Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Getting it Done

Today we cheated. We had followed our woman to the self-storage place where she was storing her stuff for the move. The line producer, back at the hotel/office, was calling the storage place to get permission to videotape there. Just as we arrived in our van, following our woman, the line producer called our director to say that we could not shoot there -- the clerk had said "no."

"It's too late," our director told her over the phone. "We're here. We just pulled up now."

Our woman punched in her code at the gate and drove in. We parked on the curb outside, and the cameraman got out to shoot up the concrete aisle from outside the fence, to tape our woman with that "distant voyeur" long lens feel.

I got out to help him carry the tripod. The director told me to get back in the van. "No offense," she said. "But the boom is too big." It would draw attention, and there were security cameras about.

Directors and producers of reality TV are always telling me to put the boom away. I always want to keep it handy, because you never know.

So I got in the van. Then she and the cameraman came back, and our woman walked up to the keypunch box inside the gate, apparently having been beckoned by the director. She punched the code, the gate opened, and we did drive in. We drove up the aisle to her storage unit and positioned the van so that the cameraman could shoot out the open side door without getting out and being seen by proprietors or security cameras. It was our camera vs. theirs.

The wireless mic on our woman was working at this range, so I plugged into the camera and sent him the audio. Our woman explained that all this stuff in storage was her daughter's from the old marriage, the old house. There, under a bedspread, was a grandfather clock her daughter's father had made for her daughter. I wondered what had happened to him. There were no men around, that is, none besides her grandson and her daughter's boyfriend, both living with her. Also in her condo were her own mother and granddaughter -- four generations, 6 people, in two bedrooms.

"Follow me out real close," our woman said. We drove to the gate behind her. She punched in the code again and we followed her out, real close.

"I just say, 'Nobody will yell at a cute Asian woman,'" our director said, referring to the possibility that she might have been harangued for videotaping, when we had been told not to.

"I've been detained by Syrian secret police and Interpol," said the cameraman. "I wasn't too worried about this."

When was he detained in Syria, I asked.

He said he used to work for CNN. They were in Syria trying to shoot some secret weapons depot, and the police found them and took them to their headquarters.

"I tell you, that was one time I had time to worry," he said. "When you are running from mortar fire," which he had done in Beirut during that civil war, "you don't have time to think. But sitting in that police station, all I could think was, we could disappear and nobody would know." He said the secret to those situations is, you tell your captor he doesn't want the responsibility of doing something to you. He doesn't want to start a big international stink, an inquiry, something that could reflect badly on him. But you gotta make it look like he's still got power, so he doesn't appear to his subordinates to have backed down.

"Sounds like backchannel negotiations," I said. "Give the dictator an out."

"Make him think he's making the decision," said the cameraman. Even when he's not.

I said that I had started to be interested in foreign policy during the Bush administration, because it was so simple now. The Iraq war was supposed to teach everyone to shape up, or else.

"I would vote for the current president as just about the worse one of the 20th century," the cameraman said.

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