Friday, May 25, 2007

Pining for a Jedi

When a little movie named Star Wars first hit theaters, I was ten years old. I didn't go see it. Not sure why, exactly. Perhaps I was too busy jumping cinder blocks on my BMX bike or earning the wrath of my Termite League baseball coach with my inability to catch fly balls. whatever I was doing, I missed Geroge Lucas' follow up to American Graffiti - though I certainly heard about it on the school bus. Jawas, Sand People, Jedi Knights - it was more than enough to enflame the brain of a far-sighted nerd already versed in Heinlein and Asimov. So, I did what any advanced reader would do. I bought the book. Suddenly I was aboard the Millenium Falcon, bracing for hyperspeed as a squadron of Imperial Tie Fighters closed in from behind. Between my engorged imagination, ubiquitous movie clips on television and Lucas' mass marketing tidal wave, I'd seen every frame of 'A New Hope' in my head - months before actually catching it in its theatrical re-release.

To bide my time between initial discovery and cinematic witness, I embraced this cultural touchstone of my generation through a variety of rituals: I made highly annoying R2-D2 noises. I collected Ralph McQuarrie sketches. I dropped words like parsec, Wookie and 'wretched hives of scum and villiany'. I even saved up for a few action figures - a purchase plan that incited a riot among the more shell-shocked veterans of my little green army man collection. Through it all, my family bore the brunt of my new obsession - including my church-going mother who didn't like this mumbo-jumbo about 'The Force' as well as my older brother who just wanted me to shut the hell up.

The only time I ran out of words was when trying to explain why I loved this saga so. Looking back now, I think I know. It wasn't the special effects. It wasn't the sweeping score. It wasn't even Han Solo's intergalactic street cred. It was Luke Skywalker's quest to learn about his father. Despite my own loving Step-Dad, I harbored the very same yearning as our young Jedi in training. When Luke stops to bathe in the setting twin sunlight of Tatooine, the 'little sci-fi movie that could' spoke to me in way that I wouldn't fully comprehend until I watched it with my own kids. Too bad they were more interested in Harry Potter at the time...

Six years later, I finally met him. Turns out he wasn't a fallen Sith Lord bent on crushing the rebellion after all, but he was a grizzled Jedi of sorts - one who looked, spoke and moved an awful lot like me. Together we'll never rule the galaxy as one - but we do have a large time blastin' womprats in Beggar's Canyon. I guess the Force was with me, after all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How I Roll

"If you shoot half as good as you write you are Sven Nyquist." - Michael Rosenblum.

DSCF0264 -- 2I don't know about all that, but I do appreciate the nod to the legendary lenser. Truth is Rosie's just buttering me up, as he knows my passion for solo news gathering. And while I won't let the VJ prophet goad me into gloating, I'm more than happy to show my work. So, I've plucked the freshest fare from my station website, two stories that aired today within seperate newscast. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about either piece , but they're indicative of the kind of news I crank out on a daily basis. We'll get to the cinema in a minute, but first, a tutorial on how I roll. Word?

Greg Long and Jeh Jeh PruittMost folks think of a news crew as just that - a crew: one camera-person and one reporter, working interdependently to accumulate interviews and images. It's a time-tested model, one that's produced 98.7 percent of the very few chunks of news you choose to remember. But not all broadcast fodder is collected by a couple. Many times a photojournalist ventures out unaccompanied - either to gather small video squibs to spread among several newscasts, or - like myself - produce the kind of self-contained voiced-report most people associate with toothy correspondents. For decades, these versatile news shooters were derisively referred to as One-Man-Bands. These days, they're called Vee-Jays - an equally loathsome title in most camera scrums. For the record, I consider myself either, but Master of Found Light just doesn't look good on a business card. And Cameramanthropologist simply won't fit.

In our first feature we visit suburban Greensboro, where Soccer Moms have turned in there angels' muddy cleats for day-glo elbow floaties. When I first arrived poolside, I had only about ten minutes to interview the swim coach (sorry, Aquatics Director) before the offspring of a hundred cul-de-sacs arrived to mass urinate in the olympic-sized pool. That didn't bother me none - as I wasn't planning to take a dip. Instead I hunkered down outside the splash-zone and worked the far end of the glass. Forty-five minutes later, the kids exited the water for a juice-box showdown and I grabbed a Mom for a quick sit-down. Then I went home and cut my lawn. Teh next day I spent about 45 minutes logging my footage and writing the script. After a passing reporter read my words into a sound-booth microphone, I grabbed some Hot Fries and crawled into an edit bay. An hour later I emerged with this finished report and a slight case of heartburn. I like the video better.

Today my indigestion was gone so I knocked back a hearty cup of Joe before venturing into the very heart of Randolph County. My mission: be there and rolling when state biologists dumped a truckload of baby bass into a newly formed lake. Knowing a sweet gig when I saw it, I whistled all the way there. Upon arrival, I found a few newspaper shooters trading lies down by the dock. I joined them and we shot the shit until the tank-truck finally arrived. As it did, I fell into a trance, coming to an hour later with a disc full of fishy images. It was then I turned my attention to lunch. Gunning my engine toward higher ground, I thought more about the southern fried Chinese food awaiting me in Archdale than how I might put together this latest daily saga. Only when the fortune cookies were depleted did I gaze upon my lakeside footage, whereupon the story wrote itself. I did however, edit it sans the assistance of any supernatural forces. Now - cue the fish...

Lenslinger at the WheelThere you have it - two garden variety examples of the soft news fruit I peddle out of the back of Unit Four everyday. They won't change the landscape of the new media horizon but I'm certain a few of my captured moments will live on in the collective consciousness of the Greater Triad Metroplex. I however, will have forgotten most everything about them, focusing only on the deadline in the distance while enjoying the pleasure of my own company.

Somebody has to.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Sony of his Owny

Have ya ever wondered what it's like behind the scenes at your local TV station? Me neither, but here's a video uploaded by The Mighty Weave anyway - a taut and gripping thriller in which yours truly and assorted cohorts dork around, mumble alot and edit. It's the Feel-Good Hit of the Summer! Then again, maybe it's just some random shots strung together to the beat of a third-rate Bon Jovi dirge. Either way, it's worth a view - if only for a glimpse at how excruciatingly dull the world of late-day editing can actually be. Make-Up!!!

Sage of the Rodeo

Counsel with a CowboyYou wanna talk Idols? Here's one of mine: Jerome Davis, bull riding icon, paralysis victim and long-term owner of a sunny disposition. I first met him in the Fall of '97, when sports goob Jay Shurling introduced him as 'The Michael Jordan of Professional Bull Riders. Had it not been for all the trophy saddles hanging on his living room wall, I made not have believed it. Legends don't come this humble - especially ones who make their money in eight second death-defying blasts. But Jerome was just that: mannerly, modest, mellow. Needless to say, I left his Archdale ranch impressed with the lanky cowboy's quiet vibe.

Then, it happened. An unlucky head-butt with a bull named Knock 'em Out John did just that, rendering Jerome unconscious before hurling him to the ground head first. In an instant, the young world champion's life changed forever. Broncing bulls and rodeo tours gave way to wheelchairs and hours of physical anguish. When I saw him next, Jerome couldn't even wear his cowboy hat. The metal halo screwed into his skull all but prevented it. But what struck me the most about the new Jerome, what absolutely floored me, was how his carefee attitude had survived that vertebra-shattering impact. He never planned to get hurt, of course - but now that he had, it was 'just one of them things..."

Since then, nine years have passed. Jerome's regained some use of his arms, but remains unable to walk, let alone climb aboard a two thousand pound leviathan and hold on tight. But he hasn't put himself out to pasture, either. Instead, he and his delightful wife Tiffany can be found on the family ranch - when they're not out on the road, trading bulls and motivating all those who aspire to ride them. Today however, Jerome was around the house and despite needing to cut an awful lot of hay, he huddled with me under a tree for a quick interview about his upcoming cowboy camp. As always, we had a fine visit - even when, while touring the eighty acre sprawl on his Kawasaki Mule, we plumb ran out of gas. Yippie Ki-ya...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Diminishing Lenses

I'm no pioneering Vee-Jay, mind you - just a salty old photog with infinite opinions on the state of electronic newsgathering. Of course there's hardly a dearth of video visionaries these days. Consultants, network journeymen, college professors - all waxing endlessly on the art of point and shoot. Hell, newspaper folk alone are revolutionizing video news as we speak...just ask em! For me however, much remains the same. Sure, the internet, magic laptops and diminishing lenses have greatly extrapolated the act of data-gathering. But for all the upheaval in play, I find I produce stories the way I always have: with great care and occasional flair. If that makes me a heavy-camera caveman, bring on the loin-cloth.

But make sure it fits, 'cause I'm gonna be here for awhile. For no matter how small cameras get, no matter how new delivery platforms change the business, no matter how many laptop correspondents assault me with orgasmic blather regarding their newfound grasp of the fundamentals, I'll be out there - swinging from headline to deadline like the hairy camera-ape I am. Along the way I'll cradle all manners of tricked-out lenses, pound out digital timelines from the unlikeliest of locations and fully exploit the spoils of corporate newsgathering. What I won't do is apologize for the confines of the broadcast model. My product is lean, occasionally cheesy and always fortified with concentrated watchability. If that's so wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Follow the Ball

As chintzy as the above graphic is, it may very well be the tombstone of the local TV sports shooter. For this low-fi banner isn't summoning wannabe photogs to a meeting after homeroom, but to the sleek halls of a modern day TV station. Is it a cutting-edge approach to citizen journalism? Sure. A fantastic opportunity for budding news shooters? I suppose. A brilliant excuse to downsize that pesky sports department? Yahtzee! Still, I'm not here to take sidelines - but rather to analyze the play. Here comes the pitch...
  • Go to sporting events for free with a press pass!
  • Shoot with one of the hottest video cameras available!
  • Rub elbows with the pros at WESH 2 and CW18!
  • And get paid for your work!
Not being a sports guy myself, this particular brouhaha doesn't exactly keep me up at night. There are a million things I'd rather do on a Friday night than clamor after high school jocks. If a TV station wants to take advantage of inexpensive lenses and lowered expectations, it's no skin off my remote. Just don't pimp it up as revolution, would ya? For years, local affiliates have been reaping the benefits of local sports fan's high school loyalties on the back of unpaid interns and overtime seeking pros. Just ask any photog who's wrapped up a long day's shift to find out his 3 (three!) football games are in three diametrically outlying counties. He'll tell you the O.T.'s damn handy, but the real kick comes from their love of the game. Now the veteran and the neophyte will be joined by a whole new breed of lens apprentice - young upstarts pursuing an opportunity I'd have killed for when I was their age. I just feel bad for the working class shooter, who just aren't as needed as they once were underneath those Friday night lights.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Back to You

Laugh tracks in general make me lunge for the remote, so I'm probably not the best person to judge Fox's new sitcom. But since Back to You is set in the farcical world of local TV news, I willingly clicked on the three excerpts available on-line. It wasn't a complete waste of time. In the pilot episode, preening gasbag Chuck Darling (Kelsey Grammer, in post-Frasier sleepwalk) returns to a Pittsburgh station he abandoned years ago on his way to the top. Now that he's on the way back down, he has to deal with a Gen-X news director, an old co-anchor ex-lover and the requisite goofy sports guy (played by the brilliant but slumming Fred Willard). Hilarity should ensue. After all, comedy writers have plumbed the depths of newsroom chicanery for laughs since Mary Tyler Moore first flashed her spunk to Lou Grant. But I'm not so sure Back To You measures up. Sure, it's got a great pedigree, a stellar cast and rich source material. In fact, if you stomach the slapstick paradigm of modern day sitcomery, ths show may be for you. God knows the producers have alot to work with. Every newsroom I've ever worked in featured the kind of creatures comics yearn to emulate and bag on. I've just never seen a prime-time comedy capture the dark, wacky vibe found in the headquarters of most local broadcast news outlets. (Paging HBO...) As for the lead, Grammer is good - but I think most people will tune in and wonder why Frasier ditched his Seattle radio gig for a TV anchor job in Pittsburgh. To me though, he'll always be Sideshow Bob.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Forgettable Fire

Stop wasting time here and go check out the eye candy Weaver scored at an abandoned house fire yesterday. Not much is known about the abandoned structure or how it came to suddenly incinerate, but it drew a decent mumble of afternoon lookie-loos and not one, but two El Ocho photogs (some guys will do anything for overtime). Seems Castro and the Weave rolled up at the same time, exchanged Borat-like high-fives before falling into some sort of spot news photog synchronicity. The result is the most heavily documented shack fire this side of Waco, Texas.

But before I come off sounding too high and mighty, let me assure you: Had I been in the area, I too would have run church buses off the road to lay a lens on the embers. I'm no pyro, mind you (though I have known a few), but the random assuredness that I'll once again cower in the glow of some front yard conflagration and go back to the station with smoke on my clothes is one of the seven reasons I still do this silly job. I wish ill on no man, but if the shithouse does go up in flames, I still wanna be there to see it. Guess there's hope for me in this business, after all.