Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Kevin Johnson Interview

Several times over the years I've leaned over drinks and asked Kevin Johnson just how b-roll got started, anyway. But between the clinking of ice cubes and Kevin's own humility, I've never received a satisfactory answer. So when I found him roaming freely on the floor of NAB, I sic'ed Weaver on him. The result is a two part interrrogation of the photog who founded - the on-line watering hole for those of us with keen eyes and sore shoulders. Less a deposition than a meandering chat, I stuck to the lack of script - though at times I sound like (the late) Chris Farley quizzing that old dude from The Beatles. As for Kevin Johnson, he's no preening moptop.
Kevin Johnson 3.1"Nobody cares about me, no one cares about my trips - that’s why I still don’t understand why you’re doing this interview."
The first thing you notice about Kevin Johnson is you're standing in his shadow. Impossibly tall with a rich baritone, the TV News photographer/ web innovator dodges praise and occasionally blocks the sun. At NAB's annual Vegas confab, you'll find him roaming the floor, interviewing vendors, meeting readers and placating sponsors of his increasingly influential site. Otherwise, you'll find him holed up in his D.C. digs, adding intriguing new layers to or merely glancing at it from afar. Whatever he's doing Kevin's careful hot to wear out his web presence. Like the low key owner of an industry tavern, the most you'll get from the proprieter is a silent nod from the crowded bar.
Kevin Johnson 2.1"It’s such a unique profession that we do, its weird, no one understands it but us. I wanted to have a place where people could talk."
That he did, creating a website that featured a few war stories, pictures and a growing row of job listings. About that time message boards emerged and Kev tacked one to his site, the joint really got poppin'. Suddenly the cyber-spot was packed with veteran staffers, journeyman freelancers and an endless parade of wide-eyed rookies. Together they formed a community of sorts and talked an awful lot of smack in the process. When Johnson added an easy portal for video uploading, the discourse gained some 'show and tell', with lifers and neophytes deconstructing each other's freshest efforts -- all while the guy who started it all chuckles quietly from a corner booth.
Kevin Johnson 1.1"It’s a hobby gone mad, it was something that was fun to do it kind of kept me sane as far as being able to vent about what annoyed me about my shop…"
There's an awful lot about my shop that annoys me too, Kevin - enough to fill a dozen volumes of a tell-all I'll never write. Why should I - when you've crafted a gathering spot of pixels and pith that features more real-world allegory than I could possibly every wrangle between two soft-covers. That's my wordy way of saying Thanks and Congratulations, for your early encouragement really helped convinced me I should spend every freakin' evening staring at this blank, taunting screen. Thanks, fella! Just do me a favor, eh? Drop the whole humble routine. You're making the more egotisical types really look bad. I mean, some guys just post endless pictures of themselves...The nerve!

Full Video Interviews Here and Here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sat Truck Masters

Danny Rolls Up His DayTactician. Quartermaster. Guide. A good satellite truck operator is all that and more. They have to be - for pitching a dish on the edge of happenstance doesn’t come without some forethought. Almost anybody can drive a truck. But not everyone can wedge it into a motel courtyard in driving rain, bleed cable up three flights of stairs and turn a seaside balcony into a hurricane studio. Nor can everyone ‘fly casual’ in a screaming billboard, penetrate the heart of a packed coliseum lot, or nurse that puppy up Grandfather Mountain. Everyone can’t spout coordinates like nursery rhymes, spot dry a misted lens with two wire coat hangers and even pack a few stale munchies for the crew. Just watch how you roll up their stuff at the end of the shift, for this particular breed of gear-hound is dangerously anal. Hell, I know one Irishman who can browbeat rent-a-cops through a dirty windshield, make grown cameramen cry at the loss of a single coax cable and recite from memory the daily specials of a thousand greasy spoons.

You won't get that from a laptop.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Clinton Vortex

Slick Willy does ElonWith my first May Sweeps just forty eight hours away, it was high time to start editing. So, naturally I spent of the much of the day cooling my heels in the Clinton Vortex. For those who’ve never gotten sucked down that particular rabbit hole, let me explain: Bill Clinton is charming, red-faced and never, ever, ever on time. I’m not saying our 42nd President is chronically late, but if I could have back all the time I’ve spent waiting on Slick Willy over the years, I’d have that freakin’ book written by now. I remember back in the early 90’s, when the then Presidential hopeful kept me and a stadium full of sycophants soaking in a summer rain as he and Al Gore traded knock-knock jokes in their motorcade. Back then I didn’t really mind. After all, it was exciting just to be a (soggy) part of the election process! These days, not so much. However I was powerless to do much more than gripe as Hillary's husband held us all hostage. Did I mention I hate politics?

Podium StewI do, but then again I've spent w-a-y too many days fending off rabid sign-holders while trading dirty looks with the Secret Service to buy into the hype. Sure, I vote. But two decades of professional apathy has rendered me incapable of electoral enthusiasm - even when there's no fancycam present to act as my excuse. That reminds me... To the Elon college kid with the digital SLR: If you're going to climb aboard the camera riser, there are some things you should know ... One: that much hair gel is simply bad for environment. Two: everytime you shift your feet, you jar my shot. Three, we don't applaud on tripod row. It's a little thing we call a neutral press. I realize I'm just some blue collar relic in your eyes, but lesser representatives of the press would have booted your silly ass off the camera platform the first time you tried to start The Wave...

Dynamic DuoNow, where was I? Oh yeah - waiting. At least I wasn't alone. Instead, nearly every member of the Elon University community joined me on the lawn, as my deadline neared and the Arkansas Lothario stayed wisely out of sight.Were my camera not tethered to the Santa Maria many yards behind me, I may very well have taken a little unauthorized liberty. But with a sea of undergrads between me and my Sat Truck, I was forced to hold the high ground - and wait. Nearby ace new crew Matt Jensen and Nicole Ferguson popped off a live shot. Officially. this was their story. I was merely hired help; a jaded lenslinger brought in to train glass on the Ex-President. This allowed Matt and Fergie to roam the grounds and gather sound. Meanwhile my camera's shot fed to the web, where nearly a dozen folks in the Piedmont leaned into their laptops and wondered where Willy was. Of course my live picture was also being routed straight to Fox News Channel - who may or many not have ever punched it up. Me - I wouldn't know. I was too busy eye-jabbing Bouncy McHairGel.

Clinton CrowdFinally -- mercifully, Bill rolled in. Emerging from a nearby building, the now white-haired politico sauntered out with a laidback vibe, looking for al l the world like he'd just finish jamming with The Stones. As if on cue, the stalkers, students and staffers roared their approval. Say what you will about the man's policies; but few dudes his age can still make the college girls scream. But scream they did, shrieking in ecstasy every time Clinton extolled the virtues of She Who Wears the Pantsuits. He's good, too. By the time he was through, I wanted Barack Obama immediately deported and John McCain fired upon at dawn. Luckily, I snapped out of it, but I worry about the University students I saw genuflecting every time the slckster pointed his clichés their way. Kids that age should be holed up with their X-Box, planning their next kegger or simply Raging against the Machine. Instad it's 2008 and Generation:Wii is stoked about the vote. That's a good thing I suppose - but can we at least put someone in charge who better respects my time?

Don't make me call Ross Perot.

NAB 08: Where ya from?

...In which we get increasingly goofy...

(More NAB 08 Videos Here)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Word on Turd...

Rick Portier, Stewart PittmanOf all the things I looked forward to in Las Vegas, finally meeting Rick Turdpolisher Portier was chief among them. After all, I've read his site for years now, marveled at the parallels that rule both our lives and even traded a half dozen phone calls with him. But meeting the dude in person -- well, you just never know. See, this is the age of the internet - where midnight embellishments go unchecked and self-mythology is the norm. Take your semi-humble lenslinger, for example. Despite what lies I might spread on this precious site, I'm less brazen, more polite and a great deal 'spacier' than my cyber-self would have you believe. Not so with Mr. Portier. From the moment we rendezvoused and began to imbibe, I quickly realized Rick was The Real Deal: a crusty, road-tested raconteur with a kind heart and a smart mouth. With the help of Weaver and an unidentified cohort or two, we wasted no time with formal introductions. Instead, we blew off the steam we'd both brought along, knocked back countless highballs and traded the kind of raucous war stories even WE wouldn't share on-line. Sordid careers in TV news, strong-willed wives at home and a writing compulsion that grows stronger with age - Rick and I have A LOT in common. So while we go 'get a room', do yourself a favor and stop by his blog. The turds he speaks of are real and his polishing skills are legendary. I just hope he didn't find me to be a complete dillweed - as I'd never forgive myself for bumming out one of my heroes. Now if you'll excuse us, we're gonna go pick out china patterns together.

Is that so wrong?

Monday, April 21, 2008

NAB 08: Lessons Learned

ONE WEEK removed from our Vegas adventure and Weaver and I are still picking sand out of our teeth. Still, we learned much from our sojourn. Here are a half dozen lessons that more or less wrote themselves...

Your average GPS unit works surprisingly well when suctioned to the inside of an airliner's window seat, giving you approximate airspeed, altitude and a better idea of where you're flying over - though it's sure to freak out your flight attendant.

Used for Good, teleprompters allow news presenters to look deep into the eyes of viewers and read the words of others. Used for Evil, they can make the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and George W. Bush seem coherent. At first, anyway.

Las Vegas isn't just a glittering oasis in the Nevada desert. It's a soul-sucking capitol of ill-intent and gross consumption that will someday swallow the entire International Home Furnishings Market and, soon after, the rest of planet Earth.

You CAN make it to Hoover Dam and back in time to catch that flight to the East Coast, but only if your buddy driving has Nascar aspirations, Road Runner delusions and the courage to push a low-end rent-a-car to the outer limits of its ability.

Unlike the real Elvis - a simple Southern boy who lost his grip on reality only after The World was handed to him on a rhinestone platter, most Elvis impersonators begin as absolute tools and devolve from there.

No matter how many strangers compliment your blog, no matter how much free bourbon is foisted upon you by new best friends, no matter how special you're made to feel far from home, in seven short days you'll be back to shooting robberies and ribbon cuttings.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No Speeches Needed

Dwight ShawJust when I was going to work on a few tips for multimedia producers, one of their own beats me to the pith - er, punch. Colin Mulvany of The Spokesman-Review continues to prove just why he named his blog Mastering Multimedia. Having successfully made the transition from still shooter to purveyor of news that moves, Colin’s penned a list that each and every video-phyte should commit to memory.. I just worry how some of his more enthusiastic ilk will take his advice, for whether he knows it or not, Colin Mulvany is thinking like a TV news photog. Of course, them’s fightin’ words to many in the web video frontier, for the last thing they want do is turn their fervor into something the mannequins who come on at six might like to introduce. Understood. But if the multimedia set’s going to produce a product that’s pioneering, it needs to be palatable as well. That’s where Colin comes into frame, for he knows even blazing new paradigms can suck if they’re poorly lit, impossible to hear or smothered in back to back to back track. Just listen to his thoughts on the art of the interview:
Being a one-man band, I don’t have the luxury of having a reporter to do the interview for me. That means I need to get the narrative I will need to construct my story later. Long, rambling interviews, will slow you down when you start to edit. Ask the right questions that elicit tight answers full of information and passion. It’s important to keep eye contact with your subjects. If they stare at the lens, they will have that deer in headlights look. I like to give exaggerated facial cues to my subjects to let them know what they are saying is right on. Getting a subject to open up quickly will only help you later when you do your edit.
Trust me, a reporter within hairspray range ain’t always a luxury. Sure, there are some gifted storytellers with their own 8 by 10 glossies, but thrice a month I visibly cringe when someone in a suit gives The Speech.

“Okay sir, we’re about to begin recording. Whatever you do not look into the camera. I repeat, do not look into the camera! Now - if any time during the interview process you want to step away collect your thoughts on congratulate me on my spiffy new hair-flip feel free to do so as we are not currently transmitting live. If we were transmitting live you’d see a whole bunch of cables feeding off the rear area of my photog’s camera here and no doubt the whole place would reek of exhaust fumes as there would be a heavily logo’d live truck parked somewhere within a one block radius. So - in review - don’t look at the camera, collect your thoughts at will, compliment me freely, recognize my equipment specs and please - no speeches. Get it? Got it? Good. Now, remember - RELAX!

By the time the well-meaning reporter fully mirandizes the interview subject, the tension is so thick you could bounce your fill-light off of it. Suddenly unsure whether he should have even let you jokers in, the person wearing the microphone either clams-up, speaks in fragments or simply denies all knowledge of those third graders in his deep freezer. So, do what I do. Nuthin’. After dragging my gear into the room , I seat my subject, rig a light or two, aim and frame - all while making polite Southern small talk about the weather and such. At some point I hit the Record button and transition from techie to inquisitor, but at no time do I break out circuit board schematics, cite worse-case conversation scenarios or flash a badge I ain’t got. Instead I just talk -- and listen! That way the interviewee is halfway done before they ever realize I’m rolling tape and I come away with a quality exchange that more closely resembles the truth. More times than not, the person in my scope will remark with glee how easy that was and ask again if I was really rolling. And just think: I do it all with only a high school diploma and an oversized camera draped in day-glo slogans. Think what you can do with that Masters degree and that Sears Wish-Book lens!

By the way, is that thing on?