Friday, April 15, 2011

One Goat, Gotten

I reeaallly don't want this blog to turn into some kind of bloated resumé reel, but a story I just produced turned into one of my most favorite assignments ever. It's not the writing, photography or editing I like so much and it damn sure ain't the journalism. No, it's the moments that ring true. That's Moment with a Capital M, the blend of instance we lenslingers look for to help sell the stories our reporters are telling. In this case, there were no reporters; just me and my fancycam doing something we rarely ever do... return to the scene of the crime. Day One was normal enough. Day Two, not so much. But don't take my word for it, watch the story in the box above and see if you can see where my cynicism began to crack. Here's a hint: currency is involved...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Parlor Schtick

The Bookup - What he's readingA face full of predator urine does strange things to a fella. Take it from me. Just last week I was a highly distracted TV cameraman, flitting from one silly assignment to another with little more than lunch on my mind -- until a rescue lion cocked his arse in my direction. That's when it hit me: I gotta walk the Earth. No, I'm not going to wander from village to village dispensing frontier justice with slow-motion karate chops and monosyllabic nods. But I am determined to recast my role on this planet and I'm going to start by embracing NON-photog behavior. Why, just the other day I was spotted hovering over a weighty tome at a trendy downtown eatery. And not once did I shine a light in a stranger's face and ask them open ended questions! Well, there was that one time, but I was merely trying to find the little boy's room.

Brian Jo StewRelax, I was just attending the first ever BOOKUP - a local event in which interesting people gather around to read -- to themselves. If you think that sounds like your average Saturday night at Barnes and Nobles (minus the roving band of Goth kids), you'd be wrong. Hell, that's I thought when writing pal Joe Maeder (author of When I Married My Mother) invited me to attend the inaugural event. Of course, I'd probably wash Jo's car if she asked me. After all, she's a published author and as such possesses the kind of insider knowledge a constipated scribe like myself would stab a hobo in the throat to learn! Too much? Let me put it this way: If I don't figure out a way to squeeze my words into print, I'm gonna climb the nearest TV tower and start tossing down camera batteries. THAT will get me nowhere, so I feel it wise to seek a room full of higher counsel.

The Bookup - Bin 33And what a room! Bin 33 was already filing up with the local literatti when I arrived. Hey there's Parke Puterbaugh, Rolling Stone writer also known for Phish: the Biography. And is that Brian Clarey? Editor of Yes Weekly and author of The Anxious Hipster (and Other Barflies I've Known)? Where's my free drink ticket? And why does my head hurt so? Must be because Brian dragged me out to help celebrate his birthday afterward, whereupon he pummeled me with alcohol and solid writing advice. I just wish I could remember it all. Here's what I do recall (and I paraphrase): "Ease off the adjectives. Good writing is all about the verb. Forget everything the jackholes with the MFA's and elbow patches have to say. You're a blue collar, Southern writer and they can't teach that shit in schools. Fiction, Memoir, you can write it all - but you CANNOT hold back. Readers will see right through it and you'll be stuck dodgin' lion piss 'til your back finally gives out..."

If anyone needs me, I'll be in my news unit...squeezing drops of blood onto a notepad.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Lion Zing

Where's a lion piss? Anywhere he wants to... height=Just when I thought I'd seen it all, a steaming stream of lion piss clouds my vision. Stick with me here... It was a gorgeous afternoon in central North Carolina, which is a good thing since by the time reporter Brandon Jones and I pulled into an undisclosed compound deep within the Piedmont, I'd already zapped a battery in the name of news. Still, none of that mattered to Brandon or my bosses. They just wanted us to bag a quick feature story while no one's looking. Mission Accepted. Not that I had a lot of choice. When you wander through life with a camera on your shoulder, people tend to tell you where to point it. That's cool. I consider myself a closer. Come up with something you'd like to see documented and I'll follow it into the tall grass and teethe on it 'til it bleeds. Today, however, another apex predator would call his shot and it would send me scampering away, bruised pride and spotted spectacles in hand.

Ya know, I've put up with many a peril while standing under glass. Rogue waves, runaway trucks, extended city council meetings - I've dodged them all. Animals, too! Once upon a time I was a regular visitor to the North Carolina Zoo, profiling everything from cuddly puffins to dozing polar bears to the heftiest of elephants. I once even fed ostriches from the back of a pick-up truck and never once ran over any heads in the sand. But nothing I ever eyeballed from afar down in Asheboro prepared me for the outpouring of attention I received today. Which reminds me, when a nice lady with a bucket of raw meat says, "Watch out for that one. He'll spray ya!", don't think for a moment she's flattering you with small talk. She ain't - and I got the YouTube clip to prove it. So yeah, the lion keeper warned me - right before she suggested I cozy up to the fence for a closer shot. That's the kind of idea a guy like me can't resist. After two decades of camera management, I got "Zoom with you feet" tattooed on my soul.

Lion's LairSo when Bucket Lady ushered me up to the edge of that big cat enclosure, I went willingly. How else you gonna get the kind of shot people expect from a fancycam? Besides, if I wanted to stay warm and dry all the time, I'd sell stereos or insurance or crack. I damn sure wouldn't be pushin' glass where it don't belong. As it was, I felt pretty safe there before the fence, so much that my mind began to drift. That's when it happened. Acting upon either deep seeded instinct or a hidden hand gesture from my host, that feline in question cocked his arse in my direction and let loose with a burst of urine that would put a drunk sailor to shame. I caught sight of the impending plume half a second before it showered my camera, my glasses, my face. Suddenly I was moving, vaguely aware that A) those weren't beads of sweat hanging off my nose, B) the camera caught it all and C) I just might have something to blog about tonight. And while it's not the kind of thing I'd stand in line to experience again, I knew immediately it was one of those encounters I'd enjoy living down forever.

But don't take my word for it. Witness the pissing for yourself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go shower. Again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Twisted Listener

Garden Sound
In the exciting world of TV News photogery, you get to drive past the barricade, hobnob with the rich and broken, then splay their fate all over the tube. Mostly though, you attach microphones to people. For example, here I am pinning one on Kat Siladi, moments after interrupting her best carrot seed material. I had no choice. She was breaking photosynthesis down to toddler level, forcing me to lunge from the row of rutabagas row and indulge in a little cameraman charades... Sounds like, "I'm totally screwed if you don't put this thing around your neck." Actually, I was smoother than that. Not enough to avoid skeeving out a few of the Moms on hand, but smooth, I tell you! Actually, there is an art to microphone placement: knowing when to approach, properly telegraphing your intentions without bringing the room to an awkward halt, remembering to retrieve the damn thing when the interview is through. by the way, have you ever tried to track down a state trooper that didn't want to be found? Those jokers lay LOW - no matter what's stuck to their lapel...

Anyhoo, there's more to microphone management than knowing when to strike. There's proper placement. Do I run it up under their sleeve? Loop it around their collar? Bury it in their bosom? The answers, my friend, are blowing in the wind - but if you don't choose correctly, a little moving air static will be the least of your problems. Don't believe me? Sidle up to a biker bar and start playing pin the tail on the donkey. They'll never find your body. Or bum-rush a beauty pageant with talk of silicone rub and droopy acoustics. Some of those women are black belts. Hell, I nearly got a full body scan from the TSA while trying to stick a mic on a beefy flight attendant. How was I supposed to know lady was a dude? Don't answer that. Just know that I'll be more careful the next time I use the line, "from one sexy stew to another". I'm still not allowed back on that concourse!

Okay, so we've covered the troubles of being your own sound guy. We've talked about when to do it, how not to do it and why you should always check for an Adam's apple when considering where to bag a few soundbites. What we haven't discussed is lineage. Think of it as Six Degrees of Amplification. See, I only got one lavalier microphone. And since I blanch at the sight of those King sized overly-logo'd hand(held) jobs, I use my lav A LOT. Thus, the microphone I clip to the neat freak CEO may very well have just come off the homeless guy he stepped over on the way to his Benz, the same one I used to record some American Idol wannabe crucifying Whitney will soon snuggle up the powder blue baby-T Simon Cowell's stylist picked out for him. Oh, and the Governor wants to know why the thingie I attached to her designer scarf smells so funny? It's just a little cadaver dog. Okay, so it was a BIG cadaver dog, but he had the most plaintive howl, so I ran the microphone up his collar and chased him up a river bank. Like YOU'VE never done that.

Sooo, what have we learned? Simple. Microphones are intrinsic but clumsy. The people you most want to pin rarely submit, but that truck driver's more than willing to step out of his Carrharts if it'll get him on the tay-vay. Oh - and batteries only die when the speaker is inaccessible, famous or about to say something so cosmically wrong, they'll open an investigation as to why you didn't properly capture it. I just wish some engineer type would invent the ever-hovering invisi-clip(less). You know, some naked to the eye electronic bug that floats just above the subject's sternum. I myself have mad a few sketches of such a device, but if I were smart enough to develop it, I wouldn't be laying in wait beside some egg plant, untangling the same cord I ignored the day before as a Horticulture Major eyes me with growing disdain...

I guess that goes without saying.