Saturday, June 12, 2010

Turd, Rising

Rick Portier DrinksOnce upon a time TV stations the nation over fostered the oddest of 'talent' - in-house eccentrics, weatered debutantes and pockmarked auteurs. While never the prettiest horse in the stable, these locals souls were allowed to roam and they brought back a kind of coverage that was distinctively regional. But consultants changed all that; forging a brand of television both flashy and antiseptic. Soon, TV affiliates from every corner of the country simply mimicked each other - until broadcast offerings from Pfafftown to Reno resembled nothing more than, well - each other... just another canned dispatch from the United States of Generica. Gone were the slickers, hayseeds and con-men that once represented their particular wrinkle in the map. Now some local customs are thought too provincial, out-of-towners regularly decide what's right for around here and even a scant of an accent is damn near taboo.

Not so, however, in Baton Rouge.

There it seems at least one newsroom values a little indigenous input. How else can you explain the unlikely rise of one Rick Portier? You of course know him as Turdpolisher - the irascible author of his once vibrant blog. These days the Louisiana lenslinger doesn't share all he's writing, but he's too busy being a correspondent to bother! That's right, someone high up in the broadcast tower finally recognized Rick for what he is: an oral storyteller of the highest order. I first got the inkling they were on to him a few months back, when the station suits greenlit a televised quest for the perfect burger: conceived, executed and featuring a certain chrome-dome shooter. Apparently his turn as the Hamburgler was well received, for just the other day the grown-ups in the room ordered him outside all by his lonesome. Just what kind of heatwave story they wanted is mostly unknown. but I'm guessing no desk jockey present could have come up with what Rick conjured from the elements...

Somebody get that guy his own billboard...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Legend of Lennie

Live Action Cam
Things were just looking up for Lennie, when the Promo Guys arrived. He'd only been a part of the Action News Team for six months - ever since that ugliness in Bender City got him banned from ever even entering another Piggly-Wiggly again - let alone complete his dream of bringing the Dewey Decimal system to the produce aisle. That little stand-off cost him dearly; he'd cleared out of his rented room in the middle night, loaded up the Impala and effectively ended his side career as a part-time waterbed salesman. Most of all, he'd had to leave Lurlene - the only Waffle House waitress he'd ever pursued without ending up on the wrong end of a restraining order. It was probably for the best, however. A few more fumblings in that back booth and Lennie would have no doubt revealed his true identity. Sure, that gal rocked a mean beehive - but no shapely slinger of hash is worth one more day in the brig... Which is why Lennie headed inland...

And stumbled across his station in life.

Actually, it was a dump of an affiliate on the edge of the industrial district - a crime ridden swath of blight nobody but news anchors called the Happy Crescent Metroplex. Lennie liked the station from the very start: the faded logo out front, the ice cream truck with the pole thingy otu back, the way the receptionist buzzed you into the lobby without ever asking what you wanted. All Lennie wanted was the latest bumper sticker to add to his collection, but something about the chrome and simulated wood-grain of the place spoke to him and he found a job application under his pen before he even decided which alias to use. In the end it didn't matter, for his warm pulse, vast knowledge of CB radio slang and strange willingness to work for slave wages suddenly ensured him an exciting career in show business. He figured he'd stick with long enough to scam some logo-wear but he found he loved the rub of a peacock on his tit. But it wasn't just the free polyester that got him off.

It was the lifestyle.

Lights, camera and as much side-action as he could muster on nine thousand dollars a year: that's what sustained Lennie in the first few months. But along with the access to the glamorous life, this man wanted by the Merchant Marines found he had an eye for emergencies,a natural jones for scanner codes and a gift for driving like a pig. Who knew his true talents lied in shot composition and the one-eye backpedal? Lennie didn't, but something about squiring around busty ingenues around town along with the latest in 9 year old technology really engorged this stilted drifter and pretty soon he was entertaining the idea of going straight - or at least as straight as you can get while still living out of a company car. Yes, it seemed ribbon cuttings ride-alongs and wrecks of every description filled a void in our anti-heroe's crusty heart and he soon stopped coming up with new ways to get over on The Man.

Maybe he could even send for Lurlene...

Warm thoughts, indeed; the kind Lennie wasn't used to. But before he could totally master hiding behind the camera, cruel fate intervened in the form of a paramour. Her name was Ava and as far as Lennie could tell, she owned only Kulats. That fad aside, she seemed okay, even if Lennie didn't fully understand what she did back there in the Promotions Office. All he really knew is she was warm for his form and though he tried not to lead her on, there's only so much you could do when you looked this good in a brown turtleneck. So it was not very surprising when Kulats and her boy Friday showed up at Lennie's live shot with a camera of their own. He didn't think much of it at the time, but the fruits of his impromptu photo session came back to bite him hard when he caught flashes of himself popping up between the chunks of Gunsmoke that passed for suitable reruns at the time. Needless to say, Lennie vanished the next day. Some claimed they spotted him down by the docks; others say the mob got him before those wretched sailors ever did.

Me, I'm not so sure - for every once in awhile, I'll catch sight of his reflection in my own viewfinder and wonder if a little bit of Lennie lives in me...

I'd be okay with that.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Crying Game

In an as yet unposted News and Record column, my fave glottologist and all around nice guy Mike Clark tackles the tough issues:

"Videographers zoom in extra tight anytime someone on camera is about to cry. I think they're trained and certified in tear-zooming. Don't zoom in, we take your camera away and give no severance pay. Zoom in and you go national."

Now Mike, I can't speak for everyone out there with a face full of viewfinder, but those of us who stuff newscasts for a living do indeed zoom in at the first sign of ocular hydration. But if we're going to discuss this, we have to get the terminology correct... We are PHO-togs - rugged underlings who stick their lenses in other people's problems for a daily wage. We shoot crusty mud puddles and active hurricanes, oversold molehills and mountains of smoldering sheet metal. Videographers shoot weddings - poorly. You'd no more refer to one of these seasoned TV stevedores a 'videographer' than you'd call a grizzled homicide detective a 'rent-a-cop'. Okay, so the average photog isn't gonna break out the taser just because you mangled his name tag - but you get the idea. Now, as for honing in on falling tear drops, that we will do - but make no mistake...

We do not train.

Firemen train. Photogs sit around and bitch. We swap war stories and gossip about the other guys' "talent". About the only thing we're truly certified to do is drive top-heavy minivans and identify fast food structures by silhouette. Mostly though, we chauffeur reporters around reglons we know better than they ever will - all while constantly reminding them that without us, it's all just bad radio. Yes, we're not an especially easy breed to cozy up to; if you're looking for refinement and style you may want to check in with the overly coiffed camera crews at Bravo - but if you have to scale some poor widow's porch at high noon, you can do no better than your above average staffer. Why? We got snipers' eyes, a lifer's decorum and exquisitely subtle thumbs. I myself can reach up and feather my zoom controls at the first glint of falling water and never once tip off the surrounding in-laws as to my true intentions...

Unseemly? Yeah, but don't blame me. Blame Iron Eyes Cody. You know, the noble Native American who shed a single tear over the littering of America. I - along with a lot of other news shooters my age - watched Big Chief Verklempt quietly lose it in that famous Public Service Announcement for years. I even asked friend of the blog Bob Timberlake about him once and whiel the famous painter regaled me with a great story, I can't recall a single sentence of it. What I do remember however is that single tear rolling down the Indian's worn cheek and a small part of me has been trying to recreate that scene ever since. And have I. Victims, beauty queens, sweepstakes winners,: I've documented more waterworks than that Jacques Cousteau's cameraman. In fact, only one crying jag escaped my gaze and it haunts me to this day...

May 28, 2006. All the world was watching Hollywood as some gray haired schlub whose name escapes me won the title of American Idol. I was outside the Kodak Theater that night, camera-manning the red carpet as a gauntlet of pseudo-stars and real life celebrities preened and sauntered past. Among that number: goofy boozehound /national treasure David Hasselhoff. That's right: a half hour after the Baywatch mogul staggered past my camera, he famously lost control of his emotions over some banal bit of American Idol stagecraft. The Hoff cried and I MISSED IT.

Four years later, I still get choked up thinking about it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Parent Flap

Parent Trap Some news shooters polish their weapons on the perimeter as they plot their every move. Me, I just stumble into the breech. Take today for instance, when I bum-rushed a school awards ceremony like a deranged janitor. Technically, the Principal knew I was there - and even why. But to most of the parents packed into that cafegymnatorium, I was just one more Dad with face full of plastic glass. How else to explain the panting man in the cargo shorts, the one high-stepping over third graders and Room Moms alike. Yes, I was halfway to the podium when their collective stares weighed me down and I looked up to a room full of suspended eyebrows. It was then I realized they took me for a (GASP!) hobbyist. One glance at my hand and I understood why...

It's that damn new camera.

Plasti-Glass 5000, Fancy Cam Jr, Fisher-Price Vision: I still haven't decided what I'm calling my diminished lens. Fact is, I haven't so much as cradled it before today. Instead I've let it ride shotgun on auto-ignore as I squired around the old Sony I wished was my owny. It ain't - and until I get in the habit of buying TV cameras, I'd better get used to wading into the battle with a far weaker weapon. What's that you say? My new long-arm is less intrusive and newer, low on the hernia scale and of quite higher definition. Yeah, it's got some theoretical pluses, but for a fellow who's worn a groove in his shoulder with a certain caliber of camera, it doesn't always add up. But hey, match was never my strong suit, so I've vowed to shut-up and shoot - for any camcorder that acts as advertised should be all I need to enact some cinema, right?


Theoretically, yes. But having now used my pea-shooter in a real-world shoot-out, I find my self pining for the hefty embrace of my Sony XD. Today the topography of that fine device was much on my mind as I jabbed at my new rig and found most of he buttons missing. Thrice I tried to record a shot - only to white balance in three different shades of orangey-blue. If that weren't enough I conducted half a scintillating interview before ever realizing I'd yet to roll. Imagine a certain third-grader's chagrin when I asked to him to repeat most everything he'd said. Yes, that and the indignant glares of so many parents almost shook my confidence and for once I was glad my miniature lens at least had room for a trimmed up El Ocho logo. Otherwise, I'd be cast to the back of the the room with the rest of the amateurs...

And I'm not sure I could live with that.