Category Archives: WTVA

“Filming”

Rest in peace, Dan Keever.  You were a smart, gentle soul– and a great, steadying presence in a rough business.  You’re gone too soon.

Is this where y’all film the news?

When I worked, as a poodle-headed youth, at my first TV news job in Mississippi, I’d hear that question.  It would come from folks touring WTVA-TV.  They would ask it upon entering the station’s airy studio, a familiar sight for viewers of Tupelo’s only TV station.

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Why, of course we don’t “film” the news here, I would nonverbally retort while verbally saying “yes, ma’am, and thank you for watching.”  By 1980, TV news technology had mostly discarded film as a newsgathering medium, replacing it with reusable videotape.  Tape was cheaper, lasted longer, required less guesswork / science and could be “turned” instantly — bypassing the soupy processing film required to get the nitrate images onto the film emulsion that gave us motion pictures.

Film was a terrific newsgathering medium for those skilled in its use.  Dan Keever, pictured left,  was.  I was not.

I used film while at KOMU-TV Columbia MO in 1979.  My fellow University of Missouri students and I shot my final pre-graduation project on film.  I did such a poor job of hot-splice editing it that Mackie Morris authorized me to transfer the raw material over to videotape.  That project taught me how to edit tape-to-tape.  I never attempted to edit film again.

Despite the shift in technology, “film” never went away, at least as a verb to describe what one does with a mobile TV camera.   People would see us reloading videotape into our “minicams” (or, back in the early 80s, the clunky tape decks that attached by cable to minicams), and still talk about us filming the news.

Even today, I talk to young adults who grew up shooting video on Iphones — and they still use the word “film” to describe what they’re doing.

I think they may be onto something.

For most of my adult life, I would painstakingly make the distinction:  No, we are not “filming.”  But we are “videotaping,” which is the same thing minus the film canisters, the film processing and the quaint hot-splice editing.

But we no longer use videotape.  We use chips, or “cards,” which encode video into what is essentially a portable hard drive.  What’s the right verb / gerund for that?

“Shooting” is accurate, but it has other meanings and fails to convey that there’s a recording process underway.

“Videoing” is a gnarly word I can’t bring myself to use.  “Encoding” is a word that would require an explanation.

“Documenting” is cute, but has other meanings and sounds a bit pretentious, especially for a guy or gal standing at a string of crime scene tape.  You might-could use that word if you do it with an ironic smirk.

I could continue to say “videotaping,” but that would make us sound anachronistic.  That’s not a good thing at a time when local TV news is struggling to stay relevant to young people.

So aside from the absence of film, “filming” works.  It doesn’t require an explanation.  It’s universally understood and, despite the disappearance of film, remains widely used.  Plus, it’s part of the kids’ jargon.  So it’s a thing.

So yeah.  I’m now part of a film crew.

Y’all filming the news?  Why, yes ma’am.  And we’re damn glad you still know what “the news” is.

 

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My magnetic TV personality

Tuesday, I’ll deliver election results in-studio in front of a green screen on WXIA and WATL.  Though I’ve pre-recorded material in front of a green screen before, this will be my first live performance wherein I reference graphics chromakeyed behind me.  This is weatherman territory, a place I’ve ventured exactly one other time in my career.

It was a nightmare.

The internet says this guy is Brace Gilson of WHNT-TV Hartford, master of the magnetic map. Or maybe those are Colorforms.

At WTVA-TV, my very first post-college TV station, there was a rotating weather map in the middle of the news set featuring state and national maps.

Each of the maps were suitable for overlaying with magnetic pieces that composed graphics.  A series of magnetic squiggles could be used to create a cold front, for example.  There were magnets depicting sunshine, clouds, rain and whatnot.  There were magnetic numerals for temperatures.

One night in 1980, I had to do the weather.  The same night, I also had to produce, write and anchor the newscast– including sports and weather.  It was a Saturday.   The show was at 10pm.

After I’d written most of my newscast copy, I quickly looked at the AP weather wire, which broadly described fronts and weather systems across the US.  The same wire also showed forecasts for major cities.  I deduced the shapes and locations of the weather fronts, and started putting up magnets.  By the time I was done, it looked somewhat like a weather map.  I moved on to preparing the sportscast, which was filled with late scores.

The problem was:  I’d never done weather before.  In fact, I’d never really ad-libbed on TV at any length before.  I was accustomed to benign anchor tosses, or stuff that was otherwise scripted in advance.

Plus, I was a horrible ad-libber.  It’s never been a strength of mine.  Some people can talk lucidly all day off the cuff.  Not me.

That night, I delivered the first ten minutes of the newscast, then teased weather.  I think I gave myself five or six minutes to do weather — about 50 percent too long.  But I needed to kill the time.

During the break, I grabbed a pointer used by our real weather guys.  I extended it, like they did, so that I could reference the fabulous magnetic map I’d made.  I stood at the map, with only my magnetic graphics to guide my remarks.

The break ended.  I inhaled.  I began my spiel.

My coherence quickly began to fade as I babbled about fronts and weather systems with which I had scant familiarity.  I flailed with the pointer.  When I whacked the map with the pointer, some of my magnets clattered to the floor of the studio.  My confidence dropped just as quickly.

And then the guy behind the studio camera started laughing uncontrollably.

The cameraman lost control because he habitually smoked marijuana behind the TV station shortly before each weekend newscast.  He always offered to share; I always declined — a lesson indelibly learned from one rough decision made during my first radio news job.  Let’s just say the mary-jane does NOT make the newsman smarter.

So here I was:  Standing under bright studio lights, wrestling with unfamiliar material with zero self-confidence, flailing with a pointer, trying to avoid whacking my magnets, trying to ad-lib — all while gazing at a camera operated by a stoned, red-faced, howling cameraman.  We were the only two people in the studio, though I could also hear muffled laughter coming from behind the glass in the control room.

I was utterly embarrassed and humiliated.  However, only one person I knew had actually seen the broadcast.  “What happened?” he asked, charitably.

The video editor, who’d promised to tape the newscast, forgot to hit REC.  Regrettably, no record of the newscast exists — except as a fragmentary broadcast signal perhaps still drifting toward Alpha Centauri.

If aliens pick up the signal, they will not be impressed with humanity.

Tuesday, I return to the weather position.  Fortunately, my material will be about politics and geography.  Unfortunately, I’ll be mostly ad-libbing and probably won’t have much prep time.  I’m somewhat pumped to have an opportunity to redeem myself.

At least there won’t be magnets.