Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Iceman Melteth...

The life of a TV news Photog is one of backaches, callouses and scratches.Then Summer rolls around and it gets really uncomfortable. Think I'm exaggerating? Obviously, you've never babysat a meth-lab raid in late July. Or toured a humidifier factory while wearing a beard-net. Or hounded a Founder's Day parade at high noon. If you had, you'd know we're on the cusp of The Punishment - that three months stretch of eternity when weather bunnies refuse to go outside and news shooters stew in their own juices. Or is it just me? Granted, I'm a white guy covered in fur, a suburban Dad with a perspiration pattern normally seen only in prison movies, a flaxen haired bookworm who sweats like a gorilla zipped into a monkey suit...

But I reveal too much.

Fact is, even an overexposed sweat-hog like me is lost in the puddle of a Southern-bred Summer. Take my friend Rick Portier up there - he of Baton Rouge burger fame. Dude ain't huddled under a towel 'cause he thinks it looks cool. No, he's just trying to stay upright. To do that, he'll suffer the slings of indignity known to photogs far and wide: He'll dress like a kindergartner on a field trip to the zoo - even while slumming inside some governmental press junket. He'll hide his last bottled water in his boxer shorts while fending off winos at the corner of Crackpipe and Swine. He'll accompany a hot news intern through a crowded ballroom with his bald head held high - even though he looks like he cat-napped in a car-wash. Hell, he won't even flinch when said intern catches him french-kissing his news unit's air-conditioning vents.

So what can you do? Not a lot, air-conditioned news viewer, but remember: If the overly-coiffed news tease standing in front of that brick wall on your tee-vee looks a little hotter than usual, know that her beleaguered stevedore is somewhere near, hunched over his rig, summoning the strength to plunge a rusty Leatherman into his own roiling gut as a sweat-soaked swatch of terry cloth covers his pate - but not his shame.

Now step over that wet patch of pavement, would ya. If I'm not mostaken, that puddle used to be a friend of mine...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ten From Within

Rainy Day Stakeout 5.1It occurred to me the other day - while hurtling toward a smoking lump of bent sheet metal - that I've become inured to calamity. When exactly it happened I'm not sure but I think my crusty photog shell fully formed somewhere between my eleventh hundred structure fire and mile marker 613. This minimum of empathy doesn't fill me with pride; neither does it stop me from tearing up at certain paint swatch commercials. Nor does it prevent me from filling up the screen with scenes some folks find repellent. It's easy: just frame up the pain and look away while you roll. While you do, consider if you yourself have been at this twisted gig too long by reviewing the...

Top Ten Signs You've Covered Too Much Spot News

10) Like Pavlov's dog, you instantly wolf down whatever food is front of you at the merest squawk of a walkie-talkie.

9) You've been to more bus wrecks than ballgames.

8) You judge smoke plumes by viscosity, debris fields by style and inner city stand-offs by their proximity to affordable buffets.

7) You've been berated by folks wearing pajamas in every county your station covers.

6) More than once you've nearly plowed into your spouse's car as you roared out of your driveway en route to some stranger's midnight collision.

5) You've chased a competitor's live truck to a breaking news scene you didn't even know existed.

4) As soon as the assignment guy starts rattling his maps, you stop drop and roll your ass out of the newsroom.

3) You've cat-napped by a lake as men in dinghies dragged it.

2) You've conned your way past whole generations of volunteer firefighters.

And the number one sign you've covered too much spot news....

1) You're reading this in a building with a row of satellite dishes out back.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Live Truck Summer

That 70's Pose
2010 (Rated R) Romance, hijinks and live shots ensue as a mismatched news crew covers a Georgia heatwave. She's a polished young reporter with her eye on the anchor chair. He's a loopy shooter who woke up in his clothes. Together they do battle with City Hall, some surreal hillbillies and their own tense chemistry until a ribbon-cutting gone wrong erupts into an impromptu road rally. Featuring a cast of unknowns and shot on a sun-warped Polaroid, this straight to cable release had a promising premise, but lost momentum early in the Second Act, when the cranky couple gets stuck in Atlanta traffic and spends the rest of the film behind the wheel of their idling live truck, trading office gossip and humming along to a yacht rock marathon. 1 out of 4 Stars.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Question of Weaponry

New Cam StewDo pardon the vexed expression, but a most dreaded development has wiped the smirk from my fuzzy mug. You guessed it: they're taking my heavy glass. No, a quartet of horsemen didn't show up on my porch and rip the fancycam from my cold, dead hands - but a certain Brit did lay a new rig on my desk the other day and left me with a raging case of D.L.S. That's Diminished Lens Syndrome for those of you without tripods in your trunk. The symptoms are predicatable enough... initial unease at the idea of shrinkage, a false hope that smaller will somehow be better, the cruel realization that you're about to hit the streets with a molded plastic pea-shooter. Why it's enough to make an aging lenslinger pursue a second career - you know, something impervious to change like chimney sweeping, carpentry or cosmetic sales... Who am I kidding? I'll be shooting ribbon cuttings 'til they drag me away to the Old Photog's Home, but apparently I won't be doing so with a full-sized Sony in tow... Sigh.

You'd think a cameraman in his forties would welcome a lighter load. Not. So. See, those anchor-like growths on our shoulders are actually sleek, powerful weapons with incredible range, perfected ergonomics and a steadying heft. But it's not the size that matters. It's performance. What used to be accomplished with a subliminal pinkie twitch now requires the exploration of a few computer menus; dense parameter settings that are difficult to delve into when you're walking all one-eyed in front of a shackled crackhead. Throw in the tiniest of viewfinders along with a lowered lack of light tolerance and you have just two reasons why my new bazooka leaves me feeling less than protected. I guess the only thing I can be thankful is that The Suits didn't decide to outfit with honest to God baked-potato cams - those fist-sized abominations that shouldn't be aimed at anything bigger than a kindergarten graduation. Oh well, at least the Edit Bays aren't changing...

Final Cut SchmoExcept...they are. Final Cut Pro - that most exquisite format agnostic edit suite - is popping up in darkened rooms throughout El Ocho. I've hard to ignore their presence for weeks, preferring the comparatively simple Grass Valley system over the candy-colored hell that is an FCP keyboard. Today, however, I jumped on board and what shoudl have taken an hour took three. Good thing I had the time. Most days I don't. And therein lies the crux of my concern, for while Final Cut Pro is strikingly superior, it ain't exactly built for speed. And in News, speed is paramount. After all, this ain't a boutique. I need to be able to blow into a bay with the smell of house fire on me and lay the whole tragic smack down in under a few minutes. Will I be able to make such a deadline on a Mac with attitude? Eventually, but not before a hundred frantic deadlines test my resistance to stress-induced cigarettes...

Now, don't me wrong. These days, new toys are a great problem to have and while I wouldn't have voted to change EVERYTHING at once, I know I can make potent television with just about any piece of equipment that works as advertised. So do me a favor: When I come back on here in six months and rave about the merits of all this new equipment, remind what a wiener I was at the very outset. Until then however, I reserve the right to be grumpy as Hell about it and document in triplicate how things were better when test patterns were hung out to dry. I am a photog, after all. I can wimp and simper in three different disciplines and still feel like a man - even when Weaver or Matt finds me openly weeping in a sequestered edit bay.

I just hope they won't post pictures...

Monday, May 24, 2010

So Not Worth It

KSL Photog's Gear
You can try to be careful, but spatial awareness and a day-glo vest will help but so much when you're clinging to the side of a busy interstate. It's one of the less logical things we photogs do. Most times though, a few minutes on foot in the breakdown lane results in forty seconds of newscast filler: a sauteed blur of rubber, chrome and steel. As footage goes, it's pretty forgettable and the inherent risk in its acquisition roundly ignored. Then, something tragic happens. Such was the case today when a sedan struck KSL photographer Mike Radice as he shot video of emergency repairs along westbound I-80. UDOT crews had blocked off all but one lane as they worked to restore a washout.

A sedan and semi truck collided as a result, and the ensuing energy spun the sedan into Radice - who no doubt didn't expect to become part of the news today. His exact injuries are not known, but he remains at University Hospital in serious condition. My heart goes out to Mike Radice, but his murky fate angers me as well, for the kind of video gathered by the side of a screaming highway is often generic, gratuitous noise will little benefit to the viewer and unthinkable risks to the person tasked with bringing it back under deadline. Will I refuse to go the next time I'm dispatched to a similar scene? Unlikely, but I will do everything within my power to minimize the risk, though as Mike Radice and the people of love him can tell you, there's only so much you can do when you're all alone and exposed on the open road. Godspeed.

(Photo by Matt Lee, ABC 4 News )

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Schmuck Alert: Paper Goon

Paper GoonProving you don't have to break a sweat to get charged with assault, a mustachioed brute went all 'periodical' on a Texas photog and came away with a court date. It happened in El Paso. KFOX photographer Rudy Reyes was hunched over his camera outside a federal courthouse when the father of an accused judge walked by with an unidentified family friend. Apparently, the swarthier of the two men took offense at being videotaped, for as he passed Reyes' lens, he swatted the photog on the head with a rolled up magazine! Apparently, this bruiser takes more than fashion tips from those old Sopranos reruns. If only he'd caught the show in its initial run, he'd know that even the most conflicted goon wouldn't strike a cameraman with a rolled up copy of Playgirl. Damn those basic cable edits!

To make matters worse, the heavy in question totally blew his HBO audition with a badly acted denial of the videotaped wallop. Chances are Reyes will recover, but it doesn't change the fact that the veteran photographer was within his every right to record the duo waddling up the courthouse steps. No doubt the still-unidentified man thought he saw a mosquito on Reyes' dome - or else he figured a harmless thwack from his dog-eared issue of Playgirl would be received as a show of respect or at the very most, an unrequited love tap. Not so, Asshole! Shortly after the son of the man he accompanied to court was convicted of corruption, police moved in and arrested the well-read troglodyte. It's impossible to know if the assault charge will stick, but I for one hope this thug pulls actual time - if only so he'll have to tell his new cellie how a magazine full of shirtless Chippendale dancers landed him in the poky. Say it with me...