Friday, December 25, 2009

Dash Away All

Kid Hates SantaI called ahead. This time of year, no photog worth his white-balance would dare storm a shopping mall without permission - lest he catch a blow dart to the throat. Besides, it was my last shift before a long Christmas break and I was feeling especially benevolent. So too were The Suits. No sooner had I plopped down in the morning meeting than my holiday fate was handed down: Go see Santa'. I laughed when I heard it, in spite of myself: I've filled hours of airtime talking to that elf. If a return visit to a center court throne was all it would take to get me home, I was going to assemble a litany of little kid wishes that would choke up most of the Piedmont. After all, it's what I do. Others of my ilk may favor the ambush interview, the nine part investigation. or the troubling think piece. Me, I'm Dr. Feelgood. I'll slather the back end of newscast with unadulterated fluff and look you straight in the eye as I leave for the day before they ever get to Weather. You can have your top stories, I'll stick with my operas of the Z-Block. Which is why some fat guy in a suit and a hundred drooling rubes doesn't scare me at all. I consider it a target-rich environment. And this time I was gonna bag an easy kill and maybe do a little shopping... Or so I thought.

Me At MallI even parked like a regular person --way out on the perimeter with the housewives and the high. Together, we filled in the edges of the MegalopoMall parking lot, locked our trunks and trudged toward the doors of the indoor emporium. But I hadn't arrived empty-handed. With a fancycam strap cutting into one shoulder, a tripod under my arm and a pocket full of camera-ammo, I schlepped toward the action like the news grunt I am. But I didn't mind. For once I got within range, my Bulls-Eye couldn't hide. No, he'd be squirming in hot red velvet as a hundred crumb snatchers lined up to jump on his lap. All I had to do was set up my sticks on the rim, slap a microphone on The Fat Man's furry lapel and roll tape as the enchanting encounters ensued. It takes precious little expertise to manufacture such pablum and I'd already done it a half dozen times. And once I wove a thread through the unhinged masses, I was gonna do it again. You ever navigated a packed shopping mall with half a TV station on your back? It's carrying a couple of stepladders into a moshpit, someone's gonna get hurt.

Santa & BodyguardBut I barely drew any blood at all as I tried to locate the MegalopoMall office. The PR lady I'd telephoned earlier asked me to check in when I arrived - no doubt to make sure I wasn't a suicide bomber - or worse yet, a consumer reporter. I was neither of course and after no more than a wink and a nod, I was free to find the Claus in question. It didn't take long. There, across from the Cin-a-Bon, a bearded gent held court on an oversized throne. 'Yahtzee' I mumbled under my breath and pushed past a flock of Goth Kids to close in on my prey. That's when I met her: a small woman in a bright red apron, funny little hat and year-round scowl. "You can video Santa, but you cannot talk to him. You can talk to the kids but you cannot put a microphone anywhere near Santa. Company policy." With that the world's angriest elf spun on her green velvet heel and stomped off to rob someone else of their dream. Her tone alone told me I wasn't the first photog to try to crash her party. And though she treated me like a drifter who only wanted to piss on Father Christmas, I didn't put up one iota of a fight. Instead I turned to make a beeline for the door, kicking myself for assuming it would be so easy and ruing the day Corporate America so complicated the holidays.

As for you, dear elfin lady, I hope Rudolph takes a dump in your stocking. I would, given the chance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We Now Take You Live...

Oversized Coat Convention a freakishly large coat collision somewhere outside Toronto! That's where you'll find young Global News photog Jeremy Cohn going live like only a cold Canadian can. Note the snazzy microphone flag, cockeyed softbox and weird pom-pom thingie that lady in the blue is holding. Whatever it is they're up to, those Canucks sure know how to coordinate some outerwear. Then again, they're probably dealing with temperatures that would make a Southerner like me curl up into a fetal position and bleed little frozen chunks of barbecue sauce. So here's to you, Mr. North of the Border News Reporter! Because of you and your outlandish outerwear, I got no right to whine the next time the mercury drops below twenty and I gotta go televise some icicle...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Insufferable Rush

Truck Day LineThe Christmas Crush is all but upon us and for once, I won't be around to record it. After Tuesday, anyway. See, during the tumultuous time span that was 2009, I produced a ton of TV. What I didn't do is take a lot of time off. Thus, I won't be spending the dwindling days of this decade running from a giant boulder while trying to keep it all in focus. Rather, I'll be working hard to keep the three females I live with from jack-knifing a semi across the interstate just to get rid of me for a couple of hours. So, while I'm hiding in the garage pretending to sweep, know that a small part of me rides shotgun with every photog this time of year, for if I haven't shot every type of late December story there is, it ain't due to lack of effort. So pour yourself some egg nog as I run down the ten pieces of holiday flotsam I won't be dragging back to the shop this year....

1) Seasonal Structure Fire

I've giggled a time or two as firehouse buddies lit dumb blazes out back for the sake of my camera and I've chased the same brave men to unglamorous locations where Christmas week blazes cast a pallor over whole neighborhoods. I'll take the grab-ass over the tragedy any day.

2) Soup Kitchen Opera

Countless are the times I've loitered in downtrodden kitchens with camera at the ready, looking for action shots and trying not to salivate over discount turkey. It's often hard to tell who's the more annoyed: the staff, the volunteers or the poor shelter residents who only want extra cranberry sauce and a little bit of dignity.

3) Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Whether prodding grounded flyers while TSA agents rip up some old lady's sensible shoes, or sticking my lens in some poor schlub's car as a thousand of their new best friends form a two lane parking lot, I can crank out commuter kerfuffle without spilling a single drop of jet fuel.

4) Canned Food/Coat Drive

Ah, with this one I'm intimate - for El Ocho does a coat slash food slash holiday toy drive like no other station I know. Salvation Army pantries, shopping malls and charitable laundromats are constant holiday stops because of it, but the ensuing goodness almost melts even my crusty photog heart. Almost.

5) Last Minute Hoarding, er...Shopping

Not since covering a prison riot have I so risked my life in the name of news. Just the other day I watched a lady of considerable carriage go down as otherwise upstanding churchgoers plowed over her in a consumer-induced frenzy. I'd have helped her up too, but I was too busy shoving discount Wii Fits down my pants.

6) A Month of (Cyber) Sundays

Ever since the Interwebs made the Wish Book obsolete, the newsroom suits insisted we point a camera at it. Literally. Thus, It's not uncommon to see a grumbling photog fumbling over a reporter's desk this time of year, knocking over framed glamor shots as he tries in vain to get the wiggle out of the screen. Worse yet, he still has to go to the mall to get sound-bites.

7) Where Credit's Due

This one's simple. After the mall, swing by the Consumer Credit Counseling office and ask the guy in the twinkly Christmas tie if you can play with his jug of cut-up credit cards. Don't worry, he'll have one. Pour it all on his office floor, throw up a light and shoot video until you begin repeating yourself. Fire a few questions at bad tie guy and you got a holiday package that can play anywhere.

8) For Him the Bell Tolls

Arrgh, those incessant bells! Their constant jangle bore into my skull the moment I drag my partner out of the car. Otherwise, I got little against lounging by the red kettle. Outside of airports, it affords a level of people-watching not available in polite society. Fancycams sure make some people generous, while others duck and run from the lens. Both are fun to chase through parking lots.

9) Bad, Glad, Mad Santa

We photogs dig repetitive action we can leisurely exploit from every angle. With the advent of wireless microphones, we can sit back far from our subjects and eavesdrop all day long. Which makes stalking Santa' and his lap easy, rewarding work. If you can't train a camera on a jolly fat guy being nice to kids and come away with good TV, it's time to hand in your press-pass and go the hell home.

10) Lights, Camera, Reindeer...

Another stalwart pitstop on the late December news cruising circuit. Synchronized lights, goofy home-owners, dumbfounded by-passers and pissed off neighbors...all reliable characters in the neighborhood kook passion play. Throw in a letter writing campaign traffic jam or power outage and you got TV gold. Just watch out for those blow-up Santas. Their eyes move when you're not watching...

Ahem...obviously I've had fun riffing on the predictable. But the fact that I and every other news shooter on the planet can recite this heretofore unwritten list is a sad reflection on the state of TV news. All our tools and glitz have brought us s-o-o far since the idea of digesting the day through local lenses spread throughout the country. That we still wallow in the same, lame, mundane stories year in and year out is an industry-wide shame. And in the age of information renaissance, it's the road to irrelevancy. Happy Holidays!