Friday, 28 February 2014

Your TV News Cameraman... Almost Live From BVE 2014.

Every TV news cameraman I know is a gadget freak on some sort of level. The level of geekery also depends entirely on how deep and full your pockets are. Many of us freelancers however, depend on a certain level of work and income to remain up to date and able function to the degree that our erstwhile news broadcasting clients demand.

The LiveU... Small, light, agile... Too expensive for freelancers.

In an effort to keep up to date with today's broadcasting gadgetry, I visited the Broadcast Video Expo at the ExCel Centre, London. I say visited, what I mean is I endured the hellish journey to the arse end of London via train, underground and DLR with all the stops and walking that the journey entails, so I was knackered before I arrived.

Freelancer Tip: Don't buy food or drink at the ExCel Centre unless you wish to go bankrupt. (Inform the Inland Revenue, and issue a profits warning.)

On entering the venue, there is all the gadgety and geeky wonderfulness that is to be expected. Massive camera cranes, big lenses, small cameras, big cameras, drone cameras, lights, mic's and lots and lots of drainpipe trousered, boy band haired super director / Producers / Shooting AP's drooling over the newest of the new DSLR's and the Blackmagic stand, that will be out of date by Monday.

The DejeroLIVE... Small, light, agile... Just as expensive for freelancers.

I twisted knobs, opened apertures, flicked switches and pushed buttons. I wondered what would happen to my press pass and personal liberty if I flew a drone camera into Downing Street unexpectedly without permission. I also wondered just what all the people here actually did for a living, besides declaring that they worked in 'The Meeja.'

Working as a freelance news cameraman though, I found that most of the flashing things and shiny stuff were of no use to me, but were nice to fiddle with none the less. I thought that the BVE people had missed a trick by not having a separate news cameraman area, sort of like a fake roadside corner, (with an open door to let in the cold) a burger van selling weak tea and grease, oh, and a light drizzle from the fire sprinklers... We would have felt right at home.

What I was interested in, the ability to transmit live pictures, was unfortunately still too expensive to consider. I have my cameras, sound kit, lighting and edit van. I am completely self contained and mobile and I am very unlikely to change my kit any time within the next 10 years. I can send pictures via FTP or the like, but what I can't do, reliably, is to go live.

The technology is there, and yes, it's getting better and cheaper all of the time. I saw it and played with it today. (LiveU and DejeroLIVE.) But at the prices quoted, I still cannot justify the hit to my wallet that it entails. I have no contract with a broadcaster, so my income is good, but erratic. The broadcasters won't pay me any more whether I have the ability to go live or not.

What irks me is the fact that the people and companies who make and manufacture the kit seem to aim the price and the kit they make at the broadcasters pocket, not that of the freelancer who does a lot of the news gathering for them. There are lots of us... with money to spend... Just not the amount they're asking.

I would love to be able to go live. I just can't afford to, not without selling a kidney anyway. And besides, my red wine habit has ruined its value. On top of that, we just know that the kit will be smaller, faster and cheaper this time next year... Roll on 2015.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

News Readers: 'Pussy Riot' Or 'Conflagration Of The Mimsy?'

Sometimes, news readers have great difficulty in pronouncing certain names or places, such as the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull that so tongue tied many a mouth piece. So, here's a question for all you coiffered, shiny toothed and strangely tanned news readers out there...

The very mention of the words may cause confusion.

I had an online chat with a fellow TV news cameraman from the US of A called Rick Portier, discussing the very pressing problem of news readers and the Russian punk / pop group called 'Pussy Riot.'

In our humble opinion, people should be called by their given or chosen name, just because the word 'Pussy' makes a cameraman / schoolboy giggle and news readers to blush, doesn't mean that news readers should avoid the word for the sake of public decency.


Here at the ukcameraman institute of news studies, we have come up with a short list of alternatives for the bashful news reader should he or she fumble with the 'Pussy.' ( Ahem... Sorry.) Over here in the UK we are obviously very careful with our use of words and the offence they may cause, and in the Bible belt of the USA, the word 'Pussy' could be changed to more acceptable colloquialisms more in tune with their news watching public.

So here goes:

1. Conflagration of the mimsy.
2. Anarchic pudenda.
3. Feline free for all
4. Vagina melee. ( Medical term.)
5. Cat commotion.
6. Tabby tumult.
7. Kitten commotion.
8. Ocelot uproar.

Yes, i know there is only eight, but unlike Buzzfeed, i haven't got all bloody day to sit around making up a listicle for your pleasure and amusement, i've got work to do...

And please, please, if any of the delectable female BBC news readers are reading this, don't ever change the word 'Pussy,' it's what gets me to sleep at night.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Death In A Valentines Rainstorm.

It's not much of a final epitaph to two men is it? Family men, mown down on their cycles and killed by the driver of a BMW in the throes of evading the local constabulary on a dark and stormy evening.

The lamp post... torn down and snapped with the force of impact.

A few days ago, as the latest in a long line of storms passed overhead, i had trouble standing up and more importantly, keeping my tv camera dry as the countdown to an afternoon live ticked away. My reporter and i stood close to where the two men had lost their lives, rehearsing the moves and script, when my eye caught sight of a small gaggle of rain lashed people walking towards us...

We went live. 1'30" of explainer, police appeal and grisly details.

As we finished, i noticed one of the group silently picking up pieces of the remaining cycle. A cycle seat, pieces of plastic and a small torn piece of clothing. The three remaining women of the group huddled near the impact spot, shaking. I couldn't tell if they were shaking from the cold wet rain or...

Eye contact was made between us and we drifted towards the group. A short question revealed a wife, a daughter, a friend and i think, a Brother. A small bunch of flowers were clasped in a hand. The shaking not only from the cold but from the shock of being told only a few hours before that her Husband was dead... On Valentines Day.

My camera stayed by my side. I did not have the guts nor the will to raise it.

In a turnaround of events, they were the ones asking the questions. Do we know any more information? Did we know what exactly happened? We talked and gave any information that we had. We asked if they would like to speak on camera about their tragic loss. They politely declined and we understood.

I didn't want to film a sobbing family at the scene of their loved ones demise. The shaking and the tears were all too plain to see on a cold, wet and windswept suburban street. I make no apologies for leaving them to their grief and keeping my camera at my side. We could tell the story without pictures of the very sad scene before us. Some may disagree, but i really don't care.

As i walked away, they disappeared in the greyness of the thunderstorm and the rain. I got into my news van and stared at the bag of chocolate, wine and valentines card in the footwell for my wife, safe in the knowledge that she was at home, cooking dinner for a husband who will soon be home.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Show Must Go On.

So far, it's been a year of being up to my family jewels in rainwater, whilst standing on many a high street in the South of England, watching other peoples possessions floating away never to be seen again. Local communities devastated and families lives reduced to zero by the weather.

Although a major news story here in the UK, the storms haven't stopped the grind of everyday life from catching the news producers eye and anyway, something's got to be done about my reporters bad case of trench foot and crotch rot.

I thought my day would get a little brighter by filming a fundraising party, held by a local community and family in aid of a dying mothers wish for her kids to go to Disneyland when the inevitable came. There would be cake, tea, a petting zoo and bouncy castles... Every TV news cameraman loves a bouncy castle... And cake... And a chance to dry out his socks.

Although a sad tale lay underneath this fundraising party, a bunch of kids with smiley faces would cheer me up no end after the misery of the floods, so we turned up, with shiny lens and fluffy mic, only to be told that the mother had died only 4 or 5 hours before, but you wouldn't have thought so.

The smiles and the laughter of the local kids were genuine, the cake just as sweet and the castles just as bouncy, but there was something lurking just underneath the grown up eyes of the grieving husband that betrayed the coming grief that would surely soon take over from the shock... Something was going to give, just not now, not here.

A lot of work had gone into the fundraising by the family and local community, the organising, the cooking, the booking of entertainment and the venue. Too much to just abandon even with the biggest of reasons to just go home and curl up into a ball.

The show must go on, as they said. So we filmed and we chatted and we told a story of a dying wish that was only a few hours old.

I felt uneasy filming the fun before me. I couldn't believe that any fun was actually being had by anyone. The husband talked of his courageous wife, the kids played and ate cake. The community rallied to the call and money was indeed being raised by the bucketful.

You see sometimes, what you may expect as you turn up with a TV camera, may not be quite what you get, and that people, at the worst time of their lives, can really surprise you. And it was wonderful to witness.

You can donate to Cancer research uk HERE.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Call Noah... We Have A Problem.

SEVERE WEATHER ALERT..!! The Environment Agency have issued the following:

***14.2.2014 0800Hrs GMT.***

A severe front of visiting politicians is heading South West. Accompanying photo op's may sweep South across your area leaving broken promises in their wake. Unusually, a blast of hot air may cause damage to local areas, followed by flooding caused by the tears of local residents.

***Alert Ends***

Politicians... Don't you just love 'em..? But seriously now, after all these years as a TV news cameraman, I am still amazed at the kindness and generosity of people who have the nations press etc, descend upon them at possibly the worst time of their lives.

One after the other, fierce storms have again lashed the UK, causing floods, wind damage and misery across much of my patch in the South and yet still, I find myself invited into the homes of people who have lost pretty much everything and offered a cup of tea.

Finding your house has become part of the local rivers and sewage system is not a pleasant experience, but the series of storms here have left some dealing with their second or even the third flood this year. It's heartbreaking to witness, yet at the same time, heartwarming to see the kindness of people not just to us as the press, but to their local community, neighbours and strangers.

The next few weeks and months will see me filming not just the floods and damage now, but the repairs and clean up that is to come. I think we all have a long journey ahead if the weather ever gives up and the heavy rain stops. My guess is that we will be seeing more of this, year on year...

So... Cameraman and women of the UK and beyond, put your eyes to the glass and wade forward, record the blowhards and mouthpieces of officialdom and government. Hold them to account on behalf of the wet nation...

Just watch that turd doesn't float into the top of your wellies...

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Betwixt Madness And The TV Newsroom.

I had a chilling feeling when I accepted the job from my news producer to film at Broadmoor. For those readers who don't know or have not heard the name, follow this link.

Secure Broadmoor... Welcoming.

Basically, Broadmoor is a Category 1 secure prison hospital for the criminally insane, to use layman's terms, and very few people like me, much less a member of the press, get to wander around inside the high walls... With the inmates, sorry... 'patients' still inside.

"Would you like to film inside..?" Asked my producer...

"Can I take a shotgun, knife and my favourite chain mail outfit..?" I replied. "Oh, and an industrial strength military tazer..?"

Sorry to be so glib, I understand there are many levels of mental illness and criminality within Broadmoor, but a lot of the patients within these walls are mostly free to go about their business as instructed and supervised by the staff, so there was a distinct possibility of either bumping into a gentleman thief with treatable mental health issues, or on the other hand, someone of 'unsavoury' provenance, with a well documented history of ripping innocent victims to pieces on the direct orders of Satan himself, using only a blunt butter knife and a piece of string. I wanted to be on my guard... In fact, I wanted a guard. A big one.

So it was that my reporter and I found ourselves and my TV kit being examined, x-rayed and searched before being photographed and fingerprinted by the watchful security team.

I wondered just how tight the security here is... I had visions of being quietly taken aside and internally examined by a grey haired old Doctor, only for him to be the recently escaped Mad Pete 'The Puppeteer' McGhinty, a man sentenced in 1978 to 10 life terms for wearing his victims as organic glove puppets during a gruesome one man rendition of a Punch and Judy show, in his bedsit in Wathamstow.

You see, I had researched who was in there and why they were there. There were going to be some seriously infamous, yet unstable men occupying the same space as me. There was also a lot of history within the old Victorian buildings, treatment rooms and small locked cells that were soon to be demolished.

Whilst filming the old buildings, which will be replaced with modern, up to date and more suitable hospital wards, I got to looking into the old cells and dark corridors. The staff panic buttons, heavy double door locks and a wall poster proclaiming that shaving razors are strictly issued and monitored at all times... A wise move I thought. I imagined the now infamous men of the past and present who may have sat on the very benches I was sitting on. It was seriously unsettling.

Growing up, I watched the news and read the papers about the serial killers, rapists and murderers of the 60's 70's and 80's, the delusional rippers and slashers and body mutilators of the 90's and the present day. It made my blood run cold that many of them occupied this very building I was now in... A fair few of whom are still here...

I thought about this fact. They could be just upstairs, or around the next corner in the courtyard, or waiting... waiting for their chance to... (Stop it, stop it now.)

The truth was that it was a fascinating and informative days filming, one of those days where you get to go where very few others do and learn a little into the bargain. I am grateful to the staff who were with us.

When the old buildings go, and with them the history and memories of those within them, both patients and staff, I will at least be able to tell others that I had been here, where the fine line between so called 'normal' and the many levels of 'madness' meet. The unseen world of the unstable mind...

On the other hand, just walk into any TV news room around the world... You will see what I mean.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.