I've been having trouble explaining the Platypus Workshop experience to
Is it like a first kiss, when you learn that something you formerly
thought to be grotesque and unthinkable becomes beautiful and haunting?
Is it like the first photograph you ever took that you thought was
good? (Before you called them "images." The one you showed your friends
and family but wouldn't show anyone now if it were new?) Is it like
being hit by a truck and having to learn to walk again?
Yes. Yes, that's exactly it.
It's like having a first, clumsy kiss, taking a crap photo of it, and
then getting hit by a truck. Learning to walk happens later on.
The Platypus Workshops are run by Dirck Halstead. Dirck shot with a
film camera in Vietnam and was the first to get a picture published of
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky together. He told us great stories
about running up huge expense accounts while traveling the globe for
It all sounded fantastical to me. Film? Time magazine? Photographers
with huge expense accounts? I thought I'd met the Baron Von Munchausen
of Photojournalism but then I looked it up on the Internet and damned
if there wasn't such a thing, once upon a time, as film cameras and
Also teaching the workshop was PF Bentley, a colleague of Dirck's at
Time magazine and now an instructor of Visual Journalism at the Brooks
Institute of Photography, where the workshop took place. PF also once
used a film camera, but he is so digitally-fixated now that I would be
surprised if he doesn't have a firewire cable coming out of his butt.
The third member of our faculty was Roger Richards, who does video
stories for The Virginian-Pilot. You read right. He does video for a
newspaper. Welcome to the Audacious New World. He is also the Editor
and Publisher of The Digital Filmmaker, a sister Web site to Dirck's
The Digital Journalist. Roger has covered wars in El Salvador,
Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama, Croatia, and Sarajevo ...
But that's not the reason he was there. He was there to keep Dirck and
PF from having a good old-fashioned Burr-Hamilton duel.
Dirck and PF were both teaching the same workshop about using video and
yet they disagreed on quite a surprising number of basic things, like
which video camera to use and how to keep track of the scenes you edit
in Final Cut Pro. They are the Sunshine Boys of digital video. And each
time they disagreed, they would look to Roger for backup. Roger would
shrug his shoulders and say things like "you both have a point."
For myself, I was glad they fought like old ladies on a cruise ship. It
gave us all a happy break in our 12-hour days of learning and yearning.
And besides, in things photographic, there never seems to be a one best
way. Unless it's the one best way of the photographer who's showing you
his one best way. I'm sure that I'll come up with my own one best way
someday. I have dreams about being old and arguing about editing with
PF and Dirck over a chess board in a park in Miami. I wear a sweater
that my granddaughter gave to me and pants that are out of style. I
yell that in "High Noon" there was an over-the-line shot in one of the
saloon scenes and nobody ever complained. "High Noon, High Schmoon,"
It was a long 10 days at the Platypus Workshop. I hallucinated a lot.
The video camera we used was the Canon XL H1, a $9,000 bear of a
machine that has no business being in the hands of someone like me.
Once, while he was helping me edit, I remarked to PF that I'd already
bought one because I figured that I'm taking the course and I already
know how to use it, and he shot back, "YOU don't know how to USE that
CAMERA!" He was incredulous. And right. I don't know how to use it. I
still have it, though. I can see it from here while I type this, still
in the box, in the corner of my office.
We used Final Cut Pro for editing, in the school's
state-of-the-educational-discount-art editing lab. There were a
half-dozen or so students from Brooks there to help us out during the
process, and all I can say is thank God for brown-nosing. We would've
all been lost without them. And hungry, too, because they also fetched
And then, after a week of fumbling with a dazzling new camera, learning
a new visual language, and barfing it all up on an editing program that
might as well be called "Brain Surgery," it was suddenly all over. And
it did feel sudden, even after a week of 12-hour days. I was just
getting the hang of it when they kicked us out. I was just starting to
feel something I thought I couldn't feel anymore, a feeling I haven't
had since I was a full-time TV Star. I felt ... semi-competent!
I can work a video camera. Kind of. I can't ski backwards or keep a
football in focus while I do it, but I can do it.
All right, I can't. It's still in the box. But I will.
And I now know how to use Final Cut Pro. Kind of. I can basically do
cuts and fades, and export my masterpiece to the Web if I look at my
notes. And I have PF's cell number, which helps.
And, I can tell a story. Of course, I've always been able to do that,
even before I kissed anyone or took a picture. But we can all do that.
We tell them everyday. Think of all the stories you've ever told a
co-worker about the guy you met that did the crazy thing and isn't that
interesting and wow, is lunch over already?
We all tell stories. Except that now, thanks to the Platypus Workshop,
I've been given a great big push in the right direction to tell them in
a new, exciting way.
Now, I can just hand my co-worker my video iPod and say "Hey, watch
this." No annoying small talk to get in the way.
Be prepared for a change after you take this workshop. When you get
home you want to try everything. The whole Platypus experience is
inspiring that way. You walk out with just enough knowledge to make you
think you can really do something great. Just like you felt after your
first kiss or when you took your first decent photograph.
VENTURA, CA.--3/12/06: Newly-hatched Platypai gather for a group
portrait with instructors after graduating from the 12th Platypus
Workshop at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, Calif.
Front row (from left): Chuck Fahey, Miami Herald; Roger Richards,
Virginian-Pilot (instructor); PF Bentley, Brooks Institute of
Photography (instructor); Dirck Halstead, Director.
Second row (from left): Battle Vaughn, Miami Herald; Michael Blair,
freelance; Drew Carey; David Franks, New York Times; Chris Tyree,
Virginian-Pilot; Katherine Bauknight, freelance; Glen Cooper,
freelance; Stuart Philips, freelance; Ben Schellpfetter, freelance.
I bought an expensive new camera. I bought Final Cut Studio, just in
case I need the extra programs. I increased the RAM on my laptop. I
bought books. I made plans.
I see myself in a jungle in the middle of a gun battle, holding a Canon
XL H1, operating the 100 or so knobs and buttons with one hand while
blindfolded. I edit it on a Mac laptop using only my thoughts. My war
footage wins me a OscarEmmyPeabody, from a division of Pulitzer, Inc.
It changes the course of a presidential election. The young Marine
Corporal I featured in my documentary is picked to be Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I am in my bed in the mansion I bought with my documentary earnings.
With me are two Playmates who were so moved by my film about the plight
of the whoevers that they decided to make the world a better place by
sleeping with me. Pharmaceutical cocaine pours from their
surgically-enhanced nipples. I see myself in the mirror above the bed
I AM a Platypus. Koo Koo Ka Joob.
And then one day, while carrying my OscarEmmyPeabody through a park in
Miami, I come across a pair of old men playing chess and arguing about
the best way to log tapes. I slam my award down in front of them and
quack, "There were over-the-line shots all through the last scene in
I've been hit by the Platypus Truck, and I'm learning to walk again.
© Drew Carey
Discuss My Platypus Fantasy in the forums
Drew Carey is a comedian from the United States who recently took the
Platypus Workshop in Ventura, Calif. He was the star of "The Drew Carey
Show" and host of the American version of the British comedy "Who's
Line Is It Anyway?" both on ABC. Early in 2005, Drew got a chance to
take pictures of a soccer game from the sidelines and has since gone
mad, shooting U.S. Men's Team and MLS games whenever he gets the
chance. He is, as of this writing, in Barcelona begging for credentials
for the Real Madrid v Barcelona match and will be shooting the World
Cup this June for a small wire service in the United States. He shoots
under an assumed name.