A few weeks ago, when coronavirus was a blip on the radar rather than a bulldozer, I headed off to shoot a live shot at LAX. I was with the camera operator and liveshot producer extraordinaire, Alexis Gebhardt. We were going to interview passengers arriving off international flights.
We arrived at the airport and swiftly set up shop. Alexis and I raced around Tom Bradley Terminal with the camera, begging passengers wearing masks to chat with us about their experiences flying In the Time of Corona.
Once we had convinced enough weary travelers to stop and talk, we rushed over to arrivals and prepared for the actual live shot. As I practiced what I was going to say, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a man watching us. He seemed like someone who was experiencing homelessness and my guard immediately went up. I thought to myself, “he is going to mess with the shot.”
With about five minutes to go, my fears were realized. The man jumped behind me into frame and started yelling. He clearly wanted to be on camera and I was annoyed. This was not what I needed right before going on air.
Within minutes, airport security arrived and coaxed him off to the side. I did the live hit. Everything went pretty smoothly, despite my jangled nerves.
On our way back to campus, I thought about how I had handled the situation. I knew that my own personal biases had played into my reaction -- I was afraid before the man had started yelling, when he hadn’t been doing anything wrong.
I was preemptively worried that he would ruin the shot or even attack me and Alexis. But the reality is, it’s far more likely that people experiencing homelessness will be attacked themselves.
The following week, KFMB San Diego reporter and USC alum, Steven Price was a guest in my broadcast class. I told him about my experience at LAX and how the airport security had intervened. I expected him to applaud me for keeping a (relatively) cool head in such a tense situation.
Instead, he asked why I didn’t just let the man say what he wanted to say into the camera (especially since we weren’t actually live at the time -- just preparing), and then return to the live shot. Price suggested that sometimes people just want a moment of ‘fame’ and it’s okay to let them have it. The idea had never occurred to me.
Price’s perspective gave me pause for thought. I could see how, in these situations involving live television, spectators are perhaps just as excited about the whole operation, as I still am myself.
A week later I was on live shot duty again and the topic was, appropriately enough ... homelessness. I was on location at one of Mayor Garcetti’s Bridge Homes when a resident at the center came over. He started watching us set up the shot.
I knew this was an opportunity to practice a different approach, so I turned to him and smiled. He smiled back and began to ask me questions about the show, the live shot, and what we were doing. He proceeded to share his thoughts on Mayor Garcetti, Governor Gavin Newsom and the penal system. We chatted for a bit and eventually he went off for dinner as I prepared for my standup.
On the drive back to campus I thought back to the previous week’s live shot, and how differently this one had gone. At LAX I had been anticipating a negative outcome, expecting it to be the worst of times. This week I expected the best and things went well.
COVID-19 has brought much of life to a shuddering halt — including live shots. But as I think back on my two experiences, this is what I have learned, or remembered rather: regardless of the situation, a stressful live shot (or a global pandemic?) people want to be treated with respect, listened to and heard. I can’t wait to go out and start listening again.