Friday, June 15, 2007

Traffic Practice

My very occasional gig doing the morning traffic reports at WTSP-TV happens again Monday. This will be only my fourth day filling in this year. I did three days in April.

Because I so rarely do this, I usually go in the day before to refresh myself on the format and procedure. This morning I went in to practice in front of the green screen wall used for some of the traffic reports. (If you click on the "Green Screen" label below and go to the oldest entry, I explain what a green screen is and how one works.) Last time I filled in, I consistently found myself out of position relative to the things on screen that I wanted to point out.

For traffic and weather, which is ad-libbed, they have it set up so that when you look in the camera, you can see yourself. This is how you know what shows behind you without having to look away from the camera. At first, it seems like looking into a mirror. Except it's the opposite of that. See the picture below.

If that were a mirror image, the "10" behind me would show backwards. Similarly, in a mirror image, if I turn to my right, my reflection will turn to its left. Here, however, when I turn to my right, my reflection turns to its right too.

This is surprisingly disorienting. When you see yourself on camera and want to gesture at something on a part of the screen, your brain tells you to turn toward it based on its training from all time you spend looking at yourself in the mirror. That, of course, is the exact opposite of the direction you should turn.

I had gotten accustomed enough that I rarely had to start a turn, see my mistake, then wheel around the other way -- looking even more like an idiot than usual. First of all, I learned not to make sudden, quick turns. If I start slowly I can catch myself before it's too obvious that I'm going the wrong way.

But more practice would do me good. I didn't have to wake up too early, since the studio wouldn't be available until after the local morning show ended at 7 a.m. and the CBS Early Show began. I go in and see the regular traffic anchor, Meredyth Censullo, who seems supernaturally suited to her job. She can rattle off details about crashes, lane closures and slowdowns with nary a note in her hand. Me? I have to write that stuff down or I'm dead.

I told her that I felt reasonably comfortable with the computer system but that I needed practice on the chroma key, explaining my occasional positioning problems. She showed me how she almost always stands on the same side of the screen and leaves some extra room on that side of the graphic so that she's not blocking anything important.

Problem solved before I even step in front of the camera. Why couldn't I have thought of that? It would have saved me about 40 miles of driving, plus tolls.

Now I'm free to spend the weekend in abject terror that I will not set my alarm properly (like I did this morning!) and sleep through the job.

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