Friday, March 07, 2008

McCain Gets Brained

McCain Eats Camera Battery
We all know running for President can be brutal: the incessant travel, the rubber chicken plates, those midnight booty calls from Larry King. But rarely does a candidate get clocked in the noggin’ by a member of the media and no one gets arrested. It happened in West Palm. Republican nominee-to-be John McCain was leaving a swing-through stop already riddled with technical snafus when the former Prisoner of War caught a fancycam to the forehead. No doubt the pundits will pick apart the resulting footage like the Zapruder film, but from all that I can see it was nothing more than a little elbow fiesta party foul. In fact, the good Senator himself walked into the WSVN battery pack before quickly righting his course. That’s when a female campaign worker charged the offending photog and caused a bigger stir than the original collision. Man, if it weren’t an election year I’d issue a Class 3 Schmuck Alert on that lady, but since she was probably in the grips of some John Hinckley takedown flashback, I’ll cut her some slack. As for McCain, he shrugged off the blow and shook the photog’s hand (and to think Ann Coulter considers him The Devil! I‘d like to see that anorexic shrew take a shot to the temple and show as much class). When all was said and done, the incident was over before it started. It might not even get any play on the cable networks, but I’m delighted to showcase it here - if only in the vain hopes the bellicose lady in blue will get this message: “So he thumped the melon of a possible world leader…that’s no reason to get all pushy!”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Follow That Domicile!

House on the MoveEver watch a TV news story on an old house being moved down the street and wondered what it took to make it happen? Me neither, but I’m running a little low in the thesis department tonight - so meet me halfway, would ya? Besides the roving domicile is a time-honored tradition in soft news, like slack-jawed centenarians and dogs in funny hats. I’ve probably shot a dozen over the years (houses, not old people), but that didn’t stop me from making a beeline for New Unit Four the moment someone mentioned a careworn hovel was being rolled from one side of Tyro to the other. As I left the El Ocho compound, trusty intern Miranda Dotson asked if she could come along. I like Miranda; so much I didn’t even ditch her on the way out. A few minutes later, we giggled like school girls as my still unmarked car of tomorrow screamed down the interstate. Tyro, here we went!

Wire GuyA word on Tyro. If you've ever got too much gas in the tank and wanna watch time stand still, I'd recommend the trip. However, if you're looking for a bustling metroplex with lots of exotic shopping, you'll be hard-pressed tro get your jollies in the backwaters hamlet. The dozen or so times I've blown through town (town?), I've never seen more than a tumbleweed or two. Today, however, the streets of Tyro were filled to the gills with giddy citizens, all stretching their neck muscles to see Granny Owens' old house schlep down Main Street. When we rolled up and broke out the fancycam, the excitement reached a fever pitch. One lady nearly fainted at the sight of television in the making as her two burly sons clinked their spit cups together in celebration. I have a feeling my visage may even make it into the commemorative quilt currently being strung together in some Aunt's basement. Hope they got my good side!

Road Kill CamGod knows they had plenty of time. See, even in a tiny community like Tyro, you don't go rearranging houses without a little legwork. For every few feet the 70 year old house moved, work crews had to pull back utility wires, uproot a row of mailboxes and shoo off a chicken or two. Okay, so there wasn't a yardbird in sight, but that doesn't mean Granny Owens' house moved any faster. Not that I minded (at first, anyway). Every time the house came to a stop so the hardhats could scratch, I switched up my position. That way, my resulting news story would hopefully look like it was shot my a whole team of cameras, instead of some fuzzy-headed dreamer with an adjective addiction. Thus, I continually, thrust, spun and parried my way to the Chiropractor's office, even dropping to The Lotus Position for a worm's-eye-view of the (in)action. Luckily, there was a passing group of cub scouts to help me stand back up.

Miranda AwaitsWhile I threw my back out of whack, Miranda wisely waited. Actually she ferried my car back and forth, tok some really cool snapshots and fended off the advances of a few frisky drifters. Smart girl. You know, I don't what Miranda's plans are after graduation, but I really hope the time she's spent in the field had given her an idea of how mundane and breathtaking day-to-day newsgathering can be. She's sure had plenty of chances to figure it out; she's asssisted several crews and currently holds the title of El Ocho Intern With a Pulse. Good on ya, Miranda! Thanks for laughing at my every other wisecrack and I'm real sorry about getting us lost like that. If I can ever make it up to you, I will, but for now keep a close eye on my every move. This is your future you could be watching! Now get me a soda, willya?

The Great WaitYou're right...I'll get it. Whiel I do, let's talk time compression. It's easy to do in the edit bay, when a mere drag and drop can erase the doldrums of a long morning waiting for that next shot. In the field however, you simply have to hang out, plot your next plan of attack and hope it will all wrap up before the anchor introduces your report. After about two and a half hours on scene, I had enough footage to fuel a documentary: God Shots of the approaching hovel, close-ups of the oohs and ahhhs and more than a few interviews with descendants. But you simply can't put together a report on an old house with a new home without video of said structure settling into place. It's called "closure", ba-bee! Unfortunately, the utility guys insisted on moving every important wire out of the way a process that slowed the home's journey considerably. After much waiting (and no small amount of bitching on my part) Miranda and I were forced to leave with the home still in the middle of the road. I'm guessing the damn thing was in place by the time my story aired, but I won't probably won't know until I happen upon Tyro a year from now. Maybe by then, my quilt will be ready.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ink Pen Frenemies

If you’re searching for a microcosm of the Fourth Estate, look no further than the cluster of cameras around your average candidate. Was a time all the players were easily identifiable… Guy with the vest fetish fondling his tripod? TV Shooter. Lady with the skinny notebook and the sensible shoes? Newspaper. Dude with the white man’s ’fro and oversized microphone flag? Ray-di-o! Hot chick with the megawatt smile and scary eyes? Hey, who let the weather bunny in? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is the taxonomy of your garden variety press scrum ain’t as simple as it used to be. I blame Al Gore, who should be ashamed of stealing all that internet-inventing glory from rightful web originator Sir Tim Berners-Lee (Thanks, Ed Cone!). Whereas media members used to be as easily identifiable as zebras in the exhibit cage, any further zoological metaphors are amn near extinct, thanks to a great mingling of the species.

Just ask Janine Anderson. A reporter at The Racine Journal Times, she - like a lot of newspaper employees - is being forced to learn video under less than pristine conditions. Recently, a superior of hers shoved a Canon XH-A1 in her hands and sent her to a Hillary Clinton campaign stop. Talk about being thrown to the wolves! See, most times your local camera cluster is fairly affable - a loose network of competitors who work together more than they’d ever admit. Not everyone’s Mr. Rogers, but if a light blows, a battery dies or a tripod leg goes limp, more times than not there’s some local schlub happy to help. But a Presidential campaign stop? You’re talking Secret Service agents, zombie-like volunteers and every broadcast blowhard from the greater tri-state googolplex. Throw in the ever indignant traveling press corps and you got the makings of a first class monkey-hump. I know guys with TV station logos tattooed on their souls I wouldn’t send to that circus…

But to her credit, Janine Anderson - and the skinny lens she dragged into battle - emerged unscathed - partly due to the assistance of some considerate TV folk. I know, I know cats and canines living together, right? Maybe back when Snoopy was laying on the roof, but in 2008 it’s a whole new dogfight and I’m not talkin’ Michael Vick on a bender. No, if anything I’m here to celebrate the level of cooperation that fell over this presidential scrum - a not too common occurrence in an industry where a group interview is still lovingly referred to as a ’gangbang’. In Janine’s own rollicking blog entry, she touches on just a few nuances of covering assholes with glass. Hopefully she came away with a new appreciation for the calisthenic strain of journalism that is moving picture news. As for my own surly breed, here’s hoping we welcome these infidels to the mix with a minimum of balderdash. They’re here to stay, I’m afraid and - shot-blocking jackholes aside - don’t automatically deserve our wrath So, be nice, would ya?

If it helps, just pretend you’re a Southerner: Be sweet as Iced Tea to their face and talk smack about ‘em later. Works for us!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

RUH-SPECT: ‘Scoop’ Phillips

I admit it: six weeks into my newsgathering career, I affected a certain swagger, convinced I’d seen all this cruel orb had to offer simply because I’d powered-up on half a dozen ribbon-cuttings. Not Bob “Scoop” Phillips. No, this veteran lenslinger has retained a modicum of serenity even though he’s been churning through daily deadlines for fifty years. Fifty Years! That’s like, I dunno, half a century or somethin’! By the time I hit my golden anniversary, I’ll be a disembodied head floating in a jar back in the equipment room somewhere. But this ain’t about me (for once). This post is for ‘Scoop’, a man who perfected the solo-newsgathering model decades before newspapers and consultants dusted off the idea and called it revolutionary. Working his own sources, asking his own questions, turning stories all by his lonesome…it ain’t easy - especially when you’re sporting the kind of Flintstones-era gear ‘Scoop’ no doubt used back in the day. I just hope WDTN knows what they have in Bob Phillips, a roving camera pedestal with more local news knowledge than could ever be squeezed into a thirty second promo. Local television stations will be lesser vessels when the last of these ENG pioneers head to the fishin’ hole instead of the morning meeting. So do me a favor: dip your lens toward Dayton, Ohio and think of 'Scoop' Phillips today. Just don’t expect him to stop and acknowledge; he’s way too busy kicking the competition’s ass to hear from the likes of us pretenders. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a jar of formaldehyde waiting for me back in the shop...

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Rant from Tripod Row...

You Sir, with the thousand dollar suit and coterie of supplicants -- can we talk? Yes, I know you 'have the floor', but I got this back wall and half a dying battery, so if you'll just listen while you run through that part of the speech you nailed in the car this morning, we won't waste anybody's time. Besides, no one's listening. See Bill there, in the white shirt He may look like he's focusing, but trust me - dude's been asleep ever since you started thanking your golf buddies twenty minutes ago. Hmmm? I don't know where he learned it ... Korea, I think. But frankly, Sir - that ain't important right now. What is important is that you look good on television. Now, now - don't give me the routine about civic duty and corporate leadership, we both you know you got all four stations Tivo'd at home. It's cool; I once knew a weekend anchor who'd lock herself in edit bay with a fresh newscast and one of those huge cans of hairspray. She'd touch up her 'do as she watched herself read the prompter, until finally we'd have to lure her out with bogus P.A. announcements of fan mail in the lobby or free food in the studio. But LOOK, this ain't about the mannequins in my closet, No Sir....

This is about your staff. I don't know how much you pay these people, but that one lady's sportin' more bling than I saw at my last three drug dealer round-ups. And that cat with the Polo cologne problem... 1986 is on the phone - it wants its funk back! A-hem. Sorry, I know you're an important man. How couldn't I? Some putz in a necktie that cost more than my shoes just shoved a glossy folder in my one free hand detailing your every fraternity grudge. I'm sure he and Kinko's stayed up all night stuffing cliches in that packet, but I'm here to tell you it's all for naught if you don't stop letting some third world hermit set up your $#%&$ pressers! You've seen television, right? You ever catch that scene in Close Encounters where the space alien emerges from that blinding light and weirds everybody out! That's exactly what you're gonna look like if you don't get away from that plate-glass window! And don't even suggest the 'conference room'! It may feel all regal when your lording over your staff, but I've seen airport bathroom stalls with more warmth. And that noise! I realize this is a recycling plant, but did we have to set up right next to the scrap-metal shredder on bent silverware day????

Hmm? Speech over? Questions from The Press? Naah, I'm late for a ribbon-cutting across town. They're unveiling new coffee flavors at the airport lounge and they wanna talk about it out on the runway. Should make for some good lip-reading...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Glass Into Battle: Roger Hawkins

Roger Hawkins, Combat CameramanMy small attempt to spotlight the plight of combat cameramen has actually triggered the attention of one. Roger Hawkins went to Vietnam in 1968. As a photo officer with the Department of the Army Special Photographic Office [DASPO] and the 221st Signal Company (photographic), he recorded the kind of images that simply don’t fade over time. Nor has he let the wartime photog’s legacy wane since then. A member of the International Combat Camera Association, Hawkins maintains a considerable web presence and his work can be seen on The History Channel as well as Discovery. When he sent me an e-mail questioning the motive behind my post, I knew I’d found the person I was looking for: a combat veteran with impeccable credentials, a sobering portfolio and zero desire to bullshit me. Not knowing where to start, I asked a few dumb questions…

What did it feel like to be armed with just a lens? Did you suffer tunnel vision?

"It isn't just a lens. It is a lens, a shotgun, artillery and air support, some green berets and some Australian SAS types from the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam and a hundred or so armed-to-the-teeth Montagnard tribesmen who thought wearing pants was an innovation that would not last. I have also gone for walks completely alone. Then suddenly a hundred kids show up to pull on the hair on my arms to see if it is real…I depended on tunnel vision to keep me sane and under control. It provides the illusion that you are in a little black room and nobody can see you. Here that would be called self delusion. In Vietnam it was called holding on to sanity."

How does one think to center up, focus and roll when armed troops are doing their best to kill each other?

"By ‘ignoring the incoming while capturing the irony.’ Dying alone is more frightening than dying with the troops. I went out with a 5-man Long Range Recon Patrol of the 173rd Airborne and we saw a large group of VC about a mile across the valley traveling with flashlights at night. I knew they could not see or hear us but my blood was pumping so hard I knew they could hear me. It was like Edgar Allen Poe's story the Tell Tale Heart. If you love this kind of work it tends to take over your mind in time of crisis. A surprising amount of the gut wrenching rear comes from the anticipation of a dangerous mission not the real thing."

How do those regular troops feel about the cameraman?

"Most have this sense that any moment can be your last and it is somehow comforting to know your presence on earth might be recorded and archived so others can now you existed and what you looked like. When you turn the camera on them you are acknowledging their humanity. On the other hand I have had some Dustoff pilots get upset when I filmed the unloading of American wounded. The flip side is that the Dustoff pilots I flew with loved the coverage. By and large the troops will do anything for you within reason."

Hawkins goes on to explain how it helps to be ‘young and stupid’, that after a certain amount of combat, ‘the range of what really scares you gets smaller and smaller.’ Perhaps, but I’m guessing a great deal of inner strength is required to carry glass into battle. Today, men and women in uniform are doing just that, crawling across the bellicose sod of Iraq and Afghanistan with little more than a mission and a lens. No matter what your politics, there’s no denying the bravery of these people who capture history long before it's distorted in our nation’s textbooks. The International Combat Camera Association works to honor the achievements and mission of these photographers, in hopes their images of war can help others understand the value of peace. I can think of no finer group I’d like to help and until I can shower them with untold riches, the admiration of an itinerant blogger will have to do.

Next Time: The Heroism of William T. Perkins, Jr.