Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Cautionary Tale.....

Surfing the web today, i came across this video. I often talk about the life of a news cameraman, and how it feels to be behind the lens, looking in on someone's misfortune and being able to cope with it. This video, narrated by Ira Glass of This American Life, tells the animated tale of school kids who decided one day to make their own camera....

The point becomes clear towards the middle of the film, so do please watch it all. It may be a salutory lesson to us all.

Paul Martin

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Bowels Of London.

I had occasion to travel to this countries fine, noble and ancient capital the other day. Anyone who works in the TV industry tries to go for one of the three days that is the Broadcast Video Expo at Earls Court, London. Not everyone can make it, but on this day, i was able to take my wallet out on a cameraman's day trip to the big smoke. But first i had to get there.

I didn't want to drive into London. Excuse me, what i mean is, i mean i didn't want to pay the petrol, the extortionate parking charges or congestion charge, nor did i want to get stuck in the London traffic jams caused by two miles of traffic cones with one man on a tea break behind them. So, i decided to go by train. Now any freelance cameraman will tell you, we rarely travel by public transport, such is the amount of kit, lights, sound and batteries we normally lug around with us. No...  A large, petrol swigging, earth destroying, four wheel leviathan is my mode of transport in my day to day working life, so its rare that i step foot into the world of commuters, day trippers, pick pockets, drunks and other assorted scary people.

Trains... Multi coloured.
Public transport has indeed come a long way, but i still don't like to use trains. Or planes for that matter. Long steel tubes of sweaty people with no control over where they go, or at what speed. And no control of who sits next to you. It could be that a kindly old Army Colonel with a handlebar moustache sits next to you, with a pleasing waft of pipe smoke lingering in his tweed jacket. Or it could be the student, all gangly legs, boyband hairdo and pus. Or, as is likely in my case, the stoned gangsta wannabe with a blade in his pocket and his eye on my valuables. So i avoid it if i can.

The London underground therefore, makes my heart pound and causes beads of sweat on my forehead to rise. If anything should happen to this intrepid cameraman, there would be nowhere to go and everyone in your carriage would ignore you. It was packed with the what seemed like the entire human race. Every conceivable type of person wanted to stand next to me and make me smell their armpit, every language could be overheard, including a rather irate woman who swore someone tried to steal her mangoes. Bloody cheek, i never touched her....

However, my nosey journalistic instincts surfaced and i began to take in the seething mass of humanity that surrounded me, reminding me that us humans have always sought out the big crowds, the city life and the interaction between others. Not me though...

It wasn't the boots that gave it away...
You see, i was nearing my destination within the great metropolis, when out of nowhere she came. I say she because she was dressed as a woman, but no woman that i have ever met. ( Except that time in Hong Kong... but i digress. ) Head to toe in shiny black leather, long blonde hair and kinky boots. She stood directly in front of me although there was plenty of room by this stage as many passengers had left at Westminster. She stared directly at me... and winked.  I looked left and right to see who she was winking at. I was alone.

The tannoy announced: next stop... Earls Court.

I had about thirty seconds before i could run, sorry... walk at speed to my final destination, so i smiled weakly and stammered something totally British like... " Hello.. Lovely day isn't it?"

She arched her eyebrow, and laughed in a deep masculine throaty way and said... " You're not from London are you?" At which point i came over all Hugh Grant and stammered that i was not. Too bloody right i wasn't. I'm a local news cameraman on a day trip to the capital city. I forced myself to suffer the cloying crowds, the smell and the niggling feeling that i was so very insignificant in the great scheme of things. It was then i realised just how detached i had become from everyday life. I normally eavesdrop and turn my lens on other unfortunates who succumbed to the advances of a mad, leather clad transvestite. Normally, some politician or other branch of the British nobility.

I can see the headlines now... "Local news lensman caught in Transvestite kerfuffle..." But to have it... Ahem... thrust in your face without the protection of seeing it through a lens, with a heavy density filter, shook me up a little.

I filtered what had happened via a large frothy latte when i arrived at the Expo. And you know what?... i'm a middle aged, unshaven news cameraman with a lifestyle to match, and she walked up to and winked at me... Yep.. Me.

I winked at myself in the reflection of a nearby window. Yep my man, you've still got it.....

Paul Martin

Saturday, 12 February 2011

You Know It Makes Sense... Stay Local.

The worlds news outlets this week have been slathering all over the international scene, what with Egypt and Tunisia getting themselves into a collective of outraged mobbery and overthrowing their respective governments. Most middle eastern despots and military juntas must now fear the implosion of their grip on power and their Swiss accounts.

The local news... coming from a side street near you.

However, most of us news gatherers trudge on with the daily grind of finding more down to earth, local and gritty stories, the kind of which fascinate and tittilate the local news watching masses who have no intention of throwing their cocoa and biscuits to the floor in a rage of revolutionary fervour. Not for us the international bright lights, the travel to exotic locales with bright toothed, famous correspondents, dodging danger and a good kicking from the secret police. No, i thought to myself. I will stand at the side of the road in the drizzle, waiting to go live on a story of local significance, not international glory.

So, as the directors silken voice flowed into my earpiece, telling us that our report was lead story, and that they would be with us in ten.. nine.. eight.. seven.. i felt a smug warm feeling that at least on this day, our hard work and days labour would not be bumped down to the lower reaches of the bulletin, or dropped all together in favour of some higher being with bright eyes, in a distant land, telling us that we are now witnessing history.

Six.. five.. four.. three.. Roll titles.. Hello, and welcome to BBC South Today........ In the local news tonight.....

Paul Martin

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sticks And Spittle... With Frothy Latte.

It's enough to get the heart pumping and the adrenaline rushing through my furred up veins. I could almost feel my iris widen when my producer, safe in her plumped up seat back at the studio, coffee in hand, hair neatly sprayed, said the word...  'Protest' followed by 'Demonstration.'

The People are revolting.....

Now any news junkie, or colleague of the news gathering persuasion will know that these days, the word protest can mean a lead story, a day of frantic filming and reporting as the gathered masses of the Proletariat vent their spleens in the general direction of the ruling Bourgeoisie. Various objects hurled towards batton wielding law enforcement officers, eager to try out their new training technique of stamping down the great unwashed, without leaving marks.

Ever since the last general election, students, workers and various pressure groups have protested their various grievances sometimes with alarming ferocity, trashing buildings, running amok through city streets, and generally poking Royalty with sticks, enjoying their new found reasons to demonstrate.

So it was that i found myself scrabbling through my truck, looking for my shin pads and helmet, and the protective lens cover, in case things turned really nasty. So i pumped myself up for the fun ahead. The thing is, today i was working for the local news. In my heightened state of expectation of a good old British punch up, i forgot that this wasn't London, but Portsmouth. The protesters may be in their hundreds, not thousands, and that the student population of this fair city have been rather benign of late.

Placards... Food for thought.

So i found myself in a sunny city square, surrounded by about 100 or so assorted union members, socialist party members and the generally disgruntled. They chanted a few well worn slogans starting with the words 'No if's... No but's... etc etc. They waved their placards with an alarming lack of zeal or passion, and were spoken to by a short list of speakers who preached to the already converted and said thank you as they left.

I agreed with much of what was said. I heard what was said because i could hear every word over the silent crowd, who clapped in the right places and generally nodded their agreement with the words 'He's right y'know...' There was to be no raised fists in angry defiance, no rushing and trashing of the nearby council offices who were by now, already plotting the cutbacks to the very peoples jobs and futures who were gathered before me. Although at one point, i thought things were going to kick off when a passing man muttered the words 'Left wing wankers' before scuttling off towards the train station. He was met with a very stern response of 'Excuse me...?' but things went rather downhill after that.

It was only when my reporter, a rather charming journo by the name of Alex, asked if she could buy me a frothy latte from the kiosk not thirty feet away from the seething masses, doing a roaring trade in coffee and assorted cakes. By now the placards were drooping and the banners were being folded away, and in a few short minutes the small crowd had dispersed. Mainly to get a frothy latte from the coffee vendor who charged a small workers fortune to taste the sweet flavour of his Arabica blend and a slice of lemon drizzle. Capitalist bastard.

Oh well... Let them eat cake.

Paul Martin