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Santa Clara County
Field Camera Operator for TechTV
Late one Monday afternoon one of the reporters came by my cubicle. “We
have a shoot at eight tomorrow morning,” he said. “It’s
in Sunnyvale. MAPQUEST says it’ll take 43 minutes.” “That
time of morning we’ll hit some traffic on the Bayshore”, I tell
him. “The commute lane doesn’t start until Redwood City
so I’ll come in early and let’ s try to leave a little past seven.”
At six-thirty in the morning the traffic into the city is still moderately
light, if you can get in early enough you can find street parking for
free all day. Just before seven I pull up to my usual spot just a block
from the office.
The reporter I’m working with has already arrived. He is one
of the few punctual ones. I load my gear into the car and hit the restroom. It’s
just 10 minutes past seven.
Were at the corner of 8th and Brannan, two blocks from the Interstate-
280 on-ramp. We shoot the bull about the story. I begin my turn on
to Brannan, a motorcycle from the oncoming lane makes a left turn in front
of me; I’d lost him in my blind spot. I hit the bakes. Not
even close, but near misses are almost a daily occurrence in San Francisco.
As we drive south the reporter and I discuss the story. A small company
called Trek Aerospace is trying to develop what we’re calling in the
story, a strap-on aircraft. Picture an upright chase lounge with turbines
over your head. You’d fasten yourself into this thing with a
big Velcro harness and control it with a pair of joysticks similar to those
used in video games. This flying machine has been in development for
seven years and has actually flown. Granted it’s been tethered to
the ground. The designers didn’t want it to fly any higher than
they’d want it to fall.
We’re doing this story because the aircraft is for sale on eBay. The
company needed funds to develop newer models. They were hoping to sell
this initial prototype to an aircraft museum. Who ever buys it has
to sign a waver stating that they won’t actually try to fly it. So
far there are no bids.
The reporter is a tall, lanky guy from Southern California. He’s very
mellow and has a good “bedside manner” with interview subjects. He’s
really too nice for this business. He wants this to be a fast shoot. Quick
interview, in and out. He has to turn this story for this evening’s
newscast. We’re making good time. “How much farther?” he
asks. I look at the dashboard clock; it blinks seven forty-five. We
are about five or six exits away. I tell him we should be there just
about on time.
Fifty years ago Santa Clara County was known as “The Valley of the
Hearts Delight.” Cherry and apricot orchards crisscrossed the landscape. Canning
and farming were the major industries. Now it’s known to the
world as “Silicon Valley.” Computers and microchips
are the predominant industries. Few orchards remain.
MAPQUEST has us on target. It almost never provides the most direct
route, but it usually gets us there. The streets are nearly
empty, so are most of the parking lots. It sure seems that an awful
lot of people are late for work, that or there’s a lot of office space
for rent. We have no trouble finding parking. It’s a few
minutes before eight. Forty miles of driving during the morning commute
in about fifty minutes.
I get back to San Francisco shortly after 10 a.m. The shoot went smooth.
An interview, some show and tell, and b-roll of posters in the lobby. At
my desk I check my schedule on the computer, no changes. One of our
photogs, with a reporter in tow, asks me if I’ve got a shoot “Yeah
a products shoot later on,” I say. This particular shooter can’t
go out because management has him editing packages from the Detroit Auto
Show. “We need someone in the South Bay for an interview around
eleven,” states the reporter. “My shoot’s at 11:30,
no way I can make that,” I tell them. “But you can ask the products
producer and see if he’ll cut me loose.”
The three of us surround the producer in his cube. We tell him what
we need. He mutters some curse words under his breath. “Just
go,” he says. I ask the reporter when she wants to leave, “Right
away,” she replies.
Minutes later we’re getting in the car. She tells me to exit
on Guadalupe Expressway; I finish her sentence, “…and make
a left on to West Mission.” If there’s one cop shop I know how
to find it’s the one in San Jose.
A major English rock star has been arrested for child pornography and
we are going to interview a detective with the San Jose Police Department’s
Child Exploitation Unit. The story will be all over the media for several
days. This is an undercover unit so we will not be able to show
the officer’s face.
The drive to San Jose is over 45 miles; we make good time. The reporter
says she’ll try to be fast. I tell her I’ll get the lights
up as quick as I can. This particular reporter is still a little
green. I think this is her first job in the field.
As we approach the San Jose Airport I ask the reporter if she has her
makeup with her. There are only a couple of quick ways to shoot an
anonymous interview. One way is to just shoot over the subjects shoulder
as he speaks to the reporter. That means she may have to be on camera
and she’s not wearing any makeup. She’s quick with
the blush and lipstick. The mirror I clipped to the visor comes
in handy. We reach the police station; I find one space in the parking
lot, “Here already!” she exclaims. I unload the gear
as she finishes up; the mascara takes a while longer. I wait outside
the car for several minutes. Finally we head in.
The lobby in San Jose Police Department has recently been remodeled
and painted. It use to look like a shabby bus depot. Now it looks more
like a designer coffee shop, but with bullet-proof glass. A woman who
appears to be homeless asks if she can use a restroom, the desk sergeant
buzzes her in. People sit quietly in the foyer waiting for their cases
to be called. This is nothing like the circus at the Hall of Justice
in San Francisco.
Our wait is short. The homeless woman emerges into the lobby; right
behind her is a sergeant from public affairs. He’s in a jovial
mood. He escorts us upstairs to meet our interview.
The reporter introduces us to the officers in the unit. The sergeant
in charge has been very cooperative with her over the phone but doesn't
want to do any television interviews. I put my gear down outside his
wait. I engage in some small talk with the other two officers about
the merits of the bust in England. They admit they don’t know
much about it, just what they’ve heard on the news. More time
passes. The reporter is still in the other office discussing the penal
code with the head of the unit. I ask the young officer whom
we’ll be interviewing where and how he’d like to approach the
interview. He indicates the office where the reporter and sergeant
are. “In the past I’ve sat at the computer and they’ve
shot over my shoulder,” he tells me. “OK that will
work,” I say. “ Let’s get started.”
We enter the office. I’ve got my gear. The reporter and
sergeant wrap up their conversation. The young officer sits down at
a computer terminal and logs on to an Internet chat-room posing as a young
teenage girl. In less than a minute he starts to get responses. All
of them are pretty creepy.
As the sergeant who heads up the unit leaves he thanks us for coming
down. Any coverage that we can provide helps their unit, and in the
long run, helps protect exploited children as well. Some police departments
do get it. They realize that fostering positive relationships between
the police and media can be beneficial for both. I worked for nearly
14 years in San Jose and I can’t recall a single negative experience
in dealing with the police department there.
I start to set up two lights. I’m working in a very small office
with large filing cabinets behind me; it’s a tight squeeze. I
have to set up my tripod and the lights. The reporter, as most of them
tend to do, parks herself right in the middle of all this. The
lights are flagged off to just throw a little spill onto the walls. I
turn off the overheads. The officer sits facing the glowing computer
screen, which provides enough light to outline his silhouette. The
reporter conducts her interview. There is little b-roll I can shoot.
As we descend the stairs of the police station the reporter remarks
about how much she learned and how nice San Jose seems. I tell her
it’s one of the safest big cities in America. “San Jose
is a big city?” she says quizzically. “Bigger than San
Francisco,” I inform her. It’s just past noon; we were
only there a little over an hour.
It’s a quiet drive back to San Francisco; the reporter logs her tape
in the backseat of the car. The needle on the speedometer creeps
past 75 mph as we make our way up the heart of the Peninsula. I
keep one eye on the rearview mirror. The Highway Patrol doesn’t
care about deadlines. I want to give this reporter as much time as
possible to prepare her package, at least we don’t have to waste time
shooting a stand-up.
She’s hungry; I drop her off in front of the office so that she can
get some food. I park my car in the garage. It’s about 1:10 p.m. There
are still almost two hours to go on my shift. I’ve driven close
to 180 miles and shot elements for two stories that will air on tonight’s
newscast at 5 p.m. Not a typical day, but not that unusual either. The
peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes pretty good.
Mark Neuling 2003
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
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