Sunday, 26 May 2013

TV News Cameraman And The Directions Of Doom.

In today's connected world, with smart phones, tablets and sat-navs it is a wonder that a TV news cameraman can still get lost. It does happen. This is not due to misinformation beamed from a satellite giving us the wrong address, or the phone GPS going tits up at a crucial stage of navigation... No.

Here be Dragons and Mermaids... And your job for the day.

What it is, is the people that you need to film have decided to meet you and your reporter in the middle of nowhere. In a field or woodland for example. Somewhere where the sat-nav cannot locate for there is no road, no house and no civilisation whatsoever. Somewhere there is no phone signal is desirable.

So they send your news producer a list of directions.

A list of directions that are straight forward in the mind of its warped local writer, but a list of directions into a portal of hell, frustration and gnashing of teeth for those that have to follow them. Me for example.

News producers I beg you, please get them to meet us at a findable location, then have them show us where to go by the act of following them. Do not, on any account, take a list of directions over the phone to Dingly Dell beauty spot in deepest Dorset last occupied by the missing link between Cro-Magnon and Neanerthal Man. (i.e. Dorset people) Otherwise you get something like this:

"As you leave Dorchester, take the third exit from the Tesco roundabout, (next to the pasty and gun shop) Follow the road for about 2 or 3 miles until you see a crossroads next to a large oak tree with a dead badger at its base. Turn sharp left, then the second left up a steep hill. At the top of the hill, you will be met by a Wizard who will tell you your quest. Turn back, taking the left fork in the lane onto an unmade road with potholes. (beware of the sheep.)

After 600 yards or so, there is a rickety bridge, ignore that. Turn into the gate 200 feet further on into a glade. (It's the one next to the willow tree that used to be there.) The copse of trees ahead of you at 65 degrees from the right angle to the fence post, next to the Beech tree, head for that. 72 paces Nor' Nor' West and up the grassy knoll is where you will find us. 0545 hours, Thursday morning. We will be the ones dressed as medieval Knights Templar, on the bouncy castle."

A cameraman will usually get these directions in January, during a snow and hail storm, in the dark. Please take a flask of hot coffee. Sense of humour is desirable, but not essential.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Top Gear Trials Coin Operated TV Cameraman.

I thought things were getting a little too serious around here, what with all the Tabloid bashing, Unemployment figures and flak jackets, so here we are with more TV Cameraman related buffoonery.

Check for blockages before inserting payment... Pic courtesy @JeremyClarkson

It would seem that over at the Top Gear studios, they have replaced one of their fine cameramen with a newer, upgraded trial version cameraman. Still in the research and development phase, this cameraman is coin operated. Sources close to the Top Gear team have sent me the above picture which makes it glaringly obvious where to pop the coins in order to get some footage.

As you can see, the £80.000.59p model T5987x Broadcast Cameraman (HD Camera Included) is fresh out of the bubble wrap, having been delivered by first class courier. The instructions, after inserting 4xAA batteries, are as follows:

2p gets the cameraman to stand up and switch the camera on. 5p gets him to focus, 10p gets the correct exposure. From here on in, things tend to get expensive. walking and talking shots are £1.00 per minute with a 10p top up every few seconds if the clouds move and the sun appears, which means a re white balance and iris ring adjustments on the fly.

Filming of the show i am told, is regularly interrupted due to slot problems, which needs regular maintenance due to the build up of fluff, tyre rubber, coin blockages and cigarette ends. Due to his small hands Richard Hammond is the ideal choice for the job. Boffins have told Jeremy Clarkson that on no account is he to hit the slot with a hammer to force the coins home.

The premium version cameraman comes with an innovative feature... Should filters be needed, changes of lenses or camera internal menu settings need accessing, then payment is made by tightly rolling up a £10.00 note and inserting it into the.... Well, you get the idea.

The other normal cameramen on Top Gear are apparently still kept happy with payments of regular tea breaks, bacon sandwiches and trips to sunnier foreign climes.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Has Channel 4 News Got The Collective Crazies..?

Something strange is afoot at Channel 4 News. I've been wondering just how they keep producing a fine weeknight news programme every day. It would seem that the answers lie behind the scenes...

The awards keep on rolling in, and I think this has a detrimental effect on the minds of those that inhabit the newsroom. The top brass at Channel 4 News want more. So much so, they will do anything to get more attention, and by doing so, the on air talent are partaking in some very strange extra curricular activities, involving cycles, new head gear and a news reader with a hot wax spatula and a roll of gaffer tape...

Full assimilation is now complete... Picture via @krishgm

First of all, as the above picture shows, Krishnan Guru-Murthy has been fully digitised and automated. I always had my suspicions about Channel 4 and the newsrooms at the ITN building, but full assimilation into the digital news matrix is going a bit too far. It is reported that he now works 24 hours a day, with only soft baby food to sustain life.

But this is not all that is going on. Oh dear me no.

Krishnan is also cycling the London to Paris 24 hour bike ride soon in aid of charity, requiring a full body, chassis upgrade... Jon Snow, having had to pull out from this event due to a sock / hair problem, is instead getting a full body wax, which you will be able to play, rewind and freeze frame, over and over again online, at the pain emporium of your choice. You can donate here.

I'm just waiting on the announcement from Cathy Newman. My sources* tell me she is planning a bungee jumping extravaganza from the top of the Shard, using only what is recovered from the buff shiny body of Jon Snow, fashioned into a rope. I for one, can't wait.

*I have no sources.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Helmet, Flak Jacket And Sandbags are A TV News Cameramans Best Friends.

I have just seen a photo sent on the Twitters by Tim Marshall, Foreign correspondent at Sky News. At the moment, he and his cameraman Barnaby Green, are filming in Damascus, Syria.

The streets of Damascus... Helmets required. (Courtesy @Skytwitius)

What struck me is the fact that Barnaby seems to be doing all the right things by wearing his helmet and flack jacket whilst sensibly protecting himself behind a wall of sandbags as the battle rages around the streets of Damascus. It is a dangerous place to be.

I also spotted a Cinesaddle camera support bag slung over his shoulder, just in case the sandbags prove a little too inflexible. Plus of course, they make a lovely comfy seat to plonk your arse on when a little bit of rest comes your way.

All in all, this seems like the perfect photo of how to behave in a war zone when the shit is hitting the fan and things could get deadly. It is however, also a photo of what not to do in a war zone. Why..? Well, if you can, (depending on what device you are reading this on) zoom into the photo, extreme right, about two thirds up from bottom.

There you will see another, unknown TV News Cameraman in a stripy t-shirt, tan coloured trousers with his camera on his shoulder. He is standing in the middle of the street, with no protection whatsoever. No helmet, no flak jacket, nothing. According to Tim, the battle is raging...

I don't know the circumstances of this photo. But let me tell you this... If I were there at that moment, I would be wearing exactly the same kit as Barnaby, our intrepid Sky News Cameraman. I too, would be behind the sandbag wall.

I would also be behind Barnaby. And behind whoever took the photo. In fact, my personal preference would be to be so far behind, that I could watch their report from the comfort of my own home, with a cup of tea.

I wish Tim and Barnaby and their team well and a safe trip. Why not luck..? It seems to me that they are taking the correct precautions to not have to rely on my wishes of good luck. The other unknown cameraman in the picture however...

I wish him the best luck in the world. I think he's going to need it.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics In TV News.

So, the UK unemployment quarterly statistics are out today and the number crunchers in TV News, including business, political and home affairs journalists are buried deep in the figures from the Office Of National Statistics.

Remember... Statistics and Kangaroos can go up as well as down.

 However, it makes for some interesting reading on Twitter. To be honest, i found myself saying 'Whatty what what..?' quite a few times.

So the BBC and ITN twitterists were quick off the mark this morning with an exact match, the numbers being a little disconcerting, but hey, they matched. I had been informed, i had been educated, but hang on, there may be a spanner in the works...

I thought the unemployment rate had risen by 15000... How can the unemployment rate have dropped in the space of a few tweets? And where the hell did the 7.8 percent come from..? Did they all find work over breakfast? Had Lord Sugar stepped in and offered them all an apprenticeship..? Hang on though, the good old BBC are back to help me in my confusion...

Eh..? So the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, but it was up by 0.1 percent but down since October. My head is starting to spin. Aha... Here comes ITN with the inside track on what the hell is going on...

Hang on, it's fallen. 7300 people appear to have found gainful employment in the past few minutes, but the unemployment rate is steady at 1.52 million. That's good, but i'm starting to lose track of the figures. The devil is in the statistical details, figuratively speaking. Aha, here we go, here comes Sky News, surely they have figured it out having come a little late to the party...

Where's the effing numbers guys..? You haven't even bothered your arses to look through the numbers have you..? Disappointing Sky News, disappointing. But wait, some guy called Alberto has come up with this little gem, retweeted by Olly...

OK, so i now have an unemployment rate of 1.52 million which has dropped to 7.8 percent, that has risen by 15000 people, but dropped by 7300 who have suddenly found jobs. 20.7 percent of youths are unemployed, 19.1 percent of whom are in full time education. This is up by 0.1 percent but down 0.4 percent from a year earlier.

Thanks guys, i think i've got to grips with that...Now if you don't mind, i'm off for a very large Scotch.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

First Class Tabloid Bashing.

With apologies to my esteemed foreign readers, who may not get what i'm on about in this post. I am today writing about the foibles of the British tabloid press. I know that you are used to me writing about life as a TV News Cameraman and the odd side of life therein, but this being, 'ahem...' a 'Media Blog' i feel that i should at least occasionally bring your attention to other aspects of the UK's finest news gathering press corps.

Its all true... If it's in the papers, it's all true.

I am sure you will all remember the famous headline 'Freddie Starr ate my hamster' and other even less salubrious headlines splashed across the front pages of the tabloid press. The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Daily Star, The Daily Express et-al are all occasionally guilty of alarmist, sexist, racist or downright libel inducing headlines spread across their front pages.

How many times have you picked up a newspaper, looked at the headline, read the story and said to yourself, 'What a load of old bollocks..!' Numerous times i suspect. I know i have.

Well fear not. There is now an antidote to all the tabloid bollocks, in the form of Rich Peppiat, an ex tabloid hack who has well and truly bitten the hand that used to feed him. Rich, with help from Will Sturgeon from The Media Blog is now fronting an online video show called The Spike.

Here is one episode called Boob jobs, hatchet jobs and April fools... In which Rich takes great delight in ripping apart Fleet Streets good, bad, ugly and downright deceitful. I think you will agree that he does it quite well...

I look forward to seeing The Spike team serve up more of this type of tabloid bashing entertainment as and when the tabloids fully deserve it, which let's face it, is on a daily basis for some papers. I like to think i can trust Rich and his team to inform me of what is good, what is bad and what is a pile of steaming poop in the current press... I just hope he doesn't turn his attention to TV News, not that we have anything to hide at all... Oh Lordy no.

Anyway, i'm off to film a story about an Eastern European wave of immigrants into the UK, who are setting up Otter baiting camps in social housing for overweight, topless D-List celebrities in the Norfolk countryside, paid for by benefits.

I am going with the headline... 'Celebrity Otter Baiting Benefits Scam Causes Cancer' Or something... I'll make it up when i get there.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

Local News... At A Cinema Near You.

This poster was made by my professional tv news cameraman colleague Nic Small and posted to my facebook timeline. Why..? I don't know. How..? Again, i haven't the foggiest idea. But hey, a fan is a fan and i get them where i can... Something like this in the 1940's though would have got me famous... And it got me thinking about how we can get the local news out to more people.

Unfortunately, the times when local people got their news fix at the local cinema before the main feature has long since passed. Gone are the days when you watched the news of our valiant fighting men engaged in overseas battle, before watching Clark Gable smooch a beautiful woman, or John Wayne blow some poor schmucks face off after a cowboy bar brawl.

Can you imagine the youth of today having to sit through half an hour of local news before watching Iron Man 3..? We should at least try... Shouldn't we..?

What would it be like munching on a tepid hot dog or spicy nacho's whilst being told that your local council administration has just verified and approved it's local street lighting budget for the coming fiscal year..? I personally think it would be a good and educational thing to make the cinema going public watch the news before the film. It's good for them... No really.

We could show the news and have a sequin jacketed man play a wurlitzer organ to accompany the soundtrack of your local football team being thrashed in the first round proper of the FA Cup. Ice cream intermissions after the serious news before the cross over into the fluffy, feel good features involving pets and stupid people. YES..! We could do this...

I hereby start my campaign to bring back the practice of having the local news played before every blockbuster film, in every cinema around the country. This must become the law. Who's with me...?


Anyone there..?

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Is A TV News Cameraman The Font Of All Wisdom..?

As a TV news cameraman I often find myself in interesting places. Places that the ordinary public and tourists pay good, hard earned, cash money to visit. You name it, I've probably filmed it at some stage.

There is however a problem that sometime occurs when standing about with a TV camera in interesting places. People always... ALWAYS... approach you and ask what's going on. The truth can sometimes be a little less exciting than what they were possibly expecting.

Go on... Ask them what's going on.

This is where, as a cameraman, my deep knowledge of the world rises to the surface and i may commune with my inner sage that lies deep within.

You see, I hate to send members of the quizzical public away with a dull explanation of what it is that I'm actually filming. I like to give them a sense of wonderment, excitement and a tale to tell their grandchildren. I like to imply that my job is more glamourous than it actually is on a day to day basis.

The Old Bailey in London is a case in point. It is the Central Criminal Court where the larger, more complex and important criminal cases are heard here in the UK. This does not mean however, that it is exciting to your average passer by or more inevitably, a tourist, who will ask the nearest cameraman...

"So what's going on here then? Anyone famous..?"

It may be that I am covering a complex fraud trial, a murder most foul or another errant politician caught lying, but this is not what my intrepid questioner wants to hear. And who am I to let them down with tales of dullness and eye watering criminal ineptitude..? I file through my mental rolladex...

"They discovered Lord Lucan running a battery hen farm in West Sussex."

"They are trying a Chinese betting syndicate for the illegal passing of Donkey sperm for that of Shergar..."

Or my absolute favourite...

"Some guy's up for stealing Elvis Presley's jock strap from the British Museums rock 'n' roll exhibition..."

These tales of faux criminality must be told with a straight face. Your average questioner may be no fool. When told about the guy stealing Elvis's jock strap, look for the rise in your questioners eyebrows. If their eyes narrow, they may be skeptical, let them go. If their eyebrows rise you've got 'em and are free to reel them in...

"Yeah... They caught him in nothing but the jock strap climbing up the outside of Buckingham Palace with a rose between his buttocks asking to see the Queen and singing 'All shook up'..."

"Wow..! Really..?" Comes the usual reply.

"Oh yeah... He was only caught when a naked Duke of Edinburgh rugby tackled him as he climbed through the window as he shouted 'The King is in the building'... The Duke is giving his evidence today."

If you ask any bored TV News Cameraman a question about what is going on, we will always have an answer and a well rehearsed back story on any given subject. You will always get an answer... It may not be the absolute gospel truth, but you will always get an answer.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Monday Meme... No 7. Live Broadcasting Spagetti Bingo.

Now any TV News Cameraman will tell you that hooking up to a satellite truck to crank out a live talking hairdo back to the studio is a piece of cake. A couple of cables at worst, but mostly now, via a Digilink from the camera back to the truck... No cables needed.

Spaghettio Bingo...

The only thing that worries me about Digilinking is the fact that i just don't know how many microwaves are being pumped through my right earhole, via my slowly cooking brain, and back to the truck.

I sometimes have nightmares that the link will somehow bypass the camera output and pick up my brainwaves, sending those out on the evening news instead... You really don't want to know what's going on in my head whilst the hairdo babbles on in front of camera. It could be good, bad or sexy thoughts... It would be a completely random series of cuddles, punches or cleavage, largely dependent on who's in front of my lens at the time of transmission. 

Anyhow, i like cables. Good old fashioned cables that snag on long cable runs, trip up the unsuspecting passer by and deposit all kinds of nasty onto your hands if you don't wear gloves on the de-rig. They are dependable sentinels of the passing of pictures, frequency free in fair weather or foul.

Just don't ask me to rig a large outside broadcast truck with multi-camera feeds, power cables and satellite links... I did that once, and brought the whole of Channel 4 racing to a standstill, until a rigger in the guise of an AC/DC roadie, complete with hair, tattoos and fierce grimace, told me i was a plonker and should stick to the news.

I shall be taking his sage advice.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

TV News And VJ Vexations In The Social Media Age.

Having got into an online conversation yesterday with Glen Mulcahy of the Irish broadcaster RTE, and Sarah Marshall of on an unrelated subject, Glen asked me a question...

"Where do you stand on Video Journalists..?" Oh bugger...

I am tempted to say... "On their toes after beating them to the best filming spot." As any TV News Cameraman would do. I fear however that what he meant was, what were my views on Video Journalism and those that practice it.

TV News cameraman and VJ working together... No punch up occurred.

Many years ago I would have given a negative response. As a broadcast TV news cameraman and therefore part of a team, I feared for the future as a standalone news cameraman. As a freelancer with my own (very expensive) kit, I figured that the broadcasters would give all the journalists a small camera the size of a baked potato and turn them loose with little training in the finer arts of news photography and filming.

And they did.

For a few years, freelance work took a dip and my worst fears were slowly being realised by the use of wobbly, out of focus, poorly lit shots filmed by journalists who suddenly found themselves on their own with no cameraman. Mistakes were made on a steep learning curve.

Journalists were setting up, filming and editing their own films in a team of one. Some of them took to it like a duck to water, but having spoken to many journalists at that time I found that many were not keen on being VJ's. They had trained to be TV Journalists, and many didn't want to film and edit on top of that. Many felt coerced into being something that they didn't want to be.

Fast forward to today and VJ's are very much a force in the broadcast news industry. However, so am I. So are a lot of the cameramen and women who were there before the so called VJ revolution. Those that are good at being a VJ and cope well with what that entails get on with it. They have become good at what they do, but those that can do it well are very few and far between in TV news broadcasting.

Those that didn't get on so well with being a VJ still do it, but only when really necessary or the news producers freelance budget is running low. Even the good VJ's tell me that they still prefer on most occasions, to be working with a cameraman. They tell me on a regular basis that it frees them up to concentrate on being a good journalist and to get the story right without the hang ups of trying to concentrate on filming, sound and other tv news logistics.

Without doubt, the VJ is here to stay and even grow a bit more as broadcasters and publications struggle in an era of budget austerity. I do however think that the TV news cameraman will not go away, despite the protestations of the likes of Micheal Rosenblum, who believes that we are dead in the water, along with big newsrooms. He's been saying it for years that everything can be done on an iphone, but we are still here. Not just me, but most of the cameramen and women I knew when I started in this industry in 1997 are still working... Regularly.

We are still here because working as a team still works. A journalist and a camera operator is still the best way of news gathering for the TV news. Not the cheapest, but the best. Cheap shouldn't mean change.

But i have learned over the last 6 or 7 years that the VJ is also a good and necessary tool in the industry. In cost terms alone, and efficiency of purpose. Small, cheap high quality cameras and laptop based edit software are everywhere. Hell, you CAN even film the news on an iPhone if you're good enough to do it, but the situation must be amenable to filming with one. I no longer have a problem with it.

But here's my warning: Make a film i want to watch. And... Do it with style.

Most people who work in the TV news industry will tell you that most newsgathering situations are not amenable to filming with an iphone. Good sound must be a consideration for a start. But enough of the iphone bollocks...

The kit isn't the problem. The idea of VJ's aren't a problem. I will use the best piece of filming gear I have to get the job done. I will work and gather the news on my own. I have done it before and i will do it again. The problem I have with the VJ concept is the fact that 1 person is doing the job of 2 or 3 people, but that's down to new technology and the ease of its use. It's sharper, quicker, cheaper and is inevitable that one person can do it easily, but that doesn't mean that they should.

Here is my gripe... I worked in a mid level newsroom for two weeks solid a while back. The journalists were all VJ's and the newsroom was run on a VJ model. (And still is.) Most of them I observed over that period were constantly knackered. Always on the go during long hours of producing, researching, writing, filming, travelling and editing. Every day. They didn't have time to talk or be sociable and ate their lunch at the edit suite or in the car. They looked stressed. They looked tired. They had to do it again the next day and the next. I knew from asking them that family life was erratic.

I wouldn't want to see most of them in 5 or 10 years time. Burnout. Lack of enthusiasm creeping in for a job that gives them no enjoyment, time to be creative or the time to produce something outstanding by concentrating on one aspect of work. They crank out the news, day after day. Many of them I know only wanted to be a journalist, not a cameraman or editor. I know many who feel that having to VJ stands in the way of being able to grow into a damn fine TV journalist.

New technology, its ease of use and cheap production methods doesn't mean that this is the way TV news should be done. Newsrooms however, are run on ever diminishing budgets.

In my opinion, the biggest and most noticeable change in our industry is not how, or by whom the news was gathered, that is now a side issue. It is the speed with which the information gets out. The desire to be first and the quickest.

You only have to look at the last big international story (Boston bombings) to see the outpouring of crap on the Internet via Twitter, forums and other online outlets. The internet and social media is the way a great many people now get their daily news fix.

True journalism gets buried in a pile of shite based around the desire to be the first to tweet the latest supposition or snippet of YouTube User Generated Content. (UGC) Newspapers can be the worst offenders, but TV news is rapidly catching up in the spreading of bullshit, misinformation, rumour and get it out there quick journalism. Worse still, news outlets with a political bias or agenda.

TV news and the process of making it are now technology driven. I believe though that it is the speed of breaking and sharing news, not the VJ concept, that is to the detriment of good TV journalism and newsgathering standards.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.