Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Waves of Three

Waves of weirdness tend to cascade my way in groups of three.  Such was the case today.  Upon receiving our assignment and learning a wide eyed intern would be accompanying us, veteran reporter Mark Becker and myself waxed poetic about the relevance of Tom Waits in modern society and then we were off...

Today's story wasn't very exciting, so I'll spare you the details.  But I did come away with three encounters that should leave you either with tears in your eyes or scratching your head.

1) While gathering some wallpaper video of a store that was robbed last month, I kept hearing this insanely loud crackling coming through my head phones.  This noise was actually spoiling my ambient nats!  I turned around to discover some guy was selling stun guns out of the trunk of his car.  Apparently our presence was cramping his style, because as soon as he realized a news crew was around, he turned to the line of cars waiting to drive up to him, (YES! There was a line of folks waiting to get their boot leg stun guns), and reported to them "Hey people, these shits is the real deal but I can't be doin' this in front of the cameraman... meet me out back."  Then they formed a caravan and drove off behind the store.  I certainly hope I didn't ruin his profit for the day, I admire entrepreneurship. 

2) While searching for what we call MOS sound or, "man on the street", I encountered a man in his mid 70's who felt compelled to tell me every detail of his life.  Including but not limited to where he grew up, where he worked, how he met his wife, and even the sordid details surrounding the circumcision procedure he apparently endured at the ripe age of five.  The old top even used hand gestures with his explanation.  Here's how the conversation went.

Him: "You young folks don't know nothing bout how it used to be.  When I was five years old my mama brought me to that hospital to get my, uh, um, whatcha call it?? (motions to his crotch) You know, the skin down there?"  

Me: "Your foreskin? She brought you here for a circumcision?"

Him: "Yep! Mmhmm, that's right, that's what it was. A-A-uh-A A circumcision.  They cut my foreskin off when I was five.  Damn, I memba that just like it was yesterday.  Bet you was lucky enough to have it done when you was a baby huh?"

Me:  Blinking - Just blinking - 5 or 6 second pause - "Thanks for the interview sir, and thanks for watching."

If this job has taught me anything, it's that some people just want someone to talk to, and they will say ANYTHING if you give them enough time.

3) I'd just wrapped my 6 o'clock live shot and was refueling my live van at the gas station just around the corner from the TV station I work at.  It's pretty common to encounter a beggar at this locale, but today's derelict was craftier than most.  While I'm pumping my gas, this guy limps over to me.  Cane in hand, coughing, the whole 9 yards.  "Hey cameraman, can I get 75 cents, I'm trying to buy myself a cold drink." I told him I didn't have any change and apologized - expecting him to mumble something and limp away with his cane.  What actually happened was this:  The guy stood up straight, cleared his throat, tucked his cane under his arm and said "It's cool cameraman, thanks anyway!" And then he ran off.  You catch that? RAN! That's ambition if I've ever seen it.  If this guy isn't doing anything with his time, he should seek out a local playhouse and audition for a lead role in something.

Now while my story might not have been the most visual or the coolest of the day, I'd still call this work day a win.  How often have you had conversations like these with total strangers?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slurpee Day!!!!

Few people in this world will whore themselves out quicker for something free than a tv news crew.  Granted, it shouldn't total more than $25 at a time, then it's payola.

That said, today was July 11th... 7/11, and all the 7-Eleven's across the country were offering free 7.11oz Slurpee's to anyone who wanted one.  Reporter Alan Cavanna is the only person at my station that shares the level of enthusiastic appreciation for the Slurpee as I.  Especially the SUGAR FREE ones!

So today, much to our amusement, we were assigned to work together.  It must have been fate!  What made it all the better was that we were given an intern who first asked me if he could join us, to which I replied:

"Look dude, I have 2 goals today... get as many free Slurpee's as possible and make slot for the show.  Don't interfere with that, and you can go anywhere you want with us."

And as if this wasn't enough, said intern then told Alan he'd be accompanying us today to which Alan replied:

"Well, you could go with Becker and learn alot... or you can come with us and get some free Slurpee's."

Are you noticing a theme here? Slurpee's.  Plural.  More than just one.  Meaning multiple...

Our plan was to hit as many 7-Eleven stores as possible while out gathering video for our story, before we had a 2 o'clock deadline.  We hit the the first one over in the ghetto right around 11o'clock just as Free Slurpee Day was beginning.

Shortly after downing this tasty treat and introducing the intern to a world of liquid refreshment he'd never known, we spent well over an hour seeking out MOS sound in the park.

I earnestly turned to Alan and asked if we were going to definitely try for at least one more before returning to camp to log sound.  He assured me we would.

And then the craziest thing happened...  You see, there's a 7-Eleven right near my station.  Only about 2 blocks away.  We didn't hit it first because it seemed too obvious... the easiest choice.  If these things were free then we were going to search the corners of the Queen City in our pursuit.  So, you can imagine my surprise when we pulled into our 7-Eleven.  The one near our station.  On our turf, and saw a live van from the competition.

Something immediately in my gut told me that I knew who it was.... And I was right!

It was my sweet wife who had stumbled into enemy territory and noticed a lone 7-eleven perched between the train tracks and the homeless shelter.

We paused briefly for this picture and to exchange a Slurpee "cheers" before departing and moving on to our daily assignments.

If you missed out on Slurpee day, I hate it for you... but there's always next year.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lens Therapy

Most professions have a gauge of success, something your industry uses to determine just exactly how good you are at what you do.  In the warped world of tv news photographers, we have a simple saying: "You are only as good as your last story."

As I'm sure you know by now, last weekend I interviewed one of the men who died as a result of the C-130 crash in South Dakota.

Today was my first day back behind the viewfinder since then, and as I was having my morning cup of coffee before heading into work, my phone chimed with the it's signature "email tone" at about 8:30.  It was from my champion assignment editor Ashley Talley.

The subject line simply read: "Feel good story for you to shoot as an anchor pkg today!".  I opened it and immediately, equal feelings of relief & panic came over me.  I was scheduled to interview a retired US Army Captain who had overcome drug addiction with the aid of a local non-profit organization, and had put his life back together.

Instantly the gears in my head began to turn.  "How am I going to light this?" "How much can I ask this guy without digging too deep?" "What's our angle?" "Will he be receptive of me putting my fancy cam right in face and asking him to relive some of the darkest moments of his life?"

What I came away with was a minute and thirty five seconds of television I will never forget.

I initially offered to write this story, but found the anchor I would be collaborating with, Natalie Pasquarella, had a mutual interest in this story because she volunteers with the organization that helped this man get back on his feet.

My good friend Leighton Grant has asked me on multiple occasions, "When's the last time you cried in your viewfinder?"  Well, today it happened.

It was almost as if the news gods had shined upon me, and this story was given favor over anything else I would be doing today.  The man was receptive, well spoken, eloquent, generous, and above all... humble.  He told me of his self described "fall from grace", and how he had initially set out to get clean for his family.  The motivation quickly turned to rebuilding his life and reinventing himself as a man with purpose.

I hope you give this a watch, because it isn't your traditional Independence Day story.  It's a journey of hope and one man's desire to rise about his circumstance, his past transgressions, and his overall need to survive.  The photography isn't anything extraordinary, but the story telling is pretty strong, and the emotion is real.  And that has become my ultimate goal in this job, to consistently make the viewer feel something.

Usually my favorite part of any story is the editing.  I close the door to the edit bay and turn into a machine, searching for the perfect nat pop or three step sequence, and weave my video into a menagerie of pictures and sound.

For this story, my favorite part was a chance run in with this man around 9 o'clock in uptown. My wife and I had walked to the EpiCentre for some frozen yogurt before taking in the holiday fire works, and as we descended the stairs to Trade Street... There he was walking up towards us.  I shouted his name and he immediately bolted in my direction with his friend.

"Did you see it? What did you think?!" I blurted out.  "My phone hasn't stopped ringing from friends and family who saw it..." he replied.  And then he told me something I will never forget, "Thank you for letting me tell my story."

The truth is that I'm more thankful to him for letting me telling it, and if I'm really honest... I needed this story today.  We don't always get to tell good news, but today was one of those days.  It served as a reminder that what I do has purpose, and it affects people.

This one won't likely win me any kind of award, and I'm perfectly ok with that.  Because today I got to tell a good story.  And as long as that is my measuring stick, then I can rest tonight knowing I did my job well.

Monday, July 2, 2012

An Unfitting Obituary

This past Saturday morning, I was assigned to cover a local Air National Guard group as they prepared to depart Charlotte, NC and head to the growing inferno that was once the Rocky Mountains.

I was told to shoot enough of it that we could potentially use it for a long form story known in the news world, as a package, for the 6 o'clock news.  I arrived, set up my tripod, put a mic on my interview subjects, gathered some b roll, and came away with 29 clips of video.

I would learn today, courtesy of one of my favorite assignment editors Ashley Talley, that those 29 clips would be the last time anyone photographed some of these airmen.

The story is still developing, but the long and short of it is this:  the 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, NC deployed three C-130 Hercules planes to Colorado to help battle the raging wildfires taking place right now.  From what we're all learning, only 2 of those planes will be coming home when the dust settles.

Here's a link about the story.

So when my iPhone went off this afternoon, alerting me that a new email had arrived from the desk, I opened it and my heart sank.

Now I don't want to appear dramatic, or like I am blowing this whole thing out of proportion, but when I learned some of these airmen had died; specifically Lt Col. Paul Mikeal, a man I'd interviewed less than 48 hours ago... I genuinely had tears in my eyes.  I cried...

And I keep asking myself "why?".  Was it because he was a member of the military?  Was it because he seemed so confident and assured of what he was about to go do? I told my wife this afternoon about this struggle that I had going on inside of me... And as she always does, she helped put it into perspective.

You see, as news photographers, we go to places where people have died all the time, and interview their families, friends, and loved ones and find out about them that way.  We don't meet them before they die.  I believe that's why this story has rocked me to the core.

I met this airman.  I shook his hand.  I looked him in the eye and told him my name.  I saw the confidence and genuine patriotism that he carried himself with.  All before he died.

As this story develops and the names are officially released, I am certain I will experience a range of emotions.  The one question I keep asking myself is "How and why did this happen?".

I am sure we'll learn the cause of the crash once a lengthy investigation takes place, and that all of these men will be laid to rest with military honors.  What I can't seem to shake is the sense of apathy I felt Saturday morning as I was there.

"Get the interviews, get the cutaways, get the b roll, and move out... You've got three other stories to shoot today."  That's what I kept telling myself... I shot 29 clips of video.  29 clips of video that will forever change the way I approach any story, from now on.