Friday, June 01, 2007

Welcome to the Scrum

Wall of LensesFor a loner with a lens, I do so dig a camera cluster. From the snaking cables underfoot, to the preening, leaning broadcast masts high above - there’s something about a media circus that makes me feel oddly at home. I blame the midway. For where else can you see the Incredibly Sweaty Gadget Freak, the Aging Anchor with Purple Hair, or the Lifer with No Name? You won’t find these characters at your local shopping mall. Unless it burns down, is invaded by zombies or visited by a sitting Pope. Then, these electronic vets will show up en masse, erect their tents and trucks just outside the calamity in question and crank up the sideshow before His Holiness ever hits the Food Court. It’s an competitive, funny, scathing world behind that wall of lenses - and all you need to enter is a pissy attitude and a press pass or two.

Joe and Ken CornNow that you're in, say hello to some of my buddies. The one on the left - the one who looks like he's about to go fly-fishing - is young Joe McCloskey. A fine photog in his own right, Joe acts as Sat Truck Captain whenever Satellite Dan is absent, sleeping or off on a Hamsicle bender. If that last one made no sense to you, you've never raided the rapidly thawing freezer of a hurricane-lashed island's only open gas station. Joe has - and he's got the soggy receipts to prove it. As for his friend there, that's none other than Colonel Ken Corn, ex photog-blogger, Mission Specialist and all around nice guy. When he ain't knocking back bottle water he swiped from a group of passing orphans, the Colonel can be found cruising the Queen City for news nuggets, trawling the deep end of the blogosphere or just being way too kind to your somewhat humble lenslinger.

Jamison and WhiteyOf course you know Whitey. He's the one with the sunny outlook, the upscale neckwear and the cell phone that launches unmanned spacecraft. Eric White (E-Whizzle to his many hip-hop followers) and I have worked together semi-regularly over the years. We've chased seeing eye ponies, endured marathon school board meetings and taken in a fatality or three. Through it all, Whitey's maintained his great attitude - no easy feat when your photog partner is constantly threatening to drive headfirst into the nearest bridge abutment. But enough about me - let's meet The Big Guy! That's him in the hat. His name's Jameson Forst and chances are he's got more kids than you. He's also got mad camera skills, an affinity for wide-angle lenses and as of yet no trace of a southern accent. Though new to El Ocho, Jameson's not new to the gig - something he proved about twenty minutes after he arrived here. Eager to no longer be the new guy, he even feigns interest when I mention this very blog. That'll change...

Apocalypse StewDear Lord, you've given me so much. A career, a family, a writing compulsion ... could you not have made me a little more photogenic? You know, a little thicker hair on top, strapping muscles and not quite so red a complexion when trapped outside. C'mon - I dress like Magnum P.I. Couldn't just maybe I have looked a bit like Tom Selleck? That way all these pictures I post of myself could be one steamy collage in unbridled beefcake instead of some visual testament to my inherent dorkitude. Would that have been too much to ask? Hmm? Iraq? Global Warming? The Sopranos Finale? Yeah - I guess you are pretty busy. Tell you what, forget the whole handsome rap and remember this: Billy Graham may have saved thousands of souls but I sweated like an escaped convict at a license checkpoint the day they dedicated his new library. If that won't win me any celestial favors, how 'bout my ongoing attempts to explain my surly breed to the eight a half loyal readers of Viewfinder BLUES? Hmm? No? Okay.

I'll be in the sat truck if you need me.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Sat SummitAs expected, my day at the Billy Graham Library dedication was long and arduous. But thanks to the seasoned pros I work with, it was not miserable. In fact, chicanery abounded throughout the day's reverence - and I got the snapshots to prove it! I'll share some of those in a later post. For now though, let's stick to the nuts and bolts...

Billy Graham Arrives" I feel like I've been attending my own funeral!" quipped the Reverend Billy Graham. You would too had three ex Presidents shown up to heap acclaim upon your life's work. But Bush, Carter and Clinton ccame to praise the 88 year old evangelist, not bury him. His new library is a beautiful barn-like structue with a giant cross built into the architecture, but no where on the structure will you find Billy Graham's name. That's the way he wanted it. Whatever your philosophical bent, you gotta dig this man's humility. If all television evangelists had to be this classy, crooks like Jimmy Swaggart would be out of a job.

Sweat HeadDid I mention it was hot? Jungle floor hot. In fact, the heat was one reason tempers flared in the camera scrum. Take this guy for example: a towering, dripping wet Rueters photographer, who nearly soiled himself when a certain lenslinger mistakenly crowded his shot. Minutes later, he birthed another bovine when a nice old gentleman from the Graham camp told him where to stand. Where's an overzealous Secret Service agent when you need one?

Clinton ProfileA word on Bill Clinton. I didn't always like him. It wasn't his policies so much, but his penchant for ugly women. Then of course George W. Bush took office and through a protracted series of global bumblings, made this silver haired lothario not seem so bad. Not that it was my first time seeing him. Years ago, he made me and several other thousand folk wait in the pouring rain at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, while he trolled for digits aboard Air Force One. All forgiven. Today, however, he was right on time, ambling into view alongside Bush the Elder and Jimmy Carter. As he did, I couldn't help but note the man's inherent swagger. Maybe it's all those SNL skits, but I cannot look upon the man without assuming he's harboring some illicit intention - even when he's trying his best to church it up.

Over the ShoulderSpeaking of church, I spent the day praying to the Gods of field repair. What is it about traveling out of town that makes well cared for gear go all whacky? I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say it's tough to interview scores of Christians when your every microphone is so obviously possessed by demons. Maybe this guy can help...

Betty LynnWorld leaders - PPFFT! Immortal preachers - Next! Rock star reporters - puh-LEASE! For my lack of cash, there was only present notable worthy of adulation and you're looking at her. Betty Lynn counts herself as just another Billy Graham admirer, but to millions of people she will always be Barney Fife's sweetheart, Thelma Lou. Perhaps it's a Tarheel thing, but I never pass up a chance to visit with a former resident of Mayberry. Miss Betty was delightful as always and we chatted about our last encounter in Mount Airy - a jam-packed Andy Griffith affair in which the late great Howard Morris gave the event organizers a fit by channeling his most signature character, Ernest T. Bass.

I love North Carolina...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

We Now Take You Live...

Live Trucks R UsWhen is a simple water main break more than a simple water main break? When it's a throbbing backdrop for not one, two, but three broadcast outlets. Such was the case today when a trio of live trucks gathered outside a Forsyth County lingerie shop for a glance into the chasm that is a twelve hour old puddle of water and dirt. Hey, everyday can't end in murder and mayhem. Quite regularly, we news crews gotta scrape the bottom of the barrel, and come up with something to bleat about. If that means standing watch over a patch of gravel and announcing that for the next 24 hours Winston-Salemers will have to drive three blocks out of their way to purchase that velcro teddy at truly warehouse prices. Where's Geraldo when you need him?

Amernick SalutesHe ain't here. Instead it was just us locals loitering in the lot, trying to ignore the ninety degree heat while the choking fumes of freshly-laid tar wafted over our every pour. Man, I love show business! What other gig lets you babysit spectacle and farce on a daily basis? What other line of work allows you a front row seat to the kinds of the mmind-numbing news items you'd flip right by were you kicked back on the couch and rounding the horn of your cable line-up? Postal Carriers don't get to do that stuff, only TV news lifers like me or...that guy - Jeff Amernick - seen here showing me a little middle finger respect while still holding his shot steady and true. That's the sign of a true professional!

Mac and SonnettSpeaking of pros, check out these two. Mac and Sonnet never once looked up the entire time we were there, choosing instead to endlessly tweak their shot while Amernick and I played grab-ass (figuratively speaking, that is - I'm a married man!). Maybe it's their esprit de corps. Mayeb their new live truck was givin' em fits. Maybe it's that Channel 2 mandate that no fully daylit frame is complete without an extra keylight or three. Maybe I'll ask them tomorrow - when electronic interlopers from the Piemont and beyond travel to the Queen City, to witness the orchestrated mayhem that will be the new Billy Graham Museum dedication. From the look of the crew call list, I'll be there all day - shooting, editing and jaw-jacking with far flung friends. Expect a late but lengthy update sometime before Midnight Thursday. Meanwhile, I gotta scrub the smell of fresh tar off me. Aging evangelists hate that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Into the Mild

As I wove my way through the packed ballroom, I all but ignored the priggish stares. It started with a toothy lobbyist holding court by the hotel wing entrance, the one who brought his golf parable to an awkward halt so he and his cronies could squint disapprovingly at my scuffed up kicks. I arched an eyebrow as I passed, hoping my choice of shorts and fairly unwrinkled shirt would cause him further indigestion. Then I locked eyes with a matronly executive gnawing on a dainty croissant. For a moment I thought the old bag was gonna choke on it, all because a lenslinging ruffian was in the hiz-ouse. Before security was called however, she noticed the high dollar fancy-cam hanging at my hip - the one fashion accessory that can win you entry into both the cloistered enclave of the hobo village and the bedazzled confines of the Tight-Ass Convention. Given my druthers, I’d be hanging out by the tracks right now…

But druthers aren’t often offered in my line of work - I suppose that’s why the bosses insist on paying me for it. But unlike my wage, my duties changes on the hour. One moment I’m hiding behind my tripod as SWAT team members move in on a sleeping gunman, the next I’m crashing the stuffiest of breakfast affairs for a breathless interviews with celebrity windbags. This morning it was the latter - and I wasn’t about to let a sea of movers and shakers keep me from attempting contact with guest of honor Liddy Dole - even if I was dressed like a field trip chaperone. So I squeezed past a clutch of old guys dressed like Matlock and scanned the upper torso of every over-perfumed woman in sight.

No, I wasn’t getting’ my perv on. I was reading nametags, hoping to find a moniker that matched the name scribbled on the press release in my pocket. For only she could grant me what my bosses so wanted - a few on-camera comments from the good Senator on the immigration reform bill. Never mind the fact she was in town to talk manufacturing. Seasoned politicians like Dole however, never need a lot of cueing. I have no doubt Liddy can segue from the ramifications of Guantanamo to the virtues of Cheerwine without so much as batting an mascara-laden eyelid. In fact I think she pulled the stunt the last time I interviewed her. Either that or I’m confusing it with the time I fought back Planet of the Apes quotes while training a camera on Charlton Heston. Either way it doesn’t matter as Mrs. Dole gave me the slip this morning, popping up at the last minute behind the podium before vanishing into a cloud of dried-ice like smoke, exclusive interview be damned..

Perhaps the hip waders were too much.

UPDATE: A pox on me for not mentioning the lone highlight of my executive foray - a few stolen moments with Maintenance Evangelist and Hamburger Champion Joel Leonard. In his trenchant comment below, Joel lifts my cynic's veil for a look at someone remarkable among the blue suit group. Classy guy, that Joel...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Nocturnal Review

Okay, here’s the part of my day where I sit down and write something. Not sure why exactly, it just feels like the right thing to do. Were I born a hundred years earlier I’d likely spend the waning hours of each day slathering my every other whim in ink - tattooing stacks of loose leaf paper no one would ever see. Instead, I get to kick back in my suburban hovel’s upper reaches and jot my thoughts electronically to unseen masses - or at least those interested in the musings of a compulsive writer with a camera on his shoulder. It‘s a slim demographic, but it‘s all I got. Now here‘s the news...

This Just In: We’re on FIRE!!! Man, nothing spoils a newscast like burning curtains. I’d rather watch traffic girls rap. But the staff of WABC had no such choice when a blown light bulb apparently shot 15-foot flames up the live studio’s walls moments before show-time. (I’ve seen newscasts crash and burn, but this is ridiculous.) Wisely, the staff dispensed with any notions of news and got the schmuck out of the building unharmed. After the fire they returned to find their new hi-def set rendered to incredibly detailed cinders. Dig through the rubble, here.

Dateline: Venezuela: Calling Bush the devil I can live with I guess, but shutting down a TV station? Damn You Hugo Chavez! After accusing his country’s most popular station of helping to plot an unsuccessful coup against him, Venezuela’s surly president pulled the freakin‘ switch, summarily ending RCTV‘s 53 year end run. Replacing it with a new state-sanctioned broadcast factory sparked both joy and turmoil. Redefining the term ‘loyal viewer‘, some protestors even got drilled by water cannons for their efforts. Can’t someone just hide the Emperor’s Remote?

Closer to home, I had the indistinct pleasure of reporting for duty at El Ocho on this fine Memorial Day. ‘No sweat’ I thought , pulling into the parking lot. With a three minute piece to edit, I’ll at the least spend the day in a darkened edit bay. A half hour later, I squinted in the sun’s glint as a guy in a kilt blew his bagpipe by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial along I-85. I didn’t get back to the bay ’til midday, whereupon I slivered images from a staggered series legalese shoots until I emerged with a fresh epic suitable for viewing, a little something we shooter-editor types call ‘The Buckumentary’.

Finally tonight, I’d like to extend a Viewfinder BLUES welcome to Bobby Hess, Kansas City photog, admitted Chiefs fan and past cohort of one Joey Flash. In his latest blog-post, Bobby reviews his formative years spent behind the lens of a newly launched morning show. “The hours sucked. I worked from 4am to 9am Monday through Friday. 25 hours a week, zero bennys and the pay was crap but it was a job in television. I though it was the greatest job I had ever had.” Hmm - reminds me own time spent slow-dancing with an ancient floor cam on the chintzy set of Carolina Today. Wonder what Slim Short’s up to these days?

THIS JUST IN: Slim Short is alive and well and drinking coffee at a McDonald's East of Raleigh. Phew! Reminds me of the time we both knocked back some Old Grand Dad at a certain GM's pool party. Where's the WayBack Machine when you really want it?