Saturday, April 19, 2008

Trumpeting Destruction

Sun Up School Down
And on the fifth day the News Gods smiled, favoring the faithful with assignments both timely and divine ... Okay, so they just knocked down an old school in High Point, but as a self-ordained Elder in the B-block Cathedral, I take the manna wherever I canna. So enjoy shooting those Own Your Ass investigative pieces, those half-acted Consumer operas and all that blowhard smotherage down at City Hall. I'll be out here on the edge of nowhere, aiming at something incidental as if it were a Papal visit. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a Great Grandmother with a hitch in her throat over there. She attended this school on its very first day and with each exploding brick her heart crumbles a little more. That kind of thing belongs on television. Which is why I know I''m walking the righteous path -- Hang on, Granny's on the move - better run.. Then again, she's got a walker. How far she gonna go?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rich Brenner Retires...

Rich Brenner Retires 039Normally I won't delve into personnel matters, but a certain passage is so calamitous I'd be remiss were I not to report it: See, Rich Brenner ... is retiring. That's hardly a newsflash to those in the Piedmont, as we've blanketing central North Carolina's airwaves with fond looks back and breathless retro-specials. Hey, it's what we do. In fact, the ability to re-rack the past in living technicolor is just one reason TV stations are far cooler places to work than newspapers. But I didn't log in to poke the local rag with a stick. No, I came to honor an elder, to spotlight the plight of one of the most beloved characters in El Ocho history. Don't believe me? Ask Wrenn and McGinty up there. They've followed Rich into the fire more times than they can remember and would gladly tell you what a leader he is - if they weren't worried they'd get all choked up and lose their Man-Card.

Rich Brenner Retires 021Local TV viewers know Rich Brenner as the consummate sports guy and I can assure you he is. No one can ad-lib unseen highlights or call other people's shots like Ritchey B. His sports commentaries are legendary; thoughtful rants and unbridled opinions you just don't see much of on local TV anymore. But for all his gravitas, the man is an a certified goofball. A lover of all things Seinfeld, Rich can quote most every episode. In fact, the first three years I worked there, he spoke to me only in third season dialogue - when he wasn't lapsing into a Dr. Evil routine from his beloved Austin Powers flicks. For the past seven years however, we've acknowledged each other every day with a weird linguistic ritual. "S-T-T-TYUUUURT!", he'll screech in a pseudo-Scottish brogue, to which I return the favor with an equaly falsetto "R-R-R-EEEEECH! It's a silly little co-worker thing that I will truly miss.

Rich Brenner Retires 011Today, there were more smiles and almost as many quivering lips. Smack dab in the middle of a highly ratcheted news afternoon, we all dropped what we were doing and went to Studio B. There, Rich's adoring sports staff paid tribute to their leader with bribes, prizes and no small amount of vintage video. Hell, there was even a Channel 2 crew on hand spread the love. Jokes were made, hosts were roasted and before it was all over there were genuine tears on the studio floor. Through it all, Rich looked a little numb. But who can blame him. With 35 years in the biz (the last 21 of them here), insatiable communication has been his way of life. Now he can finally chill a little, hug on that grandson and figure out Act Three. Hopefully the quiet knowledge he went out On Top will help him forge that gap. I for one can't wait to see where he'll pop up. Whatever entity he enriches, they'll be the better for Rich Brenner truly is the Last of the Classy. Congratulations, Rich! Now hit the showers...

NAB 08: Not So Live

Three dorks, one baby-cam and no real focus...ACTION!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NAB 08: The B-Roll Bash

By the time the B-Roll Bash kicked off, Team Slinger had been on the ground for twenty six hours. That’s an eternity in Vegas, where a strict city ordinance requires all visitors to forgo sleep in lieu of sensory overload. Add a few time zone jumps, an enthusiastic bar tab benefactor, six hung-over hours of convention floor camera schlepping and you have an inkling of how spent Rick, Chris and I were when we finally rolled into the Harley Davidson Café.

Not that a restraining order would have kept us away, for of all the distractions so readily available here, it was this humble summit that drew us to the desert. See, is a tight community - a cyber-tribe of news shooters who spar and commiserate on a daily basis. Many industries have vibrant message boards, but few match the breadth of Kevin Johnson’s creation. Network freelancers, station staffers, television legends and the rawest of rookies trade tips and spittle on a website that’s grown to encompass most of the English speaking TV News community. Not bad for one photog’s odd hobby.

That photog would be Kevin Johnson. More than a decade ago he returned from an assignment overseas with a passel of pictures he wanted to share. Soo, he stuck ’em on the Information Highway and waited for something to happen, When it didn’t, he began to tinker with his own site and b-roll was born. A thousand hacks later and a message board rose from the ooze, enabling shooters from every greasy crease in the map to get in on the rhetoric. Suddenly, the Photog Nation had a watering hole, a place to stop in and chat while the reporter chick gets her hair-did.

For the past few years, Johnson and others have gathered outside the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention for a beer-soaked gathering in glorious 3-D. This year that assemblage promised to be bigger than ever, with nearly twice the number of news shooters set to attend than just last year. Three steps into the Harley Davidson Café, we found the place bursting at the chrome-covered seams with photogs of every description. ‘These are my people’, I thought as I took in the crowd. About that time someone placed a hefty vessel of barley and hops in my hand, at which point the observations grew a little less clear.

A bleary brand of fellowship ensued. Among the throng, strange faces with familiar screen roamed the room. Latin Lens, (Sin)ical, Todio: just a few of the many cryptic monikers floating through the room. High fives and How Ya Been’s filled the air as a breed known for their aloofness truly came together as one. Once everyone was properly sloshed, Kevin Johnson stood on a chair to address the crowd, a useless maneuver for a cat who’s already, what - nine foot six? No matter, he had everyone’s attention the moment he started hurling b-roll schwag into the crowd - for no profession values a free t-shirt than those who walk beneath the lens.

With light kits and a tricked out tripod given away as door prizes, most everyone had their eyes on the numbers tattooed on their tickets, in hopes a badly needed piece of gear would soon be their own. Not me. I was too busy meeting readers, as half of the caustic bastards in attendance stopped to say hello. It was ... highly affirming. What else do you call the act of receiving praise? MaybeRick Portier can say as the Turd Polisher himself was being recognized as well. This pleased me greatly, for I wanted him to know just how many TV geeks know his name. But more on him later...

As the evening raced by, I thought back to something I worried about when first I began sharing my war stories with the Photog Nation. Sure, my friends and immediate family dug my budding lore, but would my stories cut it among those who knew all too well the life I was trying to write about? Would my penchant for hyperbole wreck any shred of credibility? Would I alienate those in the know by simply pouring it on too thick? Would members of a notoriously cranky profession see through my thwarted ambition and deem me a poser to the throne?

No. At least not judging from the acknowledgements I received there among the Soft Tails and Hogs hanging on the walls. Ego unduly boosted, I made a mental note to keep on writing in hopes of this niche would only grow. Heady stuff for a schlub who props up others all day and sits down alone to write about NAB 08 Les Roseit every night. So don’t be surprised if I campaign the wife to return next year or so, for the love of the prickly cinematographers is reason enough to endure the sleaze, the fees and the endless neon of Las Awful Vegas. It even beats free beer.

NAB 08: Cajun Proclamation

Mere moments after entering our Vegas chambers, Rick Portier presented Weaver and me with a landmark document. It seems a certain self-proclaimed Senator isn't just a potent blogger, he's a Man of The People. While I've been daydreaming in the Carolinas, he's been navigating the halls of the Lousiana Legislature! The Senator's mision: Outlaw the Dog Lick Live Shot, Ban the oversized microphone flag and Guarantee every working news shooter a sit-down lunch three days a week. Important enactments all, but after much lobbying by the News Directors' Union, each bill was unceremoniously shot down.

So the Big Man did one better, storming into the Governor's office and demanding some freakin' respect for Louisiana lensers, not to mention the Photog Nation at large. Okay, so maybe he bribed a bodyguard, bum-rushed some incumbent's bathroom stall or simply spiked the Guv's gumbo. Whatever Cajun tactic he applied, it worked - for the Pelican State's loftiest lawmaker put pen to parchment and signed a most important ordinance. Dig it...
WHEREAS television photographers are vital contributors in providing the community current news and public service events; and

WHEREAS they are necessary to every news organization in meeting deadlines and handling live shots.

NOW, THEREFORE, I Bobby Jindal, Governor of the State of Louisiana, do hereby proclaim April 14, 2008 as TELEVISION PHOTOGRAPHERS DAY in the State of Louisiana.
Most impressive, Senator. Not being a Louisianan myself (though twice I've over-imbibed in the French Quarter), I'm beyond honored you'd want me to hold onto this. Know that it will soon go on framed display here at Lenslinger Central while I launch a similar campaign here in the Tarheel State. With any luck, I (or a Raleighwood 'tog) will soon be able to reciprocate. All we gotta do is pry Easley out of his Hans Device. Trouble in Turn Two...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NAB 08: Wrenching Images

NAB 08 Geek Out!You ever take a few photogs to an electronic media Show? It's like watching suspects go through that To Catch a Predator house: no matter what surprises the dude in the suit has for them, they're gonna stop and eat a few brownies. If that analogy weirds you out, how about this one: it's like leading a herd of drunks through a brewery tour and getting pissed when they fill their flasks. Then again, Team Slinger and the b-roll buds we met up with were there to do just that: Point, Shoot, Lather and Repeat. Unlike all those schlubs with the fat paychecks, we weren't beholden to any particular booth, sponsor or party line. Instead we did the voodoo that we photogs do: We wandered the conventin hall floor cracking wise, stopping only to stick a lens in whatever struck our fancy.

Trouble was, most everything engorged our F-Stop spot. With so many toys and so little time, I could barely get three feet without a member of my party dropping to their knees in a pool of drool as they fired off a few stills, rolled continuous tape or dug in their fanny pack for just the right magenta crayon. Hey, it's how we make a living. You spend your life shoving tripe and tragedy through a tube without developing a certain proclivity for bagging vistas. With that affliction and little else, we ricocheted from booth to booth with viewfinders at the ready, snapping shots of OTL's (Other People's Lenses) and dispensing a river of snark along the way. Since not a one of us could stop traffic with mere dimples in our chin, we were left alone, the movers and the shakers no doubt wondering who let the lens-rabble in.

NAB 08 Turd OnscreenThat's cool, for we behind the lens simply adored being ignored. How else are we going to obtain all those unlikely angles? Don't bother answering, just know that we shot oodles of video; silly little segments that will no doubt illustrate why we usually stand behind the camera. As for when you can see these clips, Simma Down, Aiiigghhht? We're doing this on our own time and our own dime - an insipid enough assignment for men settling into their early forties. Still, The Mighty Weave is busy chopping our spots, provided he's plowed through the last of his MacGyver box set. Just have some patience, Would ya? He, like me, is operating on precious little sleep. In fact, I hafta crash...

Up next: The B-Roll Bash...

NAB 08: Man Down!

NAB 08 Dead Man
I don't know if it was the desert heat, the rivers of gin or all that rapdly emerging media, but when I walked by this hapless cat, I didn't bother to ask. Instead, I felt his pain (from a safe distance, anyway), for if nothing else, NAB's Electronic Media Show is hard on the frame. The gritty wind, the endless exhibits and the twenty four hour booze cycle ... it's a wonder more visitors don't get all horizontal out in the open. You know, I did see a few thuggy types trying to decide whether or not to roll him - but they must have figured he was a photog, for they dropped a few bucks on him and loaned him their deodorant. Here's hoping dude eventually woke up and wandered home...

NAB 08: Gadgets and Asshats

Drop a hundred thousand or so TV geeks onto the glittering scab of Las Vegas and what do you get? A hangover in the making. But enough about my head, let’s go to the show! Officially it’s known as the Electronic Media Show, an annual Spring summit of gear-heads, Power Suits and sleazoids of every stripe - sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters. But stroll through the Las Vegas Convention Center and you quickly realize NAB is all about the gadgets. Sat trucks with vertical thrust, microphone flags that glow in the dark and enough plasma flatties to trigger to cause a brownout at nearby Hoover Dam. Me, I’m a people person - one whose eyes glaze over whenever the engineer types wax all over the schematics. Still, I’d be remiss in my self-appointed role as stumbling pundit if I didn’t at least mention some of the whatchamadoodles:

It’s a motor home, it’s a space shuttle, it’s WRAL’s spiffy new Sat Truck! Sporting an eye-bleeding array of logos, gravel-crunching mojo and enough electronics onboard to give most photogs a stroke-0, this SNG/ENG road hog is a sight to behold. Hard to believe it’s even remotely related to El Ocho’s own Santa Maria. Here’s hoping I don’t ding it with the door of Unit Four at the next Carolina broadcast encampment. That's a cross-market beatdown I don't need.

NAB 08 Plasma FattiesBack in my day, we didn’t have giant video walls! We had shitty little monitors wrapped in blue canvas AND WE LIKED IT! In other words, there were more flat panel TV’s, cardio-inducing edit systems and rainbow selection of coax cable than this failed reporter can ever properly describe. Perhaps I’ll Leave it to The Weaver. For now just know that two thirds of what I walked by sailed right over my head, though the flashy, blinky things were awful purty.

This I saw two years ago, but it’s so intrinsically impractical, it deserves a second mocking. It’s a Segue -- with a Steadicam! I know, I know - why didn’t YOU think of that? I’ll tell you why…It doesn’t make any sense! Sure it must be fun to run - kinda like shooting home movies while riding a unicycle - but no matter how much I run my fingers through my thinning hair, I can’t figure out why you’d ever need one. I’ll gladly stand corrected. For now though, I’m getting’ the hell out the way.

Good News! We want you to model for us at the world’s largest electronic media show. Bad News! Ya gotta wear a too-tight jumpsuit with nipply sensor points! Oh, and ya hafta dance too! At least that’s how I envision the pitch made to the two painfully white women trying busting a groove while their computer generated counterparts herked and jerked in rhythm-less simulation. Think Laura Croft with far less sex appeal and all that pesky self-esteem.

Excuse me sir, but your chocolate’s in my peanut butter. And while you’re at it, it looks like your giant satellite dish fell on my Mini-Cooper. How else do you explain this contraption: quite possibly the globe’s most diminutive dish-hauler. I know, I know - it’s the perfect Christmas gift for that VJ in your life and the very idea of a Sat Truck will be laughable in the Magic Laptop Age, but with a cockpit that small, one has to wonder where you stuff the intern. Put your hand down, Bill.

NAB 08: Team Slinger

Team Slinger
Let's meet the players, shall we? That's me on the left rockin' the windswept bald spot, Chris Weaver flexing his muss-kools in the middle and the one and only Turdpolisher bringing up the right. Together we three trolled the convention center floor, rendezvoused with lubricated news shooters and knocked back a few spirits of our own. It was highly therapeutic, in much the same way a quiet walk in the park ain't. Now that we're all back home however, the real work begins - with pictures, lyrics and videos being assembled even as you read this. While I rack my brain figuring out where to start, do check out this panoply of snapshots. Then do us all a favor and re-examine the way you spend your leisure time. willya? This is an election year...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

NAB 08: No Promises...

And….we’re off! Weaver and me, wedged into a silvery tube as it hurtles toward that neon-drenched blight known as Las Vegas. With a mere 48 hours on the ground, a dozen or so folk demanding a rendezvous and endless reservoirs of bourbon for sale in the naked city, it’s gonna be a blur. But know this: between the two of us, Weaver and I are packing enough laptops, lanyards and lenses to jumpstart a telethon - or at least get the TSA all in a tizzy. And while we damn sure plan to use them, I make no promises as to just when we’ll check in. (Remember, I’m lousy at live-blogging.) Then again I’m not flying across the continent to bury my head in a computer screen. I’ll be too busy working the room, snagging free t-shirts and takin’ the edge off my Southern accent. So while I’m offering no tangible timeline, rest assured there's a tsunami of tsnark and tsnapshots headed your way - just as soon as I finish twisting the top off this here little bottle. Anybody seen my Leatherman?