Friday, March 04, 2011

Where Men Become Boys

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 2.04.28 PMMost news stories are mandated by The Suits. Others you assign yourself. Such was the case today, as I worked harder than I had to simply because the subject matter, well ... mattered. But I'm getting ahead of myself, something you won't find me doing whenever Weaver and I soak up some singletrack. "Singletrack"- that's cyclese for twisty ribbon of dirt. There's miles of it behind my house and even though I'm a full-grown homeowner, you'll find it still runs straight through my heart. Thing is, my heart's forty-four years old. And while that's nowhere near retirement age, it is a little 'up there' for the kind of riding I like to do. Thus, it recently became clear to me what I must do...

Suck up to the rescue squad.

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 1.43.26 PMThat's where Chris Roseboro comes in. Hulking and gregarious, this former floor camera jockey gave up television years ago for a higher purpose: firefighting. But it ain't just flames Rosie knocks down with a single beefy forearm. Lately, he's lent his considerable might to the fire department's fledgling mountain bike rescue team. When word reached me that he was looking to get the word out, I rung him up to quite simply say, "I'm your huckleberry". Trouble was, he wasn't much of a 'Tombstone' fan so I politely informed him I'd be happy to point some eyeballs at his pet project.

That, he understood.

Endo Aftermath 2.0All of which is a wordy way of explaining why Weaver and I took to our weekend ride with a bit more vigor on Saturday. The Blue Heron trail was as dry, hard and fast as we'd seen it in months, and we wasted no time rocketing down its many ravines. Perhaps we should have wasted some time for it wasn't long before I found myself flying over the handlebars, headed for Terra Firma while wondering what other hobby I should explore. Likewise, Weaver made sweet, unplanned love to a tree stump. Both collisions were recorded by the GoPro camera and eventually made it into my report. We didn't plan it that way, but I've been a news man long enough to when to take advantage of a bloody knee.

Even when it's my own.

Gator CamFast forward to Monday morning. No longer outwardly limping, I met Roseboro and his pals at a North Greensboro park for a few hero shots. And speaking of heroes, Weave showed up! Dude had some time between shoots so he lent me some assistance with the kick-ass but finicky GoPro camera. Even more to his liking, Weaver got to exhibit his finest Dukes of Hazzard skill-set, at one point, driving a Gator backwards with one hand while shooting video with the other. Somebody call the law! Then again, all they would have found is two TV geeks and three firemen giggling like school boys as they popped wheelies and dropped one-liners. All in all, a great way to spend a Monday...

I just hope the rescue squad remembers it, should they ever have to scrape me off a tree.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Roll With (It)

Camera Clown
Ever have that dream where you're being chased by a frowning clown with a mail-order camcorder? But then the whole thing morphs and YOU'RE the broken down old man in sideshow white-face, taping an endless string of kid's birthday parties as you while away your final years as as a vexed, expressionless jester? Yeah, me neither - but if I did, this joker would easily serve as the specter in question. In fact, I'm not positive I didn't see him this weekend. That, or there's another buffoon in floppy shoes padding around my peripheral vision. Perhaps I'm just projecting. As a boy, I absorbed every Stephen King book I could find, including It - that charming tale of an inter-dimensional predator posing as a party clown. Hey, it isn't King's best novel (The Stand is), but it was enough to skew my perception of your average harlequin, years before I ever shot a discount circus story and saw just how skeevy they are up close. Anyhoo, forget I mentioned it. Just do me this favor: Should you see me out and about, come up and say 'Hi' or maybe wave from afar. But don't skulk about the edges in pancake makeup and outdated fancycam...

It creeps me out.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Charlie and the Chatter Factory

Sheen on Cam
While it's not exactly clear WHY Charlie Sheen went all Joaquin Phoenix this week, it sure has been a hoot. Personally, I haven't found him this fascinating since his turn in Platoon helped turned me on to real Vietnam literature (And a Hard Rain Fell, Chickenhawk, The Things They Carried). Since then he and the rest of the Estevezes been off my radar (I didn't watch West Wing, Two and a Half Men or whatever public service announcement Emilio directed lately). Soooo, you can imagine my shock when he popped up in my periphery, looking gaunt, haunted and blurting out assertions far funnier than the zingers slung on his top-rated sitcom. (My favorite: "I don't have burnout in my gearbox.") Who knew the dude talked like Ron Burgundy? Not me, but then again I've never been very close to the white-hot God light that is His Sheenery. The same can't be said for freelance cameraman Jose Hernandez, Jr., who, moments after Charlie appeared LIVE(!) on Wednesday morning's Today Show, posted this picture of himself at the scene of all that slime.

Are we in the media straight-up enablers? Or merely man-boy voyeurs? I'm guessing both but then again the last Hollywood nut-job I pointed a camera at was Paul Abdul and even she didn't threaten to 'love me violently'. Would have been nice, though.

An Open Letter to Lazy Reporters

Roadside View 2The world is full of talented TV News reporters. I’m lucky enough to work with some of them. But there’s a trend afoot I find most disturbing and it’s ushering in the age of the VJ. I’m talking about laziness, plain and simple. It’s not a trait most people would attribute to such a high profile profession but it’s one that runs rampant in many modern day correspondents. Voicing this of course will win me no friends. That’s okay, I got enough friends. What I’m running low on is patience, patience for people who’s only goal is to accomplish as little as possible while looking good doing it. But before I go any further, let’s synchronize our watches:

Oh look, it’s 2011! Across the broadcast universe, stations are slashing their staffs in half. Producers are cutting footage, photographers are learning to write and reporters are being handed cameras the size of baked potatoes and told to go make TV. If you’re one of the lucky ones who still has a photographer to do the dirty work, Congratulations. Chances are that won’t always be the case and too many of you have brought it on yourselves. If, however, you’re a hard-working, enterprising reporter, you’ll probably always enjoy some form of technical support. Feel free to skip to the end. The rest of you...

You might not believe this but there was a time a reporter got OUT of the car while the photographer shot video. Not every time, but sometimes. Crazy shit happens when you do: people speak, birds chirp, news ensues.You’d be amazed what passes for life outside your makeup bag, or Blackberry or whatever it is that so glues you to that shotgun seat.

Say you’ve made a few phone calls, but can’t stir up any news. What do you do? If you said ‘sit at my desk and do my hair while the producers find me a story‘ then you are EXACTLY the person I’m talking to. Once upon a time, a reporter knew enough to leave the station, story or no story. After all, news doesn’t happen in a newsroom. Those of you who rely solely on others for ideas should use that free time to look for another job, for an industry as crippled as ours has no more room for your dead weight.

No one hates useless live shots more than me, but the fact of the matter is your employer bought lots of live trucks and until they’re totally replaced by laptops, they’re gonna use them. So if your sole goal everyday is to wiggle out of that six o clock dog-lick live shot, understand this: you’re insuring your own extinction. Live shots are the one thing (most) photogs cannot do. Yes, standing outside some empty building at dinner time is a drag, but it beats standing outside the unemployment office wondering how you’re going to afford that fancy new iPhone you bought.

As a TV News photog, I’m expected to shoot clean video, edit quickly, find any address without GPS, set up a live shot in seconds flat and a growing host of other duties. I’m up for all these challenges and take quiet pride in doing them well. But one duty I’m more than willing to refuse is carrying your dead ass one. more. foot. You wanna be on Tee-Vee, get a chance to anchor, maybe wind up on a billboard someday? Fine, bring something to the table other than your workmanlike dedication to doing as little as possible every shift. That simply doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s a crime it ever did.

If you’re wearing a power suit and holding a big ole logo’d microphone, you have little business asking ME “What do you think I should say?”. Yes, collaboration is key and together we can come up with some pretty clever lines, but if time and time again you simply repeat my words verbatim into the lens, then you deserve to hold MORE than the microphone. How about the camera, the tripod, some batteries, a few lights...

Look at it this way: We drive around with thousands of dollars of sophisticated recording equipment in tow. You can’t phone it in EVERY day. Sure, there are times we can shoot a story in half an hour and spend thrice that amount of time on lunch. But that’s hardly a way to build your reel, let alone foster the kind of working relationship that can make reporter-photog collaboration an absolute joy. Remember, you have to work up some speed before you can coast.

And speaking of that reel you’re building... There was a time that even a reporter who didn’t know how to edit could press Record and dub themselves off a tape. No more. With non-linear editing, most on-air people don’t even know how to access their last package. So you find a photog who can help you and most often they do. Well, don’t ask me. As much as I‘d love to see you leave my shop, I have better things to do. Besides, foisting you on yet another TV station goes against my creed, much like wrapping up an extension cord goes against yours.

Still want to be a TV reporter? Cool, go find a story no one else has, convince a reluctant witness to talk on camera, melt the Rain-X off my lens with your scintillating presence. I’ll sing your praises from on high, when I’m not following you into the fire. Otherwise, go sell Mary Kay, real estate or perhaps your own plasma. As it is, you’re bringing me down, robbing the product of any relevance and proving this industry’s many critics correct with your unbridled lust for mediocrity. Back to you...