Jan 28, 2014

Beauties and the beast

How in the world did I get into this business? 
Lugging cameras and tripods and lights through the doors, up the stairs to the balcony. More cameras on the floor and backstage.
Running what seems to be miles of cable. Setting up television monitors for live feeds. Placing mikes in all places onstage, offstage, on the talent, on the podium
And while doing all this setup, knowing that in a few hours  (or days) I would repeat the process in reverse. Breaking down cameras, pulling up miles of cable, hauling
everything back down the stairs, off the floor, and right back to the van. Then the real work begins. We have to take all this raw footage and edit it into an acceptable product, one that all the contestants, parents of contestants, and pageant directors will deem worthy of presenting to their families, demo reels or potential sponsors. No pressure at all!
The story starts in a very unassuming place-electronics class at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, SC. But allow me to digress a bit more.\
It really all started when, as a very young chap, I and my siblings received tickets to be on "Monty's Rascals", a local kids show that was being produced by WFBC TV (now WYFF TV) in Greenville, SC.
Probably around 1963 or 64. We, along with about 25 other kids, sat in the bleachers while Mr Monty came around and asked each of us our name, what we wanted to be when we grew up, etc. Aside from the joy of appearing on TV, we also received a McDonald's hamburger or a pack of Tootsie Rolls, and we got to meet Mr Monty and Mr Doohickey!  Moe the Myna Bird was there and the cartoons played in between the studio segments. 
This world fascinated me. All the gigantic cables snaking across the floor feeding the huge cameras, the lights, hot and bright, shone down like the sun. Mr Monty, all dressed up and friendly to all the kids. We would be on Monty's Rascals at least two, if not three times. (It didn't hurt that Mr Monty's secretary lived directly behind us, scoring tickets for us like a kid's show pimpette). This led to my interest in the world of broadcast.
Fast forward about twelve years, Greenville Tech is having a class in radio broadcasting, which will be taught by the then-legendary local radio talk show host Jim Burnside. Burnside was a fascinating man. He had an uncanny ability for timing, very important in his line of work. Even his discussions in class seemed to have a timing and pitch that, in hindsight, were beautiful and professional, He introduced us to many interesting aspects of the broadcast biz, but what I remember most are: 'w' is pronounced 'double u' and not 'dubya'; the inflection on the word insurance is on the 'sur' and not the 'in; and to appreciate
the legendary broadcast of the Hindenberg Disaster (Oh the humanity). While I did very well in the class, and many of my peers went on to have careers in radio, I didn't have the voice (unlike my two uncles, both successful radio personalities in their own right). So my parents thought it best that I should probably pursue a career in my chosen field-electronics. 
To my dad, in the early and mid seventies, electronics meant either repairing radios and televisions for a local shop, or pulling size 14 wire through a new residence and connecting it to the switch. Computers were a defense department thing, and occupied an entire room. Videotape, while already invented, was still years away from practical consumer use, and the internet was just being dreamed up by some tech-geek. (Geek was not even in everyday usage then). So here I am, just after high school  graduation, sitting in a motor controls classroom at Greenville Tech, pondering my future. As a guitarist in a rock band at that
time, I thought that my future would be touring and recording. After all, hadn't our band 'Hooker' just played at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, in front of thousands (maybe hundreds) of screaming, adoring fans? Hadn't I just bought a brand new Vox guitar, the one made famous by the early Beatles? Rock on man! Rock on!
I had also met a girl. A girl from the mountains of North Carolina. She would change my life completely. 
Laura and I dated and got married within the course of just a few months. We somehow clicked and were married in September 1976 (and, as of this writing, are still married). Married now, I had to find a job and school would just have to wait.
Circumstances led us to move from Greenville to Greenwood, SC in July of 1978. It was in Greenwood, in 1979, that I continued my studies in electronics at Piedmont Tech, except this time my major would be electronics engineering. While in geometry class one day (a subject in which I would do very poorly), I overheard a classmate tell a friend that the college TV studio was looking for work studies for that semester. Before my classmate could finish his sentence, I was down at the media center, application in hand, waiting on the supervisor to say 'you're hired'. And hired I was!
Piedmont Tech had a genius of a media department head by the name of Dan Koenig. He was able to wrangle for the media department the very first color television camera for any college in the state. And I was going to use that camera. To solicit support for the school, Dr Koenig would allow me to take said camera to various industries in the area and shoot training and demo pieces for companies like Monsanto and Parke Davis. We also produced classroom shows for the school, all shot live to tape in the small studio housed in the media center. For a bonus, Dr, Dan hired a former producer at WIS TV in Columbia, who was a shark at editing. Cynthia Brazzell took me by the hand and made an editor out of me! Back then, editing on 1 inch videotape would require a sharp razor, 1 inch adhesive tape, a sharpie and lots of imagination. Cynthia taught me to close my eyes and edit with sound, how jump cuts affected the mood of a piece, and that special effects were never, ever to be the star! Let the story unfold naturally.
The education that I received from the people that occupied these positions at Piedmont Tech would be invaluable to me. But first, we have a career hiccup. My father in law would buy his first McDonald's franchise and my life would again drastically change. 
I went into the McDonald's thing thinking "hmmm...this fast food thing could really pay off big time!" Alas, that was not to be. After giving this opportunity almost seven years of my life, as well as missing kid's birthday's, valuable sleep time, and what some folks would call 'a life', I decided to seek another opportunity. 
By this time, due to the McDonald's thing, Laura myself and our two kids had moved from Greenwood to Greenville, only to be moved to Newberry, SC in the course of just a few months. I managed the store in Newberry until I almost literally dropped from overwork and exhaustion. I was later to find out that I had already had a heart attack while working at MickeyD's, although my doctor at the time said that I was just exhausted and needed a vacation.
I needed a change...and fast!
One day in late 1989, a guy walks into the store and I overhear him telling another customer that he was a producer of hunting and fishing videos. Curious, I introduced myself and we started a conversation about production in general. He was looking for an editor, I was looking for a change, I turned in my notice and off I went.
Editing a turkey or deer hunt is a fascinating thing. The host/hunter tells the camera what he's going to shoot, where he's going to shoot it from, what ammo he will use, and what brand of rifle he will use to take out his prey.
On tape, he looks like Daniel Boone. In reality, he, like all hunters, has waited for days, shivering in a tree stand to get a glimpse of a deer or turkey. Then, with any luck, he'll bag the animal. After the kill, he'll take his kill in his lap and tell you how he could smell the game and knew exactly where he would find it. After this, he tapes the opening, telling where the animal will cross his scope, what size to expect, etc. etc. In other words, if we kill something, we'll shoot an opening to a show. On this job, I shot and edited deer hunts, turkey hunts, fishing tournaments, and edited bear hunts and wild boar hunts. I also shot and edited weddings.
After a year, the company I was working for decided to close.  What to do now? Why don't you start your own production biz?
So we did. 
Laruth Video Productions opened in 1990. Our first job was a piece for the Newberry and Presbyterian College Bronze Derby, a local college rivalry game that drew the interest of ABC Sports. Aired during the halftime of a smaller conference game that ABC was airing, I felt immense pride in seeing my work hit the network. Although it wasn't the super bowl, we had made some headway in establishing a demo reel, something that can
make or break you in this biz. Later that year, when the jobs were not rolling in like I expected, I attended a beauty pageant that my niece was participating in. There was a guy there with a single video camera taping the event. He was also selling copies of the tape for $30.00. What? Single camera for $30.00? Robbery! I could use three cameras, add editing and graphics, sell the tape for $25.00 and make the kids happier than just getting a dub of his shaky footage! So I purchased two more cameras and Laura began booking pageants. Sure enough, it was a successful formula and we ended up having to turn jobs down. Seems that word spread in the pageant world that there was a new production company that produced professional videos for a reasonable price. So we got busy. After a couple of years of hearing Kenny G while contestants did their "T" on stage, I grew bored. Bored bored bored! "If we're going to do this", I told the wife, "then we need to do something like the Miss South Carolina Pageant. No more Kenny G music!"
Laura, being a Jaycee, and after a bit of networking, got us booked to do a Miss SC preliminary in Pickens, SC. Russ Gantt, the director, was nervous as this was his first show and hadn't heard of us. On faith, he gave us a shot and we did not disappoint! Great show, great taping and editing, everything worked out perfectly! We started booking these preliminaries for almost every weekend. Soon, we came to the attention of the Miss SC board, who hired us
to shoot a local pageant that they would attend and observe. Again, perfect show, perfect shoot and edit, great product! Next thing I know, I'm getting a call from the board asking us to shoot the Miss SC Pageant. This was 1994, just a year and a half after telling the wife that I would not be satisfied until I could produce the tapes for this pageant.
We would spend the next six years as the "Official videographer for the Miss South Carolina Pageant".

Jan 5, 2014


Something I have neglected for the past couple of years.
This therapy, this outlet, writing.
I still love to read! I read fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. Currently reading an Elton John bio as well as a political book sub-titled "How the republicans went crazy, the democrats became useless and the middle
class got shafted".
Recently, my 'since childhood' friend and current Facebook buddy David Baker asked several of us to post our top ten favorite books.
This was a difficult assignment for me. There's so many, how does a person choose their top 10 favorites?
In my early years, I wasn't a big reader of books. I did love to read, but it was always of the magazine variety. The monthly Playboy interview, Reader's Digest, Popular Science, National Geographic and the like. It wasn't until my friend and co-blogger Larry Durham introduced me to Ayn Rand that I began to dive into books. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged had me rooting for the pure businessman and true capitalist. Unbelievable for a socialist such as I was at the time!
Matter of fact, most of my early book reading were those lent to me by Larry D.
He introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain and Richard Adams. Since those introductions, I have devoured Twain, even going so far as visiting his home in Connecticut. I have re-read Vonnegut time and again. I have rented and thoroughly enjoyed Adam's 'Watership Down', which I highly recommend!
Those early days of picking up a book revived my interest in history. Before going to London a few years ago, I read about the history of London which steered me to some of the historical sites that I would visit during my short time there. After my visit to St. Maarten, I read about the island and why it was a dual
colony owned by the French and the Dutch. And a visit to Massachusetts had me boning up on it's storied past.
Several years back my mother-in-law had reason to be admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. This was just prior to Mr Durham's lesson on picking up a book. There was so much I could have learned about the area! The history of that famous institution was lost to me because I didn't take the time to pick up a book.
Since then I have learned that, before I travel anywhere, I will research the area for a couple of days. It gives me a unique insight into the history and makeup of the place before I visit. I have discovered several gems by first going through this process.
Case in point:
Visiting the Richmond, Virginia area to visit friends, I discovered the Civil War battlefields of Cold Harbor and Petersburg. Amazing stories were told in the books I read and I certainly felt their historic importance more by understanding beforehand how the crater was made at Petersburg (a South Carolina connection), or why so many perished at Cold Harbor. These battlefield visits led me to Fredericksburg, VA. and one of the bloodiest, one-sided battles of the war.
This led me to Manassas and how Stonewall Jackson got his nickname.
Years earlier, my good friend Tony Durham and I traveled to Gettysburg to videotape the anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
We were taping the exploits of the 1st New York Light Artillery Division and were led around the battlefield by a 'living historian' (as some re-enactors prefer to be called). The information about this division that this gentleman bestowed upon us was fascinating! He took us, site by site, through all three day's battles and what this division was doing on each day. Had I read more about the battle before our visit, I could have certainly kept up with their exploits much better and probably turned out a better video.
Read, read, read…study, study, study!
By reading, I also learned that, not too far from my house, a battle for the revolution occurred. While in and of itself it was a mere skirmish,  the chain of events that it set in motion led directly to King's Mountain and Cowpens - two strategic victories which caused Cornwallis to abandon the south and head toward Yorktown, Virginia. And we all know what happened there!
I encourage everyone with an interest in travel, or history, to dive into a book before your next road trip. Hell, take it along with you.
That's the beauty of a book.
It needs no electricity to operate.
Read on!
And don't forget to write!

Jan 2, 2014

The Calls I Get

My esteemed cohort and croquet partner Larry Durham posts about a recent encounter with a crazy, impatient motorist who tried to kill him. I literally hear it everyday. I have recently accepted a position that requires me to take First Notice of Loss claims for various insurance companies. Boy have I heard some stories! Just last night I was speaking with a gentleman from Georgia about his accident…we'll call him Jack:
Jack - "So it's 4 in the morning, New Years Day. I'm sitting at a red light, minding my own damn business, and I seed it coming!"
Larry - "Jack, could you describe the accident for me?"
Jack - "Like I says, minding my own damn business when I see this guy freaking' flying towards the intersection! He hits the car stopped at the light in the oncoming lane, who proceeds to fly across the median and crashes into me!"
Larry - "Wow Jack, are you alright?"
Jack - Neck and back been bothering me…I'm going to the hospital soon as I get off the phone with you".
Larry - "Jack, could you describe the damage to your vehicle?"
Jack - "Now wait a minute Larry - let me finish telling you! The guy who hits the other car that hits me-he takes off, you know? Just like he ain't done a damn thing! just takes off and the police, they catch up to him cause they seen the whole thing! Stop him a couple blocks away. The man is so drunk, the have to carry him to the police car! Then, they gets to the guy who hits me - he drunk too! They haul his ass in, even though he couldn't help being slammed into me! I guess he shouldn't a been driving drunk!"
Larry - "Jack, can I get a description of the damage to your vehicle?"
Jack - "Don't be in no damn hurry Larry! They's plenty more to the story!"
Larry - "Jack, I'd love to sit down one day and go over the entire, nasty incident, but I need to get this information - could you describe the damage to your vehicle?"
Jack - "That bastard that slammed into me, he was messed up! Had to go to the hospital! Messed him up but good!" Messed his car up too!"
Larry - "Sorry to hear that Jack. Now-the damage to your vehicle?"
Jack - "Oh yeah, the damage to my car. Messed up my new rim! Front driver side rim. Just got 'em for Christmas too!"
Larry - "The front driver side rim? What else Jack?"
Jack - "Oh that was all. Just the rim got some scratches on it. Larry, will this make my insurance go up? Wait, Larry - I need to call you back. The ambulance is here to take me to the ER".

Another report contains the following:
Accident Location: Piggly Wiggly parking lot.
Accident Description: IV (insured vehicle) was parked in a parking space when CV (claimant vehicle) backed into IV.
Vehicle Damage Description: IV - No damage - CV - Scratches to bumper.
Injuries: IV 1(driver) - back and neck; IV 2(passenger) - back and neck; IV 3(passenger) - back and neck; IV 4(passenger - 2 years old) - back and neck; IV 5(passenger) - back and neck and mental anguish.

Mental anguish indeed!

It's no wonder insurance rates in the country are so high! One of my favorites thus far goes a little something like this:
Larry - "Thank you for calling the new claims department, this is Larry - how may I help you?"
Guy - "I just had an accident" (Sound of glass clinking in the background).
Larry - "Are you alright?"
Guy - "I don't know yet. Just happened. (Then the caller starts arguing with someone) I don't know what happened! Mind your own business! What? What you say? I'll crawl outta this car and kick your..
Larry - "Sir, why don't you call back when things settle a bit - we're here 24-7"
Guy - "Alright Larry - I'll call back".
About 15 minutes later.
Larry - "Thank you for calling the new claims department, this is Larry - how may I help you?"
Guy - "I need to report an accident"
Larry - "Can I get your name and number please?"
Guy - "Well, my cousin called awhile ago and…(heard in the background "Sir, are we going to transport you or not?" We have other accidents to get to). Caller - "Wait a minute man! I'm on the phone with my insurance!"
Larry - "Sir, why don't you take care of the EMT first and call us back - we're here 24-7.
Caller - "Okay, we'll call you back"
They called back about 40 minutes later from the ER.

Now, while I am licensed to sell life, accident and health insurance in SC, I'm still a relative newcomer to this game. And I have been in a couple of accidents in my day. A hard landing on the pavement following a motorcycle accident when I was 20 and a kid pulled out in front of me; and a one car accident in which I slammed on brakes to avoid a stalled car in the road, throwing the rear end of my 1967 Chevy Imapala into a telephone pole - I must admit that the last thing on my mind following those two incidents was to call the insurance company. The cops? - Yes! An ambulance? - If needed! A close relative? - Definitely! The insurance company? - Maybe tomorrow!

Last but not least, my most favorite call. Taken from a father in the mountains of north Georgia. I swear, this guy sounded just like Richard Pryor doing his impression of the old man relating the 'Toodlem' character from one of his albums!
Larry - "Thank you for calling the new claims department, this is Larry - how may I help you?"
Man - "I need to report a claim"
Larry - "May I please get your name and number?"
Man - "Well, it's for my son".
Larry - "Is your son our insured?"
Man - "Oh hell no! He ain't got shit! Do you bwoi? You ain't got a damn thang without me signing for ya, with your sorry-ass".
Larry - "So you are our insured?"
Man - "Yeah, I reckon".
Larry - "May I have your policy number?"
Man - "Bwoi-read that damned number to me! No, stupid - the one on the top - sorry ass! Wait! Why am I on the phone? You had the wreck, sorry assed, no driving piece of shit! Bwoi, where was your head when I was teaching you to drive? I'll tell you where! Up yo ass! Where it still is today! Hit a house! House been there all these years and you knowed it! You been passing that house since you was born! House ain't new! Been sitting there all this time and you run into it like somebody just up and moved it there last night! Stupid ass bwoi! Here-you talk to the man!"
 I took the young man's claim.
After his dad was out of hearing range the guy says "Old man drunk today. Teach me to drive? More like I was driving his drunk ass back to the liquor store before it closed. Been driving his drunk ass since I was 12! And that house? Yeah, I knew it was there. If that old shit had put new tires on that piece of shit car he sent me to the liquor store in, I wouldn't had a blowout, lost control and hit that house, which, by the freaking' way. ain't three feet from the damn road!"

 Oy veh!