Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bat Bombs Away!

I produce feature stories, not for the fame or fortune. I do it for the little bits of obscure triva.

Recently, while videotaping a story about tank collecting, military vehicle collector Jack Tomlin gave me a brief WWII history lesson I must've slept through in high school.

In 1942, returning from a tour of Carlsbad Caverns, a Pennsylvania dental surgeon formulated an idea for a revolutionary new weapon. A bat bomb. A canister of bats, each outfitted with little timed incendiary devices, that would be dropped at night high above Osaka. At the right altitude, the canister would open, the bats would fly away, roost in buildings and set the city on fire.

President Roosevelt thought it was a fine idea.

They called it Project X-Ray and the inventor of napalm designed little firebombs to be carried by the bats.

The military tested it, with positive results, on a mock Japanese city at Utah's Dugway Proving Grounds.

I'm not making this up.

It's in Wikipedia, so it must be true. .

There's also an entry there for Project Pigeon, behaviorist B.F. Skinner's contribution to the war effort. A pigeon-guided missile. Pigeons peck at an image of a target and steer the missile to its destination.

That one wasn't quite as successful.

In the end, the bat bomb, which the doctor thought could cause devastation without much loss of life, was never deployed.

It was beaten out by another new weapon. The atomic bomb.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Radio for Spies

Our Fresh Look on Life crew traveled to England to profile a London eccentric.

Sort of.

I've thought, in the age of webcams and digital camcorders, a television feature reporter should be able to interview anyone anywhere in real time.

My first attempt to go international was a musical profile of three airplane sickness bag collectors.

Trying to find people who were both computer savvy and passionate about barf bags turned out to be a challenge. So I had a German doctor/collector and a Dutch man with the world's largest bag collection videotape themselves and mail me the footage.

And our Boston affiliate interviewed Steve Silverberg of http://www.airsicknessbags.com/

This time I was a little closer to the spirit of the experiment. I interviewed Akin Fernandez. He has been obsessed with numbers stations.* These are cryptic shortwave transmissions of numbers and/or letters that are broadcast around the globe without explanation.

They're assumed to be messages being sent by governments to their spies. Fernandez, a man prone to fixations (according to the linked article, as a child he collected comic books...and cards with poems advertising London prostitutes), recorded these broadcasts and assembled a four-CD numbers stations collection called "The Conet Project." (Conet is Czech for "end," a word heard in some of the transmissions.)

I spoke with him via Skype. I recorded audio (with Audacity). While we talked, he videotaped himself and later transferred the file through Swapdrive. Not an elegant arrangment, but we got the story. And there's no singing involved. I promise.

*To hear numbers stations for yourself, listen here and here . Or, if you've got a shortwave radio, you can consult the Spy Numbers Station

Surprising the Prize Patrol

Good TV stories have surprises. Just like a mystery movie's twists and turns.
Except we can't make 'em up.

This one couldn't have been scripted better.

John and Gina, prize patrol deputies for the Publisher's Clearinghouse, flew into town to give ten thousand dollars to Alanna Mabey of West Valley City. Alanna subscribed to a teddy bear magazine, although John and Gina were quick to point out that no purchase is necessary to be eligible for the giveaway.

John and Gina were not full-time deputies, but they had trained for this moment. Back at corporate headquarters in Port Washington, New York, they practiced knocking on the door of a special house set. And they prepared for every contingency.

Once, Gina said, Tony Soprano came to the door.

"Hey, Carmela, come to the door. We have ten thousand dollars. Do we need this?"

So now they were in Utah in a rented Dodge Caravan with the Publisher's Clearinghouse logo, a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Martinelli's. They would've gotten champagne, they said, but this was Utah, after all, and they didn't want to offend.

With TV crews and their own freelance photographer in tow, they proceeded to her apartment and knocked on her door. No answer. So, they went to the rental office at the complex. In situations like this, they explained, they find out where the winner works and surprise her on the job. So they spoke to the landlady.

KUTV photographer Kurt Smith recalled the conversation.

Landlady: Oh, she’s a dancer at Northern Xposure.

John: Oh, OK.

Kurt: (Starts laughing.)

John: What?

Kurt: (Still laughing too hard to speak.)

Alanna was a dancer...at a strip club.

John and Gina considered their options.

They decided that Publisher's Clearinghouse deputies always get their prizewinner. And they were going to Alanna's workplace. And they were bringing the media.

And so we all drove to the Ogden strip club.

John spoke to the man at the door, slipped inside, and delicately negotiated Alanna's television appearance.

A couple minutes later, Alanna, in a sparkly blue dress, stepped outside and received her large foam core check. She didn't appear giddy like those prizewinners on TV, but she said she was, indeed, surprised.

"I didn't really think it would happen. Just a small town girl. Never gonna happen to me."

It was just one of life's little surprises.

Perhaps not for Alanna. (We suspected she was tipped off.)

But for John and Gina.

And the TV crew from KUTV.

In the Name of Journalism

The things television feature reporters do to get the story.

Several years ago we produced a profile of Bob Pratt, former primate keeper at the Hogle Zoo. A photographer and myself followed Pratt to the basement of the great ape house where he had his office and access to his charges.

We asked if we could videotape the chimpanzees, Happy, Chip and Tammy. He said we could...if the chimpanzees agreed. If they didn't agree, they might fling feces at us. That would be a decisive "no comment" from the primate world.

Pratt explained he would take us and, one at a time, lead us down the short path to the chimp cages.

I went first. As we walked (arm in arm, to demonstrate that I was a friendly reporter), Pratt noticed Happy's large, long arms were draped to the floor near something small and dark.

"Don't do it. Don't do it, " Bob ordered. "Put it down."

Outwardly, I displayed brash courage. Inwardly, I braced for impact.

Thankfully, the primate's threat was only that. Pratt took my hand and touched it to Happy's finger. The chimp sniffed his finger and I was in. The scent of a feature reporter agreed with him.

All in the name of journalism.

I did appreciate the chimpanzees' candor. Some human interview subjects don't give us the courtesy of telling us how they really feel about us. At least this animal was honest.

My Money's on the Orangutan

If one hundred monkeys can write a Shakespeare play, can one make a postseason football pick?
Years ago, in my radio life, as a KVOR news radio cub reporter in Colorado Springs, I was privileged to meet the station NFL consultant. Ollie the Orangatan. A 2 year old ape at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Ollie was young and immature. He pulled tantrums. He was impulsive. He once climbed me like I was a tree trunk and planted a loud, wet raspberry on my chest.

But Ollie knew football. Once a week a zookeeper brought Ollie out of his enclosure. Sports reporter Jay Ritchie wrote the names of the Monday Night Football teams on two bananas and placed them within equal reach. And then Ollie made his banana-football pick.

As I remember it, midseason, Ollie had a 60 percent accuracy rate. Not bad for somebody from Borneo.

I don’t know what happened to Ollie.And if he’s still got the touch. And what he thinks of the Jets at New England. But I’ll always remember the raspberry.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saw Sings. Man wins.

Joel Clark* used to take his saw to sacrament meetings.

Not to work on the ward house. But to play hymns.

On the musical saw.

But then, because of the instrument's less-than-heavenly reputation earned in jug bands and vaudeville acts, someone decided it didn’t belong in church.

"People kinda go, ‘what you’re gonna play that in a sacrament meeting?" Joel said.

Maybe they'll reconsider, now that Clark is a world class soloist.

The Utah County man just returned from International Musical Saw Festival in Felton, California, with the first-place trophy.

When he was a youngster, Clark got his musical saw education from his grandfather, Orson Clark, a popular Salt Lake Valley player in the 20's and 30s who often played at funerals.

Joel Clark was on his mission when his grandfather died and a package showed up in the mail. It was his grandfather’s mandolin and musical saw. And during his mission, Clark practiced and became a proficient player.

He toured the US and South America with the Lamanite Generation and played his grandfather’s saw during firesides.

Now he entertains at family reunions and ward banquets.

He plays hymns, his preferred musical saw selections, like “Oh, My Father,” one of his grandfather’s favorites.

And he plays for love.

When she was about six or seven years old, Shirley Clark’s mother took her to hear a Utah County saw player.

"Never forgot it the rest of my life," she said.

For years afterward, she hunted for saws. For a saw that would sing like the one she heard when she was a little girl.

She tucked one behind her couch. She hoped someday she’d find someone who could play it for her.

She found Joel Clark.

The first time she heard him play the saw, he performed “Over the Rainbow,” a musical saw standard. Over the telephone.

Very romantic.

“Oh, it was,” she said.

Joel and Shirley were married.

And now they play saw/piano duets.

But Joel Clark has musical saw dreams.

Soon after we featured Joel and Shirley and the saw on 2 News, he fulfilled one of them.

He and Shirley went to the International Saw Festival in the Santa Cruz area. Their first trip to the event.

Clark rented a Phantom of the Opera costume and performed a selection from the musical at the festival competition. And he won first place.

Legendary musical saw player David Weiss, who’s performed at the Hollywood Bowl and in the film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” presented the coveted award.

“It was one of the greatest thrills in all my life,” Clark emailed.

Clark’s other dream is to play with a symphony orchestra.

But there’s that reputation.

The saw started singing years ago in the Ozarks or Appalachian Mountains or someplace else when some unnamed bored handyman hit it with a hammer.

A Missouri showman, Leon Weaver, took the act on the road and his sister-in-law, June, figured out how to play it with a fiddle bow. And it became a staple on the Vaudeville circuit.

The saw played some prominent roles. In the old “Frankenstein” film. Marlene Dietrich played it for the troops in World War Two. But during the war, the saw lost top billing.

The magical, ethereal, singing metal siren, became a novelty act.

So today there are few compositions written for orchestra and saw. There are no saw sections in the Utah Symphony. And few symphony soloists like David Weiss.

And no saws in sacrament meetings.

But Joel Clark still has hope. And his first-place trophy. And his grandfather’s saw.

*In the spirit of disclosure, I should mention that for a brief period many years ago Clark was a studio cameraman for KUTV. Goes to show, despite a career in TV news, someone can go on to accomplish great things.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Milkshakes for the Father of Talk Radio

It wasn't that I was young and stupid. It was that I was young and stupid and oblivious to broadcasting history.

Some time ago I was an intern at radio station WMCA in New York City. At the time it seemed like a pleasant way to pass the summer.

In the late '60s, the station began experimenting with a new format called "talk radio."

The year I came along, the on-air lineup included (“First shock jock”) Bob Grant, Sally Jesse Raphael (Remember her?) and talk show host Barry Gray.

I was an assistant to Gray’s assistant. I answered phones, did paperwork, booked shows, poured coffee for guests and fetched chocolate milkshakes for Gray. At the time, my impression of Gray was not a good one and I resented the milkshake errands.

Years later I stumbled across a book entitled, "My Night People," his autobiography.

And then I wished I'd asked Gray, an outspoken critic of Senator McCarthy's Red Scare, about his feud with the godfather of gossip, Walter Winchell.

About the fan who showed up at his radio studio at 3:45 am and asked to go on the air.

Al Jolson.

The singer sang and talked as the studio quickly filled up with a live audience.

Jolson: I'll sing anything.
Gray: My favorite in the movie is "Rosie."
Gray (after Jolson finished singing): You can shoot me now while I'm happy.

And I should have asked Gray about the night in 1945 when, as a WMCA disc jockey, he got bored of just playing music and put a caller on the air. The caller was Woody Herman. And the conversation was a hit with listeners.

Gray earned the distinction of being regarded as "the father of talk radio."

WMCA talk radio is now a Christian format. Then-station owner Peter Straus is now married to Monica Lewinsky's mother. Bob Grant, just the other month, went off the WOR air after 50 years on.

And Barry Gray, according to Wikipedia, died ten years ago.

If I only knew then what I know now.

A good reporter doesn’t overlook the chocolate milkshakes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Haunted House that Cydney Built

It's the little touches that make Rocky Point Haunted House.

The dust on the organ keyboard. The smell of actual rotting meat. And dead flowers fresh from the grave. (PR person Theresa Clay says Rocky Point gets used flowers from local cemeteries.)

Get a kutv.com video tour of the haunted house. Click here!

Cydney Neil says she puts in long, long hours to make this house of vampires, Killer Klowns and Bat Boys and Bat Girls just right.

No doubt, she got that kind of dedication from her father.

Scott Crabtree built the real Rocky Point. A fancy restaurant up a short steep drive in Pleasant View. He literally hand-built it out of the rock it sat on. That and military surplus.

He inlaid kitchen cabinets with rocket ship heat shielding. He turned Navy buoys into chandeliers. And tiled a ceiling with gilded egg cartons.

The restaurant opened in 1965, hosted Governor Calvin Rampton and other dignitaries, and then was forced to close three years later because of a fire.

(Cydney Neil's brother started Rocky Point, the haunted house, at the restaurant, hence the name. Neil took it over and eventually moved it to South Salt Lake.)

When I interviewed Crabtree ten years ago, he was 71 and still in the process of rebuilding his masterpiece.

He explained that he was number five in a family of six and the one that always got picked on.

"So I said, I'm gonna prove that I'm alright, that I'm somebody."

At the time he faced fines for dumping dirt and junk on the property, but was undaunted.

"Probably defiance has built it as much as a dream and ambition."

Crabtree pointed to his heart. His voice cracked. His eyes glistened.

"That's what I want to be able to have this place say. If you've got it there, you can do it."

Six months later, sparks from a fireplace ignited Rocky Point again and 35 years of work went up in flames. He was so distraught, Crabtree had to be restrained by sheriff's deputies.

Even now, the news story about the fire is heartbreaking and painful to watch.

And Cydney Neil says her father has never really gotten over Rocky Point.

"I saw my father obsess about something for an entire lifetime that ended up burning down. I don't want to be in that situation."

That's one reason why Neil is laying the Rocky Point Haunted House to rest. After next spring, Rocky Point is closing. Neil says she's not selling the show. She's closing it for good.

"I'm as attached to this place as my Dad was to Rocky Point, but the difference is he couldn't separate himself from that building," she said.
"It's not who I am, it's not what defines me."

(One of the other reasons, she says, is because she was inspired by God to close it. "That is the instruction I've been given.")

Cydney Neil doesn't like scary movies.

She says for a while she didn't really like the haunted house.

She was a model-makeup artist-fashion show producer. Not a horror fan.

She started babysitting Rocky Point Haunted House to look out for the restaurant and ended up running the show.

"How the heck did I get into this and how do I get out of it and trying to do some other things but nothing else works out again, then it's time to start the haunted house again and the kids are calling and the sponsors are calling, so I felt I got caught in this whirlwind that I couldn't get out of."

But she produced Rocky Point for 20 years. Because, she says, of the young people who haunt the house. It's now a Boys and Girls Club youth theater program.

That takes drive.

Having met her father, I could see where she got it.

Watch the Fresh Look on Life about the Rocky Point Haunted House. Click here.

One of the Best Bad Writers

Whatever happened to…? The question's often asked in TV newsrooms.

Working your way from up from small markets, many of your colleagues come to their senses and defect from broadcast journalism to well-paying careers that provide perks like days off on Christmas and New Year’s.

I have seen TV friends become lawyers, authors, NRA employees.

One night after the 11 o'clock broadcast (at an East coast station), during a post-news bowling session, we ran into a former station news director. He was the bowling alley manager.

Probably second to careers in bowling, is public relations. That's a pretty popular post-television option.

A long-distance friend, Larry Brill, went into public relations. And intentionally bad writing.

I stumbled across the name of the former Colorado Springs and Austin anchor in an Associated Press story about the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, the competition for the best worst It-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night opening line of a novel. Brill had won by writing this:

"As the fading light of a dying day filtered through the window blinds, Roger stood over his victim with a smoking .45, surprised at the serenity that filled him after pumping six slugs into the bloodless tyrant that mocked him day after day, and then he shuffled out of the office with one last look back at the shattered computer terminal lying there like a silicon armadillo left to rot on the information superhighway."

He said he had a leg up on the competition because he worked in television news.

Now he does PR and writes novels. Good ones.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bringing the Innocent to Justice

Driving on Highway 24 through another television market(Colorado Springs) with a photographer, my spidy sense began tingling.

There was a man walking on the shoulder. And he had a large handgun at his side. And he was walking toward a 7-11.

We made a second pass to confirm the sighting. This time the man had taken his T-shirt off and wrapped it around the gun.

Fulfilling our civic duty, we called the police. A substation was just around the corner so we knew there would be a quick response.

Fulfilling our professional duty, we pulled off the
highway to a parallel side street and set up our camera at a convenient and safe distance.

The police had already arrived and placed the would-be felon in custody.

When officers arrived, they told us later, the man immediately let the gun drop, raised his hands in the air and yelled, "Don't shoot!"

Turned out the gun was a non-functioning collector's replica. A fake.

The man put his T-shirt over the gun so TV crews wouldn't get the wrong idea.

I was just a feature reporter doing his civic duty. Taking innocent hobbyists off the street.

Just doing my job, Maam.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

That Puppet Looks Familiar

Last week when I was truly a media puppet, my polyester likeness shared the small screen with puppet maker Carolyn Frank.

Frank might've looked familiar to some CBS viewers.

She'd previously appeared on our air on "The Late Show with David Letteman," on his segment, "Celebrity X-Ray Challenge."

In New York City and unable to get tickets for that day's show, Frank stood outside the Ed Sullivan Theater and was plucked from the crowd and taken to Rupert Jee's Hello Deli,
where, on the air, she was asked to guess the famous identity of someone's x-rayed insides.

It belonged to a well-known baseball player. (But she can't remember who.)

Thanks for playing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Strange Vibrations

Watch today at 5 (9/30/05) for the story of an Ogden woman who took up the theremin.*

You might have heard the musical instrument on the soundtracks of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and a few less memorable old sci-fi thrillers. (For the record, it does sound as if Brian Wilson used a theremin for "Good Vibrations." It was actually a Tannerin.)

But the story behind the theremin is far more bizarre than the sound of the instrument. It involves a Russian physicist who brings his strange new invention to the American classical music scene and then suddenly vanishes, later it's discovered, into the Soviet intelligence machine.

For the full story, I highly recommend the 1994 documentary, Theremin—An Electronic Odyssey. (BTW, in my brief experience, the theremin is a very difficult instrument to play. Sci-fi glissandos are no problem, but it feels impossible to land notes when there are no frets or keys. Only invisible points in thin air. Maybe that's why they don't have any theremin sections in high school marching bands.)

A Ginsberg Scavenger Hunt

A journalist's search for the truth -- or search for visuals to edit over the television version of the truth -- is often a rambling path of phone calls, emails and Google searches.

The one for a story about performance poet Alex Caldiero went across the Atlantic and back in time 40 years.

Caldiero, self-described "word shaker" whose sound art is reminiscent of The Beats, took inspiration from poet Allen Ginsberg. He'd been preparing to read Ginsberg's "Howl" on it's 50th anniversary.

The Ginsberg video scavenger hunt went from the Allen Ginsberg Trust in New York to Boston area photographer Elsa Dorfman, whose work is dominated by a monstrous 20 by 24 Polaroid camera and mapped out like Boston's "T" on her website. Ginsberg was both a portrait subject and friend. And once, as seen in her photos, a guitar student of Bob Dylan. (Elsa Dorfman on WGBH)

And then from Elsa Dorfman to "Hoppy" Hopkins.

Hopkins became a well-known figure in the London underground of the 60's. He photographed the Stones, the Beatles, Ellington, Monk, Coltrane, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X -- just about everyone on the political and cultural front -- including Allen Ginsberg. According to biographical sketches, he helped start London's first psychedelic club, a musical venue for Jimi Hendrix, and spent part of the Summer of Love in prison for possession of marijuana.

Thanks to both and the Trust for permission to use their photographs.

I enjoyed my time talking to Caldiero, a man who writes one word poems, who reads what's left on your dinner plate the way fortune-tellers read tea leaves, and who has a true passion for language. (Guy Lebeda told the Standard Examiner that Alex Caldiero could live in Berkeley or Haight-Ashbury and he'd be a weird guy. "And I mean that in a positive way.")

But all those little detours are just as fun.

It's not the destination.

It's all the cool pictures along the way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

War as a Movie Set

It's hard to tell where fiction ends and reality begins in the Sundance film, "Under the Bombs," by French-Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi. (A story about the film will air in the near future.

He made up the story about a woman looking for her son during the July 2006 bombing of Southern Lebanon and shot it in Southern Lebanon during and after the war.

He hired four actors. The supporting cast members were people just being themselves.

When a Lebanese woman says she left her children behind, she means it.

When another tells an actress her husband and her in-laws were killed, she means it.

The day after Israel and Hezbollah started exchanging fire and killing the Lebanese caught in the middle, Aractingi began throwing together a cast and crew.

He made up the script -- a combination of written words and improvisation -- as he went.

The day before Aractingi was going to shoot a scene in which the female lead finds out her sister was killed, he gave the script to his assistant to rewrite. Aractingi's Arabic is weak but the assistant was from Southern Lebanon and could lend authenticity to his words.

While she was translating the text she got a phone call from her mother saying her own village had been hit and her house there had been destroyed.

"So she starts crying for her own house while she is translating a script of a woman who is crying for her own house and for her sister," Aractingi said.

She completely rewrote the script.

"I'm sorry Philippe," she told him, he said. "I couldn't translate your text. I couldn't feel it. This is what I wrote."

Aractingi kept every word.

During the filming in the rubble of a destroyed village, an 18 year old who was acting as herself, tells the actress her fictional sister has died.

She does it by saying, "Your sister is in paradise."

"It was written by somebody who really lost her house and somebody was answering with her own words," Aractingi said.

The director says that teenager has lived through three wars and cannot see any future.

Two years after the bombing, he said, she still completely traumatized.

"A lot of people are traumatized still."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's a Small Film World

Some time in the early 90's, the KUTV assignment desk dispatched me to an avalanche at the Sundance resort area. There we found a small slide that had invited itself inside a large log cabin home. Through a picture window.

An older man, the homeowner, graciously allowed us to go inside to see what a snow drift looked like inside his living room.

Years later, I went back to the neighborhood to profile Jann Haworth, a Utah artist who years go had co-created the cover of the

Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album and was recreating it on a wall in downtown Salt Lake.

Arriving at her Sundance home, I experienced deja vu.

This was the avalanche house.

That man, I found out, was her father, Ted Haworth.

Then, in the catalogue of this year's Sundance Film Festival, I saw the Haworth name again. Alex, Jann's son, had directed a Sundance short.

And one of his inspirations, he told us (in a story airing this week), was his grandfather, the man at the avalanche house.

Turned out, Ted Haworth*, now deceased, had been a production designer and art director for a number of classic films: "Marty," "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Some Like It Hot." Some of my favorites.

"The Longest Day," "Harry and Tonto," "The Professionals." The list goes on.

He worked with directors John Huston, Robert Wise, Sidney Pollack, John Frankenheimer, Paul Mazursky. He had one Oscar and five nominations.

He was the art director who helped create the look of the final carousel sequence of Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." Another great film.

He worked on Robert Redford's "Jeramiah Johnson" and, like Redford, fell in love with the mountains of Utah and, like Redford, moved here.

After Haworth died, his daughter moved from her home in England to Sundance.

I wish I'd known then, at Ted Haworth's avalanche, what I know now.

I would have liked to thank him.

"Sorry about the house. But I really like your movies."

*Apparently, show business runs in the family. Ted Haworth's father was a playwright, pretty famous in his time. His uncle was a well-known Shakespearean actor. Haworth's protégé, his son Sean, was an art director for "Transformers" and has been working on the upcoming "Avatar."

The Accidental Sundance Filmmaker

You never know what's going to end up in the Sundance Film Festival.

Alex Mack was 17 years old and a student in an after-school filmmaking workshop at Spyhop Productions, when she found out a family member was addicted to meth.

Would that make a good topic for a documentary film, she asked her Spyhop teacher. He said, yes.

The result of that conversation, co-directed by Mack and Diana Montero, is a 22-minute piece called "Mother Superior," a documentary about why so many women use meth.

Mack's family doesn't make an appearance but she does talk about family matters on videotape.

"The family didn't really want to talk about it," Montero said. "So this was kind of a way of healing herself."

It played the Salt Lake Library. It played local rehab clinics. And then it played film festivals.

And now it's going to be screened someplace Mack could never have imagined.

The Sundance Film Festival.

"I was shocked," Mack said.

So that private family matter is getting very public.

I remember that's what happened a few years ago to Brett Matthews.

Matthews grew up in rural Utah. He was the son of an LDS bishop. And he was gay.

After he came out, he said, he lost a close relationship with his family and he lost a military job working with nuclear missiles.

He talked about all this in a documentary about families which have religious beliefs that condemn homosexuality...and have children who are gay.

The film, to Matthews' surprise, ended up in Sundance about 50 miles away from his parents' house.

When I met him at the Salt Lake Airport at the start of the festival, he was visibly anxious. He was worried about going so public in his home state. And he was worried about losing his church membership.

But he said he didn't regret talking on videotape.

"It's worth it, everyday is worth it," he said. "Don't give up. Do your best. Do the best that you can."

(The documentary aired on PBS' POV series. On the POV website, Matthews wrote that he didn't lose his church membership, but his plan to use the movie to get closer to his family...backfired. And no one in his family, he wrote, had seen the piece. He did say that going to screenings of the film was a very positive experience.)

And then there's former KUTV reporter-producer, now filmmaker, Trent Harris.

Years ago at Channel Two, he produced a feature story about a young man from rural Beaver, Utah who appeared in drag, as Olivia Newton John, in a town talent show.

Harris remade the story on film twice, once with Sean Penn and once with Crispin Glover. "The Beaver Kid" didn't get much attention until he put all three versions into one package
The New York Times wrote about it. And it played the Sundance Film Festival.

Always looking for local Sundance tie-ins, I asked Trent Harris for a pre-film festival interview. He declined. He told me he was worried how a TV story would affect the real Beaver Kid.

Well, it's already been in film festivals and the New York Times and now it's going to Sundance, I said. It's kinda hard to keep it quiet now.

Harris said he'd never told The Beaver Kid he made two movies about him and was showing them around the country and now in one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.


The Beaver Kid did eventually find out Harris made movies about him and the story turned out happily ever after.

(This is all recounted in a radio story broadcast on "This American Life." Listen to it here. You can also find Beaver Kid clips on You Tube.)

Hopefully, things will turn out all right for Mack, as well.

"My family's supportive but it's been very hard for them to deal with, both at home and out in open, having people know about it, because its gotten a lot of attention," she said.

So be careful what you videotape. It could end up on the web. Or a KUTV blooper reel. Or even in one of the world's premier film festivals. Not that that's a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Which One Was the Vice President?

Never assume.

A good life lesson and tenet of journalism.

I'd rather ask a dumb question (Yes, there are dumb questions. I know. I've asked many.) than regret it later.

Several years ago when I was in another television market and Vice President George H. W. Bush was campaigning for President, he made a whistle-stop appearance at a local airport.

My station sent a photographer and instructed him, kept at a distance from the action for security measures, to take pictures of Bush getting off the plane, shaking hands with local dignitaries and reboarding.

As the plane departed the photographer turned to the reporter and asked, “Which one was the Vice-President?”

Upon inspection of the videotape it was discovered he had taken pictures of the secret service agent at the Vice President's side.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Captain Eddie's Space Camp

In reality, Ed Bateman is a mild-mannered University of Utah instructor, photo retoucher, and an artist with a virtual photo studio. (Watch the video here.)

In virtual reality, he is Captain Eddie.

(We interviewed Bateman recently for a story about the Deseret alphabet. He has a minor fetish for the old alternative alphabet. Read below.)

Bateman's retro sci-fi alter-ego evolved out of a job making logos for the Utah State Office of Education and out of his Space Age upbringing.

"I consider myself to be a child of the Space Age," he said. "I thought we'd all be eating food sticks and Tang and having Boy Scout troops on the moon.
That's the world I thought we'd be living in."

Bateman adoped a discarded logo for Captain Eddie's camp.

On Bateman's website you'll find Captain Eddie in a bright red marshmallow space suit planting a camp flag on the moon. There's Captain Eddie's hanging with a four-handed Van Gogh alien artist. And the Captain Eddie's Space Camp Songs album cover. Bateman occasionally makes Captain Eddie compilation CD's.

And for more than 25 years, Bateman has mailed out his, now eagerly anticipated, Captain Eddie Christmas cards.

"Captain Eddie's Space Camp became kind of semi-real to me."

I’m not the man they think I am at home.
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man

Ed Bateman never took a Boy Scout trip to the moon. But Captain Eddie has many times.

Gimme a Break. I wrote it.

Chances are you don't know Michael Levine, but you've had his music stuck in your head.

Recently, we aired a Fresh Look on Levine, who writes the music for two hit CBS shows, "Cold Case" and "Close to Home." ("I score dead people.")

But in his previous life, he scored TV commercials.

You might have heard his Mitsubisi Eclipse campaign themes or his jazzy Metamucil Mr. Mucus score ("If it's colorful and disgusting, I'm probably involved in it.").

But there's little doubt you've heard his biggest contribution to popular culture.

The Kit Kat Bar jingle.

Give me a break.
Give me a break.
Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar.

He wrote it (the music, not the words) 20 years ago, and it's still lodged in your brain.

A researcher at the University of Cincinnati compiled a list of those so-called "earworms," those tunes that keep playing over and over inside your head and just won't stop. "Gimme a Break" was ranked in the top ten, along with "YMCA" and "We Will Rock You."

So Levine and his son were walking in Venice Beach when they encountered a video crew filming a Kit Kat Bar commercial. They were asking people on the street to sing The Song.

So, without revealing his true identity, Levine obliged.

Afterwards he asked, "How did I do?"

"Well, it was pretty good," they said.

He was reminded of the time Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest...and lost. Chaplin didn't even make the finals.