Friday, May 23, 2008

The Monroe Doctrine

“Bluegrass Festival? I’m choking up this consumer cheese and you been sittin’ on A BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL? Gimme the address!"

I scribbled the digits on a cup lid, punched them into the GPS and wondered if I was being Punk’d. All morning long I’d sat behind the wheel of Unit 4, casing grocery stores, playing phone tag, whipping u-turns. NOW the desk coughs up perfectly formed feature fodder like a bluegrass festival? No way the News Gods throw me that savory a bone on a Friday...

Bass Mountain Bluegrass JamBut they did. Thirty seven miles later, I pulled off a lonely blacktop and followed the hand-painted arrow on a sign marked ‘Bass Mountain’. Down that road I found another sign and two pig paths I came upon a great gathering of campers, mobile homes and old buses. ‘Yahtzee’, I thought as I fished out my El OCho logo sign out from under the seat and waved it at some dude straight out of Deliverance. Gesturing me forward, he raised a walkie-talkie up to his unshaven face and mouthed something into it. By the time another member of the overall mafia motioned me into a prime parking spot up the road, the festival’s founder was waiting for me with a golf cart. I dropped unit 4 into PARK, pinched myself and got out to greet my host.

From there I rolled through the joint like a visiting emissary. Founder Mike Wilson (not the Beach Boy) chauffeured me, my sticks and lens from one end of the rolling farmland to the next. Now, I’m no authority on bluegrass, but having covered a flat pick summit or three in the past, I knew the stops I needed to make. So did Mr. Wilson, who seemed grateful a TV station had shown up - if only in the form of my scraggly ass. Together we made the most of the single hour I had to give to the shoot, first heading straight into the cluster of campers dotting the old cow pasture. A dozen feet in, we found our first jam session; a handful of menfolk standing under the cover of a battered Winnebago, each furiously lost in that high lonesome sound. I shouldered my rig and waded in to the fiddles and mandolin, still wondering if Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out from behind a Port-a-John and send me back to the consumer snoozer I’d strained over all morning.

Bass Mountain Bluegrass FestivalHe never did. Instead I was left alone to scan the grassy knoll around the stage for those in need of a cameo. What a cast! Blue haired ladies keeping time with their oversized purses, scraggly young slackers with blearier than thou eyes, unsoiled preschoolers dancing in the dirt. The church crowd kept mostly to the middle of the beach-chair pit, but on the edges it was far less pious. Out by an old Elm tree, a trio of fellows in matching mechanic shirts pulled hard on discount cigarettes and gladly passed the flask. I couldn’t help but grin from behind my viewfinder. I spend my week in constant search for characters and here loiter more eccentrics than I can shake a restraining order at. Imagine my ire when I had to bail, signaling Mr. Wilson to come pick me up in his trusty electric limo and deliver from all that high-pitched harmony. I left Bass Mountain not because I’d had enough, but because a deadline clanged forty miles away...

Back at the shop I wrote and edited my piece while playing grab-ass with the staff. Perhaps I could have taken more care with its execution, but some things are best held loosely, like some grinning picker’s grip on his granddaddy’s banjo. Me - I'm your wandering 'slinger, happy to groove at some distant hillbilly jubilee, as long as I play Etta James all the way home...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Newbie to Stupor (in 7 Easy Steps)

Vintage JensenAs a wise wookie once told me, it's hard to age gracefully when you shoot ribbon cuttings for a living. Tru Dat. Still, as I settle into my 40's, I can't help but feel I'm on the cusp of enlightenment. That, or I gotta stop eating that dollar menu chili. Either way, I do feel a bit wiser than I did back when all this silliness started. So while I may never learn to make my live truck levitate, I can fake a positive attitude with the best of them.While I do, check out the seven steps of news stupefaction - featuring actual dialogue I made up from memory...
SHOCK: “Dude, I cannot believe they gave me a camera to keep! And a car! All I gotta do is jump and run every time the scanner burps…How cool is that? Even better, I get to drive like a cop - at least when the police aren’t looking! I tell ya, I’ll never get tired of chasing news - EVER! Yep, I’ll probably shoot news for the rest of my life!”

DENIAL: “Nooo - I’m not losing interest in my job. I just … need a break! Just because I ripped that intern’s head off doesn’t mean he wasn‘t a douche bag. He hasn’t spent the last three years processing mayhem , meetings and murder! So I been on edge lately, so what? Give me one good week at Sunset Beach and I’ll be itchin’ to shoot another groundbreaking!”

BARGAINING: “Yeah, I figure I’ll shoot news for another year or so, then maybe work on my screenplay. Ya know all this running around has really honed my navigational powers. Maybe I’ll go to flight school! Until then, I could make some extra scratch driving a cab. There’s sure to be lotsa jobs I can do now that I got mad skills. Hey- where’d that flyer for the community college go?”

GUILT: “Should a listened to Mom. Maybe if I had applied myself in school I wouldn’t be schlepping this cursed boat anchor every where I go! Just once I want to drive by a car crash and keep goin’. Or notice a plume of smoke in the distance and ignore it. But I can’t. Not with this freakin logo on my car door…Guess it’s my fault for watching all that TV as a kid.”

ANGER: “I swear if he pages me one more time I’m shoving this beeper square up his newscast! So a train derailed into that orphanage -- Big Hairy Deal! It’s not like those kids had a future anyway! Back in my day, we didn’t soil ourselves every time the scanner burped! We had STANDARDS! Huh? What? The station’s on the phone? Sweet Mother of %#&@%^$&@!!

DEPRESSION: “Hmm? Yeah, sure. I’d love to drive three hours to that Liverwurst Protest. Yeah. That’d be fun for me. Maybe the potted meat people will hurl loogies at my lens. Bring you back some hillbilly spit for a set prop. Why don’t you send along an intern so I can shoot a few stand-ups for their reel while I’m at it. Doesn’t really matter. I feel dead inside.”

ACCEPTANCE: “Sooo, you want me to turn the four o clock county commissioners meeting into a five thirty lead AND wash all the live trucks? Sure - I can do that. I can do anything. I once turned a nat sound piece on a Mime Academy. What’s that? The reporter can’t make it? No sweat. We’ll chroma-key her in when I get back…Yep, I’ll probably shoot news for the rest of my life...”
(I'll let you know what phase follows next - as soon as the voices in my head stop sending me to house fires.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fergie and the Goob

Nicole and I at Raven RockSoooo, you’ve been assigned to profile a state park and on the day you go there, the place is deserted. What to do? Simple: strap a microphone on the nearest park ranger and hope he packed his personality. That’s exactly what the ever fetching Nicole Ferguson and I did last week when we traveled out of market to Raven Rock State Park - a wide spot on the Cape Fear River neither of us had ever heard of. Upon arrival, we realized Tuesday mornings were a lousy time to catch up with campers, as the property was devoid of any life forms larger than a woodchuck. Luckily, the guy in the Smokey Bear hat wasn’t afraid to chat. When he wasn’t reeling off bird names like Rainman on safari, he was cupping his hands around his mouth and mimicking a certain species’ mating call. At first I wanted to join in with a Gomer Pyle inspired “Hooty-HOO!” - but since I promised my daughters I’d never again do that in public, I held my fire and silently thanked the News Gods for providing us with at least one character. As a result, the piece we put together didn’t suck at all - even if we did shoot it in under ninety minutes. Will it bring home the Oscar? Probably not, but it did make for an enjoyable morning ... hernia, bird calls and all….

Joe Dirt's Photog

I don't know what I like better: the patriotic doo-rag, the Unabomber hoodie, or the fact that dude had pioneered a whole new way to cradle a circa-1984 camcorder. Either way, my forearm cramps just lookin' at him. Much love to Weaver for taking note of this cat at a recent Obama rally and alerting me to the resulting photo. Ya know, the first Presidential campaign of the YouTube era has brought out lenslingers of every stripe, from the newspaper yak with the baked-potato-cam to the college kid with the Radio Shack endowment to Captain Knievel here. Though it's crowded the camera risers a bit, the quality of people watching has never been higher. I just have one question: Where's this guy gettin' his VHS tapes?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Schmuck Alert: Twin Cities Smackdown

Schmuck Alert PictureThis one's tricky. Did a news crew trespass on school property? Did a school official have to get all grabby? Do these pants make me look fat? These questions now linger over the Twin Cities region after an incredibly avoidable affray went down in front of God, Allah and everybody ... Crews from both KARE and KSTP traveled to the campus of Tarik ibn Zayad Academy, a charter school accused of offering religious instruction in Islam to its students. From there things get murky. While the KARE crew - who say they called ahead to gain permission to be there - was left alone, school director
Asad Zaman took issue with the KSTP crew and without so much as a "Get off my lawn!", tried to wrench the camera from the photographer's grip. What followed was a staggered fracas in which everyone involved came off looking like an ass. People, what have we learned? Hmm? Bueller? Anybody?

Okay, let's review: First: When members of the media decide to go on public school grounds, they'd do well to ask permission first. Sure, there's probably some law somewhere stating otherwise, but as a parent myself I can't feel too sorry for anyone bum-rushing a schoolyard. Feel free to shoot video from across the street, but if you wanna hang with the kiddies, consult the authorities first. If you're lucky they'll give you one of those sticky visitor badges. I got about a million. Second: If you're a school official, a rent-a-cop or just some hyperventilating bystander, here's a tip: Hands off the camera! Whether or not you have the right to remove said news crew, there a million better ways than grabbing the lens. It's akin to going for a cop's service pistol. Disagree? You don't know the photogs I do. I got buddies I'd raher punch in the teeth than pick up their rig - let alone drag it off their shoulder down by the school buses.

So, while the news crew fumes and the school officials vacillate, I'm washing my hands of this whole silly business by decreeing a first ever all encompassing Schmuck Alert for the entire Twin Cities region. Ya'll act like you got some sense. Schmucks!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Day in the Making

Chad SupinePeople don’t think much of TV news crews but when they do, scenes from local station promos come to mind. It’s true; my cohorts and I regularly bound down courthouse steps, gesture emphatically and race off out of frame - but for every staged segue there is an interminable lapse in action. Take the other day, when Chad Tucker and I decamped near Clemmons, where a week earlier, a bedtime tornado had eviscerated parts of a leafy neighborhood. No one lost their life that night, but sheaved off treetops and a vengeful wind laid waste to countless houses. When another TV truck pulled up Friday morning, the fine folk still picking through the wreckage stopped to talk. Sixty minutes later Chad and I had all the interviews and footage we could squeeze into a ninety second slot and after wishing our new friends aswift reconstruction, withdrew to our rolling billboard. It was then that time stopped.

Okay, it didn’t stop, but it damn sure slowed down. Fresh with impressions of the storm-wracked cul de sac, I climbed into the stale cockpit of yet another live truck and felt the morning's momentum roll to a stop under the seat. There with the half-eaten bag of Cheesy Poofs and crumpled Visitor badges, it sat like a stone, no matter how I tried to dislodge it on the way to lunch. Hey I'm all for desperate measures but there are only so many nasties one can sling with pork chops and cornbread in mind. Hey, does that waitress have a moustache?

URP! ... 'scuse me. Ya know, there's just something to be said for the culinary buckles of the Stroke Belt. Anyhoo, two blue plate specials later, Chad and I stumbled out to the sunlight and made our way to the TV van at the end of the gravel parking lot. Fumbling in my pocket for the keys, I felt the earth's orbit slow up just a little as I lunged in slow motion toward the door of our mobile newsroom' . By the time I got it open, I barely had the strength to lift my bloated carcass up into the seat, let alone steer it across town. Somehow we made it though; Chad and I picked out a lovely hilltop spot across from the affected neighborhood and settled in for the afternoon. He cracked open a laptop and began transcribing our footage. I set the truck up for a live shot, eventually flipping more switches than it took to throw Han Solo's ride into hyperspace. When I was done, Chad still had lots of material to digest - so I decided to help him. I threw the seat back, waved off a few mosquitos visiting from a nearby sewage plant and popped off a shot of Chad hard at work before briefly losing consciousness.

You won't see that in a promo.