Saturday, January 10, 2009

All About Paul

So, how do you get a bunch of gadget-happy he-men to fawn over an upcoming chick-flick? Simple, wrap it around the life of a photog. Love life, that is. Sandra Bullock - an actress who graduated from the very university I once pretended to attend - has done just that, casting herself as the squirrely girlfriend of a CNN cameraman in the forgettably-titled All About Steve. Here's how the whole thing breaks down:

When quirky crossword puzzle maven Mary Horowitz (Bullock) goes on a blind-date with news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper), sparks fly. But as soon as she swoons, he has to bug out for a cross-country assignment. Crushed but spunky, Mary decides to follow her photog wherever the next deadline takes him - in hopes that hilarity, if not decent box-office returns will ensue...

I have to admit, when I first heard the pitch I had high hopes. An A-List Star lending her wattage to a romantic comedy involving a member my own beleaguered breed? An news photog played by an actor who doesn't look like he should be eating cookies on 'To Catch A Predator'? An upgrade in image for a profession universally portrayed as the token skeevy loner? CUE IT UP!

Then I watched the trailer. OOF... Now, to be fair, it's a very serviceable scenario. Cutesy crackpot pursues reluctant cameraman - with a nice turn by Thomas Haden Church as the obligatory asshole reporter. Problem is, I was expecting that chick from Speed... you know, smart-alecky brunette with ravishing dimples and sly retorts? Instead, we get Bullock 2.0: frosty blonde tips, wacky wardrobe, contrived one-liners. Yeah, I know there's an audience for this broad-based dreck - but frankly it's the exact type of forced adorability that makes my forehead hurt. Thus, I'm sitting out All About Steve - until my wife eventually rents it and insists I sit with her while the whole thing unspools across our living room. Who knows, I might even like it.

On the other (upturned) thumb, I'm altogether stoked about Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Though unfamiliar with Kevin James' TV work, I suspect he's found his inner Austin Powers. At the very least, whoever opted to put him in a bad cop moustache and on a Segeway should immediately be presented with the Oscar of their choice. I only hope there's a scene in which the portly security guard chases a photog off the property. We could use some positive exposure...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Lies I Almost Told

Rainy Day Live When dispatched this week to 'pick up a dub', I didn't ask too many questions. Instead, I drove straight for Winston, where some friends of mine were making TV outside the Forsyth County Hall of Justice. With a name like that I always look for a superhero or two, but the only deluded loners in logos I could find were my fellow news crews going live in the rain. As they did, I stood and watched - knowing copies of the courtroom camera footage wouldn't be available until everyone tended to their Masters' habit. Ducking under a tree I daydreamed a little, remembering how simple pool situations used to be - when all you had to do was toss somebody a small-mouthed beta-tape. These days, with each station using different non-linear formats, a simple courthouse dub can be as protracted and flaccid as the legal maneuverings they document. About that time my stomach growled and I soon found myself wondering if that Chinese place across town still has those shrimp-thingies on the buffet...

That's when the courthouse door flew open and a parade of attorneys, clerks and defendants flowed out of the building and onto the sidewalk. Trouble was a half dozen TV news vehicles blocked their path and as pedestrians both dashing and bedraggled squeeze past our rainy encampment, many wondered aloud, "What the Hell is goin' on?"

By the time the third panicked face invaded my personal space, I stopped pretending I really even knew and - for just a moment - considered sharing a few embellishments...

"Gravity's been repealed!" crossed my mind, but never my lips. I might have tried it out on the skate punks that passed, had I not thought they'd proceed to the nerarest half-pipe.

"Obama instituted reparations," I almost told a guy in a rebel flag hat - but I didn't feel like explaining what 'reparations' were.

"They're bringing sexy back!" I wanted to say to a couple of busty co-eds who asked, until I remembered the El Oco logo riding my own tit.

"O.J. 's doing time for stealing trinkets." sprung to mind, but just seemed too ludicrous to pass off as fact.

"Some bailiff found Anthrax in his spit cup." I thought about whispering to a particulary nosey traffic cop, but, hey - who wants to be strip-searched on an empty stomach?

And finally, the nine words I nearly blurted out to that jumpy cat in the Tupac garb...

"They caught Bigfoot - with like SIX POUNDS OF WEED!"

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Interlopers of Yore

Though I've yet to lay hands on Charles Peden's 1932 memoir, pictures like this have made it a mission. Newsreel Man unspools the early life adventure of a young Fox Movietone photographer; a dashing lad who skips from one continent to the next with a futuristic 'sound camera' by his side. It's heady stuff and the young Peden can't mask his enthusiasm for the burgeoning form and where in the world it takes him.
"The newsreel man may be interviewing a king one day, and the next be on his way to the wilds of an African jungle. He may be photographing an airplane crash in the morning and a fashion show in the afternoon."
Man, that sounds familiar. Who knew the themes I've been exploring here for the past four years were so masterfully mined six decades before my birth? I'll tell you who: Amanda Emily. The KXLY web developer obviously shares my affection for broadcasters past. As chief archivist at the Lenslinger Institute, she's unearthing treasures faster than I can slather them in overbaked prose. Thanks, Amanda - together we could put together one hell of a coffee table book.
"In short, the newsreel man must be prepared for anything, anywhere, any time. He must always expect the unexpected."
As for Newsreel Man, it's on my short list. Soon after he wrote it, Peden left Fox for Hearst Metrotone News, where he remained a vital force until his death in 1973. From the Lindbergh kidnapping trial to the Hindenburg explosion, from flying over wartime Saipan in a B-29 to manning the floor of political conventions during the tumultuous sixties, Charles Peden took life behind the lens and left an engaging account of the way it made him feel. Countless lessons can be gleaned from his text, but I'm buying the book for the following paragraph alone...
"As might be expected, cameramen have their pet aversions. They seem to agree that animal shows, birds, publicity stunts, polo, and people who persist in shifting from one foot to the other while being photographed in close-up, are the main reasons for headaches. Sound men grit their teeth when confronted with lispers, whiners, juice-suckers, and such. Carillons, ten-ton dynamite explosions, traffic noises, and gusty winds add to their woes. In the majority of cases the average man or woman records well, and no one should feel apprehensive about standing up to a microphone. But deliver me from the timid soul who protests that he or she cannot speak a little louder."
Looks like I got a new hero.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sisterhood of Salsa

Sisterhood of SalsaEver stroll into a stranger's workplace and feel every eye upon you? Happens to me all the time. This morning, for example, I pulled open the door of a small chip-dip factory and brought a raucous conversation to a sudden. uncomfortable. halt. I don't what the ladies of Sarah's Salsa were expecting when the boss told them a news crew was stopping by, but as I waded into the estrogen-laden fray, I got the distinct feeling I wasn't it. That's cool, interview subjects often look past me when I arrive, searching for that locally famous face to help them feel better about the idea of being on television. When their hunt comes up empty, they look back at me and wonder if the Gods of Broadcast have somehow cheated them. There are times I'm adept at relieving their unease, but this morning, I really wasn't feeling it. So I struck up a light, slid my wireless microphone across the table and urged everyone to find their happy place.

"We'll get through this ladies. Just act like own my wife and ignore me."

That brought only a chuckle or two, which is a lot more than that tired old line deserved. Within minutes, the women almost relaxed - pretending for the moment a photog wasn't in their midst as they turned their attention back to the not so solemn task of concocting salsa. I wandered around with my tripod in tow, avoiding eye contact and trying not to knock over any huddle tubs of condiment. When the happy chatter resumed, I followed my eye across the room. Those of us who edit what we shoot love repetitive action, as it makes for easy sequencing. Throw in some sharp, natural sound along with a script I pounded out in fifteen minutes and you have a piece of TV that pleases in a way City Council stalemates never do. Sure, no one's ever going to drop my little business profile into a cornerstone time capsule, but as I drove home shortly after it aired this evening, I couldn't help but notice it smelled like victory...

With just a hint of jalapeno.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pangs of a Stevedore

Laid BackHoisting TV glass for twenty years has damaged more than my attention span; it's been hell on my skeleton. Neck aching, lower back sore, right knee throbbing like Studio 54. My moves just aren't as fluid as they used to be - and that's not just because I haven't hit the Disco since 'Celebration' was fresh. No, it's that ball and chain I been holding on my shoulders all these years; the one I schlep from courthouse floor to widow's door, often with tripod, battery bag and chiseled correspondent in tow. Is it any wonder I make old man noises when I take off my shoes at night? Little help, please?

The Senator 2But it's not just me. Ever since the very first fancycam was forged from industrial steel, those tasked with dragging it into battle have paid with their thorax. Throw in a drive-thru diet and a never-ending sense of energy and you have a chiropractor's dream. Me - I've avoided the quacks, pills and sawbones for longer than most. I credit my DNA - that and a habit of working smarter, not harder. See it's not just my penchant for solitude that forces me to work alone. Carrying junior reporters across the finish line every day wears me down; so does snaking five hundred feet of live truck cable up a concrete stairwell. Not that turning features is all that easier. You ever chased a glad-handing sheriff as he charity-jogged across his county? Or dodged sliding trombones at a Founders Day parade? Call it 'soft news' and I may very well pop you in the jaw. If I could lift my arm above my shoulder, that is.

Look up and LiveOf course some say technology will save the day. Magic laptops and diminutive lenses will make the creaky cameraman as obsolete as all those hatband press-passes. I'm not so sure. As long as there's a room full of experts with airtime to fill, those of us on the other end will need our Ben-Gay at night. For crying out loud (DOH!), they do call them back-pack journalists, don't they? They do, and just because your camcorder is the size of a baked potato, doesn't mean twenty years of one-eyed back-pedal won't take its toll. Especially if you run into the likes of me, a less than fresh veteran who's not above giving you bad advice while blocking your shot. Hey, rubbin's racin', right?

Don't bother answering. Just hand me that heating pad. My back is killing me.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Open Letter to Photogs Everywhere...

It's early 2009 and Michael Rosenblum is once again vexing the Photog Nation. The man who wants to take the 'crew' out of news crew has long been a pariah among the sore shoulder set; his contention that visual data can be better gathered by tricked-out soloists than trained specialists has made him the most hated man in TV news scrums. Now he's offering a 15 thousand dollar prize for the best news story gathered by a crew of one and he's opening it up to classic news shooters everywhere. Why, the nerve! Anyway, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow photogs, I'm saring my own conflicted feelings - if only because a hero of mine called me out. Sorry if it's too much inside baseball, I'll move on to something cuddlier tomorrow...
Normally, I’d sit out these Rosenblum discussions, if only because I’m so torn when it comes to the man and his message. See, Rosey’s a salesman, a thinker, and something of a demagogue. I may not agree with everything he says, but I find him endlessly entertaining and welcome the opportunity to one day knock back a few highballs with the diminutive man in back who’s become B-roll’s Most Wanted. I suppose that makes me a heretic in may of your eyes. I can live with that. I can also live with the fact that what Rosenblum peddles strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of so many photogs. He’s openly derided your methodology, held you up as all that’s wrong with modern-day broadcasting and earned some righteous coin at your ( and my) expense. But if you scrape away the conjecture and sales pitch, you might find that the man has a point.

VJ’s are nothing new. Any of us who framed our own stand-ups back in the 80’s (or earlier) can attest to that. But while TV newsrooms have always utilized the occasional solo-newsgatherer, collaboration between drama queen and A/V geek have been the preferred method. This is a good thing, I suppose. Most of the best television news has been produced by a crew of at least two. That, however was then; this is now. Ever shrinking fancycams and the twin tubes of the internet are changing everything we know about local news. Throw in a faltering economy and you have the perfect storm, an uncontrollable maelstrom that may very well flatten whole affiliates in its path. Thus, we’d look as foolish dismissing the VJ continuum as those lacquered, logoed nimrods we strap to hotel balconies and count backwards to cue.

There are many, many pros on this board who - with the assistance of pretty partners - make far more elegant TV than me. From their lofty spots, they view the solo-idiom as nothing short of blasphemy. I get that - and no more wish to engage them in debate than I wish to make a star out of yet another sorority chick. What I am concerned with is the mindset of the next generation. I work with some younger photogs who feel they can point, shoot and nod off ‘til someone tells them otherwise. I worry for them, for that ain’t gonna cut it for very much longer. Likewise, I’m concerned for the junior shooters who gather here and nod in agreement while village elders paint Rosenblum as evil incarnate. That’s an incredible disservice to young men and women who will never know what it’s like to have a soundman, a live truck operator or even a reporter to bounce ideas off of.

Rather, they take everything expressed here with a huge shaker of salt - or better yet log off altogether and get busy adding to their skill-set. I’m no towering authority, but I’d be happy to share what little I know. Better yet they can consult the latest CNN photogs’ product and see how the cable pros are doing it. For that you see, is the brightest version of the future I’ve seen: journeyman photogs using full-sized cameras to create lens-centric stories that have absolutely nothing to do with cheesy talent cut-aways. That’s the kind of news I want to be and part of; it’s the kind of news I already produce. It may not be your idea of a perfect product, but it damn sure beats carting around some failed actor more concerned with their glossy head-shots and latest escape tape than whatever the subject of their story has to say.

Wanna work in TV news ten years from now? You ain’t gotta be a VJ, but you damn sure better learn to do more than look good in a fishing vest. At my shop, we have quite a few attractive ladies who can melt a teleprompter at fifty paces, along with some truly brilliant photojournalists. To one degree or another, all are worried about what the future will soon bring. Not me - I’m too busy making myself invaluable by working harder than I have to. If that bugs you, know that I’m protected by the fact that - deep down inside - I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks - but I do like how I feel at the end of the day, when -win, lose or suck, how my package looks is solely on me.

As for contests, meh - I’ve always found them a bit distasteful. I know too many shooters (some - not all) who doctor their product after the fact, then otherwise phone in their performance whenever their assignment of the day falls short of shiny mantle trinket status. Feeling that way makes me no better than them; I just get my kicks elsewhere. That said, 15 Grand will buy an awful lot of Happy Meals and were I not so very, very slack when it comes to pulling together my efforts of yore, I might even enter myself. Probably not, though. After all, I got blog posts to write...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Aim High, Sling Low

Colonel Daniel Dant, USAFA childhood friend of mine has achieved the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Those of us who grew up with Danny Dant are very proud of him; no doubt he's worked hard to earn his place in that meritocracy. We're a bit surprised though. I mean, who knew when he was passing out noogies in the fourth grade that military leadership would be his calling? Still, I cannot view his ascension without a wee bit of jaundice, for while he was mastering the many disciplines required for that lofty rank, I was shooting ribbon-cuttings. Sure, there's more to it than that, but I can't help but look over my now two decades behind the lens and ask myself... What fields have I mastered?

WEAPONRY - Okay, so the only thing I shoot with are heavily-logo'd fancycams, but over the years I've attained sharpshooter status on everything from those suitcase-sized recorders of yore to news camcorders the size of baked potatoes - provided I remember to remove the lens cap.

ESPIONAGE - From tuning in to competing crew's two-way radio frequencies back in the day to lip-reading Channel X viewfinders from across a crowded scrum to following the other guy's live truck all the way to the cop car convention, all is fair in love and television.

DIPLOMACY - Within the course of a single shift I can corner and interview a County Commissioner, a captain of industry and a freshly shackled crackhead - without ever letting them know I think they're an asshole.

RECONNAISSANCE - As a TV news photographer who thinks and speaks as well as points and shoots, I'm often called upon to size up breaking news scenes - from the faldely-advertised fender-bender that'll never make air to that strange, saucer-shaped craft bobbing in Town Founder's Lake... I NEED BACK-UP!!!

PHYSICAL READINESS - Granted, I'm no Jack LaLanne, but even a forty-one year old schlub like me can't afford to become too sedentary; not whe, at any moment, I may be forced to chase a cadaver dog down a riverbank, sprint up courthouse steps or weasel my way out of a late-breaking live shot.

LEADERSHIP - One may not think of the lowly 'cameraman' as leading the way, but if you've ever been saddled with a reporter half your age, one tenth your life experience and quadruple your wardrobe allowance, well then - you know what I mean.

AERONAUTICS - Okay, so TV news live trucks won't soar through the heavens, but take that hill too fast en route to the school bus wreck and it will take flight - or at the very least, catch some righteous air. Back when I began, I'd regularly break the sound barrier in one of these festooned beasts. These days, it's got to be a Bigfoot sighting - or a soon to be shut-down Chinese buffet.

ENGINEERING - My more McGyver-like colleagues will tell you I'm f-a-r from an electronics expert, but even we inattentive bibliophiles must maintain a certain level of technical proficiency. Why, just last week I managed to troubleshoot an ornery transmitter - after of course I slathered my plight in profane,
polysyllabic parlance.

PROPAGANDA - Are you kidding me?