By Mark Neuling
Photojournalist for TechTV

I’m really starting to hate stand-ups.  The newspaper folks complain about real estate and head shots. With the television stand-up you get two for the price of one.
The purpose of the stand-up, besides face time for the reporter, is to act as a bridge between segments of the story.  It can be a crucial, narrative part of the story-telling process.  Not always necessary, but certainly valid.

Since the tech stories we cover can be somewhat dull both content-wise and visually, there has been an added pressure on both the part of the reporters and the photographers to spice up the stand-ups.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they’re simple, but all too often they're a pain in the butt.

This is an example of a fairly typical television stand-up by one of the local network sports directors.
©Mark Neuling 2004

I arrived at work one morning at my usual time.  After getting my coffee and reading through the overflow of emails we get, I checked the computer to see what was scheduled for the day.  The only thing planned was a stand-up with one of our better producers and the lead anchor, scheduled for ten o’clock.  OK this should be easy; I get to work with two vivacious thirty-something young women who actually know what the heck they’re doing. Great.
The producer in charge of the shoot is logging tapes at a near-by workstation.  She informs me that she isn’t sure yet where we will shoot the stand-up, either here at our office or several blocks away at the studio.  “No problem, I’ll wait to hear from you before I load the gear in the car,” I tell her. “We’ve got the edit planned for noon,” she nervously informs me.   The added bonus is that there is a possibility that this piece will be airing on ABC’s ``Good Morning America. ``

Nearly two hours pass; it’s ten o’clock straight up.  I stroll past the workstation where the producer is still looking at tapes.  She says nothing to me.

Everyone in television has worked for “Action News,” even the talented Jim Goldman.
© Mark Neuling 2004
Moments later the phone rings at my desk; it’s the assignment desk notifying me that the shoot has been pushed back to eleven.  Guess that noon edit session won’t be happening after all.
Another hour passes.  Finally I get a call around a quarter past eleven, “Come pick us up at the studio, we’re ready to go,” the producer tells me.  Again the plan has changed, now we are going to shoot the stand-up in the anchor’s apartment.  This means driving half way across town, eating up more time.

I meet the two women at the studio.  I ask for directions.  The anchor snarls at me. Very unusual for her; she must be wound really tight for this.  She notices the blank look on my face and asks me if I know how to get there?  “Yeah,” I reply, “but you better give me directions from here because it’ll be shorter than the route I’d take from the office.”   We head towards the Haight.

This is an example of “reporter involvement” during a stand-up.
© Mark Neuling 2004

In front of the anchor’s apartment there is one small parking space available.  In San Francisco an open parking space happens about as often as a presidential election being decided by the Electoral College.  It just doesn’t happen.  Never the less the anchor tells me to park in this opening.    Of course the reason the parking space is available is because it’s a red zone.  The paint is peeling and faded and hasn’t been painted in years, but it’s still a red zone. Since we have the privilege of paying for our own parking tickets maybe they can get me for two parking violations at once. The space is so small I’m going to be partially blocking a driveway as well.
So the magic “Press Pass” that protects us from all evil goes on the dashboard and we start to unload the car.  I’ve got to admit that the ladies carried most of the gear up the stairs to the anchor’s apartment.  “No prima-donnas here,” declares the anchor as she heads back up the staircase with her second load.  No most certainly not, and that’s one of the things I most appreciate about this job.
The story we’re doing is about software that will allow parents to monitor what’s in the email on their kid’s computer.  We are likening it to parents snooping through a child’s dresser drawers. 
I always like to reconnoiter the scene before I start to set up my equipment.  Since we need a dresser as a prop the only logical place for me to shoot is in the bedroom.  A stand-up in the anchor’s bedroom; what every newspuke dreams about.                

I set up three lights.  A key light with a small soft-box, a back light on a small extension arm with a warming jell, and the third light with a blue jell to splash some color on the background, which just happens to be framed through the door of the bedroom.

The monitor I’ve brought I set up on the bed.  Now news shooters never use monitors in the field unless it’s for a live-shot. We’re all equipped with monitors but I almost never use mine for three reasons.  One - I keep my lighting simple.  Experience tells me what I’m going to get.  Two - the thing is heavy.  Three -I don’t want reporters and producers looking over my shoulder and second-guessing my shots. 

Some stand-ups don’t even require that the reporter be standing.
© Mark Neuling 2004

But because of the importance of this stand-up to the story I want everyone involved signing off on it when we’re done.

I’m wedged into a corner of the bedroom and my lens can’t zoom out wide enough to show the dresser and the anchor.  Funny how simple some solutions are, we move the dresser back a couple of feet and now she can walk three or four steps to the dresser, deliver her lines and I can get it all in frame.  But something’s missing.
Nothing in this room gives any indication that it belongs to a child.  If this stand-up is to be taking place at a child’s dresser shouldn’t there be some toys or dolls around I wonder out loud?  Suddenly, seemingly out of thin air there appears a teddy bear and a doll.  Our scene is now complete, we can finally roll tape.  Never under estimate the power of what you wish for, and never take credit for a good idea.

The anchor clips on a microphone.  We double-check the shot.  I tweak the lights some to compensate for the walk to the dresser.  We rehearse the delivery a time or two, and I roll tape just in case we catch a great read.

TechTV’s Dave Koehn consults with a reporter about the script for a stand-up.
© Mark Neuling 2004
The first take is good, we try another but the anchor flubs it.  Two more tries, my move feels real good on the fourth take and the anchor’s interpretation is great.  But the producer wants just one more read. I exchange glances over my viewfinder with the anchor, we already know we’ve got a good one in the can but we’ll play along with the producer’s request.  Three or four more takes and we call it a wrap.  All this set-up for a read that will last less than ten seconds.

I load the gear in the car and despite the coolness of the overcast day there are pools of sweat clinging to the front of my shirt.  We have to hustle back and get this into the edit session.   Thank God we didn’t get a ticket.
We narrowly miss rear-ending a truck near Octavia Street.  It would have been my fault too.  A gallows humor envelops us.  I joke that at least I have an airbag.  The anchor makes a crack about having not only an airbag for protection but her wardrobe that she has folded on her lap.  The young producer sits wide-eyed in the back seat, her already alabaster skin drained of any remaining color.
Several blocks later an old BMW flashes its lights at me.  What now, did I cut this guy off or something I think?  The young driver pulls along side and motions for me to roll down my window.  “Your right rear tire is almost flat,” he informs me.  Darn, I’d noticed that the tire was low, but it’s brand new, less than two weeks old and I’m supposed to drive to Sacramento tomorrow.  Will this day ever end?
The ladies seem to be relaxed and in a good mood as we arrive at the studio.   I head out to find a gas station.  It’s starting to drizzle a bit. 
At gas stations in California air and water are supposed to free.  But apparently the attendant at this gas station has a different understanding of the law.  He claims that in order to get free air I have to purchase gas first or feed fifty cents into the air pump.    I’m not in any mood to argue with this guy and I’m not about to buy gas.  I turn and walk out.  The drizzle has turned into a steady rain; I’m halfway to my car.  What’s a couple of quarters I think?  I pull a dollar out of my wallet and return to the office where I ask the attendant for change.  There’s a sheepish look on his face.  He slides my dollar back across the counter to me with a token on top.  I appreciate his change of mind.  The tire fills slowly but seems to be holding air. Closer inspection shows that I’ve got a nail in the tire.  The tire gods are conspiring against me.  Two weeks ago it was a screw.
Since I’m supposed to drive to the state capitol the following day this has to be fixed.  The guys in the tire shop look at me quizzically, “Weren’t you just in here?” they ask.  “Picked up a nail, can you get it fixed today?   I can wait,” I say.  They tell me it will be two hours before they can get to it.  I notify the desk that I won’t be available for the rest of the day.    They have a new tire on the rim in 45 minutes and don’t charge me anything.  I don’t miss my train home. 

Photo illustration by Mark Neuling.
© Mark Neuling 2004

The shoot in Sacramento gets cancelled the next day and the story never does run on "Good Morning America."
Mark Neuling ©2004
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author
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TechTV is the world’s leading cable and satellite television channel covering technology news, information, and entertainment from a consumer, industry, and market perspective 24 hours a day.  Available in more than 75 million households across 70 countries, TechTV is also the world’s largest producer and distributor of programming about technology.
Copyright TechTV 2003 TechTV Inc. All rights reserved.



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