The Digital Journalist
My Platypus Fantasy

by Drew Carey

April 2006

I've been having trouble explaining the Platypus Workshop experience to people.

Is it like a first kiss, when you learn that something you formerly thought to be grotesque and unthinkable becomes beautiful and haunting? Is it like the first photograph you ever took that you thought was good? (Before you called them "images." The one you showed your friends and family but wouldn't show anyone now if it were new?) Is it like being hit by a truck and having to learn to walk again?

Yes. Yes, that's exactly it.

Drew Carey, left, listens intently as his Platypus instructor, PF Bentley, attempts to demystify the inner workings of a Canon XL H1 video camera at the Spring 2006 Platypus Workshop in Ventura, Calif.

Oscar Hildago
It's like having a first, clumsy kiss, taking a crap photo of it, and then getting hit by a truck. Learning to walk happens later on.

The Platypus Workshops are run by Dirck Halstead. Dirck shot with a film camera in Vietnam and was the first to get a picture published of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky together. He told us great stories about running up huge expense accounts while traveling the globe for Time magazine.

It all sounded fantastical to me. Film? Time magazine? Photographers with huge expense accounts? I thought I'd met the Baron Von Munchausen of Photojournalism but then I looked it up on the Internet and damned if there wasn't such a thing, once upon a time, as film cameras and Time magazine.

Also teaching the workshop was PF Bentley, a colleague of Dirck's at Time magazine and now an instructor of Visual Journalism at the Brooks Institute of Photography, where the workshop took place. PF also once used a film camera, but he is so digitally-fixated now that I would be surprised if he doesn't have a firewire cable coming out of his butt.

The third member of our faculty was Roger Richards, who does video stories for The Virginian-Pilot. You read right. He does video for a newspaper. Welcome to the Audacious New World. He is also the Editor and Publisher of The Digital Filmmaker, a sister Web site to Dirck's The Digital Journalist. Roger has covered wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama, Croatia, and Sarajevo ...

But that's not the reason he was there. He was there to keep Dirck and PF from having a good old-fashioned Burr-Hamilton duel.

Dirck and PF were both teaching the same workshop about using video and yet they disagreed on quite a surprising number of basic things, like which video camera to use and how to keep track of the scenes you edit in Final Cut Pro. They are the Sunshine Boys of digital video. And each time they disagreed, they would look to Roger for backup. Roger would shrug his shoulders and say things like "you both have a point."

For myself, I was glad they fought like old ladies on a cruise ship. It gave us all a happy break in our 12-hour days of learning and yearning. And besides, in things photographic, there never seems to be a one best way. Unless it's the one best way of the photographer who's showing you his one best way. I'm sure that I'll come up with my own one best way someday. I have dreams about being old and arguing about editing with PF and Dirck over a chess board in a park in Miami. I wear a sweater that my granddaughter gave to me and pants that are out of style. I yell that in "High Noon" there was an over-the-line shot in one of the saloon scenes and nobody ever complained. "High Noon, High Schmoon," says Dirck.

Comedian Drew Carey, clutching his beloved Canon XL H1, snuggles up to his Platypus instructor, PF Bentley, during the Spring 2006 Platypus Workshop at Brooks Institute of Photography. Carey, host of "The Drew Carey Show," plans to use his video training to produce a new show.

Oscar Hildago
It was a long 10 days at the Platypus Workshop. I hallucinated a lot.

The video camera we used was the Canon XL H1, a $9,000 bear of a machine that has no business being in the hands of someone like me. Once, while he was helping me edit, I remarked to PF that I'd already bought one because I figured that I'm taking the course and I already know how to use it, and he shot back, "YOU don't know how to USE that CAMERA!" He was incredulous. And right. I don't know how to use it. I still have it, though. I can see it from here while I type this, still in the box, in the corner of my office.

We used Final Cut Pro for editing, in the school's state-of-the-educational-discount-art editing lab. There were a half-dozen or so students from Brooks there to help us out during the process, and all I can say is thank God for brown-nosing. We would've all been lost without them. And hungry, too, because they also fetched us pizza.

And then, after a week of fumbling with a dazzling new camera, learning a new visual language, and barfing it all up on an editing program that might as well be called "Brain Surgery," it was suddenly all over. And it did feel sudden, even after a week of 12-hour days. I was just getting the hang of it when they kicked us out. I was just starting to feel something I thought I couldn't feel anymore, a feeling I haven't had since I was a full-time TV Star. I felt ... semi-competent!

I can work a video camera. Kind of. I can't ski backwards or keep a football in focus while I do it, but I can do it.

All right, I can't. It's still in the box. But I will.

And I now know how to use Final Cut Pro. Kind of. I can basically do cuts and fades, and export my masterpiece to the Web if I look at my notes. And I have PF's cell number, which helps.

And, I can tell a story. Of course, I've always been able to do that, even before I kissed anyone or took a picture. But we can all do that. We tell them everyday. Think of all the stories you've ever told a co-worker about the guy you met that did the crazy thing and isn't that interesting and wow, is lunch over already?

We all tell stories. Except that now, thanks to the Platypus Workshop, I've been given a great big push in the right direction to tell them in a new, exciting way.

With video.

Now, I can just hand my co-worker my video iPod and say "Hey, watch this." No annoying small talk to get in the way.

Be prepared for a change after you take this workshop. When you get home you want to try everything. The whole Platypus experience is inspiring that way. You walk out with just enough knowledge to make you think you can really do something great. Just like you felt after your first kiss or when you took your first decent photograph.

VENTURA, CALIF.--3/12/06: Newly-hatched Platypai gather for a group portrait with instructors after graduating from the 12th Platypus Workshop at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, Calif.
Front row (from left): Chuck Fadely, Miami Herald; Roger Richards, Virginian-Pilot (instructor); PF Bentley, Brooks Institute of Photography (instructor); Dirck Halstead, Director; Stephen Crowley, New York Times.
Second row (from left): Battle Vaughn, Miami Herald; Michael Blair, freelance; Drew Carey; David Franks, New York Times; Chris Tyree, Virginian-Pilot; Katherine Bauknight, freelance; Glen Cooper, freelance; Stuart Philips, freelance; Ben Schellpfetter, freelance.

Oscar Hildalgo

I bought an expensive new camera. I bought Final Cut Studio, just in case I need the extra programs. I increased the RAM on my laptop. I bought books. I made plans.

I see myself in a jungle in the middle of a gun battle, holding a Canon XL H1, operating the 100 or so knobs and buttons with one hand while blindfolded. I edit it on a Mac laptop using only my thoughts. My war footage wins me a OscarEmmyPeabody, from a division of Pulitzer, Inc. It changes the course of a presidential election. The young Marine Corporal I featured in my documentary is picked to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I am in my bed in the mansion I bought with my documentary earnings. With me are two Playmates who were so moved by my film about the plight of the whoevers that they decided to make the world a better place by sleeping with me. Pharmaceutical cocaine pours from their surgically-enhanced nipples. I see myself in the mirror above the bed and smile.

I AM a Platypus. Koo Koo Ka Joob.

And then one day, while carrying my OscarEmmyPeabody through a park in Miami, I come across a pair of old men playing chess and arguing about the best way to log tapes. I slam my award down in front of them and quack, "There were over-the-line shots all through the last scene in 'Casablanca'!"

I've been hit by the Platypus Truck, and I'm learning to walk again.

© Drew Carey

Drew Carey is a comedian from the United States who recently took the Platypus Workshop in Ventura, Calif. He was the star of "The Drew Carey Show" and host of the American version of the British comedy "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" both on ABC. Early in 2005, Drew got a chance to take pictures of a soccer game from the sidelines and has since gone mad, shooting U.S. Men's Team and MLS games whenever he gets the chance. He is, as of this writing, in Barcelona begging for credentials for the Real Madrid v Barcelona match and will be shooting the World Cup this June for a small wire service in the United States. He shoots under an assumed name.