Wednesday, 23 October 2013

TV News Cameraman And The Fickle Finger Of Freelancing Fate.

This TV cameraman freelancing lark can be a little hard to take sometimes. For the last 4 days I have sat on my arse doing nothing much in the way of newsgathering, assuming that I had finally been rumbled by the news desk who have struck me off the International Cameraman Rapid Action Practitioners list. ( Or iCRAP if you like acronyms. )

What I am trying to say is that sometimes, and for quite long periods of time, the phone just doesn't ring. The news can ebb and flow, so as a freelancer, you need a hobby...

"It was a dark and stormy night..." No, hang on... "ukcameraman's laser like blue eyes pierced into her naked, quivering body. They coupled like hungry animals as lust overtook them..." That's better...

I have often thought of becoming a pig farmer / pole dancing club entrepreneur, but can't afford the dancers. My underwater rat throttling league came to nothing, and I couldn't get to grips with rhythmic dancing due to an acute case of Cameraman's back.

So I sit here at my keyboard and write for you, dear reader(s). My prose may well be akin to a trained chimp. I may split my infinitives, annoy the apostrophe Nazis' and niggle with the nounage but it keeps me from being under the feet of Mrs ukcameraman.

As is typical, just as I am about to write my forthcoming roller coaster of a novel, featuring a lantern jawed, blue eyed, sophisticated, dinner jacketed cameraman, ( In no way is based on me...) who saves the world from terrorist armageddon with his trusty Leatherman tool and a roll of gaffers tape, my phone rings....

"Am I available for a little light filming this evening..? Oh, and Friday, we're going to need you on Friday. Have you got anything planned for the weekend..?"

Nope... I have nothing planned, for the news business does not allow for this in the fickle freelance world of feast or famine. I return my dusty manuscript to the shelf, check the batteries for the camera and load up. I'm on the road within 10 minutes. The phone rings again on route...

"When are you coming home..?" Asks Mrs ukcameraman...

Ahh, that's better... It's like the last four days never happened.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 18 October 2013

An Exhausting Day And A Lesson In Freelance TV News Cameraman Money Management.

Being a freelance TV news cameraman means that I am responsible for the fiscal matters of working for myself. Kit, cameras, vehicles, wages, VAT and dealing with the Inland Revenue. Amongst the day to day paperwork and balancing of books, there will come a time when something unexpected happens to mess up the tight, well oiled machine that is 'The Books.'

Ahh... Sir, i think i've found your missing kitten...

Take yesterday for example, there I was driving along at 50mph when my exhaust system decides to part company with my edit van with a loud bang and a trail of hot sparks and smoke. After changing my underwear, and driving home very, very slowly with all the audible grace of a Challenger Tank, the damage was inspected. It didn't look good.

The front end of the exhaust system was to blame, which held the very expensive catalytic converter. A broken pipe meaning the front end needed replacing... Or did it..?

The big flashy exhaust centre told me it couldn't be repaired, that the whole front end needed replacing, which unfortunately included the catalytic converter. "How much..?" I asked... Apparently the thick end of hundreds of pounds... Plus VAT. "It's the Cat mate, it's a Merc... Nuthin' I can do fella... And we can't fit you in until Monday"

I picked myself up from the floor and decided to look elsewhere. I ended up in a small shabby looking industrial estate in a small, shabby looking mechanics shed. He took a look at it... He sucked at his teeth. "Come back in an hour, I'll have it done for ya..."

I girded my loins for a kicking in the wallet and came back an hour later. "All done mate. I've joined the pipe with a little arc weld and replaced the section of pipe, but that's gonna cost ya..." Said the oily looking mechanic. I sighed... "How much..?" I said. "I've rounded it up to thirty quid... Including VAT."

Yet again, I picked myself up from the floor. "But the guys at big flashy exhaust centre said..." He cut me off. "Don't listen to them tossers, they only want to sell you an expensive exhaust, it was easily fixed... No bother."

I paid the £30 through the books, and gave the mechanic a tenner for a pint in the pub for himself. The next time something falls off the van, I know where I'm going. I also got to wondering if he could fix a motherboard in a TV camera with a little arc weld, a length of pipe and a hammer... I dismissed my last thought.

My point here is this... When the freelance life kicks you in the teeth, look for the oily man in a shed at the back end of town. He's going to save you a lot of bother... And money.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

TV News Cameraman And The Deadline Dash Of Doom.

TV news cameraman log: Friday 11 Oct 13. So, there i was, scratching my arse sat in a petrol station layby and not doing anything in particular when a phone call came through at 4:10pm asking if i could VJ a quick interview for the BBC News. There was no journalist nearby or available... i was it.

"No problem" I said... "Who, what, when and what's the questions..?"

"Maria Miller, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport... 5pm... Royal Charter on Media Regulation... E-Mail is on it's way... Oh, and we would like it for the 6 O'Clock news..."

I was in no way speeding officer... not at all... no.

My brain whirred and clicked... "I'm sorry, you want it for when..?" I stuttered. "We would like it for the 6 if possible.." Said my calm, silky voiced TV news producer... It's now 4:15pm, Friday rush hour, it's busy, the minister is 40 minutes away and it's a big, big story that's leading the headlines. So i sank back into my seat, and put my feet up to finish my coffee and doughnut...

No, scratch that, what i did was to mildly panic as a sheen of sweat appeared on my brow and my heart started to beat a little faster. I can do this. The only thing to stop me was a traffic problem between me and my Minister of State. Or a breakdown, getting lost, a herd of cattle in the road or quite possibly an alien invasion.

After leaving rubber marks and a trail of smoke between Farnham and the far side of Basingstoke, and staying within the legal speed limit, i made it to the Minister with 5 minutes to spare. The camera and sound equipment plus a light were thrown up in mere minutes and the interview began with no fancy lighting or backdrop dressing. 5 questions later and we were done.

With 50 minutes to quickly cut with FCP in the van and upload 3 minutes of HD footage back to London, i swaggered out and nonchalantly fired up my phone, laptop and MiFi... No signal.

I'll say that again... NO SIGNAL..!

I was in the middle of rural Hampshire with absolutely no fucking signal whatsoever. Nothing... a big fat zilch. Basingstoke was about 6 or 7 miles away, my nearest chance of a signal. I leapt into the van and pulled serenely out of the Minister of States driveway. (I apologise Minister if i ruined your gravel driveway, or sent stones pinging into your windows...)

5:15... No signal.

5:18... No signal.

The footage was ingesting into the laptop behind me as i whizzed around the country lanes in pursuit of a signal.

5:23... No signal. Aaargh...!

5:25... Is that a signal..? 1 bar... 2... 3... "That'll do.." I said as i screeched to a halt in the nearest farmers gateway. (Sorry cows...) I plonked myself at the laptop, the footage was already loaded into FCP. The quickest of cuts to boil the footage down to the bare bones for ease of sending... Hit export... wait.

Ingesting... Gives you indegestion.

 5:31... Export to .mov done... open JFE, ( A BBC store and forward software system, )... drag and drop... import... set metadata... location...

5:33... Hit send... wait. The phone rings... Producer: " Hi, how are we getting on..?" she said. "Nearly there, just about to send now.." I replied.

5:40... Wait.

5:45... Wait. We are now at 36.5 percent. I'm not gonna make it.

5:52... Wait. 82.5 percent... 83... 84... 85... The green ingestion bar moves imperceptibly... The phone rings... Producer: "Hi, how are we getting on..?" She said. "Nearly there..!" I replied.

5:56... Wait. 96percent... 97... 98...

5:58... Ingestion complete... The story drops into the bottom window, indicating that it is on the servers in London. I ring the producer... "Hi, it's me, you should have it now, it's gonna make it yes..?" I asked.

"No... We've dropped that until the 10... Sorry. But thanks anyway, you did a great job, bye.."

I sit there, blinking. I then hit my head on the edit desk. I tried... really i did. I guess that with so little time left, it was impossible to squeeze the interview in with mere seconds to spare on what was the lead story. The script was written, the pictures and VT lined up, the anchor already broadcasting. Just five more minutes and we would have been fine.

And that dear readers, is how you miss a deadline with flair, panache and... hang on... i got the footage to London at 5:58pm precisely... She did say that they wanted it for the 6 right..? Right..? I therefore believe that this cameraman fulfilled his side of the bargain, and victory is mine.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Swivl. A Robot Cameraman... No Doughnuts Required.

Bloody hell, yet another technological invention that in years to come will threaten our livelihoods. Not only are we dealing with smaller, lighter and automated cameras that a well trained chimp can use, we now have the beginnings of an automated, lighter and altogether smaller cameraman. In fact... No cameraman at all.

Filming without a cameraman...

Ladies and Gentlemen of the camera fraternity I give you the Swivl... Your gateway to a cameraman free world. No griping, complaining about the hours worked or demanding coffee with sugary treats.

Anyone who works in the TV news industry will have seen the automated TV studio pedestal cameras, roaming around the studios like the Borg with no feelings or emotion, and no desire to eat doughnuts, drink coffee or demand a pay packet. Ever had a missing intern..? Look no further than the robots among us. Well now it would seem that there is a version that you can take with you on location, albeit, iPhone sized... For now anyway.

Watch the video to the end... And you too can film your very own thigh length booted, 3/4 length trousered, Mohican haired reporter very, very badly, with no composition, focus control and jerky pans and tilts. You will also note my dear friend, that they used a cameraman to film the YouTube video, (again badly,) Which says it all really.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter... And is apparently doomed to a life of servitude to our robot overlords.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

105 Vital Sources For Journalists In The New Media Landscape.

Well, it's only taken 4 years to get a small piece of blogging recognition. I normally tell stories on the lighter side of TV cameraman life, but the toil, sweat and gnashing of teeth over this very keyboard has resulted in the very fine U.S. website listing this very blog as one of the 105 vital sources for journalists in the new media landscape, for my posts on careers advice, under the category of Video and Photography.

Yes... You read that right... This blog is VITAL..!

Their website says...

"Anyone mourning the “death of journalism” based on the closure of a few newspapers hasn’t been paying attention. The exponential growth of Internet connection speed and accessibility has ushered in a journalistic renaissance, fusing art, reporting, and storytelling into a single pursuit. Multimedia and new media journalism are the new normal, and anyone hoping to thrive in the competitive journalism marketplace will have to work with not only the written word, but moving and still images, interactive web presentations, and a plethora of other tools that make rich, digital storytelling so powerful."

Well quite... It's been a long, hard road of in depth research in lunch hours, sleepless nights worrying about spelling mistakes and grammar, and 16 years of on the road experience of TV camerawork to bring you the golden nuggets of cameraman wisdom. I hope you are grateful... 

It appears i am in good company, not only that of my peers Christian Parkinson and Stuart Pittman, but that of some heavyweight journalistic websites from around the U.S. and elsewhere. On the more serious posts that i write, i shall try to uphold the principles of honesty, journalistic integrity and TV cameraman values...

So, with those values in mind, i'm off for coffee and a doughnut.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

TV Cameraman And A Compendium Of Calamity.

Making your living wielding a lump of glass and plastic forthe TV viewing public can take us to some wonderful places where people want to feed you, mean neighbourhoods where people want to kill you, and surprising situations where people want to... well, i will keep that for another blog post. Mostly though, we never find ourselves in front of the camera. That is, until something funny, stupid or bloody well dangerous gets captured by another lens wielding lunatic who then uploads it to YouTube for the world to laugh at. It also gives me another excuse to trot out my favourite TV cameraman meme

TV news locations... sometimes wet.

I did share an unfortunate moment with you a while back, and even a video of a stupendously stupid footballer, but here at the ukcameraman Institute of TV News Studies we like to keep an eye on the electronic interwebs for more of the same, in the vain hope that by sharing, the news gods will ensure that it will never happen to me...

1. The very lucky TV cameraman. In which a TV cameraman nearly gets flattened by a Porsche.

2. The horse whisperer. In which a horse gets overly amorous with a TV Cameraman's ear.

3. Wobbly leg syndrome. In which a TV cameraman finds an amusing lack of blood in his right leg. (We've all been there.)

Do you see just how hard our job can actually be..? It may seem to you that we enjoy a freewheeling lifestyle in glamourous places with famous people, or hanging around courtroom doors in the warm sunshine drinking coffee, but at any moment we may have our ears ripped off, our heads smashed in by flying cars or get a very nasty case of pins and needles that lasts all bloody night. The things we put up with...

I know, I know... Your heart bleeds.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

TV Cameraman Vs Stupid Footballer.

I came across this video today whilst browsing the electronic interwebs for TV cameraman related stories. Unfortunately, it's not a video that i can turn into a bit of fun for us all to laugh at and have a bit of a giggle.

Footballers... Notoriously thick.

Ezequiel Lavezzi is a highly paid footballer for Paris St Germain, paid approximately 4m Euro's a year. A honed, highly trained athlete... And a complete and utter dickhead. Following a match, he can be seen to play a so called 'joke' on a steadicam camera operator who was following another player, resulting in the cameraman being felled with all of his equipment. He then runs over to his footballing mates laughing all the way.

The kit that the cameraman has is expensive... like a footballer. It is prone to breaking when smashed on the ground... like a footballer. That's why we take care of our investments... like a club does with it's footballers.

The actions of Lavezzi is that of a spoiled child, a rich spoiled child with no thoughts of what his actions result in. The equipment could possibly have broken, as could the cameraman. Broken arms, dislocated shoulder, a wrenched back that could put him out of action for a long while. If he is freelance that means with no pay.

If it was his own equipment, he would have to claim on insurance, lose work whilst things are fixed.

The cameraman should expect to be able to work in a safe environment, free from the danger of serious injury and damage to kit caused by a multi millionaire twat like Lavezzi. I hope he sues not only the pillock of a so called gentleman footballer, but the club itself for failing to guarantee his safety in a working environment. I would.

And being me, he would be lucky if i didn't get up and deliver a career ending blow to a highly tuned footballing knee, thereby teaching the idiot a valuable lesson in leaving other people alone whilst they work. Being a footballer, and therefore as thick as two short planks nailed together, he would probably only get a job washing dishes in his local takeaway.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The TV News Cameraman And His Email Careers Advice Centre.

Now, I'm no seen it and done it all TV news cameraman. You may say that I am a suave, sophisticated and incredibly good looking sort, with an all pervasive charm and wit, and who am I to disagree..? But here at the ukcameraman Institute of TV News Studies we get a lot of emails asking about the route into TV news camera work.

Be a TV news cameraman, and get an eye piece surgically attached to your face. (Please read our terms and conditions.)

I have no problem with this. Putting myself out as a news cameraman blogger and interweb D-List celeb, I expect and get a lot of emails asking the very same question. So here is a reply to an email that I received yesterday...

"Thanks for taking the time to email me, and thanks for taking an interest in the blog, I'm glad that you enjoy it.

With regards to being a news cameraman, the best thing to do is to make contact with the local BBC / ITV newsrooms and tell them who you are. We don't really work with scanners here in the uk although social media is a good way of finding and following up on stories and making all important contacts where stories regularly occur. (Emergency services / Companies / Politicians etc.) a good, old fashioned contacts book is a big bonus.

Personally, I am hired by the local newsrooms as and when they require my services, on a story that they want to cover (breaking news) or a story that they have planned for that day. As a freelancer, I come in as second choice after the staff crews and other freelancers with contracts, but I have been on their freelancers call list for many years and I am very well known to them.

Should you film anything newsworthy I'm sure they will take a look, but it is difficult to sell stories to them on spec unless you are well known to them or have something spectacular or interesting for them to warrant broadcasting it. The best route into a newsroom is to become known to them as a freelancer with the right kit that they require, or being extremely lucky at being in the right place at the right time. Bare in mind that different broadcasters require different recording standards and kit.

For example BBC are now using XDCam/DVCam, ITN and ITV are still using just DVCam at the moment and SKY News use P2. Contact them, send in a CV and make a call or two, but don't become a pain. Give them time to reply as they have many other applications for different roles within a newsroom, see what they say depending on what kit you have.

Another outlet for news video is of course local, regional and even national newspapers who don't have such a rigid requirement when it comes to recording on a certain bit of kit. DSLR's and other cameras are commonplace for use on the web. Make a film or two in the style of the paper, (do some research) and contact them. You never know.

Good luck."

I know that the above is a short and somewhat pithy reply with very little in depth advice and my personal contacts list, (If you come for my contacts, I will have to kill you.) but I hope it gives the recipient a small pointer in the right direction with something to think about.

I do try and reply to everyone who takes the trouble to write to me. I remember very few did when I was first starting out, which I found incredibly frustrating at the time. I have however, written about this very subject in a little more depth on this blog before, and if you have any news gathering ability whatsoever, you should be able to find it...

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 7 October 2013

From Lenslinger To Phoneslinger.

As a TV news cameraman, i started blogging mainly because of reading another cameraman's blog called Viewfinder Blues. Based in the U.S. his name is Stewart Pittman, aka Lenslinger, who i first wrote about here, way back in the mists of 2010 before the Royal Charter which founded the ukcameraman Institute of TV News Studies that you know and love today.

"Stewart relates his tales with a dry wit and savage verbiage that puts into sharp focus the job of us lens luggers." 

That's what i wrote way back then and has remained so until recently. To cut a long story short, Stewart's circumstances changed somewhat, and today sees Stewart become a news operations manager, instead of the full time Lenslinger i so loved to read about. The derring do and the stories of poking his lens where it wasn't always wanted, the good, bad and ugly of TV news camerawork.

An undercover shot of an average 'News Operations Manager's Office.'

He promises that he will still occasionally lift his fancy-cam and regale his wit when he does so. I will miss the regular Lenslinger updates of his life on the road, but i also look forward to his tales of life in the newsroom as a news operations manager.

I have no doubt that the tales of warm leather office seats, free flowing coffee and doughnuts, minimal paperwork, reading the papers and lounging around in the executive washrooms all day like most newsroom wallahs, will still give us a laugh along the way and an insight into the working day of a newsroom that may raise a few eyebrows with the suits upstairs.

I'm sure though that the working 'Photog's' and journalists will thank their lucky stars that the man in charge of the news operations desk is a man with 16 years experience on the road. I'm convinced that they will be well taken care of.

So, good luck Stewart in your new role. Don't let the office chair shine your trousers too much and remember to get out and about. Oh... and when you answer the phone, remember to say "Hello, news operations desk, Stewart Pittman speaking, how may i help you..?" instead of the cameraman response of "Yeah... What the hell is it now..?"

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

18 Must Have Skills Required By A TV News Cameraman.

Not so long ago, i wrote the Top 10 tips to being a TV news cameraman. Well, they were the basics. You see, most TV news cameramen have an inbuilt ability to do things that a great deal of other people are unable to. I have noticed this over the years as i have mixed with lens luggers from a multitude of TV news broadcasters.

These skills are learned from the hard and sometimes bitter experiences we find ourselves in, along with the must have abilities that come from being in a job that requires tact, diplomacy and the ability to function on minimum sleep.

Hello my love... Hmm..? No it's not late, go back to sleep. ( See No 18.)

Years ago, before the manifestation of the ukcameraman you know and love, i was in the Army. The Army taught me much needed skills like the avoidance of authority figures, the making of a perfect egg banjo and the ability to knock one out in a sangar whilst facing the enemy at 3am on stag watch... and to drink heavily. Sadly the BBC won't give me a gun, so these skills are no longer required by a modern, forward thinking, suave and sophisticated metrosexual cameraman.

So here is a list, curated here at the ukcameraman institute of TV news studies during my lunch break, of those skills that are required of a modern day TV news cameraman....

1. The ability to wake up at 4:00am for a breakfast news shoot, get dressed in the dark and leave the house without waking the missus. (Bitter experience has taught us this skill.)

2. The ability to achieve skill No1 at 4:30am after you dozed off, without being late for the live shoot.

3. The well rehearsed skill of finding and getting spot on, the bubble level on the tripod... In the dark.

4. The ability to sense and feel the oncoming rain storm and fitting the camera rain slicker before it hits, and not to tell your reporter.

5. The ability to find the one and only place in a 5 mile radius where you can make a cup of tea.

6. The ability to get along with the one person in any given news room that everyone else hates.

7. The innate ability to flirt with a good looking interviewee / reporter / Minister of State, without being labeled a drooling letch.

8. The ability to convince anyone that it can be fixed with a roll of gaffers tape and a Leatherman tool... And then showing them how.

9. The skill of staying cool and calm when your camera is on and working, when the sat truck engineer screams... "We've lost the signal...!" No, No, No... YOU'VE lost the signal...

10. The zen like ability not to throttle your reporter on the 15th take.

11. The hard won ability, through years of being on your patch, of not needing to switch on your sat-nav.

12. The ability to 'look busy' whilst in the crew room with nothing more than a small length of flex, a pencil and a soldering iron.

13. The ability to know that shit rolls downhill, and not being at the bottom level, sitting next to the new intern.

14. The skill of driving at warp factor 9, eating a bacon sandwich with a cup of tea and not to spill or drop any.

15. The ability to sleep whilst leaning upright on a tripod / in a sat truck / in a hedge / court steps, without looking like the local tramp.

16. The skill of knowing who to avoid whilst recording vox-pops / political interviews.

17. The ability not to laugh at a newspaper reporter, (to his face,) who is filming his news piece with an iPad.

18. The ability to get undressed, have a shower in the dark and get back into bed at the end of a long day without waking the missus. (See No1...)

So there you have it. By no means a full and comprehensive list, and anyway, it's late and 18 skills were all i could think of. So if you have any more skills that the cameraman world needs to know about, please leave a comment... Thank you very much and don't wake the missus.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.