Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The freelance TV news cameraman guide to taking surveys.

Now many of you out there with 'normal' jobs, like digging road ditches, manual labouring in the steel factories of the grim North and social media PR in the sweatshops of London will no doubt be delighted at your days off from the daily grind of water pipes, steel RSJ's and a finely crafted marketing tweets for a new chocolate hob-nob derivative.

Polynesian cash money... Fishy.

Not us freelance TV news cameraman and women. We hate days off. For a start, it means we are not getting paid to craft telly pictures for the uninformed public, give voice to the bellicose politician or labour at the coal face of showing a footballers metatarsal calamity.

A day off means that we sit at home, twiddling our thumbs and wishing for unfortunate situations to arise. It also makes us deal with freelance business chores like invoicing, taxes, VAT, and other assorted freelancing business matters. Take just now for example. There i was, reading VAT notes whilst wondering exactly what it takes to make a nearby petrol refining station to explode, when i was called by the Federation of Wasting Peoples Time, who wondered whether i had the time to take a survey on the merits of small business banking.

Have i got time..? HAVE I GOT TIME..? As it happens, yes i do, i'm sick to the back teeth of trying to drum up some actual cash money. They came straight to the point...

"Who do you bank with?" Asked the charming foreign voiced lady from a pop up call centre in downtown Lagos, Nigeria, home of the venerable FoWPT (Inc)

"I'm actually offshore, with the Royal Bank of Tuvalu, ForEx transactions are via the Co-Op in Basingstoke."

"Tuva... Oh... Where is that please?"

"Too-Vah-Loo... Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, it's a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. Basingstoke on the other hand is in Hampshire, but i get paid in Tuvaluan Dollars, did you know that Tuvaluan Dollars are accepted at Lidl discount stores here..?"

"I did not know that Sir... No. You don't have a bank in the UK then?"

"Yes, the Co-Op, but they only pay me in stamps."


"Yes, savings stamps. I save them up for Christmas, it's a lot less bother and saves quite a bit of money on the joint of meat and tinned foodstuffs, artichokes and the like."

"I see Sir, so... i... err... no transactions of cash in the UK then..?"

"No, just stamps."


You see? This is where having a day off gets you. Us TV camera people need hard news to keep us out of trouble with the good folks of telephone scammery. It's not too much to ask is it? No, it isn't. Back to the VAT notes then.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The daily grind of a TV news cameraman.

It's been a while since i last posted i know. We TV news camera operators can't spend all day tapping away on computer keyboards to bring you the delightful stories and behind the scenes insights into our world of very important news gathering operations, tight deadlines and the wearing of short trousers in inclement British weather.

Someone call Dr Greystubble-Dimplechin... We need the crashcart... STAT..!

No. You see, we have the day to day filming to do, lights to put up and take down, microphones to clip on, cables to coil and journalists to wrangle. We have miles and miles of driving to do, parking places to find without being fined and street corners to hang around on.

We have impenetrable, long winded and vague briefing sheets to read and decipher, phone calls to take from producers, lost guests to find, deadlines to beat, footage to file and WiFi coverage to swear at. We have tripods to carry, sound bags to hump and sore backs to nurse.

We've been given the wrong post code, address and name. Someone will be late whilst we turned up on time, It's our third filming job of the day but the first for our refreshed reporter, we haven't had any lunch and nobody has offered us a drink.

We got called out on a day off, our weekend ruined and dinners have been missed. We get fluff stories about deckchairs to film. We get stuck in traffic gridlock. We get another deadline and another producer on the phone, we get more footage to cut and file from the road side. Our WiFi is weak and our uploads look bleak. We do it with minutes to spare.

Our phones are constantly going beep... We rub a tired eye and read the text:

"Hi Paul, sorry for the late text. Just wanted to say that your deckchairs stuff was amazing, everybody said so. Sorry to hear how bad the traffic was and therefore how tight the turnaround was! Thanks, K."

We smile at little kind gestures and drive home. You see... It's been a busy time.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 21 July 2014

24 Hour News: "So, what's the latest..?"

Catching up with the internet today, many of you will be aware of the incident involving Sky News reporter, Colin Brazier, going through the personal belongings and luggage of a passenger who died on flight MH17 in Ukraine.

A mistake made under pressure..?

 My first reaction on watching it was, "What the hell was he thinking?" Many of you made your feelings known on social media channels. Outrage, disgust and questioning why the reporter made that decision to do what he did, live on air. It was most certainly a mistake in my view, speaking as a tv news cameraman.

I then got to thinking about why. Why did an award winning, respected and talented reporter think that this was an ok thing to do? I then remembered all the times i have stood at a major incident, linked up to a satellite feed point, partnered with a reporter and trying to keep up with the demands of the 24 hour news channels.

Watch any 24 hour news operation and the same news will be told every 15 minutes, with the major stories at the top of the hour and at 15 minute intervals which normally include a weather update and some sport. Unless anything happens, that news cycle will go on all day, every day with the occasional break for scheduled programmes run by the channel.

The biggest and most incessant question the reporter will be asked is: "What's the latest..?"

Every 15 minutes. "What's the latest..?"

9 times out of 10 throughout the day there will be no latest information. None. Nothing will change, but the 24 hour news channel will insist on asking: "What's the latest..?"

Remember that the really big stories, like the tragedy of flight MH17 will be broadcast for days or even weeks. Reporters, producers and camera operators will be dispatched to the scene to compete, compare and be different from one another in telling the story of what happened. Travelling, producing, filming and gathering of facts are of course the main job, but the 24 hour news will want a report, an update... The very latest news, of which there may be none or very little after the first few hours on the first day.

And they will want it every 15 minutes... Live.

Those of us who work this madness we call news know that finding those small snippets of information at a major scene is hard. More so i believe at the scene of an air crash in an uncontrolled war zone. You do your best, you report on what you see, you speak to those who will talk, you show and you tell.

And then after a while you start to run out of news and out of ideas for the next report in 15 minutes. You try to be creative, you try to be different, to put things into context for the news viewers.

Let me be straight with you. This show of internet outrage shouldn't be about Murdochs' Men rifling through innocent victims belongings. Its about a reporter who i think made an error of judgement in what is a tough, live and dangerous environment with the pressure to keep telling the news, to update, to "Give us the latest."

He has a job to do in telling us the news the best he can. He even realised his mistake live on air. I would be inclined to give him a break, because 15 minutes isn't long to come up with something new, refreshing, different, engaging and newsworthy.

Maybe it's time we took a look at the 15 minute cycle in 24 hour news, and the pressure we put the news crews through in order to 'Feed the news beast... Live.' That would be a good start.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Canine calamity causes cameraman consternation.

So, just how does your average TV news cameraman go out to work and four hours later have his work splashed across the internet in a frenzy of piss taking, LOL's and BBC baiting via Twitter, Facebook and internet news sites? The answer is very easy... Just add a well known and respected weather presenter, a live transmission and one dog with a weak bladder.

Before going live, doggy got in some squatting practice. Pic by @carolkirkwood
Before the morning was over, my cameraman endeavors were to end up on the likes of Buzzfeed, Huffington Post (Comedy Section), The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Metro and The Independent.  Hell, we even made the news in Brazil..! You are by now probably thinking that i am jinxed, and you might be right. Either things have a habit of happening to me, or it's just the way i look at things, finding the funny, if you will.

Guaranteed, should i be filming live news it will either rain, the local idiot will find me or i will step in the only dog turd in the surrounding three square miles, but hey, one gets used to the ups and downs of the broadcasting life and the awful things that i have witnessed courtesy of my sadistic news producers. (Politics, for instance.)

I thought yesterday however, that my luck had changed. I was to broadcast to the whole British nation on the most watched morning news show with the best known weather presenter in the form of Carol Kirkwood, Queen of the clouds and dispenser of short, sharp rainstorms. Not only that, i was to film from one of the nicest sandy beaches in the South of England on one of the hottest days of the year so far.

Things don't get much better. My star was in the ascendance, my flag was at full mast and my engine firing on all cylinders.

I may have spoken a little too soon. My flag pole soon drooped, my star fizzled out and my engine sputtered. All courtesy of a chocolate brown Labrador owned by my field producer for the day. I need not regale you of the intricacies of what it did, for due to the magical interwebs and a sprinkling of cameraman fairy dust you can watch what happened... In full.

I will admit that i saw what it was doing just a tad too late to make a difference. The damage was done. Live broadcasting is just that... Live, and there was bugger all i could do about it, until now. For the modern interwebs now allows me to get my own back by shaming the aforementioned canine in a manner that online Listicle readers will know and love... Dog shaming.

Dog shaming... Pic courtesy of owner @Gilly_Robinson

So if you will now excuse me, i'm off to prepare for another live news broadcast. News has just surfaced that the water quality of local beaches have taken a nosedive and the best sandy beach in the South of England has lost it's blue flag status. Hey, i'm a freelancer, and a job's a job...

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Attack of the TV drones.

We are currently in the midst of yet another passing fad in the TV news and photography industry. You will have read about them... Drones and drone journalism. They are bloody everywhere. In fact, so prevalent are they, i'm forever swatting them away and getting them tangled in my hair outside court.

1st delivery of the PeeInABottleDrone to Winchester Crown Court went disastrously wrong.

I jest... But a general internet search will reveal that drones and drones for use in journalism are in the forefront of peoples minds when it comes to pretty much anything creative these days. There are of course, some notable exceptions where some brilliant photography work is being done, the most excellent Lewis Whyld being a case in point.

I have however read some quite awful bollocks about just what a drone could be used for. Amazon told us that it could deliver all manner of expensive tat via a drone landing in your garden, forgetting of course, those that live in high rise apartments. And then of course there is this, an article from Gizmodo, telling us that we can now do away with lighting assistants in the photography industry. Just open up a box and hey presto, 10 lighting drones with power to fly, light and examine the scene before them. (Don't worry about where the power comes from, they didn't.)

In light of this new information, i think that if we are to go down this route of using drones for news gathering, then we should do it bloody well properly. As such, i have retired to my shed with a pad, pencil and a few pieces of wood, batteries and some left over child's Meccano. I have come up with a few blueprints for other drones that we could use in the news industry apart from taking video etc...

1. BaconBapDrone. Delivers piping hot bacon baps to news cameramen wherever they may be.

2. CoffeeDrone. As above, but coffee, obviously.

3. CakeDrone. As above, but cake... now you're getting the idea.

4. PeeInABottleDrone. (This one's a real go'er.) For emergency toilet facilities. It flies in, you pee in the attached bottle and it flies back to the news producer who will gladly empty it into the toilet for you.

5. UmbrellaDrone. Follows the cameraman around about 3 Ft above the head, keeping the camera and it's operator dry in inclement weather. (Not suitable for hurricanes.)

This is as yet, as far as i have got in the building of suitable drones for use in the news industry. I am currently in negotiation with the Civil Aviation Authority here in the UK for licences to fly. Having written to them on various occasions, i have yet to receive a reply other than "Are you joking?"

No SireeBob, i most certainly am not. This time next year Rodney...

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.