Saturday, 28 August 2010

TV News Cameraman ... My First Day.

Being a Freelance TV News Cameraman is second nature to me now. The long unsocial hours, weekends are a time i used to have off, and regular working hours seem such a long time ago. As does a regular pay packet. Having been a regular freelancer for nearly fourteen years though i have got used to it.

I do remember my first day as a news cameraman. Having been hired for just one day by the regional BBC News i felt that this was my one and only chance to see if i had what it takes to do the job. To me at the time it was a big deal. A very big deal. If i messed up on the first day i knew that they wouldn't ask me back again, so i had to get it right. That day i was paired with another, long serving, experienced cameraman. We were to follow a Tory politician as he canvassed the Hampshire town of Eastleigh during the 1997 general election.

General election 1997 ... my first job.
I didn't know it then, but i do now, that it doesn't take two cameramen to film this type of local job. One cameraman would have sufficed. I suspect now that i had been given the job as a test by the producer that hired me. It was a busy period news wise, and another freelancer on the books would have been helpful. Don't forget that at that time, the little Z1 style of cameras didn't exist for broadcast news, so another freelance cameraman with his own kit was a welcome addition to the newsroom call out list.

The real camera work was being done by the other cameraman, and what i filmed didn't really matter. I was tasked with filming cutaways and little sequences to fill gaps, and generally keep me out of the way. So i filmed what i thought were good sequences and cutaway shots that i thought would blend in nicely with the other cameraman's work. I made some stupid errors that day. I was so nervous that on one occasion i forgot to press the VTR button, so some shots i thought i was getting, were not being recorded to tape.

Press the record button stupid.....
When the day was done and the rushes had been returned to the studio, i waited anxiously for the finished piece. They ended up using two cutaway shots that i had filmed, the rest was of course, the good work of the real cameraman, who eyed me suspiciously throughout the course of the day. But i had done my best. I had filmed what i thought was right, and at long last,  a piece of my camerawork, however small, had been broadcast on the BBC News that very day. I was a happy man. I was even happier when, a short time later that day, the producer came over to me to ask if i was available for another days work.

From a previous article by Paul Martin.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

I Spy With My Little Eye...

I spend a great deal of my time sat on my arse, waiting for something to happen. That's just the way it is as a TV News Cameraman. My working life is one long view of various locations around the south of England.

You are feeling very sleepy......

Take today for example, I arrived to cover a court case at 0900 and I am still waiting for something to happen at 1400. Whilst my journo is in court, warm, with company, and no doubt swimming in coffee, I sit outside in the rain and wind. Waiting like a coiled spring, ready to pounce upon the subject like a ravenous mountain lion.

I also have a fertile imagination. I like to watch people walk by and guess what they do, or what I think they are up to. Lawyer, shopworker, secretary, builder, or even people scuttling to their cars for an illicit encounter with their PA.

But most of all I like to spot the slack jawed halfwits, walking to court for their date with the judge. You can spot them far off, badly fitting suit and trainers, baseball cap, and accompanied by a posse of sportswear clad dimwits with mungbeans for brains. I just wish that my camera eyepiece could be replaced with a 50 calibre scope with the hardware to match.

Paul Martin

TV News Cameraman ... Starting Out.

I am always being asked this one particular question. Every TV News cameraman i know gets asked the same question. "How did you start in the industry?" The start of any news cameraman's career is as varied as a start in any media career, but times are changing rapidly in the news industry and ways in are becoming clogged with more and more people just starting out in their chosen line of work.

News cameras ... rapidly changing.
There are of course a great many ways to become a news cameraman. The obvious choice is to study film making or photography at university or college, Media studies and TV production courses are now widely available around the country. Is that the best way to start? ... Maybe, maybe not. Taking three years out to study your chosen career seems a good idea, and it is. But these days there are no guarantees that a job will be waiting for you when you graduate, far from it.

I have lost count of the times i have been approached by young people for jobs. People who have graduated and find themselves without work in a media industry awash with graduates. Sorry guys, but that is just the reality of the situation right now.

There is of course another way. Getting a jump of three years on your university peers and going out there job hunting for work at the bottom of the industry pile. Runners, Cable basher, Courier. Get the foot in the door and work your way to the top. Good idea, commendable and shows good work ethic. But again, think about all those graduates you will be competing against for that job. It's never going to be easy.

Cameramen ... kept behind bars.
There are a few trainee jobs out there, the BBC, SKY, ITN and others do occasionally advertise paid internships and full time camera position jobs, but they are few and far between, and when advertised, are hopelessly over subscribed. That's not to put you off, you may just be the lucky one.

So which route did i take? None of the above. I knew i wanted to be a news cameraman since leaving the army at the age of 28. I had no real qualifications to do the job, and had never used a broadcast video camera before. To cut a long story short, i had enough money to buy a new camera, lens, and microphone, and that was all. Over the next six months i taught myself through trial and error how to use the camera. I read and re read the instruction manuals and every how to book i could find.

More importantly though, i watched the news. All of it. Every channel and every bulletin. I watched every report and asked myself why certain pictures made it into the report, what sequences worked, the pieces to camera by the journalists, The length of the sequences and what words were being put with the video. I took apart each piece and asked myself why that report made it onto TV. I also practiced filming shots and sequences, framing and composition of the shots, and what every little button on the camera did and what happens when you press it.

After six months or so, i decided to look for freelance work. Every broadcaster i approached turned me away citing lack of knowledge, lack of a CV, and lack of experience. That was if they replied to me in the first place.

Persistence is the key here. I very nearly stopped looking, thinking that my rise to the top of broadcasting was a non starter. However, following one interview with a man at the BBC regional news in Southampton, i walked away with a days freelance work. 1 days work. That was in 1997, and i still work there today.

Based on original article by Paul Martin.

Paul Martin

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Video: Citizen Journalism.

I recently wrote an article about the rise of citizen journalists and the like. Whilst doing a little further research i came across this video which takes a look at starting up on your own. So if you have an active interest in this area of journalism take a look ...

With the huge uptake in cheap, affordable good quality cameras, and the fact that nearly everyone now owns a mobile phone with video and photo capabilities, nearly anyone who has a mind to can become a citizen journalist.

Thinking about it, maybe this is the future of ultra local news gathering. Small, niche independent organisations going about their business supplying news, information, and gathering content where the big news broadcasters don't touch. Local newspapers love this sort of content, and can easily outstrip the local broadcasters with a pool of citizens willing to take the risk and go it alone. Whether there is a living wage to made from this though is another matter.....

You can see their website HERE. Very US orientated, but you will get the idea nonetheless.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Please Don't Make Me Go Out There.....

Life's a bitch. I have come to this conclusion having just got around to cleaning up the shithole that passes for my office here at chez ukcameraman. Not only did i find old bits of kit that wouldn't surprise and astound the Lumierre brothers, in amongst the fluff, wires and something that had come to life in a dark recess under the desk, i found a large pile of work diaries from the past 14 years.

Old diaries ... memories of past glories and cock ups.
Wow!! I can hear the cries of astonishment from historians, tv producers and hollywood film makers rushing to my door demanding the film rights to this pot of fluff covered and slightly soiled tv gold. Well, no. It garnered nothing more than a raised eyebrow from me and a slight eagerness to relive days gone by.

So, after finishing the office clean for this decade, i made a coffee and sat down to read about my adventurous life over the last 14 years. And that is why i came to the conclusion that life is a bitch. You see, being a TV News cameraman, and a freelance one at that, i tend to be sent to various places around the South of England where something news worthy has occurred. By news worthy, i mean death, destruction, hard luck stories, violence of one form or another .... and politics.

As i read on, i plunged into a world that i can't believe i live in, let alone gone out with my camera and filmed. Take for example 20th February 2004. I filmed a story about the homeless, quick shots of a war memorial that had been vandalised and a story about a secondary school teacher being assaulted by a student. That was just one day out of the whole pile of 14 years worth of memories. It's a wonder that i didn't go home that night and cry myself to sleep.

Here's one: Thurs 18 May 1998. It simply reads 1430 - 1845 hrs, BBC, Interview. Family of girl killed by drugs and misdiagnosis.

Have i really been able to do this job for the past 14 years and come out the other side having met these people on what seems like a weekly, if not daily basis? It certainly looks like it, for i have forgotten them. I cannot recall their names or see their faces or recount the story to you.

Here's another: Fri 4 Feb 1998. 1300 - 1730 hrs, Fatal road crash M27.

That's it. that's all it said. No name, no how, why or sentiment. I got in the truck, drove to the scene and filmed a piece for the news that night without another thought. It's what i always do and is what i probably always will should i be doing this for another 14 years. But having read through the diaries, I gave a passing thought to the poor souls who's life has took a turn into the path of the blazing lights of the news truck, and consoled myself that the next job could be this......

Tues 10 Oct 2000. 0900 - 1700 hrs, UK Conker championships. Whitchurch.

My life is blessed. Bye.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

I Am A Bloodsucking Leech ... Apparently.

Another quick one from the old memory banks here. I have lost count of the amount of times that i have been called a bloodsucking leech, a scumbag and various other expletives that get hurled in my general direction. At the moment, the press seem to have a social status around that of estate agents, politicians and criminals.

But i do remember back in 1997, when apparently, i was in a Paris underpass, where, according to members of the public at the time, i hunted down Princess Diana, and murdered her. Seriously, according to many people that day who approached me and my reporters believed that we, as scumbag members of the paparazzi, had chased her down the underpass and killed her.

Do i look like a Pap? ... Don't answer that.
Listen up people. I was at home in bed with the missus that night in Hampshire. And she can vouch for me. Although as she is fond of reminding me, nothing earth shattering happened that night that she can remember.

Although i have learned to live with what some members of the public think of us, it still rankles with me that while hurling abuse in my general direction, they are often carrying a newspaper, or following said abuse, will walk home, switch on the telly and watch the news.

There are times of course when i will point my camera at someone who did not ask for it. But most of the time they will have been someone who deserved to be exposed for their involvement in some crime or corporate goings on that need to be brought to a wider audience. Generally though, i am filming someone because we have been invited to do so, or asked to film. I don't go chasing celebrities into underpasses looking for the up skirt shot so favoured by celebrity mags these days. No, i'm a news cameraman.

So if you see me out on the road filming, please remember this. I am not out to hunt for innocent people to feed on their life force and suck them dry of their celebrity juices. My life is not that exciting.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Small Part In History.

I had quite forgotten about this. Sometimes in a cameraman's career you get to train your lens on a special occasion. Not a worldwide story, but a small local gathering to commemorate the life of a person who at one point in their life, was a part of one of the biggest news stories of all time.

Everyone reading this will have heard of the Titanic, and it's fateful voyage across the Atlantic. It never arrived at it's destination of course, and a great many people died as it hit an iceberg and sank. You are right in thinking that i was not around at that time, but i found myself at a small church in Hampshire to remember the life of someone who was.

Her name was Millvena Dean, who died on 31 May 2009, and she was the last living link to the Titanic. The final living link to an awful tragedy that was reported around the world, and still makes news even today. Films, Documentaries and more have been made, remade, and talked about ever since the sinking took place and is now a pivotal moment in our modern history.

Filming the scattering of the ashes ... Southampton.
Millvena was a small child at the time and freely admitted that she remembered little of what happened on that night. The fate that was to befall her and her family. But over the years, as other survivors passed away, she became the last living link to the Titanic and the celebrity of sorts that went with it.

But on the day that i got to hear her story was when we were to scatter her ashes in the sea at berths 43 and 44 at Southampton docks, from where she sailed aboard the Titanic. A fitting end i think. Now i have seen the films and watched many documentaries about the Titanic, but on that day, i filmed a small part of history as we said our goodbyes to the last link to a worldwide story that will, without doubt, outlive the rest of us.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Broadcasting The News. What We Want.

We used to be focussed on hard news. However, stories have now become much softer, focussed on human interest stories. Much less stuffy and much more informal. More jacket and open neck shirt than business suit and tie. ITV News has taken this much further, especially local and regional news, to the point where quite often, but not always, only human interest tabloid style stories are shown. Business stories for example are hardly ever shown.

Reporting a business story with the BBC.
Both the BBC and ITV regions have gone down this route in an attempt to hold on to their audiences. The BBC have done a little better than ITV in market share, but overall the audiences for news programming is falling. As the number of multi channel homes sky rockets, more and more people are turning off the news because they view it as boring and not in tune with their lives of celebrity based programmes, lifestyle programmes or quick fix youtube style broadcasting.

Speaking to many of the reporters i work with, you have no idea how many people out there have no idea how to pitch a story to their local press. It's astonishing how many times we get offered a man in a suit style interview for the news. The marketing director, head of this that or the other, as if to suggest that we have a large coup in speaking to someone so important.

Not everyone wants a man in a suit....
For a mass audience sitting down to baked beans on toast, or fighting to get the kids ready for school, a man in a suit is not what they want to see. They don't care about managing directors or project managers anymore. And they certainly don't care for local authority cabinet members with an inflated sense of their own importance.

For example, lets say a large road building scheme is underway. The audience will want to see and hear from a man in dirty overalls and a hard hat. The people actually doing the work, the ones who know what is going on and what he is talking about. The last thing they want is a man in a chain store suit with a condescending smile trotting out the official line.

The people at the coal face are sometimes the most knowledgeable and eloquent speakers and the audience will want to believe them and trust them. We know that performing in front of a camera is a peculiar and sometimes nerve wracking challenge, but just because the man who digs the holes hasn't been on a media relations course should not preclude him from taking part. Quite the opposite in my opinion.

So, given the choice between an interview in a corporate office with a suit, or a sit down with the workforce in a greasy spoon cafe, i know which i would choose every time. At least i would get a bacon sandwich.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Getting Media Attention. Citizen Journalists.

Take a quick look at the photo below. It's an IPhone 3GS. So what i hear you ask. Well, if I wasn't a professional cameraman, working for the broadcasters, This piece of kit is all i would need to get multimedia stories out to the world. Video, Audio, Photo and text.

Modern communications .... Simple.
And a great many people are doing just that. Citizen Journalists. They are becoming more and more prevalent with the rise of online blogs, websites dedicated to niche subjects that the author cares deeply about. With the ease of modern tech advances, very little know how is needed to make your own journalistic efforts available to the whole world. With the rise of cheap, good quality cameras and mobile devices like the one above, anyone with a little journalistic ability and online know how can become a citizen journalist.

Major news broadcasters have not been slow in taking advantage of this. You only have to look at any major incident to know that ordinary people can and will film and record what is going on in front of them. Nearly everyone now owns a mobile phone with video or photo capabilities, and when a major incident occurs, the floodgates to the local, national and international news rooms open. But the rise of citizen journalism doesn't restrict itself to major incidents.

You may not agree with what is being done to save the planet, or you disagree strongly with your governments political standpoint. So you blog, film and record your personal point of view and post it to the online world. Freedom of speech and democracy in action. We in the west, including us in the UK, take these freedoms for granted, but there are many people out there with no such freedoms. The only way to tell their story is to be a citizen journalist and to do it themselves. Mainly because their government has shut down, or is intimidating the local and national press.

In Iran a few years back, the national elections proved to be a story of international significance, thanks in no small part to citizen journalism. Once Iranian public anger began to rise, the international press were, in effect, banned from the streets. The only real coverage of what was happening on the streets of Iran came from mobile phone footage which was broadcast around the world, much to the annoyance of the Iranian government who tried, in vain, to cut off broadband links to the outside world.

Terrorist atrocities, natural disasters and underhand governments or corporate bodies can now all be relatively easily exposed by citizen journalists if they choose to do so. With the help of a small handheld device and a broadband link, stories can now be transmitted around the world with the push of a small button ... SEND.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

PR And Media Attention. How To Deal With A Journalist.

When a Government Department or business large or small come under the media spotlight, the PR Department of said organisation becomes the focal point of the journalist or media team covering the story. You would expect the PR team to be on the ball with what it is we do and how we go about producing our story, but this is not always the case.

Let me explain by saying a bit about the pressures journalists are under. From the first alarm call on a big story, it's a straight forward race. It's a race to be first with the news, and it's a race to get reporters and camera crews on site while the incident is still going on, whilst there are witnesses to interview. The BBC, ITN and SKY, PA News and all the radio stations compete head on. On top of that, on a really big important story, you may have the UK bureaux of the entire international press corps to deal with.

BBC and Sky News compete head on...... Literally.
Working with the BBC, there are so many outlets on TV and radio, that you can be broadcasting incessantly. If you are first on the scene of a major story, everybody wants you ... now. Five Live, 24 Hour News channel, Local radio, and the pre planned news bulletins. Schedules will have been dropped, and a reporter will be broadcasting pretty much continuously. Like the PR team, news outlets have well rehearsed plans which swing quickly into place on big news events.

The reporter by this stage will be in concentration and on edge. He or She may be standing there with not a lot of information trying to describe the story, with people barking instructions through the earpiece. Maybe they are relaying information, giving a count to the second he has to stop talking. The pressure on the TV journalist to deliver the goods will be immense, and he is going to turn to the PR Team of the subject in hand for information that sometimes even they, are unable to give.

BBC News team at work.
This is where an expeienced PR Officer is worth his or her weight in gold. If they can help out with the facts, interviewees and pictures, the journalist is going to remember, and look favourably towards them in the future. The journalist wants to hear from people at the coal face, the acknowledged experts. Because that is what the audience research indicates the people who watch the news want to hear from. Not the managing director or the marketing guru.

People like to see themselves responsively portrayed on television. They like to see something that enhances their self esteem and their public image. Although they might not get things right all of the time, and may not trot out the official line in quite the way the story is to be told, journalist like to hear from them, and people like them. The people involved at the grass roots level of a story are the people that the journalists, and the viewing public, want to hear from. And that is a very valuable impression to give, if you find yourself at the centre of the next media storm.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Broadcasting Live With BGAN Unit.

Broadcasting kit is changing and getting more usable by the year. Although the BGAN units have been around for a while, it was the first time that i have used one. BBC Reporter, VJ and all round gadget hack Tim Nicholson shows us around his kit.

Paul Martin

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sometimes It Just Isn't Worth It.

I knew the moment I got out of bed that today was going to be one of those days. It just didn't feel right. For a start, one of my camera batteries hadn't charged. The irony of this didn't hit me until I got to my first filming job of the day in Brighton, to film a piece about pre season football training and an interview with the manager. Having got myself a cup of tea, I returned to the car to find that the car battery was dead. Stone cold dead.

Open heart car surgery....

So I called the RAC who swiftly came out and after checking the car decided that I needed a new battery. No surprise there then, but they were quick and efficient and I was on the road again in no time.

Getting it fixed.....

Vehicle heart transplant....

Having broken down on location I was however, able to do my thing and film the news item I was booked to do. Or so you would have thought. Turns out that the 0930 start on Thursday morning was in fact last Thursday, and the job had been done a week ago. Booking bod had read last weeks diary page instead of this weeks page. Easy enough mistake to make I suppose, unless he thought I was a time traveller?

Anyway, all was now rectified and all I have to do now is drive home and enjoy the rest of my day..... Bugger, just spilt tea down my trousers. Yep. It's gonna be one of those days.

Paul Martin

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Getting A Sweat On.

Sometimes in this job, they ask you to do the almost impossible. And sometimes the really impossible. A couple of days ago i was asked to do two jobs in the morning, 1 at 8am and the second at 10am. The first was an easy job, film a rather large model of a dinosaur on Southsea common......

You don't see many of these any more ...

The second job was to film at the Navy Days exhibition in Portsmouth. However, the gates didn't open untill 10am, there was no parking onsite for the press, i had to park about 1/2 a mile away and carry the camera and tripod etc in. Now i don't know if you have ever been into the naval dockyard in Portsmouth, but it isn't exactly small, so another mile or so of walking was involved to get the pictures required. Oh, and then i had to lug all the kit all the way back to the car, and get the all important tape back to the studios in Southampton for broadcast on the lunchtime bulletin at 12.05.

Filming the Royal Navy's new warships.

Yes, it was a bit of a panic and a rush down the M27 was made with about 3 or 4 minutes to spare for the editor to ingest the footage and edit a piece for the bulletin.

A quick cup of coffee and i was on the road to get some pictures of the general hospital for inclusion on tomorrows news bulletin, then off to St Mary's stadium, the home of Southampton FC to film a preview piece for the upcoming season, which meant interviews, match coverage, vox pops and general arty type shots to make the piece more exiting than a normal news item.

St Mary's stadium, Southampton.

So, there you have my day on a Saturday, all tied up neatly into a small bite size bundle for you. But on the day, it was a bit of a scramble around the south coast in order to get the news on time. It's not always this way, but today, i got a bit of a sweat on ....

Paul Martin