WHEN NEWSMAKERS BECOME THE NEWS
By Lindsay Cohen
Covering tragedy is nothing new for journalists. When others rush out, they rush in. Officer killed in the line of duty? Speed to the scene. Giant apartment fire? Spring into action. Helicopter crash? Gather the facts. Report the news.
Even when it involves one of your own.
That horrific moment came for dozens of Seattle journalists on March 18 — some who heard and even witnessed the helicopter crash outside of the KOMO News studios at the base of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.
“You could see right out the window that something was really wrong. You could see it just going down,” said Kelly Koopmans, a reporter and anchor who had just finished that morning’s broadcast. “Then it kind of falls from sight.”
“You’re thinking: there’s no way that was a chopper, even though you knew it was, because you could hear what it sounded like,” she adds.
Koopmans grabbed her cell phone and a photographer, and rushed downstairs. On the ground below — just feet away from the station entrance and rooftop helicopter landing pad — was a large fire, growing by the second, with jet fuel running down the street. Three cars were also mixed in with the debris on the street.
“I’ve covered tough stories where you see tough things,” she said, “but that was different for a whole number of reasons.”
In the wreckage were two beloved coworkers: pilot Gary Pfitzner, who had 15 years of flying under his belt, and seasoned photojournalist Bill Strothman. Both flew regularly for KOMO and were fixtures in the newsroom. Strothman had retired from daily news coverage about five years earlier to work on his own production company, said the station’s chief photographer, Randy Carnell.
Carnell was also tasked with covering the story.
“Nothing was going to stop me on that day from covering the story. Nothing,” said Carnell, who worked alongside Strothman for more than two decades. “I wanted to be able to tell everybody that was around there what a great guy he was. I just wanted to be there for him.”
Carnell sped toward the scene after he heard the first radio reports in his car. He was on site for about 11 hours, he said, doing live shots, helping edit packages and cover news conferences.
“I didn’t think of [what I did] as [part of my duties as] chief,” Carnell said. “I wanted to be down there as Bill’s friend. I wanted to be there and cover the story in the way I hoped he would do it for me.”
Interviewed for this article one month after the accident, Carnell said the pain was still very raw.
“It’s been 30 days of emptiness,” he said. “I don’t relive that day.”
Koopmans added that the most difficult moment for her was seeing Strothman’s son, Dan, also a photographer on staff, arrive at the scene.
“That was a tough moment,” Koopmans said. “I think I was in shock for a really long time.”
Local Members Featured at Film Fest
By Rachel Glass
Local Board Member
The Pacific Northwest is still aglow as the much-celebrated Seattle International Film Festival recently came to a close, concluding its 40th milestone year. This year, SIFF outdid itself, boasting a total of 435 films, including 198 live-action and animated features, 60 documentaries, 163 shorts and 14 archival films. SIFF attracted submissions from around the world, including 44 world premieres, 13 U.S. premieres and 24 Northwest premieres.
Thousands of enthusiastic filmgoers from Seattle and across the globe packed the nine venues in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and Kirkland. In addition to the films, participants could attend special forums on various aspects of the cinema and meet celebrities and movie stars at special tribute events. There were also galas and parties for opening and closing nights, as well as in between.
Members of the board of directors and staff of the SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local came out in force to not only show their support for the festival, but to serve as ambassadors for the union by attending 145-plus films and events (that’s fully a third of all the films shown over the course of the 24-day festival). They spoke to hundreds of attendees about the union and its benefits.
SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local Board President Steve Reeder enjoyed meeting and chatting with Richard Linklater, writer-director of Boyhood, winner of this year's Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress; he also met Chris Messina, the first-time director and co-star of Alex of Venice; first-time director Alan Hicks and Justin Kauflin, pianist-protagonist of the excellent documentary Keep on Keepin' on; and, notably, Yusup Razykov, the director of the Russian picture, Shame.
SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local Board member Jagger Gravning attended screenings of many of our locally made films, which were also chock full of local union talent such as Tony Doupe, Russell Hodgkinson and Conner Marx. At the premiere of Megan Griffiths’ Lucky Them, Gravning and I had the chance to speak with Tony Fulgham, co-founder of local production company World Famous. Fulgham shot the marvelous SIFF “cinescape”-themed intros utilizing SAG-AFTRA’s own Wonder Russell and Lisa Coronado. Says Gravning, “SIFF is a key engine for promoting productions featuring local union talent, and additionally, getting to know SIFF’s programmers, board members and staff is one of the great benefits of attending screenings during the fest, along with the opportunities for meeting directors and producers.”
One of the highlights of the festival for me was getting to meet Caroll Spinney at the screening of I Am Big Bird. This sweet, gentle man, who is now 80 and still playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, had the audience in the palm of his hand. Most amazing fact: Spinney was supposed to go up into space on the ill-fated mission of the space shuttle Challenger, but was taken off the mission at the last minute because the Big Bird costume was too large to fit in the shuttle!
I also got to meet and chat with Keith Miller, the director of the raw and emotional Five Star; Hellion director Kat Candler; Sara Colangelo, director of the very gripping Little Accidents; and Justin Simien, director and writer of the excellent Dear White People, which won a 2014 Grand Jury Prize for Best FutureWave Feature. I was also thrilled to see and congratulate fellow colleagues/union members Hans Altweis, SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local Board member Abby Dylan and PUP Kelsey Packwood, co-stars of BFE, written and directed by local filmmaker and actor Shawn Telford. I also want to give big kudos to the locally produced My Last Year with the Nuns (director Bret Fetzer, starring SAG-AFTRA member Matt Smith), which garnered the 2014 Best of SIFF honors.
Executive Director's Report
By Brad Anderson
The SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local has been working very hard since the merger of SAG and AFTRA to generate more work for its members. Recently, working in conjunction with the SAG-AFTRA Portland Local, the union has been exploring the development of new and creative approaches to deal with producer “concerns” about the use of union contracts. Although nothing has yet been finalized in the locals’ jurisdictions of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, the expectation of all involved is that there will be exciting possibilities in the near future.
For example, the locals have been conducting extensive research into how national collective bargaining agreements have been used locally, including identification of issues that producers have expressed some hesitance over. There have been lengthy interviews with agents, casting directors and production houses to thoroughly review the same areas. The anticipated end result will ideally be a process by which producers become familiar with signing union projects, which will then allow them to access the higher quality professional performers represented by SAG-AFTRA.
This effort is just one piece of the SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local’s program to enhance the working lives of its members. For example, the SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local continues to improve its ability to serve members with the recent purchase of a ClearSonic IsoPac G Sound Isolation Booth. The booth is designed by the manufacturer to eliminate up to 70 percent of extraneous noise, creating a quiet, low-reflection chamber ideal for vocal recording. In addition, the booth is completely portable, and can be easily stored in order to allow for maximum flexibility of the local’s Member Resource Center.
The MRC is available free for use by all members in-good-standing on a reservation basis, and provides a wide range of audio and video recording, editing, playback and digital conversion capabilities. This latest acquisition increases the range of activities that can be performed by and for members needing access to a space to record auditions, review previously recorded materials, conduct workshops, update demos and much, much more. The MRC is part of the offices of the SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local at 123 Boylston Ave E., Seattle, WA 98102.