Friday, December 30, 2011

That's a Wrap

Browning Sunset
2011 is almost over and I've yet to work up the obligatory Year in Review post. Oh well, what better way to wiggle out of all that reflection than to share one of Sean Browning's Go-Pro masterpieces! In his latest submission we see not some frazzled photog staring into the abyss, but rather a bugs-eye view of a live shot at dusk. Funny, I don't remember my least favorite part of the day being so beautiful. Then again, life's all about how you perceive it. Whereas many lenslingers see only knotted drop cords drenched in generator fumes, others aren't afraid to simply gape at the heavens. I rather like the latter and in the coming year I vow to look up (and live) a little more often. So while I can't promise to be as sunny as my West Coast brethren, I'll try my best to turn down the Sturm und Drang. Now if you'll excuse me, I have half a mile of orange cord to untangle and this lousy daylight is dying fast.

Happy New Year...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

News You Can Lose

PhoneIt hasn't just been slow this week. It's been inert. That's to be expected, for during this week after Christmas, a good percentage of the hemisphere stays home. Not us newsies. We've got a show to put on - even if it means filling our broadcasts with a complete lack of happenings. You'd think it would make for an easy week. You'd be wrong. Me, I'd rather race from turnstile to rubble pile to live truck dial than try to make news out of nothing at all. Take the past few days - please! I've played more phone tag than a telemarketer with Tourettes, left quizzical missives with executive assistants, drooled over the kind of press releases I'd usually use for spitballs...
Yes, Public Works? Nigel from Channel X here. We just got word you guys were waxing speed bumps this week and we wanted to know if we could send a crew over? Excuse me? You don't see WHY this is newsworthy? Look pal, you're the one who sent the press release! I'm just keeping my place in the food chain. You know what a slow news week it is? My assignment editor had to breathe into a paper bag before your fax ever made it through the machine. She's laying down right now! So before you go changing your mind, you should know my satellite truck is circling your block. Inside are two separate news crews, one to cover 'nuts and bolts', the other in search of a sidebar. I got my best graphics guy cooking up an over the shoulder as we speak and I'm thinking about sending my main anchor over to break out the gravitas. So unless you wanna tell the entire Upper Valley Homeland Crescent why you're wasting valuable fax paper, I suggest you get the fellas out there and out there NOW! Otherwise, we're going straight-up investigative on your ass and YOU'LL be the one explaining why a half dozen city workers were caught on tape getting high by the salt pile! Hmmm? What's that???

Yeah, I can call back tomorrow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Terminal Viscocity

DSCF0107After eleven days off, I wasn't sure I'd remember how to push minutia through a tube. But mere minutes after planting my camera outside a busy department store, I realized - like dirty looks from women who didn't do their hair before venturing out to return those oven mitts - those news-gathering callouses weren't gonna fade any time soon. For instance...

I can still profile with extreme prejudice. You would too if persuading strangers to yammer on camera were part of your daily duties. So if I accost you in a crowded parking lot, be honored! I let the last weirdos pass without so much as a game of slap and tickle! Now tell me, what brings you to the syphilis clinic, Senator?

I can still think on my feet. Today, certified gajillionaire Jerry Neal escorted me around his palatial estate. It was awkward at first, until we realized we both knew Jerry Bledsoe and Phil Morgan. From there, we gabbed like old friends, despite our differences in age and income. Maybe he'll come mountain biking with us!

I can still remember when crossing county lines felt like a lo-o-ong way to go to fill forty seconds of airtime. Now I'll crisscross the entire region six times for one close-up of an eggplant that resembles Martin Van Buren. Make that seven if the lady who grew it speaks with an odd accent. Throw in a funny wig and I'll go well past eight.  

I can still tell who used my gear while I was gone simply by examining the physical evidence. Viewfinder out of whack? Must be that shortsighted sports shooter down the hall. Shutter speed cranked to the high heavens? Film school student at twelve o clock. The faint smell of Egg McMuffins and desperation? I'm lookin' at you, morning crew!    

I can still recall a time when chasing scanner blather felt like a really important thing to do. It was the dawn of the nineties and I was high on acid wash jeans and Jane's Addiction. These days, everything has changed except my musical tastes and while the siren's song doesn't thrill me like it used to, I still can't meet a screaming fire engine on the street without mumbling curses and giving chase.

But I'm working on it..

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sling, Slank, Slunk!

Camera Grinch
Contrary to what my wife may tell you, that ain't me. In fact, on this not so brisk Christmas morning, I couldn't be merrier. Much of that has to do with the fact that I've been on vacation for going on ten days now. That will change tomorrow, when I skulk back to El Ocho with a bag full of jacked-up toys slung over my one good shoulder. I'm expecting a hectic week: one filled with live shots, handheld soundbites and not a lot of news to go around. Whatever (doesn't) happen, I'll try not to complain, for who wants to hear the grumblings of a wordy camera nerd with garlic in his soul? Not me. For while my heart may be full of unwashed socks, my head is back in the game. 2011, with its bouts of doubt and toadstool sandwiches, is nearly a thing of the past. I'm looking more than forward to Twenty Twelve, if for no other reason it reminds me of a Rush album I dug in middle school. That and the world's gonna end when this new calendar runs out. What better reason to get off my felt green ass and commence with the sentences? None that I can think of, so if you try not to roll your beady little eyes so much, I'll try and do better by these pages in 2012 - even if I have to pillage the entire Piedmont Triad Googolplex to do it.

Merry Christmas.

Gold in Them Thar Reels

Gold Rush
If you're like me, you've not watched a single frame of Discovery's Gold Rush. But that's about to change now that the show's producers have unleashed a wicked new Behind the Scenes episode. It ain't news, but one look at what the production crew has to go through up there in the Klondike will make anyone with a camera groove in their shoulder wince in solidarity. Killer mud, pissed off prospectors, rogue excavators! Reminds of a few groundbreakings I've attended. Then again, nothing I've seen on the golden shovel patrol can compare to what folks like Nick O'Mealley experienced while living for months in the middle of untamed Alaska. Don't believe me? See for yourself - just don't go around trashing those 'pampered' production crews. After all, when's the last time a hungry bear bum-rushed your ribbon-cutting?

Been at least a couple of months for me...

Master of the Grab

John Creel, III
You can keep your Chet McChindimples and vaguely ethnic Barbies. I need a real man for the mission at hand, one who isn't afraid to wear a connector necklace, sensible shoes and a bright red fanny pack. Such a person is John P. Creel, III, otherwise known as JPC-3PO. I myself have never met the man, but Richard Adkins has. And to hear RAD tell it, Creel doesn't just commit television news, he embodies it...
John Creel didn’t teach me how to shoot, he didn’t teach me how to edit. What John Creel taught me was Survival in the world of TV News Photography. What John Creel knew that so many in the business missed, is that a good News Photographer has to be part Journalist, part Boy Scout, part artist and part asshole. All while being a good person.

John is an early adapter of technology, while others were still playing Pong, John had a home computer. Before cell phones were small enough to fit on your glove-box, you could always talk to John via his Mobile Radio Phone. And John taught me how to fix what broke, at least good enough to limp through the next live shot.

Creel is that guy who you never catch off-guard… stuck on a stake out at the scene all night? Creel will bring out a box of food stashed away in his truck. Rain? He’s got you covered… literally. Every gadget, every adapter, every thing you need… John can pull out of his pocket in an instant.

After working with John for about five years, I ran in to him later on assignment. I’ll never forget that night at the Great New Madrid Earthquake… a zillion Sat trucks lined the levies of the river, a long day, a long night… and while everyone was tired, folding up lights and rolling up cables after the last live shot, we all caught the smell of freshly popped popcorn… we looked around there was John, offing up hot popcorn from the microwave in his rig… and I just may have imagined this part… but I’m pretty sure there a cooler of cold beer with arms reach!
Adapters...popcorn...BEER? What say we clone this Creel fellow and improve television tenfold!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shooter in the Crosshairs

Shooter in the Crosshairs

Brock Nicholls screwed up. Now, he's stuck where his career started, Baton Rouge. When an arsonist begins torching the city, it's his ticket back to the top, but he'll have to fight his boss and partner to get there. When he meets the arsonist, Brock discovers he has one more demon to exorcise...

For years now, Rick Portier and I have ruminated on the rewards of writing. During countless phone calls and more than a few times in Vegas, we've knocked back top-shelf liquor and traded lies about jack-slapping the muse. Now, that dodgy little photog has put his imagination where his mouth is. With Shooter in the Crosshairs, Rick's combined his knowledge of the news business with his gift for depiction to create a freakin' page-turner. The nerve of that guy!

When his television career went down in flames on the steps of a Dallas courthouse, it made national news and earned the TV photog a night in lock-up. Now, Brock’s stuck in the place where it all started, Baton Rouge, working for a mental midget like Percy Finch and his "Good News" strategy that has viewers flocking to the competition. If that weren't bad enough, Finch has Brock locked into shooting pet parades for Katie Couric wannabes like Nancy Patrick....

Are you kidding me? With a set-up like that, square-dancing zombies could do-see-do all over the next chapter and a half and I'M STILL IN! Luckily for us though, the -AHEM- author steers clear of the undead and instead sticks to the streets he knows so well. It's that authenticity that will leave anyone who's hoisted or stared into a fancycam nodding their head in recognition. As for me, I'll try and keep my head out of the nearest oven as I ingest the quest of one Brock Nicholls, a world-weary news shooter who I'd love to see team up with G. Lee. First though, there's an arsonist to catch and I know just the man for it.  

Along the way, Brock reveals newsroom secrets and rails against everything that is wrong with the business he loves, a business that's cost him every relationship he's ever had. When he finally comes face-to-face with the man behind the sheet, Brock discovers he has one more demon to exorcise – one from his youth. In order to do that, he'll have to decide between telling the story of a lifetime and sending a murderer to jail.

How does it end? How the hell do I know? I'm reading this thing along with the rest of you! So while I don't need an extra copy, surely there's someone in your life who does. So buy Shooter in the Crosshairs and help a brother achieve his dream. And do it soon, before the artist formerly known as Turdpolisher lands a three picture deal and won't return any of our calls.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the End of the Day...

Dead Truck Balkin'
Funny how the average live truck can crisscross three counties, race through rush hour traffic, squeeze into a breakdown lane, idle for six hours straight, double as an audio booth, sleep three (un)comfortably, attract transients and school children, backfire only in sketchy neighborhoods, boast the logos of three separate consultant firms, power enough lights to be seen from space, suck just enough gas to ensure you'll have to fill it up later, harbor the remnants of a thousand dollar menu items, inspire new whole methods of laptop hackery, serve as a grooming booth and/or rest station for restless 'talent', spew engine exhaust on anyone rolling up cables, emit the kind of aroma that brings to mind sea travel...

...only to break the hell down on the way back to the station.

Okay, so it's not funny at all - especially when you've put in a long day of news gathering and are still FAR from home. In fact, of all the inconveniences I might wish on a competitor (weak camera batteries, brittle light bulbs, flatulent reporters), I wouldn't foist a dead live truck on my worstest enemy. Just ask A.J. Willen, the Atlanta lenslinger who posted this photo and jump-started my my memory banks... I remember one remote van in particular that would seize up with 'vapor-lock' every day at dusk and shut down on the highway home. "Nothin' you can do 'bout it but sit and let it rest for awhile", said the engineer on the other end of the cell phone. One fall evening I nearly abandoned the damn thing along Route 421. ("%#$@% this!", I remember thinking. I'll just live like Caine from Kung-Fu; ya know, walk the Earth, drop-kick evil villagers...)  I got about a half mile down the road, thought about my mortgage and the mud-hole my wife would stomp in me if I marooned a mobile newsroom..

It took nearly two hours to get that live truck back to the shop. At one point a car full of Goth kids happened by and began heckling me, 'til I threatened to microwave their piercings. I think I was justified...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Arose Such A Clatter...

Tree Lens 2

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the land,
News crews were squeezing into their vans.
To airports and malls they carried their loads,
They even went LIVE by the side of the road...

Around them the world began to slow down,
But they were too busy looking for sound.
Grilling last minute shoppers and fake Santa Clauses,
Their producers would cue them when to take pauses...

Back at the station, managers vanished,
The green room sat empty, its visitors banished.
Top anchors split early, their substitutes preening,
Thank God the Year-Ender was due for a screening...

Over in the studio, the pizza's arriving,
It's all that keeps the floor crew surviving.
But the Sports guy dives in, as do the slackers,
Back in the live truck, they eat chap-stick and crackers...

But if good food and family are things you will miss,
What the hell are you still doing in this business?
Why you're lucky to have a job at this station,
Unlike normal folk, The Truth takes no vacation...

So hang in there, all of you stuck in a truck,
Our industry's changing and so will your luck.
But should you start feeling merry - now or later,
Know you're breathing in fumes from the truck's generator.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pride and Petulance

Howard Cosell

When an ABC Sports executive wanted to spin off Monday Night Football into a Saturday morning animated series, Howard Cosell was said to be livid. "Do you know who you're speaking to? I am the biggest name in show business today. And you want to make a cartoon character out of me?" The irony, of course, is by then that's exactly what Howard Cosell was: a cartoon character. But after reading Mark Ribowsky's withering new biography of the sportscasting legend, I can't help but remember him in all three dimensions. Then again, I'm a child of the Seventies; when Cosell was a bigger pop icon than Justin Timberlake is today. Howard was everywhere: quizzing a glistening Mohammed Ali, enabling a young Joe Namath, lording over such heavyweight fare as Battle of the Network Stars. Yes, the man born Howard William Cohen (in Winston-Salem, no less!) enjoyed a most unlikely career, turning untold hubris and his loquacious nature into a ringside seat to the Twentieth Century.

At 436 pages, Ribowsky's book seeks to cover much of Cosell's rise and fall. Especially the fall. With a subject as repugnant as this, it's understandable ... but in so gleefully depicting every instance of Howard dancing on some enemy's grave, the author commits a little schadenfreude of his own. Still, the book's a ripping good read, if not, like the man at the center of it all, a bit long-winded. I guess that's only fitting, like a custom-made toupee or a mustard yellow ABC Sports-jacket. That's what I'll remember about this American Original. That and the staccato barrage of his trademark nasal tone. Howard Cosell didn't just love language. He molested it. And while that was enough to win my teenage admiration, I've grown to know enough gifted communicators to recognize a few as straight-up assholes. Howie certainly seemed to be that and so much more. But he forged new territory in television and brought the kind of gravitas and grit to sports commentary that Bryant Gumble is still trying to pull off. All while sucking the air out of every room and knocking back lots of vodka.

Hard to hate on that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Natural Born Slinger

Clint Fillinger Walkdown

Three months after a Milwaukee police sergeant roughed up the oldest photog he could find at a house fire, city officials have admitted Clint Fillinger did nothing wrong. That is to say they've dropped all charges against the Fox 4 photojournalist. Readers will remember Fillinger as the - ahem - seasoned lenslinger who responded to a house fire call only to be accosted by an oddly hostile cop. "All the way back!" the sergeant barked, as he and a fellow officer walked the accredited photographer away from the news scene. Fillinger protested as he backpedaled, until finally the cops put him on his ass. When they did, his camera took a hard bounce but it did capture the sixty eight year old community menace being unceremoniously cuffed and stuffed.

At the time we issued a stern Schmuck Alert, a move met with stiff indifference by all parties involved. We're cool with that, though one of the core tenets of The Lenslinger Institute is that clashes between The Fourth Estate and first responders would not occur so readily were certain people not so insistent on being absolute douche-bags. It's even written in our by-laws. So, you can imagine our delight at hearing the city of Milwaukee have reconsidered their position and expunged Mr. Fillinger's record of any and all cooked up charges. Hey, being publicly identified as a forty five year old veteran of television news is enough to live down. No one needs a rap sheet they didn't earn.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Remote Patrol

Event HorizonShould ever my life flash before my eyes, have I got to watch all those silly live shots again? And how about those endless minutes between live shots? I'm not sure I can suffer through those extended sentences a second time. Then again, I'm still wearing residue from last night's protracted encampment from the side of the road. Sure, I've washed off all the carbon monoxide and flop sweat, but there's still a groove in my gut from slumping over the steering wheel while my reporter pounded out rejoinders on the world's grittiest laptop... What, like YOU'VE never power-napped as a deadline loomed, never left your body as soundbites danced through your head? Hell, I once found myself floating above the truck only to look down and see the real me molesting an innocent sandbag.

You can imagine my shame.

Or you can keep reading as I try to justify my rancor at having to drop anchor. As a kid, the notion of a protracted encampment in one of these mobile newsrooms would have made me downright giddy, but as a grown man staving off a mid life crisis, nothing makes me feel like I'm wasting my days than some interminable afternoon spent peeling faded logos from the corners of what's left of my critical thinking skills. I'm not saying live trucks make me dumb but the other evening I spent ten full minutes admiring the way I'd coiled an extension cord. If that weren't enough I took real pride at the amount of back-light I milked from a dying street lamp. Add that to the way I convinced that drunk we were breaking down (instead of setting up) and you have the very definition of meaningful remote execution.

And yet it leaves me so empty.

Part of it is, of course, the weather. This time of year it simply gets dark too damn early. That's a big deal when you're trying to make a brick wall interesting, let alone relevant to the earthquake/clam bake you covered seven hours earlier. Of course, I'm just wasting my breath. I know this, just as sure as I know that neglected nine volt battery powering the talent's earpiece will die a sudden death the moment she begins breaking down the deposition. You know, the one they recorded across the street this morning. Look over my reporter's shoulder and you may catch a slice of courthouse window. That, my friends, is the most you can hope for when adding filigree to facts. It won't win you any Emmys but it will put bread on your table if not fill you with quiet pride as some jack-hole with a leaf blower shows up to drown out your shot.

Now back to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Points to Squander...

Shrunk the IdFunny how a single TV camera can turn a bustling post office into a barren wasteland...

Odd how those protestors stop chanting the moment I drive away...

Eerie how a bag full of dead camera batteries can cause an entire freight train to derail...

Scary how much that Black Friday piece resembled the last sixteen I did...

Strange how that kid yelled "Hi Mom!" just before he flipped me off...

Spooky how those people with the golden shovels think this is real life...

Typical how a reporter who phones in every other assignments spends three months crafting his Emmy entries...

Baffling how they set the podium in front of that plate glass window...

Ironic that a woman with so much gravy on her teeth insist on being interviewed...

Weird how unsatisfying writing lists can be...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bum Rush the Show

Chad at VT
I admit it: when news broke of another shooting at Virginia Tech last week, I promptly dove under my desk. Blacksburg may be a couple hours away but in the Spring of 2007, almost every news crew within this hemisphere made a beeline for the small Virginia town. Even Z-block zealots like myself made the trip, if only to witness one of the largest TV truck summits ever convened. There was, of course, great tragedy at hand - but for the distant affiliates, foreign bureau chiefs and network hotshots who roamed the campus that week, the massacre made but for a backdrop. and what a backdrop... Hundreds of tripods stood at attention as spotlights large and small chased shadows across Blacksburg's darkest day. It was a sight to behold and not for the best of reasons. By the very first nightfall, what began as a madman's fantasy had transformed into a slick and salacious sat-shot juggernaut, a commodity of sorrow served up in every skewed perspective our 24/7 news universe has to offer.

This time, however, the crime at hand did not involve mass casualties. That makes it no less horrific to those involved, but it did prevent the matter from devolving into some kind of hi-def circus. Perhaps no one was more thankful of that fact than El Ocho's own crew, who can be seen above reporting the facts -- withOUT turning aftermath into stagecraft. Me, I'm just sorry the latest shooting had to happen at all. Virginia Tech is a fine school. It no more deserves wanton gun-play on its campus than it does armies of correspondents trying to make their bones over gross and random depravity. As for that massive sat truck encampment on the far side of the school, it was awesome to watch, but it just ain't the kind of thing one wishes on any institution, let alone a campus as bucolic as Virginia Tech. Personally, I don't want to be part of a scum that large unless it's parked under a giant spaceship that just spit out Freddy Mercury.

Maybe then, I'll come out from beneath my desk.   

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Walk The Line

Wertheimer at Crash
Though I was working in North Carolina television at the time, I did not know Bart Smith, Rick Sherrill or Jim Lane. But when all three men perished in the 1991 crash of WTVD's helicopter, the impact sent shock waves through every television station in the state and nation. Since that time, I've grown to know several people affected by that terrible night in ways big and small. They don't talk about it much and I don't ask. But with the Twentieth Anniversary of the crash upon us, I feel compelled to dip my lens in honor of these exciting young men struck down in the prime of their lives. Of course, nothing I can say will assuage the pain still felt by loved ones, so I hesitate to try. Instead, let's hear from journeyman photog Dave Wertheimer - who doesn't need anniversaries or tributes to relive that awful call...
Twenty years ago I was a Photojournalist for WTVD and I got a call in the middle of the night from Bonnie Moore. The chopper went down and I had to go cover it. At the scene Dave Boliek met me there. I concentrated on keeping my right eye on the black and white viewfinder, trying to insulate myself from the reality that Bart (my roommate), Rick (my best friend) and Jim (close friend and former next door neighbor) were dead in the wreckage. All three were engaged or soon to be. I stayed focused on the black and white images I was recording until I heard Bart's voice pager go off, the voice was his soon to be fiance Karen saying "where are you, are you with Dave? Call me". At that point I had enough and could not shoot any more. I spent the next day or so going between the houses of Karen, Diane and Lisa trying to comfort them in their loss. In the days to come I went to all three funerals. In the years to come I became a "video gypsy" of sorts, moving from station to station trying to find myself, still remembering December 7, 1991 as the worst day of my life.
My condolences to those still suffering...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Hunchbacks of Happenstance

Hunchback 1As a hardened guardian of the Fourth Estate, it's hurts my heart to watch it all crumble. But crumble it does as the tectonic plates of television grind beneath our feet. Thanks to faltering funds, a groundswell of gadgetry and an exodus of peasants, what was once considered bedrock is now a billion shifting pixels. This curtain of uncertainty threatens to swallow us all, until whole fiefdoms cease to be. But you know, it's not the Knights in Shining Hairspray or even the Damsels of Duress I worry about most as those castle walls begin to fall... It's the hunchbacks.

Hunchback 2You know, those poor souls you still see scampering up turrets or floating in the moat. What with their medieval machinery and olde world aroma, it's easy to dismiss as little better than serfs. Until, that is, you see them chase a rainbow, quiz a Visigoth or just heap scorn on reports of a unicorn. Of all the subjects in this whole kingdom, it is they who seemed strangely free, despite their outdated armor and fondness for grog. What will become of them as new civilizations rise from this abysmal industry? Will they rise up and fight - or slink away like some kinky alchemist in the night? Why, I'd give up my one good eye to know...

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm needed in the watchtower.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Milk for Free

CNN's recent bloodletting has the folks at Comedy Central thinkin'... if the Most Trusted Name in News can shit-can their staff and (not) hire a bunch of amateurs, why can't they? Enter South Carolina's cleverest export, Stephen Colbert!

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The decaying state of television news doesn't make this clip any less funny, but amid the giggles, Colbert and crew lacerate this business with weapons we have handed them. The revolution may not be televised, but this industry's tailspin will be prodded for jollies all the way to the bottom. See ya there!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Born to Porter

Porter Versfelt III
With a name like Porter Versfelt III, he has to be good. So good that fate placed him behind the glass during the very first season of COPS, the show that convinced a generation of lenslingers to ditch their sticks and strap on some running shoes. I was among that number, for nothing felt more natural at the age of twenty three than to chase a bunch of hopped-up constables through subsidized doorways as guys I knew from community college flashed handguns and badges. It's a wonder I didn't get shot. If I ever did, I probably would have blamed that Barbour /Langley production for getting me and the boys so worked up in the first place (not to mention thrusting the shirtless, blubbering felon into the American consciousness). These days, I don't watch a lot of COPS and I avoid the front and back seat of police cars every chance I get. But in the early Nineties, every story I produced ended with somebody walking away in handcuffs. Little did I know back then I was aping the moves of the third Porter Versfelt to roam these fruited plains. Now his own boss down in Atlanta, Mr. Versfelt looks back fondly on his season on the street...
It was fun. And dangerous. That's a bullet-proof vest I was wearing there. I sat in the front seat of the police car. My sound man was in back. The door locked automatically back there (to keep prisoners in) so if I didn't open that door in the heat of the moment when arriving at a crime-in-progress, my sound man was stuck inside. I'd shoot for this kind of show again in a heartbeat. :)
For street cred like that, who wouldn't?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Simplest Lift

Chopper Crash
If you're like me, you've watched the mid-air dismantling of that New Zealand helicopter about a dozen hundred times now. Then again, maybe you're not as into ogling found footage as I. Odd, that... Anyway, let's review: It happened on the Auckland waterfront as workers and journalists watched a helicopter hoisting portions of a fiber optic framing. It was "probably the simplest lift we had ever done", according to pilot Greg Gribble. But shit got complicated quick when a main rotor blade apparently struck a wire, triggering a seizure of sorts. In the space of three seconds the unwieldy bird shimmies, sheds its tail and flips. Rivets unravel and turbines scream as the B2 Squirrel Eurocopter proceeds to come undone. Strapped in and stunned, pilot Greg Gribble goes along for the ride, not remembering much when asked about the impact later. Long before the dust settled, workers rushed the downed chopper, pulled out the pilot and counted hardhats before realizing everyone had survived.

But that's not what I logged in to talk about.

Rather, I'm interested in the unforgiving rub of happenstance, that roll of the newsroom dice that determines if the next mad dash will be mine. You follow? If, say, a fellow photog gets caught up in some groundbreaking swell and can't make his very next mission ... that particular foray could fall to on me. Or suppose a body pops up in founder's fountain and I'm foolish to answer the phone? Next thing I know I'm down there bobbing for hobos as a once distant and reserved edit bay gets all loose with some other shooter. Of course, it ain't all about me. Strike that. Of course it is! Isn't your life about you? From my tripod spot, life occurs slightly off center. That's the way I like it, mind you. I'm quite pleased to be perched on the periphery, provided karma and a news car took me there, not some convoluted set of missteps that sends me stumbling in front of a homicidal ostrich, free falling wrecking ball or some citizen turned media critic.

But I digress. Back to the crash scene...

No more than five seconds before the chopper's blade caught the cable, an unidentified cameraman grabs his rig by the shoulders and hustles it a few feet away. It was a fortuitous move, for even before he fully replanted his sticks, said vessel began shedding metal. Chunks of the chopper were found hundred meters away and while its impossible to say whether Auckland's finest photog would have absorbed that shrapnel had he stayed put, speculating on such a thing is the very lifeblood of this blog. Sooo, did our hero count himself lucky for dodging hot projectiles? Or does he still rue the day he turned away just as God dropped his best eggbeater? I hope not, for a camera(man) can go crazy focusing on the past. Me, I can't remember everything I shot last week, though I can close my eyes and feel the blast of an angry ocean from damn near two decades back.

Now see what you've done.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Job To Do

Portier in ReposeOn this Thanksgiving Day, I'm grateful that my old friend Rick Portier is writing again. Then again, I suspect the artist formerly known as Turdpolisher never stopped writing - he simply stopped sharing as much. But when personal loss collides with professional pride, you just gotta get if your chest. That's exactly what the Louisiana lenslinger does below and the result is a few potent paragraphs that should stick to the roof of your subconscious long after the tryptophan wears off...
I hadn’t seen Tim in six months. It was at a graduation party. As always, he was loud and brash, and after making enough small-talk about the kids, football, and politics, I looked for an opening to ditch him. It’s not like we were fishing buddies or anything. We bought a house from Tim and his wife Natalie fourteen years ago. His old neighbors became our new neighbors, and by default, we began running in the same social circles. Tim, a bear of a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a Chicago accent, liked being the center of attention, Natalie, shied away from the gossip at the women's table and looked after their kids.

I had just set my camera on its tripod. It wasn’t the kind of street corner that usually attracts news crews. Ranch-style homes with freshly manicured lawns awaited guests for Thanksgiving dinner. Neighbors huddled in their doorways and kept to themselves occasionally pointing at the interloper with the lens pointed at the house across the street.

“Show some respect, will ya?” The voice blasted through an open car window.

I guess it’s a normal reaction when vultures perch on the street sign outside your home. I learned a long time ago not to argue the first amendment with grieving son. “I’ll try. But I’ve got a job to do.” I’m sure the expression on my face and the tone of my voice weren’t exactly comforting. This was my second murder scene of the day, and it was barely noon.

He sped away disgusted, and I was happy to see him go.

I kept my distance from the family as I always do in situations like this. They had enough to contend with without a hack with a telephoto lens exposing their every raw nerve to the entire region. But I did my job. A wide shot of the house circled by a thin yellow ribbon, Crime Scene DO NOT ENTER. A medium shot of deputies clustered near the garage. A crime scene technician snapping on latex gloves.

Family members clung to one another behind a beat-up van. I spun my camera at them and kept the shot wide and tried to pretend I wasn't looking at them. I told myself it was better than zooming in on a private moment. I still didn’t know what was happening, but scanner chatter told me there were two bodies inside.

Any anchor worth his can of AquaNet could whore this up in to a lead story, so I sat and waited for a captain who could give me the details. After a few minutes, the captain stepped out of the house, her face sickly and pale. She stepped before the camera, notepad in hand. She prattled through the details: time of the call, time of arrival, two dead inside – husband and wife. And names.

Natalie and Tim.

My knees buckled. “Whoa-whoa-whoa!” I couldn’t breathe. I stepped away from my camera and paced back and forth while the other crews on the scene just stared at me. I shook my head, tried to breathe, and stepped back behind my camera. I had a job to do.

The captain continued. “It looks like Natalie asked Tim for a divorce, and he shot her in the chest, then turned the gun on himself.”

I did what I had been taught. I called the desk and asked to be removed from the story. It would be forty-five minutes before another crew could relieve me. I aimed my lens at the front door and waited for the bodies to roll out, all the while making excuses: "It's not like we were super-close." "I always knew something was wrong between them." "Better for the family that it's me and not another crew that wouldn't keep its distance." But I did my job.

When does a story cease to be a story and become someone’s life? It’s a question I came to grips with early on in my career.

Today, all I can think about is when did it become a job.

-- Rick Portier, November, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Riders on the Storm


Wronged Address Plunder the rubble of fresh calamity and you won't find any answers. Just ask anyone who's watched a widow pick through her broken home or seen a senior citizen call a soggy cot home for more than a fortnight. No doubt about it, that Mother Nature's a real bitch. Why else would she push a trailer up a tree, toss a car across the yard and make everyone think of freight trains? Don't ask me. I've slept-walked through more debris fields than I can list and the only thing I ever came away with was an appreciation for the absurd. It happened again just last week, as I followed the wake of another tornado and found that I can still be struck by sticks and stones. But I was not alone in my journey of selfish discovery. I had my friends, right there beside me...

Broken homeYou might know them as jackals, carnivorous and loping. In fact, they are a weathered set of action figures who aren't nearly as ditzy or villainous as filmmakers would have you believe. Well, most of us anyway. The fact that we gather in packs probably doesn't help, but when a fickle tempest lays waste to a wide spot in the road, we're gonna crowd the parking lot like stoners jonesing at a Dead show. That's us, stringing lights across still wet wreckage, grilling would-be victim and trying to decide which handful of shattered dream would make for the very best set prop.  No one ever said it was noble, especially those of us with splinters in our minds' eye. That's how I've come to think of the shards of memory that surface whenever familiar vistas pass through my glass.   

Tornadic Car TossCall it deja vu, reflected echo or lenslinger's dementia. Fact of the matter is I can free associate other people's darkest days like some soul-eroding parlor trick. There's the stunned youngster from a decade back, searching his parent's property for what he knew to be an immovable object. There's the grizzled war vet picking dishes out of thickets and repeating his poodle's name. There's the grown-up tom boy balling up her fist and turning away, lest her tears end up on the evening news. I can't say I'm haunted by these people, but they pop up in m subconscious at the oddest moments and I find myself hoping I did not do them wrong. It's so hard to know sometimes when you show up like some dreaded specter, scour the vicinity for bits of narrative and vanish before the victims even realize what you've done.   

Now go do no harm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some Kind of Monster

Jurrasic Fart
In an industry that keeps hiring younger and cheaper, it's almost impossible to age gracefully. And while I'm no longer the Velociphotog I was once was, I'm not quite to the Schleposaurus stage. So while I decide whether to chase another news story onto the fruitless plain or merely stumble off into the tar-pits, let's review the Top Ten Signs You've Been Shooting News Too Long...

10) Your first station-issued cell phone came with its own battery belt.

9) You were already working in television the year some of your current reporters were born.

8) You still feel bad about those silly-ass Y2K stories.

7) You remember when the station website was a test pattern.

6) That new photog makes you want to call everyone you worked with when you were twenty-two and apologize.

5) You'd pay good money for a few hours with a working three-quarter inch video deck.

4) You vividly remember quizzing strangers on camera about the shocking new Madonna Sex book.

3) You've spent a fifth of a century on-call.

2) You've watched the smartest people you ever worked with run like hell from this insipid business.

 And the Number One Sign You've Been Shooting News Too Long...

1) You find yourself writing about it on the internet.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Outstanding In His Field

He may not be the FUTURE of news-gathering, but Ed Scannell knows enough to be present. Maybe that's why I see him everywhere: ribbon-cuttings, train wrecks, ribbon cuttings that turn into train wrecks. There I'll be - deep in the sleeve, zooming in on something stupid and my 'slinger sense will start to ping... BlairCostner,  Scannell! Actually, I call him Scan-lon, a mistake this dapper cat has never bothered to call me on. I like that. Some on-air types I know bleed through their spleen whenever anyone mangles the name their agent gave them. Not Ed. Then again, he's no pampered hair-do with a latte in one hand and a stack of autographed glossies in the other. He's like me: a denizen of the trenches who shoots, writes and edit up to two minutes of television a day.

Except Ed takes it a step further, walking around  in front of the camera to expound on said subject as if a coterie of assistants lovingly placed him there. That explains the suits. And the hair. Even the voice. And what a voice! Ed's got the mellifluous tone of an off-screen announcer with a delivery that's crisp and devoid of any accent. It's hard not to hate him! And while other news shooters may curse his breed for not needing them, I know Ed to be a resourceful sort. a journalistic journeyman who's not pretending to be anything he's not. We photogs can lament the demise of the specialized lenser, but we shouldn't pass judgement on the likes of Scannell until we've walked a mile of debris field in his thin, possibly pinstriped socks.  

In fact, I'm so suddenly taken with this smooth operator that I've gone to the trouble of clicking on his station's profile page. There, within a few short paragraphs, I learned more about the man than he ever divulged while waiting for the rodeo clown/ body-bag to appear. Did you know Ed hailed from Boston,  worked for years in LA. radio and spent fifteen years as a professional musician? I sure as hell didn't but the very next time we're babysitting crime tape, I'm gonna act like I did. Maybe ask about his time at the Menendez brothers' murder trial, drop some knowledge on that Papal visit he covered, maybe even talk a little O.J.

Who knows? I may even get his name right.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Schmuck Alert: Penn State!

Hey, I'm not the guy to mourn the loss of a live truck, but after watching footage of Penn State students flipping one on its side, I'm reconsidering my long-held spite for these lumbering beasts. At least I can take solace in the fact that the WTAJ live truck lying on its side deserved such an ignoble end. After all, what else do you do when your university fires a folk hero? Express regret over a system that enabled a monster to stalk little boys for many, many years? Stop and consider that something as trivial as college football seems even more inconsequential in the face of serial child-rape? Volunteer to help the victims put their lives back together? Pen a thesis on the poisonous group-think that allowed a sexual predator to hunt children under the auspices of your hallowed university? Naaaaaah, you go out and party! You take to the streets in numbers and destroy everything in sight - all because a football coach you blindly worshiped seems to have little to no problem with pedophilia. Who couldn't get behind a cause like that? 

Well... ME. Then again, I didn't go to college, don't watch a lot of football and generally disapprove of grown men rodgering little boys. Maybe that's why I can't fathom why Penn State students would riot over the professional demise of an athletic coach - a coach! And riot they did, eventually toppling the very live truck that was unmistakeably the culprit in all this unrest. You know, at least the mob that tore Kadhaffi apart had decades of murderous subjugation to blame for their bloodlust. What do Penn State students have - less of a reason to tailgate this Saturday? Now, I've covered enough protests to recognize the extraordinary madness of crowds, but even this one baffles me. It pisses me off, too. I got friends who work in that market and I can only hope and pray that none were injured in this, the world's stupidest melee. Way to go, Penn State! You've forever sullied the name of a once great university, struck a blow in the name of perversion and made the very worst of the Occupy Wall Street crowd seem quite reasonable by comparison. I just didn't think that was possible.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tree of Strife

Crime Spree Tripod

I've watched cops wrap crime tape around many different things: dumpsters, stop signs, dozing hobos. But an innocent set of sticks? It just seems so wrong - like a news shooter interviewing a Senator against a plate glass window 'cause he just don't give a damn. In fact, I wouldn't have thought such banner abuse was even possible, had this photo by KING-TV's Randy Eng not surfaced on the interwebs. Okay, it's no double rainbow, but what does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
"A KIRO-TV photographer ran off to interview a person possibly involved with a shooting. Not long after he left, the officer (whose car the tape was tied to) had to leave. The officer was in a hurry, so he wrapped the tape around the closest object and sped away. It was a good thing the officer didn't wait: the tripod wasn't reclaimed until almost an hour later!"
Oh. I was hoping for something more... serpentine - like a photog went rogue, got cuffed and stuffed and pissed off the PO-leece so bad they charged his tripod with inciting a riot. Or maybe a news shooter clicked his heels and just disappeared, leaving authorities so confused they draped his camera stand in commemorative yellow. As it stands (get it?), it just sounds like a lazy cop - which is cool and all, as long as they don't try to arrest any news shooters when they find a squad car covered in extension cord. That'll show them.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Saint of Crank

Frumpy, cantankerous, and wry. A personal hero. Rooney's reluctant brilliance and hand-chiseled rants first made me think about the words they used on TV. His were always sharp - whether he was railing against long-held dogma or opining on the pleasure of a pencil. War Correspondent, essayist, loveable curmudgeon; Andy Rooney lived a life that cannot be repeated. That a creature as he succeeded in television its a testament to the medium's early promise. He'd have an eve harder time today, when the vacuous and statuesque are spoon fed their rejoinders by an army of feckless scribes. Still, his legacy lives within the hearts of millions who savored his weekly missives, if most especially, me. My fourteen year old daughter  knows who Andy Rooney is. I'm proud of that. Thank you, Sir, for showing me how it's done.  

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Snide Before the Fall

Crosby, Stills and Ass
You there, with the lime green top and industrial size fanny pack. That thing between your legs is my tripod. You may have noticed it's holding up my camera. In fact, I put it here on purpose - a safe distance from said holy podium and safely behind the seats. Look around and you'll see others like me. We TV types may travel separately, but we gather in packs - especially at events like these. See, sometimes a simple semicircle will do. No jostle, no bother, no rattling knobs like you. I wouldn't feel comfortable saying that to a stranger, but since your every pelvic thrust is causing my lens to wiggle, I felt it was something we could share. Is there not a coat rack in the corner with which you can bump and grind? The view may not be as nice, but you're far less likely to have, say, a hamstring sliced by a TV station key-chain over there. Nooo, that's not a threat - just the self-expressed fantasy of the cameraman whose glaring holes through your threadbare sweater. Are those Garanimals? Ah, there I go again, dating myself: a province I suspect you know well. Really though, can I ask you one question, you know, before I unsheathe my Leatherman and do something your morning rag and my next newscast will both be forced to lead with...

Where does one find a fanny pack that size? And what do you put in it? Your Lincoln Logs collection? I mean, I know you still photogs like to come heavy, but I've done live shots from hot air balloons with less hardware. Anyway, you may want to unbelt that mother and set her down real slow-like -- before the blood loss kicks in and you topple over on us all.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lavender Crush

Sheeka Scrum
Keep your wretched Sex and the City sequels; we need a movie about the modern news woman. Take Sheeka Strickland. As a general assignment reporter, she dashes from palace to crack-house and back again in the course of a single morning. Why her lowliest notebook contains the kind of rare characters and gory story arcs those Hollywood phonies would trade their spray-tans for - and that's just the stuff she remembered to write down! Most of that data traveled straight through the wireless microphone she wields like a diamond-encrusted laser-sighted truth beam. Hell, I once saw her use it to make an entire Wal-Mart parking lot freeze - and that was before I told her the batteries were dead. Yes, Tinseltown would be wise to stop bedding bimbos and instead dramatize the lives of interesting women the globe over. And where better to start than a certain Ms. Strickland?

Yeah, I'm a bit biased. Sheeka and I have logged many a news mile together, broken bread in a half dozen counties, even picked through misery as family members strapped on sidearms. Of course the last time we saw Sheeka, she was picking bits of Hurricane Irene from her lipstick and swearing off Granola bars forever. Now it seems she's in the middle of another storm - a roiling cloud of fancycams, fishing vests and middle fingers all directed at one John Edwards. That's right, none other than the feathery worm himself is making cameos in The Sheeka Strickland Story and I for one have urged her to lock her trailer late at night. Otherwise, she may need more than a posse of photogs to have her back - something any of the lensers who've accompanied this pleasant vet into the fray would be more than glad to do. Hell, we might even take a bit-part in her upcoming know, provided we ain't gotta talk on camera.

We photogs hate that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Raging Tool

JackassSince he never laid a hand on the camera crew, we can't very well issue a Schmuck Alert, but we here at the Lenslinger Institute would like to recognize the brother of South Carolina Lt. Governor Ken Ard for setting back the image of Southern Men at least a couple of decades. Not since Billy Carter upchucked on those Bicentennial cupcakes has a Governor's brother made such an unabashed ass of himself. (Somewhere in Arkansas, Roger Clinton is feeling pangs of regret over that Playgirl spread he bailed on.) Anyway, senior staff met overnight on the matter and while Sammy Ard won't be granted full Schmuck status, we did agree he's an egregious dill-weed...

I'm not sure what WIS-TV's Jody Barr expected to find at the auto body business owned by Sammy Ard last week, but chances are 'unhinged dullard' wasn't written on his reporter's notepad. That's about what he and his photog found though as none other than the Lieutenant Governor's brother rushed out to identify himself.


At least I think that's what he said. Truth is, even a Southerner like myself had to play it back twice to understand the man. Locals will no doubt grow sick of the sound after Lt. Governor Ken Ard's opponents run it into the ground come re-election time. That is, if he makes it that far. Currently, he's facing a state grand jury investigation into how he funded his campaign. Seems Sammy donated the maximum amount and testified before the grand jury - one day before showing his true color to the evening news. Nice move, bro. With family like you, your brother won't need any political enemies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Same As It Never Was

Cameraman Driver
See Dick Run. See Dick Shoot. See Dick sport a pair of wool slacks that'll make generations of lensers break out in hives. Honestly, if a guy with that much dip in his 'do came at ME with a camera, I'd kick him square between the Darrins. Maybe then, he'd stay out of my subconscious - instead of wandering into my every other day dream like some overdressed specter. Did photogs, I'm sorry, "cameraman drivers", ever really look like that? Apparently so, but in my two decades behind the glass, I've not met a single news shooter who could double as that Dad from Dennis the Menace. Then again, I don't get out of Carolina much. Perhaps in Metropolis, mortal recordists dress like Clark Kent. Here in the shallow South, we favor the Suburban Dad turned Survivalist duds -that is when we're not rockin' the mismatched cabana-wear of seaside drifters the globe over. That look never goes out of style. But don't take my word for it. Ask Amanda Emily, the sharp-eyed archivist who forgoes fashion for fresh relics from the ash-heap of TV history. Maybe that's where she found this broadcast schematic - a bold mobile coverage plan, slathered in Mad Man fashion and dripping in retro-tech... 

Talk about timeless.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hernia Sold Separately

pole dancing?

I know what you're thinking: someone threw away a perfectly good photog. But I assure you, Rick Portier is far from discarded. In fact, he's hard at work , rewiring some pesky patch panel in the back of that live truck, -- or aiming his new squirt gun at an unsuspecting reporter. Either way, he's finding new ways to thrive in a changing work environment while demonstrating his mastery of a photog fundamental: Flexibility.  

That's right, it takes more than a sharp eye and a drifter's wardrobe to succeed behind the lens. You gotta be limber. Circus freak limber. How else are you fit in that cop car cockpit? Or commandeer that golf-cart? Or hold that fancycam over your head while parade float rolls over your toes? I'm not saying you have to be a straight-up contortionist, but if you're gonna roll up on a clotted scrum and expect to get more than a face full of camera battery, you better snap back mosh after mosh.

Of course with point of view cameras and news crews of one, the lost art of the lens jockey will go the way of the test pattern. No more will stations rely on grubby underlings with malleable backs and zero social skills to procure fresh footage. Hey, why hire some guy you wouldn't allow in your home to hang off that speed boat when you can send Newsbreak Barbie and a couple of suction cups? Come to think of it, such a thing might convince even ME to tune in.

Still, I worry about all those pliant news vets out there - the ones who customized their skill sets to fit every newscast. Where they gonna go? I knew one dude - we'll call him Flexy- he could backpedal on his buttocks, hold his breath for the better part of a telethon and grip an entire light kit with his forehead. How are those skills gonna translate to the real world when his trusty TV gig is rendered obsolete by a buxom blonde with camera implants?   

Don't bother answering. I'd have to remove this tripod plate from my chin just to write it down.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ray of Mope

Stuck in a Truck
I've been told I need to smile more in photographs. Piss on that. If I got any giddier, they'd kick me out of the news shooters union, for a thousand yard stare is simply the price of admission. In person, I'm almost jovial ... ya know, in a morose kind of way. More than anything, I'm a product of conditioning. And for the past two decades I've been conditioned to squint through things... windshields, lenses, Wendy's milkshake lids. Is it any wonder I wear a poker-face? You would too, had you waded into places where you either weren't welcomed or were fawned over to the point of kidnapping concerns. It ain't me, mind you. It's that Sony on my shoulder. People tend to genuflect in its presence. That, or they simply skulk out of the room. I have to chase them either way. Some run. Others stop, drop, pop and lock. One guy in shackles wanted to 'take me back to the double-wide to see if I bleed'. I declined - using the exact same facial muscles I employ to wave Goth kids off at the county fair.

Hey, YOU roll up to a City Council meeting or a crowded kindergarten class without your mask of apathy intact. They'll make you eat paste! And those little kids can hassle you too, though a room full of jacked up five year olds still pales in comparison to one low-level wonk in search of a constituency. Don't believe me? Lock eyes with an assistant city manager who wants to get his no-kill litterbug campaign off the ground. You'll wish you covered your face in Saran Wrap. Also, appearing vaguely constipated discourages looky-loo's from approaching the glass. 'You there, throwing devil horns and screaming 'Hey Mom". Your mom ain't here. She's tied up back in my live truck telling all your secrets. So if you don't want me spreading details of your chocolate bath habit across seven contiguous counties, you will back the fudge up.'  Now, I of course would never SAY anything so rude to the people who pay my bills, but if I scrunch my eyebrows together and channel Chuck Norris just right...

...I shouldn't have to.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sound Man Down

Sound Dude Sleeping
How do you tell the local news crews from the network guys at a Presidential Pit Stop? Simple. During the inevitable downtime before the leader of the free world takes the teleprompter, the locals will mingle and chat. Those jet setting network techs, meanwhile, will drop like soldiers coming off a three day hike and get some shut-eye in front of God and everybody. At least that's what fellow local Chris Weaver found today while he waited for President Obama to put out his smoke polish off that orange and speak to the people. By the time he did, I'm sure said soundie was in an upright position, for you don't hold onto a gig like that by lying down on the job. You do, however, earn the right to be pixelated on these very pages, for there's nothing like a supine audio technician to convince me I made the right call when I dodged the latest round of Obamathon. I'm sure he'll be back in no time, for North Carolina is shaping up once again to be a battleground state and you know what they say, " An Army travels on its back, er, belly, er, battery belt... Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go stretch out on the floor and snore some more.

How else will I ever go network? 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Glance the Night Away

You Should Be Dancin...
Not so very often Man and Moment collide, leaving such an indelible impression he ends up defining a generation. That or he just really embarrasses his future kids. I should know. All of which is why I had to breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes the first time I took in the sartorial head-spin that is/was Ed Springer...

Note how the feathered hair and the butterfly collar frames the Burt Reynolds' mustache just so. Throw in a jaunty pose and some serious waist piping on that sweater vest and you have a lothario under glass. And what glass! Why, just the pistol-grip on that antiquated mini-cam should have its own display case at the Newseum! But please, don't think I'm making fun of the man. Back when Springer was styling and profiling, I was hunched over a multiplication table wondering how I was gonna make a living without math. Had a cameraman with such panache wandered into my fourth grade class, I would have followed him around until someone filed a restraining order.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm suddenly in the mood for some BeeGees. Can't remember the last time that happened...

Black Hole Sun

Some might call it a snapshot, but to me this picture of young photog on the go has all the makings of a motivational poster. The dude's name is Bryant James Vander Weerd (and what a name that is!) When he's not splitting the scenery at the first sign of demonic smoke plume, Vander Weerd shoots and edits fresh footage for WHAS11 News. It's the kind of thankless gig that can take a young man anywhere, from a cushy spot at the cabbage queen pageant to the slim margin of safety of a not so distant inferno. That seems to be what's happening above, as our hero splits the scenery solely because his newest assignment was about to blot out the sun. But don't let me church it up, let's hear from the man in black himself:
"This was taken at a strip mall fire in Sellersburg, Indiana. To the left in the frame is supposed to be a mass of fire trucks, but it's very windy today and all of a sudden I'm bombarded with water, smoke, and pieces of toasted shopping center. Totally lost sight of the building. Not exactly an ideal place to do a live shot!"
Not at all, Bryant James Vander Weerd, not at all. Glad you moved. But hey, if you could just run back and grab one of those smoldering chunks of insulation,  the anchors need something to pass back and forth during happy talk. Just don't come into the newsroom, as by now you smell like a melted hosiery outlet. The chicks may not dig it, but you and I both know it smells like freedom. FREEE-DOM!!!!!! 

(Sorry, motivational posters do that to me.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Not Your Huckleberries

Clash of the Spazzes
Hey Sports Fans! Bummed out about the NBA cancelling the first two weeks of their season? Me neither! The last time I watched a professional basketball game, Michael Jordan rocked knee-socks and a low-top fade. Now, however, the league of thuggish millionaires is providing more entertainment than they have in years - all by staying the hell off the hardwood. It all started during the Derek Fisher press conference when two camera-AHEM-men began arguing over who had the larger Holly Hobbie collection where each other should stand during the interview. Voices sharpened, hollow chests filled with air, spare batteries caught fire from sheer bellicosity. It was, by all accounts, pathetic. So much so that fellow journos suggested they take their shouting match OUTSIDE - ya know, where truck drivers, sailors and junkies spill blood.   

With that, the duo settled down, but once the presser was over they did indeed take their umbrage to the street, though the result was less like the bare-knuckled brawl their colleagues envisioned and more like two Avon ladies squaring off over mixed up lipsticks. Look, I'm way too cowardly, er, cerebral to advocate violence, but if you're gonna bow up like that in front of a bored pack of photographers, you'd best break out the haymakers, 'cause your half-empty can of whoop ass is about to preserved for all of eternity. You might even want to throw a punch. One you expect to land. 

Oddly enough, that never really happened. What did go down was an awkward waltz,  an exercise in avoidance, a thrilla in vanilla, if you will (even if you won't). For an excruciating ninety-four seconds the two brutes circled each other, wavering on the edge of actual fisticuffs. They danced, they flexed, they grimaced...they grimaced again. Watching it, one gets the feeling they were waiting for the slow-motion effect from The Matrix to kick in. It never did. Instead these two morons delivered a few half hearted kicks (where I come from, you only kick a man when he's down - and only then when no one's looking), eliciting only giggles from the crowd before they lose interest and wander cruelly out of frame.

Fellas, please! There are better ways to make TMZ. Frankly, footage of you crawling out of a limo without panties would be less humiliating than that (lack of) action sequence. I've seen gnarlier clashes at cat shows. So, whether you two were trying to embarrass yourselves or you're both just really bad at pulling off flash mobs, I implore you to go BIG or go home. Otherwise you're just lowering the reputed testosterone levels of photogs everywhere by sixteen hundred Tony Danzas or Midi-chloridians or whatever the hell you use to to measure machismo. You're also making it awfully easy for pajama-clad pundits like me to make fun of you and while I appreciate the work, I'd much rather you sting like a bee instead of just floating there like a couple of confused and flaccid butterflies.

Now back to your corners and come out swingin'.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Outward Found

On Lake Brandt
We interrupt this lack of updates to bring you a special bulletin: Your not so humble lenslinger is tired of talking television. Hey, I slave over a glowing viewfinder for, like, eight hours a day sometimes. When I get home, there are "Honey-Do's" to negotiate, teenager daughters to embarrass with my mere presence and a rather lippy Eskimo Spitz mix to parade around the neighborhood. By the time I plop down in front of my beloved Mac, I can't always spell T-V, let alone wax poetically on its foibles and future. A shame really; if I could sync up my desire to write with my erratic ability, I might just be able to pry this camera off my shoulder for good. Then again, I can't seem to add new music to my iPod without the assistance of my (embarrassed) 17 year old - who gets her vengeance by loading it down with songs from Phantom of the Opera. Why I'd think I could summon the muse and the tools at the same time makes about as much sense as anything Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote resonating with a high school senior in the year 2011.

But I digress.

Or to be more accurate, I've wandered away from my source material. That's happened pretty regularly in my nearly even years of blogging and I'm more than certain it'll happen again. Whereas I used to make some grand proclamation whenever my focus softened, I've leaned that announcing one's plans is a sure-fire way to make God spit ocean water through his nose. But while I'm on the subject, let me assure you that I'm way to needy a writer-type to ever shut this blog down completely. I've come close a couple of times, but my fragile ego and strong desire to see this thing through always stops me from dismantling this compendium of snark. Simply put, there's no downside to continuing. Unlike my day job - in which I fill two minutes or so news cast every (damn) day - the pace of publication for Viewfinder BLUES is totally up to me. Just remind me of that the next time I'm staring holes into my bedroom ceiling at four in the morning.

Or better yet, catch me on the lake.

That's where you can find me these days, for I finally grew so tired of stepping over the kayaks in my garage that I now park them in the 816 acre watershed out behind my home The Lenslinger Institute.It's proven surprisingly therapeutic, whether I'm racing dragonflies across Lake Brandt's surface or simply bobbing for solitude off it's heavily wooded shoreline. Ya know, I never thought I'd end up as that middle age guy in the plastic boat, but now that I've given up any hope of a sports car (wife got one), there may simply be no paddling back. And while there are less taxing forms of aquatic conveyance, I found that paddling is key. See, like mountain biking, poking around a lake (or river) is both calisthenic AND contemplative. Not to mention, you're sitting down the entire time. That's MY kind of workout! Yeah, sometimes I'll just float there with one eye on the sky - should that alien spacecraft I've dreamed about ever hover over my vessel and beam the both of us aboard...

Maybe then I'd have something to write about.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Tools on Parade

I'd like to think the Occupy Wall Street crowd understands their issue better than yours truly, but I've covered enough protests to know most folks screaming catchphrases are clueless reprobates with nothing much better to do. You there - dressed like a shepherd and reeking of ditch-water. Wanna change the world? Leave the street. Wash that ass. Get a job. Maybe then I'll be the least bit interested in what you have to say (though chances are if you're holding a homemade sign and wearing anything made of hemp, I'm gonna consider you still mad at your parents and officially not worth my time.) But hey, I didn't log in to lose readers with my half-addled pragmatism. There's tons of blogs featuring that weak cheese. Besides, politics cease to matter when the night sticks take flight. Just ask Rodney King.

Or better yet, ask FOX 5 photog Roy Isen and reporter Dick Brennan. They were among the news crews caught in an explosion of violence between New York Police officers and the great unwashed. No matter your theology, it's a scary scene. Protestors pushing forth, cops swatting back with batons and pepper spray; if nothing else the footage proves you don't cover a riot, you swim in one. Of course the Occupy Wall Street movement famously started via social media and some would say the mainstream media is only getting what they deserved for being late to the world's most unpleasant party. Meh. I'm just glad that particular fracas is happening far from here, for as painful as it would be to catch a nightstick to the head, it would be even more excruciating to do so in a crowd full of people who still aren't sure what in the hell they're fighting for.   

Monday, October 03, 2011

Sloth to Flame

Moth to Flame

Even though I'm not the spot news specialist I once was, I can still roll up hard on a house fire. Especially when it's one of those abandoned homes lovingly set ablaze by men in turn-out gear. That's right, I stumbled across a training fire last week and treated it like it was news. To be fair, I knew it was a 'control-burn' - as the traffic cones between me and the fire trucks were arranged way too precisely. Still, I forged ahead, knowing that somewhere among that burning rubble were a few sharp edges I could hang a story on. As it turned out, UNC-Greensboro donated the old home to the city's fire department, who,  not surprisingly, doused the thing in gasoline and called all their buddies. By the time I noticed the smoke plume, they were well on their way to choking every squirrel within a fifty tree radius.

But it didn't stop me, for I've been taken with blaze containment since the Reagan Administration. Back then I was the bookish younger brother of a future firefighter. Richard Pittman grew up to fulfill his action hero leanings. Me, I just dug the view. So I became a TV news photog and in twenty years I've attended countless conflagrations. Most were tinged with tragedy, of course. That's why training fires are so much fun: you get the thrill of the hunt without trampling over some poor woman in a housecoat. Why, I've even known training fires like to this to change young photogs lives! There was this one guy I knew who covered a controlled burn so thoroughly, he left the scene wanting to be a firefighter himself. Look! There he is now!

Bateson on sceneTim Bateson, in the flesh. I suppose I should have expected him to be here, but when he popped out from behind a fire engine with camera in hand, I was more than a little surprised. And pleased. Tim spent many years at El Ocho, proving himself a committed lenslinger and all around great guy (even if he IS Canadian). When he announced he day he was leaving tee-vee to answer a higher calling we asked him when his garbage route started. Turns out he had something even more noble in mind. These days, he's one of them, though his photog past hasn't left him, as evidenced by the way he kept getting in my shot with that damn camcorder. That's okay. I'll wait til he picks his nose one day, then share the dig with the Greater Piedmont Googolplex. That'll teach him to get all heroic on us.

Now if only he'd teach me to arrange traffic cones like that...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Where No Handelman Has Gone Before

Handelman"Did somebody bail?" That's what I wondered when journeyman radio host Allan Handelman called the other day and asked if I'd appear on his show that afternoon. "Youbetcha!", I heard myself say. Then I hung up the phone and realized I still had ninety seconds of newscast to fill before I could even think about what I was gonna talk about on the ray-diddio. Two hours later, I fed my final cut to the server down the hall then headed to the break room. On a whim I bought a Dr. Pepper, gunned half of it down like a frat house beer, then escorted the rest of my beverage to an undisclosed location. There I hunkered over an antiquated land-line, scratched notes on a four year old phone book and tried not to belch on the air...

...And judged by those harsh standards, my appearance on The Allan Handelman Show was a raging success. Allan seemed rather desperate happy to let me babble about local television in this new media age, a subject I can ponder endlessly without ever even attempting to provide any real answers. Hopefully no one drove off the interstate when they realized the homeless pet psychic scheduled to be on at six had been replaced by some guy they'd never heard of before holding forth on a medium they no longer watch. Hey, everyone needs a niche. Besides, Handelman fans (like me) know to expect just about anything on WZTK's afternoon drive-home show, from alien abduction experts to that time Sasquatch called in to talk weed legalization. Me, I'm just happy to help, though I got a little nervous when I realized 'Phil from Myrtle Beach' was indeed old friend Phil Werz, calling in to lob a few broadcaster softballs. Thanks, Phil and Thank You, Allan, for nothing pleases this gasbag more than pretending someone out there is paying attention.

Now about that syndicated show...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

License to Chill

Crew Awaits
If you believe the promos, we news crews spend all of our time popping out of live trucks, rushing up courthouse steps and, inexorably, pointing. In truth, we sit down on the job quite regularly. Take Bill and Phil. Together (and separately), they live under constant deadline, scrambling from one county to the next in a never ending quest to fill the approaching news-hole. Such was the case last week when I caught up with the pair in Reidsville, where the lot of us were conspiring to elongate the Civil War with less than inflammatory updates on a fallen Confederate soldier statue (l-o-o-o-o-n-g story).

But even feigned controversy doesn't happen without pockets of downtime and as seasoned professionals, Bill and Phil know when to point their news unit toward the horizon and when to chill until the City Manager realizes his path to lunch is clogged with camera crews. That's what's happening here; nothing more nothing less. Note the wireless microphone at Bill's knees, the headphones around his neck, the quizzical look on his face as he notices I'm pointing my Droid at him. Phil, meanwhile, is oblivious to it all; his posture slackened as he closes in on one last angry bird.

Seconds later, this moment of repose dissolved. The City Manager emerged from his office and we jumped on him like the jonesing vultures we are. When the dust settled, I turned to show Bill and Phil this picture, but they were already gone. A day later, I caught up with Bill again, in a different county, with a different shooter, on a different story. Twenty four hours had passed, I'd forgotten about the photo and besides, I had a face full of viewfinder and a desk monkey on my back. That's okay. There'll be another day, another county, another park bench.

Is this how Forrest Gump got started?