Stretching — It’s Not Just Your Workout

Stretching is good for you. We stretch when we wake up in the morning. It helps shake loose the cobwebs. We stretch before we exercise; it’s supposed to enhance our performance. When we were teenagers, we faked a stretch to get our arm around the cheerleader we took to the movies because it disguised our true intentions. Hell, these days, I stretch before a perp walk. Pookie can duck and cover pretty fast when four lenses are aimed at him.

Stretching in our daily work is different. Who really wants to think hard enough tell that City Council story differently? We’ve told that crime story so many times, we could shoot it in our sleep and still have time for a full hour lunch. And what does it really matter?

About a month ago, reporter Elizabeth Vowell presented me with a story that would have me stretching every creative fiber in my body tighter than the waistband of Chris Christie’s boxers. Liz is a rare and emerging breed in the newsroom: reporter who can write her ass off and knows her way around a baby cam and a laptop editor. If she was asking for help, I knew she was on to something good.

Her pitch was simple enough. She had been talking with a mother who, 30 years ago, had been a heroin addict. She kicked the drug without an organized rehab program. Now, her 25-year-old daughter was walking in those same footsteps. They had agreed to open their home, their lives, and their hearts. It was a story I knew Liz could handle on her own, but she had me salivating to tell it. Then she hit me with the one caveat. They wished to remain anonymous.

That first day, Liz and I must have talked for close to a half hour about the importance of viewers being able to identify with “Donna” and “Anna” from the first few seconds of the story. That meant making them normal people living everyday lives just like the rest of us. They had to be real. That meant no fuzzy digital effects. Shooting the interviews in silhouette would be the easy part. The stretching would come in when we had to cover what we thought would be a 3-4 minute story (It came in just short of 6:30.) with no faces.

The bigger problem, if we wanted this to be real, would be video to talk about the drug, addiction, and counseling — none of which we would have ready access to.

Again, trying to keep it real for people in Baton Rouge, we decided cheesy network video of seedy flop houses somewhere in the Northeast was not for us. We would have to get creative. Taking Anna through her old haunts was out because those places would likely trigger her need for the drug.

What we came up with was a subtle symbolism. We would use dead trees, barren branches, and the general decay of area of town where Anna bought her drugs to help us through some of the rough patches in the story.

I came up with a few tricks to get us around the addiction and recovery talk, but it wasn’t without a lot of trail and error. It all sounds simple when it’s laid out like this, but there were many false starts and failed attempts along the way. (Like the day I drowned a GoPro LSU Lake without it’s waterproof housing.)

When the edit was done, my brain was fried, and my creative muscles ached. They don’t get a workout like that every day. But it was good to stretch them. And the end result was something Donna and Anna deserved.

But the best thing about all this stretching is that it started to rub off on the daily stories I shot while we were working on Donna and Anna’s story. Once you train your mind to stretch, it tends to want more of it. So maybe stretching does improve performance after all.

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Philosophy 101

IMG_0581I was sitting there. Waiting on a perp. . . . Okay, I was standing. . . . Alone. No intern to chat up. No misanthrope from the competition to kvetch with. Not even a Public Information Officer to eyeball at me through mirrored shades.

With too many layers of clothes to comfortably gaze into my navel, and too much time to kill, what’s a photog to do but wax philosophical?

Barton, Anderson, Wertheimer, Gross, Jones, Rose; I’ve studied at the feet of the masters for literally half my life.  In one blog post, I will try to answer the questions that have plagued the photog nation since the the very first shooter SOTcrotes philosophized “No photog uses tripod willingly.” (What can I say; it was a long wait.)

If a perp walks to a police car, and there are no cameras there for him to spit at, does he make a sound? This is actually a thought experiment that challenges a photog’s powers of observation and his knowledge of reality. A houseboy may think that since there is no photog to document the lobbed lung butter that sound would be impossible. But the astute vidiot not only knows that a freshly cuffed criminal always flaps his gums, but that said shooter had better catch it in Digital Dolby Surround Sound for his reporter shall surely not write to it.

Why? The longest running of all philosophical questions has perplexed more learned minds than mine. But any photog worth his 2x extender knows the answer: Because a consultant told a producer to. Thus, even a thinking man’s shooter, finds himself standing in gale-force winds, hurtling down snow-covered interstates, hanging on the corner with Pookie and Ray-Ray, and live from dark closet.

What is the nature of photog? Plato, Socrates, Augustine, they all dealt with good and evil. As a street philosopher, I call bullshit. Photogs don’t deal in such esoteric debates. The nature of photog is reality. Producers can drone on about how great a live Christmas tree lighting or fireworks extravaganza would look at the top of their show, and send some poor schlub out to make it happen for them. A photog knows it will never happen. He also knows that if he raises the possibility of things in real life not timing out to a stacker’s carefully planned idea of how he would like reality to conform, said shooter will be tagged as an antagonist and earn more useless live shots in the future as punishment. So the photog keeps his mouth shut and quietly watches as things unravel one minute before the show.

When’s lunch? It’s truly as philosophical as a shooter gets. As a realist, he knows that philosophy is as useless on the streets as that Ken Dimplecheek’s can of hairspray is during hurricane coverage. And the answer to this question is: It aint lunch till the desk says it’s lunch.

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Snow Day!

Christmas ElfFar be it for me to complain about the news business — that social institution that brings such merriment and goodwill into homes each evening. If you think the steady dose of blood, guts, crime, corruption, lies, and smut (and that’s just on the capitol beat) disgusts you, imagine what it does to the hardworking mules and hairdos that wallow in that crap to earn their daily bread. It’s enough to turn even the cheeriest intern into a grumbling cynic in one semester.

Add to that the fact that television stations, like hospitals, never close, and it’s workers have to slave through the holiday season and miss the family’s roast beast. Instead of boozing it up with the rest of civilization on New Year’s Eve, TV folk must remain sober so their cameras can be in focus when you plow through the city’s nativity scene.

Needless to say, holidays in the news media aint that joyous. Oh, I try to do my part. Every year I write a Christmas carol for all the folks in the newsroom to try to force people into a jolly damned mood.

1978-Blizzard-Makes-a-Comeback-This-Time-It-s-Called-NemoLet it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Oh the weather outside is frightful
My producer is so insightful
And she’s got no other news for her show
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

No time for Christmas shopping
‘Cuz the storms they keep a popping
I got a live shot at the top of the show
Fuck the Snow! Fuck the snow! Fuck the snow!

When the anchorman says good-night
I’ll still be standing out in the storm!
Cuz a photog’s got no life
And no one to keep him warm.

His soul is slowly dying
And the stacker soon starts her crying
I need another shot for my show
Fuck the Snow! Fuck the snow! Fuck the snow!

Here’s wishing all you newsies a snow-free, wreck-less, fire retardant, controversy proof, yule tide.

Turd!

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Wing Girl

Never realized I liked chick-lit. But it’s sarcastic as hell, so I get a pass.

Rick Is Not Writing . . . again

I knew Nic Tatano before he was Nic Tatano.

He and I were colleagues during my formative years as a television storyteller. The dude’s got a dry wit and a sarcastic tongue sharp enough to shave with. (Now there’s an image you want while eating your bagel.) It helped that we were both trapped in television news hell. We both knew he wasn’t long for local news.

Now the dude I used to snicker at has the whole world laughing at him . . . or at least he hopes to. See, NIc has taken all that stuff he knew about the whack-jobs inside the newsroom and the New York bar scene and turned it into a romantic comedy . . . with a twist, of course.

9780007548583Wing Girl turns the dating world on it’s head. Belinda Carson is a hard-nosed investigative reporter by day and an attention magnet…

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Positively Neutral

1235486_10201351624165473_1061309330_nIt started as an experiment. A dare of sorts. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you know what I mean. Since January 1, I’ve been Mister Positive, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark universe. Alas, the boss has informed me that my incessant uplifting messages are ethically questionable.

It seems that in my fervor to find the brighter side of life’s little disappointments, I have failed to be fair to all other sides of the situation.

Looking back over 9 months of positivity, it is clear I’ve been a bad journalist. As early as January 9 when I posted. Positive update #33: Backed up toilet story! MY LUCKY DAY!!!! 

I thought I was simply psyching myself up to tackle a nasty project. I was forgetting the first rule of journalism, objectivity. What about all the toilets that were not backed up? What about all the other stories that I would not tell that day? Should I really be excited over a turd in someone’s living room? What about all the toilets that flushed properly on that rainy day. Sadly, I took a side, and I apologize to the newsgods.

And again on January 12, I posted: Positive Update #45: Breaking News. STAY INSIDE!!! Bright heavenly orb warms skin and makes eyes water! If you must exit your home, Use Caution! I thought sunshine after 17 days of rain was something positive. I failed to consider all the work boatbuilders and animal wranglers were doing in preparation for the global flood, and gave them short-shrift. It was nearsighted of me, and I apologize.

On February 15, I thought the end of racial acrimony in our city was a thing to celebrate and posted this: PositiveUpdate#225: News irony! Black community rallies against black mayor for firing white police chief . . . named White! I forgot about all the white supremacists that watch the news and ask that they forgive my lack of balance in that post.

325I also apologize for all those happy posts from the capitol during the latest legislative session: PositiveUpdate#507: I get to go back to the capitol again today! So if you see me wearing a goofy smirk, just shoot me. It was careless of me to add to the partisan attitude in the state house by only shedding light on the positive. I hope my negative brothers from the other side of the aisle will accept my sincerest apology and that we can go forward together in complete neutrality.

The summer was no different. On August 14, I posted: PositiveUpdate#952: I’M GOING TO THE CIRCUS!!!! Well, Port Allen City Council, same thing. It was shallow of me to take joy in my good fortune to take in the spectacle of the Port Allen City Council with such frenzy. I rubbed salt in the wound of all those who could not be there for the “witch hunt” and “acquisitions.”

1005338_10201351623685461_152351036_nAnd as recent as September 11, I ran afoul of journalistic objectivity. PositiveUpdate#1057: Record-setting pace by the EBR Metro council! 3 committees appointed in 1 meeting!  It was wrong of me to slight all the bad legislation the council actually passed that evening by only highlighting the good things the council failed to pass.

I know that a single blog post can never atone for the damage I have done to my professional reputation over the past 8+ months. I ask for your indulgence, and the indulgences of the news gods while I begin making amends.

Never again will I post anything positive, or negative for that matter. From now on call me Mr. Neutral.

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Celebrating 50 Years of News

Titanic_TrailerI believe the year was 2000 — December if I remember correctly. Frothy adult beverages flowed like water, so please forgive the lack of my usual precision. Long before DVRs, Hulu, and Youtube, we noticed it — viewers fleeing television like Leo DiCaprio off the Titanic.

We were a small enclave of television professionals who saw the decline of our beloved media and set out to do something about it. While consultants pushed the latest gimmick to attract viewers (at the time it was hand-held everything), we eschewed the trends and proposed something bold that would hold viewers still watching and welcome back those who had left.

We proposed this idea to all who would listen. (Actually, we said it so loudly that the people at the surrounding tables shot us dirty stares and eventually left.) No one took us seriously.

Now, as CBS celebrates the 50th year of the half-hour news format, and even news organizations search sites like The Onion for information, it is time once again to make our proposal to save television news.

Monkeys.

Planet-of-the-Apes-1968We’re not talking those damned dirty apes that caged Charelton Heston and destroyed American society. We’re talking actual simians. Chimps, orangutans, gorillas, and baboons  all clad in the latest fashions, delivering the news.

Think Lancelot Link on the news desk.

Really think about it. Who doesn’t love a monkey? And one who delivers the days headlines with panache? That’s gotta be worth at least half a ratings point.

Before you “pshaw” our idea, really think about it. Oh, sure there’s the whole monkeys don’t possess the vocal chords for speech thing. We say, give them time. They will learn. Aristotle assured us such things were possible in his infinite monkey theorem. And Aristotle knew his shit. (And until they develop said vocal chords, Chet Greytemples can do the voiceover work for half the price he now charges. Beancounters rejoice!)

images-1Who wouldn’t watch a cute little chimp reporting on the 400-pound tomato grown by Betty in Baker?

Who could pry their eyes from the Consumerwatch Baboon as he chases down a slumlord then throws his own feces at him?

web_233423_364615Or what about Political Correspondent Oran G Tan? Hell, he looks smarter than 3/4 of the state house and the senate.

Sports? Sam the Spidermonkey can already talk faster than Jim Shorts. And he’ll work for peanuts.

images-2Weather might be a stretch. We don’t know of many monkeys stupid enough to stand in the face of an on-coming hurricane and tell people to stay indoors, but if push comes to shove, we feel confident that the promise of stale snacks and a killer open for his resume tape could convince a sliverback gorilla to take his chances.

“But what about credibility?” You purists ask. Sure, monkeys would be fun to watch. They are unpredictable, and oh so cute. But who would believe anything that comes from their little simian mouthes? They are animals after all. They have no concept of integrity, fairness, objectivity! They cannot form a thought of their own! They cannot fathom the weightiness of the days events on which they report! They are stupid!

They couldn’t be more stupid than this.

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Apologies to James Taylor

117833842.RcZdomqd.DSC_0708_1_1ps8_620_filtered3_ir1It’s been a while. I’ve been feeling melancholy about the whole devolution of news. I put a pen to paper and came up with ditty. My apologies to James Taylor.

FIRE AND RAIN

Woke up in your edit bay and they said you were live
Newsman the date you had will never survive
Walked out the newsroom with a hairdo in tow
You just can’t remember where they said to go

You’ve shot fire and you’ve shot rain
Shot teary eyes and windy skies and the presidential plane
You’ve shot crowded roads and traffic jams and meetings without end
But you never thought that you’d be here again

Don’t you look down upon the sound guy
With the boom pole in his hand
Lav mics and XLRs and headphones he calls cans
Your back is aching and the IFB’s jammed
You’ll have to cue them the old fashioned way.

Oh, you’ve shot riots and you’ve shot pain
Shot senator’s lies, apple pies, and stalks of sugar cane
You’ve shot sewer lines, kudzu vines and the cries of the insane
But you never thought that you’d be here again

Been walking your mind through the hood this time while Pookie’s on the run
Lord knows if the intern blows but she looks like a lot of fun
Well, there’s time to kill and there’s time to fill speculatin bout things to comeSweet dreams of plots and schemes and EMMYs to be won

Oh, you’ve shot liars and you’ve shot flames
Shot lens meat, Street Beat, and high school football games
You’ve shot a bony diva who thought you were her friend
But you never thought that you’d be here, baby, one more time again, now

Thought you’d shoot this same story one more time again
There’s just the same things coming your way this time around.
Thought you’d be here, thought you’d be live in the rain, now

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