Looks like I’m 0 for 3.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In The Mix

Eddie and WhiteySorry for the lapse of missives, but I been in the mix. In The Mix: that’s el Ocho speak for working with a reporter - a normal enough status for most photogs. But when you’re a wordy burnout with A/V skills and antisocial tendencies, In The Mix ain’t where you want to be. Still, the ratio demanded it, for no sooner had the November book ended than certain rogue news shooters went on something called ‘vacation‘. Before I knew it, I’d been pressed into service; ripped unceremoniously from my soft news foxhole and reassigned to the front. There I slogged through a series of stories deemed worthy of a two-person crew; packages that made loud splashes at the top of their newscasts, only to ripple into oblivion by the second commercial break. A homicidal babysitter, a waffling college coach and a pulled-over van full of illegal aliens; just a few of the kooky cast of newsmakers I put on tee-vee during a weeklong stint I‘ve already mentally erased. But that‘s the secret, right?

Brad Ingram Zeroes InPierce the leathery hide of a streetwise photog and you’ll find a thick layer of insouciance. That ability not to care is accrued over time. Once, I couldn’t abide the sight of fluttering crime tape without widened eyes and a quickened pulse. Now, I can sleepwalk past midnight collisions with little more than unadulterated slumber on my mind. I’m not particularly proud of my cynicism, even if it burnished to a high sheen. How I might act had I chosen a dairy route over deadline slaying I do not know, but something tells me I’d daydream about lighter fare. Instead, my head is full of half-eaten soundbites, deadpan faces with silly microphone flags under their chins and pictures of victims frozen in mid-dissolve. Sure, cops have even darker portfolios, but for the paltry bank I bring down, ther margins of my mental ledger are smudged enough. Melodramatic? Perhaps, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned feeding the beast is to keep moving, lest you get any on you.

Petty, Brenner, WrennTruly, I spent much of last week trying to keep up with the other news brutes out there. Fussy bluster aside, I’ve grown a bit soft in the first year of my forties. Whereas every other photog I know logs serious time behind the wheel of a parked live truck, I cruise around in Unit 4 while sorting through clichés. No wonder my fellow camera-ops scoff when they see me roll up in some single-masted vessel. ’Dude may talk a mean game on-line, but he sure cranks out a lot of fluff, I don’t hear them say. I smile anyway, knowing they’d all talk smack if I covered nothing but clans of amorous cannibals - for wit and spittle is to be expected from anyone with one eye closed and a tiny speaker wedged in their ear. It’s not unlike the outlook of a veteran street cop, who winces at the sound of glass crashing and tries to look the other way. It rarely works, but you kid yourself there’s an end somewhere in sight. Until then, you sift through grim bits of silliness one shift at a time and hope something redeeming will soon wander before your lens.

Just don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Schmuck Alert: Johnny Marshmallow

Via Photog's Lounge, word of a Midwest offensive that left a cameraman stunned and bloodied. It happened back in October, when an Oklahoma woman was attacked and killed by a pack of dogs. This of course drew a throng of onlookers to the grisly scene and when the inevitable TV fleet rolled up, friends and family members of the deceased took immediate umbrage. A verbal dispute ensued; family members insisted the news crews leave and were no doubt rebuffed. That's when Johnnie "Marshmallow" Levi Byrd broke out the haymakers, bloodying the nose of photojournalist Bryon Ackerman - before disappearing into the Oklahoma ether. Weeks later, an investigation led to a photo lineup and Ackerman easily fingered the 21 year old punk-ass as the owner of the sucker-punches. Upon questioning, Johnnie Levi Byrd folded like a two-dollar tent, admitting to the fisticuffs. He's now charged with assault and battery...

Responding to fresh tragedy is never easy. Most news crews - not all - know how to do so without needlessly riling up the natives. On the other hand, losing a loved one is horrific enough without a loitering posse of interlopers outside. I can only hope the aforementioned crews employed some modicum of respect, because I'm issuing a low level Schmuck Alert for Johnny Marshmallow here, with the following terse addendum: Sorry about your loved one. You can honor her memory by telling the media what a fine person she was, or simply flip us all off. But assaulting a member of that unfortunate scrum is downright felonious and will do nothing to bring her back. As for the ninja star necklace, we'll let that slide for now - but wailing away on a photog who doesn't want to be there in the first place is just incredibly uncool. Schmuck...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Good for Guapo

By all logic, this latest gig should have made him happy. Greater pay, more authority, a better schedule. But for the blogging-photog known as El-Guapo, that desk inside a Sacramento TV station felt like a tombstone. So he did what a lot of former news shooters do when they try to go legit. He fantasized about the lens. First they were harmless daydreams, but soon fully-engorged phantasms of life behind the viewfinder unraveled our hero. It happened to me. During my two year stint as promo pimp, I too began to hallucinate about slow zooms and fast deadlines. It got so bad I considered finding a twelve step program, but instead I plotted a clandestine return to the world of live trucks and tired logos. Well, El Guapo has done one better: He's gone off and scored himself a sports gig. Now he'll turn longer fare on his beloved athletic events -without the rash of your typical newsroom. Best of all, he'll be doing it all in Hippieville, that capitol of aging slackers that brings out the very best in his rollicking blog. Beats rehab...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Vortex at Eleven

By the time I strolled into the morning assignment meeting, the dry erase board was slathered in untimely demises and the suits were looking to me for something happy. It being Monday I was fresh out of happy, so I offered the one observation I’d formed on the drive in to the station. “Sure is windy!” Looking back, it was clearly a tactical error. Having misjudged the level of editorial desperation in the room, I’d made the rookie mistake of pitching a story I didn’t much want to produce. Okay, so three words isn’t exactly a pitch, but I should have known better than to say that much around a bunch of housecats eager to get back to their chew-toy filled cubicles. I’d barely gotten those four syllables out of my mouth before they were etched in Magic-Marker under my name. Only then did I wisely back out of the room, grateful I hadn‘t burped out something worse, like ‘undertaker fashion’ or ‘colostomy bag‘.

‘Wind, it is’ I thought, gathering my gear together. Not sure where to take my pictures, I loaded up Unit Four and crawled behind the wheel anyway. Merging onto the interstate, I couldn’t help but notice the wind had died down. So I drove. I drove past construction crews and inmate work-gangs, past the usual cast of hardhats I employ for illustrating inclement weather. Trusting Unit Four to find the vortex, I couldn’t help but look to Greensboro’s modest skyline in the distance. There among the slab towers of the Gate City blew a gnarly wind indeed, lusty gusts whipping through corridors of aging concrete. Best of all, a lump of humanity would soon pour from every revolving door in search of lunchtime sustenance. All of which explains why there may have been a lenslinger sighting downtown today. Twas just I, picking pebbles and leaves out of my teeth as the silk-tie set dispensed with the wind-driven opinion.

I’ve whipped up worse.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Logo in Motion

I have seen the future of electronic newsgathering and it's slathered in garish logos. No surprise there, I guess. But eye-bleeding wrap-job aside, this News Utility Vehicle is impressive. Dubbed ElectionLink (ugh!) by Fox New Channel, it's totally tapeless studio,a hefty 750kbps stream for live video- even while in motion. Fox News did just that on Friday, when some nutbag held up in Hilary Clinton's broom closet and demanded she stop wearing pantsuits. The resulting live shot was pedestrian at best, but the implications of such ubiquitous mobility is enough to make your average photog run off the road. Consider:

No more "We have a crew on the way". Soon the station will just punch up the shot of that flustered crew's dashboard cam, showing viewers a side of their station they've haven't seen before: the logomobile in motion ... the cursery, the lostmanship, the mastication!

If the retractable mast does go the way of the dinosaurs and cockpits turn into studios, the news unit's feng shui must evolve as well. No more press pass collections dangling from the rearview to block the shot. No more death metal emanating from your dashboard's every pore. And the fuzz growing on that old 7-ll cup will have to be addressed.

Running around town's hectic, but I got a whole posse of 'togs dying to take that thing to the coast the next time a wind with a nickname blows into town. Think the reporter look silly when's he's being blown across a hurricane's parking lot? Wait 'til we strap him to the roof of this thing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Viva Knievel!

When I was a boy, one of the few things my brother and I could agree on was that Evel Knievel was an American Badass. Then again, we grew up poppin' wheelies in the same gravel driveway. Whenever the man in the cape would jump something stupid on ABC, we'd immediately try to replicate it with cinder blocks and two by fours. It never worked, but the resulting scrapes and bruises marked us both as male children of the 70's. Without EK's ludicrous bravado to fuel our imaginations, we'd have spent our youths riding around in circles. Instead we soared to new heights, hung on his every slow-motion wipeout and learned to live with our own road-rash. Mom may not have approved, but I dare say Evel Knievel made me stronger. He damn sure made me hurt. Whoda thunk he'd die of old age?

These days, he's difficult to explain. Unlike the legions of extreme stunt-riders he inspired, Robert Craig Knievel wasn't the least bit bohemian. Sure, he possessed Elvis' wardrobe - but he had the demeanor of a traffic cop. When he wasn't hurling himself and his Harley into the void, he was grimly reminding us how much fun he wasn't having. He may have been the Johnny Cash of Daredevils, but Evel Knievel was clearly a tight-ass in a white jumpsuit. Still, from his horrific Caesar's Palace crash in the year of my birth to his premature descent at Snake Canyon eight years later, The Man greatly enhanced my first decade on the planet - all while sporting stars, stripes and a butterfly collar. So please, raise your Bicentennial mug and help toast this deliciously conflicted American Original , for he toughened up a generation of kids made soft by too much Brady Bunch. Awkward role model, leering boozehound, gravity-bound astronaut; the Patron Saint of Testosterone has finally caught Eternal Air - so please, show some respect.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's an old action figure I gotta stick on eBay.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Your Surly Editor

Mike James is something of a hero of mine and not just because a single plug on his well-traveled website quadruples my traffic. NewsBlues, a daily take on the inherent absurdity of TV News, is read, appreciated and often hated by many in my business. Maybe that's because the man behind it rarely bites his tongue. Instead, The Surly Editor lashes out at an industry that so richly deserves it. Doing so doesn't always win him friends, but it damn sure earns him readers. Paying ones, too - at $35.00 for a six month subscription, James must turn a tidy profit off all that inanity. Recently, he answered Ten Questions posed by fellow ex-newsman Terry Heaton and the resulting screed features plenty of his trademark blister.
"TV news has lost its way. Forget the excuses. No one cares that your bosses are asking you to fill more time with fewer resources. The business is contaminated. The content is fetid and foul, shallow and pointless. Get a job selling time share. Drive a bus in Reno. Do anything but continue foisting polluted, noxious news feces on the superficial American public...Television news (if you believe it is a form of journalism) has the ability...the capture and preserve the moments, the events, that pass through our daily lives. Instead, it has fallen back on trivial weepies and frothy feel-goods, on medical "studies" and video news releases, or political spin and opinionated shoutfests, hypothesis, rumor, and supposition. TV news is no longer in charge of itself. It deserves to be shot at sunrise."
And you thought I was churlish...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Beaver Unseen

With my eyes lowered and gear held high, I chose a gingerly path amid the briars and the muck. Ahead of me, a man whose name I did not yet know how to spell chatted happily as he led me around the lakebed's edge. His voice, amplified and accented, bled from the headphones around my neck and I guessed at the vintage of the batteries in the tiny wireless microphone he wore. "There" he said, pointing to a pile of sticks in the mud, "that's their handiwork." I set my sticks aside and shouldered my fancycam. Rolling the barrel of the lens, I snapped a tight shot into focus and hit the trigger. High above, a hawk screeched as his passing shadow fell over the two of us. Thirty minutes earlier I'd ambled into the morning editorial meeting without a clue as to how I'd spend my day. Now, I found myself sleepwalking through a very special my very own episode of The Blair Witch Project. Some might call that strange. I call it Wednesday.

Actually, it wasn't all that bad. Kerry Jones was a nice enough chap. The paint store employee had phoned El Ocho the night before, with tales of as beaver dam you had to see to believe. That kind of talk doesn't make the sat trucks roll, but it's just the kind of quirky coverage I specialize in. So it was that I followed Mister Jones into the muck, grateful to be far from any idling live truck and glad my guide didn't seem crazy after all. Instead we'll call him 'enthusiastic', for his zest for freshwater architecture knew no bounds. Not that I'm complaining. Hell, I wish more good folk would ring up their affiliate whenever something weird enters the radar. That way I don't get stuck on some incarceration opera downtown, far from the pudgy obstructionists of Oak Hollow Lake.

Trouble is, beavers are notoriously camera-shy. No matter how much phone tag or footwork I put in, I couldn't convince a single member of the local beaver guild to agree to an on-camera interview. Thus, I was reduced to framing the evidence: gnawed-sharp tree branches, pockmarked mudbanks, an temporary reservoir for a species unseen. It may not be your idea of compelling television, but I'd rather spend a shift up to my ankles in dried-up lake muck than sitting on my ass at some city council stand-off. Therefore, I never complained once about today's gig - not on scene, not in the edit bay, not at my desk as I pounded out every single word my anchor might think to say on the subject of drought, ingenuity and engineering instinct. I, on the other hand, remain off-screen, knowing that however many viewers watched this spot, none would think about the poor schlub tasked with bringing it to screen.

That ain't always bad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Subterranean Fuji Blues

Watching the DetectivesIt began with a simple traffic stop - though in retrospect, it wasn’t all that simple. See, the man in the white Escalade was wanted by the Secret Service for scamming the elderly out of their nest eggs. When the Greensboro police officer pulled him over, he panicked. As the officer approached on foot, the man behind the wheel shot himself in the head. Soon he was in the back of a screaming ambulance as it sped toward the closest ER. There doctors pronounced him Dead On Arrival.

A-Rod & BatesonA half hour later, I paced the perimeter of what was now a crime scene, wondering what the hell caused so many undercover police cars to clog this anonymous parking lot. ’Suicide’ muttered a passing cop, but that didn’t explain the haphazard fleet of Crown Vics. After shooting just enough footage to prove I’d been there, I stashed my fancycam in Unit 4 and grabbed the battered Fuji snapshot camera that lives in my run-bag. Down the way, fellow El Ocho staffers Angela Rodriguez and Tim Bateson had a police spokesman framed and cornered. But the portly detective wasn’t what I wanted in the crosshairs. Rather, I yearned for a close-up of Bateson’s most righteous Fu Manchu. Moving in for a proper shot of the twisted whiskers, I snapped a few frames before turning toward my trusty steed.

That’s when my Fuji’s lens-hood, a stout plastic tube warped from earlier abuse, separated from the small camera’s body. In slow motion it fell toward the pavement. I lunged forward to catch it, but could only it watch as it stuck the pavement. On impact. the battery door broke off and four half-dead double AA’s took flight. But it wasn’t over. The camera…bounced - off the sidewalk and over the curb. “Nooooooooo!” I screamed as I dove toward the waiting storm drain. Before I could reach it though, the mortally wounded digital camera took another bounce and passed through the underground gutter’s gaping mouth like some pool shark’s trademark trick-shot. The sound of crashing plastic and the dull thud of my forty year old torso caused the intrepid news team to look my way. Bateson, photog that he is, began to roll.

Would you believe the stinky thing still works?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Clash of the Titans

Rad meets LenslingerSure, we're all smiles now, but just minutes before this photo was snapped, Richard Adkins and I were locked in mortal camera combat. I considered it a honor. But then again, I've clocked this formidable photog for years; watched his stuff on WRAL, read his thoughts on, coveted his hi-def lens from afar. I'd just never met him. That changed this morning of course, when - shortly after arriving on the scene of a sleepy feature, I felt a powerful disturbance in The Force. Looking up, I saw why: a shaggy figure slingin' tricked-out gear and giving no quarter. Instinctively, my frigid knuckles curled into a fist as I took in the markings of a fellow apex predator. 'Shit', I thought. "Howdy!" I hollered.

Girdling the TreeHe didn't answer. Dude was in battle-mode. Barrelling past me, the man known as 'Rad' headed straight for the clutch of Mexicans who were slipping a girdle of sorts over a 20 foot Fraser Fir. Not about to let some out-of-towner eat my lunch, I fell in behind him as I fished my wireless microphone out of a pocket. Game. ON. The next ninety minutes are still a blur. Like hyped-up Jedis we spun, parried and backflipped all over that Christmas tree farm. The future of the universe wasn't exactly at stake, but you'd have thought some kind of galactic title was up for grabs by the way we battled for the better shot. By the time the behemoth tree fell, I was bloodied, bruised and ready to grapple to the death if that's what it took to best this legendary lenser.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. In fact, when every conceivable shot was committed to disc, Adkins and I chatted for a bit - before slowly backing away from each other. Nice guy, that Rad. Be a real shame to see him forget to white balance, double-punch or get sucked into a wormhole. You know, metaphorically speaking...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why They Hate Us

In my self-appointed role as local TV News pundit, I spend alot of time defending the actions of us wacky broadcasters. It can be tough; with out brash logos and slow-motion close-ups, we give our enemies lots of ammunition. But what little success I have in convincing others we're not all smarmy charlatans is quickly erased when stations pull stunts like this.

For those of you lacking broadband, I'll do my best to explain: In a giggly morning remote, on-air staffer Chris Burrous lives ups his segment of "Good Day Sacramento" by approaching a homeless camp with bags of fast food, a case of Bud Light and the mistaken impression that he's Stephen Colbert. What follows is a painful stretch of videotape, in which KMAX-31-CW sets back our cause at least twenty years. If it sounds crass, you gotta see it. I've watched it a dozen times so far, hoping repeated viewings would present something that would excuse the buffoonery. It hasn't happened.

Full Disclosure: I too have done stupid things in front of videocameras. When it comes to asinine behavior we ALL fall short of the Glory. But I'll be damned if I've ever scoffed at the downtrodden with free beer and a self-congratulatory attitude. What exactly convinced Burrous and his bosses that a cheeky live shot involving sleepy homeless people and a few brew-skees was a good idea remains a mystery, but if the ratings were good, look for this fool to be dishing out one-liners and dimebags outside a methadone clinic near you very soon. (And to think I once considered this to be the lowest point of our existence. At this rate of descent, I may very well black out before our industry hits rock-bottom.)

Ya know - it's not even the alcohol. Truthbetold, I could give a shit if anybody knocks back a few beers for breakfast. What sickens me is the very premise: a condescending live shot in which our grinning hero mixes it up with the Great Unwashed. No, my stomach flipped even before Burrous hoisted the Bud Light into view. When he began waltzing toward the campfire with suds in tow however, my jaw dropped. Had I the good sense to lunge for the remote (or mousepad) I would have done so. Instead, I sat and watched a few far-flung colleagues bring dishonor to us all. Stay Classy, Sacramento!

Perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps there's some greater context that I'm missing; a West Coast vibe that makes it perfectly cool to bag on the humbled. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe I'll walk into work tomorrow morning to find humble Unit Four has been replaced by a shiny Dodge Viper. Maybe. More likely I'll never grasp what that live shot was trying to accomplish. Here's one thing I do know, however: You can work in local TV News or you can go audition for The Daily Show. Attempting both further cheapens what we do, blurs already fuzzy lines and makes your un-funny ass look like just another untalented Letterman wannabe. See, the folks in those tents are real people with real lives. They're not just warm props for your lame attempt at vaudeville. Figure that out and we stand a chance at preserving the Fourth Estate. Ignore it and you won't have to worry about what the audience thinks. They'll all be heading for the exit as fast as they can, while you bomb at your local Funny Bone's amateur night. Then who will need a beer?

Swing and a Miss

Dwight ShawBy all logic, this story should be A LOT better. But despite repetitive scenarios, friendly civilians and a dynamic palette, my mojo was nowhere on scene. So I slogged my way through what could have been a masterpiece, cracking my hairy knuckles as I tried to muster some semblance of Lenslinger's Zen. It was not to be. Thus, I dug deeper, clawing past my diminished abilities until I lay hands on that I know by rote. 'This ain't rocket surgery', I mumbled under my breath, as I strained (in vain) to keep the pigskin center-screen. I failed. The shoulder-loaded footage I left with was not that of a skilled photojournamalist, but that of a high school kid hopped up on half-flat cola and orange Tic-Tacs. Worse yet, my editing acumen ebbed early, my writing skills tripped the kill-switch and I visibly winced as I sent the ninety seconds of filleted electrons hurtling toward the super-secret, hyper-redundant news server down the hall. Perhaps the only thing that saved me from being banished to the world of midnight wrecker chess were a few decent soundbites, semi-correct white-balancing and the charity of a region still high on pumpkin pie. Still, it did beat running the Photog Holiday Decathlon. Again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Turkey in the Trenches

RoadwatchIt’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m preparing to go back to work. You heard me, I took my turkey time early this year. That’s what happens you ignore the appropriate paperwork, forget the fact that you’ve forgotten and assume your seniority will make up for your slack. Not. So. Still, I did wrangle Tuesday and Wednesday off in exchange; a forty-eight hour period in which I stared at the falling leaves from the breakfast nook and got in my wife’s way as she planned a culinary summit of reality show proportions. Yep, I may (think I) cut a dashing figure out there on calamity’s edge but I’m told I can be a real pain in the ass in the kitchen. Thus I’ll rise early tomorrow, crawl in the pick-up and drive to El Ocho with little to no tryptophan on board. Shortly thereafter, I’ll no doubt spin the Wheel of Suck.

The Wheel of Suck, a term I just made up for the dry-erase board in the news department’s conference room. Each morning you’ll find quickly scribbled story descriptions, reporter-photog pairings and the occasional bullet-ridden happy face. In that graffiti you’ll find the schematics for a newscast that will seep into the region’s every other crack and crevice eight hours later. Like the tricked-out updates they lead to, the dry-erase board (from hell) is a haphazard tapestry of the tragic and absurd. But ever is it a more predictable blueprint than on Thanksgiving Day - when no matter what else may happen - some things are gonna git on air. Feel free to play along at home…

Framing Deprivation

Welcome to your neighborhood homeless shelter, where the guy with the raging crack habit is more welcome than your snooping news crew. Quite justly, I might add. You know, every time I write about the homeless I come off as more callous than I actually am. Truth is, I empathize with the denizens - especially those with kidsin tow. The last thing I want to do is get in the grill of anyone lining up for a free meal on the one day everyone should be eating at home. But that’s exactly what I’ve been dispatched to do - for no post-feast show is complete without a token visit to the downtrodden. It’s been a time-honored slug on Turkey Day rundowns since those guys with the buzzcuts fired up the first test pattern. Thus, I or a lenser to be named later will try not to incite a riot we point our cameras at anonymous plates and not the faces happy to have them.

Concourse Zombies

Of course there’s another bedrock backdrop featured every fourth Thursday in November. I give you the bustling airport. Okay, by the time we go live at five, the place may be very well be deserted, but since when has that stopped toothy interlopers from pretending something fascinating is going on just off-screen? I’ll never tell. Rather I’ll bite my tongue and swallow my bile as I gather the requisite airport shots: the arrival/departure board racked in and out of focus, the great unwashed fumbling for their boarding passes, the part-time bus driver in the TSA vest groping that grandmother…it’s all there. Just. Like. Last. Year. But hey, who gives a final approach? If highly compressed shots of constipated travelers is what it takes to get me home, hide the Ex-Lax, I got a pumpkin pie at the house with my name on it drizzled in Kool-Whip.

Interstate Exile

A far lonelier outpost is reserved for the heartiest of souls. The grassy knoll off an interstate exit ramp is no place for the delicate. It’s a loud, dangerous unforgiving place; littered with shattered glass, 18 wheeler tire husks and the ever-present possum carcass. Here in the Piedmont we perch high atop cloverleafs and render architectural studies of streaming traffic. There’s no feeling like that of a bridge flexing under your feet as it as a river of iron and steel flows underneath, or the slightly perverse practice of approaching total strangers at rest stops for their thoughts on speed-traps. The best you can hope for is to edit back at the shop, otherwise you’ll spend the afternoon picking bugs out of your teeth as the reporter spills his Slushee on your light-kit. By the time you get home you’ll be so covered in road dust the wife will withhold all cranberry sauce until you hose down out back.

And we haven’t even talked about The Shopping Mall.