Sunday, 25 November 2012

Testing.. Testing.. 1.. 2.. Oh Bollocks.

Bloopers, cock ups, call them what you will. When the gods of live broadcasting decide to ruin your day and embarrass you live on air, the only thing you can do is to carry on as if nothing has happened, even if you can't be heard. Take this BBC reporter for example... ( Watch the bottom of his Mic, just as he starts to speak. )

Following what was probably a hard day in difficult filming conditions, all Jeremy Cook had to do was to stand calf deep in flood water and present his report to the nation on the BBC News... Live. There is no chance of redemption, no retakes, no give me a few more seconds. You are on... Now.

And now is not the time for your equipment to conspire against you and make you look like a cack handed equipment wrecker in front of the nations eyes. Poor Jeremy. But there is a silver lining to this story. You see, the piece of equipment that dropped into the water is a wireless microphone transmitter, or better known to us cameramen in the slang term, as a 'Butt Plug'.

I could have written a better title for the search engines to find, such as: 'Jeremy Cook mishandles his butt plug live on BBC News'... But i won't. Poor Poor Jeremy.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Awkward Situations For A News Cameraman: Part 2.

There are a great many people we meet on the news gathering road as a cameraman. The situations we find ourselves in can be a minefield of should i or shouldn't i quandaries that can befuddle a card carrying member of the lens lugger institute.

Also, the invention of HD recording only serves to highlight the things that we, as news cameramen and women pick up on. We see and notice things that others don't before the camera rolls...

'Scuse me, but your nose hair needs a trim...

For example, How do you tell your silky haired female reporter that her ample frontage has become a temperature gauge, and we can all tell that it's pretty chilly outside. Do you shout "Has anyone seen the live truck wheel nuts..?"  No you don't. It's a tough one.

What do you say to a high flying correspondent who looks like his tie was knotted by the Boston Strangler..?

How do you tell the middle aged yummy mummy that the rouge red lipstick she is wearing is also stuck to her teeth, making her look like a extra from a cheap zombie flick..?

Could you tell a prominent politician, pre-shoot, that his shampoo doesn't work and he looks like he's just walked in from a snow storm..?

How do you gently move a bald man who is creating an overexposed hot spot by reflecting the sun into your lens, without embarrassing him or letting on as to why you're moving him..?

These are a test of a true, hardened cameraman. A lexicon of gentle hints, encouraging words and down right lies must be at the tip of your tongue if you are to make it through a working day. But that is not all you should have in the armoury at the bottom of your sound bag. To avoid the embarrassing, a certain level of awareness is needed.

Can you zoom in just enough on the subject to cut out the fact that he has clearly not shaken following his last trip to the urinals..?

Is it possible to anticipate the dork in the background who is about to re-arrange his family jewels just as the interview is at it's peak..?

How do you keep your patience in check, when the suited blowhole in front of camera cannot string more than three words together to form a sentence..?

You see, working in this business is not all about knowing how to rack the focus, light up the dark and expose the world at the correct Kelvin level. Oh no... Tact, tenaciousness, the ability to bullshit and an over capacity in the talking of bollocks, is also a mandatory requirement to shoot the news. You must gently inform strangers of their shortcomings without the barbs of insulting language. You must coerce, codify and conform to the nuances of your situation.

It is not... I repeat not acceptable to inform your interviewee that they are ruining your film by way of their inability to wash, apply makeup, speak the Queen's English or any other filthy personal habits that may manifest themselves on telly as the nation sits down at tea time.. We, as cameramen put up with it as a glorious sideshow, the quirks of the news gathering game, that must be kept in check.

So, if you ever find yourself in front of my camera and i hand you a handkerchief with a wink and a smile, go and check in the mirror... There's something horrible on your face. Unexpected laughter from the cameraman..? Check your zipper.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Ettiquette Of Modern TV News Editing.

In this post, i want to invoke a time of warm memories, expensive machinery, men smoking pipes INDOORS! and loose fitting corduroy slacks, maybe even a bow tie or two. You see, in the heady days of news gathering, not so very long ago, it was the done thing to take your filmed rushes back to the newsroom, where a craft editor would weave a silk purse from a pigs ear. You remember those cosy, warm and affable old editors, who would welcome you into their small fiefdom with a pat on the shoulder, coffee and maybe a doughnut, sit you down and tell you where it all went wrong.

Mobile editing... comfy.

 The highlight of my fledgling cameraman career in those distant times was to be told my taped rushes were in the three machine edit suite, not the usual cut and shut edit suite, but a slightly strange smelling place where a grumpy man with a frayed shirt collar would paste together clips of wonder and enlightenment using fades, wipes and other techno wizardry. Now you young spotty faced TV 'Director / Producers' or 'Shooting PD's' with your boy band hair may not understand this, but it wasn't always digital workflows, ingestion matrixes, DSLR's and low wages. Oh no. The large room would hum to the sound of Beta SP machines, switchers and routers, reel to reel sound tape decks and rows of monitors on which to peruse the editors art. Row upon row of Beta SP tapes on shelves that archived the stories of yesterday, interspersed with new fangled Digibeta tapes which were the cutting edge future of TV News, hinting at a brighter future and big bucks if you could afford the new Digibeta cameras. Oh how i laugh now...

Anyway, I learned a lot in those places. When to pan, tilt or zoom, framing, the art of sequencing and of never crossing the line. Editors taught me on pain of death, DEATH i say, never to over expose or to give them too little edit seconds at the beginning and end of every clip. They also taught me who to avoid in the newsroom, which reporter was boffing the new weather girl and to never ever, choose the strange brown gloop at the breakfast bar in the canteen. Fountains of knowledge they were.

Today though, as you know, is a very different state of affairs. There are no more warm rooms in which to hide and possibly learn a thing or two. No longer is there a bastion of clever talented people, doing clever and talented things with hugely expensive pieces of machinery with moving parts. Instead, i sit in the back of my small Mercedes van in a dark, damp and smelly multi-storey car park in a dark, damp and smelly town centre.

The laptop glows as it ingests a digital stream at 5 times real time. Drag and drop edit timelines mixed with the instant workflow of graphics, mixes and splices from a library of hundreds on the small hard drive. Outside the rain falls. I hear it on the metal roof top of my van. I close the door to keep out the draft and the slight urine tinged smell of the car park. The wind picks up the plastic bags and litter left by passers by. A can of special brew rattles under the van in tune with the neanderthal shouting of a group of youths under a nearby concrete underpass.

Time and technology wait for no man. Things have moved on. From the warm, coffee infused university of the edit suite, to a cold piss stained car park with a lap top. Technology is a wonderful thing. It's at times like this that i really miss the grumpy old git in the 3 machine edit suite, far far away.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 12 November 2012

In defence of the BBC, British Journalism and a free press.

I know this blog is usually a barrel of behind the scenes buffoonery and slapstick cameraman shenanigans, with a twist of bad tasting food, court steps and the misery of standing on street corners in the rain. There is however, a shit storm in the British press at the moment. The fan involved is huge... The bucket of shit is full... and not many people have an umbrella.

BBC TV News Centre has been reopened as a green room for those 'Standing aside..'

According to the press everywhere in the UK today, the BBC news division is in an awful editorial mess. I say no it isn't. The flagship BBC news programme Newsnight may be in tatters at the moment, having made some quite awful mistakes, errors of judgement, bad journalism, call it what you will. The latest scandal, naming a man as a paedophile, when he isn't, is somewhere around 9.7 on the Rectum scale... sorry... Richter scale.

But speaking as a freelancer who works a lot within BBC News, mainly at a local level, i can categorically state that the business of news gathering, filming, gathering of the facts, editing and editorial decision making still goes on. Dedicated, resourceful, honest and trustworthy journalists, camera people, editors and producers are still preparing the bulletins for your morning, afternoon and evening viewing and listening.

A few people in a small, but prominent part of the BBC News machine have made a few big mistakes. As a freelancer, and therefore a tiny tiny coiled spring in the larger, overall news machine, i have no insider knowledge to impart. I often feel i am the luckiest of people not to be involved as a member of staff, with the internal wranglings, behind the scenes briefings and other internal mechanisms that have to be coped with in such a large organisation, which is not unique to the BBC News.

As i write, Top management at the BBC News are resigning, standing aside, or are thinking of doing so. ( The standing aside green room is getting rather full of management drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. ) A few journalists, senior producers and a manager or two are having to take a long hard look at their careers.

The news is at the moment reporting on the news gatherers, BBC Panorama have investigated BBC Newsnight. Last week, the BBC, Sky News, ITV News and Channel Four News reported that the BBC News are investigating the BBC News. The printed press are in a whirlwind of agendas, axe grinding and bullying. Bloggers are appopleptic. Hundreds of Politicians with their over inflated salaries, pensions and expenses are whinging about hundreds of senior BBC staff on large salaries, pensions and expenses, as the rest of the BBC quietly gets on with the daily business of news gathering on TV, Radio and Online. Quite frankly, it's a right old over inflated mess.

The coming few days and weeks will be interesting not just for the BBC News division, but for the British press as a whole. The wolves are banging at the door calling for tighter press regulation, Government oversight, and tighter leashes for a free press. The Leveson inquiry will soon publish it's report. There is a mess to be cleaned. The last thing we need as a press corps is to turn on each other over mistakes made in the past, present or future, if we have a future, as a free self regulating press.

Those that made mistakes or broke the law whether by design, oversight, or incompetence should be either guided in the right direction, prosecuted or just bloody sacked, depending on the magnitude of the error made.

But i seriously hope that in the frenzy that is engulfing the BBC News division at the moment, and the approaching bucket and fan on the horizon in the shape of the Leveson report, doesn't mean that the baby isn't thrown out with the bathwater by those who have a vested interest in seeing the baby disappear. And there are many who will call for it. A neutered BBC, afraid and hamstrung by past mistakes, and a government regulated press is a bad, bad thing. Not just for us who work in the trade, but for the people of this country as a whole.

I am but a small voice in the great scheme of things. I am a freelancer who works for the BBC on a regular basis. BBC News, both national and local, has a deserved reputation for being unbiased, truthful and rigorous in it's journalism. It is not the only news outlet out there, but the world watches and listens to the BBC. It doesn't always get it right as the past few weeks have shown. But when it gets it right, it can be the best in the world.

And finally... When the enquiries and Leveson are all over and the fan stops spinning, those covered in shit will have a decision to make. Clean up and wash off the stains, or take the lumps with you, 'cos you are stinking up the place. And those with an agenda to rid us of a free, self regulating press can do the same. The door is that way.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter