Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bulls on Parade

ATV OrgyWas a time I floated from one kicker to the next, turning opera camps, trapped kittens and tattooed grannnies into the kind of show-ending fare that makes weather bunnies tinkle as the houselights fade. It. Was. Great. These days however, I often find myself strapped in the back of some smelly live truck, twisting happenstance into cinema as my partner for the day puts on her face. So when the suits handed me a fax about some local ATV training, I popped the paper in my mouth and promptly swallowed the evidence. Then I raced like an L.A. stringer to a nearby farm, where cops, paramedics and one portly fire chief slung dirt-track nasties in the name of vehicular safety. Ya know, it's hard to shoot video when you're busy thanking the News Gods for throwin' you a bone. As for the resulting televison, ehh - but the few hours of my Friday I spent shooting, writting and editing it were practically sublime.

Can't get that in the A-Block...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Men Without Sticks

Now I know what a police officer feels like after watching a bad episode of COPS. Rather than turn in my badge however, I’ve doing a little community service by sitting through ALL SIX web previews of Stringers:LA. Centered around the freelance cameraman (stringers) who scour the slums and highways of late night Los Angeles, this new TruTV series is sure to numb the hearts and minds of viewers everywhere. It’s got everything: car chases, human misery, some guy in a mail-order t-shirt waxing philosophically about the swagger of his fancycam. Yeesh! Prowling about in their copped-out Crown Vics, these Hollywood photogs hunt not for starlets but for structure fires. Screw the silly glamour, these guys want the body-bag shot; all the better to sell to local affiliates whose crews didn’t get their first. It’s a living, I guess - but quite an inglorious one. At least the paparazzi chase pretty people; these guys haul ass to catch sight of human roadkill and fresh floaters. It’s nothing I haven’t done. Hell, three days ago I was one of those jackals, but there’s a difference between covering spot news and high-fiving yourself when they break out the Jaws of Life. Still, if you like footage of skeevy loners fondling their scanners in the dark, you’re in for some compelling cinema. Me - I kinda wanna take a shower. While I do check out the clips for yourself and standby for the show to go gangbusters! Deadliest Catch it ain’t, but as far as reality, er actuality TV goes this is truly a pitch perfect milieu. I just dread the hell out of Stringers:Newark

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Logging the Obamathon

ObamaZombies6:00 AM Buckley parks his car in my driveway and piles in Unit 4. With him, he brings a brief case, some magazines and a magic pillow. I don’t ask questions, but greet him with a morning groan as we pull out of my darkened neighborhood.

6:50 AM We arrive at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia. Other news crews are already there, standing amid clusters of recording equipment as campaign workers dash this way and that. We join the jackals.

7:00 AM The doors fling open and the camera crews file in. I find our station’s call letters on the riser and plant my fancycam there in the name of El Ocho. Dropping to my knees, I pull receivers, cables and batteries out of my bag, along with a with a few unfortunately fuzzy tic-tacs.

7:10 AM After setting up our cameras, Bob and I check audio levels and sync time-codes before abandoning our equipment altogether. It’s not a strike, but a forced ejection - by order of the Secret Service. Those cats pack heat. We go outside.

7:15 AM In the parking lot, journalists, technicians and more than a few deviants retreat to their candy-colored vehicles. There we eat, read, nap and fidget as time draws out like a blade. Inside, a bomb-sniffing dog pauses over my fuzzy tic-tacs.

9:15 AM Two hours later the parking lot fills with shiny happy people. These are the Obama Zombies. With homemade signs, day-glo t-shirts and congratulatory smiles, they are slightly less creepy than your average Claymate. And nowhere near as militant.

10:15 AM With the security sweep over, police begin letting the public and the press back in the building. However, before the media can enter, we must present ID and credentials - a weird time for such a thing considering thousands of dollars worth of station equipment is already inside.

Obamathon LIVE!11:25 AM After much pep talk from campaign workers and a stiff warning about staying seated, a hush falls over the supporters packed into the community college motorsports building. On cue, a beaming Barack Obama emerges from the shadows. Mass genuflections begin.

1:15 PM With my tripod stretched to its highest position, I endure Obama’s entire speech in a torturous tiptoe position. Back arched and arms raised, I begin wishing for death a full ten minutes before Mr. Change finally relinquishes the microphone. I crumple to the platform, then shoulder my camera and wade into the pit.

1: 30 PM Having interviewed a trio of blubbering supplicants, Bob and I gather up gear and fight our way outside. Once there, we bust up some kind of parking lot séance as we weave our way to Unit Four. Crawling behind the wheel , I throw it in reverse and put Martinsville in the rearview mirror.

3:00 PM After snaking our way Southward, Bob and I arrive at El Ocho. Nursting through the doors, we swagger to an edit bay and boast of sharing air with the much ballyhooed candidate. Our coworkers pretend to listen, but most are far more taken with the Poop-Freeze epic forming in Weaver’s bay.

4:58 PM Having ingested Bob’s reporter track, sliced it to non-linear ribbons and fleshed out the mess with a steady sequence of wide medium and tight shots, I discover a horrible error in the epic in question. After a frenzied repair, I feed it to the server, seconds before the director hits play on a piece that was barely even there.

5:15 PM The five o clock piece now a distant memory, I delve into the six o clock script and wince at the implications. Jabbing at the multicolored keyboard, I wonder if Obama has any positions open for a minister of video misinformation. I look good in primary colors!

Obamathon Wide5:50 PM Seconds before transferring the finished piece down the hall, I whittle away at a few teases and struggle to remember my name. As I do, a shadow falls over my edit bay and thrusts a paper my way. Thinking it’s a letter of thanks from Obama, I squint and realize its instructions for the next day’s shoot. Clearly, no one gives one fuzzy tic-tac about my extra effort…

In other words, a pretty normal shift.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Glowering Inferno

Troublesome PlumeCharles and I were hunting graffiti when the plume first appeared. Tall, dark and toxic, it loomed above High Point from just a few blocks away. Nether Charles or I wanted anything to do with the conflagration in question: our graffiti story was already half-shot and lunch was on our minds. But to ignore that swirling tower of thick black smoke wouldn’t just have been dereliction of duty. It would have been against our very DNA. So we did what any self-loathing newsgatherer would do: We raced to its base and only bitched a little along the way.

A few minutes later, fire trucks in my rear view mirror persuaded me to pull over. As I did, they raced past and turned down a side street, their sirens bringing out the curious from half empty factories and rundown homes. With our only route now blocked by a growing phalanx of fire engines, I threw Unit 4 into Park and rolled out of its air-conditioned cockpit. Grabbing my gear from the back, I set up shop there on the side of the road, clicking my camera onto the tripod plate and zooming in past half a block of urban blight to the patch of flames now visible at the bottom of all that smoke.

“I’m gonna try and get you closer!”

Looking up, I came face to face with a fireman I did not know. On the left chest of his turn-out jacket, the letters PIO told me he was the department’s Public Information Officer. Apparently, he was a good one, for sixty seconds after this curious proclamation, he returned and hooked a finger his way. Suddenly, we were off - humping our equipment and dodging firefighters as the PIO led us through a maze of ladder trucks and over countless bulging hoses. On the other side of this hastily parked fleet, Charles and I got our first look at the dilapidated house beneath the plume. Flames licked the roofline as firefighters trained their watery arcs this way and that.

But it wasn’t just cameras and fire helmets gathered outside the burning home. All around us neighbors stood and stared as cinders popped and fire engines roared. Out of the corner of my left eye. I could see a couple of shirtless young men gesturing toward me, their faces screwed into masks of hatred. To my right, I watched as a gigantic woman in a too-tight housecoat walk up to Charles and in no uncertain terms, express her displeasure at the media’s sudden appearance. Charles hemmed and hawed. Instead of telling the woman her permission wasn’t needed, he stalled - giving me precious moments to record the inferno at hand. Finally, she came at me.

“You can’t be here! This is MY house! I don’t wanna see it burnin’ down on the damn tee-vee!” From there, the woman’s pain devolved into profanity. I could only nod knowingly as she berated me, locking eyes with Charles before scanning the crowd for back-up. There was none. With nary a cop in sight and more and more neighbors gathering behind the homeowner, I made a big show of stepping onto the public street and tried to reason with the lady. It was useless. Everything she owned was turning to ash and I was the asshole in the tropical shirt lusting at the edges. Before I could explain to her how the coverage might actually bring her some assistance, she spotted the PIO and demanded he escort me immediately out of her sight.

He seemed genuinely pained when he leaned over to me and Charles and shouted over the din. “Ya’ll boys got every right to be here, but this woman’s real upset. Whether you move is up to you, but this ain’t the neighborhood you wanna piss off. Stay if you want, but I can’t guarantee your safety!” The PIO’s last sentence hung in the air and Charles and I stared each other down as it refused to dissipate. No one was inside the burning home. I had a dozen shots of bright orange flame committed to disc. The two shirtless young men were flexing their tattooed torsoes and threatening to burn OUR houses down someday. What was a bit of inconvenient spot news for us, was the worst day imaginable for the folks who called that gutted structure home...

We left.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Evan Almighty

Evan was a frat boy when he worked for us – a tall drink of bottled water with a blond forelock sticking out of his backwards baseball cap and an iPod full of yacht rock. We hired him anyway. At first, he didn’t fit in; there aren’t a lot of pretty boys to be found in our photog’s lounge. But after a while, Evan found a way to earn his keep. The ladies down at the Clerk of Court loved him, all the city fathers seemed to know his Dad and he was the only shooter who ever volunteered to shoot the local lacrosse matches. I just wish he’d used his tripod more. But halfway into his probationary period, Evan up and joined the Peace Corps. Now this. At first I didn’t recognize him, what with the new body art and that o-l-d school camcorder. But that lenslinger glint in his eye gave him away; he used to give me the very same look whenever I ragged him for not knowing where his sticks were. How did I know he’d one day go native? In fact, I kinda respect him. It takes real grapes to embrace a new culture, rock a pair of yellow swim trunks and an 80’s era handycam. What ever must his fraternity brothers think? Apparently Evan’s too busy shooting the local yak sacrifice to really care. He’s a better photog for it, I’m sure. How he explained that Hootie and the Blowfish tattoo to his village elders, however, I haven’t a clue...