Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crew Call at ObamaRama

Making the SausageHaving loitered alone in a live truck for much of the week, it was awful good to hang out with my peoples. The occasion: Barack Obama's visit to the Piedmont, of course. Ever since the Mayor's breathless presser two days back, I knew I'd get sucked in the belly of that beast. I just didn't know I'd be the first one eaten. The Greensboro Coliseum complex was dark and shuttered when new reporter Roxanna Haynes and I pulled up. Then again, it was 5:30 in the morning. With a security guard nodding in the distance and nary a supplicant in sight, it was high time to set up a TV studio - especially since the suits were gonna punch up my shot in thirty minutes. Wheeling the rolling billboard around the perimeter, I finally found the one parking lot designated for the media. Only problem: the gate was locked. Sooo, I did what any good TV News photog would do: I slung the live truck around in a wide arc, zeroed in on a particular patch of sidewalk and punched it. Coffee flew and cries rang out as I forced the live truck up the curb, dodging trash cans and concrete planters until I made it to the pre-approved lot. Minutes later, as I stood behind the truck watching the mast slowly poke upward, a security guard drove by all ghetto slow and gave me the dirtiest of looks. I smiled back and checked 'Irritate a Rent-A-Cop' off my mental list.

Roxanna HaynesWhat began as an empty parking lot didn't stay that way for long. At first my competitors' trucks arrived by ones and twos - most making sure not to drive their giant logos through my shot (honor among thieves, dontchaknow). By quarter to seven however, professional courtesy was a thing of the past. Satellite vans from out of town, production trucks slathered in cable news slogans, even those pesky multimedia cats from the local paper invaded my workspace - turning Parking Lot "I" into what I will always think of as 'Camp OJ'. By the time my own back-up arrived, poles draped in red cable dotted the skyline and the low roar of too many generators filled the air. I love the smell of a live trucks in the morning! So too, I hope, does our newest repoter. Roxanna Haynes is young, pretty and largely untested. Though this isn't her first station, I got camera batteries with more experience. But unlike those portable power supplies, Miss Haynes didn't poop out halfway in. Instead she delivered her info, looked good doing it and earned another stripe or two in the eyes of us lifers. And what a crew...

Danny Spilllane as The EdgeFirst, there's Danny Spillane, (See Satellite Dan, Spillaniac, the Captain of the Santa Maria). Ole Danny likes to portray himself as a simple truck driver, but don't be fooled. He's a natural born shooter from back in the day; one who was slaying real world deadlines back when I was still dickin' around with a buddy's camcorder during high school phys-ed. For the past decade, These days, there is no one I'd rather see roll up in a sat truck than Dan the Man. He is, quite simply, one of my favorite humans and I ain't just saying that 'cause he loans me dry socks at hurricanes. If that ain't love for your fellow man, I don't want to know what is.

Weaver LiteThis dude you already know. Chris Weaver has been my partner in crime ever since we realized just how much we have in common. See, aside from working for the same logo and sharing a passion for all things cyber-like, Weaver and I hail from the same county Downeast. We were even members of the same Boy Scout troop - though by the time Chris was old enough to earn a merit badge, I was learning to roll my own cigarettes in the back of somebody's rusty Camaro. Not Weaver. From the moment this dude learned how to spell TV, he's wanted to be a news shooter. That, he is. In fact, The Mighty Weave just may be the consummate photog - whether he's winning an Emmy, getting so close to Barack he could smell what the dude had for breakfast, or merely whipping out an elephant's diaphram to throw a little sunlight on our newest reporter. Now if we could just do something about all that enthusiasm!

Big Lens StewAs for me, I'm rarely so cheery. But a funny thing has happened in my early forties. I'm ... learning to accept who I am (and most importantly, who I'm not). No longer under the false impression that my writing compulsion will deliver me from news, I realize just how much it enriches it. Equal parts therapy and ambition, this whole Lenslinger thing has kept me in the game far longer than if I lacked the emotional outlet. That's a good thing, for no matter how I love to skewer this business, I am a willing participant its ongoing inanity. What else would I do - write books? You're dreaming! Besides, what literary gig would allow me access to Kingpins and Crackheads on such a daily basis? You can't get that penning Hallmark cards!

Keith HaleSHHHH! It's The Chief! Actually, it's just Keith Hale, dashing Brit expatriate and seminal figurehead to the El Ocho photog community. These days he manages as much as he shoots, but the man knows the magic of a wide-angle, the mystery of missing gear and the value of a greasy spoon. That's key, 'cause if you're gonna lead a bunch of hardcases like us, you'd better walk the walk and talk the talk. Keith does just that, usually in a pair of careworn cowboy boots. If that weren't enough, this is the dude responsible for my return to news! It was ten short years ago that I met with Keith over a plate of cherry cobbler and divulged my dreams of becoming a storyteller again. Of course, a million news stories followed - a stat that leaves me wondering if I should sincerely thank the man, or wait outside his office for a clear chance to punch him in the throat...

So, what have we learned? Not alot, I'm guessing. But if there's one thing you take away from my grammatical release, let it be this: There are deep vats of talent (and pomp) collecting on the other side of that lens. With any smarts, a rookie reporter can skim what they need from that reservoir, before leaving to out-earn us all at their very next station. Beats MY career path!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Concert in the Roundabout

Dames Roundabout
Stream of Consciousness Week continues here at Viewfinder BLUES as I deprive myself of sleep in the name of morning television. I promise heartier fare soon, but with a wake-up call around quarter to four and two kids who insist on having their birthdays this week, it's all I can do to log on. Tell you what: I'll pour the cat's waterbowl over my head in an attempt to wake up if you'll settle for feigned lucidity for a little while. HEY LOOK - it's another picture of me and my fancycam! Who can't get enough of that? Hey, at least I thought to include Lisa Dames, Greensboro-based singer and all around Hot Mom. She and her able guitarist were kind enough to meet me and live truck at the McGee Street Roundabout for a little unplugged session by the traffic circle. Why, exactly? To celebrate my adopted hometown's Bicentennial, of course! Naw, I don't get it either - but at this stage in the week I'd point my camera at a rusty dumpster if I thought it would get me home on time. As for the talented Lisa Dames, she hit her mark, belted out a jump Blues ditty and even laughed at the cameraman's patter. You still can't get THAT on the internets...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Live Shots and Politics

HunchbackCamNow that a certain Canadian's getting all sooty, I've once again become the back-up morning guy. It goes back to my early days at El Ocho, when I cranked out pre-dawn live hits with the then formidable Jami Turner. But that was many moons ago. These days I stays up late and try to sleep past sunrise. That is, until enough auxillary shooters go on vacation and I find myself rising with the chickens to shine lights on roadkill, or bake sales or whatever else the News Gods deem worthy of my lens' attention. After awhile, it all blurs together; the cable pulls, the sleepy people, the endless live teases and monotonous shoulder grinding bump shots. Sometimes it's a telethon, other times it's a deposition, occasionally it's an honest to God circus. This morning however, it was the dreaded Talk-Back.

Clay AnchorTalk-Back: that's TV talk for 'the reporter ain't comin'. Today it was meraly a staffing issue; with a main anchor on the beach for a week, my on-air accomplice is riding the desk, leaving me to fend for myself out in the real world. Luckily for me, Mary Young's a natural. When I stuck a microphone on her collar and a tiny speaker in her ear, she barely barely flinched. Instead she stared deeply into my lens and told the Greater Piedmont Googolplex what they could find if they'd just drag their uncultured carcass to the Cultural Arts Center downtown. Okay, so she took a softer approach, but the message is the same. Just to make sure a caveman like myself could grasp all that aestheticism, she made a funny little anchorman of clay. I pointed at it and giggled throughout the morning, until it was time to pack up my toys and leave - at which point I'm pretty sure she smashed my sanctimonious friend into just another muddy lump.

Obama ManiaA couple of hours later that clay bastard was all but dead to me as I rolled up on a case of concentrated bedlam. Officially I was there for a press conference, but the mob of young, old, black, white and plaid folks clamoring over a card table outside the the Democratic Headquarters told me the story was nowhere near the podium. See, Barack Obama is coming to Greensboro. His handlers call it a Town Meeting. I guess that means you can ask questions. Whatever the rules, the Presidential candidate who's had a tough week with his preacher is gonna lay the Hopedown on two thousand of his most rabid supporters. Sadly though, all this is scheduled to happen on Wednesday - one day before I blow out of town with the family unit. Listen to the raw audio of today's press conference and you may very well hear me swear when they announce the day. Cursed Democracy!

Close up BillBut enough about me. Let's talk about the crowd of Obama-cons who bumrushed the ticket table this morning. Not since those scary Shriner chicks cornered me at the Ross Perot rally have I seen people so ebullient over voting in a President. Folks who might not normally mingle together stood shoulder to shoulder and nut to butt for a chance at two free tickets to a candidate's appearance. Taking in the crowd's exuberance and broad demographic, I realized for not the first time that - love him or hate him- George W. Bush has undeniably Shit The Bed. People are screaming for change, even if they don't yet know what that entails. As for myself, I had no time to ponder the global implications of it all. Not with THIS GUY in my peripheal. Bill Welsh is a lifer, and like me his politics are buried deep beneath his crusty photog shell. The only party he's pulling for sign his check and since they sport a different logo than mine, it's incumbent upon me to sling mud, clay and a flurry of hanging chads his way.

At least that's what I think I'm supposed to do. Truth is I'm on four hours sleep and the gigs are all kind of runningtogetheragain ... Perhaps I'll lie down.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Roadies With Logos

Jeh Jeh and GregFending off a coliseum full of zombies who 'just wanna sing for you', schlepping gear up gravel in a pair of pumps, feeling your knees bleed as a third grader answers a series of 'Yes or No' questions ... all that TV Photogery can bang up the frame. It's one of the more ignoble reasons I work alone. But the calisthenic nature of our craft is what separates us from those Print animals. It's one thing to be clever when all that's weighing you down is one skinny notebook and a pair of action slacks. It's quite another to capture fly on the wall footage by keeping your axe ahead of the action. Sure those newspaper photogs sling a lens, but unless they're hunting buffalo on the horizon, they ain't packin' the kind of pounds your average TV shooter does - especially in the smaller markets, where a ten minute ribbon cutting can take three different half-dead camera batteries. Who makes these things? Ever-Heavy?

The Daily HumpFawn all you want over that reporter with the posse of photogs. Me, I get off on chicks with sticks. That's my own piggish tribute to the female photogs and one-woman bands currently working the Pantsuit Hustle. We've come to expect our TV females to be perfectly coiffed; that's a tall order when you've spent the morning wrestling your own camera and tripod around the some sunstroked barrio. It was tough when I did it back in the early nineties. By the time I got around to shooting my own stand-up, the perspiration pit-stains usally had joined into one growing hemisphere of sweat. Not a good look - even for a furry dude like me. Try it as a woman and you'll be given a hard time indeed - if not outright bus fare! Even if you do escape the horde of offened villagers, my guess is the promo guy's not gonna leave any flirty messages about that upcoming image shoot.

Kneecap InterviewSo while my pals and I put the portage in reportage, take that gym membership and stick it up your cubicle. See, my journalism is of the double-jointed variety; it takes cunning, charm and a fair amount of contortionism. I'm not saying it's better than what you'd read in the paper; just a more immersive way of watching your world - or neighborhood, as it were. Either way, know that I'm not happy unless the street-level cinematography is something near seamless. That doesn't happen without elbow grease and backache juice. Sure, cameras are getting smaller and laptop editors are really slimming down. But unless someone invents a lens that levitates, they're going to have to pay somebody to stick 'em in interesting places. And don't talk to me about robots. You ever see a machine talk his way past a rent-a-cop with a lisp and superiority complex? I didn't think so.

Now help me up, would ya?