Monday, May 4, 2009

Photog's Lounge: A shooter's point of view

Today we turn the soap box over to Drew Cook, a photographer at WAVE-TV in Louisville, Kentucky. Drew has a half dozen Emmys in his pocket and a bunch of NPPA awards as well. (NPPA, in case you don't know, is best described as a terrific finishing school for shooters.)

Anyway, Drew has some thoughts from the other side of the camera... along with some comments from one of his favorite reporters....

I love watching resume tapes. I love making fun of the bad ones and learning from the great ones.

Five years ago my News Director handed me a box of tapes to check out. He knew I liked watching them as much as he hated it. "Find me four or five reporter candidates... no one with an agent."

I left work, bought a bottle of my favorite bourbon (Jim Beam Black if you're interested), ordered a pizza and readied myself for what, for me, is an evening of sensations most folks only feel around Christmas, birthings and prom.

The first tape stunk, as did the second. The third was a tiny little Asian guy that showed a lot of promise, but the kid was right out of school. I work in Louisville, Ky. - market 48, we're not NYC, but we don't hire rookies... next. The fourth tape stunk... gotta pee... fifth was awful, six, seven, AAAAAGGGHHH!

I believe it was the eighth or ninth tape that finally made me smile... this guy was pretty good. One of those rare combinations of talent and competence ('seems to me you typically only get one or the other, though more often than not, neither).

Okay, that's one. Or so I thought... as I placed the tape in the spot I'd cleared for what would eventually become my "yes" pile, I saw the all too familiar blue and white logo of a prominent talent agency. "No agents," the ND had said. Damn it!

It didn't matter. This was the only good tape. I began my "yes" pile.

One hour, three pees and countless belches later I had two tapes in that stack, both with blue and white logos.

Was it possible that out of 20 something tapes there were really only two viable candidates? I eventually decided to take in the best two (despite having agents) and the tiny little Asian who showed promise.

The next day I handed the ND my picks. He threw the logos in trash and the little guy in the deck.

Two weeks later Jeff Tang, me and the rest of the WAVE 3 shooters were having burgers and beers to celebrate our new hire's first day.

Jeff was inexperienced, but bright and ambitious. Not ambitious in the annoying Katie Couric way, but more like a squirrel frantically gathering nuts ("nuts" is a metaphor representing knowledge).

Jeff would gather nuts from wherever and whomever he could, periodically removing his nuts to nibble on them, then cautiously and carefully store them safely away for use another day.

As it turned out, one of Jeff's favorite sources for nut acquisition was the photography staff.

Now, ya gotta understand, this guy didn't know anything!

But, the one thing he did know... was that he didn't know anything.

Now, at age 26, Jeff as moved on. He's in a bigger market (Nashville) at a good station (WTVF). He has eight Emmy nominations (three wins) and was last year's AP Reporter of the Year. He still gathers photographer's nuts.

I asked Jeff if he felt he'd learned any lessons that other young reporters could benefit from. Here are Jeff's own nuts (I'm particularly partial to the last one)...

-It's a 50/50 deal. YOU ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER. Treat him/her as an equal in news gathering and the creative process. Why not use two brains in the field instead of one brain and a guy who points the camera around? Also, your photographer is probably smarter and definitely more experienced than you, so take advantage of it.

-Each photographer is different. Each is motivated in a different way. Find what works for each photographer. Some might respond to encouragement, others need only to feel like they're real a contributor to the story, not just a camera jockey. Be flexible.

-Get to know your photographer! Talk to them about their kids, their interests. If they like spending time with you, they'll work better with you.

-You can't bring it hardcore every day. Some folks in this biz aren't programmed for it anymore. As Drew Cook once said, "some days you just give 100%." Get the facts right. Tell all sides. Make slot. Have lunch with your photog, talk to him about his weekend. Go home peaceful.

-I know you just graduated from a good college. I know you think you're a pretty big deal. But if you get your head out of your behind, you'll find that you'll learn more from your photographers than any snooty college professor.

-CARRY THE DAMN STICKS. Your arms work. Your legs work. Don't be a prima donna.

Also, Drew Cook is a mentor and hero. Listen to him.

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