Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sins of the Fathers

Orchestra ConcertIt’s orchestral season and your urbane lenslinger is awash in Spring Recital splendor. Actually, I’m just another Dad holding down a plastic chair in the gymnacafetorium, but you get the picture. Yes, with an eldest daughter who's proving to be quite the cello player, I've got lots of these performances in my future and no small amount in my past. That's cool by me; after all a languid evening of middle school music far better suits my sensibilities than an afternoon spent locked in sideline coronary pantomime. There's only one problem: I have trouble staying in my seat.

Orchestra DadAnd no - it's not the minuet that has me so jumpy. It's those damn cameramen. Okay, so they're only Dads with consumer lenses, but from where I squirm those little Sony's might as well as be hand grenades. See, nearly two decades of chasing the other guy to Collision's Rim has rendered me unable to view someone else taking a picture without figuring I could do better. Call it 'Lenslinger's Lament', I dunno - just understand that while my firstborn may be plowing through some 18th century dirge up there, in my head it's all 'Eye of the Tiger'.

Orchestra ProgramTruthfully, I used to be worse. Hell, ther was a time I couldn't sit through a simple awards ceremony without blanching at the poor camera management around me. Were it not for my lovely bride digging her fingernails into my forearm, I may very well have ended up incarcerated for foisting my critique upon some hapless accountant who can't figure out why the screen's all black. "Dude! Your batteries aren't dead! Listen to me very carefully 'cause I ain't gonna say this twice... YOU GOT THE LENS CAP ON! That little black circle covering up the shiny round thing! It's attached by string for a it can dangle! LET IT DANGLE! So help me I'll come over there and get us all arrested if you don't remove the bloody lens cap!"

Leaning Tower of DadA-hem. While my blood pressure sinks back down to the triple digits, let me be the first to recognize things are getting better. I see patriarchs embracing tripods more than ever before - even if they are the size of chopsticks. Those who do eschew a leg-set wisely brace themselves against a wall, so at least their home-movies will outshine most post-game locker room interviews. In fact, if I could just crawl over these last three seats I could let that Soccer Mom know it's all right to leave the zoom button alone - otherwise her entire brood may upchuck on the rug once the solos start. I was just about to do so when I felt the white heat of six laser dots on my forehead. Looking up, I realize all three females in my life were staring at me, ready to pounce should I make the first loopy move.

Looking back it was the ten year old's stare that snapped me out of it. Unlike her older sister or my wife of 18 years, I'm still her idea of 'normal'. For now, anyway...

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Splintered and the Giddy

Tree Down Theater
I’d love to share a cinematic tale of chasing tornadoes with you, but my involvement with our ‘round the clock smotherage was tepid at best. Sure there was that sudden commute just after the storm, but once you’ve driven between midnight tempests, what’s to tell? Not much, other than to say the underwater sojourn down Horsepen Creek Road was a thrill ride worthy of its own commercial. Speaking of which, lightning, sideways rain and an old Stone Temple Pilots CD made for the kind of behind the wheel euphoria Madison Avenue tries so hard to replicate in their slow motion pick-up truck spots. Halfway to work the dirty weather stopped and I found myself pumping my fists for no particular reason. From there it was all downhill, since while I was playing air guitar, other photogs were well ahead of me - jumping in live trucks, following scanner clues and establishing outposts along the freshest edge of devastation.

One of those electronic responders was Weaver, of course. Always one to race headlong into happenstance, dude was one of the firsts to shine a light on fallen treetops and flipped-over semis. To award his punctuality, the producers took his shot all night long - even as the suits sent me back home. When I returned seven hours later, Weaver was speaking only in broken syllables - having broadcast live(!) all throughout the night and well into the morning, He’d even stepped in front of the lens himself for a spell when the News Gods demanded an update and not a single talking hair-do could be found. While not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, the solo live shot offers its own kind of reward, mainly the quiet knowledge that you can do it all - should circumstances demand it. I’ve only done it a time or two myself, but for some odd reason I hold those lonely stretches on snow-covered overpasses in special regard.

All of which got me thinking. First, the broadcast news industry is sure lucky to have people on staff who will hurl themselves into the void with little thought of their own safety or convenience. Why exactly we insist on doing so ain’t exactly clear -- but one truth is indisputable. It ain’t the money. I’ll keep my pay-stubs to myself, but believe me when I say there are a myriad of ways to render more tender and none of them involve erecting antennas in electrical storms. Secondly, weather just may be the one thing that saves local TV news. Bloated though they may be, the weather segment is often the highest rated parsec of the evening news. Throw in an extreme event like last night’s tornado and you may have perhaps the one public service TV News does best. Can newspaper video ever compete? Only if their bosses equip them with the kind of gear they’ll need to supply a torrent of details to a viewing populace all too used to being spoon-fed

Even then I doubt they can hang, but it will still beat the current delivery platform. See, there’s a sun-baked parchment at the end of my driveway and no matter how many times I back over it in my news car, it still says Thursday night was kinda quiet. That’s gotta hurt.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Vexed by Text

I've never met Eugene Shelton, but I know the world in which he shoots. Or at least, the one he used to. The WCTI-TV photog has been suspended by the station after Onslow County deputies arrested him for allegedly tipping off the target of a night club raid. According to competitors' reports, Shelton was among a number of media members brought into a police briefing prior to a pre-dawn raid on Club Mickey's. Heard telling co-workers he couldn't go, Shelton begged off the assignment - but not before he was seen texting on his cell phone. How authorities came to suspect Shelton dropped the high-tech dime is unknown, but after obtaining search warrants for his cell phone records, they charged him today with resisting, obstructing and delaying a police officer. Released on a $1,000 unsecured bond, the news photographer is no doubt trying to find a hole in which to crawl. This kinda hits home. Once upon a time, I was a young news shooter in that very area. I never tipped off the target of a raid, but I did other dumb stuff in the name of access, whim and revelry. Still, Shelton may want to review his photog field guide. I'm not sure exactly what it says about such insider trading - but I'm pretty sure it's listed on Page One...under DON'T.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gaffer Tape Calisthenics

Gaffer tape Yoga
S-K-R-I-I-I-T-C-H! Fwop. Fwop. Fwop. S-K-R-I-I-I-T-C-H! Fwop. Fwop. Fwop. By the time the strange cadence began a third time, I was up and out of my seat - curious to see who was disembowling a woodchuck behind my live van. Imagine my delight when instead I found a lovely TV reporter I'd yet to meet. S-K-R-I-I-I-T-C-H! With a practiced flip of the wrist, she unrolled a length of purloined gaffer's tape and dabbed (Fwop. Fwop. Fwop.) at the all but invisible lint on her black slacks. I stood there in admiration as the reporter do what it took to feel comfortable on-air. I was thinking of a similar vista when she looked up, saw the digital camera cradled in my hand and begged for mercy. "Don't take a picture of THIS!" she said - never breaking away from her unauthorized fuzz hunt ... She should know better than to to say THAT that to a photog.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spies on the Riser

Let's get this party started.With all the real news crews covering the Democratic Primary, what schlub do you think got stuck covering the Republican shindig down the road? Here's a hint: It rhymes with "hymn-singer". Yep, I got to lay all four eyes on John McCain and all I had to do was rise hours before dawn, drive a live truck to Wake Forest, slather our traffic guy (turned political correspondent)'s live visage across the land, pull 400 feet of heavy cable deep into Wait Chapel, pass through the same metal detectors a half dozen times, chit-chat while the bomb dogs sniff my gear, fight for a spot on a riser full of lifers, stream McCain's speech live(!) to the web, interview departing audience members before they got to the cars, roll up 400 feet of heavy cable, breakdown the live truck, drive back to the station, review my footage, transcribe the soundbites, write a script around them, find someone to voice it, edit a minute-twenty report and write a few wise words for the anchors to say once the damn thing was over! And it's only Tuesday.

McCain reads teleprompterBut enough about my life; let's talk about John McCain. He seems like a nice enough fellow. Entering Wait Chapel, he alternated between emitting gravitas and making goofy faces. One gets the feeling John McCain might like his own late night talk show one day. Maybe that's why he read his speech from a teleprompter; he's practicing his delivery for an 11:30 timeslot. Dude just needs to be careful, for all those scrolling words can throw you off - especially when your handlers don't update the script. Why else would McCain have thanked the good people of West Virginia for all their support - here in central North Carolina... Hello, Cleveland!

McCain packs 'em inNo bother, for the capacity crowd soaked up every syllable of McCain's dissertation on judicial nominations. That's dedication, for I fazed out shortly after the Arizona senator stopped poking fun at special guest Fred Thompson. A word on Fred Thompson. After the speech I was man-humping a thick clot of that heavy cable through a doorway when who pops out but the politician/film star. Immediately two co-eds moved in and asked to pose with him for a picture. Thompson obliged and the girls got their shot - which almost inspired me to ask the same favor. I didn't, and in the process, preserved my tenuous grasp on photog credibility. See, we professional camera handlers don't ask for photos...

Stone Faced KillaOr at least that used to be the case. With the advent of digital photography and the onslaught of social media, it's increasingly acceptable to whip out a camera just about anywhere. That includes Tripod Row, I guess - a place once reserved for journeyman lensers with official press passes and aviator shades. These days the elevated scrum is alot more diverse. Bloggers, vloggers and even a few lost joggers now dot the landscape - er, platform. While it's not uncommon to see newspaper folks with videocameras the size of baked potatoes, it's still a little odd to see a TV news photographer break out a small digital and start taking snapshots of his competitors, the ceiling and anything else that passes his way.

But how else am I gonna stay alert during all this political posturing? The security guard took my Red Bull...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Serenity Then

Lake Placid
Don't bother looking for me at Falls Lake, 'cause I ain't there. See, during a Sweeps Month like May the photog time-space continuum gets all twisted. News crews used to churning out stories for the very next broadcast suddenly find themselves working on epics that may gestate for weeks. That's an awful lot of clock in TV News - where the passage of time is measured in ten second teases and every day comes with a half dozen deadlines. Me: I just show up and exceed expectations, which usually earns me little more than added expectations. That's no news flash, I know - but there was considerable static earlier when I got my Primary Plan. Holy Fuster-Cluck! Just when I thought I'd escaped the perils of election day, the News Gods sucked me back in! Oh well, I'll save you the particulars once I got visual proof. In the meantime, just envision me in my happy place - which is far, far away from any polling place. As for Falls Lake, I can't precisely why I was there - though I'm sure it will come back to me as soon as that nice smiley lady hands me a script. For now though, repeat after me: O-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Message from the Media...

Chad pre-liveI think I can speak for every North Carolina news gatherer when I say, "LET'S DO THIS THING!" One more fluid intinerary, fake motorcade or security sweep and I'm goin' mental! Look I'm all for Democracy but you people are blowin' this thing w-a-y out of proportion. How long we been doing this? Since March? That's when a mob of hopped-up Obama-cons first bum-rushed the Coliseum Complex. Since then it's been a blur - a flickering reel of endorsement orgies, hectic pressers and a thrumming number of potential constituents. What all this simulated momentum has to do with governing our great land I ain't so sure, but if I wanted to manufacture this kind of clamor I'd go back to pimpin' American Idol. They got w-a-y cuter interns.

Not that The Road to the White House is just another reality show past its prime. Hey it was good enough for Abe Lincoln - and he wore a funny hat! Come to think of it, he didn't have an army of TV lenses wherever he went: you know, electronic interlopers in roving logos, ready to parse his every high-def syllable to a land of plasma-fatties. Sure, his wife was a little nuts, but Mary Todd Lincoln got nuthin' on Paula Abdul. That woman can traipse across a hotel lobby with a tranquilizer dart hanging from one shimmering buttock and still make the back pages of People magazine. Think what a pair of sequined jeans and some hair-gel could have done for Honest Abe: leader of the free world or a development deal with Fox. IS THIS THING EVEN ON!?!

Chelsea TimeI don't even know anymore. Each time I plug in my headphones, some John Mellencamp dirge takes over my brain and I find myself wanting to pull a Gillooly on the nearest Republican or buy a pick-up truck, I'm never sure. What I do know is all this primary hype is gonna leave a mark on the Old North State. From Murphy to Middlesex to Manteo, local news-yokels are thrusting their logos toward a global showdown, the first real American Presidential election in The YouTube Era. How lucky we country bumpkins should feel that it passsed through our state, I suppose. Maybe I'll feel that way in a couplel of weeks when I'm back to stalking strawberries or some such. For now I can only hope for a smooth Tuesday with nary a hanging chad in sight. Otherwise me and every photog I know are driving you excitable types straight to Indiana. Buckle up!