Some people say producing news topics with limited footage is the toughest kind of news to produce, but after one-and-a-half days in Los Angeles searching for Jimmy Chin, I beg to differ. The toughest news I've encountered yet is creating a news story out of nothing. So for the past day-and-a-half, we've done a "Jimmy Chin lives here, but he's not here," a "Jimmy Chin won't attend press conference, lawyer will," and a "Taiwanese expats' regret getting to know fellow expat Chin through media as international scam artist."
FTV's paid to fly a senior cameraman and I all the way to LA, is paying for our hotel, food, car and driver, and although our budget is rather small (we're staying at what Daniel calls a "roach motel"), they want to get as much bang for their buck as possible. So right now, even though there isn't even a shadow of Jimmy Chin and his lawyer isn't someone you can follow home or camp out at his office and ambush him for a statement (I really this part about working here), we still have to come up with stories. That's the company and the managing director's policy. Trouble is, that's not what my direct supervisor thought and didn't tell us that.
We arrived Sunday afternoon, checked in to the motel, drove by Johnny Chin's lawyer, John Chang's office in San Marino to see where it is, and then proceeded on to Jimmy Chin's house in Arcadia. We filmed a little bit and left, because my assigner said that we should take it easy, since we just arrived, and since there is nothing going on anyway.
Then at 21h30 before I even got to open my suitcase, Taipei called and said they want a story for the evening news, which is about 3h00 our time. Our driver had gone home, our Internet didn't work (we use the Internet to send our reports back to the station) and we didn't have enough footage (it was enough, but how can you look at a story with pictures of just exterior shots of someone's house and mailbox?). I begged Cathy (cousin's wife who lives 15 minutes away) to come get us and drive us to her house so we could use her Internet connection. Jen-shiang (cameraman) came up with going back to the house and doing a stand-up (where I stand in front of the camera and say something) and getting pictures of the house at night. While waiting for Cathy to come get us, I quickly wrote the script and voiced it over. She first drove us to Chin's and then we went back to her place to finish editing and to send the video back.
So our story was basically "this is Jimmy Jin's house, and there is no one here. Neighbors say the family took off right before news of the diplomatic scandal broke," and all viewers saw on TV were images of Jimmy Chin's house during the day, images of his house during the night, me pressing the doorbell with no one answering and me in front of the camera "exaggerating" about how we've been there from afternoon until current time, 23h30 and no one's come in or out. The only audience that appreciated or were amused by that story were probably friends or family, saying "hey, Michella's in LA!"
After we finished sending the story, it was 1h30, and Cathy was so exhausted and still needed to write her paper, she first gave me a list of motels that should have a decent Internet connection and then got her mom to drive us back to where we're staying.
That wouldn't have been such a disaster if Taipei told us clearly what they wanted. The problem is, my assigners don't know what the managing director wants. Then when the MD wants something, she goes down hard on the assigners, and the assigners then send us scrambling for our life and job.
To top it off, we haven't had the best luck, and I think Jen-shiang felt it before we left. When we were still at the Taoyuan airport, he already wanted to go home.
After a couple of long and somewhat interesting conversation with a decent looking (but unfortunately married) man, a few hours of sleep, we were in Los Angeles. For some reason, too many flights arrived at the same time, so the line to go through customs was horrendously long - about an hour for me to get through. Mr Charming But Married was in line next to me, so it was not so unenjoyable. But after I got through, I realized that Jen-shiang, who opted for a different line was still way behind. I ended up waiting for him for another hour.
When we finally made it to the arrival lobby two hours after landing, Vicky, our driver that the Joe the senior press attache at the LA TECO found us, picked us up. On the way to the hotel, she told us she was job hunting and won't be able to drive us after Monday. Oh. But her friend will come and help out Wednesday and Thursday, so we only need to find someone for Tuesday and Friday. OK. How nice of her. Still need to find driver for Tuesday and Friday.
Then the give-me-a-story-call at 21h30 happened, and you know the rest of it until 1h30 the next morning.
Day two, when Vicky picked us up, Jen-shiang was in teeth-grinding stomach pain. Then she told us her friend's busy Wednesday so can't drive us that day. So we have no car Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Oh no. Then after dropping us off at John Chang's office, she went to buy Peptol Bismol, hoping that will be enough to hold him over until we find a hospital. Jen-shiang stuck it through the very brief interview, and then immediately felt better afterwards. Then he realized there was something wrong with his equipment - there was noise in the audio track and the camera would turn off by itself for no reason. Oh no. Good thing there were other reporters there and they let us record off their tape.
At Chang's office, I asked the friendly-looking reporter from Sanli where they're staying and how it is over there. She said it was quite nice and the Internet speed decent, and so we decided to move there as well. Whew. Daniel worked so hard to find us hotels that seemed to have up-to-par Internet speed, but when you're out in the wild, it's good to have company! Thank you anyway, Daniel and Cathy. :) Maybe that list will come in handy.
There wasn't much footage, since the story was about John Chang announcing that Jimmy Chin will not appear before the presidential inauguration and that he'll hold a PC and speak for Chin and all the images were of his talking head, him walking back into his office and shots of the building. Everyone else did stand-ups in front of his building, but I didn't think it was too meaningful, because you can't really tell at all that it's his office, and the real issue is about Chin, so after checking in at the new motel, there was a little bit of time and we drove back to Chin's house, did a stand-up there and shot images of a six-day-old community newspaper and a an overnight delivery letter sitting out by the gate, unclaimed and getting dirty and wet. Then on the way back to the motel, we picked up lunch and I wrote between bites of a turkey BLT poppy seed bagel sandwich and then finished and sent the story back to Taipei.
For the evening news, I had hoped to get an interview with Formosa Association for Public Affairs, (a pro-independence association; FTV's viewers are pro-indep) as instructed by my chief editor, but Joe told me that they're not going to issue any statements before the inauguration because "it's a sensitive period." What. OK. No FAPA. Joe kept trying to get others, but no one was available today. Since we had to produce something in any case, I decided that the only other way to come up with a similar story would be to go to a place where there are lots of Taiwanese expats and see if some of them are willing to talk, so we went to a Ranch 99. Vicky had to leave, and lucky for us, Trendy got off work early and before having dinner together, I conned her into driving us to Ranch 99. Hee hee hee. However, since there wasn't much to the story if it were just a few talking heads, I decided to buy some local Chinese newspapers and put those in too. I tied in expats' reaction with local media coverage. Weak but enough to get by.
Jen-shiang still felt a little sick, so after filming the exterior of the Chinese mall and getting shooed away by store managers, we brought him back to the motel. But on the way back, Solon called and said the MD's going to strongly promote our reporting from LA, so in addition to doing stand-ups in every story, we have to make versions of each story in Mandarin, Taiwanese and English, especially if we are to only do one story a day. Oh gosh. Whatever. Too late to make those other stand-ups. It was getting dark and we were already on our way back. So we got back to the motel, Jen-shiang hopped off and Trendy, Cindy, the reporter and her cameraman from Sanli and I all hopped back in Trendy's car and headed for dinner.
During the 30-minute wait at Mi Piace, we got word that TVBS and ETTV were sending reporters to Philadelphia on the last flight out tonight to go look for Chin at his other residence there. Scrambling, we both called Taipei for further instructions, but when we told them that plane tickets alone would be some USD 800 roundtrip, they said forget about it. Haha. Good. Besides, the PC was the next day, and we don't have anyone else in LA like ETTV and TVBS do. So then we had our delicious dinner in peace.
After dinner and a little bit of grocery shopping at Famima, Japan's Family Mart in the US, which is basically a high-end convenience store, we headed back to the motel. After almost cracking my head open trying write the stupid story, my assigner took forever and ever and ever to edit my script. "Wait a second," "give me ten minutes," and "hold on a minute" added up to about an hour and a half. And then when he finished editing, the chief editor said "stop, combine the 1200 and 1800 stories." Oh god. More waiting for him to combine and reedit the story. By the time I finished the Mandarin version done, it was midnight. I asked Solon (assigner) if I can not do the Taiwanese and English since I did two stories today, I could hear the fear in his voice when he said, "well, try to do at least one of the two," so I knew I should really do both. Aigh. As Jen-shiang worked on editing, I called Lanchi the angel to help me figure out the Taiwanese. She was obviously quite busy and outdoors in a very noisy location, but still very patiently helped me through. After finishing the Taiwanese version, then came the English version. It was nearly 2h00, so I quickly wrote, sent it back to Sam to quickly edit and then quickly voiced it over and then called it a day.
All I can say is that I'm so happy I that my cameraman this trip is so experienced, professional and agreeable.
What a day and a half. Just four hours left to sleep.