Saturday, November 10, 2007

Needling Weezie

Profiling Wheezy
He’s no catatonic topcat, but Weezie the Red Tailed Boa saved my bacon Wednesday by sparing my jugular and taking his medicine. Ever since I turned a story on monkey acupuncture at the North Carolina Zoo a few weeks back, the suits have been wanting me to twist up somethin' for the November Sweeps period. Trouble is it kept slithering from my mind. Before I knew it, the story’s time-slot was forty-eight hours out and I’d yet to set the damn thing up. Frantic phone tag followed. A day later, I rose early and shot to Raleigh, where Dr. Christine Eckermann-Ross poked holes in felines, hares and asps - all while delivering the appropriate commentary. Suh-WEET! No longer surprised where I find myself, I swung my glass and acted fascinated, until every critter on the premises was comfortably numb. The piece was no buzzkill, either.

Friday, November 09, 2007

1st Annual Awards

If you've never taken part in a TV news story contest, you ain't missed much. Sure, there are the local Emmies, the AP awards, the NPPA and lots of other ways to take home a trophy or a plaque. But I've just never been a fan. Be it the whacked-out entry fees, the haphazard judging or just the whole unsavory process of nominating yourself for a pat on the back, it's always struck me as ... hollow. While I cast no aspersions on the many powerful photogs who've racked up the mantle hardware, I've never been able to cut a check for something I don't believe in (a policy which proves I'm either overly idealistic or just plain cheap). Now, however, I may be forced to reconsider my longheld stance, since Kevin Johnson has finally forced the TV News Contest into the 21st Century. I give you the 1st Annual AWARDS.

For those who don't know, is the on-line gathering place for the TV news photog nation (and incidentally, the birthplace of Lenslinger). With more than 47,000 members, the b-roll community includes wide-eyed newbies, network journeyman and medium market hacks like me. We're not newspaper multimedia specialists, mind you - but we still think we know a thing or two about video journalism. Until now, we've solidified that crazy belief by filling the world's newscasts with our finest efforts; real world, daily-made, deadline-edited television news. Perhaps you've caught a few examples wedged between all those damn Geiko ads. With the uprise of YouTube and beefed-up TV station websites, more and more of our work appears on-line - which makes a democratic, free and transparent story contest all but inevitable.

Enter Kevin Johnson. For 11 years, the towering everyman has worked to improve his website, first with a barebones watering hole, then a vibrant message board and now with a YouTube-like video uploading portal. Since launching TV, Kev's attracted some of the best TV news out there to his fledgling gallery. With the addition of a free yearly contest, his list of exhibits will surely swell. Voted on by the very community that holds their work so dear, the Awards are poised to exploit the ego, id and virtuoso of some v-e-r-y competitive storytellers. If you're a news shooter like me who specializes in putting it off, it's time to learn to upload. If you're simply a fan of potent TV news, you'll want to bookmark this site and check back often.

Hmmmm ... a free and transparent TV news story contest, built on a pre-existing membership and the ease of the internets. Kinda makes you wonder why the NPPA didn't roll this kind of thing out years ago. Guess they're still in committee...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sling Da Noise

Soni & I at SessionWell, this is awkward. Actually, it's a podcast (audio recording, Mom) of the Blog to Book session at ConvergeSouth. Much love to Amber Rhea for pushing the 'Record' button and not dozing off while Soni Pitts and I explored the many ways one might turn a pile of late night cyber-screeds into something worthy of a barcode. That's still a long ways off, but it didn't stop me from yammering on for the better part of an hour - proving it's far easier to talk about your dreams than to turn them into reality. So, while I fling pencils into the ceiling tiles, know that a verbal deconstruction of my grandest ambition is now just a mouse-click away. And NO, I don't really expect you to listen to it, but if you need 58 minutes of white noise to put the baby to sleep - well, I'm your huckleberry...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Case Against Kovach

I don’t know Daniel Kovach, but after surfing through his Flickr gallery, I feel like we should exchange Christmas cards or something. Either that or I’m gonna have to sue the guy for mimeographing my memory plates, photographing my flashbacks and disseminating my delusions. How else could Dude post photos so eerily similar to my very own? Be it a Jedi Mind trick or a simple mix-up at the lab, I’m seriously considering calling that attorney with the bouffant on the tee-vee. Hell, I’ve already done the legwork...

Exhibit A

Either they do early morning TV News live shots outside of the Greater Piedmont Googolplex, or this frame was brazenly purloined from the Lenslinger Winter of ’97. Back then I spent five out of seven sunrises rolling up cable and rethinking my career path as an attractive and combative reporter by the name of Jami Turner trained her third new guy in a row. Weeks earlier I’d been a burnout in a necktie on his way to middle management, having forsaken my newsman’s DNA for a charade of a promotions career. It was during this twelve month stretch of endless cable runs that I came to appreciate the prototypical photog and yet hate a damn live truck all at the same time. That condition continues to this day, as do my troubled dreams of steering top-heavy logo-mobiles through misty morning mountain hops. How this Kovach character got a copy, I do not know.

Exhibit B

Further evidence skulduggery is afoot, this stirring replica of a stroll I took through the flooded streets of Grifton, N.C. shortly after Hurricane Floyd triggered a flood of biblcal proportions. Yeah, it doesn't look exactly like me - but I'm telling you I've walked this walk (and God knows I've talked the talk). Most amazing to me here is Kovach's knack for capturing the spontaneous, for I rolled into the tiny Pitt County border town that day pissy and unprepared. What started as an impromptu walkabout quickly turned into an extended safari - one in which the tripod grew heavy, the camera grew damp and the chafing reigned unabated. Little did I know then I was in for weeks of uncomfortable coverage, including the floating over of schoolbuses, the stalking of one Jesse Jackson and a near case of red-headed reportercide. Thank God Kovach didn't get a shot of that.

Exhibit C

Okay so for the life of me I can't recall ever wearing that shirt, but I distinctly remember the evening. It was early Fall a dozen or so years back and I was a young man enamored with the lens. So too were the good ole boys that night, a local cabal of volunteer firefighters hopped up on smoke plumes and thoughts of arson. It was a controlled burn of course; the pre-planned pyre courtesy of some recently departed widow's wish. It burned in increments, until finally the eager brigade stopped manhandling their hoses and started to ignore the fact that the roof, the roof, the roof was on fire. still, it didn't really get weird until the groupies showed up; young women in tight jeans and clinging drawls who gathered areound the brush truck and cheered on their helmeted heroes. The resulting cacophony of siren yelps, housefire crackle and female shrieks was enough to tap the pyro in us all and I for one showered six times once I got home.

Maybe that's why I totally spaced on it. Now, if you'll excuse me Counselor, I've got some more witnesses to bully, Case dismissed!

Monday, November 05, 2007

No Tripe Left Behind

Dear Penthouse...With the Hollywood Writers’ strike in full swing, I can barely find the strength to log on. After all, what will happen if all those TV shows I never watch run out of fresh pablum to foist on the American people? Could public libraries see a sudden spike in book checkouts? Not until everyone’s Tivo runs dry. That’s a shame too, since 98 percent of what passes for network programming is derivative spittle, anyway. But you certainly don’t need me to tell you that. Just look at shows like Prison Break. Successful, yes but the damn thing’s been on for a couple of seasons now -- amd it's still called Prison Break! Get a plan, fellas! The very second episode should’ve been called On The Run, followed closely by Shot In the Back, or Night In The Box. And don’t get me started on shows like Heroes or Lost! I knew drama students at ECU who could knock smother mushrooms in peanut butter and come up with more plausible storylines. Best yet, they’d only charge ‘friend prices‘. Focus, people!

A-HEM ... Rather than rage all night against the dark and silent flattie in the corner of my den, I’ve cracked open my laptop and performed a hard-target search of every string of broken prose, each deserted bromide and all the half-baked topic starters I wisely abandoned so many moons ago. Thus, the following random verbiage, apropos of, well - nothing…
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from almost twenty years of harvesting video, it’s not to get your foot caught in the hopper. Hey, accidents happen, but nobody wants to see your bloody stump lodged between the sports block and the 5 day forecast. Not anyone with a ratings diary, anyway.

My very first TV camera was struck down in a horrible industrial accident. That’s right, an intern by the name of Art pulled it off its tripod at a tractor warehouse. As a dusty particle cloud of plastic and glass wafted up from the concrete floor, he actually asked me if it was broken. It was and six months later, Art was named weekend anchor at the competition.

Because of the marked news unit that occasionally sits in my driveway, my neighbors automatically assume I harbor insights and opinions on local crime sprees, low pressure systems and city politics. Imagine their surprise when all I can speak intelligently on are fresh centenarians, scavenger hunts and dogs in funny hats.

Some adults remember their first bicycle, their childhood tree house or that really big game in little league. Not me. I recall pouring over my family’s World Book encyclopedia set, collecting garbage bags full of little green army men and watching ABC reporter Bill Stewart get shot in the head. Maybe that’s why I ain’t rightl…

Nothing will cause every bulb in your light kit to spontaneously shatter like the onset of Daylight Savings Time - when even 5 o clock live shots need extra illumination. Likewise, spot monsoons and advertised hurricanes will cause your camera’s rain-cover to slip into the very same vortex that contains mankind’s collection of mismatched athletic socks.

Everything I know about TV news I learned from Roy Hardee - the crotchety old News Director at my first TV station. Never one to speak of divas, diaries of demographics. Roy’s only interest was covering the news. Though a registered punk-ass at the time, I knew even then that chasing breakers for ole Roy was a privilege, the newsgathering equivalent of running moonshine for your Uncle Jesse.

Some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with in TV News found a way to wrap this business around their particular strength, be it the photog who writes, the manager who shoots or the second string sports guy who fancied himself a political reporter. The really intelligent ones, however, ran away screaming, never to return.

On the other end of that spectrum, somewhere outside of Chocowinity, a vintage dentist chair sits rusting, an aging Piranha sulks from neglect and an unimportant man named Mike Weeks wonders where it all went wrong. Perhaps I'll fax him an itemized list.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Slingerpedia: Fancycam

It’s been brought to my attention I don’t always explain the dorky terms I use. Thus, the first of many entries from the Viewfinder BLUES User's Guide, in which I cover the fundamentals - without ever getting too technical...

Fancycam [fān'sē kām] (N.) Origin: Me

Be it a gleaming new Sony XD or a war-torn TK-76, the shoulder mounted, manually adjusted, high-end visual recording device of its day. Heavy of glass, festooned with logos (often layers) and smelling of the open road, this living instrument can capture grief, dispense inanity or kick-start a riot - depending on which buttons you push. While early models came with matching saddle bags filled with recording decks and life support equipment, the modern day fancycam is a highly-cradled single-piece unit, featuring tiny flip-out screens and burdened only by shiny decals and a faint odor of house fire. Lens throw and light requirement varies wildly between makes and models, but the potency of any TV lens is vastly extrapolated when coupled with its intrinsic and underrated mate, the tripod (see sticks, legs, the gimp). When properly connected with attended live truck, the fancycam can put entire regions to sleep with meandering noon talkbacks or hold the globe riveted - should Osama, Britney or Bigfoot show up.

Fancycam VS. Film camera

Unlike the film camera, the vastly different image acquirer requiring support personnel dressed in Goth clothing and some form of craft services, the TV news fancycam is operated by sole caretaker, while usually owned by faceless corporate entity. Formats differ; some models slather images on creaky videotape while others arrange data on optical disc. Regardless of recording platform, neither model will survive unplanned drops followed by sudden stops, news units in reverse or any and all salt-water immersions.

Access and Acquisition

As noted earlier, most fancycams are owned by broadcast outlets - yet loved, cared for and coveted by lower level employees of said affiliates. This symbiotic arrangement - unique to TV stations - results in these expensive devices being left in the sole care of staffers whose annual salaries seem paltry by comparison. Admirably, very few fancycams are ever lost or maligned, as those who cradle them from one unlikely locale to the next do so because of the unthinkable access provided to them in the process. In short, a logo’d lens on the shoulder can open most any door, deter fugitives and erase the occasional bar tab.

Long Term Exposure

There is a downside. Long term exposure to the working end of a fancycam can throw more than your back out of whack. A one inch screen pressed to your face can also skew your perspective, especially when walking backwards for extensive periods of time. Unprotected encounters with logo’d lenses can imbue the operator with a false sense of bravado, leaving them with the mistaken impression they’ve seen it all - when in fact they’ve simply mastered the groundbreaking, ride-along and hall of justice scrum. An additional danger: because of personality types found around such lenses (felons, politicians, weekend anchors) camera personnel often assumes everyone is crazy. See also Asshole Magnet.

Separated at Birth?

Rusty Camaro Not Included...Retro Turd
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Rick Portier and I live parallel lives. He's a crusty TV news vet down in Baton Rouge. I'm a journeyman photog from the finer of the Carolinas. He's a father of two in his forties. I'm on the verge of a mid-life crisis and a Dad of a duo to boot. He writes every night under a made up moniker. I'm equally obsessed with an on-line alter-ego. Now I find out Rick spent the early nineties the same way I did: soaking up the latest in TV news technology while sporting one seriously outdated haircut. I knew I liked this guy!