Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stuff I Never Told You...

I've damn near made a career of whining about my job, but a glance at my calendar shows how good I got it. Take July; a summer month not known for its stellar television. Still, with a flock of photogs on vacation and even more news-makers pretending to be, I managed to pack in enough surreal situations to keep my little repository of thought here bristling with piss, vinegar and the occasional insight. Why there was even stuff I never got around to mentioning....

Back on the 9th, I bum-rushed perhaps my twentieth Native American Pow-Wow. I'd only been there a few minutes when what was either a shaman in the grip of a religous vision or a cross-state trucker on half a bag of mushrooms approached with what appeared to be a necklace made of salt-shakers. "Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy" he said, shaking the suddenly smoking salt shakers at the sweaty cameraman. Actually, I don't know what he said; I was too busy trying to figure out whether I should film, thank or deck him. I opted for the middle way, and mouthed some old Neill Young lyrics at him as he shook the smoke at me and mumbled something back about being the walrus. I chuckled as he did, but soon after he passed I realized that's exactly how more than one Stephen King books start.

Less than a week later, I raced to a village on the Northern edge of Rockingham County so desolate, so remote that I've already forgotten its name. We'll call it Hell - not for it's many sinners, but for the very fact that it was about six hundred degrees Fahrenheit the day I rolled into town. My mission: get in front of a slow-moving convoy of wide-load trucks as they inched a massive generator ever so closer to its new power plant home. I've had good luck with Big Things Moving. Three story mansions, one room churches, library wings: I've hop-scotched around them all as real men in hardhats held power lines apart. Ancestral homes are the best, as the many descendants of the folks who used to live there often trail behind on foot in a slow parade of wistful soundbites. But a hunk of unemotional metal being dragged down a ribbon of rural highway? Not so much. Sure, there were a few woodchucks upset that about all the commotion, but I could tell by the way the fat one kept givin' me the eye-gouge, they weren't talking.

By the 22nd of July, the Piedmont was entering its sixth week of August-like temperatures. In fact the heat became so unbearable it was all anyone could talk about. That included of course the air conditioned souls who hurl me into the great unknown on a daily basis. I'm no longer surprised at what they come up with and most days, neither are they. On that particular day, the brain trust was focused on our bovine viewers. "What pray tell, was the heatwave doing to local dairy cows?" I shrugged a non-response and wondered which one of them listened to the Farm Report on the way to work. But I didn't dawdle, as the guys in Graphics were already searching their database for a picture of Bessie to hang over our anchor's shoulder. So I got busy flipping through my mental Rolodex until I half-remembered a certain cattle farmer I'd interviewed in the past. Hours later, as I followed my new friend through a cloud of black, bloated flies - I wondered how I could share this experience with the cubicle rats back at the station. Luckily, the half inch of moist cow shit that remained stuck to my shoes all day took care of that.

Of course not every news story is as well planned as a stroll through nature's landmines. On Tuesday I managed to pull a full morning of thwarted phone tag, before arranging a hurried shoot at a microbiology science camp. Several rack focuses later, I bid the campers a seemingly fond adieu and made my way through a summertime, visions of dry edit bay dancing in my head. I never made it. Five minutes into my return trip, the bosses called. Seems a lightning strike had sparked a fire at a building at the college I'd just left and the grown-ups in the newsroom no longer gave a rat's ass about some silly science camp. Suddenly I was late - a fate I more than adjusted with my stuntman worthy driving skills. Just ask the fire chief who I tailgated toward a building with a distinct lack of smoke plume rising from it. When the chief jumped a curb I did likewise, but I made the mistake of parking too early by a cluster of fire trucks. Little did I know the hoses ran to the other side of the building. By the time I hustled my gear to a respectable vantage point, my glasses were askew, my boxers were wet and a couple of campus cops were thinking of new reasons to push me back a block or two.

Who needs some old Indian curse when you got a job like mine? Don't answer that. I got a powerful hankerin' for sun-baked cow pie as it is...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dance Hall Daze

What little I know about fancy dancin' can be etched into the side of a Cheeto, but that didn't stop me from strolling through the rehearsal halls at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts the other day. Actually, it was more of a forced march - as I was low on cutaways and high on deadline. Still, Gary Taylor and his crack staff of choreographers understood that the cameraman was in a hurry, so they did what every good subject should do: they ignored me. Thus, I was free to shuffle from one well-lit open space to another, leaving a trail of mud-chunks from the structure fire my tripod and I had waltzed through the day before. I swear, one of these days I'm gonna take all the time in the world to file one of these reports, instead of bum-rushing the scene before runing away with whatever impressions I managed to collect in under an hour... Who am I kidding? Certainly not the talented young dancers who put up with my presence as they practiced their pirouettes. They knew the photog was just passing through and probably didn't understand what he was looking at anyway. To be honest, I didn't - but I did manage to act all cultured and not knock over a single ballerina.

I'm just sorry I kept belting out the hook from 'Fame'. That was wrong.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trackside Fashionista

A good photog knows how to blend, how to become part of the backdrop, how to see and not be seen. That's why when the photog affectionately known as 'Chim-Chim' wades into the Madhouse that is Bowman Gray Stadium on race night, he does so in audacious, trademark style. A high-octane orange shirt, delightfully oversized rig and trousers so splashy they confuse airplane pilots splashing overhead. But I come not to mock the wily Amernick, but to praise him. See, he's a highly-seasoned shooter, a fierce competitor and a funny guy who really knows how to kill time at a crime scene. Who cares if his pretty new bride is dressing him in Garanimals? I don't but - but then again, I once wore faded jorts and a wrinkled hula-girl shirt to an autopsy presser. No wonder they didn't invite me back.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Get Physical...

Perhaps it's my blue-collar upbringing, or maybe it's my learned disdain for academia - but a recent study really chaps my batteries. Actually, the study has some merit, for in elucidating the obvious it finds that the newfangled crew of one (read:VJ) is capable of only pre-planned, simplistic mews coverage. That is true, to a point. For example, I shoot, write and edit TV news stories sans assistance every day - by choice. Such an arrangement affords me the kinf of freedom and autonomy most photogs can only dream of. I like it - a lot. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to voice my own reports again. Here's why I don't: The moment I go back on-air as a one-man-band, my bosses will throw me to the wolves, er, expect me to play full-on reporter.

No longer will I be able to waltz into the morning meeting and cherry-pick the the most visual story of the day. I'd be required to come up with lead stories, schmooze prickly contacts and cover city hall. Out with the biker club prayer breakfast. In with the heated city council meeting. No thanks, I've climbed the widow's porch solo as a younger man and while it's not beyond me, I simply garner no joy from standing by live outside the meth-lab. Sooo, I hide behind capable anchors with far smoother delivery than mine and foist actual happy news upon an unsuspecting public. It's a living...

And not a bad one, I might add. As practiced as I am in the art of whine, I truly dig what I do. Which is why I take such O-ffense at the study in question's other key assertion...
Another struggle for many VJs is the physical strain of working alone. “This is a craft that demands not only intellectual capacity but real physical stamina and a lot of people are not going to be able to do this simply because they haven‘t got the stamina,” one VJ says. ... The National Union of Journalists in England is starting to hear health complaints–such as exhaustion or back problems–from VJs who have been on the job a few years. There’s also the problem of doors. As mundane as they are, doors pose problems for VJs because their hands are nearly always full, and they have no partner. Getting through a door with the equipment, and protecting the equipment from being damaged by a slamming door, is a daily challenge. (One VJ reports a new appreciation for automatic doors!)
Don't get me wrong, humping gear up a courthouse's steps all by your lonesome CAN be a bitch. I do it every day. But photogs have been doing it daily since the first broadcast engineers traded a few horse blankets for an Indian-stitched test pattern. Try as I might, I cannot recall a single breathless study decrying the health risks suffered by generations of TV stevedores. And with good reason. See, even when the average news shooter schlepped 60 pounds of gear on his or her back, it just doesn't compare to actual backbreaking work like , say, appliance repair or ostrich farming. No matter how stridently I might disagree after a long shift of the one-eyed backpedal, electronic news-gathering is not the long haul some would have you believe.

Rather, it's a brisk run through someone else's reality - often followed by a stop at Starbucks for a Java Chip Frappuccino and a little handheld wi-fi. To compare carrying a fetus-cam around for an hour or two a day to actual labor does a great disservice to working folks everywhere and I want to do everything I can to distance myself from such self-serving horseshit. Am I being too sensitive? Probably, but when journalists of any stripe start complaining about their jobs being too physically strenuous, I'm more than a little sickened. Can field crews have a rough go of it once in awhile? Youbetcha. But can a lusty ingenue toting an eight pound camera compare to the many travails of a factory worker or traffic cop? Not on her worst day.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a shelf full of self-serving trophies not to polish. I gotta tell you though: my back is killing me!