Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Losing your soul to the news beast... Bit by tiny bit.

You may remember a while ago I wrote a post about the untimely death of two men whilst riding their bikes and the subsequent meeting with a grieving family at the roadside. Called 'Death in a valentines rainstorm' you may remember my decision not to film the family in their raw, emotional state and my reasons for not doing so. I stand by those reasons.

So... I'll just stand next to the court entrance... Feeling like an utter shit.

Yesterday, I came across an article on the AFP website entitled 'The pain of others: Photographing despair.' by Michel Sailhan, which details the filming and photographing of victims and relatives of victims, at the very moment of the worst time in their lives.

It made for powerful reading and an interesting quandary for those of us at the front line of reporting the news both internationally and more importantly locally, in our own back yard, with people we may just meet again in the course of our job as a journalist or photographer.

Should you be just starting out as a journalist, you may think that tragedy and despair is a rare, big time event in a far away land. International news for the big time bulletins. You couldn't be more wrong. There will often come a time when you will have to make this decision. Approach, ask questions and film, or leave well alone. Being a journalist or cameraman though, means that you will very rarely leave well alone. Tragedy is often the reason why you are there in the first place, and the news is an impatient mistress.

This will of course, be entirely dependent on your story. Few of us will experience serious social upheaval in the form of major natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis resulting in hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. Few of us will be at the airport when news of a missing plane is confirmed to waiting loved ones.

What the vast majority of us do experience is the day to day tragedy of life as lived in our local and national communities. The missing child, the untimely violent death or the accident on the roadside. Here is where most decisions will be made on a daily basis by reporters, photographers and news cameramen and women around the world.

I had a job today where the parents of an 11 month old boy arrived to live through the trauma of losing their child once more, at a coroners court to decide on the cause of his death. Not only had they lived through the ordeal of losing him, they must hear evidence of his death whilst sat in court.

Court stories being notoriously light on pictures, the decision was made that pictures of the parents entering and leaving court were required in order to tell the story. Luckily for me and my reporter Ben, the parents were approachable and eager to tell the story of their son's short life and the reasons for his death.

It is not always this easy. Sometimes you will be made most unwelcome. It certainly made my life a little more bearable whilst pointing my camera at them when what I really wanted to do was give them a hug and leave them to the necessity of getting this over with.

When your producer or editor decides that news is news, you have a conscious decision to make. Whether you are right or wrong, these types of jobs just tug at your humanity and impinge on the feelings of others, whilst at the same time making you feel like a heartless shit.

In this game you just have to live with it and get used to the feeling that this is what a proportion of the general public will think of you as you go about the business of news gathering, whilst losing a thin sliver of your soul, bit by tiny bit... Just hoping that your conscience lets you get away with it.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 21 March 2014

A TV News Cameraman, A Duck, And An Unknown Suspect.

It's a rare occurrence when you are asked to film a court case and nobody knows who we are looking out for. Mostly we have a fair description or even a newspaper picture of our errant quarry for reference, before stalking the court steps in search of an arrival sequence for the evening news.

Failing that, look out for a slack jaw, dribble on the chin and a general Neanderthal looking bloke in a pair of Nike running bottoms, trainers and a hoodie with disturbing looking stains on the front. If you are new to the news business don't worry... They will generally find you.

Today however, my description of our suspect was thus: 'A Man.' Detailed i think you would agree.

Film anything that moves they said... Anything...

 And so it was that i found myself filming every man who walked towards the general direction of Winchester Crown Court... every... single... one... for the next two hours or so until 10:30, when he was due in the dock for sentencing.

Having phoned my news producer i asked the questions any tv news cameraman would ask. "Any idea on age..?"

"No." came the reply.

"Black guy or white guy..?"

"Dunno..."

"Does anyone know anything about this guy..?"

"Nope..."

"Ahh... OK..."

It shouldn't be too difficult i told myself as i filmed the first man who walked into view. He was a casually dressed middle aged man, greying hair, small goatee beard, red checked shirt and dark glasses. Never mind i told myself, only a couple of hours to go. Obviously i hadn't taken into consideration that Winchester was holding the annual look like a suspect day, nor that every person entering court today had a male entourage of Lady Ga Ga proportions. Quite obviously, courts 1 to 10 were in full swing.

I thought at one point that my luck had turned when a man with a black beard and an eye patch walked into court. ( No really... I shit you not. ) An in depth criminal profile worthy of Cracker led me to believe that this was obviously my man and that i could now go for an early lunch. It was the Pirate who did it... Wrong. I now have it on good authority that he was a lawyer of some repute.

On turning the camera left, the lens settled on a bunch of hard looking geezers walking into court who wouldn't have looked out of place at a heavily tattooed, armed robber convention at the Blind Pugh pub, having a memorial drink to the Kray twins and were looking for a fight. This, i decided was not going to be my day.

I resolved that nothing, nothing was going to get past me today. I shall get my man... as the Mounties are fond of saying. He shall not pass without the withering gaze of my lens settling upon his features for the news watching public to gawp at on the 6:30 bulletin.

I was now hitting upwards of 60 clips of randomly wandering men. Short ones, tall ones, old ones, young ones, slim ones, fat ones, hairy ones and bald ones. If it moved it was rendered to a digital HD stream.

My filming frenzy was interrupted when my reporter phoned to say that he was in the building talking to his lawyer before his sentence was passed. She gave me a good description of my suspect and hoped that i had indeed captured him on the camera.

Indeed i had. After two solid hours of filming every man in the Winchester area, i found him where he appeared at the very beginning of my thumbnail clips... He was a casually dressed middle aged man, greying hair, small goatee beard, red checked shirt and dark glasses.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Your TV News Cameraman... Almost Live From BVE 2014.

Every TV news cameraman I know is a gadget freak on some sort of level. The level of geekery also depends entirely on how deep and full your pockets are. Many of us freelancers however, depend on a certain level of work and income to remain up to date and able function to the degree that our erstwhile news broadcasting clients demand.


The LiveU... Small, light, agile... Too expensive for freelancers.

In an effort to keep up to date with today's broadcasting gadgetry, I visited the Broadcast Video Expo at the ExCel Centre, London. I say visited, what I mean is I endured the hellish journey to the arse end of London via train, underground and DLR with all the stops and walking that the journey entails, so I was knackered before I arrived.

Freelancer Tip: Don't buy food or drink at the ExCel Centre unless you wish to go bankrupt. (Inform the Inland Revenue, and issue a profits warning.)

On entering the venue, there is all the gadgety and geeky wonderfulness that is to be expected. Massive camera cranes, big lenses, small cameras, big cameras, drone cameras, lights, mic's and lots and lots of drainpipe trousered, boy band haired super director / Producers / Shooting AP's drooling over the newest of the new DSLR's and the Blackmagic stand, that will be out of date by Monday.

The DejeroLIVE... Small, light, agile... Just as expensive for freelancers.

I twisted knobs, opened apertures, flicked switches and pushed buttons. I wondered what would happen to my press pass and personal liberty if I flew a drone camera into Downing Street unexpectedly without permission. I also wondered just what all the people here actually did for a living, besides declaring that they worked in 'The Meeja.'

Working as a freelance news cameraman though, I found that most of the flashing things and shiny stuff were of no use to me, but were nice to fiddle with none the less. I thought that the BVE people had missed a trick by not having a separate news cameraman area, sort of like a fake roadside corner, (with an open door to let in the cold) a burger van selling weak tea and grease, oh, and a light drizzle from the fire sprinklers... We would have felt right at home.

What I was interested in, the ability to transmit live pictures, was unfortunately still too expensive to consider. I have my cameras, sound kit, lighting and edit van. I am completely self contained and mobile and I am very unlikely to change my kit any time within the next 10 years. I can send pictures via FTP or the like, but what I can't do, reliably, is to go live.

The technology is there, and yes, it's getting better and cheaper all of the time. I saw it and played with it today. (LiveU and DejeroLIVE.) But at the prices quoted, I still cannot justify the hit to my wallet that it entails. I have no contract with a broadcaster, so my income is good, but erratic. The broadcasters won't pay me any more whether I have the ability to go live or not.

What irks me is the fact that the people and companies who make and manufacture the kit seem to aim the price and the kit they make at the broadcasters pocket, not that of the freelancer who does a lot of the news gathering for them. There are lots of us... with money to spend... Just not the amount they're asking.

I would love to be able to go live. I just can't afford to, not without selling a kidney anyway. And besides, my red wine habit has ruined its value. On top of that, we just know that the kit will be smaller, faster and cheaper this time next year... Roll on 2015.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

News Readers: 'Pussy Riot' Or 'Conflagration Of The Mimsy?'

Sometimes, news readers have great difficulty in pronouncing certain names or places, such as the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull that so tongue tied many a mouth piece. So, here's a question for all you coiffered, shiny toothed and strangely tanned news readers out there...


The very mention of the words may cause confusion.

I had an online chat with a fellow TV news cameraman from the US of A called Rick Portier, discussing the very pressing problem of news readers and the Russian punk / pop group called 'Pussy Riot.'

In our humble opinion, people should be called by their given or chosen name, just because the word 'Pussy' makes a cameraman / schoolboy giggle and news readers to blush, doesn't mean that news readers should avoid the word for the sake of public decency.

However...

Here at the ukcameraman institute of news studies, we have come up with a short list of alternatives for the bashful news reader should he or she fumble with the 'Pussy.' ( Ahem... Sorry.) Over here in the UK we are obviously very careful with our use of words and the offence they may cause, and in the Bible belt of the USA, the word 'Pussy' could be changed to more acceptable colloquialisms more in tune with their news watching public.

So here goes:

1. Conflagration of the mimsy.
2. Anarchic pudenda.
3. Feline free for all
4. Vagina melee. ( Medical term.)
5. Cat commotion.
6. Tabby tumult.
7. Kitten commotion.
8. Ocelot uproar.

Yes, i know there is only eight, but unlike Buzzfeed, i haven't got all bloody day to sit around making up a listicle for your pleasure and amusement, i've got work to do...

And please, please, if any of the delectable female BBC news readers are reading this, don't ever change the word 'Pussy,' it's what gets me to sleep at night.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Death In A Valentines Rainstorm.

It's not much of a final epitaph to two men is it? Family men, mown down on their cycles and killed by the driver of a BMW in the throes of evading the local constabulary on a dark and stormy evening.

The lamp post... torn down and snapped with the force of impact.

A few days ago, as the latest in a long line of storms passed overhead, i had trouble standing up and more importantly, keeping my tv camera dry as the countdown to an afternoon live ticked away. My reporter and i stood close to where the two men had lost their lives, rehearsing the moves and script, when my eye caught sight of a small gaggle of rain lashed people walking towards us...

We went live. 1'30" of explainer, police appeal and grisly details.

As we finished, i noticed one of the group silently picking up pieces of the remaining cycle. A cycle seat, pieces of plastic and a small torn piece of clothing. The three remaining women of the group huddled near the impact spot, shaking. I couldn't tell if they were shaking from the cold wet rain or...

Eye contact was made between us and we drifted towards the group. A short question revealed a wife, a daughter, a friend and i think, a Brother. A small bunch of flowers were clasped in a hand. The shaking not only from the cold but from the shock of being told only a few hours before that her Husband was dead... On Valentines Day.

My camera stayed by my side. I did not have the guts nor the will to raise it.

In a turnaround of events, they were the ones asking the questions. Do we know any more information? Did we know what exactly happened? We talked and gave any information that we had. We asked if they would like to speak on camera about their tragic loss. They politely declined and we understood.

I didn't want to film a sobbing family at the scene of their loved ones demise. The shaking and the tears were all too plain to see on a cold, wet and windswept suburban street. I make no apologies for leaving them to their grief and keeping my camera at my side. We could tell the story without pictures of the very sad scene before us. Some may disagree, but i really don't care.

As i walked away, they disappeared in the greyness of the thunderstorm and the rain. I got into my news van and stared at the bag of chocolate, wine and valentines card in the footwell for my wife, safe in the knowledge that she was at home, cooking dinner for a husband who will soon be home.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.