Friday, October 24, 2008


Aw yes, The Campaign Trail: that special meadow of Hell where large men in dark suits herd you this way and that, then accuse you of stealing sunshine. I'd rather shoot a walking tour of the urinal factory. But that's just me, a sullen schlub who wallows in the longview. Most TV news camera-folk run headlong into the Presidential scrum, eager to witness history with a tiny, black and white screen in their face. It's the damndest thing, really. But those of us who've done it will tell you that you've never truly lived until Secret Service goons pilfered through your gear while you and your buddies sent out for Mexican. Add thousands of screeching supplicants with one mother of a cable pull and you've got just a few of the reasons why I dodge this all important goat-pile every chance I get? Hmm? You want me to profile the guy who scrapes up roadkill for the county? Then scrub up for a prostate surgery shoot at the prison clinic? Um, Okay! Just don't make me go stand in line at the hairspray parade, I beg of you!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Some of my best friends are zombies..."

Skullhead JoeIn an ideal world I'd work weeks in advance, crafting languid epics fraught with nuance. As it is I roll in like a hopped-up SWAT cop, never taking my eyes off the clock as I shoot, move and inquire. I'd like to slow my roll, but there's simply never the time. Take today for instance, when the producers decided a story I was hoping to shoot next week would be perfect for tonight's 5:00 newscast. It's easy to hurl thunderbolts from on high, I tell them, but I'M the schmuck who's gotta bumrush a haunted house. (They're never too impressed when I make my sweeping statements, but occasionally they tear themselves away from their Facebook page long enough to chuckle.) Anyhoo, it was not before one o clock this afternoon that I gained ingress to said seasonal attraction, by which time I was more than willing to take a hostage if that's what making my deadline meant.

That's when I met the parties of Goodson and Harp.

Tucked away in ramshackled splendor, these two miscreants spend their days hunched over latex, glue and their own imaginations. Taking in the various deathmasks and tricked-out body suits that populate the labs of Spookywoods FX, I realized what my childhood chum with the Fangoria magazines in his bookbag wished he were doing right now. Dude's probably a real estate agent by now, but that's not important. What IS important is that Mark Goodson and Joh Harp allowed my fancycam into their lair, put up with my patter, even answered my silly questions for the entire ninety minutes I was on scene. If that's not enough, one of them even donned their trademark walking corpse suit and struck the kind of Elvis poses seen at zombie conventions the world over. That makes for good television, fellas - even if I did overdo it with repetitive music stings.

But this post (or this blog, for that matter) isn't about the finished product I foist on viewers everday. It's about the pathos and bathos of life behind the lens. Try as I might to leave it all on screen, there's no way to convey the kicks I still get from pointing my camera this way and that. Throw in the chance to write, dice and slice and you have my idea of a notable hump-day. See, I always make slot; I rarely make friends. Today, I did both.

Not bad for a quickie...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


At Christmas Tree FarmI swear I'll stop with the mountain reports - just as soon as my bosses stop making me race to the craggier quadrant of Carolina. Not that I'm complaining. Okay, maybe I am - but I really have no reason to. After all, I could be babysitting a city budget meeting, or framing up some victim's picture in a high school yearbook. Instead, I spent much of the day strapped into the cockpit of my unmarked news unit, field testing inertia while enjoying some soothing tunes. Destination: damn near Tennessee. That's where the Chief Usher of the White House was scheduled to appear shortly after breakfast. Seems the leader of the free world wants a kick-ass Christmas tree and as we learned last year, that kind of thing can best be scored on the edge of the Appalachians.

Soooo, once again I saddled up before sunrise, backed out of my suburban driveway and hauled glass in a westerly direction. Along the way, I re-learned a valuable lesson: Slow the $#&@% down! See, I drive rather ... aggressively. It's a trait I inherited from my father and while I've mellowed quite a bit over the years, I'm still a leadfooted flatlander at heart. Combine those genetics with an approaching deadline and an old yearning for steering wheel cigarettes and you have a 'slinger on a mission. That's not so much a problem on the open interstate, but when the roadways more resemble a Roadrunner cartoon, perilous conditions can ensue. Thus, I should have seen that hairpin curve coming - as there were signs posted everywhere. I didn't. What I did do is drop a few choice words as the two lane blacktop I was churning into gravel suddenly fishtailed around the side of a mountain. I made it, barely. I white-knuckled it the rest of the way, knowing that while Ford Freestyles may not fly, they sure as hell do bounce.

Of course my near-plummet was all but forgotten by the time I rolled into River Ridge Tree farm. While there was no sign yet of the White House staff, there were a couple of dozen well-wishers on hand to witness the official evergreen selection. No sooner did I produce my fancycam than those good folks surrounded me and whipped our their own mini-lenses. What followed was a surreal, high altitude standoff in which the citizenry of greater Creston eyeballed the camera-fella. Just when things were about to get weird, they noticed the F(ox) Word on my fleece. Next thing I know, I'm being invited to family get-togethers and asked to pose for snapshots. Where those photos will end up I don't know, but when in Rome - shut yer piehole and chew with your mouth shut. Luckily, the White House staff pulled up about that time and my sudden celebrity wafted away like a mountain breeze. The rest of my time there was something of a blur and before I knew it I was back behind the wheel, navigating switchbacks and dreaming of my next trek uphill.

Which, with my luck, should be around Thursday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wake Me Up Before You Slow-Mo...

Last time I saw Chris Daughtry, he was about to conquer the world. But judging from this picture, he's obviously fallen on hard times. I mean, look at those shoes! You'd think with a few gajillion records sold, dude could afford some new kicks. Hmmm? What's that? Oh... you're right. That ain't Daughtry; it's everyone's favorite Gulf Coast photog Rick Portier - relaxing in the back of a parked live truck. Nothing unusual about that. Hell, every news shooter knows when to ditch the sticks, when to dissolve, when to snuggle up with his light kit and catch a few Z's. It's a skill I picked up in The Nav, when even the briefest reprieve from my radar station was often spent sleeping in some dusty compartment I was supposed to be cleaning. It's sure served me well since then. Just ask any reporter who's camped out with me hours before a live shot. No sooner can they skip past the footage and look at their standup than I'm slumped over the steering wheel, sawing logs and dreaming of a literary career. It ain't pretty, but neither is watching Rex McSquarejaw dissect his on-camera spiel like it was the freakin' Zapruder film. That's why I throw myself into a lunch-induced stupor every chance I get. How else am I gonna stay up all night and slather the web in self-absorption? Don't bother answering - just wake up the old 'polisher before the director punches up his shot, would ya? Fella's got turds to feed...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Crashing ConvergeSouthJust when I thought I'd escaped undetected, Ben Hwang posts photographic evidence of my role at ConvergeSouth. That's me, wolfin' down a muffin. What can I say? It was one of those free Ganache whoppers you gotta unhinge your jaw to accommodate. Besides, a photog needs a little fortification after sharing air with the techies, civics geeks and philosophers that make up ConvergeSouth. While I'm never sure how I fit into this equation, I've willingly attended the (un)conference since its inception and probably always will. Why exactly is hard to say since so much of what's covered doesn't apply to me: I'm not the least bit interested in vlogging or podcasting, don't wear an 'Barack for God' t-shirt and have yet to even build my first robot. Still, I find this pack of hacks and savants genuinely stimulating and rarely regret spending a limited amount of time with them. That's saying something: I don't even like chatting up my neighbors at the mailbox.

That's not to say ConvergeSouth doesn't have a lot to offer. It does. Since its original iteration four years ago, this annual gathering of internet enthusiasts has morphed from a straight up computer geek conclave into a pseudo-hip summit of madmen, filmmakers and musicians. From where I squat that's usually a good time, even - like most everything else these days - ConvergeSouth has grown increasingly political. That's to be expected among such an educated crowd, but I could do without quite so much proselytization. Yes. I know: Bush is Satan Incarnate, McCain's a senile menace and Obama's gonna pay my broadband bill. Now can we just move on before I express my lack of political conviction and catch a red hot Blackberry to the forehead? Thanks...

All that aside, I really enjoyed the keynote speech by social commentator Chris Rabb. Unlike so many deep thinkers, Rabb is naturally funny and knows how to hold an audience's attention - especially when he's explaining how to grow one's 'digital capital' (something I'm very interested in). Though only tangentially aware of who Rabb is, I now count myself a fan of this man's frontal lobe. Is that wrong? I'd ask the guy beside me but he's way too busy twittering his breakfast menu to his legion of fanboys to answer a luddite like me. Next up, I wanted to attend Scoble's standing room only session, but a certain episode from last week convinced me I'd be better off in Jonathan Bailey's Avoiding Plagiarism talk. I did and learned lots. After that, it was off to Tom Lassiter's workshop on better web video - where I promptly pawned off a few NPPA mantras as glimmers of my own brilliance. Is that wrong? Yes - it probably is.

Of course, no review of ConvergeSouth is complete without mention of its premiere event: the annual cookout at Hoggard's. That man cooks a mean pig and I'm just enough of a redneck to gnaw on it until my wife elbows me in the gut. When she does I wipe my mouth and move on, for there's always someone interesting to talk to. Dan Conover, Janet Eden and David Slusher held up their end of the discourse and Joel Leonard reminded me why I liked him so much. N&R reporter Joe Killian entertained us all with tales of being bitch-kicked by an angry McCain supporter; a true life account that's earned him more press than he's probably wanted. I also chewed the fat with YES! Weekly editor Brian Clarey. I like Clarey - and not just because he wants me to write for his free newspaper. No, he reminds me of the kind of cat I used to hang with during the Lost Weekend era of my life. Hell, I'd still like to team up with him for a tri-state spree of irresponsible living - were we not both such fine, upstanding family men these days.

So there you have it: what stuck with me two days after attending ConvergeSouth. Much love to Sue Polinsky and Ed Cone for helping grace our humble 'burg with this forward thinking assemblage. If my distaste for electioneering colors my opinion, do forgive. I've just interviewed w-a-y too many candidates to trust anyone pining for political power. Don't think for a minute it'll stop me from crashing next year's version of this seminal event. In fact, I'm gonna clear my calendar for late October '09 right now!

Just as soon as I polish off this last croissant...