Saturday, February 14, 2009

Procrastinator's Shadow

So, you waited until the afternoon before Valentine's Day to pick up that gift for your sweetie. 'No problem', you think, 'I'll just duck into this chocolate shop and no one will be the wiser'. So you do, snagging a spot in line there amid the post-lunch rush. Ninety seconds pass and you advance in line, until you're almost within reach of the sample tray. Finally, when you're close enough, you reach over and toss one of those dark chocolate thingies down the hatch. It's chewier than usual and as much needed saliva wells up in the recesses of your engorged cheeks, you notice weird shadows on the back wall of the storage room in the distance. Suddenly, a store clerk appears in the door frame, her outline strangely backlit. Then she stoops to pick up something and you spot me, a TV News cameraman, light on, lens pointed straight at you. Your eyes widen and your throat hitches as you struggle to keep that chocolate abomination from spraying through your moustache. Just when you think you're going to hurl warm brown Valentine juice all over the action news-hour, you notice I'm not even looking into the eyecup. In fact, I barely look interested in anything at all as I scan the far reaches of the room, my eyes darting from truffle to customer to the singsong lure of the open cash drawer.

Relax, I see you. You're the dude in the FuManchu who looks like he ate a Hotpocket he found under his mattress. Normally, I'd frame your particular choice of facial hair in a nice medium-to-wide shot, but it's obvious You Sir, DO NOT WANNA be on tee-vee. How do I know? Well, besides the fact that you look like you're choking down a baby pigeon, it's the whole awkward, negative vibe you're giving off. Really now, if you don't want to be noticed, must you clock MY every move? I haven't seen eyes dart like that since the last time I interviewed the beefy fella from Two Guys Named Chris. Remember, we lenslingers pride ourselves on our peripheal vision and sense of ambivalence. Besides, I already got enough bad actors on tape to cast a CSI episode, what do I need to hassle a cat who can't chew his food? Tell you what, I'm gonna stick my lens back in the cash drawer; you make like you didn't see me and wipe your mouth. Careful though, there's a Soccer Mom right behind you who's just dying to be on the tee-vee and if you so much as cough up a Hershey's Kiss, she's goin' for the Heimlich Maneuver.

Then I'd HAFTA put you on the news.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Of Bum-Rushing Nuptials

Ever crashed a courthouse wedding? I hadn't, 'til today. Seems the desk wanted video of a couple getting married on Valentine's Day, 'cept it ain't Valentine's Day - it's Friday the 13th! W-w-whatever. I been doin' this too long to get bent over a single mission. Like I've said before, if shots of Ronald McDonald breakdancing are what it takes to end my day, that clown is going down! Today, however it wasn't burger-pushing weirdos on the bill, it was young lovers on the cusp of nuptials, holiday or not. An easy enough score on its own, but since I was in busy slogging through chocolate shoppes and flower spots, I found a way to forget about it. In fact, I'd made it all the way to 2:20 in the afternoon before my cell phone rang in that certain, nagging way.

"Good news - a couple's getting married in the Magistrate's Office at 2:30."

Grumbling a bit, I dropped the phone in my lap and did the math. I wasn't exactly sure where the civil magistrate's office was, but I had a feeling it didn't have a drive-thru window. The courthouse it must be in was a few blocks away, the streets choked with Friday afternoon traffic. More importantly, my main epic of the day, a minute-thirty look at last minute shopping that was due to premiere at six, was uh, stuck in development. So I ditched my plans to find a street vendor and dropped Unit 4 into Drive instead. City pigeons dove for cover as I peeled out of the florist's parking lot and into a crowded turning lane. Sitting there under the light, I felt my blood pressure rise as it sat. on. RED.

The bus parking lane outside the Courthouse was empty so I glided right in and parked up by the newpaper boxes. Wedging my El Ocho placard in the winshield, I hopped out, popped the hatchback and grabbed my Fancycam and wireless microphone, leaving my tripod and a pile of pocket change behind. I made it three feet up the sidewalk when a small car pulled up, front left window rolling down to reveal a smiling woman with a box of Krispe Kremes and a weirdly bearded Joe Killian behind the wheel. It was one of those odd, disposable moments in your day, a cinematic vignette in which interesting people make ill-timed cameos, but I was under the proverbial gun so I declined the donuts and turned to scurry up the long sidewalk. 2:25 blared the sign atop the old JP building: 'still time', I thought as I ran up the wheelchair ramp.

That's when I saw them...

Lips pierced, elbows inked, glares seething... I'm not saying the swath of citizenry funnelling into the courthouse door was less noble than most, but if Jerry Springer ever runs out of audience members, I got the hook up. Worst of all, these people were in my damned way and nothing short of ordinance would clear the way. So I did what any self-respecting photog would do: I pantomimed self importance by grabbing the attention of the dead-eyed attendant by pointing to the logo on my fancycam. At first I thought I'd found a fan, a glimmer of light making her gaze look almost lifelike. But then she conferred with her heavily-credentialed superior, whose facial expressions ranged from "You can't be here!" to "Who gives a #%@^?". I got the latter and was forced to fume as a guy in a Slipknot t-shirt in front of me dug day old roaches out of his pants pocket.

When finally the denizens of misery made it through the line, I gingerly placed my camera on the conveyor belt, along with the wireless microphone and my wallet. This did not set well with the basket lady, a stark enforcer of x-ray etiquette. "PLACE YOUR ITEMS IN THE BASKET!" I did so - with a death-stare straight out of Shawshank. Another mistake. She must have used some hand motion to call for back-up, for though I never heard her mutter a word, two beefy sisters were waiting for me on the other side of the metal detector. One held a wand; the other a Master's Degree in kidney punches. Never breaking their gaze, I stepped through and raise my arms, my inner ear listening intentlyfor the clank of my camera exiting the X-ray machine. That's when the twins moved for the kind of thorough wanding you usually have to drive out of state for...

"Over here, Sir."

Another linebacker in a skirt wasved me over to the other end of the conveyor belt. She had her hand on my camera, a clear violation of the International Photog Creed. But after the slap and tickle I'd received from the Kidney Twins, I was just happy to see my rig with its innards intact. I instinctively reached for it, but she of the sloped shoulders recoiled, demanding I turn the 'camera' ON for her, so she could sign off on the fact that it wasn't a flamethrower in disguise. Perhaps she was afraid I might light up a sleeping bailiff. I have been known to out 'em on tee-vee. Once she saw a dull blue light pour from the eyecup, she released her hold, for who would rig a fake camera with a real viewfinder? I didn't dare ask, for yonder clock on marble wall read 2:28 and I still didn't know where the civil magistrate's office I inquired.

Tactical error, for while the bearish bailiff had mapped the location of the snack machine on every floor, he hadn't yet figured out where the magistrate's office wuz. He could only advise me to take the elevator down to the information desk, where one of his colleague's would be more than happy to delay me further. Instead I chose to look around, spotted a sign with the words CIVIL MAGISTRATE pointing me upstairs. Knowing the elevators would be stuffed full of accused humanity reluctantly acending to their dates with justice, I bee-lined through the stairwell doors and dug deep for the first few steps. Two flights later, I was a good deal more sluggish, a father of two under hard deadline and heavy glass. By the time I burst through the inner office in question, I was dizzy, disheveled and a bit winded.

As for the bridal party, they couldn't have been nicer. Once I caught my breath, the groom nodded to the judge, who kicked into officiating without further adieu. As the young couple traded vows, I stood and watched through my viewfinder, realizing that - mad dash or not, it was still the easiest wedding I'd ever shot. Afterwards, I told the young married couple as much and after inquiring why the TV station was so interested in their matrimony, asked if I'd take a picture of the whole wedding party. I obliged, knowing it was the least I could do, since chances are the footage I'd clawed my way to the top for would most likely, never air.

It didn't.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Rise of Supa Noop

Anoop DesaiI've yet to meet Anoop Desai, but if he lasts much longer on American Idol, I will. That's not to say I'll jet to the West Coast to hang with this nearly unibrowed tenor. Unlike the Days of Daughtry, pressurized tube trips to Hollywood are no longer in the budget. That's cool; countless voyages into the belly of the Idol beast have left me less than enamored with L.A. and deeply distrustful of anyone in a 300 dollar spangly t-shirt. But this post ain't about me. It's about the UNC grad student who just made it onto the live portion of Season 8. This kid's got pipes, a low key vibe and a name that's fun to say. What more could Idol producers want? Well, a pet giraffe or a Mom in rehab would be nice, but you can't have everything. Besides, Noop-Dawg has something else going for him: normalcy. I'm told it's the new freak!

Understand, I don't sully my site with the World's Cheesiest Sing-Off without a lot of forethought (even if it does spike my traffic!). But after interviewing Anoop's college buddies, scouring the web for any and all Desai detritus and lumping it all into this profile, I gotta tell ya: dude's got potential! No,I don't have any inside info, but I have (been forced to) watch every frame of his appearances so far and my sniper's eye knows a ringer when it sees it. Remember, Idol isn't a talent contest; it's a tee-vee show. Thus, Noop's strategically-edited cameos on the show so far - at the end of one show and the beginning of the next - are sure signs that North Carolina's got another hopeful vocalist to exploit, er celebrate. This fact alone represents a lot of future work for your somewhat humble lenslinger, but that's O-KAY!

Why? It's not just because Anoopalooza will allow me to shirk the confines of drive-by shootings and the like. It's because once again the far corners of our nation will have to rethink the state I love. Think about it: an unassuming dude of Indian descent who speaks with no discernable accent, loves all things Southern and can belt out throwback R&B jams like early Bobby Brown? That, dear readers, is a new kind of North Carolinian and I for one look forward to watching him shatter longheld stereotypes. I just feel sorry for his eyebrows. Idol's head stylist is a fully-stocked refrigerator of a man and he's gonna rip those caterpillars out one by one. Remember, you heard it here first.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the Fourth Estate

First Newsweek tells me I'll never get rich off my blog, now The Wall Street Journal says local TV stations are facing uncertain futures. Thanks, Team Obvious! What's next - an eye opening report on the dearth of working phone booths? I hear the fax machine industry is on the ropes, too, Better make some calls! A-HEM. Sorry if I sound a bit peevish, but it's getting hard out there for a pimp - and by pimp I mean 42 year old suburbanite who makes his living with a video-camera. Once upon a time my mastery of heavy glass assured me plenty of work and all the logo-wear I could stomach wearing. These days it often earns me the derision of Generation Laptop, who look down their nose-rings at my full-sized rig and ask why anyone would still use such a large, cumbersome camera. There are several answers to that question, but none more satisfying than a certain hand gesture. I rarely bother with either reply though, as we lenslingers have more important things to worry about: like how to stay employed...

But it's not just us shooter-types who are worried about the future. Wander into your local broadcast newsroom and pop a balloon. Chances are someone's gonna wet their pants! But that's not incontinence you're smelling. It's the palpable funk of fear, that aromatic sensation that the other shoe is about to drop. That dread of downsizing has rattled us all: the well-paid main anchor who doesn't take those 2 hour dinner breaks every night anymore, the daydreaming associate producer who's finally learning to edit, that overly verbose photog who thinks he's a freakin' poet! We're all nervous -not just because budgets have dried up, but because life as we know it just may cease to be. If that sounds overblown, you haven't lunched with many broadcast vets lately. I have - and I can tell you they're lousy tippers! But who can blame them... us... you? For every colleague who's lost his job, hundreds more are afraid they'll join them on the beach. If that ain't shocking enough, consider this: Larry King still has a nine o clock time slot! That's just cra-zee...

Then again, not a lot makes sense right now. Consumers continue to hang hi-def plasma-fatties above their fireplaces while News Directors the world over hand out baked-potato cams to twenty-somethings and call 'em pioneers. What will this practice ensure - besides some ugly ass footage? Why are you asking me? I drive around with tools in my hatchback, for God's sake! Okay, okay, I'll take a crack at it. The democratization of the evening news will further erode The Fourth Estate. Already, more recent grads can identify Kanye West's late mother than some stuffed shirt by the name of Edward R. Murrow. As all thoughts of proper camera management fall by the wayside, TV news will shed every vestige of cinema. Soon broadcast journalism just won't be something you'll waste on your wide screen. If you watch it all, it'll be on your iPod wristwatch - or maybe you'll give the news a glance on the side of your toaster. You know, the one that comes with it's own Wi-Fi YouTube channel - yet still burns your morning bagel? Yeah, that one.

Now, as for blogging not making you rich: Anyone who thinks their cyber-diatribes will bring them anything but a false sensation of being red is beyond pathetic. Trust me, I sit up every night speed-typing whatever runs through my head. I know pathetic.