Covering Christmas, Part 3 – Donner Ski Ranch Christmas
News is a 24/7 business. No matter what day of the week, month, year, holiday, whatever — the show must go on. In the 31 years I’ve been shooting TV news I’ve had Christmas day off five or six times. It’s just a given and goes with the territory. If you don’t want to work holidays, don’t get a job in TV news.
My Christmas wish for this year was to be left alone.
No, I don’t mean to sound like a Grinch. I simply wanted to do one of my Mike Carroll reporter-photographer stories.
I came into the newsroom on Christmas morning, wished the staff a Merry Christmas and said that my gift was being able to be there with all of them. Melissa Chacon, the angel of the KCRA assignment desk, asked me if I had any ideas. Someone suggested going to a golfing range and find someone who’d gotten some new golf clubs for Christmas. That idea had no appeal to me because it sounded too light and fluffy. I like doing stories that have a bit more of a harder news edge and are more relevant to what is happening in the day and the world at the moment.
While I was taking care of some maintenance issues with my camera the light bulb went off.
I love doing small business stories and I remembered the Donner Ski Ranch up in the Sierra Nevadas off Highway I-80 that takes you up to Truckee and Reno.
Unlike the big corporately-owned ski resorts like Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch is a privately owned by the Tuttle family, is smaller and is also an “organic ski run” in that they don’t manufacture snow to keep the Mountain ski slopes covered enough to keep the business flowing. Donner Ski Ranch is all natural and relies on mother nature for ALL their snow.
I looked them up on the Internet, made a phone call and got a hold of Janet Tuttle, who owns the ski resort with her husband. I asked her how Christmas was for them with the recent dumping of snow and she was just overjoyed with happiness, telling that they had snow on all of the ski slopes and the parking lot was packed with cars from all the people I who’d come out to ski on Christmas Day — so much better than last Christmas when ever there was no snow and no business. “KCRA, come on up – PLEASE!”
Relaying this to the assignment desk, the producers immediately gave me the okay. I loaded into a live truck and started up the hill — our nickname for heading east up I-80, which ascends from an altitude of 15 to 25 feet in Sacramento up to 6,000 feet at the summit at Donner in the Sierras.
Driving up I-80 I was amazed at how many cars were on the road on Christmas Day. More than I’ve even seen on many days at rush-hour. So many families driving up to the mountains on a beautiful day to have a bit of a white Christmas in the snow.
The drive took a little over an hour-and-a-half to get to Donner Ski Ranch. And it was hopping — cars and people everywhere. It was around 1:30 at this time. My story was slated to be in the 6 o’clock, so I had to plan out my time budget:
1:30-2:30 PM — Shoot interview and B-roll.
2:40-2:55 PM — Be back in the live truck to log and write the package.
3-4 PM — Log footage and write script.
(I’ve done enough of these by now to have learned to expedite my interviews so that they don’t take up a whole lot of time when I am writing. Having a 10-minute interview is killer to log and transcribe. I try to keep my interviews to 2 to 4 minutes. I only need a couple of good bites for a same-been day TV news story. I’m not writing an article for the New Yorker.)
4-5 PM — Edit story and have it exported to feed.
5 PM — send in story.
I planned to first try to send it wirelessly through email, a KCRA in-house system for uploading our new stories without having to use a microwave live truck to feed a story back. If by 5:10 the email looks like it would take far too long, then I’d have enough time to start the truck up and drive back on I-80 west to Blue Canyon where I could set up the truck, raise the microwave transmitter and transmit the story back to the station the old fashioned way.
TV news is more than just shooting interviews and B-roll and getting the story edited. It involves all of the steps involved in getting a story shot and on the air. And all of this has to be worked out in advance with time management.
This is especially important when you’re doing all of the jobs your self, as I was on this Christmas Day.
Once I’d logged and written the script I emailed it back to the station to the executive producer to review. I told him and that I was going to record my audio and get started editing and that if he saw anything in the script that needed to be changed to call me. I never heard back from him so I can only assume my script was all right.
The rest of the afternoon went like clockwork. By 5:05 I had the story completed and exported and started uploading it through the station email video email system. In addition to laptop computers, all the KCRA photographers have been issued little MiFi transmitters for connecting with the Internet wherever we are, provided we can have a cell phone tower we can transmit to. Amazingly, I got one of the strongest Wi-Fi signals I’ve ever gotten from and my package was uploaded in just 10 minutes.
By 5:15 or so I was uploaded, 45-minutes ahead of the 6 o’clock news.
I called the editing department to make sure they had it in their system – confirmed.
Then called the producer to let him know that the script and all of the times in – confirmed.
Mission accomplished. And it had all worked like clockwork!
I put the computer away, got into the driver’s seat and headed out. It was dark now and the parking lots, which had been packed were now empty.
What a terrific day for the Donner Ski Ranch and the Tuttle family. I should point out that they are all such wonderful, inviting people. It is always a pleasure to do stories with them.
I do have a very soft spot in my heart for independent businesses trying to make an honest living keep the doors open.
I started the live truck ignition and headed back to Sacramento. What a great day and what a wonderful Christmas gift — to be given the confidence of my station to let me go and do a story on my own and do it exactly the way I wanted to do . Christmas gifts don’t get much better than that.
Happy Holidays everybody!