\By Jeff Hodges

As a cameraman, I have often found the most memorable parts of a story are the moments that occur off-camera.

Early in my career I was shooting in one of the X-rated strip clubs in New York City—the Melody Burlesk. We filmed the girls onstage and in their dressing rooms, and were party to any number of licentious and libidinal spectacles. But my most enduring memory is of an elderly man and his wife who called me over to their table. Perplexed, they wanted to know when the comedians and dancers were coming onstage. “This is not burlesque,” the dapper gentleman said, gesturing at the girl spread-eagled in front of us. “Real burlesque is entertainment, not this!” his wife hissed. I said I would inquire, and zoomed in on the action.

I shot a promotional video for a Medevac helicopter, getting aerial shots out of the open door of the chopper. One afternoon, I noticed various items—clamps, syringes, adhesive tape, and gloves—flying out the door and traveling upwards. As I tilted up to capture the phenomena of floating sponges I was wrestled back into the cabin by an EMT who yelled, “You’re going to get us killed, you asshole!!” Apparently, items sucked upwards by the rotor could cause a fatal stall that would have had us joining the medical supplies already strewn across the landscape.

I was in a firehouse in the South Bronx during a lunar eclipse when I announced to the fire company I was heading out for a few minutes to view the moon and was vehemently met with “Don’t go out there—they’ll eat you up alive!” Undaunted, I sauntered up a hill to where a bunch of kids were sitting on the sidewalk gazing skyward. I began a fumbling lecture on the mechanics of the moon entering the earth’s umbra, only to have the young astronomers upstage me with a precise and graphic illustration using a softball, handball, and flashlight.

While shooting a story in a music camp on Long Island, we had to interview Itzhak Perlman. We were behind schedule but I asked the producer to let me dull down some facial shine on our luminary. Grabbing a powder puff I started my application, only to discover I was using the make-up reserved for darker complexions. Thinking fast, I took a deep breath and blew mightily on the eminent violinist’s forehead, vanquishing the melisma and then applying the proper shade. With a chuckle, the imperturbable Mr. Perlman thanked me and signaled that he was ready to begin.

I redeemed myself later in the day when a murder of crows settled into the trees above us in a loud and unruly cacophony, making it impossible to record a clean audio track. Amid the cursing and handwringing, I remembered a trick from my childhood and offered up five quick corvine warning calls of “Caw!” that scattered the miscreants and brought some quiet to the set.

I spent many years shooting for a cable fashion series. Once we filmed a segment about a fellow who ran a handbag store on the Lower East Side. While getting our product shots, we were interrupted by the sight of the owner grappling with his wife, who was holding a knife to his throat. I asked my producer, “Do you want to me shoot this or break it up?” He screamed, “Help him!” So I obeyed, slowly taking the knife from the wife—finger-by-finger—apologizing all the while for the discomfort I was causing her. It turned out she had discovered airline tickets for our entrepreneur and his mistress on the fax machine, and was exercising her revenge. It would have made a great ending to our story, but as we say in the business, the best stuff never makes it on-camera.

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