Sunday, July 30, 2006

Captain Kirk -vs- Mr Myagi: Cage Match!

You know one of the biggest reasons for me to do this blog is so people can tag along with me when I get a cool assignment.

Cool assignment? Yeah, right. I haven't gotten a lot of those lately.

I'm not complaining. There's been a definite upswing and I always tell people to just hang in there with me. I go through lots of up and down cycles. Shucks, this week found me shooting interviews with Shaq and Schwarzenegger. On Friday I topped it off covering a segment of "In The Garden" with Anne Martin.

What?



Trust me, it all makes sense. See that sign? It clearly says, Water Reclamation Plant. What they really mean is RAW SEWAGE!

What does raw sewage have to do with our garden segment? Not much (unless you're being mean). If you take a close look at the sign, you'll see the whole obvious reason why we were there.



This water reclamation plant is also the home of a six and half acre Japanese Garden. One of the top Japanese Gardens in the United States. I don't know how well it ranks compared to the Japanese Gardens in Japan. Probably not so good. Here in the USA? It's a darn good garden.



Who knew? This place is huge and completely hidden from the public view.

Serene and beautiful, this has to rank as one of the best kept secrets of Los Angeles. It's open to the public and it's been around for years.



The main administration building might even be more famous than the garden itself. Does it look familiar?



The garden and the administration building has been used on more than one occasion in Star Trek as Star Fleet Academy. Am I the only one who didn't know about this place?



Does this still count as a brush with celebrity? Sure, why not?

Say what you want, this was not a bad capper to what might actually have been my best week this year. Every day was something different and it was all mostly cool.

I'm not going to bring down the room and complain about having to walk much of the six and a half acres carrying my gear. I won't complain about working in the blazing hot SoCal summer and enduring the stench of raw sewage for the couple of b-roll shots we'd need from the other part of the facility.

Nah, that would just ruin the illusion.

Pass the sunscreen and somebody tell Scotty, one to beam up.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Shaq Fu!

Anybody recognize this guy?

I shot an interview with Shaquille O'Neal yesterday. It was almost like a breaking news story because our sports department needed to borrow a photographer from news (and that happened to be me). It was a really a spur of the moment thing and none of the sports shooters were available.

Lucky me.



They told me to meet Jim Hill at the Beverly Hills Hotel. . .uh, Hilton. . .wait. . .it's the one on Wilshire. What? There's two on Wilshire?

Screw it. I just start driving towards Beverly Hills. I'm not worried (never worry), just concerned that Shaq might be kept waiting.

He's always seemed to be a nice guy, but my impression is that he's not someone who'll hang out in the lobby and wait for a news crew.



I talked to Jim Hill on his cell phone. He let me know which hotel was the correct one (the Beverly Wilshire) and I made my way over to it.

I parked on a side street, grabbed my gear, walked up to the front of the hotel and watched the rich and maybe famous while I waited for Jim Hill and/or Shaq to arrive.

I just have one observation that I want to share:

1.) Hot summer day 2.) Beverly Hills 3.) Fake boobs.

It was pretty ridiculous. I'd have taken a picture to share, but I think that would have just been creepy.



Jim Hill arrived and then Shaq arrived. We walked into the hotel, found a quiet spot and did a quick interview.

Cut, print, that's a wrap.

I was amazed that the hotel people didn't bother us about shooting inside of the hotel. Places where the rich and famous and cosmetically enhanced hang out don't normally just let news crews come in and shoot interviews. I'm guessing that Shaq just has that kind of clout.

Heck, I'm not even sure he was staying there.



Anyone can probably do that kind of thing when you're over seven feet tall and weigh over three hundred pounds. I guess if you also happen to be "Shaq", you can actually get away with it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Coolshots?

Okay, one more post for Mrs. Santana. She left a comment for me while I was in the middle of posting this morning and I just happen to have a shot or two of her husband.



That's my buddy, News Photographer Ali Santana from the beFrank archives around the year 2001.

How's that for speedy service?

He don't blink enough either.

Man, it's too hot to chase Govenor Schwarzenegger around town. Well, I guess somebody has to do it.

That was my assignment yesterday. It was fun. I got to work with one of my favorite reporters (sorry about the two-shot, Dave) and I got to shoot a one-on-one interview with the Governator himself.

Afterwards, I followed Arnold to a couple more campaign stops in pursuit of b-roll.



Gotta tell you, I liked it when he was sitting still at the Lula Washington Dance Studio and we were in an airconditioned auditorium.



At the time, I didn't realize how good I had it. We didn't get punch and pie, but we got a nice little dance concert.



We shot the interview, then he and his entourage left. His next stop was Olvera Street. That's outside.

Outside bad.

I don't know what they put on the Governor, but he doesn't sweat. I was drenched by the time he had walked his way through the crowds of people.

Two thoughts come to mind. One, it's highly possible that he's in better shape than me (hey now, he didn't have to carry a camera).



The other possibility is that he really is a "Terminator" cyborg from the future.



If that's the case, the protestors need to change their signs. All these issues seem a little less important when compared to the complete freaking robotic takeover of the planet.



Okay, too silly.

I'm sorry, but it was hot yesterday and pretty absurd to follow him the way I did.

Photo opportunities? All part of the job.

At least I got an interesting assignment. Plus, I got a little bit of a workout. The Governor is doing his part to insure news photographers stay physically fit. . .or is it part of some diabolical plan?

Hmmm.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"be" an artist?

Sure. Why not?

Sometimes cool things happen and I'm there to witness it. I might even record it to put it on the news. Well, coming up in August, I got a cool thing happening for me.

(I don't know if it might make the news, but it will certainly make the blog.)



NoHo Gallery LA is going to exhibit artwork from media professionals. Four photographs of mine were selected to be a part of the exhibit.

Am I jazzed? Yeah.

Artist reception on Friday, August 18th from 6-10PM.

I think there's going to be punch and pie, but don't quote me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Smoking Hot Shakespeare

Yeah, that's my foot in the picture. It was relaxing along with the rest of me (not pictured), in Polliwog Park over the weekend.

Enjoying the company of friends and waiting for this year's Shakespeare by the Sea performance.



This year they performed "The Comedy of Errors". I can just vaguely remember seeing it performed at Cal State Long Beach back in the early eighties.

It's held up pretty well.

I saw it for extra credit in a theatre class. It was either an acting or playwriting course, I don't remember exactly which. Come to think of it, I also don't remember much of the performance either.

Typical of me, I do specifically remember sleeping through a big chunk of it.



This was different. This performance managed to hold my attention. Bravo, bravo!

That wasn't an easy task. Especially considering the weather was almost too hot on Saturday for Shakespeare.

It was so hot, at one point I tried hiding from the sun under my wife's very cool extra-wide-brimmed hat. She was wearing it at the time and I was shoo'ed away.



Eventually the setting sun allowed the Manhattan Beach ocean breeze to give the audience a break from the heat.



It was a spirited performance. After some of the big ticket cultural events I've attended in the past year, I felt like I was finally getting my money's worth. You can't beat "Free".

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I liked the play, but it's not my favorite Shakespeare piece. That would be "Much Ado About Nothing" or "Romeo and Juliet".



I hear some people enjoyed this play better than last year's. Okay, I can see that.

Myself, I think the technical presentation last year was better. This year, there was a sudden audio drop for some reason when characters came onto the stage. That was really distracting.

I liked the lead actor and the character he played in last year's perforrmance better than the actors in this year's. My favorite? The screaming woman from this year had a couple of great scenes (she's pointing at the audience in the picture). I'll tell you what, if Shakespeare had written a slasher movie, I'd want to cast that screaming woman in a lead role.

That would be some great theatre.

I can honestly say, I got more out of this one than the one I slept through in college.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Two tickets, please.

It's seen better days, but come on. Who hasn't?

I mentioned the redevelopment activity happening near my neighborhood. This piece of history is going away as a part of that redevelopment.



I grew up within a couple of miles from the "Imperial", but it wasn't one of the local theatres that I went to on a regular basis. We had "The Park" theatre in Gardena and mostly we caught the bus up to the "South Bay Cinemas" at the shopping center now know as the "South Bay Galleria".

About the only show I ever caught at the Imperial was a double feature of "Black Shampoo" and "Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-In-Law" (starring Rudy Ray Moore). This was back in 1979 or 1980. Heck, it might have been 1978. I just remember that both movies were pretty bad. Okay, horrible, but they showed a lot of sex and naked breasts.

We might have sat through more than one showing.

I don't remember if it was even an issue that they let underage high school guys to "R" rated movies.



So, as you can imagine, this particular theatre holds a small warm spot in my memories. It isn't a memory of any great significance. I won't be laying down in front of any bulldozers (kind of late for that anyway), but it was and is still a fond memory from my teen years.



I look forward to the redevelopment of the area. The Imperial has been closed for quite a few years and has been an eyesore for more than a decade.

I understand how people can get caught up in trying to hang onto the past. Happy memories really are what becomes our dreams. Shucks, I don't mind admitting, I had a notion of putting my lottery winnings (sorry, "imaginary" lottery winnings) into buying and restoring an old theatre like the Imperial.

I'm thinking that's not gonna happen here.

The thing is, I'm not giving up on the dream completely. The Imperial is pretty much gone, but I'll have the memories and I have my imagination. I can always go out and make new happy memories.

Nothing is stopping me from dreaming new dreams.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Do you remember Tania?

It's official, I'm going into a full on state of withdrawal.

That's my key to the Chief Photographer's office. I'm performing Third Wheel duties this week and haven't had a free waking moment at home to put thoughts to keyboard.



It's mostly an interesting (if not adventurous) week when I'm filling in, but I may not have time to write anything of substance until the weekend.

One interesting tid-bit that I thought was worth a mention. The store front in the picture below used to belong to a sporting goods store. Not just any sporting good store. It used to be Mel's Sporting Goods.

Sound familiar?



Not a great footnote in history, but that was the Inglewood, California store where Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) made a violent appearance a day or so before their really big shootout with the LAPD.

In 1974 I lived with my family nearby in Gardena. I was shocked about the incident back then, because I'd been in there before. Shopping for fat laces for my tennis shoes, if I remember correctly.

I live closer to it now (around the corner) and I've watched as demolition has begun in preparation for redevelopment of the area. The tearing down of the building won't make the news, but I thought it might stir a few memories if people knew about it going away. I've got OSHA reports to work on and other "Chiefy" stuff to do.

Anybody know what Patty Hearst is up to these days?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Katie, how's the lighting?

The Rachel Ray interview wasn't nearly the biggest shoot I had a hand in over the last few days. At the Ritz Carlton on Sunday morning I supervised an interview with Katie Couric, our new CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor.

It might have been the biggest shoot I've had all year. This was a huge deal for my station and it absolutely needed to work out well.



Hmm. I keep starting this post over. I can't help it, I keep writing myself into a corner speculating about the decision that went into hiring Katie Couric and how I think she's going to do at our network.

I'll try to stay focused.

It was an important shoot. I understand you might have one or two things more critical happening in your life. Sure, I get that. Family health and well being? Way higher priority in the grand scheme of things. I don't think anybody would argue the point. That wasn't the kind of importance attached to this shoot.


Photo by Marvin Stone

The company wanted this interview to look good. They rented special HD gear for us.

That wasn't all.

We had two lighting guys and a freelance sound guy in addition to myself and two other staff photographers to shoot the interview. We had a makeup person, a field producer, and half a dozen people in the room (I couldn't even tell you what most of them were for).



The crew start time was 7:00am. That almost gave us "network time" to set up for the interview. Katie wasn't going to be available until after 11:00am.

We managed to get the room ready without a lot of drama. The two photographers made some suggestions and even brought some of their own gear to help tweak the look of the interview.

I think that probably made the biggest difference in the success of this shoot.



Thank goodness the lighting looked right.

It seemed like everybody who walked into the room took a peek at the monitors to make sure everything on camera was perfect. It could have gone really bad if we weren't ready. That's not the kind of pressure most people enjoy.

I don't let it bother me. I like to stay calm and it helps most often when everyone else is in panic mode.



I know some people might want to hear something more gossipy, but there's nothing more to it and I'm happy for that. The truth is, Katie was nice and the interview was quick and painless.

We weren't her first stop that day and she still had a full schedule to keep.

It all went well. I don't know if anyone else feels the same as I do, but it's always a good feeling after the work is done (no matter how important the shoot), when it's over it just feels like another day at the office.

Who knows what EVOO is?

That's a Rachel Ray"ism" shorthand for extra virgin olive oil.

It's been extra quiet lately for me, but this is more like it.

Friday I got to go to Morton's Restaurant in West Hollywood to help cover a big interview. This was a pretty huge deal for the station.



They actually sent out three photographers for a two and a half camera interview.

I ran one of those small prosumer HD cameras for b-roll. It's a nifty little piece of gear, but I'd never trade for it. Too light for my tastes, but I can see why they'll be popping up more often in what we do. Very good quality.

I think I've introduced the globe trotting Scott Mackie before and that's Marvin "1K Cooking" Stone.



I guess I've finally made it in Hollywood. I think it's fair to say, Morton's is one of those eateries where the rich and famous go to be seen.

I've covered the Vanity Fair Oscar Party a few times, but I've never been inside of Morton's.

Nice place. The TV gear added a little something to the ambiance.



My station was holding a special luncheon to welcome Rachel Ray's new syndicated show. It's going to begin airing on our network in the fall. To be honest, it's always nice to get a free meal when we're on the clock.

Heh-heh, Rachael who?

I could have had a fillet or salmon. I'm not sure what cut of beef the fillet was, I decided to go with the salmon.

It was served up on a bed of spinach and came with beets. The beets were okay, but the salmon was maybe the best I've ever had. Melt in your mouth good.



We didn't get much opportunity to hang out with Rachel Ray. I thought it was nice that she signed autographs for everyone who was at the luncheon. She's been on the go a lot lately, but still did a pretty long interview with Kent Shocknek.



We had an entourage of our station's top managers and executives hanging out for the interview.



It might have intimidated a lesser crew, but we took it all in stride.

No, that's not a Merlot. Just a diet Coke in a wine glass. I can never remember which soda goes with fish.


Photo by Marvin Stone

It was great to be working an interesting shoot. You know I haven't had enough of those recently.

It was also pretty interesting that this turned out to be the second biggest interview I helped cover this weekend.

Cheers.

I'll try to be back this evening to tell you about the other one.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cop or Fireman?

I'm not trying to start anything. We all do different jobs and I was just imagining what it might feel like to be a policeman or fireman.

This is the result of the trifecta of needing to get something posted, boredom, and nothing really interesting happening the last couple of days.

So, stay with me here. I'm chewing on this analogy about what I do as a news photographer (a job which I truly love even on slow days). I was thinking about how when events are happening and we're rushing to get to a scene, I feel like a policeman. All the adrenaline, but none of the flashing lights and sirens.

We go out and do our jobs. Hopefully when we're done, the world is maybe a tiny bit better for us having done something.

Also, every now and then, we even help catch the bad guy.



This is probably the most embarrassing image I've ever posted. At this point, four stations were covering an LAUSD press conference. Not one of us had a microphone stand.

Does this happen on a regular basis?

You bet it does. It's almost standard procedure. Somebody finally showed up with a proper mic stand. It was just too late to do the early arrivers any good. We had to leave them and this is now officially my pet peeve.



Sorry, I got a little sidetracked.

So, I was saying on busy days, my job feels like what I imagine a policeman feels like when rolling out to cover the city.

Thinking like a fireman, on slow days, I feel like I'm just waiting for something to happen. I know it will eventually, but the anticipation can get to you.

While I'm waiting, I could go ahead and fix a pot of chili, get my exercise in, watch a movie (maybe write more), but mostly I just make sure I'm ready. I have to be ready for when the big alarm sounds.

Ask any policeman or fireman, it's never a case of "if" something happens. It's "when" something happens.

When it does, I hope to "be" there.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Choices.

It was dark yesterday. Sure, the sun was out, but the story I was helping to cover made everything seem a little less bright.

I wish the people who read my blog could have been with me. Maybe not everyone, just the people who never get to see the part of my (our) world that's almost as bad as anything in the war zones in other countries.

All I did was travel from the station to 92nd and Firth in South Los Angeles. At some point I think I crossed a border. There weren't any signs and it wasn't marked, but I knew it when I crossed it.



A 4 year old girl playing in her yard was shot yesterday. She's reported to be in stable condition and police are searching for the gunman.

I don't know if he was shooting at someone specific or just doing a random drive-by. It's just such a waste.

(By the way, can you see the feminine influence in the tagging on this wall?)



I wouldn't say we were afraid (lots of cops around), but I wasn't eager to hang out any longer than needed.

There were a couple of guys standing near my door when I parked my van. One of them was a lot bigger than me. He didn't have a shirt on. His pants and shoes were dirty. He just stood on the sidewalk and looked at me hard. This was the kind of guy that you don't want to bump into if you're by yourself and it's dark.

He never said a word and I'm not going to speculate on what he might have been thinking. I got out of the van, walked around and fired up my generator. We were possibly going to go "live" with the story right away. I focused on the job at hand and ignored the guys.

That was just the first thirty seconds.



The station had already taken the helicopter at the top of the show. No liveshot until later and I wasn't completely disappointed.

It was good because I liked being able to just keep an eye on things. I've been in neighborhoods like this to cover similar stories. We get crowds of people who are angry and willing to vent their anger on the media. I've also been in neighborhoods where things start out pretty calm and public opinion suddenly changed.

Maybe since the victim was a little girl, the residents weren't concerned so much with our presence in their neighborhood. I don't know for sure, I didn't see anybody I could ask.



The reporter and the photographer working with him got what they needed to put the story together for later. I tagged along. The cops weren't all going to hang around until we were done.

Eventually the police took down the crime scene tape and I got a chance to take a close look at the damage to two cars that got hit by bullets. I don't want to think about the damage done to the 4 year old girl.



Often I hear people try to explain why things are the way they are in poor communities. I hear about the disparity in educational opportunities and the discrimination that prevents people from escaping their environment.

People who read me already know how I feel. The environment may resemble a third world country, but the availability of resources is considerably greater in South Los Angeles than in other parts of the world.

People are often just not choosing to make use of what's available.



I'm not so arrogant to believe that it all comes down to making different (better) choices. Escaping generational patterns of poverty is a huge struggle. That struggle isn't going to be made any easier by the reality that racism exists in the world.

People may want better lives (I believe they do), but wanting better isn't in itself a choice. That's just desire.

The choice is in not picking up a gun with the intent of doing anyone harm.

The choice is to educate yourself. The choice is to spend at least as much time sharpening your job skills as you spend entertaining yourself. The choice is in not tolerating the violence that exists in your community. The choice is in taking responsibility for the life you have.

Some people have had it easier, but there are people who have overcome much worse.

Don't look at me. Take a hard look at yourself.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I'm a "No" man.

My two day tour of duty as the fill-in Chief Photographer is over. I've got another week to cover coming up soon, but today I'm back on the streets. I get to be a regular News Photographer again. Yay!

It's kind of funny, but I'm sure I never really get the full impact of the Chief's job. Sure, I answer the phone, I juggle the schedule, I help field technical questions, and I make the calls to cover crew assignments. Those are some of the small fires I handle constantly through the day, but the bottom line is I'm still just the "temp" guy.

It's not written down anywhere, but I think my main function is making sure nobody steals the desk while the Chief is away.



Even with everything going on, I get a lot of time to myself and my thoughts. There's one thing I found out about myself that I didn't realize before. When people came into the office and asked me for things that they'd normally ask the Chief, I didn't have a problem telling them, no.

As a matter of fact, I kind of dug it.

Guys asking for days off? No.

Shift changes? Nope.

Can I take the shiny new van instead of the crappy rust bucket? No.

Can I just sit around and not do any real work while waiting for some huge newsworthy event to happen? No. . .and hey, that's my job.



Well, the Chief is back in his chair today and his desk is right where he left it (at least it was on Friday when I locked up the office). I'm going to try to get to work a little early to debrief with him.

It's Monday. It's a sunny Southern California summer day. There's stories out there that need to be covered and major news event ready to break. Am I ready for them?

No. . .wait, I mean, yes.