Friday, December 19, 2008

The Endless Lament

Rueing the day he learned to shootTen minutes to showtime, Jensen grew intense. Chest thumping, brown locks wet and limp, that crazy biker look in his eye. You know the one. It all began in the morning meeting when, over a conference table filled with holiday goodies, he drew the shortest cheese straw. That can only mean one thing for a photog in my shop: Holiday Concert Live Shots. Matt took it like a man, crushing the cheese straw under his thumb and trudging off to meet the rest of his day’s fate. His fellow shooters watched him walk off with nothing short of awe, then spent the rest of the day showing their support by assiduously avoiding his gaze. Dead Man, Squawkin’.

Julie GlistensOkay so that overdoing it, but we gotta have some station lore. See, every year El Ocho throws a couple of charity concerts; you know, orchestras, cherub choirs, Santa Claus on ice skates. It’s a large time, but the whole thing doesn’t go off without a modicum of hype and backache. Sure, it begins as harmless promos, then bleeds into anchor babble, but it all crescendos with a series of breathless live above the ice as skaters and oboe players warm up. Which is where your veteran photog comes in, usually one just hours from their Christmas vacation. It’s a live hit the Chief often absorbs. This year Matt took it. To the chest.

SIngers SingOn the surface, the assignment’s not so bad… ’swing by’ the Coliseum in a live truck, throw up the mast, hook up a camera and point it at the lovely Julie Luck. From there she’ll take over, poised and radiant as she tells viewers how they can enjoy a free night of good music and cheer if only they’ll bring themselves and some canned food to the Coliseum. Provide her with a monitor and she’ll damn near co-host the show. Toss in cute kids skating lazy Susans along with the bleat and warble of a forming orchestra and you got the makings of a variety hour. What could go wrong?

Atop CameraP-l-e-n-t-y. From the hundred of school kids blocking the service entrance to the security guard who only talks in pops and clicks, half the battle is just getting there. Matt made it in okay regardless; by the time that I arrived the mast was up and the truck locked, cables snaked from the back to the coliseum’s hook-up box, part of the in-house video patch-board that’s nowhere near as simple to use as management believes. From there, I wound my way through the bowels of the great room, dodging full grown cellists and half-pints dressed as Nutcrackers. There, across the ice, I spotted my furry friend.

Jensen SweatsHe was only a speck at first, but the nearer I got to his rink-side perch, the more I realized something was wrong. Why else would a man of his carriage flit from darkened light to power-strip like that, pointing to his ear and cursing the very Gods of Broadcast? I didn’t know but before I could get to him and find out, the orchestra launched into ‘Frosty the Snowman’, rendering anything past a pantomime pretty much impossible. Just then Matt’s light miraculously turned on, allowing him to lunge for his lens and cue Julie, who then launched into her easygoing spiel as if nothing was ever wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t.

Skaters SkateAll I know is Matt looked positively distraught for a minute or three, before settling into a rhythmic slump behind his camera. Not that I was worried. He’s been doing this for longer than I, cutting his teeth on the great Spam riots while I was still cutting some high school class. If he wants to grumble and cuss while exceeding expectations, I say give him some space. The man can field strip an optical disc with one eye duct-taped shut, all while dropping one-liners like a movie pirate. Besides, I got a glint of satisfaction in his eyes as he shook his fist at the rafters, reminding me of a lesson he taught me so many moons ago: Achieving television on a daily basis will quickly erode the soul, but it goes down a little easier if you bitch about it along the way.

No wonder he's so jolly...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

From a View to a Shove

Okay, so I've fallen behind on my Schmuck Alert duties as of late, but a certain piece of video is pulling me out of my holiday malaise. Chances are if you've walked by a television set today, you've seen it. I'm talking about Bernard Madoff's morning stroll through a rolling scrum. Seems the disgraced investor was returning to his Upper East Side enclave when a horde of cameras both still and moving blocked his path. Madoff is of course the Manhattanite accused of bilking countless movers and shakers out of a reported $50 Billion dollars. That's a lot of cabbage and worthy of reportage in itself, but what brings me out of my funk is the pushing match that erupted between the hunter and the hunted. Watch for yourself: at one point Madoff pushes a photographer, only to have said lenslinger plant a hand in his chest and give a mother of a shove. (Stay in focus, damn you!)

Now, I'm not complaining. In fact, the video provided acres of entertainment for my coworkers today. At one point we slo-mowed the footage and dissected it like the Zapruder film (Hey, it's what we do). I'm just a bit flummoxed that neither shover or shovee made much of a fuss about the unnecessary roughness. Is that how you roll in the Big Apple? K-e-w-l.... The whole thing reminds me of another lecherous defendant: The 'Reverend' Jim Whittington. Back in 1992, the televangelist faced federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy after bilking an elderly widow of nearly 900 thousand dollars. Whittington was eventually convicted and did two and a half years in prison. I covered that trial and after a couple of weeks of trailing him from car to courthouse to car again, I wanted to kick him square in the grapes myself. I was younger then, afflicted with more testosterone and not always of sound mind. Though not a man prone to violence, ten plus days of smelling what that reprobate had for breakfast filled me with all sorts of unwise impulses. I may have acted on them too, had I not feared being pummelled by the pack of scary church ladies that clocked our every move.

Ever seen the size of those Bibles they carry? You'd hold your fire, too

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shoot the Revolution Without Me

Weaver gets sillier Either that roofie I slipped Weaver is beginning to take effect, or he's demonstrating the wrong way to grapple with a fancycam. If it looks familiar, though, don't worry: YOU'RE not having a flashback. That's way nine out of ten actors choose to hold such a camera whenever they're forced portray a TV News Photog. Maybe it's something they teach in film school - or perhaps they're just pissed they have to pretend to be someone so low on the broadcast totem pole. No bother, the stereotypical news shooter is going the way of the dinosaur anyway - replaced by multi-tasking, laptop-packing solo-mojo's. If this doesn't bother you chances are there's no light kit in your hatchback. That, or you're like me: a fairly gregarious loner with a lens who'd rather take a video tour of an applesauce factory than play news crew down at the courthouse. However, most photogs are appalled at the idea of gathering contacts and facts along with all those groovy God Shots. I get that. But a crumbling economy and quantum leap technology are rendering our lowly opinions mute. Once the big boys prove that 'backpack journalists' can fill the newscast at half the cost, you can kiss your specialized press pass goodbye. This doesn't bring me any great joy. I've kind of enjoyed being an anomaly all these many moons. Soon, twenty-something's with advanced degrees in YouTube will be the norm instead of the exception. Where that will leave a relic like me is still unknown, but I feel better equipped to take on the future than that photog who's used to catnapping at the crime tape while his pretty reporter works the crowd of looky-loo's for suitable sound. Yes Sir, an infamously undervalued job position just got a lot more thankless. Was a time, I didn't think that was possible.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna watch Groundhog Day solely for Chris Elliot's masterful take on the skeevy TV news photog. That cat NAILED IT.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Menace at Friendly Center

Media Scrum outside Old Navy ShootingIf you live in the Piedmont, you’re probably still wrapping your head around today’s heist at Friendly Center. Here’s what (we know) happened. Around 10 am, a man dressed in surgical scrubs and a red wig shot a Brinks armored truck employee during a scheduled pick-up at the Old Navy. Customers saw the man loitering around the store before the armored truck arrived. When it did, witnesses say the man in scrubs shot a guard at point blank range, grabbed some bags and ran to a dark car waiting in an adjacent parking lot. The man got away, the guard later died and people around here wondered just where in the hell is safe these days. To that, I have no answer. After all, I’m just a cameraman. But I was there minutes after the shooter escaped and I can tell you what little I saw:

Spillane eyeballs it outside Old Navy ShootingUntil shots rang out at Greensboro’s most popular shopping center, it had been a pretty slow news day. I was driving to a sidewalk meeting at the time, thinking of nothing more than where I might eat lunch - when the cell phone on my side began to vibrate. A few seconds later I executed my first u-turn of the week, late for what would surely be our lead story. On the way, I did the logistics. See, shopping malls - both inside and out - are aggressively patrolled by security guards these days. Most times, I can barely get my fancycam out of my unmarked car before some Friendly Center rent-a-cop gets in my grill. And that’s when I’m there to interview Santa Claus. What it would be like in the wake of an armored car heist I did not know - but with my station-owned cell phone in mid-meltdown, I was about to find out.

Police Chief Bellamy outside Old Navy ShootingTo my surprise, no one so much as said ‘boo’ to me when I rolled into the McDonald’s parking lot across from the Old Navy and set up my camera. Cops were everywhere. Some directing traffic, others rolling out yellow tape while their superiors milled about the Brinks truck parked outside Old Navy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed even more cops walking methodically by a neighboring bank. Still not sure what had happened, I let my camera roll as I wheeled about from cop cluster to a K-9 crew to detective huddle. At any moment I expected some schlub in a rented badge to shoo me away, but to my surprise the Wackenhut drove by and only glared. Maybe they were intimidated by all the real cops on scene. Maybe like me, they were too busy taking in local history to bother anybody else. Whatever the case, they did their job and allowed me to do mine.

At work outside Old Navy ShootingOf course I wasn’t the only journalist descending on Friendly Center. But I was one of the first. For a good ten minutes I swung my lens this way and that, never once spotting a competitor or coworker. Fine by me, for I knew it was only a matter of a few more minutes before this place would be teeming with familiar faces. Looking around, I proclaimed another Mickey Dee’s parking space in the name of El Ocho, for the live truck I figured had to be on the way. A few minutes later it arrived; Danny Spillane offered only a minimum of grab-ass before planting his camera and tripod beside mine. Reporter Sheeka Strickland sauntered off to find an officer who would talk and Danny set up the live truck. As he did I climbed in back, fired up the laptop and began slicing shots into a sequence for the noon remote that was about to follow. I was halfway through my edit when I looked up to see a camera scrum growing around Police Chief Tim Bellamy. Only then did it occur to start taking still shots - something my colleagues have accepted as just something I do.

Thirty minutes later, I left Friendly Center in the leathery hands of my fellow photogs. Somewhere across town a sidewalk meeting was well underway and even a senseless murder outside a place my kids shop wasn’t going to keep me from its tranquilizing tones. Besides, there were plenty of my friends there to mind the store. And unlike, the detectives who must now find a killer, my work was done.

Until, of course, I return for the inevitable follow up...