• JT Street

"First Amendment, RIGHT?!" (or, how to create your own reality)

I am *NOT* a quiet person.


I speak a lot (more than I should). I opine a lot (DEFINITELY more than I should). I laugh a lot - and loudly. I have been known to bicycle around the urban cores of a major cities with speaker strapped to my bike blaring "Booty City" by Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears at full volume.


I know. Scandalous. (No, seriously. Scandalous is the name of the album. It's got its moments, although I think Booty City is (head and shoulders?) above the rest of it.)


All this to say that quiet is not in my repertoire - with two exceptions:


1. My baby and her mama are sleeping.

2. I have a news camera in my hands and I'm shooting video.


It's exception 2 that I'm going to dive into here for a minute here. The reason videojournalists are generally quiet when they have their cameras rolling is fairly intuitive... they don't want to ruin their shots by talking over the natural sound of what's happening.


That's the talent's job. *rimshot*


Not talking while shooting is literally the first thing a VJ learns in training, either from a more senior photog or reporter, or (should those firewalls fail) when they get their video back to the edit bay and go through the giant pile of unusable mess where their "natural" sound should be.


Instead of talking, a photog should follow the sound to let it tell the story. Some photogs even close their eyes when they get to a scene and literally let the sound guide them. Talking to another photog when they're clearly shooting is a top 3 photog faux pas (and this isn't a listicle, but I promise we'll get to #1 before the end of it).


All this to say that in work mode, I'm as silent and observant as I can be - on the hunt for any sight or sound that tells a compelling story.


Despite that, I couldn't tell you whether I saw him or heard him first. It was more of a "newsguy spidey sense" kinda thing (a Peter Parker sense? All I'm saying is he was a good photog for a reason - and he was shooting stills!).


I'm shooting video of two part-time employees in orange safety vests lining up cars for a drive-in Star Wars showing at a small park in Hutto, and this guy parks his bicycle against a light pole, squeezes a meaty bicycle-glove-clad fist into his pocket, pulls out his phone, tilts back his trucker cap, and starts livestreaming as he walks up to the procession.


"HEY!" he shouts, spraying spittle from his unmasked face towards the nearest employee as he invades their workspace. "WHAT'S UH, WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?"


The young worker in an Avengers-themed facemask stops what he's doing and walks over.


"Uh, we're getting people set up for the drive-in, sir. We're showing 'The Force Awakens.'"


"THE DRIVE-IN! WELL, HOW ABOUT THAT?! SO I SUPPOSE ANYONE CAN JUST WALK UP AND WATCH THE MOVIE??"


"Well..." the drive-in attendant searches for the right answer to avoid taking the bait, "...I mean, it's a drive-in, so you'd need a car or a radio to hear it."


"OH-KAY! SO WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY TO TUNE IN?"


"I'm uh... I'm not at liberty to give that information out, sir. You need a ticket to -" "A TICKET!!??!?!" the man explodes. "IN A PUBLIC PARK!?? I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE CHARGING PEOPLE TO WATCH A MOVIE IN A PUBLIC PARK!!!!!!"


"We, uh, I mean, the owners, they have a permit."


"SO I HAVE TO PAY MONEY IN A PUBLIC PARK TO WATCH A MOVIE?!??"


"Yes, sir," the attendant says, hoping desperately (and as it turns out, pointlessly) that the bloviating man will take the hint and let him get back to whatever he's doing.


"WE'LL SEE ABOUT THAT!!!! I'M A YOUTUBER - THAT MEANS I'M A JOURNALIST! I CAN BE HERE! I HAVE A CAMERA!!! JUST LIKE -- THAT GUY!!!!!!"


He points a cell phone lens and a sweaty sausage of a finger my direction. I do what I usually do when the hecklebirds come out - focus my lens and attention elsewhere. But it does no good.


"HEY, BROTHER!!! WE HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BE OUT HERE, DON'T WE??" FIRST AMENDMENT, RIGHT?????"


"Uh huh," I reply. Apparently he was enough of an investigative reporter to read my tone of annoyance.


"WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?? WHAT STATION???"


"Fox 7," I say, killing time by getting some wide shots of the other attendant taking tickets.


"OH! THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA!!!! HERE HE IS, FILMING SOME MORE LIES!! DID YOU KNOW THEY'RE CHARGING PEOPLE TO WATCH A MOVIE IN A PUBLIC PARK!!!!"


"I did."


"HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO WATCH 'STAR WARS' IN A PUBLIC PARK???"


"Couldn't tell ya."


"WELL DON'T YOU THINK THAT'S SOMETHING PEOPLE OUGHT TO KNOW WHEN YOU TELL THE STORY???!??!?"


"Sure. That's why my reporter looked it up when he wrote the story."


"WELL, ARE YA GONNA TELL 'EM?????"


"Guess you'll just have to watch and find out."


"I DON'T WATCH ANY OF THOSE *MAINSTREAM* NEWS OUTLETS!!!!!!!"


"Clearly," I say as I grab my gear, trying to find someplace out of earshot and get some more shots before I have to start editing (it is 7:45 pm. Our piece airs at 9 pm. I am still filming.).


As I walk off, I can hear him berating the other attendant (who couldn't have been far removed from high school, if she was at all), demanding to see her permit. The company co-owner shouts at him to stop harassing her employees or she'll call the cops. He starts screaming bloody murder about being a journalist and "just asking questions".


She calls the cops.


The gadfly walks off towards his bicycle, complaining about unfair treatment of the media and his first amendment rights.


I stand there, quietly seething behind my camera. I know I've dealt with some less than professional "new media" folks at scenes before, but in all my years of doing this, I can't remember seeing anything as idiotic as this guy trying to expose the grand conspiracy that underpinned the Globe Drive-In Theater's screening of "The Force Awakens."


Moments later, I feel conflicted as I watch the cops drive past him on his bicycle, pull a 180, hit the lights and pull him over. Sure, I'm schadenfreuding pretty hard because he brought it on himself with his repugnant behavior, and then had the gall to try and equate what he was doing to what I was doing. I'm also irritated because (even though he's an ass) he does still have the right to ask questions about what's going on in a public park, and as someone who's had the cops called on me multiple times for doing journalism in public, I'm sympathetic to that style of harassment as well (and then further irritated that I'm sympathetic because he clearly deserved his comeuppance).


But mostly, I'm pissed off because he SOMEHOW MANAGED TO GET PULLED OVER RIGHT BEHIND THE SCREEN AND I'M STILL TRYING TO GET MY CLOSING SHOTS AND IT'S NOW 8 FREAKING PM!


A few moments later, I'm back in position for my closing shot, which is cars driving toward the setting Sun and the movie screen (gotta love a sunset for a closing shot!). The cars have just started to move, so I'm focused in as tight as I can to get the cars being placed, when a blur flashes across my frame. I look up to see what it is (but I bet you can guess!).


Yep. It's our gadfly, fresh off his brush with the law and doing a victory lap on his bicycle to prove to everyone that "you can't stop the first amendment" - by BIKING THROUGH MY CLOSING SHOT.


DING DING DING DING DING! Congratulations, dingus! You've just violated the cardinal rule of videojournalist decorum....


...walking through another photog's shot when they're on a deadline!


(or in this case, biking)


The worst part? I could tell that he was doing it to try and get on air for a half-second (don't ask me how - we can just tell these things, and it annoys the piss out of each of us to varying degrees).


See? I told you we'd get to rule #1.


This is the part where I had a whole diatribe about how if this guy were a journalist, he'd know these things, and how if he were a journalist, he'd know how to approach people in a way that actually gets him answers instead of harassed by cops (case in point, I knew the rario frequency for the movie because I asked nicely and didn't go around demanding teenagers show me their permits). I also wanted to explain how if you go into a story with a preconceived notion (like it's all a conspiracy by the powerful to take advantage of poor average Joe's like me) then that's what you're going to get in your lens.


But honestly, I feel like if you read through the story... I dunno. Do I really need to explain any of that further? Seems like piling on any more at this point is just beating a trucker-capped dead horse.


Which, I admit, is tempting. But so is sleep.


So, the TL;DR here? You get more questions answered by asking nicely than by ambushing. Don't walk through a photog's shot or yell at them while they're working. Holding a cell phone makes you a journalist like holding a scalpel makes me a surgeon.


And most importantly, if you're gonna talk to people at their jobs where they can't leave and have to deal with you, just wear a freaking mask - not because you "have to," but because not killing someone's grandparents is polite.


I swear, this guy was trying to get a blackout on self-absorbed moron bingo - COVID-19 edition.














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