Saturday, January 13, 2007

Another excerpt from the past...

Received Jan. 18, 2001:

From Tony Cucurullo

It was the 1980's and I was milling around in the company between ENG (news gathering/local and net, some sixty minutes, and an occasional documentary: one with Carol Martin won me an Emmy for directing/camerawork.) I liked that, because I never did the same assignment twice. I had the best of all worlds. When the weekend came around I was sent out on sports, if I was available. But, then I got a call from the Captain Kangaroo Show; this was to be my most lucrative assignment of all time. I venture to say it was the most lucrative of any technician on any show anytime.
In twelve weeks I earned $27,000. That's right boys and girls. I had two young men with me and they earned almost as much. Our assignment was to tape different stories all over the country. Each story had to have a connection: they had to have some interest for children, or they had to be about young people.
We covered stories about young magicians; a young boy that flew airplanes he was only thirteen, we drove out to Forest Hills to cover the tennis play of a teenager, Tracey Austin. Traveling to the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, we did a story on "Colonel Kite." He could aloft several kites at a time and make them dance in the sky, swirling and diving and twisting in all sorts of geometric patterns, delighting the eye. This crew then set out for Florida. There we climbed in the lion's cage at Circus City, rode the outside raft on a platform to record the water ballet at Water World. All this we did on overtime. The producer for the 'Captain' insisted that we forget the contract as he was told to wrap this up in twelve weeks. I informed him that he would pay for every infraction of the contract with penalties. He agreed and we worked our asses off for him. Along came an EIC of the studio type, and without any conception of what time frame constrictions we worked under, ordered us to stop, because he saw the time sheets we submitted and said, "he refused to approve these time cards and was canceling them." I told him, "No pay, no work." He replied, "You are fired." I said, "OK, I am on my way home and he could arrange for the safety of his equipment, and the tapes we had." He screamed, "I couldn't do that, I had to send him the tapes we already shot". Well, needless to say, I called the producer and repeated the story. He hung up the phone and told me to stand by; I said I had to catch a plane home as I no longer was on the payroll. I knew I wasn't going to leave the equipment or the tapes, but the poker hand dealt to me was a lock. I had permission and this jerk only had muscles the size of grapefruits and could break your hand every time he shook it.
Within a half hour, I received a call at the hotel from a vice-president of CBS, who informed me that I had a job, I was to take care of the company property and he would take care of all the payrolls involved.
He kept his word. When we came home and I appeared before Bob Hammer, his stammer turned into throat lock. But he paid. My crew and I did more stories and they were well received by the 'Captain' and were used for years on replay. The crew I had consisted of two young men, Tom McCarthy, the son of one of my dearest friends and a very good cameraman, and also a new, young employee named Fred Shimizu. This fellow took what ever I asked him to do and never complained. He did the backpack audio and did audio editing on the seat of the truck, learning all this as we went along. We flew by the "seat of our pants", improvising as we went along. We worked around the clock on most assignments and through our meal periods. We did our own creative lighting and took risks at times, like when we went into the lion's cage. The lion reached out and grabbed Tom's shirt and ever so gently, so as not to move the cameras, Fred took the paw of the lion and removed it as if it were a child's hand he was holding. And now for the finale to this most wonderful experience in my career. We were sent downtown New York to the Twin Towers to do a story about how the tower windows are washed when needed. That day, we had Jerry Sullivan along because of all the equipment we had to lug up to the roof. One hundred and ten stories high. That's three floors above the rentable space of the building. The crew had set up the equipment and we all thought we were going to cover the washing machine and how it works. This King Kong of a machine rises out of the roof on an elevator similar to the one used on aircraft carriers. It then traverses along to the edge on rails and tilts itself and goes over the side, and down the face of the building, washing, soaping and rinsing as it goes along on a computer driven program. Well to our surprise the Producer says to us he want us to follow the machine down the face of the building. I told him if in my opinion it was not safe we wouldn't do it. He said he would call uptown and get another crew and, maybe, use freelance people. Tom and Fred, who had done all those impossible stunts like water rafting in Pennsylvania, flying in a Blimp driven by a young boy and hanging out the back of a truck to get moving vehicular shots. This was the limit. The Producer started to leave to call; I told him I would do it. I had previous experience in 'copters, and did military things that are stories for another time. Well, I agreed and the building people have this maintenance bucket that can be lowered on a separate cable alongside the washing unit. In order to enter this device, you put on a safety belt and clasp it to the bucket frame. Great... if the bucket falls to the street, this guarantees that you won't fall out, ha, ha. To Jerry Sullivan's credit, he had to place one foot on the edge of the building and pass the camera and recorder to me. Tom held his belt for balance. When I stepped into this bucket and accepted the equipment, it shifted down about an additional eight inches… it felt like it was falling thirty stories. Well I worked out there for about a half hour.
When they pulled me up and I came on to the roof, the manager of the building said he was happy to see that the bucket worked. It was the first time they used it! I never had a high like that. I actually felt like I was floating. I, at least, can claim that I was the first cameraman to shoot from the top and face of the tallest building in the city. And only King Kong and I went off the top. Fred (I hope) still has that great work ethic as he did on that twelve week assignment. I know Tommy will be a boss someday, as he has that charisma. People like him easily. Me, I spent the money on my three kids and bills.

Tony C