Mark drives the CP24 News van across Yonge and turns north on Victoria, a shady street that squeezes between Roy Thompson Hall and St Michael’s Hospital. We cross over Shuter and we’re just about at Dundas when he wheels right and drives into the lot behind Omni. A production assistant in CP24 gear meets us and shows us where to park. It’s a beautiful morning and the birds are chirping and there are lots of interesting reflections happening all around the vehicle.
Mark climbs to the roof of the van and unstraps a metal trolley. He passes it down to the PA who carries it to the back. The little wagon has a pop-up front handle and we stack our camera gear in its bed. We’re just pulling away when Exter appears with our director, a middle aged black man in a blue CP24 News jacket. Mark whispers how the man on approach is a real big deal. He’s the guy in charge of Saturday’s special coverage.
“He’s the TD,” Mark says. That means he’s the Technical Director. He’s the individual who’ll be deciding what streams go live on air during the protest coverage. I’d be intimidated, but there isn’t time; the professional hurries over to meet me and makes it known that he’s watched my videos.
“Toni Petti? I Liked and Subscribed." The big man finds and shakes my hand. “I’m Terry English, and I’m honoured to meet you young lady,” he bows in respect.
“Don’t swell her head,” Mark complains.
“Terry is the Big Kahuna again on Saturday,” Exter says. “Happens like twice a year... Always a big production.”
“Go big or go home baby,” Terry grins at me again and I get the impression he’s the Action Jackson of the station. “We’re going to make history. We’re going to give our home audience, Emancipation Day.” He holds up his hands as if to present the name on an imaginary marque.
“Alongside three other networks,” Mark adds.
“Nah. Look around gents. We’ve been given an exclusive license to make the news this weekend.” Terry waves at Yonge Dundas square, “...in this star chamber we can package reality into meaningful spectacle that will transcend our twenty-four hour news cycle. Our coverage will resonate in viewers’ minds for months, years, decades...” He looks for my reaction.
“I’m fully committed!” I love his energy and beam with joy at the mission statement.
“He’s just messing with ya,” Exter laughs. “It’s a three camera shoot with performance plus audience reaction.” He waves his hand to boil the whole ordeal down to a simple mandate. “From three pm to eleven... Eight hours is thirty two separate twelve minute blocks.”
“I am just messing with you.” Terry agrees, “which is good for you, cause it means whatever happens, you know I’m just going to roll with it.” Terry says and the boys laugh and I agree that does reduce the pressure.
“But Emancipation Day is a worthy cause.” I want to make some part of what he said real. I do believe it’s an occasion that should be celebrated more widely in our country. Emancipation Day commemorates the Abolition of Slavery Act, which became law on August 1, 1834. This act freed more than 800,000 people of African descent throughout the British Empire, and yet we still call our August 1st weekend the ‘Civic Holiday’, which is so deliberately sterile. In normal times, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana would happen this weekend. But that’s been cancelled this year, another victim of the pandemic.
“Hey. How many subscribers have you got now?” Terry stops and retrieves his phone to check.
I shrug and try to look casual as he researches my numbers. Toni Petti LIVE’s YouTube channel now has 48,843 Subscribers! That’s more than triple what I had yesterday. NHL Player Blocks Bike Lane, Toronto Police Fail - ID Refusal now has 94,844 views, and my Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal upload has 72,523 views. Terry whistles and we continue.
“I hope you have that monetized?” Exter asks. I nod and smile and leave them guessing how much money it’ll generate. I don’t know myself, but I do know it will take months to get a penny from the tech giant and the Dark Alley video being flagged doesn’t help either.
“If you get to a million subscribers, Reggie will hire you fulltime,” Terry says.
“Pfft. Please.” Mark shakes his head no, “you need more than two videos to get past a hundred thousand subscribers. I’m surprised she has that many to be honest. But, I am subscribed.”
“So am I,” Exter adds and winks at me.
Dundas Square is surrounded by hot dog vendors, chip trucks and ice cream carts. A coffee dispensary belches black smoke and prepares special brews. It’s just before nine in the morning and too early for lunch, yet many cooks are already at work in their kitchens preparing for the rush. Food vendor businesses have boomed during the pandemic, but on this Thursday morning the square is pretty barren. There are two young people spinning about in the center with their phones held out before them doing 360 degree panoramas, agitating pigeons.
We pull our little wagon full of expensive camera equipment into a pre-arranged spot which is marked with tiny red cones. The same production assistant who helped us park now becomes Security to watch over the gear.
I have my Canon EOS 300 camera that Exter assembled for me back at the station. Mark shows me how to mount the gimbal and the best way to go handheld. This device is three times larger and heavier than my Panasonic and so it requires special mounts. With everything added, it weighs about eight pounds and that’s too much weight to carry around all day without some mechanical assistance. Exter’s solution is to wear a Steadicam which is like having a third arm. He straps the rig over his chest and it distributes the weight across his shoulders and back. Mark offers me something else.
VariZoom StingRay Pro HD DSLR Support System is a waist belt with an inch thick steel pole protruding from the front. It shifts the camera’s weight to my abdomen and hips and adds handlebars under the camera plate. Two pistol grips on either side allow amazing control for really smooth tilts and pans.
“It’s not something you walk around with...” Exter says, “but you can take a few steps when necessary.” He demonstrates his dance moves and I emulate some travels and transitions, as they’re called. Internally the StingRay is spring-loaded to reduce harsh bumps and the top plate has another spring underneath to allow some tilt and roll. We practice our follows using the pigeons that run across the concrete searching for bread crumbs. Exter makes it look easy to hold a single bird in a tight shot using his Steadicam, no matter what the creature decides to do. When it takes flight, he easily tilts-up to follow it into the sky. I have a difficult time keeping my birds in frame on the ground, and once they sprout wings they’re gone. I can never tilt up in time. “Just practice,” Exter says, “and it’ll soon be second nature.” Huh. Dr. Barb at Gagner used to say the same thing.
I look up and to my surprise I see the pigeons have become a flock of white-shirted professionals that are Toronto Police staff officers. I get nervous as two dozen high ranking cops and politicians from across the city assemble in the square. The police wear fresh pressed uniforms and many have blue masks that state their Division # precinct. Mark glances at me and even though he also wears a mask, I can tell he grins with amusement at my unease. In addition to the brass in the middle, dozens of uniformed patrolmen and women surround us on the curbs and some of them look like they recognize me.
“Is that Toni Petti?” asks a familiar voice.
Oh no. It’s the male police officer with the red-nose from my NHL Bike Lane ID Refusal video. I don’t recall his name offhand until I see his monogramed vest. The tag reads A. Jacobson and then I remember...
“Allan.” I give him a neutral wave. He seems happy enough; he’s not mad.
“Is that thing rolling?” He jokes. I shake my head no. I’m doing a custom white balance with a white card to calibrate the picture and ensure accurate colors under different lighting conditions. I’ve got the manual in my hands. He probes Mark and Exter to see if they appreciate his humour, or even understand what he’s talking about. “...Never had so many Facebook messages in one day,” he grins and the CP24 cameramen exchange knowing glances.
“You getting any grief?" Mark asks and I’m reminded of our conversation this morning about why news gatherers don’t ruffle police feathers.
“On the contrary, I was commended by the Captain,” Allan says. “They’re gonna use it for training.” He grins at me and I glow That’s good feedback. Many auditors report that police will thank them for making them look good, on the rare occasions that happens. This is the first time anyone’s ever thanked me, but then I consider how Lt. Jacobson did behave better than his partner.
“How does Constable Silvans feel about it?”
“She’s not thrilled.” Allan admits. “She’s gettin ribbed over how she asked you to sit down, and, how you refused,” he explains. Exter grins and Mark laughs and softly punches my arm like I’m a prize fighter. The policeman continues, “I didn’t see that you know.” He says, “you’re pretty tough. But I wouldn’t be venturing out alone at night like that...”
“I wasn’t alone. I had my camera.”
“There are cameras everywhere now. In every business on every street. Nothing’s private anymore. Plus now you know they wanna make us wear cameras?” The veteran police lieutenant looks to Exter and Mark to mirror his indignation.
“It’s long past due,” I state my opinion.
Mark shakes his head no and Exter nods yes and waits for his statement. “It’s all about who controls access,” Mark explains. “It’s a fine thing to make police wear ’em, but I wanna see videos within twenty four hours of my request. Not three weeks later after everything’s been sanitized.”
“And that includes you.” Exter points at Lt. Jacobson, “can you watch your own body cam video before you write your report?” he asks. The old cop shrugs and rubs his red nose. Both are fair points and proof my coworkers have thought about this and discussed it amongst themselves. I haven’t given it any thought, except I know that every cop should wear a camera. That just makes sense. Plus bodycam footage of people’s arrests makes great YouTube videos.
The cops are gathering as close as their organization’s social distancing policy will allow. They cluster to listen to experts as they plan for Saturday’s protests. Lieutenant Jacobson checks his watch and then waves goodbye to me.
“You take care Toni Petti,” the veteran steps away but adds, “I don’t want to see you meeting Cochutemete anymore.”
“Wait. You know him?”
“Yeah. Your video... He can’t be happy.” Jacobson has to run to catch up now, but he offers a last piece of advice, “I’d watch my back. Don’t give him any reason to jam you up.”
“Thanks... Allan. I’ll see you around,” I wave goodbye.
“Oh, look at Toni...” Mark talks facetiously. “Making friends with the policeman”.
“He’s not so bad.”
I continue doing the white balance with the Canon EOS c300; I’m teaching the onboard CMOS system what I believe the colour white looks like in broad daylight in the middle of the city. It’s really a test of my perception and what I perceive to be white. Next I’ll shoot a lens test to chart the margins and check the focus lengths.
The police in the square coordinate information; they plan logistics and contemplate all possible emergencies and how they’ll access their many support vehicles. The tour is led by Captain Mark Berlette and Portia Mann appears at his side carrying maps of the downtown core.
“That’s the next mayor of Toronto,” Mark says to me. “The guy’s a genius at getting press.”
“Berlette?” I point my camera at the white shirt administrator and roll video on his speech.
“Yeah. That’s his name.” Mark is surprised I know him. “Girl. You’re tapped.”
“I spoke to him yesterday.”
“Really? So then you know he’s a smooth operator. He’s been real good at keeping everyone calm during the pandemic. People will remember.”
“He created the Community Relations office he holds,” Mark explains. “It’s a brilliant move. It’s a post where he can speak to cameras and take all the credit. It’s the perfect stepping stone to Police Chief and then to Mayor.”
I watch Cpt. Berlette harangue other staff officers and wave his arms to show the positions of the barricades. He swings his body to show how the fences will pivot to allow the flow of emergency vehicles into and out of the square on Saturday. I scan the audience for any other faces I may know; I look for Cochutemete but I don’t see him.
“Toni walk with me,” Exter wears his Steadicam and invites me to shadow him as he moves into an open area. I replicate his camera settings and do the same moves on my StingRay, my waist-mounted Canon Eos.
For the next two hours I get a crash course taught by professionals on how to use a news camera to film people and communicate current events. Exter shows me what compositions are best for sidewalk interviews, and how to do over-the-shoulder perspective shots. He shows me the proper way to film walk & talks and how CP24 likes to segue in and out of slow moving pans. An hour and twenty minutes later we end up back where we started with Terry English, back at our stash.
Stop the spread messages on turquoise backgrounds appear on all the massive digital billboard screens at Yonge Dundas Square. The outdoor venue is something of an international big screen showroom with huge attractions in all shapes and sizes. It got even more spectacular last week when another wonder, a huge curved screen was added to #10 Dundas Street East. That’s the building with the Cineplex movie theatre and Milestones restaurant. Up until last month it carried four different screens but now it just has one monster that bends around the side of the building. But all the other screens are dwarfed by the Eaton Center’s signage. The TEC Tower, or the Toronto Eaton Center Tower screen stands prominent above the northeast entrance to the mall. That one single billboard is eight-thousand-four-hundred and fifty-four square feet of programmable space. The huge screen overlooks Yonge Dundas and impresses audiences due to the tower’s immense size. Mark says it’s Canada’s largest outdoor digital display screen and right next door is AOB or Atrium on Bay which juts out over the street and can be seen for miles.
The digital signage capabilities of Yonge-Dundas Square are immense and the YD Signs consortium regularly allows one of local TV stations to countermand their ads and control all the screens during special events. CP24 booked this weekend months ago and Mark is excited because Reggie tapped him to play the screens.
Mark’s job on Saturday is to fill these screens with freshly prepared media. That’s the big break that Reggie the Head of Production has given him and why Mark called me to replace him at his normal job. The young black man will be a true video-jockey and he’ll display the excitement that happens in the square during the day. Then at night we’ll video record the speeches and put shots of protesters on the big screens at the end of the march. It’ll be just like what happened at the Drop the Charges rally two weeks ago, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the operation.
“This switch controls the Bandshell Projection Screen.” Mark points to a square near the stage. “That’s where you’ll be when Exter wants to roam. You’re his backup on the pedestal.”
Where will you be?
“Up in the booth,” Mark points-up to box atop the scaffolding over the bandshell. “They just unlocked it.”
I watch as Mark climbs a twenty foot tall ladder to access a control booth above the bandshell. It’s from this little box he can tap feeds and control all the big screens at once. A moment later we hear him on our walkie talkie.
"Hey Toni." Mark’s voice crackles on the radio handset, ”look west.”
I look up at the TEC Tower and see Mark’s handsome black face on the big screen. He waves to us and smiles and his lips are twenty feet wide. He must have a camera up there or he’s using his phone. He’s obviously very clever and this assignment will be easy for him.
“You’re a maniac.” I look around and see many other people including tourists and police officers also admire his big screen debut.
“He’s just trying to impress you,” Exter says.
He’s doing a good job. I’m impressed.
"Throw me up a bottle of water?" Mark asks over the Walkie Talkie.
“Can you make that throw?” Exter looks doubtful.
“Certainly,” I accept the challenge and focus my effort on giving the projectile enough height, but my throw goes wide and the plastic vessel misses the booth and explodes in the street. Restaurant patrons in South Side Cafe’s open-air patio turn to look at me and I shrink in size.
"I believe there’s a rope,” Exter says over the radio without passing judgement.
I take another water bottle from the shrink-wrapped case and make my way to the ladder. Mark drops the line to save me the climb.
A young black teenager wearing a backwards ballcap rides a BMX bicycle deliberately close and snaps a picture of me on his phone. Then he rides away like it’s nothing. I shiver.
Terry English orders lunch from Milestones and delivers it to us in the square. I get the spinach salad which makes me think of Sam. I can’t wait to tell him all that’s happened today and...Stop that. What am I doing? I’m falling for him. Yes. I’m falling for him. Is that so bad?
We sit on the empty camera equipment cases to eat our meals. Our gear lays on sound blankets at our feet. Mark thumbs through the schematics for the boards above as he tries to solve an input issue that I don’t even pretend to understand. Terry gets talking about Saturday’s show and decides he needs images of the tents and rummies that are currently encamped around New City Hall. What he most wants is the view looking west from Bay Street at Haggerman, the heart of the homeless compound.
“The north side of new City Hall looks like the outskirts of Mogadishu”, Terry says, “and the corporate media really isn’t covering it properly. Get a good shot and it just might go National.”
Exter tries to play Cupid and suggests that Mark and I should go together, but the black Adonis waves off the idea. He only has so much time here with the big screen controllers and he wants to drill down on some super solution he’s noodling. I shrug and volunteer to go alone. It’s just across the street. Old City Hall is on the other side of the Eaton Center and New City Hall is right beside it across Bay Street. The shopping mall is open, even though most stores inside are closed, I can still cut through the building.
The police barricades are already being assembled as I cross Yonge street. It’s Thursday afternoon but the cops aren’t taking any chances. They’ll occupy these safe positions tonight and tomorrow night in advance of Saturday when they expect over forty thousand protesters will cram themselves onto these streets.
Eaton Center doors are open and I have to curl myself through real carefully so as to not bang the camera. It’s a tricky maneuver and maybe why Exter suggested that someone should accompany me. The shopping mall is deserted except for red jacket GS4 security guards who patrol every level. They keep sharp eyes for miscreants, but I also wonder if they don’t watch retailers just to make sure that none of them are open or doing any business that contravenes the lockdown. The escalators are turned off and the water fountains are dry.
I cross the sunny interior concourse in a direct route for the west doors. This will put me behind old City Hall and there are homeless people encamped on the grass there too.
Outside the glass doors, three figures, backlit in the sunlight all turn and walk away as I approach. I only see their shadows and they’re gone. Maybe I should use another exit? No. Nobody is going to mess with me while I’m wearing aCP24 News jacket with all this gear.
I push through the double doors on the west side of the Eaton Center and find another empty courtyard and dry water fountain. But after taking just four steps away from the building, I sense someone has crept in behind me and when I spin around, I see Blue.
“Paul. What are you doing?”
“You’re coming with us Toni.”
“I am not.”
“Don’t argue. In one hour’s time you’ll thank me. I promise.”