Saturday, January 29, 2011

Loss of the Silver Fox

The Silver FoxKevin Kelly can tell a story. Just ask anyone who's tried to brush by him in the hallway of a TV station. But you'd better pack a lunch, because the man known as 'The Silver Fox' has spent nearly four decades traveling up and down the dial. Today that long, strange trip came to an end as Kevin officially retired from his assignment editor post at El Ocho. We only had him for eight years. In fact, this five time News Director had already won scores of awards, fans and followers by the time he wandered through our door. Viewers from Massachusetts to Maine to Ohio to both the Carolinas watched their newscasts improve under his tutelage. From slinging a newfangled Bell and Howell film camera to building a newsroom from scratch, Kevin Kelly has repeatedly displayed guts and integrity in an industry that rewards neither. He once filled 25 positions from a pool of 940 applicants, no doubt earning acolytes and enemies along the way.

But that never stopped Kevin Kelly from speaking his mind. Known for his gravely voice and intense candor, Kevin was never afraid to call a spade an effin' shovel, no matter who was listening. If more managers shot that straight, you'd have a better newscast to ignore every evening. As it is, Kevin's plainspoken ways and sober-eyed assessments are usually on target. Then again, it's hard to bullshit a guy who mastered the art of news-gathering before you ever figured out your primary colors. Countless are the times I'd watch Kevin Kelly dole out assignments to folks who could be his Grandchildren. What must that feel like - to bite your tongue while a twenty-something colleague makes gross assertions about a world they've not even bothered to explore - I don't yet know. But at the rate I'm aging, I'll probably soon find out.

Kevin Kelly RetiresAs for Kevin, he rightly considers himself a realist. Thirty seven years of paying attention to the world around you will do that to a fellow. That's way more than most folks will spend in broadcasting these days, which makes Kevin part of a vanishing breed: a newsroom survivalist who's accumulated worldview knows no logo. People tell me I should write a book. Not until I have the kind of material Kevin Kelly does. He'll tell you of towing live trucks to breaking news scenes, of shooting wrecks on the way home at night just to fill the next morning's newscast, of hand delivering reels of freshly-shot film to Greyhound bus stations so that the news of the day could travel throughout the land. It's those priceless parables we at El Ocho will miss the most. For eight years, we've listened to the wisdom of one mortal man who's spent a lifetime offering sacrifices to the News Gods and lived to tell the tales. Try fitting THAT into a fifteen second tease.

Enjoy your new den, Silver Fox...

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Lack of Tactility

Normally I have only some imaginary malady to blame for my lack of transmissions. This time however, I got a less ethereal excuse. My right thumb is whacked! That's my VTR trigger! It began back on my birthday when I joined some friends for a life-affirming mountain bike ride. Barely a mile into the woods, I chose a relatively flat expanse to execute an I.E.D., better known as an Involuntary Ejection Drill. Yes, with so much as a warning lamp the bike's front tire bit hard into the muck and sent my silly ass flying over the mud-encrusted handlebars. Very soon after, I began losing elevation and while the slow motion memory of it is all 'tuck and curl', I've come to realize I did what they always tell you not to do when engaged in terrestrial descent: I reached out to break my fall. How else to explain the throbbing I feel in this most intrinsic of digits?

Singletrack StewThat was eight days ago. While I didn't let it slow me down on the job, it's only because the lens I now sling weighs the same as an empty shoebox and not due to any semblance of managed care. I do remember making gored woodchuck noises the first time I grabbed my gear on Monday, but when you twist random incidents into ninety second stock operas, you ain't got time to bleed, er, bitch. So I went about my less than merry way, waiting all the while for my right thumb to go back to opposing again. It has not happened. Sure, I can move it again, but it still feels like I tried to stop a forty four year old father from cartwheeling down a hill - which is what I did. Now after treating the whole hand to a few nocturnal bourbon-wraps, I've perused a websites and figured out what exactly I did to my thumb. Medically speaking, I janked it.

Thus, I broke down and bought one of those Velcro thumb and wrist numbers from the nearest drug store and swaggered around the joint like a pro bowler. Eventually the pharmacist asked me to leave and I would have to had my sixteen year old returned with the pickup. I tried to text her, but with a hinky thumb, my attempt to use hip cyber jargon failed and I fat-fingered my way into a lengthy discussion with the good folks at a Papa-Johns in Fuquay-Varina as to why I was repeatedly ordering sixteen cheese pizzas. Anyhoo, when I did get home, I conferred with my private nurse, the same wise and ravishing creature I've been married to for more than two decades. A veteran of many a weekend ER shift, she looked down at the considerable lack of carnage and promptly told me where to stuff it.

DSCF0127Actually, she pried herself away from the salad she was making long enough to make sure the extremity in question wasn't detached. Upon finding it whole, she shrugged toward the medicine cabinet before turning her attention back to the bag of croutons she was insisting I keep my one good hand out of. I did as told, lassoing a half-filled bottle of Ibuprofen that I actually kept track of for more than a fortnight. Now whenever I mention my thumb hurts (pretty often, I'm told) she asks me if I'm taking my medicine. When I mumble a response, she cocks that one eyebrow up and gives me the same look she gave me when I told her I was thinking of applying at that local first TV station. What can I tell you? She's of heartier stock. Me, I'm an American Southerner of Irish descent. I don't bottle up my feelings; I foist them upon others - most often in wheezy, purple verse.

Is it any wonder she sent me to my room?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Schmuck Alert: Memphis Melee

Photog Down
You know, nothing sucks the fun out of a Schmuck Alert like video of an injured colleague. Nonetheless, we here at The Lenslinger Institute have been gravely reviewing the stretcher-side soundbites of one Mike Moore, an award winning photographer/producer working out of Memphis, Tennessee. Seems he and FOX13 reporter Lauren Johnson were working on a story about boys and teen pregnancy Wednesday night when a passing group of youth embraced barbarity. That's a fancy way of saying a bunch of young thugs attacked Moore, pelting him from eventually every angle...
"One kid would draw my attention and before I knew it, it was like kids hitting me from every side and I don't know where the hits are coming from..."
Moore sought care at Methodist Central Hospital being released. Memphis Police charged two teens with Simple Assault and Vandalism over $500. The accused duo are students at Northwest Prep Academy, an alternative school for kids with behavioral issues, where apparently these reprobates are earning their keep. Hmmm, with Emmys and years of experience under his belt, Mike Moore sounds like the kind of guy any troubled young student could learn a lot from. Instead, you attacked him for seemingly no reason. Schmucks!

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Down-Low

On the Down-low
For folks who like to brag about that growth on our shoulders, we 'slingers sure do like to set the cameras down. Especially if there's a reflection involved. See, foreground is hardly an afterthought when you look at life through a tube. You seek it out wherever you go, hoping that a little added perspective will keep your viewers at least halfway glued to their screens. As for your screen, it's a one inch square shimmering in the distance, a scratched-up palette that can absorb sorrow and bombast in the very same frame, a humble enough platform that, when pointed in the right direction, can spark a revolution. Or at the very least freak out everybody at the VD clinic. Yes, it's a powerful tool and a heavy one to boot. Is it any mystery we occasionally set the thing down and let the ground choose the next shot? Michael Humphries did and on that hot August day in South Texas, it was probably his wisest course of action. At least he wasn't waxing poetically over a raw sewage spill while dressed in a tie and action-slacks...

That would be awkward.

Holt of Lightning

Best Seat in the Cafegymnatorium
Ah, the stick-mounted fancycam. Only a wheelchair will get more people out of your way. But when you're schlepping one through delicate territory, you gotta be careful where you step. Toxic waste dumps, debris fields ... cafegymnatoriums. Yes, a lot of 'togs would rather pick their way through a sewer pipe spill than navigate the shoals of a kindergarten assembly. Me, I'm not quite so cantankerous - yet. For now, I still like crashing elementary school gatherings, if only to see how much I make out of the smallest of news items. In the above case, I had help from a Grammy winner. David Holt is a living compendium of American folk music, a master of the banjo and slave to the steel guitar. His recent performance at Madison Elementary School not only electrified the young student body but also the crusty cameraman at the back of the room. I was so impressed that as soon as his last jaw-harp solo began to fade, I rushed the stage for an interview and a little friendly chitchat.

So I stepped on a few third grade fingers along the way. They'll only need thumbs to text...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pop Quiz, Hotshots...

One time, at band camp...When Tom Lassiter asked me to come speak to the Triad Final Cut Pro Users Group, I had to laugh. Not at the invitation, but the irony of it all. It was only seven months ago that I began using Final Cut, the most sophisticated editing software this then 43 year old had ever laid callouses on. “I need to be able to blow into a bay with the smell of house fire on me and lay the whole tragic smack down in under a few minutes,” I fumed at the time. How I was gonna do so with the candy-colored hell that is an FCP keyboard worried me, so much so that I almost did something about it. But instead of getting all proactive, I chose instead The Photog Way. That’s right: I grumbled, pouted out in the open, launched a campaign to defame the good people at Apple. Then I figured out Final Cut the same way I’ve learned every other piece of gear in my career: under extreme deadline. That makes me a survivor of sorts, but it hardly qualifies me to address a group of computer enthusiasts.

Or do it? I’d be less than frank if I didn’t admit I like public speaking. It’s like performing stand-up comedy without having to be funny. Not being funny is something I can usually pull off, especially when the subject at hand is familiar as, say, a highly sophisticated editing system I never bothered to properly learn... Yeesh. Knowing my particular strain of bullshit would only get me through the first fifteen minutes, I dialed up the one individual whose technical grasp matches my own knack for self-aggrandizement: The Mighty Weave.

Weaver TeachingCome on - who didn’t see THAT coming? Chris Weaver and I have been indulging each other’s distraction for almost as long as we been friends. It’s a good partnership: He’s detail oriented, I get lost in long hallways. He can prattle off any gadget’s schematics, I know most of the Lizard King’s on-stage tirades by heart. Who better to provide usable intelligence once my own fuzzy thinking ran dry? Apparently no one, for I dare say Weaver and I fell into a groove - right there in front of twenty-five or so Final Cut fans. We detailed our work-flow, told how we used a byzantine system to make simple cinema under horrendous conditions. Weaver showed them a handful of time-saving techniques. I described how handy those moves could be when you were slicing away on some laptop bolted to the back-cabin of a stranded live truck, searching for the cursed HOME button as your partner for the day squirts hair spray in your one eye not out of whack from viewfinder abuse.

By the end of the session, nearly three hours had passed and unless I was hallucinating, nobody was in any rush to leave. Maybe that's because Weaver and I covered each other's gaps. Maybe it's because we covered methods, motivation and the madness surrounding daily news. Maybe it's because we knew when to lay off the minutia and roll that beautiful bean footage of a certain person imploring his colleague to "Call the Law!".

Hey, no need to bore 'em.