Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering Rosa Mae

Grandmother CanadyWe all feel cheated somehow as teens, but even on my most sullen day I knew I’d been granted the perfect Grandmother. From her cotton-white hair to her singsong name, Rosa Mae Canady was a vessel of sweetness and spreader of joy for 97 years. I first knew as the lifelong wife of a tough but loving man; a resourceful, horn-rimmed lady who wore a white an apron in the kitchen and matching hat and gloves to church. When her husband suffered a debilitating stroke one awful night, I saw my Grandmother assume a different role: as the ever-present caretaker of a proud but crippled man. Rosa Mae tended to Newett’s every need until his death a decade later, bringing to an end their sixty-one year marriage. By then she’d aged into Great-Grandmother status, a smiling, white haired lady who’d offer you hard candy when you didn’t want it and a hug whenever you did. What more could a boy ask for?

Grandmother CanadyOf course to hear her tell it, she never accomplished very much: never owned her own home, never held a fancy job, never completed her education. Reluctantly, she’d dropped out school in the seventh grade, joining her mother in the cotton mills of Clayton, where she worked late and early to help feed her younger siblings. Rosa Mae Morgan never did go back to school, but she worked in sales for many years, her gentle smile and pleasing nature serving her well in the world of retail. Later in life, she managed a neighborhood newsstand and is reported to have run a very tight counter. Mostly though, she raised her three children through the ratcheting tumult of the mid twentieth century, feeding them well in every way. When they wed and began having babies, she continued her role as Soother in Chief, providing all with endless hope and a reservoir of reassurance.

Grandmother CanadyBy the time I came along, she had the joy of living down to a science, or should I say Faith. For more than seventy years she attended First Baptist Church, eventually becoming their oldest living member. She studied her Bible and read her daily devotional- along with the Goldsboro News-Argus. Countless are the times I sat on her couch, leafing through a stack of fading newsprint she was saving for a neighbor lady. She liked TV too. From Lawrence Welk to Carol Burnett to Dancing With the Stars, she’d watch it ALL. Imagine her delight when one of her seven grandkids started popping up on the local news in a series of bad neckties. She was proud of me and said so; as long as I didn’t interrupt her stories in the afternoon. The she offered me another piece of hard candy, despite the fact I never once took it.

Grandmother CanadyShe was well into her nineties before her body started failing. Her spirit never did; through a series hearing aids and prescription lenses, she remained as bright and lighthearted as the days when she was a pretty teenager winning boyfriends on the Carolina coast. For many precious years she was a steady presence at family gatherings, mining more joy from a single piece of pie than most folk could find with a fortune. Even to her more melancholy descendants, she was a living marvel - a gentle soul who never let a hardscrabble start or ailing old age take away her joy of living. It’s a trait I didn’t fully inherit but have studied up close for years. Only today, when this lady of limited means but infinite twinkle took her last breath before me, did I realize the lesson was done.

...What I’d give for some of her hard candy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crimes of the Camcorder

Uncle Stew's video tips

It's not often The Suits surprise me. This morning, they did. For no sooner had I waltzed into the morning meeting - confident I'd spend my last day before vacation editing this piece on a local cheesecake palace - than I noticed I'd picked up an additional assignment.

"Hey Stew, we want you to do a little thing on shooting better home video. You know, go on camera and share some of your wisdom..."

I turned slowly from assignment editor to producer to news director, then looked up, expecting Ashton Kutcher to drop from the ceiling tiles at any moment and envelope me in one of those insincere bear hugs. When that didn't happen, I looked back at my bosses and replied the way I always do whenever I think they're trying to punk me.


With that I turned and left the conference room, wondering how long this 'little thing' would take. Turns out, it didn't take very long at all. That's because I has very little time to give it. After hammering out my initial project, I slumped at my desk and pounded out a quick script about the fundamentals of good video. Then I read over what I'd written and dumbed the whole thing down to about sixth grade level. Still unhappy with it, but anxious to end the year's longest three day work-week, I threw caution to the wind and hit Print. But instead of finding an anchor to voice my thoughts, I followed the whiff of a holiday cheese-log all the way to Studio 'B'. There I rendezvoused with veteran shooter Jeff Kilduff, who stopped rolling his eyes long enough to shoot my stream of consciousness lesson on how to take the 'suck' out of your home video this Holiday Season. Fifteen minutes later we were done, and whiel I still wasn't sure I wanted to foist my visage on the greater Piedmont Googolplex, I proceeded to the edit bay and ordered take-out. One righteous steak and cheese sandwich later, I emerged from sequesterment, confident that - while Anderson Cooper can rest easy - I'd at least avoided embarrassing myself too much.

So here you go: Crazy Uncle Stew's Video Primer. The tenants I espouse in it are the same ones I break on a daily basis. The cute kids featured within are not mine, but rather that of the aforementioned Mr. Kilduff. I'm told it aired around 5:45. I wouldn't know; I was on the interstate by then, air-drumming on my pick-up's steering wheel and puttting the last workday of 2008 far behind me. I'm traveling East now, to see my Grandmother. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December in the Trenches

Frozen Slinger to goSure, you're at home gift-wrapping slabs of last year's fruitcake, but I'M STILL OUT HERE WORKIN'! And let's be perfectly clear: committing television thisclose to Christmas is no holiday. In fact, it's hard labor! Why? Well, for starters, TV stations graciously allow half their staff to clear out once the November ratings book is done. As a result, the month of December is a sparsely populated one - with professional broadcasters actually enjoying vacation time with their families. Weird, huh? Stranger still, said station insist on producing the same number of newscasts - despite the fact that the majority of their ground troops are missing in action. I don't know why exactly: something about the 'revenue stream' Whatever! All I'm really sure of is that no matter which part of December I take off, the rest of my workdays are spent chasing 'General News'.

On the way home'General News'; that's Slinger-ese for "Ain't there a band camp I can shoot?" The answer of course, is a resounding 'No'. I, along with every other photog who considers himself above the fray, grabs an equally unfortunate reporter and saddles up in a musty live truck. If that weren't drudgery enough, the end of the year around here tends to be C-C-C-COLD! Late '08 has been no exception, for as soon as I was reassigned to the front lines, Old Man Winter blew in and shoved icicles up the collective ass of the Fourth Estate. Thanks, Pops! At least now when I'm stretching blurbs into exposés, I know my blood won't clot - as it's pretty much frozen solid. Seriously, can we have a solid month of reasonable weather once in a while. Remember, I'm the furry white guy who writes whole operas on the demonic nature of Carolina summers. All I'm asking for is a mild temperature or two, not waves of locusts or low gas prices...

Tucker in the TruckSHHHH! Don't say anything, but Chad's looking at me again. Can't say I blame him; we been joined at the tripod for two days now and I do get a little punchy. Maybe if I sit here real still, he'll go back to dithering with his cellphone. Don't get me wrong; I like the guy. He's a fine reporter, a published author and by most accounts, the King of King. Hell, he evn cut his TV teeth at my broadcast alma mater, WNCT! But these are endtimes, after all: massive lay-offs, weird weather, Paula Abdul still on Idol. It's enough to make two mil-mannered Southern boys turn on each other. Why, earlier Chad and I shot of a profile of a local cheesecake shop and I SWEAR I caught him eyeballin' me by the Creme Brulee. He does it again, I just might icepick him out by the satellite dishes and blame it on some passing drifter. Who's gonna tell any different? PFFT - no one reads THIS drivel....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Glimpses of Infinity

Moonwalker"Where do you go after you've been to the Moon?" That's the vexing question behind Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. Journalist Andrew Smith is my kind of space enthusiast: one who’s less concerned with what was on the lunar module’s control panel than what was on the minds of the men who parked it on the Moon. But when he vows to track down the nine remaining humans who put boot to Luna, even he worries they’ll be uptight throttle jockeys. He’s only partly right. From the moonscape painting Alan Bean to the increasingly mystic Edgar Mitchell, Smith finds not every aging space cowboy who set boots on Luna fits the classic astronaut mold. And what a mold! NASA chose carefully the humans they threw at the Moon, favoring men with cool heads, trim torsos and limited imaginations. As a result, those few souls who‘ve seen the Earth as a whole have a hard time explaining just what that infinite view made them feel. And they’re not getting any younger - which is what makes this book a public service. For when these space visitors do shirk their mortal coil, who will be around to prove that One Small Step didn’t go down on a Hollywood soundstage? Don’t bother answering; just know that you won’t find a better encapsulation of the Apollo Mission‘s heady success and subsequent ugly death than this book. Equal parts space travelogue, celebrity memoir and character study, Moondust tells the unlikely story of the lucky few who traveled all the way to that rock in the sky, then came back to spend the rest of their days living in it shadow.

Still beats pokin’ around in low orbit, I’m told.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Endless Lament

Rueing the day he learned to shootTen minutes to showtime, Jensen grew intense. Chest thumping, brown locks wet and limp, that crazy biker look in his eye. You know the one. It all began in the morning meeting when, over a conference table filled with holiday goodies, he drew the shortest cheese straw. That can only mean one thing for a photog in my shop: Holiday Concert Live Shots. Matt took it like a man, crushing the cheese straw under his thumb and trudging off to meet the rest of his day’s fate. His fellow shooters watched him walk off with nothing short of awe, then spent the rest of the day showing their support by assiduously avoiding his gaze. Dead Man, Squawkin’.

Julie GlistensOkay so that overdoing it, but we gotta have some station lore. See, every year El Ocho throws a couple of charity concerts; you know, orchestras, cherub choirs, Santa Claus on ice skates. It’s a large time, but the whole thing doesn’t go off without a modicum of hype and backache. Sure, it begins as harmless promos, then bleeds into anchor babble, but it all crescendos with a series of breathless live above the ice as skaters and oboe players warm up. Which is where your veteran photog comes in, usually one just hours from their Christmas vacation. It’s a live hit the Chief often absorbs. This year Matt took it. To the chest.

SIngers SingOn the surface, the assignment’s not so bad… ’swing by’ the Coliseum in a live truck, throw up the mast, hook up a camera and point it at the lovely Julie Luck. From there she’ll take over, poised and radiant as she tells viewers how they can enjoy a free night of good music and cheer if only they’ll bring themselves and some canned food to the Coliseum. Provide her with a monitor and she’ll damn near co-host the show. Toss in cute kids skating lazy Susans along with the bleat and warble of a forming orchestra and you got the makings of a variety hour. What could go wrong?

Atop CameraP-l-e-n-t-y. From the hundred of school kids blocking the service entrance to the security guard who only talks in pops and clicks, half the battle is just getting there. Matt made it in okay regardless; by the time that I arrived the mast was up and the truck locked, cables snaked from the back to the coliseum’s hook-up box, part of the in-house video patch-board that’s nowhere near as simple to use as management believes. From there, I wound my way through the bowels of the great room, dodging full grown cellists and half-pints dressed as Nutcrackers. There, across the ice, I spotted my furry friend.

Jensen SweatsHe was only a speck at first, but the nearer I got to his rink-side perch, the more I realized something was wrong. Why else would a man of his carriage flit from darkened light to power-strip like that, pointing to his ear and cursing the very Gods of Broadcast? I didn’t know but before I could get to him and find out, the orchestra launched into ‘Frosty the Snowman’, rendering anything past a pantomime pretty much impossible. Just then Matt’s light miraculously turned on, allowing him to lunge for his lens and cue Julie, who then launched into her easygoing spiel as if nothing was ever wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t.

Skaters SkateAll I know is Matt looked positively distraught for a minute or three, before settling into a rhythmic slump behind his camera. Not that I was worried. He’s been doing this for longer than I, cutting his teeth on the great Spam riots while I was still cutting some high school class. If he wants to grumble and cuss while exceeding expectations, I say give him some space. The man can field strip an optical disc with one eye duct-taped shut, all while dropping one-liners like a movie pirate. Besides, I got a glint of satisfaction in his eyes as he shook his fist at the rafters, reminding me of a lesson he taught me so many moons ago: Achieving television on a daily basis will quickly erode the soul, but it goes down a little easier if you bitch about it along the way.

No wonder he's so jolly...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

From a View to a Shove

Okay, so I've fallen behind on my Schmuck Alert duties as of late, but a certain piece of video is pulling me out of my holiday malaise. Chances are if you've walked by a television set today, you've seen it. I'm talking about Bernard Madoff's morning stroll through a rolling scrum. Seems the disgraced investor was returning to his Upper East Side enclave when a horde of cameras both still and moving blocked his path. Madoff is of course the Manhattanite accused of bilking countless movers and shakers out of a reported $50 Billion dollars. That's a lot of cabbage and worthy of reportage in itself, but what brings me out of my funk is the pushing match that erupted between the hunter and the hunted. Watch for yourself: at one point Madoff pushes a photographer, only to have said lenslinger plant a hand in his chest and give a mother of a shove. (Stay in focus, damn you!)

Now, I'm not complaining. In fact, the video provided acres of entertainment for my coworkers today. At one point we slo-mowed the footage and dissected it like the Zapruder film (Hey, it's what we do). I'm just a bit flummoxed that neither shover or shovee made much of a fuss about the unnecessary roughness. Is that how you roll in the Big Apple? K-e-w-l.... The whole thing reminds me of another lecherous defendant: The 'Reverend' Jim Whittington. Back in 1992, the televangelist faced federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy after bilking an elderly widow of nearly 900 thousand dollars. Whittington was eventually convicted and did two and a half years in prison. I covered that trial and after a couple of weeks of trailing him from car to courthouse to car again, I wanted to kick him square in the grapes myself. I was younger then, afflicted with more testosterone and not always of sound mind. Though not a man prone to violence, ten plus days of smelling what that reprobate had for breakfast filled me with all sorts of unwise impulses. I may have acted on them too, had I not feared being pummelled by the pack of scary church ladies that clocked our every move.

Ever seen the size of those Bibles they carry? You'd hold your fire, too

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shoot the Revolution Without Me

Weaver gets sillier Either that roofie I slipped Weaver is beginning to take effect, or he's demonstrating the wrong way to grapple with a fancycam. If it looks familiar, though, don't worry: YOU'RE not having a flashback. That's way nine out of ten actors choose to hold such a camera whenever they're forced portray a TV News Photog. Maybe it's something they teach in film school - or perhaps they're just pissed they have to pretend to be someone so low on the broadcast totem pole. No bother, the stereotypical news shooter is going the way of the dinosaur anyway - replaced by multi-tasking, laptop-packing solo-mojo's. If this doesn't bother you chances are there's no light kit in your hatchback. That, or you're like me: a fairly gregarious loner with a lens who'd rather take a video tour of an applesauce factory than play news crew down at the courthouse. However, most photogs are appalled at the idea of gathering contacts and facts along with all those groovy God Shots. I get that. But a crumbling economy and quantum leap technology are rendering our lowly opinions mute. Once the big boys prove that 'backpack journalists' can fill the newscast at half the cost, you can kiss your specialized press pass goodbye. This doesn't bring me any great joy. I've kind of enjoyed being an anomaly all these many moons. Soon, twenty-something's with advanced degrees in YouTube will be the norm instead of the exception. Where that will leave a relic like me is still unknown, but I feel better equipped to take on the future than that photog who's used to catnapping at the crime tape while his pretty reporter works the crowd of looky-loo's for suitable sound. Yes Sir, an infamously undervalued job position just got a lot more thankless. Was a time, I didn't think that was possible.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna watch Groundhog Day solely for Chris Elliot's masterful take on the skeevy TV news photog. That cat NAILED IT.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Menace at Friendly Center

Media Scrum outside Old Navy ShootingIf you live in the Piedmont, you’re probably still wrapping your head around today’s heist at Friendly Center. Here’s what (we know) happened. Around 10 am, a man dressed in surgical scrubs and a red wig shot a Brinks armored truck employee during a scheduled pick-up at the Old Navy. Customers saw the man loitering around the store before the armored truck arrived. When it did, witnesses say the man in scrubs shot a guard at point blank range, grabbed some bags and ran to a dark car waiting in an adjacent parking lot. The man got away, the guard later died and people around here wondered just where in the hell is safe these days. To that, I have no answer. After all, I’m just a cameraman. But I was there minutes after the shooter escaped and I can tell you what little I saw:

Spillane eyeballs it outside Old Navy ShootingUntil shots rang out at Greensboro’s most popular shopping center, it had been a pretty slow news day. I was driving to a sidewalk meeting at the time, thinking of nothing more than where I might eat lunch - when the cell phone on my side began to vibrate. A few seconds later I executed my first u-turn of the week, late for what would surely be our lead story. On the way, I did the logistics. See, shopping malls - both inside and out - are aggressively patrolled by security guards these days. Most times, I can barely get my fancycam out of my unmarked car before some Friendly Center rent-a-cop gets in my grill. And that’s when I’m there to interview Santa Claus. What it would be like in the wake of an armored car heist I did not know - but with my station-owned cell phone in mid-meltdown, I was about to find out.

Police Chief Bellamy outside Old Navy ShootingTo my surprise, no one so much as said ‘boo’ to me when I rolled into the McDonald’s parking lot across from the Old Navy and set up my camera. Cops were everywhere. Some directing traffic, others rolling out yellow tape while their superiors milled about the Brinks truck parked outside Old Navy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed even more cops walking methodically by a neighboring bank. Still not sure what had happened, I let my camera roll as I wheeled about from cop cluster to a K-9 crew to detective huddle. At any moment I expected some schlub in a rented badge to shoo me away, but to my surprise the Wackenhut drove by and only glared. Maybe they were intimidated by all the real cops on scene. Maybe like me, they were too busy taking in local history to bother anybody else. Whatever the case, they did their job and allowed me to do mine.

At work outside Old Navy ShootingOf course I wasn’t the only journalist descending on Friendly Center. But I was one of the first. For a good ten minutes I swung my lens this way and that, never once spotting a competitor or coworker. Fine by me, for I knew it was only a matter of a few more minutes before this place would be teeming with familiar faces. Looking around, I proclaimed another Mickey Dee’s parking space in the name of El Ocho, for the live truck I figured had to be on the way. A few minutes later it arrived; Danny Spillane offered only a minimum of grab-ass before planting his camera and tripod beside mine. Reporter Sheeka Strickland sauntered off to find an officer who would talk and Danny set up the live truck. As he did I climbed in back, fired up the laptop and began slicing shots into a sequence for the noon remote that was about to follow. I was halfway through my edit when I looked up to see a camera scrum growing around Police Chief Tim Bellamy. Only then did it occur to start taking still shots - something my colleagues have accepted as just something I do.

Thirty minutes later, I left Friendly Center in the leathery hands of my fellow photogs. Somewhere across town a sidewalk meeting was well underway and even a senseless murder outside a place my kids shop wasn’t going to keep me from its tranquilizing tones. Besides, there were plenty of my friends there to mind the store. And unlike, the detectives who must now find a killer, my work was done.

Until, of course, I return for the inevitable follow up...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Might As Well Jump

House Fire Escape WindowWhen a High Point woman dove through the glass of her bedroom window the other morning, she didn't just escape her burning home. She did it in an interesting way. Had the 48 year old woman found more reasonable egress, chances are two news crews wouldn't be circling the block. But puncture the panes she did, falling a good four feet before crumpling in the dust - bloodied, stunned and badly cut. Neighbors noticed the smoke and the broken lady under the tower of smoke and clumsily punched 911. Seconds later, cooler heads within City Dispatch flipped the alarm switch, causing more than one crosstown fireman to pull up his pants. When the boops and beeps subsided, a leathery voice came over the air and crackled the facts... Structure Fire, Jefferson Street, One victim injured after jumping through a window... Miles away, a mornng assignment editor looked up from her beatchecks and scanned an empty newsroom. No one here yet, she thought - but when a dayside photog rolled in, she'd have him 'put some eyes on it...'

That smoke plume was enteringthe stratosphere by the time that I arrived. The lady too was gone, scooped up by paramedics and whisked away to the nearest E.R. Even the firefighters were rolling up their hoses. No sweat; that smoldering carcass of a house stood firm: hole in its roof, water on the porch, a smear of blood under a front bedroom window. I parked my car up the block and pulled my gear out of the back. Twenty seconds later, I power up, switch to Filter 2, zero-out timecode, turn to white-balance on Unit 4, wedge earbuds in and ROLL ... Looking around, I locked eyes with a few bystanders while picking my next shot. Wide, Medium, Tight - it ain't rocket surgery. After finding a few, I picked up my rig and moved closer in, stepping over hoses and nodding at guys in turn-out gear as I went. They nodded back, some hoping to get on television, others wanting to turn the hose on me. I smiled like I'm invited all the same, taking special care to stay out of their way. Mostly I just slow-danced with my tripod, using my lens and powers of observation to illustrate the story taking shape in my head. But was there enough story there - something to strecth ot past the point of a twenty second blurb on the evening news? too early to tell, but the way I look at it, if I'm I'm gonna smell like a house fire all day, it damn well better be a package.

Package: that's Tee-Veese for a pre-edited reporter-narrated news story, the kind of thing Chet McDimplechin likes to toss to well before Weather. Usually they're produced by two people but I tend to work alone, shooting, writing and editing a piece that an anchor will voice. 'Anchor Packs' we call them - after the person least involved in the process. Anyhoo, all the shimmering cinder shots in the world won't result in a package without some SOUND, so seconds after I pulled up to 703 Jefferson, I began profiling the crowd. See it's not enough to score a story's backdrop, you need some characters reciting their lines. Chances are the lady who took a plunge through two panes of glass was going to show up any time soon, so I'd have to start with some supporting players ... like that fire chief talking to the cop over there. Have I ever told him how my brother's a career fireman? Turns out I hadn't and after a delghtful conversation about Greenville nightlife he happily pinned on my microphone and held forth about the fire and the body's strong will to survive. Best of all he stoos State Trooper still the whole time, allowing me to frame him tight and step to the right of my viewfinder. This came in handy a few minutes later when a passing cousin wandered into my wide shot an danswered my every question, all while holding his pants up with one hand and gesticulating with the other. He even toned down the huther-mumpers, so I wouldn't have to spend extra time bleeping him out. Who says there's no hope for the youth of America?

I just wish the piece turned out better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Headbangers, All

I miss the 80'sTonight I had every intention of weighing in on the steady evisceration of my chosen industry, but quite frankly, that's some seriously depressing shit. So instead, I'd like to examine something that's brought me an abundance of joy lately ... Facebook. Now before you roll your eyes and click away hear me out: I'm well aware that when a 40 something father of two raves about a certain social network, then said site has more than jumped the shark. But like Fonzie in a leather jacket and swim trunks, I'm choosing to ignore any sense of fashion.

Why? Because Facebook has brought me back in touch with people I thought I'd never forget. Sure, I've been 'friended' by old co-workers, eager readers and current colleagues. And hey - I'm narcissistic enough to welcome them all. But nothing makes me grab my mouse quicker than a name from my distant past, names that are as familiar to me as my very own - even if I haven't heard them in a decade or so. And it's not just names! Give it a click and you'll find yourself loooking at a picture of a childhood chum holding kids of their own. It's enough to make one sit, stare and pour a stiff drink or three. Lately I've been doing that a lot, as blood brothers appear from the pixelated mist. Embarassingly, many of these long lost souls only live an hour or two away, but the insulation of wives, lives and suburbia has kept the old gang splintered and torn. No more.

Another facet of all this social networking is equal parts thrilling and scary. I'm talking about the mass uploading of old pictures. Ask around, there's nothing more worrisome than a message in your inbox that a person you haven't laid eyes on since the Reagan administration has 'tagged you in a photo'. One doesn't know whether to click on the link or go into hiding. Of course, I've never been afraid to share shots of myself in a dated haircut and - as the above photo proves - neither are my old running buddies. Then again, we were children of the 80's and like teenagers since the beginning of time we embraced the fashion of the day assuming they would be timeless. Turns out they weren't. But that just adds to the fun doesn't it?

Speaking of fun, my old crew excelled at it. Borne of a small town and intimate with excess, we raged at unseen machines, imbibed as if we invented the very idea and pretty much partied like rockstars long before it became a commercial catchphrase. This of course, makes me and mine no different from your old gang. But I have to say, the examination of transgressions past has made me rethink my roots. My small town inside Wayne County felt like a prison much of the time, but I couldn't have chosen better cellmates. Badly Aging RebelsThe greasy details of which I'll wisely deny, but let's just say it's a miracle many of us ever reached middle age, let alone retained the capacity to use a computer. Yes, children - back in the 1980's you could consider yourself an intellectual and still rock a sleeveless Queensryche t-shirt. Just ask your neighbor's Dad, the one with the the paunch and bald spot. He thought he was cool once, too. In fact, his Facebook friends just posted a whole gallery of photos to prove it.

Hmph. With entertainment like this, is it any wonder local TV is dying?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kinescope at 11

Sit down and strap in, we're setting the Wayback Machine to 1914. You heard me: Nine-teen For-teen. That's the year attached to the above photo, on cyber-loan to the Lenslinger Estate from the Amanda Emily Collection. I could look at it all day. In fact, I have - stealing glances between non-linear edits, wondering if the three proto-photogs (Dick Sears, James Hutchinson, Jake Coolidge) had any idea what pioneers they were as they filmed newly elected Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Did they know those cumbersome cameras would one day be replaced with sleek shoulder-mounted models, slathered in logos and empty promises? No way. Did they suspect the then-embryonic form of communication would one day grow bloated, shallow and ubiquitous? Not likely. Could they have forseen a future in which field camera operators would forgo the scratchy wool suit look for the easy-wash wardrobe of a roadie for Hoobastank? Doubtful. Did they have the slightest inkling that the balding underling in the doorway there would be replaced by an army of incredibly hot yet weirdly stern PR chicks? Something tells me no. Is there any way they would have fathomed that in less than century the moving picture news business would be rendered nearly irrelevant by globally-connected cyphering machines, a crumbling American economy and ten decades of unabated newsgatherer hubris???

Come to think it, I didn't see that last one coming either. Guess that makes me a pioneer, too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jousting for Sound

The Scrum, by its very nature, is a fleeting, amorphous thing. Like a dust devil rising up from the desert floor, these swirling summits can take shape and dissipate before even the most seasoned ‘slinger can shoulder his rig. Personally, I hate them. Elbows bent, back strained, head cocked at the most untenable angle…I’d rather interrogate a mime than throw in on a little elbow fiesta. But TV news photogs don’t get to call the shots; only compose them. As much as most of us would prefer to frame our vignettes in a vacuum, newsgathering is and always has been a contact sport. Thus, if you’re not up for smelling what your cross-town competitor had for lunch, you may want to stick to polishing light bulbs in the studio. It’s safe in there, but rarely ever breathtaking.

Of course, stagehands don’t have to bum-rush the subjects of their close-ups. Nor do they have to avert their gaze and compartmentalize their feelings as wreckage smolders just off-screen. That’s just what was happening when the great beFrank snapped this shot of an impromptu debriefing at the scene of yesterday’s tragic F-18 crash down in San Diego. As pictures go, it’s pretty pedestrian - but if you’ve ever responded to such calamity, the image comes alive. I, for one, wonder what’s behind man in the middle’s gesture, how many batteries are in that photog’s knapsack and if first responder shouts and pesky backlight marred the shot. I guess that makes me more of a technician than a storyteller, but at least I know when to keep my eyes moving, my camera still and my mouth shut.

No matter how much my back hurts.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Room to Write

Lenslinger CentralSorry about the recent lag in transmission, but Lenslinger Central is undergoing renovations. Actually, the Missus insisted I clean my room and somewhere between waxing the action figures and polishing the lava lamp, I managed to unplug my mojo. No bother; I’ve been at this blogging thing long enough to recognize its rhythms, to understand when my late-night keyboarding is producing un-bruised fruit and when I’m just punishing my knuckles. Lately, I’ve been somewhere in between and while I’m more than willing to examine my methods, motives and many moods, I’d first like to pull back the proverbial curtain on my upper lair. Sure, I’ve called it ’The Lenslinger Institute’, The Center for Advances in Cameramanthropology’, ‘VBU’ (Viewfinder BLUES University, natch), but it’s really more of a bonus room over the garage. Actually, it’s not even the whole room, just the one corner of the home where I’m allowed to cower, decamp, and occasionally imbibe.

Lenslinger CentralSee, I live in a house full of females. Strong-willed females with lots of ideas, instruments and constant wardrobe changes. ’This place is like backstage at the Carol Burnett Show!’, I often remark as I step over a pile of feather boas - to which my eleven year old asks ’Who’s Carol Burnett?’. Latter day vaudeville’s hard to explain to a kid with an MP3 in her ear, so I usually just mutter something about the genius of Korman-Conway before slinking away to my little corner of the cul-de-sac And what a corner! Books, hard drives, books(!), nautical flotsam, books(!!!) and enough broadcast detritus to adorn the local wing of the traveling Newseum. Sure, it’s nothing more than junk to most folk, but to me strewn tomes and dusty trinkets are nothing less than talismans: earthbound objects that enable your lowly photog to achieve a higher state of consciousness. A trance, if you will. That’s exactly what it’s like when the words come easy, when I watch my fingertips dictate straight from my head. Not bad considering I type about as fast as Sheriff Andy Taylor struggling over a Mayberry arrest report.

Lenslinger CentralNow, where was I? Oh yeah, NOT enjoying that transcendental feeling of effortless writing. For a minute there, it felt like I was struggling to describe the very artifacts I stare at every night about this time. How lame is that? Next thing you know I’ll be scanning the web for retro news crew photos or searching my private archives for unpublished mullet photos. Hmm? Yeah, I guess you’re right: I’ve done all that, more times than I care to admit. Still, I can’t get too mad at myself, for despite all the filler I’ve foisted upon my small cadre of followers, I’ve developed the kind of writing discipline I yearned for all these many moons ago. If all this self-aggrandizing blather brings me nothing more than that, I can quit now and be happy. But I can’t quit. Four years into this experiment, I’m still as stoked about the results as ever - even filling these pages does occasionally feel like a second job that doesn’t pay. But what do I know about pay, anyway? I’m a photog - one who’d rather fiddle with figures of speech than focal lengths.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the wife says I have some dusting to do. At least I have my freedom.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Jet, Reflected

Flatbed One (Photo by Jerry Wolford)
For all the words I used trying to describe my ride on Flatbed One, Jerry Wolford summed it up in a single frame. Actually, I bet the News & Record photographer popped off more than one shot as he lay in front of that puddle of standing water. I myself watched him recline there for a good ten minutes, before turning my attention back to the jumbo jet in question. While I transmitted pictures that dissipated on impact, he triggered an image that'll last forever. The nerve of that guy...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

His Cubicle a Kingdom

So here I sit, clicking around for something to blog about and the internet burps up John Brummett. No, I've never heard of him either, but apparently he's a very big deal in Arkansas. Why else would he weigh in on the efforts of a medium he considers so beneath him? Could it be he's a higher life form than the rest of us? Or just some deskbound gasbag who's not dealing very well with the death of his discipline? You decide, I'll report:

Our story begins in Little Rock, where local affiliate KATV 7 is trying out a new newsgathering tactic on their website. 'Choose Your News', they call it; an interactive feature that allows viewers to pick a two-minute news story from a pre-determined list. The story that scores the most votes will be covered on-air, via Twitter and anywhere else KATV sees fit to stick it. Is it revolutionary? Not really. Is it a little cheesy? Certainly - and for my liking, w-a-y too candy colored. But I'm guessing none of that bothers terminally cute Kristin Fisher who wrangles and fronts Choose Your News both on-line and on that magic box in your living room.

John Brummett, on the other hand, is stricken with indignation. Seems he's a Columnist/Reporter for some-thing called the Arkansas News Bureau and he doesn't cotton too well to the unwashed masses being in charge of their news line-up. I also have it on good authority that he's vehemently against ball-point pens as well, for they can't possibly compare to the old school etchings of a trusty No. 2 pencil. Okay, I made that last part up, but judging from Brummett's turgid dismissal of Choose Your News, I wouldn't be too shocked if he were anti-eraser as well. But enough of my derision; let the man speak for himself...
“I am so old that I remember when news professionals - trained news hounds who got called editors - beheld the contemporary landscape each day and decided with supposed professional and experience-seasoned expertise what to assign reporters to cover. We didn’t take a poll. We didn’t ask anonymous yahoos with laptops and BlackBerrys and other telephonic gadgetry to click on some icon and dictate our activities.”
Uh, John? Those 'yahoos with laptops' are/were your readers. They've got Twitter accounts and magic Crackberries, blue tooth gizmos wedged in their ears and cell phones that can launch space shuttles. They've got home computers that can replicate the output of some TV stations I've worked for and Tivo's that know which episodes of 'What Not To Wear' they've already seen. What they probably don't have is a newspaper subscription. Even if they do, I doubt they have a dying need for some troglodyte in a clip-on tie to tell them what the world (or even Arkansas) looks like. That three-masted vessel has sailed, my friend and it took my job security and your overly-developed sense of entitlement with it. Surely they printed something about in your paper. Go grab it out of the drive-way... I'll wait

Oh - and just so you don't think I'm some Millenial in a spangly t-shirt, a little disclosure: At almost 42, I'm closer to your age than that of Ms. Fisher. While I do work for one of those crass television stations, I consider myself something of an ex-patriate. I've many friends in the newspaper industry and while I consider them some of the smartest people I know, humility ain't their strong suit. Even those few, who - as you apparently do - consider all this new media just a passing fad, are smart enough to keep their beliefs off the opinion page. Why, your printed assertion is about as silly as us TV folk getting all worked up over this. It's a new world, John. Everyone in corporate media is feeling the rub, from the bloated columnist who considers his cubicle a kingdom to the overly verbose cameraman who sits up all night surfing around for inspiration.

Just try not to make us look so bad, would ya?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Flatbed One

Air Force One WatchSay what you will about Dubya; the guy’s on time. He and Air Force One swooped down from the heavens right on schedule today, rolling to a stop in front of a camera platform filled with shivering press. I was but one among them, a flinty lenslinger squinting into the morning sun as jet fumes permeated my every pore. That’s right: I got sucked into the mix. What can I tell ya? One day I’m stalking housewives at a discount thrift store, the next I’m being felt up by a guy in camouflage while two of his buddies fondle their wands. Turnabout’s fair play, deputy- but unless there’s more in my pockets than a couple of half-dead Double A batteries, can we skip the orifice probe ... please? I am a married man. Hmm? Right - where was I? Oh yeah, freezing my tripod off in front of the Decider in Chief. Yeah, by the time he emerged from the depths of his most tricked-out ride, I’d been on scene for nearly three hours. But I hadn’t spent the time daydreaming...

NBC freelancersInstead I tore through my morning with Presidential zeal, deciphering the many conflicting edicts handed down by men with sunglasses and sour dispositions, grappling with testy electronics and - as always - carrying out the mission and whims of my perceived superiors. There were times this morning I feared my cell phone was going to burst into flames from sheer overuse Who gets dragged off to Guantanamo Bay if that happens - HMMMM? It won’t be the weather bunny. Anyway, let’s review: It was an early morning and quite the cold one. I presented my credentials and entered non-negotiations with the Secret Service on the matter of where we local folk might park our TV trucks. After more than a few furtive gestures, it was decided we could perch alongside the tarmac’s edge and thread our cable over the fence. This we accomplished quickly, despite a flurry of calls telling us A.) they’ll break into programming the moment the pilot throws that jumbo jet in Park, B.) the 5 and 6 o clock producers both want separate packages and C.) Can the chatter - we’re streaming this live to the web and that last knock-knock joke was borderline offensive!

Man in BlackAs for the President, he came, he waved, he went. Sure, he presented some elderly women with a service award, but the details of their exchange were lost to the echoes of the tarmac. From where I stood, she could have been Leslie Nielsen in a dress and a shawl, I dunno. What I do know is, no matter how I might gripe, I’m well equipped to ride this flatbed trailer bound for nowhere. The people beside me are cool - if not a bit smart-alecky and who really needs feeling in your face this early in December, anyway? Pointing a camera at an airplane doesn’t require too much skill and after a nice quiet Thanksgiving break, I’m just the man for the job. I just worry about Chad. All was going well with my reporter for the day until those civilians took one look at his sensible dark suit and mistook him a Secret Service Agent. At first he laughed it off, but now he’s talking into his shoe again.

Hope he’s ordering a pizza.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: Agent Zigzag

Eddie ChapmanHistory bristles with heroes, cads and villains. Eddie Chapman was all three. A British conman who found himself a convict in the opening days of World Wart II, he volunteered to work for the Germans - if they'd spring him from the klink. They did and soon Eddie was whisked away to Paris - where shadowy spymasters trained him in the dark arts of espionage. The young grifter took to it, and quickly prepared for a top-secret return to London. But when a bungled parachute jump left the young spy muddy, bloodied and stunned in an English celery-patch, he stumbled to the closest constable and turned himself in. A double agent was born. In Agent Zigzag, Ben Macintyre unfurls the unlikely life story of Eddie Chapman - dashing adventurist, irascible liar, sworn horndog. Global infidelity was his specialty: staring down Nazi interrogators, sneaking around on his keepers, wooing trumpets in every port. Known as Fritz in the Fatherland and ZigZag in the UK, Chapman worked the war for fun and profit, pledging allegiance to who ever was paying the bill at the time. But in elegantly lecherous fashion, this bon vivant proves himself a statesman of sorts, a top operative of the Allies, a weasely hero, an International Man of Mystery. No wonder Tom Hanks just bought the rights. And as for who to cast as Zigzag? Ehhhh ... Matthew McConaughey - if he can master three languages and keep his shirt on. Good luck with that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Scenes from a Turkey Shoot

By now, even the Vegan at your table has watched the Sarah Palin turkey video. You know – where the MILF that might have been King yammers into a lens while some leering farmhand lops the head off the family bird. Yeah, that one. For a week it’s flickered across the internets, convincing some the Alaskan Governor is evil incarnate while proving to others she’s got just the kind of pioneering student we’ll need in D.C. come 2012. But the clip in question hasn’t just riled up the partisan clowns; it’s made the week uneasy for the photog who shot it.

And what a photog! Scott Jensen is the National Press Photographer’s Association’s Photojournalist of the Year, a title even detractors of the polarizing NPPA cannot easily dismiss. He’s been lauded by industry press, turns powerful stories in major shops and enjoys legendary status among those who keep up with such things. But now a silly photo-op with the nation’s hottest hockey mom has thrust Jensen into a brighter spotlight. Among the chattering classes, he’s being both praised and villified for what he did - and - didn’t do. At, colleagues and strangers are debating the case with fundamental fervor, while over at Wonkette, they’re proclaiming him 'An American Hero'. That’s awfully strong mojo for what should have been a pretty forgettable gig.

So what do I think? I’m glad you didn’t ask. We’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, let’s review the facts:

By his own admission, Jensen horned in on another crew’s interview set-up and persuaded all involved to adjust the shot. That’s not the least bit odd; it’s a crowded field and I’ve sidled up to many a lenser from ‘across the street’ (though I usually settle for whatever background this lack of tactic affords me). Jensen then framed his shot just as it appears, even warning the Governor of the ensuing slaughter so clearly visible behind her. “That's fine,” Palin reportedly replied, “Let the people see where their food comes from." Did they! No sooner did the tape rolled than Alaska’s most ill-timed farmhand strolls into the shot and stares at the camera crew as if it’s an alien spaceship,all while wrestling plump, feathery fowl into the ole head remover. Alaska’s leader rambles on, the Grim Reaper of Turkeys earns his pay and yet another Alaskan bird meets its maker. Through it all, Jensen rides his wide shot. It makes for compelling television – but for all the wrong reasons. To his credit, the award-winning photog has not hidden from the onslaught of criticism. On’s raucous message board, he’s vigorously defended his actions, or lack thereof:
'I'm a photojournalist. It is my goal to convey every scene I shoot as close to reality as possible. I want truthfulness over tastefulness - every time. From my perspective the background dominated the scene. It wasn't way off in the distance. It was like ten feet away! Guess what?! It really was distracting! Askanyone who was paying attention. The video I made portrayed the scene exactly. I believe that is what we are supposed to do.'
Mayhaps. But a bedrock principle of television interviewing is the avoidance of distracting backgrounds. Some bug-eyed goon beheading livestock easily qualifies as such. Alerting Palin to the carnage absolves one of responsibility, I guess – but it’s just bad tee-vee to let ancillary action dominate a talking head shot. NOT zooming in opens you up to a world of criticism; even if you wish the Governor’s already tarnished reputation no harm, it’s hard to explain why you didn’t follow every cameraman’s instinct and clean up the frame. That said, it’s difficult not to let walking cartoons prove themselves worthy of all that two dimensional scorn. Protecting her image (and future) is the duty of her staff, not some TV news photog, no matter how highly a decorated one. Me – I would have zoomed in, not so much to hide the turkeycide, but to rob the looky-loo of his unscheduled stare-down. While no real fan of Palin, I would have filed her further embarrasment under shit I don’t need. Scott Jensen’s deservedly sterling reputation will survive this flap, but I can’t help but wonder if he wishes he’d tightened up. Perhaps he’ll log in and tell us.

Now do you see why I avoid covering politics?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Searching for Pergola

Screw Indiana Jones. I wanna watch a movie about this guy!

Here's what we know...
"James Pergola, 37, of Bronxville, New York, Pathe News cameraman, who was among the nineteen persons listed aboard the palatial 1937 cross-country airplane reported sighted at Evanston, Wyo. After being missing for more than twelve hours, the United Airlines westbound "mainliner" with 16 passengers and a crew of three, was last heard over Rick Spring the night of October 17. Mr Pergola joined Pathe News in 1930. In 1933 he spent five months filming the Cuban Revolution. In 1932 and again in 1935, he toured the United States during political campaigns with President Roosevelt."
A cursory search of the interweb turns up little else about this pioneering lenslinger, other than the fact that he was aboard the flight that killed him because he was filming a newsreel on... airline safety. Ironic, yes - but I'm more interested in how this swashbuckler lived than how he died. What little we do know could already fill a few sequels...

Anybody know more about the late, great James Pergola?

(Photo on loan by Amanda Emily)

UPDATE from Emily:

Mr Pergola, who was thirty-seven years old, was one of the leading camera men of his concern, specializing in feature assignments. He joined the Pathe staff in 1918 as assistant camera man, and had been a full fledged operator since 1924. Previously he had been connected with motion picture studios in Long Island City, joining Fox Movietone with the coming of sound films. Mr Pergola was said to have been the first to make a sound film of the late John D. Rockefeller.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bliss at the Abyss

In SessionShould a physician ever tell me I’ve only months left to live, I’m heading straight for the nearest City Council meeting - for there, time stands still. Take this morning, for instance. It was only thirty minutes or so, but the time I spent trapped in the innermost chamber of my fair burg’s municipal complex felt like something akin to waterboarding. Luckily, I had my imagination there to protect me. That and a well-honed ability to defocus my mind’s until I’m damn near catatonic was all I had to fend off the effects of a backwards traveling second hand. Yes, in the time it took the assembled incumbents to decide what kind of screws to use on the city’s new lampposts, I conjured whole operas out of tabletop dust motes, achieved Enlightenment Level 3 on the yoga scale and at one point, left my body altogether.

What else could I do? My reporter for the day was in the corner pretending to take notes, I already had a dozen shots committed to disc and that creepy dude from the Free Weekly was looking’ at me funny. It was either float up there by the ceiling tiles in some transcendental state or attempt a flying dropkick that would no doubt land me in some manner of incarceration. Thus, I chose to chill, drilling holes in the highly-buffed mahogany tabletop with my eyes while willing my leg not to twitch too much and upset the sheriff’s deputy wedge there in the corner. Yeah, that one - the one mumbling all of Charleton Heston’s lines from Planet of the Apes. You think I’m dangerous. That cat’s got most of a Big Gulp on board and more than a few bullets in his right breast pocket. Drop anything heavier than a briefcase in here and he’ll pop up like that fat kid from Full Metal Jacket.

I’ll be hiding under the Mayor should the SWAT team ask about me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wrestling with the Vest

vest! 015As if there weren’t enough indignities attached to procuring video already, starting today we news shooters have to do so while dressed like a crossing guard. Okay, so it only applies when your alongside any ’federal-aid roads’ (whatever the hell they are), but the fact of the matter is the photog in your life has a shiny new addition to his or her wardrobe. I’m not talking about those shirts with the hula girls on it, and those mud colored corduroys have been a part of photog attire since the early seventies. No, I’m talking about the safety vest - that highly reflective armless wonder sported by road crews and parking attendants the world over. And to think I gave up an aborted career in radio for this!

The Vest Wrestler 2Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why wouldn’t a responsible, suburban father of two like myself be happy about a little increased safety? Really, I am. If swaddling my torso in neon green is what it takes to get me home each night, then bring on the day-glo! I’m just a little concerned that this new vest regulation is more about protecting someone else’s red tape factory than my lowly sack of bones. Then again, I’m well past the age of fascination when it comes to fender-benders. We got lots of interstate highways here in the Greater Piedmont Googolplex and I’m happy to keep off each and every one of them. It ain’t so bad at 70 miles per hour; but playing Frogger across six lanes just so I can shoot video of some jackknifed semi is no longer one of my career goals. Then again, my idea of proper rain gear is to stay the hell inside. Hey, aren’t we supposed to get smarter as we age?

The Vest Wrestler 1Don’t bother answering. Just know that I’ll rock the lime-green girdle ever time I think to dig it out of new Unit 4. I just hope I don’t miss getting footage of that smoking spaceship in the middle of I-40 ‘cause I’m still wrestling with the cursed thing! The other day it took me ten minutes to wiggle into it and that was without the smell of bent sheet metal in the air making me all dizzy. By the time I did get it on, that imaginary sinkhole had all but dried up. I can see it now: ‘This ninety seconds of silence brought to by photographer Stewart Pittman - who can’t seem to get his arms back up over his head!’ Just call me John McCain...

The Vest Wrestler 3Anyway, it ain’t like I got much of a choice. I’m told roving patrols of federalistas will be out looking for an media crews operating sans jerkin. What kind of fine or punishment they may levy is unknown, but I don’t want to be the first photog who has to do fifty push-ups while choking on live truck fumes. So laugh all you want, Mike James! I’ll be crawling over concrete barriers out on the bypass, fighting the urge to go round up grocery carts and hoping no stoner plows me into 60 miles to the gallon 'cause he thinks I'm the guy who helped him park his hybrid at that Widespread Panic show the other night. Now help me get this thing off, wouldya?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Texts of Reckoning

Remember Eugene Shelton? -- the TV news photog who whipped out his cellphone in the middle of a sheriff's briefing and - with a few text messages - let a nightclub-owning buddy know about that many men in Kevlar were heading his way?
"On the way to you man. Mickey's. Clean it up now."
That's ballsy. And stupid. But I'm not here to pass judgement on Mr Shelton. That's Onslow County District Court Judge Louis Foy's job, who just last week, found the 32 year old former photog Guilty of obstructing an officer. His 72 hours of community service and suspended sentence won't go down in the annals of crime history, but his story can serve as a cautionary tale for those of with an all-access pass to crackhouses, squad-cars and palaces.
...The messages were sent May 3 in the middle of a 3 a.m. briefing by the Sheriff's Department in preparation of a raid on Club Mickey's on U.S. 258 between Jacksonville and Richlands.
Been there. No really, I've been there! A the dawn of the nineties I worked the crime and grime circuit all over Eastern North Carolina, from the backrooms of the Brown Building in downtown Greenville to the fingerprint machine at Kinston P.D., I huddled with detectives and rode shotgun with deputies as they raided everything from meth-labs to moonshine stills. Many an early morning I joined the Crown Vic convention at King's Bar Be Cue in Kinston and gorged on a hillbilly breakfast buffet, before loading up in some officer's ride for a pre-dawn road on drug case roundups. All while living like a dirt poor college kid!
...To keep information about the raid from leaking out beforehand, (Sheriff Ed Brown) told everyone in the meeting not to use their cell phones until cleared to do so...
But even though I recognized the irony of hanging out with vice cops in the morning and college town derelicts in the afternoon, it never occured to me to mix my chocolate with with anybody's peanut butter. Luckily for me, professional freshmen with frisbee golf addictions were never really targeted by the local po-leece, so I never had to decide whether I should rat out that shady neighbor who for beer money would re-wire your apartment with illegal cable TV. Even if I had, I can't imagine digging my bag phone (remember those?) out of my heavily logoed Ford Escort and dropping the dime on much of anybody.
...WITN-TV news reporter Chelsea Donovan testified she saw Shelton texting during the briefing, She also told the court that she saw Shelton and Heather Ford - a reporter for Channel 12 at the time - arguing after the meeting...
Torn loyalties, unfettered access and perhaps, too much technology. It all adds up to a momentary lapse of reason that continues to affect one news shooter's life, career and reputation. It's enough to make one want to take up clean livin' - that or do something about that nasty news habit... Seriously, there are hotlines for that kind of stuff!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bartles and Lame

Me and Council Bradshaw circa 1991Hmmmm. That's either a recently unearthed picture of Edgar Winter throwin' down with that dillweed from My Two Dads, or it's a long-lost photo of me and my old pal Council. But WAIT! - this isn't just another celebration of mullets past. There's some actual broadcast history here... See, when I first stumbled into a TV station, I harbored a half-baked ambition. In short, I wanted to be that mercurial guru who made amazing television. Then I learned Eastern Carolina already had one of those: some stringy-haired genius named Council Bradshaw. Council? Whose name is Council?!?

I soon found out. He was ... my biggest competition. Firmly ensconsed at that other station, Council was a year ahead of me in the business and infinitely more talented. When I first began producing local commercials, I'd feel pretty good about every third one. Then I'd flip over to Channel X and catch the latest Bradshaw production. Three point lighting, tailored soundtracks, smoke machines, flying monkeys ... every time I mastered a fundamental, ole long hair would make some quantum leap and my reel would suddenly look like the pathetic small market hackery it truly was. So I started making promos for my station's news product, only to watch Casper here do pirouettes around me with his slicker than thou image campaigns. His 'Ben and Brad' spots were pieces of freaking art - and they still hold up to this day. Yes, for the first year of my career, I wanted to BE Council Bradshaw - that, or push the damn hippy in front of a bus.

But a funny thing happened on the way to homicide. I met him. Come to find out, he was just some starry-eyed cat from the sticks who dreamed of TV glory - just like ME! In time we became great friends - even if he did regularly mop up the local awards circuit with my budding wrestler 'do. After 18 months or so of watching him chew my food, I followed my instincts into the equally thankless world of news. There I flourished, grew cocky and on a young man's whim, told my first News Director where he could stuff his broadcast. A few week later, I took a job with Channel X for a little more coin. I was young, proud and more than a little stoked to finally be on Council's team. He seemed pleased too and when he presented me with a shiny black station windbreaker, I made sure to wear it the day I took my fancycam for a swim. It was the least I could do.

While I settled into bureau life, working the mean streets of Kinston and Greenville under the tutelage of Spencer, Kusbit and Dunn, my other begrudging mentor found himself at odds with the diabolical worm that ran Channel X. Not being without contacts or options, Council fled to higher ground to make station promos somewhere in the Piedmont. I realized immediately why he left, but didn't let it stop me from eventually assuming his old position as Chocowinity's whipping boy. A couple of years later, when I found myself fantasizing about climbing the tower out back and picking off certain coworkers, I exercised my one last option. I rang up the most talented TV guy I knew. Council took my call and offered me a free tour of a place called El Ocho. The rest, is Lenslinger history...

Until a couple of years ago, when, having grown weary tired of endless station ad campaigns and multiple local Emmys - Council once again proved he was smarter me by leaving behind the grind of daily television. Nowadays, he's got his own slick-ass production firm and from what I hear, is doing quite well. When he mentioned recently he'd found a picture of the two of us from some early 90's TV party, I encouraged him to upload it to Facebook. What he didn't tell me is that - for reasons I can't fully explain - I'm grinning like an imbecile and double-fisting two open wine coolers...

Thanks, Buddy!

Stories Your Only Reward

firedog 2
WANTED:Semi-rugged individuals for overland camera portage. Low Wages. Guaranteed Fatigue. Career Longevity Doubtful. Applicants should thrive on deadline and abhor flourescent light. Cynicism a Plus. Contortionism a Must. Some Stunt-Driving Required. Upper Body Strength Essential. Thousand Yard Stare Optional. Casual Dress...Intense Points of View. Burnout Virtually Assured. Those interested should proceed immediately to their nearest TV newsroom and act as if the place is making them crazy. Wearers of Sweater-Vests NEED NOT APPLY.

(Dip of the lens to Dave Malkoff for another amazing photo.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Meanwhile, Back on the Brink....

While I've been dealing with the monster response from a certain secondary site, Bryan Frank has been taking in the view above Placerita Canyon. It was there (and elsewhere) that beFrank spent this past past weekend, covereing the wildfires that engulfed parts of his beloved Southern California. Far less is burning than just a few days ago, but the hurting continues. Our local news vet knows this; it colors his perception as he surveys the rubble all around him. His amazing blog bears witness to all that he sees, complete with jaw-dropping photography and always thoughtful prose. Those folks convinced all camera crews are heartless jackals would do well to visit his site. At the very least, they'll get to see some staggering still shots, long before they earn their rightful place in some West Coast art gallery...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Schmuck Alert: THE BLOG!

Ever since orb-hurling hothead Kenny "Not the Gambler" Rogers openly assailed a cameraman for reasons known only to himself, I've felt compelled to issue Schmuck Alerts. What can I say? Some folks were put on this Earth to cure Polio, refine space flight, or stop global warming. Me - I'm here to lambast those who manhandle fancycams. I'm cool with that. What I'm NOT cool with is my civic duty interfering with the meandering introspection and half-baked analysis highlighted here at Viewfinder BLUES. So, after a long weekend of being locked away in the Lenslinger Labs with the trusty Weave, I appear before you addled, odiferous and a more dedicated than ever to kicking my pixel-addiction. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

Give it a click, won't you? There you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about those folks stupid enough to wrestle with a functional recording device. Cops! Criminals! City Leaders! Celebrities! Some guy with gravy on his shirt! NOBODY IS SAFE from the open disdain and trademark snark doled out at this, the latest subsidiary of Lenslinger Industries. Come for the mockery! Stay for the overblown prose! No -- wait! Don't Go! it ain't just me runnin' my mouth. Oh No! We got a cast of thousands! (Okay, Weaver said he would help...)

The Schmuck Alert Justice League aims to be you one-stop source for unwarranted fisticuffs with the Fourth Estate. Videos! Polls! Guest contributors and maybe even a Poetry Slam or two! When it comes to spotlighting the plight of camera crews and the buffoons who abuse them, is well worth the visit. Be one of the first hundred visitors and win a Viewfinder BLUES virtual t-shirt! Think how impressed your Facebook friends will be when you tell them you're wearing that over your regular pajama top!

Seriously, if stops just ONE portly rent-a-cop, ONE shackled crackhead, ONE star-crossed trollop from laying hands on their friendly neighborhood lenslinger, then the three showers I skipped over the past few days will be more than worth it. Just ask my wife! Or better yet - leave us alone altogether! There's plenty to keep you busy over there, so dive right and get your fill of silly linkage, sophomoric humor and more scary drifters than you can shake a restraining oder at. When you're back in the mood for more adult fare, I'll be RIGHT HERE ... playing with my action-figure.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Under the Smother of Coverage

While I've been locked away in Lenslinger Central, my West Coast brethren have been pointing lenses at a monster. How else to describe the combined fires that have razed more than 20,000 acres in southern California since Thursday? High winds and human error are no doubt to blame, but none of that really matters when your homeland goes up in flames. Those far enough away from the flames have no doubt been glued to the tube as news crews have scramble up overlooks to watch swirling plumes turn swank enclaves to cinders. That's a weekend of Overtime everyone could have done without - including reporter Dave Malkoff, who like beFrank and a certain R. Busse, is capturing stunning stills amid the smother of coverage. Here's hoping they all get back to chasing trollops and starlets very, very soon...

(PICTURED: Ken Kohler, Freeway Complex Fire Chino Hills, CA)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Riff on a Glyph

When David R. Busse fished this photo out of a Louisville dumpster some twenty-eight years ago, he rescued a treasure. For on this papyrus lies an image so fraught with newscaster hubris that I nearly fell off my bar stool when I saw it...

Tinfoil Gladiators

Libraries have been penned about Murrow and the Boys, dashing correspondents who trod the globe for network perks and a shot at immortality. But I yearn for TV tales from the local front where native sons applied the ethos of Edward R. to the local five and dime. Imagine the thrill of our early pioneers as they strove to illustrate radio for the first time. Flickering pictures Crackling sound! Photogs in pleated slacks! The Golden Age of Television? For some! All the sepia tone in the world can't fix an image this strikingly white. But nightly news tends to reflect society, not improve it. So don't blame these Brill-Creamed Broadcasters for the lack of diversity; they've driven too many station cars the size of bread trucks through dicey neighborhoods to look at life from just one point of view. When they weren't inventing TV News, they were thrusting new ideas on the people all around them, and creating a broadcasting curriculum still taught in schools, practiced in the field and mined for yucks on The Daily Show...

Not bad for a buncha fellas in scratchy wool suits.