Saturday, January 05, 2008

Farkas the Remarkable

Anyone who’s ever framed up another human should lower their lens tonight, for a master of the craft has passed. Ray Farkas, known far and wide for his generous nature and languid storytelling style, succumbed to colon cancer late Friday. His death marks the end of a brilliant career, one spent adding to the palette of TV news and inspiring everyone around him in the process. He produced an abundance of coverage on matters large and small; he seemed able to create gripping television out of thin air. A pioneer user of the wireless microphone, he redefined the sit-down interview with obscure camera placement, abundant cutaways and a fly on the wall feel. His very name denotes the approach, making him one of the few producers to expand the lexicon of TV News. But the Ray Farkas school of thought transcended the soundbite. When he contracted a sever form of Parkinson’s Disease, he documented much of his treatment, including one session in which he narrated his own brain surgery … live! Enthusiastic, innovative and affable, Farkas was a favorite among his many brethren at NPPA. Those of us lucky enough to rub shoulders with him in at the Norman workshop were among the legion of shooters who sought and received his tutelage. Ray Farkas the man may no longer be with us, but Farkas - the broadcast term will be used and revered for as long as TV cameras roam the Earth. His legacy will only grow - every time a television photojournalist pulls w-a-y back from the subject at hand and dares to stare at it differently.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Jackals and Has-Beens

I have chased defendants down stairways, quizzed new widows as they clutched Kleenex and bum-rushed a dumpster or two - ALL in the name of news. But nothing I’ve done with a TV news camera on my shoulder has made me feel as sleazy as watching the paparazzi cling to the back of Britney Spears’ ambulance. For those of you with the good sense to ignore this tripe, I’ll try and be brief: Last night the Mouseketeer turned nut bag reportedly wigged out inside her Los Angeles home. When an ambulance came to take her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for observation, it had to weave through a human debris field of photogs, reporters and assorted whack-jobs with lenses. By the time the paramedics pulled out with the wash-up pop star in the back, the unthinkable scrum clung to the exiting ambulance like hyenas on a bleeding cheetah. If you missed the video, don’t sweat it. I hear it's currently playing it on a loop in the Seventh Circle of Hell.

Now, I’m no paparazzi. Yeah, there’s usually a viewfinder in my face, but any celebrity I’ve pointed it at generally welcomed the attention. Well, there was that time I loitered in a underground parking garage, waiting for Nikki Sixx to report to court. Serena Williams didn’t seem to happy to see me when I stumbled upon her at Furniture Market one year. And there was that time when Rusty Wallace yelled at me for shining a light on him, but that hardly counts, since everyone knows what an insufferable prick Rusty Wallace is. My point is this: Past transgressions aside, what I do is very different from sleeping in my car outside some embattled ingénue’s mansion, in hopes she’ll stick her head out long enough to regurgitate in High Def. But to too many folks, I am but a cousin to this lecherous breed, just another yak with a deadline and a lens. Maybe that’s why the sight of Lenslingers Gone Wild irks me so. I ain’t asking you to feel sorry for pampered celebrities, but as Garlon Pittman often begged of me and my brothers in the 80’s...

"Ya'll act like ya got some sense..."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Plunder the Tundra

I post this story not because it’s all that good, but because it’s so typical of what I do. Every day that I can, I work alone - and not just because I’m anti-social. Rather, I enjoy the challenge of shooting, writing and editing my own stories. It’s rarely easy. On days I shoot well, I might not edit worth a flip. On days my editing sings, I find I kan’t write real good. Occasionally, all three disciplines will fall into place and I’ll walk away at the end of the day beaming like a new Dad. Yesterday, wasn’t one of those days. My video was pretty humdrum, I wrote the script while eavesdropping on a co-worker and I edited the damn thing in about 45 minutes. If anything, the dude with the walrus moustache saved me.

I read lots of blogs. One of my favorites is News Videographer: a comprehensive sight that deconstructs on-line video. Helmed by the talented Angela Grant, the contributors wrangle daily with the techniques and issues surrounding this emerging media. TV News, it ain’t. But the many points raised by Grant and others relate directly to the kind of lens-centered photojournalism I’ve attempted for so many moons now. However, newspaper people and TV geeks rarely get along. Silly, I know - but the fact of the matter is the news breed of on-line video folk have little use for an old media dinosaur like myself. While I don’t expect to fully free myself of this primordial news, I’d like the chance to at least explain how we do it on my side of the tar pits. Thus, this linked feature, with an arithmetic lesson to boot.
320 mile round trip: Who cares? It’s on Rupert.
Backyard Burger combo: $6.25, on me.
Being left alone ALL DAY: Priceless

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The January Man

The Final Run(?)So, you’ve whipped your viewers into a frenzy with talk of winter weather and now it looks like the snow’s not even gonna come your way. What do you do? Simple, you call in a guy like me: some grumpy cuss you know will bring back the goods - lest anyone claim he can’t. Like a grizzled hit-man, I said little when the call came late Tuesday. The voice on the other end spoke sparingly too, for we both knew what was expected of me. Hanging up the phone, I ran down a mental checklist of gear, gas and trajectory. After that, I put it out of my mind, knowing only that executives were hedging their bets by launching me into the void. Eh, it’s a living.

WindshieldAnd a damn fine one too, for not once today did I rearrange any staplers or fondle my TPS reports. Instead I saddled up shortly after dawn and headed West. My orders: Find some freakin’ snow. Trouble was, the only accumulation was up in the Blue Ridge Mountains - a hundred miles or so from my humble suburban home. 'Not a problem', I thought, a covert sortie into the hills is a splendid way to spend a Wednesday. For the first sixty miles it was; I cranked some Jane's and followed a ribbon of asphalt over undulating terrain. Knowing it might be the last time I drove Unit Four into the breech, I savored every mile - when I wasn't daydreaming about a desk job, that is. But that ended an hour into my voyage, when the wind picked up, the snow fell down and the landscape took an ever steepening pitch.

Snowstruck FourSoon after the weather got dirty, my destination changed. "Don't go to Boone, try West Jefferson instead", said the cell phone. I nodded in agreement and plotted a more Northern course. I should have kept going straight, as while there was snow in West Jefferson, the only beings I could find to comment were of the bovine variety. Cows make for lousy TV (unless you're floating over them), so I kept trudging up what was now a snow-covered mountain pass. As always, Unit Four performed heroically - compensatng for my lead foot and poor vision with its superior handling. Only once did we almost steer ourselves off a cliff, but hey - when the music's over you gotta find another CD, right? Don't answer that; just know that I traversed perilous ridgelines with one eye on my stash of tunes and the other on all those 'Falling Rock' signs. Let's see, what's some good music to be crushed to death by?

One Man Snowy StandupI never could decide. By the time I'd navigated countless switchbacks, dipped into Tennessee and found my way back to Boone, tunnel vision had set in. With only a couple of snowy vistas committed to disc, I was in dire need of soundbites, characters and 'moments'. Minutes after arriving in one of my favorite mountain towns, I found all three. Locals, tourists and other yankees shivered along the frigid streets. Seeing my camera, most cavorted on-cue. 'Boo-YA!' I thought but kept it to myself. Not wanting to scare off any civilians, I found a shopkeeper with a moustache that screamed to be on tee-vee. I was halfway through my first dumb question when I felt it: the presence of another lenslinger. Looking around, I spotted a distant red speck talking to a tripod. I moved in, to see if I could help. Shooting your own stand-up can be a real bitch, especially when it's only eight degrees. But to his credit, dude had it covered.

He must be a January Man, too.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Love for a Bucket

Canon Batch 3 006Could it, could it be? Could the sun really be setting on Unit 4? Could the SUV that’s offered me shelter, transport and solitude soon be kicked to the proverbial curb? Could my trusty steed really be put out to pasture? Or could some other shooter soon call it home? Could I soon be spotted zipping about the Piedmont in a station wagon on steroids? Could I spend three paragraphs lamenting the loss of a banged-up Ford Explorer that I didn’t even pay for? You bet I could!

Stocking the Batmobile

DSCF0601When I first took possession of Unit 4, a few photogs snickered. “Two wheel drive? Two doors? What kind of battle-wagon is that?” I just smiled and invited them all to get the hell out of my new car - for what they saw as weakness, I saw as strength. Two doors and a bony backseat? Less room for some pimply intern to climb aboard. Only two wheel drive? I would have to sling a few donuts just to get out of the parking lot next time it snowed, but what‘s - oh, eight days of terror a year? Not really knowing, I shoved every CD my wife hated in its spacious center console and dropped the backseat. In time, I would methodically pack the back with every piece of gear I had, rearranging my tools a half dozen times before reaching an acceptable level of photog feng shui. For the moment though she was free of cargo and I flew her empty up an on-ramp, practicing barrel rolls along the interstate…

A Few Contusions

DSCF0477To my delight, I discovered she had a tight turning circumference - an important feature when you pull as many last minute u-turns as I do. Sporting the latest in plastic underpinning, its pimped up paneling looks so turn of the century now. I dinged up one of those panels on a snow bank once. It’s hung loose ever since. Years later I badly damaged the driver’s side door when none other than Hurricane Ophelia ripped it from my grip and dam near tried to rip it off completely. I got the door shut, but the sill never did heal and to this day an annoying sound of rushing wind accompanies any high speed travel. I also plumbed the depths of the fuel tank, riding for miles with the needle on E and the LOW FUEL light on. I theorized that light would blink should it really get low, but it never did. Though it never ran out of gas on me, Timmy Hawks swore it died on him one night in front of the only gas pump within ten miles. He blames me for not mentioning it was low when I handed him the keys, but I know a show-off when I see one.

Run to the Hills

Pilot MountainWhen I wasn’t pushing my luck with the LOW FUEL light, I was standing on the accelerator, for most everywhere I went, I did so in a hurry. That’s how it is when you’re supplying news factories with fresh footage. But for every high speed pursuit, there were hundreds of more languid journeys - though in truth my driving could never be called ’languid’. More often than not though, I was all alone - with no one around to describe the ride. There was the foggy trek up the Blue Ridge Parkway, hours after heavy rains had washed out parts of the winding mountain road away. There was that rain-lashed stretch of blacktop at Carolina Beach. Class 2 winds sent sheet metal skittering in my path as stop signs threatened to take flight. Inside Unit 4, I sunk back in the seat as ‘Texas Flood’ rang out. Back and forth I drove on that tiny island until the truck commercial in my head finally faded to black...
And here I sit, with a couple of brand new ‘crossovers’ sitting in the parking lot. Not sure what that means exactly, but the photojournalists are circling around them and I’m told one is meant for me. First however, I must complete one last journey in my beloved Explorer, a pre-dawn jaunt into the mountains in search of the closest snow. Did I mention this hoopty’s only got two wheel drive?

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...