Monday, 29 April 2013

The Monday Meme... No 6. The Directors Cut.

As a TV News Cameraman, I don't come into contact with Directors. You know the type... The unique visionary with an ego the size of your average film catering truck but without the filling.

This is me with my Director, Oliver Tobias. He liked to point... A lot.

Having worked on a few documentaries and corporate films though I have, once or twice, worked with these supernatural beings of creativity. I have soaked up their aura of invincible knowledge and as such learned a thing or two about how to pan, tilt or zoom at the right time and at the right object.

I don't know how I would have got so far in my career without such direction from these eminent luminaries of our industry. Especially the younger ones who, having recently graduated from film school know everything there is to know and are keen to pass on that knowledge to their cameramen.

They like to shout... "Cut..!" And more importantly... "Aaand, Action..!" A lot. They like to wear skinny jeans, thick rimmed hipster glasses, weird scarves and trendy t-shirts with abstract slogans.

They also say things like... "OK everyone, take five... Clarissa, can I get a skinny Mocha Capoh with choc sprinkles..?"


But more importantly, they like to point at stuff, framing it between their thumbs and fingers and saying such things as... "I like the intensity of this framing, but could you make it a little more... Edgy..?"

Directors... Don't you just love 'em..?

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

TV News Versus Independent Mobile Online Journalism.

I've known Christian Payne online for a number of years, in fact it was following him on Twitter years ago that led me to become more active and engaged online than I ever thought I would. Known online as @Documentally, Christian has shared written stories, photos, audio and video about a myriad of subjects that both entertain and inform. I like and enjoy his style.

Christian Payne... On the road to Syria.

We have met socially a few times at twitter meets where we talked all things tech and social. It seems to me that Christian is a very driven man when it comes to storytelling and teaching his craft and journalism style.

In my world of TV making, with my big broadcast camera, satellite trucks, reporters, lighting and sound it is still very much a team effort. I have backup from journo's, producers and news editors. My output is filmed, voiced and packaged for the TV news viewing public at set times and with strictly controlled media guidelines.

There is a big difference between us in the way we tell our stories and the kit that we use. Christian tells his story using iPhones, Tablets, and other assorted tech that can basically fit in his pockets or a small back pack, but the stories are just as well told.

Christians basic storytelling kit. Small, light and absorbent.

This is why I want to tell you about Christian. A few days ago he set out on his own on an assignment to cover the still ongoing civil war in Syria. Travelling light, he is using his online resources to get small stories told. One by one, those small stories will no doubt converge into a larger online collection of audio, pictures, words and video that will tell otherwise untold aspects of life in Syria that I think, would not be told in the mainstream media.

I have no doubt that Christian will talk to and document the lives of people that you otherwise would not hear from. To experience the lives and stories of those that have no voice and little hope at this time. It is something that we in the mainstream media could do a lot more of, but are fixed in our mainstream TV ways, which works well on the TV news. Our online presence however, could be bigger and more individualistic. We could make good use of the likes of Christian and his new fangled ways...

I urge you to follow his trip on Twitter, Audioboo and on his blog. Things may be a little haphazard along the way. His life is in some danger as is anyone's in a war zone, so occasional online silence is important to keep his location a secret to protect those that give him shelter and help along the way. Syria is, as you know, a dangerous place to be.

So if you are a news junkie, journalism student, wannabe storyteller or news pro, you could do worse than to follow this story. I think Christian is going to take us on quite a ride.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Breaking News..? I'll Just Stay Here Then.

Imagine the scenario... It's the weekend and all is calm... There i am, with all my TV kit in the truck and i am at a pre-planned filming job at a football ground. Parking is at a premium but i am safely in, ahead of time. I chew the fat with my reporter until it's time to film a bunch of keys being handed over to the new football club owners. I nibble on a sandwich,  take another swig of coffee. Time is on my side...

There's already a breaking news story about a man involved in a hit and run somewhere in our patch... but there's a VJ on the way, so i stay where i am. He can mop that one up, for i have the big ceremonial handing over of keys to film.

I stretch a little in the afternoon sun and launch the twitter icon on my mobile phone to pass the time.

I ring the newsroom. Can i go..? No you can't. If i leave now, i will never get back in. They need me where i am, it's an important sports story... Sports news and the football programme want those pictures. Oh well, i guess they have it covered. Back to the Twitters...

That's only 20 miles away... Surely now they will release me from the tedium of sitting in a car park..? No. So there i sat, with breaking news going on all around and not a lot i can do about it. The frustration builds, my news cameraman head is dying to get out of here and join in the action of covering a breaking news story and the uncertainty that goes with it. It's what a news cameraman is built for.

My news producer decides to rub it in and let me know just what i am missing...

I sit there and watch the story unfold on Twitter... following my colleagues as they at least, are on the case...

You see sometimes, you've just got to let it slide. Someone else has got it covered. When all hell breaks loose around you it's tempting to jump in the van and fly down the road with your hair on fire... To get there first and film the action. I glumly let my own Twitter followers know what's going on...

You see the news is not all about the fast and the furious, it is also about the sport, the weather and other pre-planned, important stories that the public want to see. And sometimes, i am the man to film it. I guess i will just have to bite my lip and get on with the job in hand. Mop the rest up later when the action has stopped, the adrenaline has faded and the crowds have long since melted away.

For now though, i sit in the sun and wait for a man to ceremonially hand over a bunch of keys to another man on a football pitch. After all, the beer swilling Mad Dog McGinty in the Dog and Duck pub wants to hear what's going on at his beloved football club... And who am i to deny him..?

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Monday Meme... No 5. A TV News Cameramans' Best Friend.

The picture explains it all really. Any TV News Cameraman will tell you that you don't need specialist screwdriver kits, multi-faceted hinged tools or shiny expensive implements on a belt fastened pouch.

'Nuff said...

No. All you need to hold together your next tv news production is a sturdy roll of Gaffers tape, duct tape or possibly even electrical tape for the smaller jobs. Call it what you will, but a roll of tape has saved many tv news cameraman calamities.

You all must have seen a press conference with the local Police Chief, Council airbag or sobbing relative, speaking from behind a row of microphones from six or seven news outlets all Gaffer taped to one or two Mic stands..? 'Course you have.

Trip hazard from lighting or sound cables..? Gaffer tape them to the floor... Any floor. It doesn't stick..? Use more Gaffer tape.

Lost a tightening screw to the lighting stand..? Gaffer tape the light to the stand and hey presto... Let there be light, but please ignore that melting plasticky smell.

Windscreen cracked on the live truck..? You know what to do.

Unwanted advertising logo in shot..? Break out the Gaffer tape.

Standard issue cameraman hiking boot split..? No problem for you know what.

There are so many uses for this innocuous piece of kit that everyone should carry a roll with them. Consider yourself not in the TV News Cameraman club unless you have a roll of tape in your truck. (Multi coloured rolls gets you Vice President club status for life.)

However... Be warned. Gaffer taping the mouths of gasbag politicians, celebrity gobs on a stick or your very own over talkative reporter will land you in hot water with the bosses. You will however, become a legend in your own lunchtime amongst camera crews the world over... Just make sure you get in on camera.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

One Two... One Two... Lets Hear It For The Soundman..!

SOUNDMAN: *Taps headphones* 'One Two... One Two... OK, here we go... Turn over when you're ready...'

Dead dog on a stick... A soundman's favourite weapon.

Thank you... Following yesterday's quite brilliant blog post, I received a short, yet angry looking reply after a short, tongue in cheek conversation with a fellow cameraman in the US. To quote Anonymous, he/she simply said...

'Stop shitting on the sound guys.'

SOUNDMAN: 'Hang on... Can you say that again For level...?'


Can i go on..? Thanks... I know, it's a picture you now have in your head that won't go away... Sorry about that.

SOUNDMAN: 'Testicles, Testicles... 1... 2... Testicles'

Now, any reader of this esteemed, nearly award winning publication will know that I regularly take the piss out of working in the TV News. Why..? Because the often silly predicaments we find ourselves in lends us to a little self deprecation. (And crying in the Sat truck).

SOUNDMAN: 'Are you plugged in..? 1 2 1 2... Just checking...'

In this job we call 'The Meeja,' or 'The TeeVee Noos,' there can be no other relationship quite as acerbic / Friendly / Funny as that between a Cameraman and Soundman. For example, the friendship is so close, that every soundman knows how his cameraman likes his tea... Milk, 2 sugars, NATO standard issue. If you would like a cup of tea, just ask the soundie if you can have one too... one too..

You see many years ago, every TV News cameraman came with a TV News soundman, umbilically linked by wire and tech. More importantly, linked by a knowing ability to take the piss out of each other that is legendary, spoken of in hushed tones at the local boozer / kebab emporium / crack house.

Without the cameraman, it's just radio. Without the soundman... It's... Erm... Complicated. You see, we as news cameramen can get by without a soundman, and by that I mean get by. Nothing we film is ever as good as it could be with a soundman, who in my opinion, in any cameramans opinion, is just as important a job.

Unfortunately, It is very rare these days that TV News broadcasters realise this fact and make use of a soundman. More's the pity. I wish I had one when I'm filming.

SOUNDMAN: 'Sorry... PFFT... PFFT... 1 2 1 2... Still there..?'

Can i get on with this..? Thank you... Where was I..? The thing is, trying to concentrate on pictures and sound together can make for a difficult time in some circumstances when filming the news. Listening for clicks, whistles, mush and pings while filming can put you off your filming stroke, as it were. And the ability to detect the Boeing 747 that's just taken off from Heathrow when you're filming in Cornwall is something that only a proper soundman can do.

SOUNDMAN: 'Hang on, there's a scratching noise here... Let me just fix that... Ok... continue...'

In my opinion, anyone with a mastery of Ohms, db levels, signal to noise ratios and sibilance energy centred on 7kHz levels can plug into my equipment anytime... Just clean your XLR with Dettol before entering your male jack into my female receptor you dirty buggers...

SOUNDMAN: 'Hello..? 1 2 1 2, bugger, must be some interference 'round 'ere somewhere... Can we start again... From the top..? For level, Tell me what you had for breakfast...'

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Monday Meme... No 4. TV Cameraman Trumps Presenter.

The next time you sit down to watch a tv show about climbing the North face of the Eiger, hiking the length of the Serengeti looking for dangerous kittens, descending into North Pole ice caves or generally showing just how tough the presenter is, remember just one thing as you push that burger into your face...

Presenters... Rough, Tough, but always come second place in the race to the top of the mountain.

That's right... Just who do you think is standing in front of the sweaty, out of breath presenter as they claim victory over the elements of nature..? Who is it that they turn to as they breathlessly pontificate about their adventurous spirit and acts of derring do..?

The TV Cameraman... That's who. As the presenter huffs and puffs the last few steps to reveal the view, wiping the dirt from their brow whilst carefully avoiding damaging their logo'd sportswear, the faithful recorder of these momentous occasions will possibly roll their eyes.

You see, the cameraman has probably been there for a good while, carefully sequencing the shots as the overpaid hairdo with matching teeth gradually advances up the slope. The presenter may say something to the watching lens like...

"That was a tough climb, dangerous yet exhilarating... But take a look at the view.."

Whilst the cameraman is thinking to themselves...

"Yeah, I did it three hours ago carrying a tv camera, tripod, batteries, a huge roll of gaffers tape and a bag of cheesy puffs. Plus a grumpy sound man who complains about the wind noise..."

So next time you see your favourite hero selflessly endangering themselves for your viewing pleasure, think about the poor sap who had to film it... You didn't see the presenter lugging the tripod up the slope did you..? No... You didn't. He had a day sack, containing sandwiches and a flask of coffee, a mobile phone and a big fat tv contract.

Oh, and another thing. As the presenter stands atop the conquered mountain in their expensive logo'd storm jacket, climbing trousers and boots, with a steely eyed glare and just a hint of 'roughing it' stubble, (Which includes the lady presenters) the TV cameraman is probably stood there in a pair of cargo shorts, flip flops and an AC/DC World Tour T-Shirt, circa 1976.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Order..! Order..! A TV News Cameraman In Parliament.

Not only have i stepped in plenty of dog poo over the years, I have stepped into many, many rooms as a TV News Cameraman. Yesterday though, for the first time in my long and illustrious news gathering career, (Stop laughing...) i stepped into the mother of all rooms.

The Chamber of the House of Commons, in the Palace of Westminster, appears on the TV news on countless occasions every week that Parliament sits, yet i had never entered it.

The Palace of Westminster...

I was not in a privileged position, the chamber is open to the public for daily tours during down time, and the cut and thrust of British politics can be witnessed from the public gallery when MP's are shouting Boo-Yah at each other, and generally cocking things up.

But yesterday, whilst waiting for an interview with a local MP, i was given a peek. Apart from the very kind security lady who took me in, i was alone in the chamber... and apart from being surprised at just how small the chamber is, i was taken in by the deep polished wood, green leather benches and history of that room.

In my minds eye i could see Churchill standing at the very dispatch box that i now touched. The Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and the protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. This small chamber, although much changed throughout time, just oozes history from the 14th Century onwards. I let it sink in.

In around 24 hours or so, the current Prime Minister will take his seat where i now sat, (I tried to squeeze out a fart... nothing) having recalled Parliament on the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a figure who in her time here, caused passions on each side of the chamber, and on the streets, to reach boiling point. I too, wanted to leave my statesmanship like mark...

My inner Dennis the Menace mind began to wander... A whoppee cushion under the Prime Ministers seat..? 50p under the Chancellors seat, with a note telling him to spend it wisely..? I could possibly even leave an A4 sheet of hastily written policies under the seat of the Leader of Her Majesties Opposition... Super glue on the Speakers chair... Oh the possibilities.

A small 'Ahem' from my minder brought me back to reality. I asked if i could take a picture of me in the chamber, but i was warned that if i did, an encounter with Black Rods implements of death would be my fate... followed by an unceremonious ejection at high velocity from Parliament by a big hairy policeman, or a big hairy policewoman. (She exists, just outside St Stephens Gate).

Pah. You pay for all this in taxes and not even a photo to prove i was there, my little part in its history. A wave of revolutionary 17th Century fervour kicked in. I took one last look... And a well known phrase came to mind...

"Guy Fawkes... The only man in history to enter Parliament with honest intentions."  

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Monday Meme... No 3. Mind where you're sticking that thing.

TV Cameramen see the strangest of things and sometimes put themselves in danger to get the shot...

Don't worry Mr Yamamoto... This won't hurt a bit. On first glance at this picture that's what i thought anyway.

Now don't get me wrong, a job is a job, but sometimes you have to seriously question what it is you do for a living, and just why... why am i pointing my camera between a very large Japanese gentleman's buttocks.

Thanks to Overheard in the live truck for finding and sharing this little gem.

The things you see as a cameraman...

Let's just hope that this poor cameraman isn't on the receiving end of a heavy nights drinking and sushi session. The results could be catastrophic and something he would have on his mind for a long long time to come.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Are TV News Cameramen Quicker Than Producers..?

Here's a little quandary for all you TV News producers out there. Can a mere news cameraman, armed with an iPad Mini and a mobile phone, produce more up to date information on a breaking top national news story than you can, sat in a multiple million pound news centre in London..?

Modern weapons of a TV News Cameraman...

Well today as it turns out, yes I can.

Today I was tasked with doorstepping a high profile banking figure at his house where, i was reliably informed, he lived. I was given the address of the house, which turned out to be a business address, not a residential one. The house next to it however, seemed a likely target given that the name of the address supplied was only one word out, and it looked the kind of place where a banker would hide his millions. I informed the newsroom.

We'll get right back to you, they said. (Don't laugh..) So I waited.

In the meantime I Googled the name of my errant quarry. What he looked like, his business dealings and interests. I grew suspicious that our man didn't live here. Again, i informed my producer... I was told to doorstep the house. I puffed out my chest, flexed my muscles and got ready for possible verbal abuse or a jab in the bottom by a pitchfork wielding banker. I doorstepped the house. They had never heard of him. He didn't live there. My Spidey senses were tingling...

I Googled him again. Given his current high profile news status, getting past the story was tough... Business listings, directorships... BINGO..! I've seen that company somewhere.

Currently a director of ***Ltd. Quick look at business address next door... DOUBLE BINGO..!

Double check... Google name, business and address... FULL HOUSE..! He's the Director of the business next door. I'll take my winnings in cash please.

I inform my producer, who was waiting on more info... From the business correspondent, who in all fairness to them both, we're probably up their eyes in what is a big story here in the UK.

But it was nice to know that my detective skills are still razor sharp, and on the bleeding edge of mobile technology. On this occasion, I turned out to be quicker than a multi million pound newsroom. Can i have a bankers bonus..?

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

TV News Cameraman Takes BBC Great British Class Survey.

I hope my readers from foreign climes will forgive me. You see us here in Great Britain are obsessed with class. In the news here today a new British class survey is hot news. Gone are working, middle and upper classes to be replaced by 7 classes of people. These are they...

  • Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
  • Established Middle Class: Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
  • Technical Middle Class: This is a new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
  • New Affluent Workers: This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
  • Emergent Service Workers: This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of 'emerging' cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
  • Traditional Working Class: This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
  • Precariat: This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

You would think that as a TV News Cameraman, i would come out of the BBC Great British Class Survey somewhere in the middle. Seeing as i'm self employed and therefore handcuffed to the ebb and flow of broadcasters cash flow, my income can be described as erratic to say the least.

"Excuse me officer... do keep those plebs at bay... there's a good chap."

Sometimes i earn shed loads, sometimes i earn fuck all. Peaks and troughs is a well known term in the Freelance TV industry. I'm guessing that most tv cameramen, freelance at least, would be around the same mark. On my survey at least, I guessed wrong... Oh so very wrong. I guessed wrong because of only one thing... Money. I shall reveal my class later...

Anybody who knows me and works alongside me knows that i'm a down to earth, robust and foul mouthed individual who generally speaks his mind. I get on with most people, and was brought up to respect others, work hard and educate myself. I would put myself into the realm of the old working to middle class.

The survey though, asks some very generalised questions. Apparently, going to the theatre makes me out to be a champagne guzzling chinless wonder, but it didn't ask me what i went to see... It was Spamalot.

Do i own my own home? Yes, yes i do. But it is an ex council property, nothing with any acreage, faux Georgian columns at the front door or swimming pool cunningly hidden in the shrubbery.

The thing that changed my survey entirely was the question of money. You see i'm lucky enough to have some in reserve. Trust fund..? No. Inheritance from a long lost millionaire uncle..? Again, no. I have some because i worked bloody long hard hours for it. I built a small but reasonably successful one man business. It took me about ten years of hard graft to get to this point where i can feel relatively safe on the cash front.

Because of this one fact, i have been classed in the survey as...


Yep, you read that right. I am apparently a part of the top 6 percent in the country. Look, i go to museums occasionally to see things that interest me. I go to the theatre occasionally to see things like Spamalot. I try to educate myself through reading. 

But i work for a living, and when i do work i get paid reasonably well, and when i have some left over i save it for my retirement. Considering what some people earn who do lots more real work that i will ever do, i feel quite lucky. Elite though i am definitely not. I will not let this result influence me in any way whatsoever...

Anyway, for future reference, i will be addressed as Lord ukcameraman, and you may doff your cap or touch your forelock in my exulted presence. Tea shall be served in the form of Darjeeling in a china cup and i shall be taking to wearing a monocle at all times.

You will know it is me on the street corners at the next crime scene as my manservant shall be holding an umbrella to shield me from the rain. Has the class system in the UK broken down or become more blurred..?

Well of course it has, otherwise i would not be talking to the likes of you, would i..?

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.