CP24 News and Entertainment is located at 299 Queen Street, the southeast corner of Queen and John. The building is a well known Toronto landmark with a Gothic style exterior finish. It looks like a cathedral and I’ve been aware of the iconic structure since I was eight years old. That’s because it used to be the home of CityTV .
When mom was young, back in the nineteen nineties she recorded rants in a camera booth called Speaker’s Corner that was here at the time. Producers in the station would select her clips because she was cute and funny. She managed to get on TV a bunch of times, and so it’ll freak her out when I tell her I visited the building, and she’ll be so thrilled when I tell her why.
The sole security guard inside the front door helps a UPS driver sort packages. They both wear cloth masks and stand six feet apart to complete the task. He nods for me to go inside the next chamber past a thick glass door through which I can see an all-wood interior with chrome finishes. The glass door buzzes. I realize it was previously locked, and now it’s open. I pass through and greet the receptionist, a young white man with a nice smile.
We’re alone in here. The halls are empty and I get the feeling the whole station is running on a skeleton-crew as per the city-wide Covid-19 lockdown. I tell him who I am, and who I’m here to meet, and he invites me to wait on a cushioned bench. Mark Dixon emerges a minute later and flashes me a perfect white smile. He’s dashing, just as handsome as ever, the black athlete wears a tight shirt and cloth trousers.
“Hey Toni. Right on time. You look great.” Mark appraises my wardrobe and nods with satisfaction at my black boots, jean shorts, and short-sleeve dome-button top. “You’re just missing one thing. Come with me.” He nods thanks at the receptionist and motions me to follow.
Mark leads me on a tour of a functioning television station and I gaze about the rooms and soak up the sights. First we pass through an administration area where there are office cubicles and tables crowded with desktop computers. This place is deserted, but I hear a commotion coming from the next room. When Mark opens the door I see a darkened soundstage where a TV show is being recorded. It’s CP24 Dayside and we have to be quiet because the show is going out live.
“Camera Two pull back, annnnnd... We’re out.” The Technical Director removes his headset and turns away from the screens; a Mazda commercial plays without volume on the main monitor. Hunched over a mixing board beside him is a grey-haired switcher whose job is to cut between the cameras in the studio and the live feeds from the reporters in the field.
On set, the female host gets some hair and makeup touches in the break. She notices me and shades her eyes to better study me from her chair under the lights. “Is that the girl who made the videos of the police?” She asks her makeup artist. The stylist has a utility belt stuffed with makeup brushes and tissues and she glances over at me and then nods a confirmation. I don’t recognize either of them because I seldom watch daytime talk shows or any local programming. Mark steps carefully over cables and waves me to follow him deeper into the darkness and away from their set.
Dayside TV host’s microphone carries her conversation with her makeup person backstage where it’s still audible in the sound technician’s cart. I hear her say, ”...Oh I hope she sticks around. I’d like to meet her.” I follow Mark to the very back of the room where audio-speakers in the mixer’s booth can be heard, ”...Although why a pretty little thing like that would be out creeping around at night is beyond me. That’d be the first question I’d ask her.” The audio tech looks up at me squeamishly and turns down the feed.
Mark grins at me and I just shrug and offer no explanations. What can I say? I did it for the cash, and it’s not nearly enough money for my needs. It was a terrible mistake and now I live in fear of being confronted by Trinidadians or bikers. Or Cochutemete, who’s made it abundantly clear he’s not happy about me defying him. He’s pestering YouTube Canada to take down my latest video and having some success as yesterday’s First Strike email indicated. All this weighs heavy on me as I watch covid-masked technicians prep the next set.
“Reggie, this is Toni Petti,” Mark introduces me to a bald-headed man whose sits at a planners’ table in the center of the hubbub. “Toni, This is Reggie. My boss. He’s the executive in charge of production here at CP24.”
Reggie holds a Sharpie marker over a laminate schedule and conspires with someone whom I imagine must be a production coordinator or shift supervisor. He stands up to greet us and I see that he’s a short, bald administrator with a clean shaven face and flat nose. “Good morning Toni, welcome.” Reggie’s muscled frame bulges in a tight shirt. “I approved your application. Thanks for filling it out. We try to do things by the book.” His self-deprecation collects smiles from his coworkers. This is a friendly workplace culture and I can feel how happy everyone is here despite the pandemic and the need to wear masks. I dare to dream this could be my future.
“The form said it was a temporary position.” I check Mark’s eyes for warning signs. Finding none, I ask the Head of Production my number one question. “How hired am I?”
“Like ten percent hired.” Reggie uses his finger and thumb to make the itsy-bitsy hand sign. “Not even. It’s just gig.” The muscle man slaps Mark on the back and his tone changes, “our Crackerjack is on the way up.” He holds the black youth’s shoulders like a father might regard an adult son after graduation. Mark blushes and uses the opportunity to thank his boss.
“I won’t let you down Reggie.”
“I know you’ll ace it.” The short administrator continues, “you’re a genius with those boards. You’ll nail it and then we’ll lose you too likely.” Reggie turns his attention to me. “Did you plan to attend Saturday’s protest Antonia?” He asks with a smirk on his face, but then he shakes his head and raises his hand to stop me from answering. “Nevermind. We watched your videos. I feel like I know the answer.”
“Toni the tiger,” Mark says and I roll my eyes.
“Never heard that before.”
“You’re very brave,” Reggie says to me. “It’s interesting. But... Mark will tell you our policy on all that stuff.” The important man walks away to coordinate the production of yet another live episode ofCP24 Dayside.
“Come on. We still have to complete your wardrobe.” Mark continues the station-tour. Glass windows yield glimpses of other people preparing additional parts of today’s production. There are many terrific Instagram opportunities here and nobody took my phone away. But I dare not.
We walk the corridors and I have many questions but remain quiet in the face of so many incredible sights. Television production facilities are fascinating to me, but even more incredible are the cool retro posters on the walls and the little curios on peoples’ desks. I dream that someday I might find all this routine.
“The station’s policy is definitely pro-police,” Mark says, interrupting my happy thoughts. “There’s two reasons for that.”
“Sure.” I come back down to reality, “protection?”
“On the street, you need the cops. Like once a day.” Mark uses his white plastic ID card to open a reinforced steel door marked The Cage. One peek inside and I know it’s CP24′s main equipment-supply lockup. Heavy-duty floor to ceiling steel racks accommodate all manner of road cases containing cameras, monitors, battery belts and mounts. “The Brass doesn’t like it when camerapeople catch cops breaking the law.”
“Why not? If that’s news..? It’s also a community service.”
“Listen to you. Super girl.” Mark shakes his head at me. “It’s not sustainable. Because of reason number one.”
“Cause news camera people need cops everyday, supposedly?”
“You’ll find out.” He makes his way toward a countertop and writes his initials in a book. “Just google-search Global News versus Hamilton police.”
“What happened? When?”
“Three years ago, Hamilton cops arrested Jeremy Cohn. He was live-on-the-scene of an automobile accident where a young girl died. They said he got too close. Cop actually took his camera and locked him up for two hours.”
“Chorus sued. They been battling in the courts ever since. Now the guys over at Global have a real hard time in Hamilton. They’re always getting tickets and turned around. They get no considerations. Nobody holds their spot, or helps them park, or the hundred other things cops do for us out there. It’s soft discrimination. Nothing they can prove, but we can all see it happening.”
“Sounds like a battle between bigwigs. Court challenges? Media lawyers? No cop wants that.”
“You got to believe the bigwigs hobnob with union reps and politicians. If one of us peons battles their peons, it gets sticky at charity dinners and cocktail mixers.” Mark rummages through a stack of cardboard boxes and I can see they’re filled with black nylon jackets. Each garment is branded with a silver CP24 emblem on the left breast. He holds-up a Ladies size Small, hermetically sealed inside a clear plastic bag. He looks at me quizzically and I nod eagerly. He holds the apparel with a sly smile; nothing says you’re hired like wearing the company jacket.
“You gotta behave,” Mark says and I reach for it, but then he yanks it back. “Seriously. You can’t film cops. Okay?”
“That’s pretty limiting,” I snatch the jacket. “How can I gather news and not break stories that involve an entire segment of society?”
Mark raises his finger to answer, but he’s interrupted.
A door opens on the far end of the room and Exter Manlin, a tall black man with frosted-white dreadlocks enters the lock-up. He’s fifty feet away behind the equipment stacks but he finds us in a gap. He nods at Mark, and when he sees me he waves and pulls down his mask to talk. “Welcome Antonia,” he meets my eyes and then points toward a Peewee camera dolly in a nearby testing bay. “I’ve got a camera package worked up for you over here.”
Mark smiles at my eagerness and waves me around the racks. I’m still on approach when Exter starts his technical breakdown. Without any warning, he begins, “...the Canon Eos c300 uses accepts E.F. lenses, electrofocus. See the contacts here,” he points out the tiny square copper connectors that I normally see on memory cards. “It will accept the old FD lenses too, but you should try to get the new ones. That’s something you’ll wanna check when you pick-up your own packages.” He says, and I glow at the possibility of being able to access this super advanced gear for my own video shoots.
“FD’s still work, but then you don’t get the super 35mm sensor,” Mark adds. He’s still talking about the lenses. Then they both go into even more detail and issue torrents of information. It’s overwhelming. They describe every camera setting and all the different button functions. I wish I had a pen and paper and the ability to stop time.
The sturdy tripod we’re taking with us today is a Sachtler Flowtech 100 with rubber feet cushions. I’m not much for camera mounts and I don’t own any myself but I know from my studies at Loyalist that most high-end camera systems rent with tripods and tripod heads. That’s because it’s necessary to mount the camera in order to assemble the gear. First the camera body is affixed to the camera-plate and that snaps down on the head. Once the body is mounted the operator can add lenses and filters more easily. He or she can add a matte box and then use the same armature for a tiny video monitor, or even add an LED ring light up top or several other amenities. How about a heated eyepiece? There’s one in the case.
The microphone is a Shure SM58, a classic looking ice cream cone shaped reporter’s mic with a black handle and silver mesh ball on top. It feels weighty. It comes with a WiFi receiver and Mark tries to explain the configurations but Exter waves him off. He says he’ll take care of that for Saturday. Instead he turns us back to the camera and we discuss V-mount batteries and chargers. Mark shows me how to use the four inch video monitor and not drain the camera’s batteries too quickly. Exter doesn’t want me to use a monitor at all.
“Don’t compose shots using that,” Exter warns as Mark tightens the tiny electronic view screen to the top of the rig.
"Dat’s a bad habit,” Mark uses a deep voice to impersonate his boss. The older fellow punches his arm the same way Marcy does to me when I mock her. They’re good friends. I listen and learn how Exter vouched for Mark two years ago and that’s how he came to be employed here. Hearing that makes me feel really special, like I’m joining a club, or maybe a family. But as smart as I think I am, it’s clear I have a lot more to learn. Some of this gear is completely foreign to me and I’m anxious to test everything and master these tools.
“You two go on ahead and I’ll follow with Terry,” Exter says. He adds, “...park on Victoria right?”
“Same as before.” Mark nods, “hope it’s available.” He checks his phone, presumably to ping the production assistant or transport coordinator.
We leave through the back with all our gear and I suddenly find myself in the rear parking lot. I get chills all over to be in this venerated open air space. Two months ago I’d stood at the gate like a schoolgirl and surveyed the half acre of asphalt. Its incredible to be so close to this iconic building and be standing here. This is very exciting.
On the east wall, suspended forty feet off the ground, is the front half of a CP24 News truck. It’s an art exhibit called Breaking News. The truck is poised as though caught breaking-out through the cinder block wall. It catches eyes on Queen Street and was part of the opening sequence for their evening news broadcast for many years. That sensational art installation does better than any channel letter sign ever could at telling locals this is the home of their city’s premier news gathering force.
The asphalt under my feet is equally famous. This tarmac has hosted countless Much Music Video Awards, Canadian Music Video Awards, TIFF Parties, and Fashion Week runway shows and let’s not forget the Live Earth event which broadcast here for 28 hours when I was ten years old.
Today the small parking lot has several CP24 branded news-gathering vehicles. There are Live Eye vans and trucks with telescoping masts, multiple SUVs and even some small cars.
Mark leads us to a black and white CP24 branded Live Eye van and like a gentleman he opens the passenger door and helps me up. I climb inside the cab and smell all the advanced electronics on the racks behind my seat. Stacks of stainless steel components line the back of this vehicle and represent the very latest in E.N.G. audio visual signal transmission technology. This is a modern electronic news gathering mid point; this is where I’ll deliver my media and it’s from this van the operator will send my videos back to the station. Somewhere in all those components back there is a powerful transmitter that can talk to satellites.
The van is worth a million bucks and Mark looks real comfortable in the drivers’ seat. “Have you ever driven away with the mast pole up?” I ask him and his eyes immediately drop to a dashboard. The indicator for such a calamity must be in that patch of dials. I slide closer to see where he looked. He points out a slider which shows the mast’s height is currently set at zero.
“If you crash the truck or damage any gear they can dismiss you for cause.” Mark says, “it’s in the contract.”
“Not in the one I signed,” I reply. But I don’t really know; I didn’t read it.
“Pretty sure it was,” he chides me. “You’ve got about twenty grand worth of stuff in those cases.”
“It’s just for today though right?” I wonder aloud. “I can’t take it home with me tonight? Can I?”
“Ahh no.” Mark gives me a sly smile, “but you can wander off and shoot all afternoon with just the camera if you like.”
“Who’d own the footage?” I ask, “Let’s say, I got a great shot of a...”
“Cops using excessive force?” Mark winks at me, “...or tyrants illegally searching a Brother?” He uses the word tyrants which is what auditors call policemen who bend the rules. This proves he knows ID Refusal genre on YouTube and it makes me smile.
“Okay. What if?”
“You can’t. You can’t be Toni Petti LIVE with our jacket on..”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s say you video some questionable police interactions...” Mark has to focus on driving before he can finish his thought. He seizes a break in the traffic to turn onto Queen street. We head east, towards Yonge. He continues, “you can’t post them now. You shouldn’t even record them.”
We drive in silence for some time before he surprise me with a sudden admission.
“I’ve seen the van before.”
“Are you talking about my video? The white Mercedes Sprinter van?”
“Last fall,” Mark nod syes. “I’s filming the start of winter skating at Nathan Phillips.” He points toward the open water south of new City Hall as we cross University Ave. “We’re doing live hits with Cindy. Evening shoot. Tiki torches. Sun went down and it got cold. I went underground to my car to get a sweater. I kept the camera running on the roof just to keep it warm. I look up and see that sprinter van, probably the same one as your video. It comes rolling in and stops. It doesn’t park, just idles. Next thing I know this Somali kid gets out of a Subaru and steps inside. He closed the side door himself like he knew where he was going.”
“So what’s so strange about that?” I try to picture the scene. Mark glances at me and continues.
“Ten seconds later two of Toronto’s finest were on me and wanted all my details.”
“And you told them to go screw themselves right?! Camera rolling.”
“No Toni.” Mark shakes his head no at me. “That’s the point of this story. When you’re wearing the colours, you’re not Toni Petti LIVE anymore. You’reCP24 Toni Petti and you got to be community-minded. You’re all on the same team.”
I dwell on this for some time, but one thing nags me.
“So what was it all about? Why were the police so concerned?”
“That’s their business.”
“Have you still got that clip?”