Saturday, March 28, 2009

Schmuck Alert: Like a Rock

WCCO Frame GrabA camera was grabbed, so this technically qualifies as a SCHMUCK ALERT, but I can't feel but so good about the lens-centered fisticuffs captured recently. A news crew had just arrived outside a Chevrolet dealership in Wayland, Michigan when they caught sight of some freshly fired employees knocking each other to the ground. It may be an unfortunate sign of the times, but whenever anybody is body-slammed on camera, an assignment editor get their wings. Thus, the intrepid news crew dug in on the perimeter and no doubt wondered if they'd be the next citizens tasting the sidewalk. They weren't, but the bruiser in the pink hat did come out and berate them while his buddy stuck his hands in the lens. People, people! How many times have we discussed this? In America members of the media CAN set up on public property and point their cameras just about anywhere. It may be a bit unsavory at times, but that whole 'freedom the press' thing really comes in handy when demonstrating democracy. No doubt there will be other businesses going under in this apocalyptic economy and sure as shootin' a news crew will scurry on over to get it all on tape. Wanna stay off the tee-vee when that happens? Don't shove your coworker into a trashcan in front of God or a photog! We tend to record those things and share them with the tri-county region. Now how's THAT going to look on your resumé? Schmucks...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Leave it to Weaver

"I'm yer huckleberry"
As you may have gathered, I'm not all that competitive. What can I tell ya? A lack of athleticism and knack for apathy has plagued me all my days. An early baseball coach soured me forever on team sports (thanks, Asshole!), thick lenses and a flair for narratives rarely helped me in gym class either. As I grew into the full sized wisenheimer you know today, things like collaboration eluded me too. Yes, I picked a competitive field, but I'm most effective when simply left the eff alone. Throw in a frontal lobe stuck on auto-reflect and you have a couple of reasons why I'm not the guy to get jazzed over brackets and such. That said, there is one guy who keeps me in the game and you're looking at, well, just below him. Chris Weaver is a hard guy to keep up with. He shoots, writes, slices, blogs, vlogs and Twitters. If we'd let him slap a few more logos on his news unit and crash a NASCAR race, he'd probably do that too.

We're friends, fellow web geeks and in many ways, polar opposites. It wasn't always that way, of course. In fact, when I first met Weaver, the internet was barely a glimmer in Al Gore's eye. What did exist of it was clumsily called the Information Superhighway: a term I bandied about on-air often as a one-man-band. When I wasn't mangling scientific terms, I was riding shotgun with over-caffeinated cops and mastering other broadcast cliches. On occasion my bosses would send me back to my hometown of Goldsboro for a scintillating press event at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and that is where I first laid eyes on Weaver. He was a former pizza delivery guy with a serious jones for news. I was a chain-smoking chump who already thought he'd seen it all. Separately, we made the kind of television found in small markets everywhere. Together, we made polite conversation. Little did I know back then, I'd be sharing an orbit with this astronaut-wannabe well into my forties.

But that's exactly where I find myself today. Quite by accident, we both landed at El Ocho more than decade ago. I dare say we're both the better for it. Sure, Weaver likes to collaborate with all kinds of talent and I tried to get all but one seat in my news unit removed and yes, his love for scanners is outmatched only by my disdain for being interrupted -- but we're really cut from the very same cloth! See, my defensive cynicism is just his unbridled enthusiasm turned inside out. We're kinda like twins ripped from the womb, reared separately, then reunited askew. We often reach the same conclusion, for very different reasons. I do know that if alien spaceships ever darkened the Piedmont's skies, there's no other photog I'd want doing the 'nuts and bolts' than The Mighty Weave. Sure, I'd be tempted to point ole Zartron's laser at Weaver's skull so I could see just where all that happy came from, but I'd never act on it.

Our Mamas live way to close to each other for THAT.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sat Truck on the Side

Park Anywhere....
We here at the Lenslinger Institute have a habit of crawling into brightly spangled TV trucks and pointing them towards calamity. More times than not it's perfectly safe, but any photog who hasn't barely skirted peril in a rolling billboard hasn't been shooting news very long. Just ask KSL 5 engineer Dave Lindsay, who's traveled more icy Utah roads than most folks in that state. But even that experience was no match for the elements on Wednesday, when the satellite truck Lindsay was driving hit a patch of black ice.
Yes Virginia, black ice really DOES exist. I know you thought those boobs at your local affiliate made up the term, but they didn't. Now SuperdyDuperDoppler, that's another story.
When the road turned to glass, even Lindsay's 1000 miles a week in the name of news didn't do him much good. Instantly, the sat truck lost it's tenuous grip and slid off the piece of road that tattoos that stretch of Provo Canyon. Only a guardrail stopped the vehicle from plunging in the river. Instead it rolled over on its side and slid down the hill, leaving Lindsay hanging upside down in his seatbelt and no doubt wondering 'what the $%#& just happened?'. In the end, Lindsay came away with only bruises; the sat truck's contusions will a little longer to heal. Meanwhile, we'd like to extend this virtual cup of hot chocolate to our engineer friend and remind everyone that only cinema superheroes can avert disaster every time...

The Making of Midnight Moon

Normally I don't do endorsements, but if ever I decide to give up my Maker's Mark and go the corn liquor route, this would be my spirit of choice. Based on a recipe by the patron saint of bootleggers everywhere, Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon is an 80 proof triple-distilled booster rocket in a bottle. Recently, I took my second stroll through the old train depot in Madison, where a small group of laid-back locals crank out my state's only legal moonshine - 250 gallons at a time. I refrained from imbibing that day of course, but since then have all but drained the airplane bottle that sits before me. While I wait for my speaking voice to return, do check out the above 'Made in North Carolina' and know that I haven't had this much fun since Tucker and I toured that pimento-cheese factory.

Now if you could just shove this wet washcloth down my throat, I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A thread I started at felt so right, I'm sharing it here...

Job Fair Frame GrabI covered a job fair today. You know, people in dress clothes milling about with résumés in one hand and free donuts in the other…not exactly an Amish Dance-Off. Still, I hustled on over, lest The Suits change their minds and send me on a walking tour of the new urinal factory - or worse yet, court. Anyhoo, two thoughts struck me as I tried not to club any of the great unwashed with my tripod: 1) Our nation is in dire peril. For a community college job fair, there were more forty-something Dads with lost looks in their eyes than at Home Depot on a Saturday morning, and 2) the average news crew has dropped a lot of weight…

Of the four fancycams in attendance, three were being operated by teams of one. Not by shooters sleepwalking through their third spray-job of the day, not by college kids with lenses the size of yo-yo’s, but by reporters who shoot, shooters who speak (and one jack-ass photog who thinks he’s Hunter S. Thompson). My point: The future is here. With on-air advertising in the cellar and TV stations about to go through the same cutbacks now eviscerating the newspaper industry, the solo-newsgatherer now walks among us. If that very fact boils your blood, you’re not gonna like the following paragraphs. But with what’s about to hit broadcasters, not digging my drivel will be the least of your problems.

I don’t work in a large market. I’m not a freelancer. I’ve not jetted around the globe with a sound-man, a make-up chick and three skeevy handlers. I don’t know dick about unions. What I DO know, however, is medium-market TV news and how it’s never going to be the same as it was even a year ago. Just ask the Gannet staffers across the street. Most of their two person crews now seem to work without the aid of each other. Ask the weekend anchor now learning to edit, the super-hot news bunny studying meteorology, the news director trying to wrap his head around Twitter. They’ll all tell you, “This ain’t your Father’s Oldsmobile.” Yes, age old assumptions are falling by the wayside as budgets shrink and individual expectations grow. Will it make for better television? In most cases, NO. But here’s a real newsflash:

It doesn’t really matter.

Now before you flame me for dismissing any and all vestiges of quality, hear me out: I wish unemployment on no one. (Well, that’s a lie. There are few folks I’ve worked with I’d like to push in front of a bus, let alone hand a pink slip.) Whereas Rosenblum seeks to burn down our huts and villages and Nino lies in wait to blowtorch him back, I just want to make good TV and get paid for it. I suspect most of you on this board wish to do the same, and while many of you have developed skills that far surpass mine, I’m more concerned with the younger ones among us. I worry they’ll drink Rosey’s Kool-Aid and trade in their tripods for black turtlenecks, or believe his many detractors when they say he’s simply out of his gourd. He’s not. He’s got a version of the future he’d like to sell you and while I differ with him greatly, I certainly see where he’s coming from. And where this silly business is headed.

Take MY bosses for example. I’m not entirely sure they know who Rosenblum is. But they damn sure know about diminished revenue streams, managerial mandates and the low-cost lure of all those baked-potato cams. So far, they’ve yet to shove one in any shooter’s hand and while I’m not volunteering to be the first, I know that day is coming. Not because some self-proclaimed prophet said so on the internets, but because the quantum leap in technology and giant sucking sound up in Sales will soon demand it. Hopefully I can keep a grip on my heavy glass, for its functionality liberates me. But while I cradle my XDCam in one arm, I’m busy scooping up new skills with the other. Why? Not to impress you schlubs, but to keep the steak and bourbon money flowing into Casa Pittman. It’s really that simple…Like your job? Fine, learn another one while you’re at it. Maybe they’ll let you keep both of them.

You know, I talk lots of smack about certain reporter-types. Two decades of dragging prom queens of widow’s porches will do that to a fella. Still, I value the role reporters play and hope they never disappear completely from our ranks. That said, I’m more than happy to work without them, provided my bosses continue to grasp when the solo shtick is warranted and when it simply sucks balls. Newsrooms that can crack that nut will continue to hoard relevancy long into the Nuclear Winter that is about to decimate our population at large. So, I beg you junior shooters out there: Add to your skill-set. Take a stab at writing a script, even if it’s just connecting the soundbites with sentences that pop in your head. Learn every non-linear editing system you can lay hands on. Commit your particular region to memory. Pass out business cards to contacts and encourage them to call YOU - not that putz on the desk. (You know, the one who’s learning your job on his off-hours.) Do this, and you stand a much better chance of retaining a logo’d pay-stub than that semi-hottie who never thought she’s ever have to lift anything heavy.

But please, don’t take my word for it (I can be a bit of a blowhard). Instead, turn to b-roll elder Richard Adkins, known better here as RAD. If you’re like me, you read his steady updates of bliss-inducing gigs and think, “How does this dude score all these sweet shoots?”. I’ll tell you how: Dude hustles like it’s his first week on the job. He interjects himself into the editorial side of news-gathering, not just the pretty pictures and nifty nat-pops. Most of all, he writes his own scripts much of the time, freeing himself from the shackles of a talking hair-do so he can go turn far-flung epics, watching lighthouses move, riding on submarines, catching White House Christmas trees as they fall from their mountainside homes. You want a career like that? Free reign of an entire state while still sleeping in your own bed most nights? You can still have it. All you hafta do, is do it ALL.

Most of it, anyway.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Erector Vet

Hardhat Theater 2
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s ... the bald spot that ate my youth. Oh well, what’s a few missing follicles (a few?) when you’re getting paid to hang out. That’s really about all I did today as construction workers attached a nearly century old cement frieze to a brand new school‘s rising facade. Okay, so I did more than hang out. I had to track down a chatty onlooker, pawn of my lapel microphone and not miss a single frame of a maneuver that at any moment could end in an 80 year old POOF(!) of suddenly unimportant cement dust. Luckily for the folks at Union Hill Elementary School, the ropes held and my minute-thirty kicker didn’t turn into six seconds of globally known viral video. Oh well - can’t ask for everything! At least I chilled for most of the morning, got to nosh on some natural sound and by the end of the day produce a piece that had absolutely nothing to do with the faltering economy, Ty Lawson’s injured toe or that pesky Octo-Mom.

With assignments like this, who needs hair?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Overdue Disclosure...

Ever open the wrong door at work and find a couple of your buddies jabbing lenses at a comely young model? Ever tuned in to a college basketball tournament, only to catch a glimpse of a friend on his knees? Ever watched Air Force One land on the local news and wondered how long the Secret Service made your pals on the risers pick their teeth? If you said yes, then you Sir or Ma'am are a photog ('FOH-tog') and I regret to inform you, there is no cure. Sure you can unhand that fancycam, slink away and go sell shoes, but the long term effects of street level lenslinging will haunt you 'til your dying day.

Or maybe it's just me. When I left The Life back in 1994, I thought I'd be happy cranking out promos. I was wrong. The very first time a hurricane blew up, my old running buddies raced for the coast while I stayed behind in a nice, dry TV station. I nearly unzipped my skin. Turns out I was a news guy, not some studio hack with an aversion to sunlight. So I reluctantly plunged back into the world of press releases, live shots and urgent voices on bedside telephones. Yes, I came back of my own free will - even though I knew all too well the discomfort that awaited me. A dozen or so years have passed since then and most days I don't regret it. Most days...

George HarrisonNaaah, who am I kidding? This job still pretty much rocks, if only because it's spared me the disappointment of scheduling extended time off only to find my golfing buddies were diddling their assistants instead. As it stands, my friends still haunt the same old places: interstate oil spills, coliseum corridors, police department parking lots. It's there we meet on a moment's notice, masts rising, thousand yard stares intact. We may act like we're bored out of our skulls, but truthbeknown, we're still pretty stoked to be there. How else do you explain why so many energetic MacGyver types choose to spend their lives schlepping Sonys that aren't even their ownies?

The Vest Wrestler 1I'll tell you why: this silly gig offers a lifestyle not found in fine department stores. Yeah, there's that whole long hours - short pay - I'm never gonna have a holiday off again my entire life thing, but once you get your head around it, things really ain't that bad. I for one still enjoy the thrill of making slot, the unfettered access to other people's lives, the fact that nine times out of ten I can park like a paramedic and totally get away with it. As for all that bile I spew here about what a thankless role it can all be, well that's as heartfelt as any Made for TV movie you'll see. Do I love my job? Do I detest it? Do I deride, treasure and defend it for the very same reasons? Yes, yes I do. So, the next time you think ole 'slinger has flipped his lens, is inching closer and closer to the tower out back with a scary look in his eyes, know that eight times out of ten, I'm just blowin' smoke.

It's when I don't blog you should worry.