The rule is: Never miss an opportunity to shoot when producing a documentary or reality piece. I broke that rule, and I am sooo sorry about it.
My team is working on a documentary about the Los Angeles Fire Department. The project is called “Smoke Eaters” and is about the evolution of a large department from primarily fire to primarily emergency medicine service. It’s a challenging topic, but one that I’m pretty passionate about, and my crew is ideally suited to produce this show.
Today, I’m working with my camera out of a small fire station in the Cahuenga Pass. It’s been a whacky day already, with all kinds of nonsensical calls and station visitors. It’s kind of hot. I’m sitting with the assessment paramedic, discussing something unimportant, when we get a call over the PA. It’s a “snake run.” We have incidents with snakes on camera already. It’s not really that interesting to the average viewer.
We climb aboard the engine and roll out of the station in emergency. The incident is nearly across the street from another fire station, but the crew is not available, so the company I’m riding with is first due. As we’re en route, I start to pull my camera out of the bag, and look for the mic. And then, I say to myself, “this is a snake run.” I put everything away.
That’s not the worst part. As things start to unfold that are really interesting, I am absorbed in what’s going on, so I don’t even think to grab my camera and capture any of this snake incident.
We pull up to an average looking home in the Toluca Lake area. We disembark, a Captain, Firefighter/Paramedic, and Firefighter. The engineer stays with the engine. With snake pole, shovel, and related gear in hand, we walk along the side of the house, and are greeted by the homeowner.
“Are you going back there?” he asks, as if we’d fall into a great crevice, or be eaten alive.
“You called the fire department, right?” the paramedic asks.
“Um, yes,” he replies. He doesn’t look right. “But, there’s a huge blue snake back there,” he says.
“A blue snake?” the Captain asks.
“Yes. It’s huge,” the person replies.
We walk into a fairly disorganized back yard. There’s a tree, some grass, but it hasn’t been watered in a long time. There’s some typical discarded home items laying about.
“Watch out!” the person yelps.
“What?” the paramedic says. “I don’t see anything.”
“It’s right there! It’s huge!” the person says, his voice amping up.
The captain, looking a bit put off moves closer to the person. “Do you mean the garbage bag over there?”
The person looks at the captain wide-eyed. “What?” he asks.
“Are you referring to that garbage bag next to the bushes?” the captain asks.
The paramedic pulls the trash bag, which is empty but was full of air so it looked fairly large away from the bushes with the snake pole.
“Ah…” the person stammers. We all look at the person. His eyes dart from one of us to the next, and then to the captain.
Person: “Look, I heard some animal making a lot of noise here last night. You never know what happens in a person’s back yard!”
Captain: “It’s okay. We understand.”
Person: “I guess I need to get my eyes checked.”
Captain: “We understand.”
Without another word, we all turn and head back to the engine. It’s difficult to not let the laughter roar, but we don’t want to further upset the person/resident.
So, that was bad enough, but I should have rolled the camera once we were under way again. That was even funnier.
Paramedic: “Wow, that was sooo weird. And where was David’s camera?”
Me: “I know. Totally wrong.”
Paramedic: “Nobody will believe us. And you could have proven it was all true,”
Me: Yes. I blew it. He was off his rocker. Totally 5150.”
Paramedic: “I knew this was wrong when he said it was a big BLUE snake.”
Paramedic (mimic of the person): “I guess I need to get my eyes checked.”
Firefighter: “It’s the thing your eyes are in that needs to get checked.”
Me: “Perhaps we should go back there and act like it’s our first visit.”
Firefighter: “Let’s go back to his house, knock on the door, and ask, ‘do you have a snake problem?’ – did you call the fire department?”
Captain: “Should we?”
You should always roll the camera. Always. So, for a job that is often tragic, I missed something very funny – and it was much funnier in person than it is reading this. Just sayin’.