Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Jazzing Up The News... A load of old Bokeh..?

I wrote a small, slightly sweary post a few weeks ago about shooting the news on various types of camera. DSLR's, Smartphones, TV Cameras and all the new snazzy bits of kit that are now flooding the market on what seems like a weekly basis. You may think that i am an anti tech, stuck in the mud, old school cameraman, that deserves to wither away and be forgotten like an old Beta SP tape. That couldn't be further from the truth. What i want is a story.

I got quite a few replies via Twitter and the like about what it is we do... we tell stories. Good ones, bad ones, heartbreaking ones and uplifting ones. But they are stories all the same, filmed and edited to educate and inform our viewers whether on the TV, web or mobile.

Today i read this article by Paul Mason, the Economics Editor of Newsnight at the BBC. It's called "In praise of Bokeh: the dilemmas of TV filming" in which he describes the advantages and disadvantages of filming with a DSLR style Camera, over more traditional routes, and decided to film a series of stories in the USA using a NEXFS100 Camera and SLR lenses, to achieve a 'Bokeh' look and style to his films. ( Read the article if you don't know what Bokeh is..)

A load of old Bokeh...?

As a news cameraman myself, i like to experiment with new technology, i have started to use a multitude of different cameras, each of which have their own characteristics, good points and limitations. I generally use the camera that suits the situation i find myself in. I no longer take my main camera into a car, for example, when i can use a GoPro to get the shot i need. A cameraman friend of mine, Christian Parkinson, has written about the various cameras he has used in war zones throughout the African Continent. There are times when we as a tv news team don't want to be instantly recognised as a broadcast TV News crew, so now, a cameraman or reporter can be armed with as little as an iphone, that shoots 1080 HD footage, thereby blending in nicely with all the other smartphone wielding people at a protest, or during civil unrest such as last years London riots.

As i have said before, camera technology is changing in our news industry at breakneck speed, the latest 'in thing' changes to the next 'passing fad' and onwards to the 'next big thing' like shallow depth of field. I'm forever reading about the latest, newest camera that is being touted as the industry 'Game changer' The trick to all of this is blending the different formats together to make a coherent looking film.

Now i'm thinking here of style over substance. The only 'Game changer' in our news industry is the speed of which the news can be disseminated around the world at the touch of a button. Social networks, blogs and the internet in general have transformed the way news is distributed, and most importantly, consumed. Smartphones, ipads, and laptops are fast becoming the way many people watch or read the news, hell, they can now interact with it... instantly. But does that really matter when we get down to the nitty gritty of news story telling..?

It no longer matters to the vast majority of news consumers how a news piece was filmed or in what format or style, as long as it has that one thing that we all aspire to. Quality. Over the past few years i have repeatedly seen our industry navel gazing and endlessly discussing the 'future of news' or the 'future of journalism'. We seem to be endlessly fretting about how we do things, when in reality, there is only one thing we should be doing. Informing the public, telling the story, and breaking the news to those who wish to be informed. We should be doing so using the best quality images and journalistic practices that we have. Having a certain style to a news film is all well and good, you can make a name for yourself by having a certain style or artistry to your work. and i agree that dull, same old news reporting and imagery is sometimes our own worst enemy.

Stylistic news reporting is all well and good if you have the time to accomplish it, and you have the tech at hand to master it. Pre planned, produced news packages can easily be stylised and jazzed up when you have the time and the money to do so. I'm guessing here that Newsnight gave Paul Mason and his cameraman Peter Murtaugh, the time and the go ahead to experiment. Given the room to experiment and the time to achieve a style is a thing i have always been in favour of. And i applaud Newsnight for letting them be a little different.

As a cameraman, i would love to be given room to experiment, but sometimes shooting 2 or 3 news stories a day for regional news programmes makes it difficult to change the habits of the reporters, the cameraman and more importantly, the producers, as we crank out the evening bulletin. We generally don't have the time or the money. ( I'm a freelancer on an hourly rate, they want me off the clock as soon as they can.) 

But i have a feeling that the great British public don't give a stuff about the style, i expect to read a few articles, tweets and the like from industry insiders, commentators and the hard core DSLR converts about this style of filming being the news industry "Game changer'.

I don't think it will. And it won't be for the lack of vision. Films such as these, by independent film makers will be well placed on the internet, but at the moment, on TV News, we tend to crank out the normal day to day films with little of the style that can be achieved if we put our mind, and time to it. We tend to stick to the same format and style on all of our news bulletins. could this be our downfall? I don't think so. Quality, stylised stories removed from the day to day news items are thin on the ground and we need more of them if we are to keep our tech savvy viewers, who are quickly migrating to the internet to find the news that suits them.

But as i have said before, style, format and the technology used matters not a thing, if you have no story to tell, that will keep me watching.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.