Life in the City of Angels: Artifacts of the Past

Dave-Image047OMG ! Recently while tossing out artifacts of my past I came across this old advertisement for Bexel equipment rental. The camera which I’m holding became the game changer for broadcast television and gave me the world.
This is the back story of how I became the poster child for Bexel. During a transient stint in the early 80’s with ABC Network in Hollywood,  asked by an ABC Executive Producer to come up with a better way of shooting video on location that would not disrupt her daily operation in the studio, have economic benefits and an incentive for more field production for her show. I presented in a show-and-tell my idea to the Executive Producer, fellow union members and ABC management. Next thing I knew KA-POW! WHAM!
In one fell swoop, I was brought up on charges by my very own union (NABET Local 57) the next day for introducing a new camera system called the Betacam (which was only available at Bexel at the time) I had stepped on the toes and embarrassed ABC management for lack of imagination. I was guilty of being the pipe bomb in their midst for embracing new technology that would ultimately change broadcasting forever. The Executive Producer loved the idea but in the eyes of the union, ABC management and with great resentment from my peers I had disrupting the status quo, I had passed the point of no return. So, I left my comrades behind with the shrapnel of old ideas. It was that camera, the Betacam which became my fast-pass to the world.
Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that I had just finished reading M Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled. “Rules are made to be broken. Be bold enough to live life on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path.”

Life on The Road: That, Then, This

Dave-Image047 There was a time in my professional life that the tools of my trade required 13 anvil cases, patients, and throw away paper underwear. The demands for international travel as a documentary filmmaker was like an assault on climbing Mt. Everest. Months of preparation are involved along with logistics, scheduling, and risk management. Once at the point of entry in a foreign country the arduous task of clearing customs begins with lots of patients as every item in the anvil cases are cross referenced to see that the serial numbers match the Carnet.  For those not familiar, a Carnet is analogous to a passport for equipment. It is an import/export document, which allows property to pass across borders without hindrance. Free passage is assured by the guarantee that imported property will be reliably exported again after a set period of time. However, the documents Whitewater Westmust be scrupulously prepared and every item’s serial number on the Carnet. The Carnet must be recorded through customs on entering a country and then checked out again on exiting. Any errors or omissions can cause the delay of the entire shipment unless you have Baksheesh which is tipping or as some may call it charitable giving. I call it outright bribery.
That was then and this is now, I can now wear brown socks with white tennis shoes, plaid Bermuda shorts and a “Go Dodgers “ tank top and travel as a tourist. Today, I travel “Light and Fast”  which is an alpine mountaineering approach to traditional mountaineering that seeks to leave behind everything but the minimum gear required to reach the 252617_3880792791286_1338272699_nobjective and allowing the climber to summit faster. An experienced mountaineer will jettison gear that was not used on previous climbs and go “Light and Fast”. With that in mind and since I’m not tackling Mt. Everest but Scotland I have downsized my gear to an carry on bag.
This is my equipment list today:Travel Gear
  1. Canon 5D Mark II, 17mm – 40mm Lens, for stills and HD video w/Sennheiser short shotgun mic, headphones.
  2. Fuji X Pro 1, 18mm Lens
  3. GoPro Camera
  4. Macbook Pro
  5. Portable battery charger
  6. External hard drive
  7. 3 thumb drives
  8. 4 Report’s Notebooks
  9. Composition Notebook
  10. 5 pencils
  11. 10 copies of Cue The Camels
  12. 100 business cards

Cue The Camels Book Signing at Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, California

Part One

Dave Banks discusses and signs Cue the Camels
Jay Leno says, “Within these pages Dave has written gung-ho, self-deprecating, wildly engaging accounts of his exploits, with all the behind-the-scene high-jinks that go into shooting news and documentaries across the world.” In Cue the Camels, Dave shares his misadventures in a comedic style that is sure to entertain.

Vroman’s Bookstore Link: http://www.vromansbookstore.com/local629

 Cue The Camels available atwww.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, , Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385 , Amazon Kindle Edition: http://www.amazon.com/Cue-Camels-three-time-award-winning-film-maker-ebook/dp/B00IA10Z88/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403461103&sr=1-1&keywords=cue+the+camels

 

Cue The Camels: Jimi Hendrix, Osama bin Laden & Moving Penises

Link to Jimi’s All Along The Watchtower on YouTube: https://youtu.be/TLV4_xaYynY?list=PLjts4JMIwgQxcEwLBmDvkRE2Hx3QHGUU3

Chapter Two, Al Minya, Bed Bugs and Sex

Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was blasting out from Mark Hufnail’s BMW stereo, fueling our adrenalin and chest-beating machismo. During Jimi’s solos, I strummed the invisible strings of my air guitar and glanced over at Mark, catching him head-banging to the beat. Two middle-aged white guys, reminiscing about hippie living and experimental drug days, we were now living on the highs adventure brought. Potential ‘fixes’ dangled from the grueling schedule before us to shoot three documentaries throughout Middle Egypt, along the Nile. All three documentaries to be shot simultaneously in sixteen days, to produce seven hours of programming.
Body Guard-13

With some security concerns, we drove from Mark’s Burbank office to a kosher Italian restaurant on the west side of Los Angeles, this was our last advisory meeting about security with the only Muslim we knew, Attallah Shabazz. Ms. Shabazz is the eldest daughter of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, the powerful civil rights activist of the ‘60s. Mark and Attallah have worked together on several television productions and have become very good friends over the years, to the point that Mark’s daughter, Megan, refers to Ms. Shabazz as ‘Aunty Attallah’. Mark set the stage to our trip, telling Attallah that we would be the first American crew to travel by vehicle through Middle Egypt in ten years, that according to our fixer in Egypt. Our security was our foremost concern; we’d be two unmistakably-American white guys shooting at various locations along the Nile. When we went into preproduction for the three documentaries – on February 23, 1998 – Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a ‘fatwa’. This called on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies, saying it was their duty. The declaration was made seven months prior to our scheduled departure to Egypt. I’d also read somewhere that Osama and Zawahiri hated Americans so much that they wouldn’t even drink a Pepsi. On top of all that, there was rumored to be a bounty of $16,000 for every American’s head in Egypt. I found this a bit insulting: why couldn’t they round it out? I thought I was worth at least $20,000.

Attallah interrupted Mark. ‘You know, I don’t thing you have anything to worry about, traveling through Middle Egypt,’ she reassured us. ‘The Egyptian government cannot afford another massacre, it would be devastating to their economy. You will Dave on location #2-2be well protected. Think of it as an adventure, don’t let the threat of a small group of extremists hold you hostage.’

We placed our orders for our meal and our conversation turned to shop talk and a bucket full of scuttlebutt. It’s traditional amongst our staff and crew to collect the best pithy quotes during production which we then use as a catchphrase during shooting when things get a little too heated. Over our kosher pasta with meatless sauce, we told Attallah that we’d collected three favorite quotes for the History Channel’s documentary, the ‘History of Sex’:

‘Does the composer actually see the show he’s composing?’

‘Regardless of their academic achievement and expertise, try not to use any male or female archeologist over forty years of age’.

imagesBut the killer quote, and my favorite when shooting ancient Egyptian statues, was: ‘You can shoot as Dave-Desertmany penises as you want, as long as they don’t move’.

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

–  Bob Dylan, 1967

Cue The Camels available at: www.cuethecamels.com, www.oodlebooks.com,  Also available at: Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, California www.vromansbookstore.com/book/9780957438385, and Book Soup in Hollywood, California,  booksoup.com/book/9780957438385

Journal Entry, 1998, El Minya, Egypt

While researching material for my book I came across this old journal entry from a shoot I did in Egypt. This entry will definitely be a chapters of my book, Cue the Camels.

Atlantis of the Sands

Lawrence of Arabia

Mr. Dryden: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.
T.E. Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.
Mr. Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

There is a great stillness in the sand and her sights and sounds are tastefully presented in a easy tempo to our senses. Long endless miles of sand dunes and scorching heat, this is the image one has in mind when one thinks of the Sahara.With the reputation for the hottest place on earth, temperatures can reaching up to 57.7 degree Celsius (135.8 degree F). Which makes working conditions uncomfortable and first degree buns common. I relished in shooting midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach. My camera would get so hot to the touch I’d soak my kefflyeh with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool. I learn to do this when I first came to the Sahara and rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. My face burned with such intensity  that  for a couple of days I had one  large red rosy cheek. From that first experience I learned to have long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and a kefflye in my kit.

Our bodies are about two thirds water and when we get dehydrated, it means that amount of water in our body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. What is uncanny, is that it’s so hot sweat will evaporates before leaving a wet stain on clothing so drinking water at interval (even if you don’t feel thirty) is essential. Drinking to much water will washes away the electrolytes which is why I carry powder electrolyte supplements in my pack. In spite of all the discomfort the Sahara desert is my favorite place to work. The Sahara’s is one place on earth where all men become brothers to survive her embrace.

A silence so great that I can hear the earth breathing, I have found my Atlantis.

Lawrence of Arabia

Reporter Jackson Bentley:  What attracts you personally to the desert?

T.E. Lawrence: Its clean

Egypt/Video Postcard

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