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The Nonpartisan Kindness of Strangers

After eight long days shooting stories in Humboldt County, our tired PBS SoCal Suburban gave it up at a gas station in the tiny agricultural hamlet of Maxwell, Calif. Even the minimart attendant could hear the tensioner pully bearings seize, shredding the serpentine belt that operated the power steering, brake booster, water pump and alternator. We were lucky that our misfortune happened in a safe place since we’d spent that entire morning driving up and down curvy mountain roads, pursuing a story about how illegal pot growers were operating out of the national forest and were using banned pesticides that were so toxic that even a spoonful could and did kill an adult bear. Our family-sized behemoth was filled with camera gear so difficult to stop and steer without power assistance. A…

Deep Dive Into Production Audio

The last few seasons of SoCal Connected were produced on a shoestring budget which is why camera operators had to handle their own audio. I naturally took it a bit further since I have never been satisfied with the heavily companded audio that you get from budget gear. Over the past few years, I’d been upgrading my serviceable prosumer gear to the Hollywood production sound trinity of Lectrosonics, DPA and Sound Devices. I’d schooled myself in their field use by working on independent documentaries where I learned how to properly gain stage and swing a boom. It took me some time to learn how to plant mics. Hidden lavs pick up everything around it including the rub of beard stubble on a starchy dress collar. I’ve since fashioned some good lav rigs that work…

Covering My First Wildfire

I live in Los Angeles and all of the smoke in the air is giving me flashbacks of the Woolsey Fire that raged through Southern California in 2018. I remember it well because I had been asked to cover the wildfire by the executive producer of KCET’s SoCal Connected who called on a Friday evening. Her story, The New Normal, was about how overdevelopment into fire-prone areas and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in California. We put on flame-resistant turnout coats and drove down the eerily empty 101 freeway through the police blockades. Power throughout the burn areas was turned off so we were either operating in total darkness or by the intense red flare of raging fires that were burning down entire neighborhoods. It was a pretty harrowing…

Seeking Out the Dohyo of Dreams

Of the dozen shows that I’ve worked on, my favorite SoCal Connected story was “Grappling with Giants,” a short segment about Jim Lowerre, a tech writer from Garden Grove, Calif. that had built a regulation size sumo ring (dohyo) in his backyard. Lowerre has been trying to promote sumo in America for years. He built his “Dohyo of Dreams” with the intent to attract local wrestling clubs to his backyard. He constructed the dohyo out of damp sand and authentic touches such as blessings of dried squid and sake. “It’s the only real dohyo in California,” claims Lowerre. “Most amateur sumo wrestlers have only practiced on canvas and it’s a very different experience.” Lowerre has even put on his own tournaments and has competed himself. Unfortunately, back problems have recently sidelined him. You can…