Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Squirmin' on the Mount

Sticks and Stones
BACK IN MY DAY we didn't have fancy little lenses strapped to fishing poles! If we wanted to shoot something way up on a mountain we man-hauled a camera the size of a baby grand piano straight up the face of Old Baldie! BOTH WAYS! I'm serious - I once crushed three vertebrae just so Roger Mudd could one-up that Charles Kuralt show-off!

We didn't have those newfangled cell phone transmitters, either! If we wanted a live broadcast, we did it the old fashioned way! With heavy cables, lots of overtimes and enough cigarettes to choke a bus full of orphans! Nor did have those fairy iPhones! We used bulky two-way radios and when we did we used official police ten-codes! THE WAY GOD INTENDED!

And another thing! We didn't dress so damn comfortably! We wore heavily-starched dungarees or action slacks! None of this cargo-pants crap for my generation! Up top we favored an ill-fitting station golf shirt and/or a proper utility vest! You simply can't pack the correct number of back-up camera batteries in a pair of skinny jeans! NOR SHOULD YOU TRY!
Oh, while I have you - nix all that infernal twittering! Was a time a grown-ass photog wouldn't be caught dead snapping pictures of his ham sandwich, let alone posting status reports on Faceplate! And what's with all these opinions? YOU'RE A #^@% JOURNALIST! Go grab the facts and leave all that bad tap-dancing to the lady-boys back in the booth!   

You're a man ... ACT LIKE IT! And while I'm on the subject, who let two girls on the set at the same time? I tuned in thinking it was some kind of baking segment and do you know they were discussing something called 'the fiscal cliff'?  I figured it was some new kind of desert topping, but as far as I could tell, they won't even wearing aprons!

Then they pitched it to some little tech news worm and his pants weren't even pleated! For the love of Cronkite's expense report, IS NOTHING SACRED? I remember when a newscaster wouldn't even go on camera without a little Bryl-Creem and a bird bath! I tell you, the lack of respect on display today is enough to make this newscaster spray Boone's farm all over his TRS-80!

And those never ending crawls at the bottom of the screen! WHO WRITES THAT CRAP?  I know Ham radio operators with clearer syntax!  And what the hell's a "hash-tag", anyway!?! Sounds like something those wretched stoners at The Learning Channel would turn into a reality show....

Disclaimer: The preceding rant was the sole opinion of the author and does not in any way reflect the views of The Lenslinger Institute and/or its worldwide subsidiaries. Any POV cam enthusiasts, under-dressed photogs or registered lady-boys who took offense at the aforementioned bile should contact their therapist immediately and demand a full return because let's be honest here: You're reading the mice-type at the bottom of a blog post and feeling pretty smug about it. Consult your physician if self-satisfaction lasts for more than four hours. No portion of the above paragraphs may be reprinted, sung about or etched in peanut butter without the express written permission of the National Football League. All Rights Reserved. Kneel before Zod. It's better to burn out than to fade away....  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Marauders Anonymous

With so many innocent victims to be found in Newtown, Connecticut, I’m not about to pretend The Media is among them. But in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, my profession has suffered a few slings and arrows it does and does not deserve. More on that, later. First though, wanna stop the kind of atrocities that befell Sandy Hook? Unplug that violent video game! Throw down your weapons! Hit your knees and beg that guy in the sky to show mercy on this heartless orb. Maybe then, the clouds will clear and we’ll return to a world where school kids are safe behind brick and mortar. Just don’t look to The Media for answers. We got nothin’ but questions, anyway. Clumsy, ugly, hurtful questions, the kinds of inquiry you can’t imagine asking yourself, but the kind fully expect to see answered in full when you lean into your screen.

It’s an ugly piece of business, one that those of us on the ground would like to do without. But until the moon cracks in half and mankind is left staring slack-jawed at a new kind of eclipse, horrible things are going to happen. When they do, rest assured my kind will be there, breathless, vexed and at the ready. Think what you will of The Fourth Estate, but no one I know wants to be on scene when children die. I myself ain’t exactly the praying type, but even I appealed to my maker when I heard the news. First I thanked him (her?) for keeping my own children safe. Secondly I offered my eternal thanks for keeping this latest piece of savagery far from the place I call home. Selfish? Youbetcha. But the unrelenting scrum that forms around this level of bloodshed is the kind I can only stomach once or twice a lifetime. Virginia Tech was more than enough.

But I’m not here to remove myself from the shadow of Blacksburg. Back then, The Media caught a lot of heat for ghastly tactics and a questionable bedside manner. Of that we were guilty and maybe more but it’s hard to keep score when Geraldo is running loose. Me, I kept my nose relatively clean - but grab-ass just naturally breaks out at the sat truck farm and if I can be convicted of anything, it’s enjoying my work too much. One thing I don’t enjoy is traumatizing kids. l got two of my own and while they’re not so little anymore, I remember when they were. Hurting even the feelings of a youngster still in shock and ain’t exactly on my bucket list and neither is defending that action to any half-mad Dads. But while much has been made of news crews interviewing kids in the minutes (and hours) following the massacre, I just can’t grab a pitchfork this time. Had I been cursed enough to be on scene, there’s not a doubt in my mind I’d have quizzed any one who would have offered my lens even half an explanation.

That make it right? Probably not. But an effective press is an energetic one and even a nat-pack slacker like myself knows enough to shoot first and review the tape later. Considering all the misinformation that flowed out of Connecticut last Friday, a little more review may be in order. Don’t hold your breath, though. In a time when lies and misconceptions hosts their own Twitter accounts before the Truth can clear its throat, urgency trumps analysis. Now that very idea of a deadline is growing quaint, you can look for assumptions and conjecture to be passed as fact. Just don’t think The Media pack was enjoying itself that day. Many of us have kids of our own and most of us still know how to feel. Quizzing strangers of any age about the very worst day of their life ain’t the way we want to spend our day and even with their parent’s permission, grilling children about things they’d be better off forgetting is fraught with peril for all involved and never, never easy.

 I’m guessing nothing in Newtown was easy that day.

Pass the Mic

Pass the Mic
FAR BE IT FROM ME to pop out a plastic fern and pin a microphone to your smock, but I couldn't help but notice you were getting your hair did! Which is quite the cowinky-dink since I’m doing a story on that very thing for our late breaking action packed newscast! Ya know, childhood hairstyles has been issue I’ve been pondering every since my assignment editor shoved a crumpled print-out of an e-mail the night guy saved into my Cheeto-stained fingertips about thirty minutes ago! Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s a fella with a feathery melon like me know about haircare? Nothing a thirty year old can of mousse crust wouldn’t fluff up, I assure you! But from all that I gathered after reading some press release during that last long stoplight, pubescent grooming is first and foremost on the minds of men and women age 18-49! That may make precious little sense to a young lady like yourself, but I can assure you that someday when you grow up and are lucky enough to get a job you used to want that there will come a time when one of your many bosses will come up with some cockamamie idea that will instantly become your own personal manifest destiny. Manifest Destiny, that’s old school for ‘you gotta pick up ALL the socks in the rec room before you can even expect to watch Sponge-Bob or Breaking Bad or whatever the kids today zone out in front of just for fun’. Hey, speaking of television, do you ever watch the news? I don’t but I have it on very good authority that every night around 6:08 those pretty people run out of bad things to talk about and suddenly wanna sell some soap. Once that’s over, they’re usually in the mood to tease the weatherman but not before chortling over some banal piece of videotape featuring cute kids, old folks or woodchucks in tuxedos. Well, today you’re the woodchuck and back in the live truck I got some ruffle-fronted monkey suits that are gonna be all the rage once your friends see you sporting one between weather and sports! That is if your friends watched the news! Chances are they don’t! But see back in the say there were only a few buttons on the remote control and even those were hard-wired to the back to TV sets the size of bank vaults! Back then, we’d trudged halfway across the room to just to find out what some other uncle looking fellow had to say about hog futures! Most times it was the exact same thing the only other two guys on at that time had to say so very often we’d do the unthinkable and turn the TV OFF! Yeah, no kidding! I once spent a whole summer outside! Over the course of two months I watched only about three fifths of a Mork and Mindy episode and that was without ever realizing that Robin Williams was jacked out of his gourd on the kind of stuff that could make a grown man stay up all night talking to the kind of people he wouldn’t even look at in the light of day, but, HEY - How I spent the better part of that one lost summer isn’t important right now! What IS important is that I get your inner most feelings on the role of personal aesthetics in the post millennial renaissance. Now, I now that’s a mouthful, but we’re getting paid by the syllable here so if you don’t mind, just say and spell your first and last na-- What’s that? ... You don’t want to be on camera?

Never mind.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Burning Down the House

The Hof
Though logic would dictate he turn around, I can assure you, Steve Hofbauer knows exactly where to point that thing. In fact, this gentle brute forced me to dig a little deeper every time he rolled up on scene. From grabbing shots before I could think of them to convincing witnesses to emote in his direction, I could never relax when "The Hof" was afoot. Weirdest of all, I liked the guy! Maybe it's because we share the same lineage. Perhaps it's because he could probably snap me in half. Whatever the reason, we bonded many times over - when we weren't trying to gouge each others eyes out.

These days, however, Hof sightings are pretty rare. Not so long ago, dude got really smart and left the business. Now he can be found performing his magic in the hallowed halls of Academia, where I hope the eggheads appreciate what they got. See, Steve has the instincts and experience borne of a million deadlines met. He's shot every story there is a half dozen different ways and as far as I know, he chews his food with his mouth closed. Why, you'd think a newsroom would do whatever it took to keep such an apex predator in place.   

You'd be wrong.

Now, I'm SURE Hof's old station hated to see him go and from all that I can tell their commercials aren't bumping into each other for lack of content. But I truly believe we'll look back someday at the mass egress of people like Steve as the beginning of the end of news as we know it. Yes, there will always be pretty faces on screen recapping the day's events, but understand this: local TV News is hemorrhaging talent like never before.  When a veteran leaves, they're replaced (if at all) by fresh young faces who are expected to do it ALL for far fewer escudos. That they do - and it shows. 

Will station's go dark as a result? Probably not. But the journalistic services they provide will become shockingly shallow, until the very idea of gleaning anything useful from local TV news will seem as quaint as that old pocket watch you hocked to help buy an iPad. It didn't have to be this way, but quantum leaps in technology and a dearth of ad dollars have all but enabled our assisted suicide. If that doesn't concern you, you're probably my children's' age - which, ironically, is just a few years junior to that of your average local TV reporter these days.

Is this the rambling of a fellow fossil? A case of hand-wringing from a guy who can't help but read the writing on the wall?  One last battle cry from the surviving member of a doomed platoon? Yes. Yes, it is. But if you're gonna take my fancycam, you'll have to pry it from my leathery grip, for unlike The Hofinater here, I gots no place to go. Besides, I still dig the view. And while my contemporaries may be exiting stage left, right and every direction in between, I'm not quite prepared to go make brag tapes, widget demos or commencement montages just yet... YET.

Now get off my lawn!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Sling For Your Supper...

Big Lens StewEver drag a fully functional fancycam through a Department of Social Services? It’s like covering a red carpet event in reverse! Seriously, if I have one more crack addict look at me in disgust, I’m gonna go throat-punch my high school guidance counselor. Then again, I never paid much attention to that lady anyway. Now that I’m all growed up, though, I can’t help but think what a little forethought may have done for my state of mind, let alone something as meandering as my career path.

Would I be the same person if I never knew the reaction one gets when asking fresh vasectomy patients if they’d like to remove the bag of frozen peas from their lap and tell central North Carolina just what Obamacare means to them?

Could I better relate to the proletariat had I not first learned to pin Wal Mart shoppers in their cars until they came up with six good answers to “Hot enough for ya?” (Lay on their hood and twitch. It stuns them until you can get the microphone out.)

Would I feel the same about the judicial system had I never been dressed down by that bailiff that caught me filming him chortling in his sleep? And do you know of a website that would properly pay for that sort of footage?

Should I have truly pursued higher education, instead of filing daily digests on everything from hard cider homicides to tips on picking that perfect poinsettia? Would it have made me a more intoxicating cocktail party guest?

Would I have so warned my children about the perils of zealotry had I not spent so much of my working life sharing air with convicted criminals, city council members, and (shudder) TV consultants?

Could I have possibly spent s-o-o many hours writing about my workaday adventures had I fallen into something less skeevy that TV news? Like crime scene clean up, Port-A-John repair or premature taxidermy?

You're right: There's nothing's skeevier than TV News.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Lark of The Beast

Buzzard Bus
Ever have an old chum ring you up and be all like...

 “A tanker truck full of cucumber juice just flipped over on the interstate! We got all three westbound lanes knee-deep in pickle spit! Strother’s gonna meet you with the jet-pack! GO!” 

No? You must not shoot news. If you did, you’d be perfectly versed in the Doctrine of Improbability. It’s a basic precept in the Book of Lenslinger that exposits - through a series of Cheeto-encrusted flash cards - that the less likely something is to actually happen, the more likely you’ll be on call when it finally does. I can’t really explain it without breaking out the Handy Wipes, but just know the next time you’re scrambling up an overpass for a better look at the chunky purple smoke plume, you probably had it coming. Me, I got Inconvenience on speed dial.

Which is not to say I totally loathe spot news. Freight train derailments have their place (down by the tracks, I’ve found) but you really have to be in the mood. I wind my way to the back of the newscast, where there’s more control amid the whip cream rodeos. Less bloodshed, too. Not to mention other non household stains... “What’s that? Geysers are spiraling over the waste-water treatment plant and you need me on scuba-cam? That could be a problem. See, I’m all the way over in Itchy Grove, where they’re having their annual ‘Macrame Days’. I got all the sound I need, but the Mayor’s about to bust out his best oven mitt and I don’t wanna miss it. Fountain of brown wouldn’t look good in plasmas anyway. Clashes with the rest of the set. Hmm? Yes, I know, hot open and three teases. Bye.”

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the breakdown lane. Ya know, I can’t recommend you ever loiter there, as many photogs I know consider it to be their own private flight path...

“Hey, life’s what happens when you’re missing slot. Besides, that glimmer in the distance is the competition raising their mast. If you don’t put the hammer down now, we’re gonna miss the widow again. Last time that happened, bossman made me spend the night in The Box! I didn’t walk upright for three days! Now is that a tripod in your trunk or did you just skip middle college? Those glass shards aren’t gonna rack themselves into focus, ya know. And that throng of zombies glaring at the sheet metal? They’re bristling with Emmy Award winning soundbites! Now step on it, before there’s no state troopers left to grill! For the love of Savitch, I want us turning wreckage into spectacle before that cable news trollop heaves the first bosom! My God, man, is there no logo on your soul? G-O-O-O!”

I gotta run.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Add Water

Sinkhole Specter
It may only look like a hole in the road to YOU, but to us local TV goobs, it's a galloping chasm that could screw up your commute, flush your 401-K and quite possibly kill your goldfish. Okay, so the goldfish part I just made up, but when you spend a chilly afternoon staring into the abyss of a brand new water-main break, the mind starts to wander...

Did I REALLY just run a grandmother off the road to babysit a mud puddle?

The house-cats seem to think this thing may swallow us all. What are THEY swallowing? Psilocybin?

Is it TOO LATE to go to night school?

Wonder how many orange cones I can gather up before the road crew throws ME in the hole?

How much do those guys in the hard-hats MAKE, anyway?

If they pull the lost ark of the covenant/ a glowing 'possum  out of that hole, am I gonna have to WORK LATE?

How are we gonna tie THIS into the Fiscal Cliff?

Isn't this EXACTLY how that Y2K expert I use to put on TV so much said the end would begin?

When they DO let traffic back on this road, think they'd mind if I lie down in the fast lane for a bit?

How did a guy who reads as much as I DO end up standing behind a camera for a living?

Wait - don't answer that last one. I don't wanna know... 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Schmuck Alert: Beautiful Loser!

Screen shot 2012-11-22 at 8.29.29 PMPity the holiday news crew. Not only do they have to forgo the meals and merriment of Thanksgiving, but they have to deal with the vagaries of the chase on a day when most of us are resting in a pool of cranberry sauce. Just ask CBS Atlanta's Jon Goss and Jeff Chirico. They were moments away from going LIVE(!) outside an unsuspecting Wal-Mart when something crazy their way came. Well, "crazy" may be an overstatement. Lots of perfectly sane people take offense at crews, though not all threaten to defecate.

Thank God.

How it all started remains a mystery, but the Vimeo clip below clearly shows one of Metro-Atlanta's finest transients locked in a war of words with our intrepid news crew. Reporter Jeff Chirico looks worried, annoyed and rightly so! Photographer Jon Goss isn't quite so visible, probably because he's got his hands full shooing the stranger away from a soon-to-be-hot camera. It really isn't clear why the bare-chested young man has taken such umbrage, but it's easy to see he wants to have a go at Goss.

"Ya ready to FIGHT?" he asks. "I got nails in my ears!" he warns. "I ride freight trains, kid!"  To drive home his point, this economy class traveler breaks bad, deftly exhibiting the kind of spastic physical mastery that scored him a three day gig as Kid Rock's body-double in that cinematic masterpiece, Joe Dirt.

He flexes! He hops! I'm pretty sure he sharted! Through it all, Goss stands his ground while Chirico scowls, threatens to dial 911 and finally signals to his producer (who I'm SURE was enjoying the show) that the live shot they're counting on wasn't going to happen. This seems to appease the shirtless intruder, for he soon grabs his sea-bag (stuffed full of unused deodorant and used Joe Dirt DVD's, I'm guessing) and prepares to wander off, where he'll no doubt find a hapless drive-thru guy to go off on.

But something weird happens on the way to Mickey Dee's. Before exiting stage-right, Kid (Crack) Rock drops his bluster and virtually BEGS Chirico not to call the cops. Guess the PO-leece are as impressed with this dude's drunken wrestler routine as our journalist friends were. Here's hoping a fellow meth-head soon robs him of his last bent Marlboro, if not, perhaps, his chastity. But, hey, who am I to wish ill on some half-baked nutbag? I'm sure he's a warm, thoughtful human being. In fact, he's just the kind of guy I'd like to lock in a crowded control room during a newscast - if only so the house cats could better understand what it can be like to going LIVE(!) among the masses. Schmuck!

Confrontation During a Live Shot from Eric Carlton on Vimeo

Monday, November 19, 2012

Rolling in the Deep

Up to his Busse

Boom microphones burst into flames if they dip into his shot.

He can change receiver frequencies using only his mustache.

Wherever he sets his tripod, begonias soon cluster.

High-speed police chases always follow his chopper's shadow.

Batteries grow stronger when placed in his pocket.

Oprah's photog comes over and jumps on his couch.

Whenever he wears jorts, a new South Pacific island chain forms.

His every whim comes with its very own time-code.

He once fed an entire village from a single fanny-pack.

Men on the Street stop to ask him questions.

He is The Most Interesting Cameraman In The World and his name is David R. Busse. Back in the summer of 1983, he even caused floodwater along the Colorado River to evaporate - but not before stopping to pose with a couple of mere mortals...
"We had no satellite trucks or other live capability from the California-Arizona border area, so we spent three weeks flying out there each day, shooting a story and flying back, to feed our footage from an airport tarmac in Riverside, Rialto or wherever..."
Sure you did, Busse, sure you did. Stay thirsty, my friend.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kid and Spray

Kid and Spray
This isn't the first time nine year old Carter has manned a fancycam and unless authorities step in, it probably won't be the last. And to think it happened on a high school football field, where risky visual stimulants can render innocent youngsters agog with possibilities. Wanna capture a kid's imagination? Give 'em a gizmo that captures action, bends time and mines the horizon. But beware, that kind of magic can befuddle an otherwise focused child's attention. Before long, your little mathlete could lose interest in equations and then one day you find him deep in the glow of a local newscast... heckling reflections, berating bad light and shot-calling axis-fractures. It isn't pretty, and I would have hoped a full grown photog like Tommy Normanly would have known better. But dude says he has a damn good reason for handing his boy an apparatus that should come with a caution... (SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Use of this device may malign the spine, interrupt deep sleep and slow overall career trajectory.)
"I'm hoping by letting him play with it now, it will be like locking him in a room with a box of cigarettes. He'll hate it, get it out of his system, and never want to touch a camera again."
I hope so, Norm. Otherwise I'm calling Social Services...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Resume the Position

We've all been there: stuck upon a heffalump, squinting through an electric toaster, wondering where it all went wrong. Okay, maybe I'm projecting a bit. For all I know, Universal Newsreel legend Mervyn Freeman willingly wedged himself atop that hefty herbivore -- though for the life of me, I can't figure out WHY. Then again...

... I once camped out in the back of a police van overnight in hopes a smash-and-grab artist would have the courtesy to hit the convenience store in the middle of my camera's cross-hairs. He never did, but I made some new cop buddies and even got invited to an autopsy. (Note to Self: Finger sandwiches not right for every event.

... Once I got soclose to an orphaned lion, the damn thing cocked his leg and pissed in my lens and on my face. To make matters worse, the hippie zookeeper lady had just told me it was about to happen! There's a lesson in there, I guess, but I'm not sure what it is. All I do know is I can't so much as watch The Lion King without a bottle of Windex by my side.

... Not only have I waded into the chaos of a fresh crime scene, high-fived my way deep into a Republican fundraiser and openly associated with known news anchors, but I've even manned up and walked a camera into the middle of a coliseum full of American Idol hopefuls. May not sound like much, but have YOU seen how high a cross-dressing Streisand fan can kick?

... If I had a dime for every time I've stuck my glass in the face of some shackled ass-hat, well, I wouldn't be seen scrounging in the floorboard of my news unit for soda money. I only wish all that backpedaling had made lined my pockets with silver, instead of just making me paranoid about gutter curbs and newspaper shooters.

... Long ago, I allowed myself to be locked in the back of a live truck in mid-edit while a reporter drove the damn thing down a mountain. I won't let it happen again. For one, staring at a screen three inches from your face while hurtling backwards at sixty miles per hour is no way to go through life. Secondly, vomit's really hard to wash out of station fleece wear. 

Kinda makes a hippo ride not seem so silly.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cursed Responders

Fire on the Mountain
A monadnock I'm fond of is about to burn and I have yet to get there. This bothers me a bit, as I still feel the need to be On Scene, no matter how I try to hide it. Most photogs do. Unplanned calamities are, after all, our profession's breadfruit. Without them, our little slugs and rundowns would slow to a crawl, no matter how many tap-dancing poodles or weather center wedding proposals we come up with. I, myself, cringe at the sound of scanner traffic. It's that kind of static that interrupts my meals. (I can still taste the steak I never finished the night some guy shot his wife twenty years ago.) I've probably woken up on the phone in the middle of the night more times than I've called my Mother. These days, I'd rather bob for close-ups in the Zumba pool than circle the drain of a drive-by shooting. Still, when a beloved landmark falls victim to stupidity and dizzying visuals begin to spew forth, even this Z-block operative finds himself eyeing the horizon...  

For a moment, anyway.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Snatching Glass

Lens SunriseIn what sounds like a scene from RoboCop, a cowardly band of marauders snatched a California news crew's fancycam before wheeling away in a couple of luxury sedans. In broad daylight, no less. KPIX photographer Gregg Welk and reporter Anne Makovec were wrapping up a noon live shot outside Oakland Technical High School Wednesday when five, count 'em five, no good hoodlums bum-rushed the duo. Details are sketchy at best, but apparently the furious five grabbed the station's six thousand dollar camera, yanking it sideways in such a fashion that even viewers at home could tell it was just another chaotic day in O Town. To add injury to insult, one of the punks even popped Welk in the mouth before the five of them made off in a Mercedes AND a Lexus.

UNCOOL, on more levels than we here at The Lenslinger Institute can list. But even clowns like us have to shake our heads in disgust at the brazen nature of this latest attack on members of the media non elite. What has this heartless orb come to when a first world news crew can't sleepwalk their way through a nooner without getting assaulted and robbed on live television? I know, I know: it's late 2012 in Alameda County. That don't make it right. Is it a gang initiation? A simple crime of opportunity? Or one more sign that social mores are crumbling under the weight of a generation raised on violence and smitten with instant gratification?

How should I know? I'm just a cameraman. And while it's easy for a proud Carolinian like me to chalk it all up to West Coast excess, I'll be keeping my head (and lens) on a swivel here in the Piedmont. I suggest YOU do the same, whether you sling a lens in Detroit, Durham or Duluth. A societal shift is upon us and it's coarsening our offspring. As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, you ain't got to be in Oakland to get your ass camera-jacked. As for the good folk of KPIX, they'll continue to cover their beat, but not, some sources say, without their very own security guards.

Where's Peter Weller in a tin can when you need him?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Election's Hex

Screen shot 2012-11-05 at 10.41.56 PMTwisted spinsters, noon live shots, dangling chads! There's A LOT to fear on Election Day! That's why I've cocooned myself in several hazy layers of soft news: pithy distillations of pothole operas and fawning profiles of forlorn clown fish. It's just the kind of well-lit drivel that should keep me the hell away from the polling place. Then again, I could be ripped from the studio's womb before the first precinct chief overdoses on doughnut glaze. If so, I'll try to keep my wits about me as I jostle for oxygen in Democracy's mosh-pit. If I'm lucky, I'll surface before the crush of supplicants makes escape impossible. Loiter too long in the wrong campaign headquarters and you could find yourself running the cameraman equivalent of the Mogadishu Mile. Okay, those creepy people in cardboard hats aren't gonna chase you on foot, but get caught withdrawing cheese straws from a shattered candidates' buffet table and you may be sleeping with the fishes before the first concession speech is lip-synched.

And that's assuming you make it past the geriatric terrorists who keep our nation's polling places safe from any spotlights. Forget the angry gang-banger or unhinged drifter. You're most likely to perish at the hands of a 78 year old woman hopped up on the Magna Carta. That's her in the corner, clockin' your every move through at least two cataracts. She's missing her soaps, her support hose are killing her and somewhere in those pockets is a rusty spoon her beloved Horace carried over the beaches of Normandy. Get too close to that voting booths and she'll gladly use it to carve your heart out. Don't believe me? You won't be the first photog to vanish in the clamor of Election Day - or the last. It's why the closest I get to campaign headquarters is some dusty field behind a Harley-Davidson shop. That's where I found some friends of mine gettin' medieval in  name of prognostication. I don't know accurate it'll turn out to be, but dodging airborne gourds felt safer that eye-gouging some granny from across a crowded cafegymnatorium floor.       

Now go vote for somebody.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Phlegm at Eleven

Cable Blaze If viewers could see the Herculean hustle, madcap scramble and damn near panic behind your average local TV newscast, they’d watch in greater numbers. I’m convinced of it. What’s more compelling - that static parking lot live shot or the cross-county death race that made it possible in the first place? What would you rather see - a reporter mouthing sixteen words they’d just memorized or tendrils of smoke coming out of an assignment editor’s ears as they realize no one’s around to cover the flipped-over school bus? What would make you drop the remote - a smoothly executed anchor toss or the sound of an assistant news director speaking in tonguest? I’LL take the meltdown every time and so, I believe, will Sally Joe Housecoat.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think my friends and I are so fascinating that the world will hang on our every loss of bladder control. But I assure you, the little girl noises emitted by a grown man editing under deadline is far more intriguing than any thing the sports goob has to say. And the physical grace of a weatherman gloating over a low pressure system has nothing on a portly photog running desperate circles around a live truck as he searches for the handheld microphone hanging off his belt. Seriously, I’ve watched whole mini-series with less story arc than a pretty reporter arguing with the voices in her earpiece. Then there’s the jittery floor director performing kabuki theater just out of camera range. That shit would be a hit on pay-per-view!

As much as I stand behind the previous two paragraphs, I realize it’s tantamount to treason. Since the very first test pattern appeared in an engineer’s dream, those of us behind the glass have done our damnedest to hide the ugly truth from viewers. Broadcast news is a collaborative effort (and an excellent movie!), a team sport played by unsavory characters with specialized skills and filthy language. Yet what we show viewers is sterilized, contrived and, quite often downright dull. It’s why you can travel this fruity plain and see the same type of glass-eyed mannequins adhering to the same tired tropes - be it Eugene, Oregon or Mobile, Alabama. Originality, it would seem, is simply beyond us. How about we at least practice the kind of transparency we demand from our elected officials.

What’s that? Exposing the great unwashed to the machinations of our craft will destroy television news’ credibility?

THAT live truck has left the lot.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Try This at Home...

Tog SlogJust because I’m nowhere near the coast this weekend doesn’t mean Hurricane Sandy ain’t on my brain. Twice now I’ve caught myself fondling granola bars in the pantry. When it gets dark, I’m gonna go in the garage and blind-roll my poncho. If that goes okay, I’ll probably drive around for awhile with the radio blasting static. Just when I’m about to rip my eyelids off and stuff them in my ears, I’ll stop by that car wash and find an empty bay. My fancycam’s in pretty good shape now, but once I’m done with a certain turbo-hose setting, it’ll spit and whistle like Katrina herself gave it the clap. When the quarters run out, I’ll lash myself to the windshield, bribe a transient to pelt me with rock salt as I attempt a spoken word performance of the Traveling Wilburys’ first album. I figure I can get through ’Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ before any security weasels show up. That’s when I plan to initiate a low-speed chase across three counties - a meandering pursuit in which I’ll scrub up against every available guardrail while calling into local radio shows with fake flash-flooding updates. Chances are that’ll never get old, but if it does, I’m gonna duck into a laundromat and demand they let me sit around in my underwear back by the dirty clothes heap. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but if I’m gonna wind down from simulated hurricane smotherage, I’ll need to knock back a half dozen PBJ’s and three tall boys of the kind of lukewarm beer you find in abandoned gas stations. By then I’ll be pretty tapped, so look for me to wrap things up by man-hauling my provisions to the closest Port-A-Pottie, where I plan to crawl inside and finally get some shut-eye.

Then I’m gonna get up and do it all over again, until that bookie I know calls my cell phone and berates me for not dumpster surfing LIVE(!) the way some putz on his Netflix stream just did.

Maybe then I'll stop feeling so guilty.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

King of Pain

Dick Carney, ArchiveSorry for losing focus this week, but a certain someone is about to have a birthday - the first of many he won't be around to celebrate. Dick Carney died on the last day of January and left a gaping hole in the lives of those who loved him. Prominent among that throng are two middle aged men with not a lot in common. My brother Richard and I haven't always seen eye to eye, but if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that the planet was a lot more fun with Dick Carney on it. 

Others seem to agree, as total strangers have shared memories of mirth that possess healing powers decades after those hangovers in the making stopped causing temples to throb.

What I would have given to have been around back then. But that's not how life would have it. Divorce and adoption intervened. As a result, I grew up wondering what the first man who married my mother was like. Mom never said; it was easier for everyone that way. Besides, at age sixteen I found out for myself when a strangely familiar figure emerged from that painful haze and introduced himself. Dick Carney.

"Who goes by 'Dick'?" I remember asking myself.

But I was too enamored with the man to ask him myself, a feeling I wasn't totally proud of. Dude left us in the lurch way back when and he hadn't exactly broken any land speed records closing that gap. When he finally did, I had a chest of questions I wanted to hurl his way. But upon meeting him, much of that anger faded away. I can't explain it, really. Coming face to face with the man I'd imagined all those years satisfied a need within me. It wasn't instantaneous or even overnight, but getting to know him really helped me understand myself (a neat trick at age sixteen).

As the years came and went, I learned even more about Dick Carney. Far from a saint, he offered few apologies about leaving and even less explanation about where he'd been. Somehow, that was okay, for I got the feeling he'd been lost himself for many of those years. Now that he was back, I was happy just to source some of my proclivities - from a knack for vernacular to a love of brown liquor. I can't say meeting my biological father solved all of life's problems, but it sure made me stop feeling so damn strange. Suddenly the dunderheads that plagued me all through youth didn't seem so threatening - not when I kind of understood why I felt the way I did.

Not to discount the work of my Mother. She is the reason I am a free man today and every responsible thing I've done in the past forty five years can be directly traced to her love and guidance. But the Old Man (that's what I called him; never "Dad") imparted a few lessons he'd learned from a hard-knock life. He hired me. He fired me. He put me to work selling cars and beamed with pride when I displayed just an iota of the bullshitting abilities he possessed in spades. He did the same for my brother before me.

What he didn't ever do is judge me, even though there were a few times he probably should have. As a result, I fumbled through my twenties knowing no matter what kind of scrape I found myself in, I had a crusty old goat on speed dial who'd done (and undone) it thirty years before. As time passed and I grew a little wiser, I no longer depended on him for a quick bag of lime or a half-cocked alibi. Instead, I sought Dick's counsel on more grown up affairs, from how to best clean vinyl siding to how better express myself on this silly site. Oh, how he loved this blog. Quite the writer himself, he knew instinctively what I was trying to do here and was the first to congratulate me when I occasionally pulled it off.

And now, he's gone.

I wish I had a tidier ending, but that's not how life works. Looking back, I now realize I enjoyed his company for damn near thirty years. That sounds a lot longer than it felt, but the time we did have together was extrapolated by the fact we got along so well. The Old Goat, as he came to be known, understood his sons and he let us both know it. He may have stumbled out of the gate, but by simply being himself, Dick Carney became the best father two grown men could have. If they don't sell Hallmark cards for that kind of thing, they probably should. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to come up with something TV-related to write about.

Else the Old Man will give me grief when I see him again someday.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

So That Others May Vedge...

Lean into it.
Knowing what all the knobs do will get you started in this business, but if you're really going to last behind the lens, you must know how to GET BENT! Just ask Jimmy Hall, the self-described 'camera mang' we first met chillin' outside the John Edwards trial. Better yet, leave the man alone 'til he's done up there. Whatever bucket list he's working on, it looks like he's about to check off another box. Why, it's enough to make his Momma nervous, leaning back like that. Not me, though. If I know Jimmy, he's got two green sneakers wrapped around his speaker's spleen. My only concern is how I might have to catch that fancy-cam in the unlikely case he drop it. Then again, if said rig suddenly loses altitude, dude's comin' with it - Wile E. Coyote style. I can only hope to break his fall with a nice soft anvil I ordered from ACME. But enough of my thought bubbles, let's get to our feature!

You now, a smart guy like Jimmy could find a much easier way to make a living. But legal tender isn't ALL this admitted cinephile is  after. It's the lifestyle. Yes, it's tough making the S-word (style) stick when you're aiming it at a  news shooter, but put all thoughts of my cargo jorts aside for a minute and consider where even an entry-level lenslinger might find his (or her) self: Holed up in a cabin with some mountain drifter turned reality show darling, high-stepping backwards with both eyes crossed as the man America loves to hate tries to step on your shoes, living in a van down by the river as police in scuba suits scrape the bottom for hints of where the limo went ... and that's all before lunch! Yup, it's not my tax bracket that lulls me to sleep at night. It's the quiet knowledge that the best views don't always make the news. Instead they roll around in my head for damn near decades.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get some sleep. My chiropractor's kids needs braces and I told him I'd hook him up by riding along with a bunch of bike cops as they crack a stolen moped ring.

THAT should be worth a couple of visits.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dawn of the Dumb

Haunted House Plane Crash

Sling a lens through an October of B-Blocks and you're bound to hit a haunted house. These days, they're hard to miss. Cornfield of Corpses, Spew at the Zoo, Cadaver Shack: surely there's a flock of hopped-up weirdos making church folk nervous in YOUR town. There certainly are here. In fact, the free-range beatnik seems to thrive here in the Greater Piedmont Googolplex. Perhaps it's our (sometimes) thriving film making community, our wealth of rotting textile plants or just an overall love of chainsaws and moonshine. Whatever the cause, large-scale haunted attractions are big business around here - which means they pop up pretty regularly on the evening news. Enter, ME, a weathered skeptic with a growth on my shoulder and a fresh deadline hanging over my head. I don't need some mannequin slathered in Strawberry Pop-Tart to make me break into a cold sweat. All I gotta do is imagine how many ribbon-cuttings I'll shoot when I'm Fifty.

THAT'S horrifying.

Anyhoo, if you're looking for someone to lead a Brownie troop through Massacre Castle, you got the wrong guy. I'm feckless at best, a firm unbeliever with a knack for distraction and the body language of Barney Fife. I consider myself a realist, but I still break out imaginary Kung-Fu whenever I walk into a spiderweb. I'm no threat to anyone, but push me through Hell's Hallway and some college-age zombies are probably gonna want to press charges. I wouldn't last a millisecond in the UFC, but I'll gladly put myself in traction attempting to go all Billy Jack. Thus, I steer clear of Satan's Basement and the like: no one wants to see a middle-aged man wet himself. Well, no one that I wanna hang out with. Yep, there's only one way I'll willingly enter an old condom factory full of grabby Goth Kids... 

With a face full of fancycam.

Grant me that shield and I will march into anarchy. It won't stop bullets or speed up time, but a brightly labeled TV camera can open locked doors, fend off degenerates and cause keynote speakers to up chuck rubber chicken. Don't tell ME I can't take on a room full of former Blockbuster clerks. I survived city council stand-offs, sparked stampedes at Easter Egg hunts and clawed my way through coliseums throbbing with American Idol Undead. Hit me with your best shot. Better yet, DON'T HURT THE CAMERAMAN! It's the very same warning I give those brutes at the Girls Volleyball Tournament every year. Hey, Crumbling Mummy Man! Hands off and I'll smear your silly image from the Capitol to the Coast! Lay just one square inch of gauze on me or my camera and even the nerd you got DVR'ing tonight's newscast will swear you didn't show up for your shift.

Now put down that crossbow before I hurt both of us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Schmuck Alert: Lash at the 'Stache!

A mumbling suspect, a judge named Fudge and one crazy-ass crumb catcher... This Schmuck Alert has EVERYTHING!

Screen shot 2012-10-13 at 9.52.57 PM
It happened in "Texoma" - one of those bifurcated states recognized chiefly by TV stations. That's where accused murderer Jerry Joe Garza makes a habit of disrupting justice any time he's dragged out of his well-deserved cell. This time, he merely mumbled profanities at the bench, prompting Judge Barney Fudge (let that wash over you for a moment) to give him thirty additional days for contempt! This irked the accused brute, but he waited until deputies marched him OUT of court to demonstrate his displeasure. In the hallway, Garza lunged at KFDX Photojournalist (and friend of the blog) Jake VanDonge. Whether or not Garza was trying to harm VanDonge or merely scare him remains unclear, but that doesn't matter, for the unwise action prompted deputies to execute a jailhouse take-down so swift, so fluid, I had to watch it like eight or nine times to fully savor it. You should too, but you'll have to visit the station's website, for they don't make their videos embeddable (embeddable?).

That in itself is WHACK, but no more so than the legal argument Garza's attorneys tried to float before their client ever rubbed the floor polish off his teeth.

Seems the lawyers thought video of Garza acting like an animal might sway future jurors, so they huddled with VanDonge and His Honor for the required wrangling. In the end, Judge Fudge (you heard me) decided Texomas's favorite NBC/FOX affiliate could keep their footage, provide that next time, they bring enough to share with the class, er, court. As for Jerry Joe Garza, well, who really gives two shits about Jerry Joe Garza? With any luck, they'll fit him with one of those masks that made Bane so angry in the latest Batman flick. In fact, there's only piece of unfinished business left. Toward the end of the piece, we catch a glimpse of Jake VanDonge - a nice enough looking fellow who's Three Musketeers mustache seems strangely out of place. WHY the twisty lip whiskers? It's all for Men's Health, you Luddite! Seems Jake grew the damn thing for charity and pretty soon he'll shave his flavor-savor for God and Country. What a guy! What a Mustache!

What a Schmuck! (Garza, not VanDonge - or even Judge Fudge! God, I could do this all night!)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Deep Space Whine

...When last we saw Lenslinger, the methodical 'tog was leading a dangerous mission through a week long dimension of overnight shifts... 


CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0420 -- After taking random exit, wedged vessel in parking lot Alpha-113. No lifeforms noted. Partner emerging from hibernation. Generator engaged... Mast deployed. Exiting capsule alone…

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0430 -- Surface mixture of gravel and  curbing. Smells of urine. Atmosphere otherwise safe... Dull orange glow on quadrant's edge.  Com Link established. Exploring perimeter on foot... 
CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0445  -- Origin of glow determined. Pinstriped Eatery - partially darkened. Granny's Biscuit Shack. Outer hatches locked. Will return to collect samples. Back in capsule. Partner applying facial putty...   

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0450 -- Sensor package deployed. Tractor beam set. Bars flying. Partner upright. Engaging spotlight. Star Command contacted. Standing by ... Partner Alert -- CUE! Drone ... activated. 

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0500 -- First Contact! Stumbled over inert life form behind waste containment pod. Biped, possibly stunned. Upon waking, requested nicotine delivery device. Goes by Lenny... Source of urine smell determined...

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 00525 --  Com Link activity temporarily delayed. A strange malaise has overtaken the capsule... Partner mood darkening... lamenting career choices. Ominous shadow now falling over craft... Lenny?  


CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0545 -- A-hem... Crew no longer in peril. Nine Volts located, Air Supply Fine. Light bulb only loosened. No help needed. Cables taped. Cancel pod jettison. Disregard deification of life form. Over.

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 04550 -- Order restored aboard craft after unplugging Carbon Monoxide detector. Possible feeling effects of Gamma Ray exposure. Partner on phone with agent. No sign of sunrise. Leaving capsule to buy Lenny cigarettes...

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Stardate 10.11.12 / L-3 Landing Party. 0750 -- Returned to craft. Equipment stripped. Partner missing. Only fragrant aerosol cloud remaining. Signs of struggle. Relocating to Biscuit Shack. Pack of bedraggled travelers who live there now my people. Tell wife love her. Abandoning hope... Taking microphone flag. Over... OU---

Monday, October 08, 2012

Detachment Forming

They may look harmless, but this motley clot of operatives can bathe the airwaves with toxins or truth, poison water cooler talk with drops of honesty and spread a great malaise across the land. Not bad for some former camcorder dorks! I can say that, 'cause I'm one of 'em. And while my shoulder roll is well within specs, my powers of perception are off the chart. It's what allows my type to plop down and chill, shut out the world and just go numb, all while sweeping the perimeter with a jet pilot's eye. At least that's what we tell ourselves as we hover over timelines. Truth is, we're no more qualified to fly than your average pizza delivery guy, but watching life zoom by on a tiny screen does  leaves us diving for the horizon. You'd scurry, too - if both bailiffs and waitresses yelled "Hey Mom" your way.

As any TV stevedore who's schlepped for more than a fortnight will tell you, it's an eye-opening experience. Grimacing Senator, Star Command Drop-Out, Self-Proclaimed Mermaid: at one time or another they've all clamored for my camera's affection. Fend off the gang at Occupy: Waffle House a few times. You're sense of security (not to mention smell) will be left scattered, capped and shattered. So if you happen upon a huddle as such, approach with extreme caution. Their corporal form and aptitude for lassitude belies a pack animal's paranoia. Yes, these students of insouciance are trained to frame and poised to pounce. They are the foot soldiers of the Fourth Estate and upsetting their scrum would be no more advisable than stepping in a bucket of rattlesnake. Isn't that right, fellas? ... Fellas?

You know, if I'm gonna talk you up like this, you could at least put your phones down.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Table for Two

Taking over the Judge's table.

You know, when I'm not shooting news stories or penning late-night fables, there's nothing I enjoy more than spreading delusions among our young people...

You there - with the faux-hawk and and facial tats - what are YOU doing still living in your parents' basement? With a voice like that you could be cutting records, filling stadiums, or at the very least, headlining a laundromat grand opening! You were right to drive across three states for some time in our spotlight! What's that? School? Who needs school when you got pipes like yours? No, what you need, young man, is a good spray tan! That and perhaps some skinny jeans. What you DON'T need to do is change your vocal style. Why, with your crazy stare and my connections we could corner the market on death-metal yodeling! Just don't listen to those other judges. They're jealous of my dressing room! Why, just the other day I caught the pink-haired one rifling through my pills. She doesn't even HAVE psoriasis!

Hmm? I've NOT been chosen as a celebrity judge? What will I do with all this body-glitter? On second thought, forget I mentioned it. Clearly, I've let my imagination get the better of my blog. That's what happens when you rise before dawn, hydroplane down the interstate and openly consort with ingenues and warblers. Yep, it's another audition stop for American Idol, the show that unleashed the likes of Clay Aiken ona an unsuspecting nation. This time, the show's producers have taken over the Charlotte Motor Speedway - a place I never once visited before today. And what a day! From interviewing hopefuls to staving off starvation to pretending to understand what Randy Jackson was saying, I haven't had this much fun since the last time I edged my driveway! There was, however, one bright spot...

Midway through the day, Shannon and I were ushered up the the fifth floor to get a look at the new set. We tried our best to act professional, but as soon as the production crew turned their back, we wiggled our way behind the judge's table. It was hella-fun, until that one lighting tech broke out his Taser.

You wouldn't think a guy with that many tools hanging off him could move so fast...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Fries Beneath

Billy Dry
Chance may favor the prepared mind, but sometimes you gotta plunge headlong into The Suck. Okay, you don't have to, but if there's a certain groove in your shoulder, you probably will. Just ask Billy Dry. That's him in the cargo shorts, looking strangely out of place amid a forest of turn-out gear. Is it proper attire? Depends on who you ask. Some news shooters I know won't so much as sit in the sun without a Nomex Snuggie. Others chase hurricanes in flip-flops. Me, I'm somewhere in between. I got hip-waders in the car in case of flash-flooding, but I once covered a mud-slide in deck shoes and Dockers. I'm kidding, I don't wear deck shoes and Dockers. As far as you know, anyway. But, hey, this isn't about me! It's about Billy Dry and how he ended up at a forest fire dressed like a third-grader...
As any photog would do I was following the action, this shot led to the next, to the next and next thing I knew I was in the middle of some of the hardest working volunteer fire fighters. I really wanted to show folks at home what these guys did and how they did it because no one EVER sees what goes on inside a grass fire. They see the helicopters dropping water, they see the pumper trucks going in...but inside that wall of brush and thorns, is the story...
See what I mean: passion over planning. It's that kind of fire in the belly that can lead to indigestion, not to mention a life devoid of leg hair. There are worse things, I guess - provide you get the shot. Billy did, as evidenced by the outstanding clip he enclosed. I don't know about you, but from where I safely sit, that shot at 1:15 is worth a singed shinbone or two... 

Provided they're not mine, of course.

X Marks the Shot

Tough Room
Now that The X Factor has aired all its audition episodes, I can share you with the exciting news: Simon hates my singing! Okay, so I didn't launch into song the last time I saw the t-shirted titan - but only because his bodyguard looked like he wanted to eat me. I was a little ill at ease without a camera in my hand, but the show's producers insisted we local TV types set our gear aside as soon as we entered the 'Celebrity Judge's Green Room'. We were there to quiz Simon, Demi, L.A. and Britney about the Arab Spring exciting new season of The X Factor. For three days, Shannon Smith and I scoured every crevice of the Greensboro Coliseum, haranguing hopefuls, elbowing extras, fending off the fanatics. Such is the slog at a reality show audition and we were both glad to be near the end of it. In fact, there was only assignment left: interview the judges.

So when the hipster with the headset motioned for me to put my camera down, I did so with some hesitation. I've been on Paula Abdul Time before, once doubling my beard length while she pouted outside in her limo. But this was no Idol production. It was a Simon Cowell joint and the man who swaddles his pecs in too tight cotton twists a mighty tight one. Soon the man himself entered the room, followed by the other judges. Suddenly, the lighting warmed, the air conditioning whispered and ice cubes ceased their clinking. Then again, that PBJ I'd just hoarked down inside the live truck had been sitting in the heat all day. Either I was swooning for the glare of white hot celebrity or I was simply about to upchuck. Either way, I was determined to do it with a smile, especially when the judges began extolling the virtues of a certain frothy beverage.

And that Virginia, is how I came to appear in a Pepsi commercial of sorts. If you're still confused, you're not alone. My fifteen year old daughter saw it and she still can't decide whether it was A) pretty cool or B) reason enough for her to request a school transfer.

I can't decide, myself.

Don't Look Back

Though most can't tell you what they shot last week, one in one hundred TV News Photographers suffers from a different affliction:

They can not forget

Sinkhole, barn fire, inner-city cheese give-away: the news shooter dealing with E.R.S. (Excessively Reflective Syndrome) has trouble letting go of even the most trifling item. The signs are everywhere: Pensiveness Irritability. Flatulence. No matter which symptom the lenslinger in your life exhibits, does he (or she) ever want to be 'alone with their gear'? Are their signs of excessive knob-polishing? Can he look you in the eye when a newscast is on in the adjoining room? Or is she left reeling from the emotional impact of a single ribbon-cutting? Does he interrupt dinner parties with boastful claims of street cred? Claim they no longer need GPS? Has he ever compared the cost of carrot sticks to that one time he was hemmed in by an enemy's live truck? Do mail carriers avoid your home, for fear your troubled photog will accost them with tales of their own torturous treks? Does he drape himself in station logo-wear on his only day off? Is she still gloating over that trophy she bought? Have you ever caught him sucking-face with the business end of a zoom lens? 

There IS hope. 

We here at The Lenslinger Institute know a thing or two about stewing in minutia and the tragic effects it can on even casual conversation. Thus, we've developed an intensive six week regiment of sleep deprivation and eyelid removal that should have your street-level cinematographer back to a lobotomized state in no time. Not only will he or she not be able to explain why their tripod smells like pimento cheese, neither of them will even care! No more suffering the slings and arrows of their day: you'll be lucky they find their way home! Awww, Sweet Catatonia... Hmm? Yes, where were we? Oh yeah, the end of E.R.S! Just call 1-800-Shut-Up-Already and bring peace and harmony back to your home! Order now and get a virtual t-shirt! Just do it...

...because a walking tour of the local waste-water treatment plant is a terrible thing to prattle on about.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Anchors Away: Allan Hoffman

First Press PassWhen WNCT-TV first issued me a press-pass, no one was more surprised than I. At the time, my show reel consisted of a couple dozen used car lot spots and some half-baked station promos. But that all changed one March morning, when fate placed me and a camera on the inside rim of an unlikely hostage situation. The newsroom took note and soon I was cruising the mean streets of Greenville in a white Ford Bronco with the N-Word on the door. (News, silly!) I'd fumbled my way into The Life, all right, but I still had A LOT to learn. Luckily, there were people there to teach me and one of the most willing to do so was the station's main anchor, Allan Hoffman. Not quite the teddy bear he looks like now, Allan was gruff enough to scare me a little. After all, dude was a chopper pilot in Vietnam. He'd witnessed death and valor while most of his co-workers were in the womb. Thus, it fell to Allan to review all outgoing scripts, lest one of the twenty-two year old reporters make a grievous error on the air. A revolving door of novices kept Allan pretty busy back then and my dumb ass was no exception.

Serge Brockman ReportingBut a funny thing happened on the way to failure... I got better! Through risk and repetition, I learned  to shoot sequences, walk backwards and make a tape-to-tape edit bay stutter, smoke and whistle. After a while though, my ambition got the better of me. Nowhere near as polished as the young reporters around me, I yearned nonetheless to put my personal stamp on the many stories I was learning to tell. A great and mighty clamor did not ensue. I wasn't the first photog itching to go rogue and I damn sure wasn't the most telegenic. But Allan and others must have seen something in me, for they critiqued the stories I produced on the side and, to my further surprise, started putting them on the air. A reporter was born! Or so I thought. As luck would (not) have it, my future played out off screen, but the four years I spent as an on-air one-man-band swelled my neck-tie collection and boosted my confidence.

Screen shot 2012-09-27 at 11.55.35 PMIt wasn't always easy, though. Every mistake I made, I made on the air - from mangling names to missing cues to freezing up during my second ever live shot ("Tell him to breathe!", I heard Allan tell a producer in my earpiece). I don't think that I ever did that night, but the concept sure stuck. Here's another one I remember Allan hammering home: Pre-recorded reports should NOT end on soundbites. Unless the bite is especially strong, a reporter track makes for a better summation ("It's a 'package'", Allan would say, "It needs a bow. Tie it up!" I don't think I've ended a report with a soundbite since. It's just one of the many fundamentals Allan Hoffman taught me and another thing I forgot to bring up when I attended his retirement dinner two days ago. Oh well, maybe he'll read this. Then again, maybe a man with 42 years of broadcast experience has seen this kind of thing before. Sure hope so. A guy like Allan should know the difference he made, in the jungles of Southeast Asia and in the hearts and minds of the generations of of journalists he's helped shaped since the early Seventies. Enjoy retirement, Allan. You probably deserve a piece of mine, but the way things are going, you'll be a hundred and six before I can afford to lay down this lens...

Until then, consider me in your debt.

Allan Hoffman retires

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Show Your Work

photoLearn to operate a TV camera and you too can work with a bunch of fruits. Take last Friday, when a particularly plump pumpkin took up most of my morning and about ninety seconds of that afternoon's newscast. It began with a journey: a frantic uphill trek in which I tried to discern which Patrick County field could support such a monstrous squash. The GPS fell strangely silent as I threw my news unit into one hairpin turn after another. Just when I was about to give up the mission and point my camera at the first interesting cow I saw, the aforementioned pumpkin patch hove into view. Actually, an unmarked gravel driveway leading to the aforementioned pumpkin patch hove into view, so I jerked the steering wheel to the left and damn near put Unit 4 on its side. That's when I spotted it: not the Great Pumpkin, but an aging tractor surrounded by three men, all of whom seemed to be wondering why the approaching news car was doing so on two wheels. Once the dust settled, I hopped out of my ride, shook a few hands and got down to the dirty business of loading a nine hundred pound pumpkin into the bed of a pick-up truck. Okay, so the only thing I lifted was a lens, but it didn't matter, for my hosts handled the hoist. All I had to do was flit around the field like the parasite I am, eventually landing on the gargantuan gourd itself before the damn thing was trundled off to a nearby county fairgrounds.

A few hours later, the clip below aired. Did it change the world? No, but neither will that three part investigation on filthy hotel bedspreads/napping utility workers, justsoyouknow...

Then there was today. No sooner did I offer to air my list of grievances in the morning meeting than I was informed I was suddenly late for a distant village. Mocksville, to be exact. Seems that was to be the scene of a reunion of sorts - if I could get there in time. Never one to back down from a challenge involving fossil fuels, I ran to my car before the suits decided to send me to a city council meeting instead. Only when I was safely on the interstate did I scan the printout someone jammed in my greasy photog fingers: Something about a horse ... of course. Thirty minutes later, I found myself as lost as I was when I was searching for that pumpkin patch. This time, however, I had fewer roads to choose from and after driving down two of them, I stumbled across the corral in question. A nice lady was waiting for me there and as I wrestled my gear into submission the explained the significance of the approaching equine. At least she tried to. Three sentences into her spiel, a truck pulling a horse trailer roared into view. I shouldered my weapon and free-rolled for the next few minutes. Only after the horse - a Palomino named Jasmine - nearly trampled me did I get the low-down on the mischievous steed. Seems Jasmine wandered off six weeks ago, prompting her owner to launch a hard-target search of every pasture from here to Hanging Rock. That's where a woman spotted a certain Mermaid-named mount this morning, sparking a series of events that ended with me backpedaling before a horse who clearly wanted to step on my throat. She never got a chance, for this wasn't first rodeo. Neither, for that matter, was it my first missing horse story, but merely the one I produced today...

A fat pumpkin. A skinny horse. Two tastes that may not go great together, but together they constitute two days in which I didn't have to stick a lens in a baby-mama's face. That, my friend, is as close to a victory as this photog's gonna get. And it's two more reasons why newscast producers know when they send me out solo, I'll come back with the goods, or not come back at all.

Now if only I could stop getting so damn lost.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Of Thee I Sling

A decade and a half back I did the unthinkable. I willingly returned to the world of NEWS. It was not an easy decision. After all, I knew what the job entailed: unsavory hours, less than stellar pay, the numbing grind of constant deadline. Just a few reasons why I'd left in the first place. But if my twenty plus months spent cranking out promos and such for a certain station taught me anything, it was this: "Never work for a man you'd rather hit with a bus". That and "Get Thee Back to News." To be fair, that last one had nothing to so with the troglodyte in charge. It went much deeper. The first time a hurricane hit the Carolina coast and I didn't have keys to a news car in my pocket, I nearly stuck my head in an oven. (I still can't hear the names Fran or Bertha without eyeballing the microwave.) So when my exciting foray into Promotions turned into a battery of soul-sucking meetings and not much else, I did something I still don't regret... I issued my own stern memo to a boss I'd come to loathe and followed a few bread crumbs to a place called the Piedmont.

Fast forward fifteen years.

I find myself doing pretty much the same thing I did in my twenties. Chasing candidates and reprobates, profiling neighborhood heroes and sketchy dudes coming out of a courthouse, lowering my lens at a policeman's funeral and raising it to capture the blimp I'm about to board. It has been everything I expected and much of what I feared. But before you go looking for that sentence that announces my new position as Head Video Guy at the Coat Hanger Outlet, relax: I ain't goin' out like that. No, until I can convince someone to pay me by the paragraph, I'll most likely be found babysitting the day's events - be they grim, slim or whimsical. I'm okay with that, even if it occasionally makes me crazy. When that happens, I tend to clam up for I've found that a distillation of pixels will support but so much untreated angst. I'd much rather stew in my own juices until I cough up something worth sharing, Otherwise, I'm a hack - the kind of guy I saw myself becoming back in the hallowed halls of a not so distant affiliate.

Which brings me to YOU.

Chances are we know each other, either in person or on-line. Being that we're tight and all, you understand my compulsion. You know that, while I've yet to profit financially from my blogging efforts, I've benefited immensely from sharing what I watch my fingers type late at night. Sometimes, I wake up the next morning and wonder why I did, but it rarely stops me from logging in to do it all over again. Lately though, I've fallen out of rhythm and while no pitchfork-wielding mob has formed outside my door, I've dragged myself to the outskirts of town on more than one occasion. Now, however, I'm back and though I don't know where I'm going, I'm delighted to have you along. For it is you, dear readers, who've convinced me a life behind the lens isn't a total waste of my time. Where else would a guy who'd rather be writing find so much story material than on the surface of a tiny flickering screen in the shallow end of an upturned eye-cup? If you know, don't tell me. I'll go on thinking I'm where I need to be. If nothing else, it's a delusion I can chew on while waiting for the next speaker to clear his throat.

It's a living.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Arrow My Own

Sticks and Stone
This silly gig won't make you rich, but it affords one helluva view. Just ask birthday boy Jonathan Malat. That's him and his sticks perched high above Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, Minnesota - where he and the ridiculously gifted Boyd Huppert are putting together one of their Land of 10,000 Stories. They're a towering pair, even without the added altitude. But trophies suck dust and the fanciest lanyards stiffen over time. Vistas like this, however, last forever. They fill the mind's eye and keep old souls company long after bold shoulders molder. So the next time you perch upon a precipice in the name of news, soak in the moment, won't you? They make up for that forest of podiums you hiked through, the press releases you rationed, that wildebeest you gored. If nothing else, know that your life behind the lens will make for a righteous highlight reel. Good luck playing it at the old photog's home, though.

Those Minnesota cats hog up the machine.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Schmuck Alert: Unrequested Beverage!

Screen shot 2012-09-17 at 8.54.04 PMATTENTION: We here at The Lenslinger Institute do not condone the use of physical violence toward assailants of the Fourth Estate. We DO, however, reserve the right to watch, mock and propagate any found footage of such unfortunate instances - especially when they feature flying fluids, saturated accents and one scary-ass skullet. Let's get started, shall we?

Dateline: Down Under... At least, that's where we think this clip comes from. Truth is, we thought the speakers in the Institute's trophy room were shot, until that guy from Accounts Receivable noticed the WIN Television logo on the photog's back. Australia, huh? THAT'S why they talk so funny! Good thing the plot's not lost in translation, for true whup-ass transcends dialect. For example, listen to the news shooter when said inbred serves him the unrequested beverage. The P-Word I get, but the rest is all pops and clicks. Perhaps the soda-spraying naysayer felt the same, for he turns around seeking clarification. Bad move, Riff-Raff. The 'cammo' in question is all out of pejoratives and instead chooses to express himself with his two beefy mitts. What follows is predictable enough. Mr. Refreshment chucks his can in anger, forcing the photog to show the man to his seat - which in this case is a particular piece of pavement between two parked cars. That's when it happens: a sound so sweet it reminds of us a summer rain. (Listen for yourself at :26.) Impact... exasperation... flatulence? Whatever the case, it is deeply satisfying. You know, if we approved of such a thing...  


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sheeka Rising

I liked Sheeka Strickland the moment I heard her cellphone's ringtone. It was Coltrane, which told me that, if nothing else, El Ocho's newest reporter had great taste in music. I told Sheeka as much, then began avoiding her like the plague. Nothing personal, it just behooves me to work alone. But a funny thing happened on the way to exile. The News Gods thrust us together in a flurry of assignments: ludicrous jaunts into the unknown, forged by her determination, my lead foot and the shared belief that you can ALWAYS get lunch. Other shooters took note and soon the scuttlebutt around the damp places that attract photogs was thus: The tall news reporter isn't just capable; she's also pretty chill. "Chill": that's slinger-ese for "This lady won't escalate a bad situation with theatrics or stagecraft." It may sound like feint praise, but when you've worked with the kind of unabashed nut-bags I have, a little rationale is highly valued.

Still, I had my doubts until one day Sheeka and I were dispatched post haste to the scene of a fatal fire. We filled the interior of Unit 4 with small talk all the way there, but that chatter subsided when he pulled up to a smoldering mobile home. The night before, a woman had succumbed to smoke and flames. As we got out of the car, her teenage son looked up from where he was burying the family dog to take in the strangers in the plain white station wagon. Other young relatives were rifling through the dead woman's possessions and the tension was as thick as the smoke that ended her life hours earlier. It was then I noticed the butt of a handgun sticking out of one the boy's waistband. I locked eyes with Sheeka, gestured to the weapon and silently implored her to tread lightly. She nodded acknowledgment, then proceeded to work a difficult scene with compassion and grace. When we left ninety minutes earlier, a few of the family members hugged us and I never again worried about Sheeka Strickland's bedside manner.

That was nearly four years ago - a lifetime in a medium market newsroom. In that epoch, Sheeka proved herself the kind of partner you wanted along, whether the story was certified trophy bait or just some smelly turd. Either way, Sheeka could be counted on to dispose of it properly. Not only that, she smelled fabulous in the process. But despite the high heels and perfume, Sheeka soon became one of the guys. That's a tall order, even for a lady of her height. TV news photogs are a famously bitchy lot. We slay, pray and rage in Hi-Def. That kind of energy and angst can drive many reporters mad, but Sheeka never once let our despondency or histrionics derail her from the deadline looming in the middle distance. She also learned to look the other way whenever I passed out in a parked live truck. I cannot tell you how many times I've woken up from some tortured, contorted drivers seat nap only to see Sheeka next to me, hammering on a laptop and totally ignoring the fact that I'd been drooling, murmuring to myself or, on occasion, weeping. Hey, what are friends for?

Don't bother answering. Just know that I'm really gonna miss this Georgia native. See, Sheeka's about to peace out. After four solid years of knocking down every kind of news story there is, a certain Miss Strickland is fixin' to get her learn on. That is, she's leaving the fold to pursue a Masters of Science and Leadership at Northwestern University in Illinois. On a scholarship, no less! So join me, won't you, in wishing my friend the best of luck her new endeavor. Sheeka's long been a reliable presence in a sea of uncertainty. I know Weaver joins me in treasuring the memories we made while covering Hurricane Irene. After all, we three shared a religious experience over a bucket of freshly fried chicken (first hot meal in three days) and nearly walked out of a Waffle House when the waitress warned us against swallowing anything 'chunky' we might find in our drinks. And then there was the John Edwards trial, a six week ordeal in which Sheeka and I faced every kind of conundrum there was and, usually, came out on top.

Sheeka Scrum 2So, there you have it: glowing words about a local TV news reporter. It's not the kind of thing you'll read much of around here and I wouldn't share it now if I didn't mean every syllable. I just hope Sheeka will use that new sheepskin wisely and stay the hell away from this disintegrating end of the business. Otherwise, she's slummin' and she's just too smart for THAT. Besides, I got the market on charming underachievement locked up. It's a skeevy disease, one that no amount of Coltrane can fully cure. Thanks for trying, anyway, Sheeka.

Now go kick grad school's ass.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


I could spend countless paragraphs telling you what it was like to cover the Democratic National Convention, but none would be as trenchant as what Ferlon Webster assembled simply by pressing RECORD. In twelve strangely compelling minutes, the young El Ocho photog seeks egress from the convention floor, a journey which sounds simpler than it is. He bobs, he weaves, he shoos away a reporter who tries to steal his spotlight. More than anything, he keeps rolling, laying out his exit strategy while fending off the crass and the curious.

It's a virtuoso performance, if you look past the fact he isn't acting. Especially telling is the interplay between Ferkon and is on-air partner. By the time our hero turned the camera on himself, he'd been following his better-dressed half all over uptown Charlotte. Their attitude toward each other is the perfect combination of professional respect and seething disdain. It's the kind of chemistry you just can't fake and it's one of the main reasons I watched this video twice. Each time I was sucked in completely, until I secretly wished Ferlon would emerge from the arena to find Jim Cantore rifling through the soft drink cooler.

Alas, it never came to pass, but I was entertained and not just because I made the exact same slog several times last week. So there you have it, my review of a mini-doc I'm not even sure I was supposed to see. Now that YOU'VE seen it, count yourself lucky for not witnessing the whole thing in glorious 3-D. At the very least, be grateful our young auteur didn't stop by the porta-potties on his way to the live trucks.

THAT would have been a bridge too far.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Welcome to the Chunder Dome...

Get me out of here!Okay, so no one threw peanuts at me, but a certain deity DID hurl thunderbolts, rain pellets and brain-baking heat rays my way. Frankly, I would have preferred a few Planters upside the head. But when you're slogging through the ass-hat factory that is any political projectile. Or your next meal, for that matter. Want proof? Eighteen hours ago, I ate a cold burrito delivered by armpit. Washed it down with eleven ounces of rainwater I collected in an old Fanta can I found in the live truck. Yup, life gets pretty raw on the campaign trail ... What's that? You've SEEN convention coverage? The bright lights? The swelling soundtracks? The polished pundits? All looked pretty posh, eh? WRONG! Covering a convention is like surviving a plane crash in the Andes. You'll come out of it okay, but only after trekking overland, infiltrating a village and noshing on a few colleagues along the way. I'm sure the network vet sipping lattes in some distant skybox might disagree, but here at the local level, it's every cameraman for himself. Just ask the yak who kept yelling my name at the exact moment Secret Service agents were waving wands over me. Good to see ya, Ken Devanney, but there's a beefy guy in a windbreaker trying to radiate my junk! Perhaps we could chat later....

Melissa_largeSpeaking of which, you ever loiter under a street light in a sketchy part of town while an exhausted coworker flags down a cab, all so the two of you can meet another tapped-out TV geek for a few overpriced Jack and Cokes? Me neither, as far as YOU know. What little downtime I had was spent in quiet reflection; sparse moments in which I pondered the cosmos and my place in it. After some time, I've come to realize a few truths:

Political conventions are hollow as hell. Yes, the Time Warner arena is stuffed to the gills with supplicants, but the rhetoric is so freeze-dried only the true believers get hot and bothered. I been to Mary Kay parties that had more soul. And before you go thinking I'm a Republican spy, know this: I'm a photog - a journalist, too. I've stared deep into the eyes of both parties' faithful, smelled the rubber chicken they just had for lunch and held my breath as they extolled the virtues of their chosen one, while intimating the opponent keeps dead baby livers in their glove box. I'm all for watching Democracy in action, but you people in the Barbershop quarter hats scare the crap out of me - no matter what buttons your cardboard fedora sports. Got it? Good. Now that we have that out of the way, we can get to important matters, like how the streets of Charlotte look like the last fifteen minutes of The Blues Brothers. Or how the protestors followed the Occupy model, each and every one of them raging against their own individual machine. I SWEAR, I saw a guy protesting potted meat at the corner of 7th and College yesterday, though from the smell of it, the only thing he truly boycotts is a working shower stall.

Over stageCheap shot? Perhaps, but when you're suffering from sleep deprivation, a compacted skeleton and one righteous case of post-burrito turmoil, you take them when you see them. Next time, we'll explain how I ended up in the Charlotte Observer, popped up on Laura Ingraham's Facebook page and fist-bumped a stranger who told me either he 'loved the blog' or to 'get out of the shot'.

I couldn't really hear him.