Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Abysmal Lensman

( In Theaters March 15th) In an unlikely follow up to Borat, Sacha Cohen stars in the gritty biopic of Ivan Slorgski, the Cosmonaut Photog thought to have botched several of his nation's greatest missions. A pariah in his homeland, 'Slorg' is blamed for over-exposing key footage of a covert Russian moon landing in May of 1968, fourteen months before NASA technicians filmed their own version on a Hollywood soundstage. The former dirt farmer also earned his nation's wrath when he double-punched the 'Record' button during a top secret 1974 mission to the undiscovered wreckage of the RMS Titanic. (Daniel Day Lewis gives a career ending performance as the Russian sub commander who goes ballistic after showing his superiors footage of his hapless assistant scratching his crotch.) Tragically, Slorgski somewhat redeemed himself after being exiled to Siberia, where he briefly moved in with a family of polar bears and inadvertently filmed his own death. Out of focus. [ Rated R ]

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Enemy Is Us

I have seen the future of TV News and it rattles me to the core. I speak not of declining audience shares, shrinking budgets or emerging alternative platforms. Instead, I refer to a disturbing trend rippling through the more desperate newsrooms of our fair land: The Ancillary Talent Dance-Off. For those of you whose local stations still pretend to be credible, I'll be brief. From Sacramento to Cincinnati, otherwise sensible weather and traffic personnel have been setting aside their charts and graphs just long enough to pop and lock. That's right, your weekend weather guy is doing the robot - and judging from that white boy underbite, he's been waiting for this chance all his life. Oh and that totally slammin' backbeat? It's no drum machine; just the corpse of Edward R. Murrow spinning in his grave.

Dude, I'm no prude. I got a silly streak and a foul mouth and I regularly use them both to warn anchors and interns about taking themselves too seriously. I've been doing this for far too long to consider any of it sacred. Nor am I innocent of assinine behavior in the name of news. (After all, I did spend the closing weeks of the 20th Century producing frantic reports on the world-changing certainty of Y2K.) And i'm also aware that weathermen have feigned wackiness since the days of felt forecast boards and smiley face sun stickers. But whereas your father's meteorologist told a few stale jokes before getting to the high pressure systems, today's forecasters and traffic gurus are wrapping up their scientific presentations by busting out the funky chicken. Or is The Forbidden Dance? I can never tell, for no sooner can a WASPy traffic nerd throw a few gang signs than I'm filled with the overwhelming urge to wretch.

Perhaps I doth protest too much. Hey, they're just trying to inject a little levity into the daily grind. It isn't like their mainline talent, right? I mean - a couple of the offending dance squads broadcast only on something called the CW(?). I don't know what that is either, but the more I think about it, the better I feel about being offended. After all, this kind of chicanery is the polar opposite of the kind of television I produce. Whereas I seek to be invisible as I tell others stories, these John Stewart wannabes want nothing more than for you to watch them shake dat rump. Have at it, but tell me this : Where do we go from here? Sure, it's easy to slip away from the news desk and join the traffic hottie in the Macarena, but how do you get back? How do you sit back down and tell viewers about the plane crash, the dead kid or even the traffic snarl without appearing as an unequivocal ass? My guess is you don't.

I mean, what's next? Ya gonna send some smarmy reporter over to the homeless encampement with a case of beer? Hmm? Oh ... my bad.

Dead Skin Not Included...

It’s not often I shoot consumer news, but when a lack of staffing put one of our Deal or Dud segments at risk, the suits rashly threw the switch on the Lenslinger Signal. At least I think that’s what that big “L” in the sky stood for... What I do know is ninety minutes after it appeared I found myself lying on the floor of a Kernersville home as a soft-spoken grandmother scraped dead skin off the bottom of her feet and onto the top of my lens. Would I lie? Possibly, but I’m not. Besides, if I could make shit like that up I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. I’d be walking in circles somewhere in Burbank, holding an overly clever homemade sign and wondering if I should have saved the particular piece of snark for my blog. Okay, so I could very easily fit in that crowd, but I choose not to. See, I’m a News Man - a serial purveyor of truth, tripe and consequence. Unlike those goateed schlubs smoking cloves outside Leno’s office, I use my powers to tackle The Tough Issues. You know, like corruption at City Hall, strife in the inner city and whether that leg-scraping egg thingie they advertise at midnight is worth a hard-earned ten spot. Still don’t believe me? Dig this vignette: shot in thirty minutes, edited in under sixty and completely forgotten about minutes later.

Who’s the loser now?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anticipating Janis

Some people start their day with a quick jog around the block. Others prefer coffee and toast. I like to crank a little Janis. There’s just something about her tortured wail that helps me find my keys. Then again, people have been channeling the power of this vocal steamroller since 1967, when she dropped the jaw of every hippie in sight at the Monterey Pop Festival. No doubt even that enlightened crowd didn’t know what to make of her. A whirling dervish on-stage, Janis Joplin reached down deeper than most would dare and belted out The Blues in a way no white woman has before or since. Trouble is, she insisted on living the blues as well. Ostracized by all in her tiny Texas hometown, Janis Lyn Joplin found solace in Southern Comfort, sexual ecstasy and lots of Heroin. A bad batch of the latter killed her at age 27, silencing one of the most soul-burdened singers this world has ever heard. Still, as my wife reminds me, Janis is an acquired taste. Her manic bravado and distinctive screech turn off many and even among her legion of fans, she is universally misunderstood.

All of which makes me concerned about the Joplin biopic(s?) currently in production. Her tumultous life has been the object of cinematic lust since friends scattered her ashes in the Pacific Ocean. Everyone from Courtney Love to Renée Zellweger to Pink have been considered for the title role, but legal entanglements and bad karma have kept the many pitches from ever appearing at your Cineplex. Recently, producers of a $10 million independent effort cast Zooey Deschanel in the title role, but according to various internet sources, that project has stalled as well. It's a shame, really. Janis' short time on this planet was marked by euphoria and squalor, a dichotomy that can make for gripping cinema. With her deadpan stare and musical background, Deschanel was an intriguing pick. Even still, capturing the essence of 'Pearl' is a daunting task. Anything less than perfection could be construed as parody and that's an abomination fans like myself can live without. Guess I'll have to stick to my CD collection. not to mention her appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, currently available on YouTube. Hmm? Think I'm overreacting - standing guard over some dead singer's image in hopes Hollywood won't desecrate her legend? I got five words for ya: Val Kilmer IS Jim Morrison.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Clarity at Dusk

Whitey at Sunset 1By five o clock, I was rethinking my career path (again). Nothing new there; just the same litany of ills that have been haunting me for the past 18 years. First, staffing issues ripped me from my soft news nap. Then, Eric White and I embarked on a fruitless pursuit of assignment wannabes. For a while, every flimsy story idea we landed on collapsed under our weight. Forced to flee to the next possible lead, we logged many, many miles along the unforgiving interstate. When finally we settled on hyping the weather, Mother Nature retaliated by damn near freezing me at the salt yard. This unleashed a torrent of bellyachin' and Eric White should receive a medal for enduring my endless lament. (He should then be pummelled repeatedly for being so damn happy all the time. The nerve of that guy!)

Whitey at Sunset 2By the time we parked a live truck on a favorite patch of grass off I-85, I was o-v-e-r it. The insipid assignments, the marathon driving, the fretful repetition of countless newscasts; I grumbled about it all as I pulled various gizmos out of the truck. 'I'm a fairly clever chap', I thought. When did I agree to spend my working life erecting these disposable vignettes? Bending at the waist, I plugged in my lights and vowed for perhaps the millionth time to do something more meaningful with my life. Then I stood up, glanced at my camera's flip-out screen and stopped dead in my tracks. It was ... beautiful. With the sun setting behind Eric's head, a thin ribbon of orange settled over the horizon. Slowly receding as the Earth turned, it would be gone altogether by the time we went live(!), but something about that fleeting layer of sunlight pleased me in a way I cannot express. Instantly renewed, I tweaked my lights and checked my monitor, happy once again to simply slather images across the atmosphere. At one point Whitey noticed I was humming and undoubtedly rolled his eyes.

Can't say I blame him...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Schmuck Alert: Shiny Wing-Tip

Usually I save my Schmuck Alerts for those caught accosting TV photogs, but in the case of Colorado State Representative Douglas Bruce, I'm making an exception. Seems the incoming blowhard takes great umbrage at having his picture snapped - at least with his head bowed. The former County Commisioner (read: "kra-zee") was about to be sworn into office when a fellow lawmaker commenced with an opening prayer. At Bruce's feet, newspaper photographer Javier Manzano did what newspaper photographers are prone to do: he (GASP!) took a picture. Incensed that his image had been captured during such a reverent time, the fully-grown Republican made like a three year old and kicked the offending photog in protest. Shortly after, Representative Bruce held his breath. spun in circles and demanded a fresher juicy-cup. Okay, I made that last sentence up, but the fact of the matter is this clown's been elected to public office. As sometimes happens, an increased constituency tends to rot the frontal lobe of some electees. While Mr. Bruce isn't the first politician to go jack-ass, most do wait until they're at least sworn-in. To the politico's defense, he claimed the photographer's camera noise was disturbing the public prayer - much like a childish strike of a shiny wing-tip might do to an otherwise uneventful ceremony. See ya on the Today Show...Schmuck!

Loitering for a Living

Were I the Broadcasting Czar, I’d post this photo outside every college classroom where a career in Mass Communications was even being considered. Why? Simple, it shows a side of TV news not featured in the slow-motion promos. But slow it is, for the news crew pictured to your left is loitering for their daily wage. True, I don’t know exactly what this WLOS news team was waiting for, but if that school bus is any indication - it involves Our Most Precious Cargo(!), or Every Parent’s Nightmare(!), or some other such cliché(!) we bandy about so readily. Of course if pacing the edges of some school campus strikes you as the least bit skeevy, well then, you’ve never fished for soundbites alomng the Soccer Mom Sea. If you had, you’d know there’s no better soundbite source than captive parents idling in the car line outside Little Johnnie’s school. As for any Broadcasting student who might stumble past this shot, let it serve as a constant reminder of the kind of job awaiting them once they bag that sheepskin. As for me, I’ll be napping in the truck. Wake me when the minivans start moving…

Blog It Like You Stole It

Though we’re often portrayed as grumbling dunderheads, your average TV news photog is really quite chatty. After all, we’re storytellers at heart, ones who use natural light, dimpled coworkers and wireless microphones to spin our many yarns. What’s more, some of us come home and climb on-line, where we while away the hours trading war stories and legends but never spit. If that kind of thing appeals to you then you’re in luck, for I’d like to spend the next few minutes exploring the outer reaches of the ever throbbing photograblogosphere. You might wanna strap in.

First stop Sacramento, an outpost overrun with Photog-Blogifus. The latest TV tech to join the Sac-Town fray is one Joseph Huerta, a 21 one year old editor who, despite the requisite knit skull cap, is still a little wet behind the years. Therein lies the fun of course, as the edumacation of a newbie shooter is always worth a few laughs. Especially when he’s being harassed by his first transient.

Todio’s no schmoe. Neither is he a rookie. Fact is, the dude’s been a freelance television sound recordist for 22 years! That’s a lot of time watching the needles dance. While that may shake up lesser souls, ole Todio’s holding steady. As for how he came to harvest noise for a living, it’s a tale of hijacked opportunity, in which our hero shrugs his way forward and ends up with a career full of endless gigs. Now if only we can get him to take off those headphones.

This next cat is no novice either. Hell, he practically invented the form. While not technically a blogger, Tim Rutherford has been posting regular content at Photog’s Lounge for ten years now. Ten Years! That makes him a freakin’ pioneer, though to hear Tim tell it, he’s just another schlub working behind the scenes of a nightly newscast. I’ll buy that - but only because I know just what a hoot your average crew member can be. Now, hopefully, you can too.