Sunday, April 30, 2006

"The Back Breaker"

( Murman and the "Back Breaker")

As I sit down to write this post, my back is killing me. All thanks to a device known as STEADY CAM. Yesterday I was working on a sales shoot at a local grocery store. I had been asked to work it just after I returned from Italy. How hard could it be I thought. Nobody mentions the "back breaker" AKA Steady Cam.

( Andre F. setting the remote focus puller)

When we launched in 1997 as VTV we had a Steady Cam rig. At the time our news at 5 and 6 was similar to other CHUM casts of the day, lots of hand held camera work, both in the field and on the set. A couple of the studio lads went to train on the rig with one of the foremost operators on the planet. I had hoped to get some "spin off" knowledge from the boys when they returned.
I had only played with one once on a shoot in Florida when I was still with ATV. Mind you, I played. The operator for that shoot in Florida was a fellow named Greg Irvine. He was frequently the go to guy for ATV Steady Cam needs. His camera moves were smooth and with purpose. I always wondered why he was so bagged after a show. Back then I was young and thought I was bullet proof. I figured what a skill to have on the resume: Steady Cam.

When I arrived in Vancouver and found out that our station would have such a thing, I saw my chance to get some practical hands on time. One of the lads that I mentioned earlier went to California to train with this "God of Steady Cam" and when he returned he was only too happy to teach me some skills. Of course the rig was always at that time used for the show and was often impossible to get into the field. But as time wore on the look of the show changed and the rig was used less and less.
That gave me a window of opportunity to use it a bit in the field for EFP shoots and the occasional stand up.
The first time I actually used one, was for a weekend shoot with a show out of Toronto called "Canadian House and Home". When the producer called me and I told him we had one, he asked me if I had ever shot with one before. Well I fibbed, and told him I was an old salt on the rig. Fortunately, I pulled it off, he was very pleased with the work and from then on, I was a Steady Cam Operator.
The thing is, "real " steady cam Operators use this rig often, that's what makes them so good. Some ENG hack like me, would be lucky to get on the rig 10 times a year and strive for being average. However as time went on our primary operator left to join the film world and the secondary fellow was really not interested, so I sort of by default became the "go to guy" when we needed a Steady Cam.( Working the Shot )

As the years wore on, there were less and less occasions to use it. Two weeks during the PNE remotes and then our Nov 11 Special. Finally the rig was sold and our station had a Steady Cam no more. (The story of how it was sold is another story, one I will save for now).
The years after the "sale" when it came to our Nov 11 Special, we would hire a freelance Steady Cam Op, Andre Fernandez. This is the guy who taught me and Andre is always fun to have on a shoot. I kinda miss him around the station, but he is maga successful in the world of Movies and Freelance.

Last Nov 11, Andre was un available, but he rented his rig on the condition that I would operate it. It had been maybe three years since I had done any Steady Cam, so my back would bare the brunt of the pain. It was maybe the toughest hour of physical pain I have ever endured. Man this is a young mans skill, or at least "fit"mans skill.

Yesterday, the "rig" and I had another date. This time Andre came along as a Camera Assist. It was good to work with him again and at least the pain in the back wasn't as bad as it had been in November. But I still required a hot tub right after the shoot. God, I am getting old.
Funny though, I still enjoy operating the rig, even though, the spine doesn't.

(The Crew: Rebecca: Talent, Lorin: Audio, Buffy: Hair and Makeup, Gary T: Microwave Op, Murman: Steady Cam, Andre: Steady Cam Assist, Dave G. Director)

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Day of Remembrance

Today is the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed on the job. I want to remind all readers to just take a moment to perhaps remember someone you have known that has lost their life on the job. If you are fortunate enough not to have lost a friend or colleague, then take a moment and think how you can make your work place a safer place for all. It could be as easy as encouraging your fellow workers to take the crosswalk and looking both ways as they cross the street, but do it.

In Feb. of 1999, we here in the Vancouver media lost one of our own. He was killed, on the job while raising a microwave mast into overhead powerlines while preparing for a hit into the noon show. It happened in an instant and our friend was gone. Yes, that quick.
Geoff Fisher worked for BCTV at the time and was always the life of any party. His death shocked all of us in Vancouver. In television we cover such events, but they are rarely one of our own.
Geoff's death made us all realize how vunerable we are in the field and caused all news gathering organizations to look at themselves and their systems to learn and improve so that we would not again experience such a loss.
If you check out the ENG Safety link you can learn more about some of the hazards we face daily bringing the news to our viewers.
Since that terrible day, we have made significant improvements in our safety systems as it relates to news gathering. But it is an on going exercise. We must remain vigilant and alert. We owe it to our families to come home in one piece.
So be safe out there.

Please take a moment and remember Geoff and others like him, for the world is a bit more empty without them.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Patience B

"Wow, your job must be very interesting"
That is the second most asked question or statement when I meet people in the field.
It's true those of us that are in this business do have an interesting occupation. But what makes it so interesting are the people you meet. Some of the most interesting are just regular people.
One such fellow I met back in 1988 in Lubec, New Brunswick. It was one of my first assignments with ATV/ASN. We were to do a story on this fellow, Harry Bryant was his name. He had built a sailboat and was going on some great adventure.
When we arrived at his place, he greeted us with a cheery smile and a handshake. He took us into his workshop as he was a wood worker by trade ( if memory serves me correct) and his simple lifestyle was very apparent. I know my first impression of him was one of a radical environmentalists. Through our conversation with him, we discovered that he, nor his family owned or watched a TV. Shocking I thought. This guy must think what we do is so insignificant, that he doesn't even own a Television!
Anyway Harry made a lasting impression on me as I mentioned, he with his own hands and brains, constructed a 44 foot Ketch called the "Patience B". Harry was planning to sail "Patience" with is wife and his two teenaged children to Tasmania. OK, perhaps that's not all that unusual for folks that cruise the oceans, but that sort of thing was usually done by the wealthy.
After a brief interview in his wood shop, we were taken down to the water where "Patience" sat proudly up on a makeshift cradle tied to a home made jetty, waiting for the mighty tides of the Bay of Fundy to come in so she could feel the water on her hull.
He took us below decks and gave us a tour of what was to become his family's home for what was a planned two year voyage.
As we looked around we didn't see any electronic equipment except for a radio. "So Harry, your navigation equipment hasn't arrived yet?" we asked.
Then he told us that all he was taking was a compass and a sextant. "I am going to navigate by the stars" This guy wanted to do things like Magellan.
What balls.
Over the next couple of years we would from time to time catch up with one of Harry's friends to see if there was any news of his travels. One such occasion, he had sent a letter from the Cook Islands and in it he described his last leg of the trip. "We have not seen land for 34 days, if my calculations are correct, we should see the islands off the starboard at first light"
Well, "Patience" and her crew of family Bryant saw land off the Starboard at first light.
And with that feat, Harry secured his position as one of the most incredible average folks I have ever met. The woodworker, explorer, adventurer Mr. Harry Bryant.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"I Have Control"

Flight. Most have us have experienced it in some fashion. Either on a jet liner, some of you perhaps in a smaller aircraft. I'm lucky I get to fly often in a news helicopter. But unless you are a pilot, we are just passengers on the craft be it helicopter or jet liner. Last week I had the good fortune and the privilege to take hold of the controls during a flight in a jet ranger.

Every so often, dual controls are put into the machines, usually for training or as in the case last week, testing of a potential new pilot that will be joining the Talon team. In the past, one of the staff pilots would ask one of the CTV crew if they would like to give the flight controls a try. Kink and Pete C have given it a go. You couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces for days.
Last Thursday, Peter M comes into our office in the hanger and says "Murman, want to go flyin'?"
He had to check out some sort of RPM thing in an autorotation. "After the test, will see if you can fly this machine" he said with a smile.
The fight engineer Mike was all smiles and added "It's not like the flight sim, have fun buddy" and he left with that evil laugh of his.
I was a bit worried as just before we were talking about "dynamic roll over" and a number of other helicopter calamities. I am sure this was all part of their evil plan, spook the hell out of me.
Taking the controls is something I have always wanted to try , yet I had been told that a Helicopter is just a "bunch of parts flying is close formation", perhaps this was something best left to the skilled.
Before I knew it we were walking out to the machine, all I could think of was, God I hope I don't embarrass myself.
I climbed into the front left seat maneuvering my legs around the cyclic. I have been in the front before, but now there were peddles and a cyclic and a collective. What the hell do these things do again? Oh my god we are going to die.
Peter explained to me the voice protocol when handing over "control" of the aircraft. "I will say: You have control. And you will respond: I have control"
Ok I replied.
Peter fired up the engine called the tower. Before long we were on our way to an area nearby so he could do his autorotational checks.
"OK Murman, put your hand on the cyclic and your feet in the peddles. Don't put any presser on any of the controls yet"
He showed me a couple of things like turning and flying straight and level. "Are you ready?"
"OK you have control"
"I have control"
And with that I was flying the helicopter. It was a neat sensation, kinda like the first time my Dad had let me drive the old 75 Toyota on the road. "You're flying the helicopter" he said I glanced over his hands were not on the flight controls. I am sure I had a smile on that would have lit up the sky. "OK Mur, try turning to the left."
I moved the cyclic slightly to the left, and the machine began to turn. "A little more, a little more".
The thing I found was just how little you had to move the flight controls to make the machine respond. After a few minutes, Peter once again had control of the aircraft. "We'll take her down so you can try a hover"
Hovering was interesting. Let me rephase that, trying to hover was interesting. 'Good Mur, just watch your horizon and just slightly pull the cyclic back, good, good,,,"
My hover was shall we say, not exactly stationary. But Peter told me that I was not "propoising" fluxuating altitude, like a porpoise. After a few minutes we returned to 1000 feet and did a few more turns. My confidence grew with each minute. OK Murman take me back to the airport. And with that I turned the helicopter and began the flight back into YVR. "You're a natural!" You haven't scared me yet!"
He let me fly all the way back to the Shell hanger when he took over and landed the machine.
I can't thank him enough. I haven't wiped the smile off my face yet and it has been just over a week. Damn that was fun, If I had done that 25 years ago, perhaps I may have chosen a different career.
I believe it was a .7 of an hour, but it was the best damn .7 I have ever flown.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hockey Appocalypse Now!

I have to apologize for taking so long to enter a new post. You have to understand that I have been in mourning. No, I have not lost a family member, or been diagnosed with some terminal illness, but it has taken me a week to come to terms with the fact there will not be any post season hockey in Canuckland. Yes we still have the Jr. Team still playing and we wish them well, but for a city that had been told that "this was the year" the failure of the Vancouver Canucks to make it into the playoff has been a bitter pill to swallow.

When I moved here nine years ago, I remember how excited I was to live in an NHL town. I could hardly wait for the season to begin as I had intended to treat myself to several games, something I was not able to do back in the Maritimes. If I wanted to see an NHL game it was a 9 hour drive to Montreal or 8 hours to Boston. ( I did neither) Back then I was a Leaf fan. As was my Dad and Grandparents. Yes we loved the Leafs.
As playoff runs would begin, I would adorn my office with Leaf stuff and hang my son's GI Joe sized Matt Sundin figure, arms hosting a Stanley cup, just to get the gang in the station going. It was tons of fun. I would get anti Leaf email sent to me from all over the building. Someone had actually broke into my office and stole my Stanley cup and hung my Matts Sundin with a noose. All in good fun. Of course when the Leafs would get eliminated, I would be inidated with much smack talk from all of the Canuck fans in the building.
But as my time in Vancouver continued, the team here grew on me. I guess I thought I would rather see the cup paraded down Robson Street than Younge Street.
With that said, the Canucks were not exactly a top team. I had been here three seasons before they finally made the playoffs.
Fans here will regale you with stories of the great playoff run in 1994 when Vancouver came with in one game of winning it all. I had never experienced that kind of excitement, but was looking forward to it one day.
A few years ago during the playoffs car flags became a big part of the post season excitement. You would drive hiway 1 into Vancouver and you would loose count of the cars and trucks that would fly them. ( One day driving my reporter and I counted over 300)
Watching on TV you would hang on every play, every goal. It was to me the best time of the year.
But not this year.
As I have said in past posts, "hockey is a strange mistress" and this time she has left me feeling empty.

The horror, the horror, the horror.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Book'em Danno!

Rescued! Freed! Reunited! Those are the words that are reverberating throughout all media as they describe the raids that ended the McMynn kidnapping case yesterday.

When word of this event began to get out, I am sure ALL newsrooms in the lower mainland went to DEFCON 5 ( those of you that remember the Cold War, DEFCON 5 was full mobilization of all forces available).
And mobilize they did. When I received the call to launch, the cloud ceiling was low. That coupled with the fact we had a tactical operation unfolding could spell disaster as far as airspace restrictions. The first location we had dispatched to, was in east Van and by the time we arrived, the call had come for us to head to a Surrey address. Damn, I thought. I hadn't even got a chance to zero in on location #1. I hoped that we had someone on the ground. When we arrived at the Surrey location we went into wide orbits. As it turned out we were close but not quite at the exact location. Events were unfolding quickly. Word came to us that the lad had been recovered ALIVE and was now on his way to hospital. "Head to Surrey Memorial" was the directive from Control. When we arrived I spotted one of our Surrey camera ops on the ground. Before long an ambulance and Police cars.
Without much warning, "you're hot to Newsnet!" crackled the radio. They seemed to stay on my shot for a long time. Brian our pilot, was doing a wonderful job of flying the machine so as not to have the skid creep into the shot.
"You're still hot, Murman" said control. Brian was letting me know our fuel situation as by now we had been in the air for some time. "Vancouver Base, we are going to need fuel shortly, let me know when we can be released." Word came up, we would be cutting into programming so we would be needed. Again, fuel was fast becoming an issue.
When were finally released, we headed to Boundry Bay for fuel. I was convinced that I had just screwed up the biggest story of the year as I was still kicking myself for not getting a bead on Location#1 and only contributing a wide shot of the emergency entrance of Surrey Memorial Hospital. I felt so low, that walking into the tail rotor, was not out of the question.
We fueled up and headed back to Surrey. This time zeroing in on the Take Down House. As we orbited a large crowd gathered. There were several News crews on the ground shooting the activity in the front of the house. In back and hidden from the assembled ground crews a tactical squad of RCMP began removing individuals from the basement apartment of the house. It was gold. We watched as Police brought out the suspects one by one in cuffs. We counted 5 arrested. Three males and 2 females.
It was quite a flight mission almost surreal, one I won't forget. The only thing missing was a mid seventies, blue Ford LTD pulling up onto the scene and Jack Lord jumping out to say "Book'em Danno"

Later in the day VPD held a press conference. We watched from our orbit above the Surrey scene. The look on Police Chief Graham's face said it all. Success.
It also became clear just how big this operation was. The fact they recovered young McMynn alive certainly gave this story the ending everybody had hoped for.
The pictures that aired later in the day gave testiment of how much hustle all ground cameras performed.

Today in the Police briefing we got a glimpse of just how complicated a tactical operation it was. All I can say is WOW.
We sometimes hear and have to report on the misdeeds of a few Police Officers. It often taints the view the public has of Law Enforcement. I am sure that this operation will give the public a idea of just how professional the majority are. So my hats off to the men an women of the VPD and the RCMP, who made it all happen.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Last week, I woke up to find my Vehicle had been broken into. It's more of a pain in the ass than anything, but the thing that really pisses me is, it was parked in my freakin driveway. The thief got away with a Pocket PC/ GPS and some pocket change. I guess they needed it more than me. The biggest pain was getting the window replaced.

I had been hit before. Some years ago the jeep had been targeted in our so called "secured" parking lot at the office. Had an SX camera, batteries and wireless mic taken on that event. Funny thing, about that one, they left the tripod, it's a Cartoni, piece of crap really, but even the thief would not take it. Too bad.

Gear disappears all too frequently. Some of my shooting colleagues have had gear stolen as well. It doesn't seem to matter who or what format the gear happens to be. It is a North America wide problem. Every once and a while you will read a post on B-Roll about another kit that has been lifted. It seems that the stations have been targeted and the thieves wait for their opportunity. Walking around with a large camera on one's shoulder, kinda makes you stand out and an easy target, I suppose.

Where the gear ends up is anybody's guess. I'd like to think that my former camera is working in the adult video business, but although it was widely thought that the porn business is where all stolen broadcast news gear ended up, it is more likely is was sold for parts on the black market in central America. Who knows, but theft costs companies, freelancers and others who own their own gear.

It has been a while since anyone in our area has been hit, but unfortunately it is only a matter of time before another heist happens again. I know that my latest visit by Mr. Smash and Grab, only serves to remind us thieves are everywhere.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Day After

Last Tuesday evening on CTV News @ 6, a drama unfolded "live" in the living rooms of viewers. The story of a 12 year old boy trapped on a ledge of a precipice with his dog. The story had it all, drama and a happy ending. It took 45 minutes to unfold and was covered start to finish live from western Canada's only news gathering helicopter, CTV Chopper 9. No other news outlet could or did cover the story. Naturally when a news operation gets a story like this, one that their competitors did not have, you can bank on a "follow up" item the next day. The competition then has two choices.

1: attempt to catch up and try to advance the story or
2: ignore it and pretend it even happened.

I want to tell you about the "follow up" item.

On Wednesday the plan was to follow up coverage with an interview with the young lad and his companion. OnCTV made contact with his Mom and arranged to meet the boy at his school. Now here's where a competitor, Global BC, clearly beaten the night before wanted to either A: catch up and advance the story or B: deny it even happened.
But wait, the story of Boy/Dog rescue was leading all of the news radio newscasts and it had been picked up by outher news origanizations across North America. The TV talk shows are calling, wanting our little fellow to appear on their shows (Ellen DeGeneres, Inside Edition and the CBS Early News). Wow this one has legs. So how will Global "deny" it ever happend?

The interview was set up for noon. When the crew arrives at the boy's school and announced themselves at the school office, they are informed the boy is not here. "Another TV Crew picked him up at 11 and was taking him to Burniby to meet Mr. Parsons."

Mr. Parsons? How clever.

What time will the boy be back? There was no answer.

After many attempts to contact his mother, who by the way had been fielding media inquires from all over North America and by the time we reached her, she was, quite frazzled. She was asked about what was going on. She said that Global was going to interview him at the scene of the rescue. No doubt this would help them tell their version of the story that they had missed a day earlier. Thats fair. It certainly won't be as good, as we are the only news origanization with the visuals thanks to our command of the skies. But as time wore on, and the boy had still not been returned to either the school or his home, it became obvious what Global was up to. They have done it in the past. They were attempting to "deny" the boy to CTV. It was planned and it was delibrate.

"Hey Billy have you ever seen a tv station?" "We just got a new coat of paint and have changed our logo." "Do you like our new logo?" What is it you ask? It's a ">", it means we're greater, we're bigger" (Yah, bigger dickheads!)

A conversation with his mom revealed that Global had every intention of keeping him under wraps until 6.

The crew explained to mom what was really going on.
After it was made perfectally clear what kind of games the pin heads at Global were playing, she picked up the phone called thier assignment desk and told them to return her son at once or the next call would be to Police.
The boy was returned promptly, but as gutless as they are over there, he was returned unaccompanied in a cab. I'm surprised they didn't make the boy pay his own fare.
Needless to say it's crap like this, that gives us all in the media a bad name. Their coverage of this international story, one that warranted spending the entire day with the boy eventually turned into a forty second voice over which in the third section of "Mr. Parson's" show. More like buried in section three, if you know what I mean.

However this story, like the one the one the day before, had a happy ending.
At the end of the day he said he enjoyed his ride in the helicopter even more than his tour of the Global> studios.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April One

April Fools Day. Every year there is the usual bogus item in the local newspaper. Our friends in radio get in on the fun usually as well. Over the years I have seen and heard many "media" pranks. I would like to share two of them, both happened some years ago back east.

The first one happened early in my career, I beleive it was 1982 or 83 (don't hold me to it) but the local CBC morning radio show, a well respected and venerable news source in that part of New Brunswick, lead the morning cast with a "live" broadcast from one of their field reporters. He set the scene as a remarkable phenomena of a once in hundred years happening. It was the "great lobster migration". Lobsters would come to the shore, leave the water and march, in single file up King Street. The reporter described a most bizarre scene. "Yes, the Lobsters are moving, slowly, but what a scene. Traffic is stopped. People are getting out of their cars to catch a look. We have with us a marine biologist,,,,,," The "biologist" says something like "The last time this march took pace was over 100 years ago,,,,,
Now we all know better right?,,,,,
Well across town in a TV Station Newsroom a particular assignment editor who always relied on CBC Radio for his morning fix heard this report. He picked up the phone and immediately dispatched a Camera to the scene. "The Lobsters are coming ashore and marching up King Street!" he exclaimed "Get over there! Fast!" a voice on the two way radio came on and said "Dude, it's April Fools Day!"
There was a pause back at the newsroom end, "Ah, I knew that"
The camera guys laughed their asses off for years after that. That assignment editor always denied it ever happened. But some of us know better,,,,

The second one happened on TV and was back around 1994. We lead the newscast with a story about an Iceberg in Halifax harbour. I'll give the creative minds in our Halifax office top marks for this one. Anyway they took the wide shot of Halifax harbour from a couple of our "Live Eyes" and CG ed in a giant IceBerg. Right between the bridges. God it was funny. They of course added some reaction shots from the Navy base and coast guard. Well, they of course announced before the end of that section of the show, that the Ice Berg was just an April Fools Prank. Well someone from St. Stephen, New Brunswick didn't wait for the end of the item or didn't hear the "prank" part and drove the family, six and a half hours to Halifax to see the "Ice Berg". Now damn that was funny. I think the fellow wanted the station to pay for his gas when he discovered he had been duped.

Regardless, in whatever you do, try to find the humor. Try to have at least one good belly laugh a day. It's good for us.