“You pulled the ultimate scam. Hats off, my friend.” So spoke a coworker to me the day after Thanksgiving. I couldn’t argue, though I could have nitpicked the word scam. But we both knew what she meant: In TV news land, a scam is a work day in which you manage to parlay a leisure activity into a work activity. If a cool story emerges, so much the better.
I had to work Thanksgiving, due to my lack of seniority at WXIA. As I pondered this bit of scheduling reality a week earlier, it occurred to me that Thanksgiving is the day the Atlanta half-marathon takes place. I’d run this race several times over the years. My brainstorm went thusly: I’ll run the half marathon, I’ll carry a camcorder, and produce a story about the race from a runner’s perspective.
I pitched it to the seniority-impaired supervisor scheduled to work Thanksgiving, and he bought it. (This is where the word scam becomes a misnomer. In the classic sense, a scam takes place when somebody is unwittingly taken advantage of; in this case, the supervisor was a willing participant who bought into it hoping to gain an unusual TV package for the 6pm newscast.)
The only problem with this scam was: I hadn’t trained to run 13 miles. I knew I could run seven or eight miles. Getting to 13 would be a challenge. By the time I got up Thanksgiving morning, I was feeling like I had possibly scammed myself.
About the shoot:
* I shot it on my personal Canon HV20 camcorder, using a DV widescreen setting. It rolled a mini DV tape. It has only an auto-focus setting. The audio came off the camera’s internal mic.
* I made a point of stopping to shoot as much static video as possible. Video shot whilst running tends to jar the senses.
* I came up with narrative threads as I progressed through the race. I stopped a couple of times and shot some on-camera bits so that I’d have clean audio and video. I shot them handheld, arm extended. I’m sure the other runners thought I was pretty ridiculous.
* I ended up shooting 45 minutes of raw tape. For the closing shots, I balanced the camcorder on the roof of my 2002 Honda Accord, parked in the Orange lot at Turner Field.
* It took me three hours and thirteen minutes to finish the race, about an hour longer than usual. My frequent stops would help explain this, as would my advanced age and lack of training. Physically, I started to hit a serious wall around the nine mile mark. But I’m convinced I was able to finish the 13 miles because I’d stopped so frequently.
Upon completion, I went home and ingested the tape into the FCP system on my Mac. I took a shower, ate some lunch, then started editing without a script. The rough cut was about 2:40. The producer had requested 1:40. She graciously compromised at 2:08.
By 4:30pm, I staggered into One Monroe Place with a Quicktime movie file on a thumbdrive. An editor transferred the piece into the server while I wrote an anchor lead-in. Within 15 minutes, I was headed up the road to supper.
Except for my comic inability to move my legs that night, it was the ultimate scam.