Friday, February 29, 2008

Lemme Axe You...

Have you ever lingered on the edge of a horrible car crash, afraid to leave until the heartless bastard in the other rolling billboard pulls away?

Have you ever strolled through a packed convention hall dressed like a drifter on holiday, only to have men in thousand dollar suits fall all over themselves to help you?

Have you ever tried to be really quiet while dragging fifteen parts of a mobile TV studio into a somber press conference already in progress?

Have you ever cursed the very existence of some overly-groomed blowhard as you did everything within your power to make them look handsome, precise and thoughtful?

Have you ever questioned your place in the universe as a bloodshot Mom clutches a framed photo of her dead son and scans the horizon behind you for answers?

Have you ever traded wisecracks and shoptalk with a competitor you don’t know very well as the two of you chased a cadaver dog along a riverbank?

Have you ever turned every head in a sea of 20 thousand American Idol hopefuls simply by walking into the place with a camera on your shoulder?

Have you ever hunkered down behind your camera, zoomed in on a madman with a gun and hoped that - if the cops were gonna shoot him - they’d do so before that Chinese Buffet down the street closes?

Have you ever taken a moment to thank whatever deity you credit with your spot on the planet for blessing you with such a cursed way of making a living?

Yeah, me neither...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wannabes in the Lobby

Inverted AmbushHere’s something you don’t often see: The Inverted Ambush. It happened on Valentine’s Day, when a local Kansas City newspaper showed up in the lobby of KCTV with flowers, balloon and less than honorable intentions. Seems the snark peddlers at The Pitch had their knickers in a twist over a couple of local TV news stories exposing teachers with racy MySpace pages. Why this infuriated the free weekly I don’t know, but their umbrage seemed to center on the fact that Channel X stole a story from Channel Y. ZZZZZ --hmm? Oh, sorry - dozed off there. Anyhoo, the staffers of this local rag spotted an opportunity to turn the tables on the nefarious news crews; they grabbed a handycam, a few props to hide behind and set off to tilt at a satellite dish, er … windmill or two.

Amazingly, they got in. When the hapless receptionist spotted the flowers, she assumed a Valentine was in the offing and quickly summoned News Director Tracy Brogden Miller. What follows is either uncomfortable to watch or side-splittingly funny - depending on what kind of media emporium signs your check. As for Miller, she was not amused. Deeming the inverted ambush ’uncool’, she slunk back up the stairs, no doubt hoping Ashton Kutcher would spring out from behind a fern with one of his self-satisfied bear-hugs and make it all okay. Didn’t happen. Instead, the interlopers snickered off, high five-ing each other repeatedly over their cross-media manuever until they arrived back at their offices and realized they still work for a free weekly newspaper in Kansas City. From there, I’m guessing the euphoria waned…

So, what’s MY talk on this broadcast abomination? Eh…. It’s always fun to watch members of the Fourth Estate turn on each other and I’d be outright lying if I said there weren’t some TV execs I’d like to ambush. But you gotta choose your battles. Maybe the MySpace teacher kerfluffle had the good citizens of KC in an uproar, but to the distant reader, it comes off as much ado about doing. Thus, the resulting footage rings a bit hollow. Sure, it’s fun watching a News Director squirm - but over allegations they stole a story from a competitor? C’mon, people! We do worse than that by mid-morning Tuesday! You gonna come at us with your cowardly flower-cam and throw down allegations as lame as that one? You can do better! Pick something really egregious next time; maybe then you won’t come across as high school sophomores itching for a studio tour of their local Tee-Vee station.

A-hem. No, what bothers me most isn’t the inverted ambush itself, but the article that attempts to make such great hay of it. It’s stilted, aimless and most offensively, not very funny. Viral Video aside, it would seem The Pitch misfired, blowing their one good chance to lambaste the over what could barely be described as even a scandal. That’s their right, and as self-congratulatory writer types, I’m sure they hoisted many a brew over their broadcast coup. But I hope they somehow read this and realize there’s a lowly TV cameraman far, far away who finds their game weak, their prose unfunny and their collective wads, forever shot. Best stick with the free restaurant reviews...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yawning at the Renaissance

One Eyed GrinWith newspapers rotting unread in our nation’s driveways, legions of print people are taking up the videocamera. But it looks like a few of them are gonna drop the damn things, if they don’t stop wringing their hands over how NOT to be like TV. Oh, I get it. Newspaper folk have long held my kind in the lowest regard. Our winking hyperbole and flashing graphics and pretty figureheads offend their sensibilities. So they openly dismiss us as clowns with spray paint and wave off even our finest efforts as graffiti that‘s beneath them. Now, however - their tune has changed slightly. No longer able to merely marginalize my craft, they’re tricking out their brightest with slimmed-down gear while boasting how their new-age toys and old school intellect will soon render the old TV News breed obsolete. So, how’s that going for ya?

Certainly there are talented staffers doing exciting things with video. The newspaper industry’s many gifted photographers could bring a new dimension to moving pictures and feather their own threadbare nests in the process. But the ink-stained wretches seem to have a blot on their soul. They detest the trappings of television. Booming clichés and overexposed hosts run countercurrent to the type of thoughtful video analysis they wish to initiate. Some have already succeeded in their quest, but many more have simply replaced overly-punchy pacing and plastic voicework with meandering storylines and monotone narration. Not all of their end results will put you to sleep, but neither will it make you lean into your laptop in breathless anticipation of what will come next. You know, the way you feel when something really fascinating comes on TV. Oh that’s right - you don’t watch television. Y-e-a-h....

I don’t mean to denigrate ALL newspaper video folk - even if they do line up to disparage me. Angela Grant, Colin Mulvany and Cindy Green are just a few of the content producers that regularly put their mojo where their multimedia is. But countless others - especially the all-knowing pundits who rarely leave their desks - are so full of shit their eyes are brown. Their various sites tout video fundamentals as new truths they’ve just wrestled from the primordial news. Jump cuts, white-balancing, sequences - I never knew how misinformed I was until some dude in a sweater vest wrote six hundred words on a concept my ’tween daughter figured out ten minutes after powering up a Sony of her owny. Believe me, nobody wants a new video paradigm more than yours truly. TV News has long ago stagnated, it’s true. But until the pointy-headed set unveils this new passel of tactics, their line claims of superiority will continue to read like the deathbead delusions of a once vibrant industry.

So please, prove me wrong. Until then, put a sock in it, would ya? I’m trying to watch television...

The Zero and the Hero

Some stories are shot as an afterthought. Such was the case late last week, when seconds after arriving at Caldwell Academy, a family member called with some ... troubling news. I’ll skip the details for now, but let’s just say when Julie Luck pulled up a few minutes later, my head was somewhere else. Still, giddy school officials and a thoroughly charming story awaited us inside so I traded my woes for a tripod and trudged into the auditorium. Well, today I paid for that lack of focus. No sooner had I strolled into El Ocho than a script was thrust before me. Oh yeah -- that story ... the one I slept walk through last week. Ducking into the break room for fortification, I dragged my nabs to an edit bay and closed the door. A couple of hours later I emerged - eyes dilated, jaw slackened, tell-tale crumbs spilling down my shirt. I ... fixed it. I wouldn’t say I nailed it, but I did manage to assemble the good parts, strung together some ‘natural’ sound and spackled over the seams with perhaps too many dissolves. It won’t win me any trophies, but I’m guessing most viewers won’t be able to tell the cameraman wasn’t really paying attention.

I hope, anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Whitey Flies West

Eric 'Strike' WhiteyAs evidenced by earlier posts, Eric White has left the building. Off to make his mark on the flat screens of Nashville, he leaves El Ocho a better place than he found it. That can’t be said of your average TV news reporter, but then again, Whitey ain’t all that average. Rather, he’s a workhorse; a lanky everyman who pours his endless reservoir of enthusiasm into what can be a thankless job. Eric ended up doing four years here - twice as long as most field correspondents who use our staff and facilities as finishing school before trotting off to higher ground. A marathon runner himself, the Illinois native signed up for a second hitch because he felt he still had room to grow. He was right and earned a coveted Emmy award for his efforts. Sure, he still gets excited when the cookies he packed in his lunch bucket prove to be more delicious than the day before - but food euphoria aside, our Whitey really grew up. He goes to Nashville a seasoned pro, albeit one who might very well high-five you over the crispness of his Chips Ahoy.

I first mentioned Whitey here in October of 2004. Back then he was the New Guy and I lambasted him mercilessly for his Flanders-esque approach to newsgathering and life in general. That makes me one grumpy cuss, for Eric White’s sunny disposition was no introductory put-on. He brought it with him everyday, coming in early and staying late. I didn’t work with him as often as some and there were times Whitey and I clashed like distant cousins forced to hang out together at family reunions. Through it all though, I found Eric genuinely goofy and goofily genuine. I’m certain there are times he wanted to throttle me. Instead, he put up with my blogging addiction by snapping some of my favorite photos, posing for others and willingly becoming a featured player on a website he rarely ever read. That takes real class and I am forever in his debt for doing what it took to keep me from driving the live truck into the nearest bridge abutment.

But don’t take my word for it, click here and SEE what other El Ocho associates have to say about this highly likeable reporter who’s about to add new cheerful new colors to Music City’s broadcast palette. Give ’em hell, Whitey, you’ll always have peeps in the Piedmont. Now wipe that silly grin off your face, I’m trying to act all grizzled…

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gladiators at Bay

Competition at Bay“Okay players, listen up! When the scanner crackles you and your partner will use one of these ragged-out live trucks to race to a place to be determinedalong the way. Once you think you’ve arrived, the person who drove will unload all the equipment as fast as possible while the passenger player rushes to the center of the incident and determine just what the hell happened. Keep in mind three other 2 person teams, possibly smarter and probably better looking, are rushing to the same location and are allowed to cut you off in traffic, mislead you down a dead end or flip you the Bicentennial bird. Remember, individual teams can form allies, but it must be unspoken! Changing conditions and gear malfunctions can be expected by all. The first team to establish a live signal and present the facts in full color focus will win immunity from their ten o clock re-cuts. Extra points awarded for good backlight, exclusive video and a trace of respectability. Are you ready? GO!

Okay, so work ain't exactly a reality show, but it's close. More than anything it's a series of photo finishes, in which you hop obstacles alongside those of another logo until you both stumble across the finish line. It makes we wonder what its like to work in other industries where The Competition is just some squiggly line on a chart. Not my gig. Every day we rub shoulders with the operatives of Channel X; doppelgangers jostling for shots at lock-ups and coliseums. Truthbetold, it's better that way, as nothing breeds complacency like working in a vacuum. Not that I'd know. I've spent most of my working life trying to out-shoot, out-drive, out-light, out-edit and out-write a rotating cast of gladiators in overly-logoed parkas. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but I'm rarely unsure of my team's status, what with my most heated rival hyperventilating just three feet away.

Fergie and FriendsBut it ain't all battle. Odd pockets of downtime make for casual conversations among combatants - sometimes by the side of a highway, other times while stalking an elevator landing. In fact, some of my most engaging exchanges have taken place in the presence of OPT (Other People's Tripods). Back during my formative years, I learned most everything I knew back then from my direct competitors. They, after all, were the ones I jousted with on a daily basis. With little critque from my faraway bosses, I got better solely by copying those who choked me with heel dust day after day. One gapped-tooth mentor was especially kind; he even rang me up one day to tell me I'd better get over to the SBI office pronto. Seems a drug dealer had taken great umbrage at having his stash confiscated, so he broke in and stole it back from the cops. That kind of story can take all day and I believe my buddy only called me because he was lonely over there kickin' my ass.

Besides, he knew I'd bring donuts.

Impenetrable Glenn

Goofy shoots!
Like Duff always says, photogery is a dangerous business. Take poor Glenn here, the CBC shooter recently found frozen solid at the Whistler World Cup Skiing Championship. Investigators believe he simply remained on camera l-o-n-g after the director stopped taking his shot. Last heard grumbling about ‘pampered button-pushers‘, the veteran photog withdrew into his viewfinder and apparently ossified in mid-shiver. What’s left of him will be placed on display at the Women’s Downhill Course until the 2010 Winter Olympic Games - at which point he’ll be shot out a maple-leaf draped cannon onto a shimmering trampoline carried by four Canadian Mounties on spangled horseback…you know those opening ceremonies.