Friday, December 04, 2009

Benevolent Specter

(This post is for Satellite Dan - who berates me whenever I slack off on-line...)

Like an apparition, I materialize in an instant and hover on the edge of happenstance. Okay, so mostly I just show up and record stuff, but you'd feel like a poltergeist too if you crashed as many gatherings as I have. Family fights, picket lines conventions, cop car parties: I've rolled up on 'em all and earned my keep by acting distracted. I'm thoroughly convinced that if you feign disinterest, people won't even ask why you're pointing that camera their way. Luckily for me, I'm aloof by nature; an interloper prone to mope. But much of my thousand yard stare is a trap, for while I may appear to be fiddling with an indifferent lens, I'm actually zooming in on you ever so slowly - if not to steal your soul, at least to put you on the news. But before you summon a village elder, relax. I'm a benevolent specter.

Take the other day, when my The Suits in my life thought it would be a good idea to stalk hundreds of Surry County residents as they lined up for a government food give-away. I didn't argue - times are tight and charity in the act is almost always good Tee-Vee. Besides, I've covered the Elkin food distribution a time or two in the past - it's a veritable Lenslinger commodity! The people in charge there are always nice; there's even one lady who wears a 'Hug Collector' button and she'll pretty much break your thumbs should you try to shirk her embrace. The only problem - and it's really not a problem - are the folks who turn out for the free stuff. Don't get me wrong; they're good people. They just make me feel... like a vulture. I mean, would you want to put your pride in your pocket and line up for government cheese - only to see me and my fancycam at the head of the pack?

I wouldn't. Which is why I try to go easy on those in my crosshairs. It's not a tactic I use down at the courthouse. No, if you're sitting on the floor outside Courtroom B, attempting to bum cigarettes off non-smokers, well - you're fair game. Try to hide from my camera and I may very well chase you down a stairwell. But a charity event - where the downtrodden form a single file line and take what's being offered? Even a cold-hearted cameraman like myself feels kinda skeevy. So relax, mother of three who's scrunched down behind her steering wheel in hopes I won't see her. And you there, with the ill-fitting coat and downtrodden stare. It's all good. I'm here to televise - not victimize! If you don't want to appear in my little passion play, I'm totally cool with that. Besides, not everyone feels that way - and with a little effort they're easily spotted. THEY will be the stars of my production and perhaps we'll both sleep a little better tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a gentleman with a picket-fence grin and a new bag of free groceries who's been waving at me for the past fifteen minutes. I'm gonna go make his day.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cecil B. DeMoron

Would Be Camera Thief
Do YOU know this putz? If so, you have the unique opportunity to clean up the city of Sacramento and better the planet at large. See, the dude's a thief. At least, he wants to be. Sometime on Tuesday this criminal mastermind broke the side window of an unmarked news car parked outside of a Best Buy, leaned in and tried like hell to make off with the KCRA fancycam. He did not succeed. But he did manage to turn the camera ON in the process and, much to his chagrin, triggered the 'RECORD' button. Now, those of you playing at home can guess the rest. Einstein here struggles to release the bolted down camera, fails to free it, then grimaces into the lens before taking off (no doubt to raid the nearest Victoria's Secret store for a good set of bolt-cutters).In the end, little harm was done. The window can be prepared, photographer Brian Fong won't lose his job and we have a 19 second clip that's more fun to watch than Bigfoot's latest sex tape. The only thing better would be to catch this little worm - if only to watch him squirm a little further on the evening news. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go bolt down everything in my news unit - lest some sad-eyed loser pop up on TV rifling through my Tic-Tac collection. Hey, one man's breath mint is another man's treasure...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lenslinger's Zen

Rainy Day Stakeout 5Tom Petty was right. The waiting IS the hardest part. But like hairspray and fake sincerity, doing nothing is a time-honored tradition in TV News. Yes, for every latebreaking development there's a couple of days worth of phone calls that never get returned. For every mad dash up the courthouse steps, there's a half dozen cat naps out back by the sallyport. And for everry tautly edited ninety second epic, there's a good hour and a half of waiting around for your reporter to get off Facebook and finish his script. It's one of the many reasons I work alone. See, when every facet of the newsgathering process is up to you (from interview analysis to recorder portage to cheap lunch procurement), there's little time lift to dilly - let alone dally. Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to loiter. Like today...

Rainy Day Stakeout 2It began - as so many news stories do - with the eternal optimists in the morning editorial meeting. According to those jokers, viewers far and wide live by our every newscast and will reshape their entire day to be featured within its framework. That's usually the part where I roll my eyes and today was no exception as I crumpled the address thrust upon me and skulked off to my very own mobile news-cube. Heading West through a forest of windshield wipers ans license plates, I had to admit: the housecats were right. No, not everyone will genuflect in the direction of our lenses, but most souls will cough up a dollar IF the plate is properly passed their way. Which brings us to another inconsiderate truth... All you really gotta do is show up and act like you got some sense.

Rainy Day Stakeout 4Understand, this is not an easy admission. I'm a PHO-tog, after all. We're like, genetically predisposed to shoot DOWN story ideas - based on feasibility, restaurant proximity or how many times we've pulled it off before. But even I know miracles are best performed in the field. It's like Mel Gibson's 'boots on the ground' theory in We Were Soldiers (without all the antisemitic undertones, of course): 'Show Up and Shit Happens'. Which is a roundabout way of saying I wasn't too worried when I pulled up to a certain suburb this morning. Sure, the house fire before me was two days old, it was raining like that passage in the Bible and my stomach was already growling, but, hey - there's news to be produced! Sooooo, I got busy, dividing the descent of each individual drop by the amount of airtime I had to fill before giving up altogether and traipsing out in the rain...

Rainy Day Stakeout 1Ten minutes later I collapsed back into the driver's seat, wet, vexed and once again regretting my lackluster past in the hallowed halls of academia. 'No worries', I thought as I fished my cell phone out of its holster, 'no overpriced sheepskin can replace the Pee Ayche Dee I got in cameramanthropology. Ringing up the Red Cross, I asked the nice people there to cough up the locale of the burned out family. They wouldn't of course, so I cold-called the Fire Department and chatted uo some real American heroes. They couldn't help em though so I dropped the phone in my soggy lap, closed my eyes and appealed to the News Gods... 'Bring me a chatty family member and I'll do my best to honestly spotlight their plight.' Only the sound of raindrops on the car's roof met my requests, so I kept my eyes closed before eventually losing consciousness...

And THAT, of course, is when the homeowner showed up.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pith and Vinegar

Sepia SkyDashing about in tarted up cargo vans, staging hasty summits on random blacktops, thrusting battle-scarred microphones in strangers faces... my job would sound pretty bleak - were it not so much fun! Okay, so 'fun' isn't the right word, but the fact remains that much of news gathering is kind of a kick. Scouring cities for sources of sound, aiming a ray at far-off towers, guarding the Republic with spotlights and cheese... It's a freakin' pageant play - every day! So why is the cast and crew so morose? I dunno - it's always been that way. Certainly journalists earned a reputation for being kind of skeevy LONG before they strung antennas atop the Fourth Estate. Since then, we TV types have more than maintained that malaise - a curious brew of urgency, dread and annoyance that can be found all along our fruited plain. Just crash any sat truck gathering and you'll see what I mean: nuthin' but jittery nihilists and melancholy lot lizards...Stop by and say Hi!

Hell Mic 2Better yet, bring some cheese. It'll go well with the industrial strength whine they serve before and after live shot. Got half an afternoon to kill? Listen to a self-described 'storyteller' bitch about their job. Trust the the UnaBomber and his silly grievance list hath not diddly on a perky news reporter who feels she's been robbed of face-time. Or that field producer with his Blackberry in a death grip. Those aren't tweets he's squeezin'. They're demands - whole reams of ultimatums he'll never grow the grapes to present to his boss. But hey, he'll gladly run down a few bullet points should you be running low on bile. Or give a listen to the truck operator. He's got a long list of things he hates about his life and he's broken 'em down to CB-Codes. Just don't ask him what a 'Flaming Hairdo' is, would ya? That always starts a fight. And oh, whatever you do, steer thee clear of that photog over there who thinks he's some kind of Shakespeare. Dude curses in couplets!

Old Navy ShootingBut in the word of Nancy Kerrigan, "WWWWWHHHYYYYYYY?" Why are otherwise bright and shiny news people so proud of being grouchy? No matter what we tell our spouses, our jobs aren't that tough. Sure, we regularly smear whole regions in crime and grime, but not every assignment calls for the undertaker face. Yet we schlep through every other gig like we're pulling community service. Why just the other day a fellow photog locked eyes with yours truly and silently begged me to bash his head in with a camera battery. That or he wanted me to intubate him with his Leatherman, I couldn't really tell; his pantomime skills were lacking and those little kindergarten pilgrims were one making one hell of a racket with their pissy little song. Hmmm? Yeah, you're right: we should ALL lighten up. After all many of us are living our dreams, engaged as we are in a pursuit of truth justice and the best way to package the wrath of a half dozen pre-school Indians. Now ram this light-stand leg down this canal, at least until my mood improves...

I wanna go network someday.