By Mark Neuling
Field Camera Operator for TechTV

Protesters gather outside the Mark Hopkins Hotel before a speech by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. San Francisco, California, July 2003.
© 2003 Mark Neuling
The protesters arrived an hour after we did.  Most are wearing jackets or scarves against the breeze and overcast skies.  Occasional patches of blue do manage to peek through the gray.  Hey, that’s summer in San Francisco.  One paper the next day reports the number of protesters at 200, another says there were only a couple of dozen.  I would concur with the smaller number.
They are here outside the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Knob Hill to protest a speech by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.  Most, of the protesters are well passed middle age.  Actually I’m middle-aged, I’m talking senior citizens here.   The tie-dyed shirts and picket signs belie the gray hair, potbellies and wrinkles.  The San Francisco Police Department has them corralled behind police barricades, closing down one lane of California St. in the process. 

Illustration by Mark Neuling.
© Mark Neuling 2003

Protesters and police outside the Mark Hopkins Hotel before a speech to the Commonwealth Club by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. San Francisco, California, July 2003.
© 2003 Mark Neuling
There are no riot-police here.  No helmets, no clubs no paddy wagons.  They’re not needed; just the regular beat cops.   The police let one aged protester remain outside the barricades.  He is in one of those motorized scooters.  His gray hair is wreathed in a bandanna adorned with various buttons espousing his political beliefs.  He smiles benignly for the cameras of the press, the overcast softening the wrinkles around his eyes.

Who knows what the tourists and hotel guests think of all this.
We had arrived about 45 minutes after the scheduled press check in.  Once again this was a last minute assignment.  The reporter I’m teamed with apologizes profusely at the desk where the media is to get credentials.   We are the only crew standing there; the others are already spread about the lobby of the hotel with their coffee and papers.  One of the Secret Service agents overhears our apologies and says that we will have to go to the “punishment room,” because of our tardiness.   Wow! What do you know, someone from the Secret Service with a sense of humor?  I wisely keep my mouth shut as he conducts one of the most thorough bag searches I’ve ever been subject to.
He then turns to the reporter.  She has lost her Press Pass.  He asks us if we are together.  We both nod silently. He asks her for some form of picture ID. The search of her bag turns up an extra lady's undergarment.  The reporter was scheduled to anchor the newscast that evening and she had brought a change of clothing.    “Guess you guys see everything,” she blushes to the agent.  He lets us in to auditorium where Secretary Ridge’s speech is to be held.  It’s a big, big room.
Since the speech isn’t to take place for more than two hours we have plenty of time to kill.  I set my camera up on the platform in the back of the room while the reporter goes for some coffee and a paper. 
Another television photographer from the Fox affiliate in Oakland and I string cable for our audio feed.  We ask one of the hotel’s audio-visual guys if he will give us a mic check.  The audio-visual tech makes the long walk to the podium and begins his count down.  The audio is screaming on our VU meters.  The other shooter and I check the audio multi-box that we are patched into, everything seems normalized.  I ask the AV tech if he could bring the level down some.  He tweaks something on stage and the level drops.  The other shooter asks him to bring it down even more.  Eventually, together, we get the audio dialed in.
By now the reporter is back with her coffee and papers.  She reads the NY Times and passes the Examiner over to me.  The poor San Francisco Examiner, once the flagship of the Hearst empire, is now a free tabloi

At eleven they open the doors to the public and the media.  We file by the Secret Service agents again; everyone has their bag or purse checked.  All the camera crews stand by their gear.  We compare white balance settings for the light on the stage.  The room has huge windows on the right side; the sheer curtains do little do to block the weak daylight drifting through.  At least the light is somewhat diffused because of the overcast outside.  One of the TV newspukes notes that the cut-away shots are going to be blue. They are.

A television crew from KTSF Channel 26 interviews protesters in front of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.
San Francisco, California, July 2003.
© 2003 Mark Neuling


The reporter I’m with has disappeared again, so I decide to head outside to get some shots of the protesters.  The sides are pretty evenly matched.  The police, media and protesters are all at about the same strength number wise.  It’s hard to tell where the media representatives end and the protesters begin.  Actually the media seems to be taking the presence of these folks a whole lot more seriously than they take of themselves.  The protesters seem to enjoy being interviewed and photographed.
Once back inside again, with some footage of the festivities outside safely recorded in my camera, I wait.  The media too, is fenced in at the back of the auditorium.  The protesters outside behind police barricades, the media behind velvet ropes.  One young newspaper photographer slumps against the wall besides me.  He has a digital SLR slung over each shoulder.  One has the familiar white lens with the scalloped lens hood.  He is terribly under-lensed for this event, especially since the Press is confined to the back of the room.  I comment on his cameras and ask if he gets a little extra magnification because they’re digital.  “No these are Canons,” he mourns.  A shooter from another paper armed with Nikons offers to loan him his camera for one shot.  “I can e-mail it to you,” he offers.  “Or maybe Eugene can loan you his gear for a few shots,” says the Nikon shooter.  “He uses Canon equipment.”  Competing newspaper photographers working together.
The gods at this point must have heard the prayers of the still shooters.  A gentleman with a slight Bronx accent tells them that shortly after Secretary Ridge begins his speech they will be escorted to the front for a few minutes so that they can get their shots.  You can hear a collective sigh of relief go up from the print guys.  Most stay up front through out the entire speech.
The television shooters are having a conniption of their own.  A woman, most likely from Secretary Ridge’s staff, informs us that he will briefly meet with the media afterwards downstairs in the hotel.  One shooter asks if there will be an audio box to patch in to.  She says there won’t be one.  “Well some of us don’t have reporters to hold microphones, how are we suppose to get sound?” gripes the old hand.  “We’re not the Washington press corps with boom mics,” he chimes.  The PR lady nervously smiles at us from in front of the velvet rope.  “How about a podium?” asks another cameraman.  Again the staffer smiles and says the Secretary prefers not to use a podium.  The shooter with the loudest protests of all sits down in a chair besides his camera and mutters that if he can't get good sound why should he cover the Secretary’s Q & A with the media at all.   She smiles again and then literally does a jig in front of us and strides away.
The Secretary takes the stage shortly after noon.  After a brief introduction he reads from his prepared speech, one that has already been distributed to the media.  We already know which sound bites we’ll be using before we’ve even heard the speech.
While these big events may look exciting to the public on the evening news, for we TV cameramen and women it’s really pretty dull once they event is under way.  Check the audio levels, vary the framing a bit, get cut-aways of the audience and of the other TV crews.  Mostly we just fidget and pray we don't run out of tape at some crucial point.
After his speech Secretary Ridge answers questions related to homeland security, Iraq and civil liberties.  All in all he’s before the audience for a little more than an hour.  At the conclusion of his speech the assorted media representatives make a beeline to a small hallway on a lower level of the hotel.
We form a phalanx of cameras, microphones and reporters bridging the width of this small space. There are at least five television crews spread across a hallway no more than eight or nine feet wide.  Mix in the reporters from TV, print and radio, plus the one or two brave still photographers and you’d have a pretty good rugby scrum.  In an understatement, we are literally standing shoulder to shoulder. Believe it or not this is a slow dance that many of us relish.
Some genius with a TV camera notes that the hallway is dark.  Yeah, that’s why we have these lights screwed on to the top of our cameras.  I ask the reporter I’m with to give me a white balance.  She steps out of the scrum with a white piece of paper and I turn on my headlight.  Other lights snap on.  A reporter from Telemundo holds up his notepad, after a few moments he asks if any one still needs a white balance.  We’re working together.
A photographer from one of the papers is directly to my left.  I try to squeeze over a little to give him some room.  He thanks me for my effort and notes that he’s OK.  His lens is just above my left shoulder, small guys these newspaper shooters.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge slowly makes his way down the corridor towards the waiting members of the press.  He shakes a few hands along the way.  The TV lights turn on almost in unison.  The microphones are held before the Secretary, he is surprisingly soft-spoken and articulate.   Secret Service agents line the passageway on either side of the corridor.
The newspaper photographer next to me gently brushes aside the hair of the reporter I’m with onto the nape of her neck and out of his frame.  My reporter holds the microphone of the cameraman from the NBC affiliate in San Jose.  He is working without a correspondent and is stuck too far back in the pack to get any kind of descent sound.  Several other reporters hold more than one microphone.   Reporters and photographers from competing papers, radio and television stations all working together in order to file their stories and make their air times.   Somehow, when we all work together, it all works out, that’s San Francisco.

© Mark Neuling 2003
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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