Sunday, October 20, 2019

Do me a favor...

This may sound strange coming from a guy with a TV camera permanently affixed to his shoulder, but do me a favor and TURN OFF THE NEWS. No, not the local stuff - the folks who work on that live in your community and, contrary to popular belief, often care about it. No, I’m talking about those other broadcasts, the ones that don’t even pretend to be neutral, the ones that wallow in boosterism, the ones that ruin family gatherings.

You know, Cable News.   

Now, before you label me a heretic (I’ll wait for all you haters out there to look that word up), hear me out: I’m talking ALL Cable News. CNN, FOX, MSNBC - whatever combination of capital letters makes you hate your fellow American. Turn. That. Shit. Off. You’ll be happier when you do, not to mention just as  informed about the world as you would be if you depended on some blown-dried anchor to assure you opinion is the only correct one.

I know quite a few blown-dried anchors. Some are dear friends. Some are nuttier than squirrel turds. When it comes to forming important opinions, you’d do just as well to consult that PTA President you know, or even that kooky neighbor who blows their grass clippings onto your driveway. 

Okay, now that our TV is off (remember, turn it back on for the LOCAL news. There’s a story coming up featuring a dog in a funny hat that you will NOT wanna miss), do me another favor. Get in your car, drive to a neighborhood nothing like yours, park it, get out and strike up a friendly conversation with someone who looks different than you. It’s okay, they’re not gonna rip your eye-lids off, no matter what your favorite pundit has told you. In fact, they may turn out to be the kind of person you really like, despite the fact that their hair, clothes or skin isn’t what you’d be comfortable wearing. If you’re not careful, you might even find yourself nodding in agreement over some universal truism. (It’s okay, I won’t tell your friends in whatever echo chamber you call home.) Of course, some of the things these strangers say will strongly contradict your world view, but that’s fine. In fact, I  have it on good authority that that’s supposed to be way our country works.

Then again, I’m old enough to remember when Republican and Democrat were opposite sides of an American coin, not two warring factions that couldn’t wait to roll a grenade into each other’s villages. How we got to where we are is something our robotic overlords, er, history books will one day have to decide. Me, I’m just worried about survival. Mine, my children and this nation that’s been so very good to all of us. This country, this sprawling, scary, schizophrenic country is all we Americans got and it deserves better than to be destroyed in the name of partisan politics. Say you wake up next November to find your side won. That neighbor with the grass clippings who’s sure YOU’RE the one who’s nuts will still be there. Or will you set his house on fire for thinking differently than you? Asking for a friend…

Thanks for reading this. I don’t expect it to change any minds. But it’s been on my mind lately, largely due to social media. What a wonder social media is. Several times a day, I glance at my phone and stare slack-jawed at what one of my ‘friends’ posted. ‘How can they believe THAT?’, I ask myself, but no one ever answers. All I can come up with is that they’ve surrounded themselves with only like-minded folk, that they subsist on a media diet consisting of nothing but the kind of lies and distortions that pleases their particular palate. 

As for me, I’m just a simple cameraman. For nearly three decades I’ve dropped in on every kind of person there was and somehow convinced them to be on television. It hasn’t made me any smarter than you, but it has widened my worldview and taught me that no one side is completely correct. If a guy who drives around with a tripod in his trunk can figure that out, surely the rest of you can.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this piece about the dog in the funny hat ain’t gonna write itself.

Monday, April 01, 2019

What Charlotte News Crews Already Know

I’m not sure if you've noticed, but Charlotte is crawling with news crews. I know, for I count myself among them. The Queen City is a hard news market; chases, blazes and slayings dominate the day. It’s a meat grinder, all right, and if you're not careful, it'll slowly chew you up. So the next time you pass that camera crew on the corner, consider what those crusty souls behind the glass have been through and what they've learned along the way… 

They know all the places to go for that killer view of the city’s skyline, but they made me promise on my zoom lens not to tell you where there they are.

They know that strip of sidewalk outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse where a marked news unit can hop the curb and park. It’s a longstanding practice, but it still feels weird doing so with all those cop cars around.

They know Greg Olsen will always give them a decent soundbite in the Carolina Panthers locker room - after a big win, or following a soul-crushing loss -- because Greg Olsen is a standup dude.

They know what it's like to hover over the city in a helicopter as something beneath them burns; and they know how it feels to watch the same chopper fly toward that blackening plume, while they're stuck sit in traffic on I-77.

They know what tear gas smells like. Many last tasted it in 2016, when the Keith Scott protest turned deadly and Crown Town came undone. By the way, the footage you’ve watched of the madness that week exist solely because some loners with lenses chose not to run.

They know whether to race to the seventh level of the Daily Parking Deck or across the way to the Airport Overlook Lot, depending on what runway the troubled airplane is trying to land on.

They know how long it takes to get from the Spectrum Center's semi-secret Media Entrance all the way to center court. (Five to fifteen minutes, depending on your attitude, how much gear you have with you and the chattiness level of the metal detector lady.)

They know that if they work a Friday night shift, misfortune will be their plunder. They’ll end up somewhere along Beatties Ford or Sugar Creek or Albemarle roads. They know when the cop cars leave the scenes, they should, too.

They know that, for whatever reason, the sunrises at Charlotte Motor Speedway are nothing short of spectacular. Ask any morning crew that’s done a Speed Week preview there and packed up a little slower than usual. 

And they all know that in fifteen months or so, the Republican National Convention is going to slam into Charlotte and that they'll be there, riding the chaos that will surely come with it.

We just don't wanna taste any more tear gas. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

From Our Personnel Department...


Must have firm grip, a pair of sniper's eyes and a knack for gadgets.  

Endless missions await. 

Will supply with aging weaponry, middling assistance and new demands daily. Must like ugly weather and attractive gasbags. Motoring skills mandatory. Penchant for pockets a plus. Will train. Won't coddle. Shoulders eroded. Spines maligned. Empty stares lengthened. Bad attitudes validated. Abuse a certainty. Respect sporadic. Worldview widened. Anecdotes amassed. Swagger magnified.

(Applicants assume all risks.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Oh, The Places You'll (be forced to) Go!

Congratulations! Today is your day! You're the photog on call! You’re off and away! There’s poo on the highway. And goo at the zoo. Stop by the station and grab a hair-do! Lex will be waiting. Or maybe take June. Just don’t go with Nigel. That dude’s a buffoon! 

The scanner just burped! It horkled and hacked! We’re gonna need you two to come back! Pick up a live truck! Head straight out of town! An unpleasant something has just fallen down! 

You can’t lag behind! But please do not speed! There’s no time for lunch! You’re now THE LEAD! Producers are juicing! A manager stammered! I’m pretty sure our sports guy is hammered! 

We know you’re not there yet! And busy as hell. But we need to know just HOW this thing fell? Did something else push it? Did it just take a dive? Was it feeling depressed? All out of jive? Let us know when you get there. WE'LL DO IT LIVE! 

You’ll round off the bottom. In a box off the top! We’ll come back after weather. And probably not stop! We’re still in the book. So try not to flop! Now put down that phone and know you’re the best. Whatever you do, wear that damn yellow vest! Tweet when you get there. We’ll flesh out the rest!

You’ll come to a place where the streets are not marked. We don’t really give a damn where you parked. Just get on that guardrail. The countdown’s begun. Fire up the camera. Set it on STUN. There’s no time to focus. You’re up on the bird. Stand by for grandeur… 

Let’s polish this turd!

A Little Less Conversation...

They may smell like a bucket of wet gym socks, but I've found most college mascots to be pretty reasonable creatures. Sure, they're misunderstood. But how can you not be when you're a spherical fruit with stubby blue arms?  Where can a tiger with cereal issues go, without someone yelling "You're G-r-r-r-e-e-a-t! And who can blame a horse-headed playboy for pickin' up digits on the road? I can't! Which is why I jumped at the chance to speak with a number of them at an industry function the other day. Well, actually I was the only one speaking. Mascots are pretty quiet. In fact, they don't talk at all! Don't know why, really. Anyhoo, sitting there, listening to the minutes of the meeting not be read, I got to thinking...

Ya know, mascots and photogs aren't all that different. Both species sweat profusely, both suffer from poor peripheral vision and both know how to whip the natives into a frenzy with just the roll of a shoulder. Maybe that's why I always identified with these taciturn assassins - even Shadow Satan over there. Normally, I try to avoid fallen angels, but I gotta say, for an agent of the underworld, he's good people. I just wish he'd share some sordid road stories with me, but all he ever did is stare. Then he pantomimed my execution, much to the pleasure of the cleaning crew. Once I even asked a cheerleader WHY these creatures are so quiet all the time. She only shrugged and said the mascots didn't like to talk about it. 

I guess I should have seen that coming.

An Important Message To Families...


Does your young teenager think camera crews are cool? Does he only stop fondling the remote control when the local news is on? Does she hold her phone strangely sideways when snapping a selfie? WE CAN HELP. What seems like a passing interest in TV News can lead them down a road filled with potholes, potholes that your son or daughter will be expected to stop and put on television. That’s no life for anybody. Which is why we here at the Lenslinger Institute have established a unusual youth intervention program to discourage kids from even considering what was once the world’s most interesting dead-end job.


We blow up your kid’s phone at 3 AM, tell ‘em there’s a circus train derailment on the edge of town and we need their help. They’ll be excited at first, but that feeling will fade once our crack team of washed-up photogs arrive and throw them into the back of our very own live truck (the one with the blacked out windows!). From there we run your son/daughter through a gauntlet of real world news gathering scenarios, from the soul-draining tedium of a simulated city council meeting to virtual hurricane immersion! The shift is long but it usually ends with the kind of panic attack that will send your little hipster running straight for the nearest Coast Guard recruiter. Hey, look who’s making America great again!


Our rough but loving crew of photog-expats and rogue sound recordists are determined to make sure your little buttercup doesn’t make the same mistakes they did. Which is why we have no problem abandoning them in a Wal-Mart parking lot until they can score fresh sound on the Battle of Gallipoli. Truth is most of our staff emotionally shattered, if not estranged from their families. But that’s not important right now! What IS important is that your child understands there’s no simply future in covering yesterday’s news. So don’t get all weirded out if they come home talking about being strapped to a wobbly stepladder and handed a red-hot handycam. I can personally assure you that the Waffle House sausage grease we spray on them during the plebe period IS 100% Gluten-free.


Sure, our tactics are a bit unconventional, but we guarantee your snowflake won’t be pass a local news car in traffic without getting the vapors. They’ll thank you later. And considering they’re gonna be the ones picking out your rest home, it pays to maximum their income potential NOW. Ya know, studies show that every time a young adult pursues a career in TV News, a future venture capitalist dies. Our country can’t withstand that. So do what’s right and cough up the seven payments of $49.99! The sooner you do, the sooner we can frog-march your little smart-ass through the longest workday of their young lives. They’ll come back with a weird eye twitch and a major better attitude. Most importantly, you’ll rest easy knowing your children’s future is a little bit brighter - and for far less cash than even a decent reform school…

Speaking of which, did we mention the extra charge for the souvenir video?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bum Rush the Show

Carry a TV News camera around long and someone will tell where you to stick it. Usually, you see it coming. Body language is a steady tell, pack mentality can get you killed, even your own logo can turn on you in the flash of a bigot's eye. Yup, it's dodgy out here in the shit. Which is why a seasoned news crew tries to avoid dangerous places whenever it can (9 out of 10 times, it can't).

Biker gang hangout, active crack-house, any Chuck E. Cheese: there are plenty of places I'd rather not take my gear. But when the train carrying secret government lunar juice jumps the track, crashes into the psycho hospital and creates a new breed of murderous moon zombies, someone has to try and score a sit-down with 'em.

Luckily, the television camera is a powerful weapon. It's got a pistol grip, a rolling barrel and crosshairs to spare. Aim it at the right person in the wrong way and you could instantly alter their life. Folks know it, too, and whether they admit it or not, the mere sight of a casually carried camera can affect their every behavior.

Don't believe me? Roll into a water park with your lens aloft. You'll see Soccer Moms who can't swim throw themselves in the deep end - all so you won't put their least favorite body part on the evening news. Walk through a reality show audition tent with thing on your shoulder. You'll come out of there with whole new relationships! And the urge to shower.

But you don't have to head to Hollywood to feel the white hot hatred on display at the nearest political rally. (Sad!) Or the steaming resentment coming off the early morning workout crowd, just because you barged into their gym with a live TV camera and a reporter dressed like some kind of weird love elf.
"You there, with the bulging eyeballs and barbell on your neck, put that silly thing down and come tell the good folks of the Upper Valley Heartland Crescent just what Valentine's Day means to you!"
 Looking back, we were lucky to get out of that one alive.

Found Footage: The Lost Interview

I was - AHEM - googling myself the other day when I stumbled across this previously unseen clip. It's an excerpt from last year's podcast with Christian Parkinson, a ten minute dirge in which I prattle on about hoarding Granola bars and driving through mud puddles. It's pretty meta, alright, but if you're into bleary dissertations about keeping cameras dry from a guy who clearly needs more sleep in his life, who am I to judge? I just wish I'd splashed my face or something before firing up the Skype thingie.

I look like my Dad on a bender.

A Message From Our Staff...

Here at The Lenslinger Institute, we believe in granting certain senior faculty members extended leaves of absence. Erratic and unannounced, these epic visionquests are a curriculum quirk unique to the field of Cameramanthropology -- as only sudden, seemingly stupid safaris can truly emulate the bug-eating wonder that is modern day news-gathering. At least that's the way our founder explained it, before fetching his boy Otto and escaping upriver. That was nearly a year ago and though we cursed his name and burned his stuff the moment he was gone, we never denied the fact that one day his goofy ass would return. Well, here we are. His Lenslocity rolled up on shore an hour ago, reeking of spent deadlines and live oysters. He won't say where he's been, only muttering something about a missing microphone and island harlots. We on the Senior Advisory Board can only trusty our enigmatic leader has been stewing in his lagoon again. That or dude scored a righteous freelance gig and he's holding out on the rest of us. Either way, the Earl of Churl is back and he seems to wanna fire up the blog again.

Stand by...