One time, many years ago, when I was shooting a wedding reception and I was on my last tape (I was rocking a small shoulder mounted SVHS camcorder – a Panasonic AG450, in those days, if memory serves) when I realized that my last on-camera light battery set (these things take about 12 hours to charge and weigh around 10 pounds) was running out of juice. My mentor and boss at the time, having had the insight to realize that this might happen, always included a long extension cord and a 120-volt bulb in my kit (the batteries only stored around 12 volts, so my on-camera light – essential for getting an exposure in low light situations – was lamped for the battery pack).
I informed the DJ, who was about to announce the wedding party into the room, that I was going to need a few minutes to set up and asked if he would stall for me. He agreed and I quickly pulled the very hot bulb out of the lamp and replaced it with the higher voltage unit I had in my accessory case. No sooner did I plug in the lamp (man, is it is awkward to have a 50 foot orange cable dangling behind you as you circumnavigate a crowded dance floor) that I got an error message in my camcorder’s viewfinder.
The tape wasn’t moving, something was really wrong, and I felt the whole weight of my professional reputation being leaned on by a ballroom full of formally dressed and rapidly growing impatient wedding guests. I smiled and said, “I need another minute”. Reluctantly my accidental audience complied and I got to work. Grabbing a small Phillips head screwdriver I had never needed to use on location before, I carefully removed the four tiny connectors that held the two plastic halves of the VHS housing together.
Gently peeling back the label I separated the case and discovered that the tape had come unattached from the take-up reel. I lifted the empty reel from the housing and slid the tightly fitting clamp out of it. I squeezed the end of the tape into the gap where the clamp had been, replaced the clamp and threaded the tape into the spring-loaded mechanism on the bottom cassette half. I reassemble the VHS tape and inserted it into the camera, praying that it would function properly after my first-ever surgical operation on media in the field.
The error message did not reappear and I was able to film the rest of the event tethered to an Edison outlet, saving my last bit of camera-light battery for the triumphal exit of the bride and groom in the limousine.
I have no idea how I knew that I could be successful at fixing a tape as a handful of onlookers tapped their watches and murmured among themselves, but I had a real need to get it done. I’m not even sure how I knew how to do it, it just sort of came to me, automatically. I only had that one tape and it had to work. Perhaps some time years before that fateful day I had messed around with a tape and saw how it fit together, I’m not sure. All I know is that in a pinch, under pressure I came through and felt like a champion, because that day I was – the champion of wedding videographers all over the world (at least where it counted – in my mind).