Wednesday, 28 May 2014

TV News Cameraman And The Diminishing Of The Tangibles.

Many of you older TV news cameramen and women out there will remember such phrases as, "Can you hear the whir of the camera on audio track 2...?" Or, "Bugger, the tape door mechanism's jammed..." And my all time favourite, "Touch my camera again and I will kill you... To death."

As he pulled out the Pulitzer Prize winning footage from the camera, he dropped it down a drain cover...

The most oft spoken phrase in TV news gathering however, used to be, "Pass me the tape will you...?" and upon hearing said phrase, your journalist would pass you a Beta Sp tape which would make a satisfying, tangible 'whump' when placed in your sweaty grasp.

Those of you who remember film and film canisters can shut up now, I can hear you muttering from here. This post does not delve that far into the past, but even so, you will remember the feel of something solid and dependable in the palm of your hand. (Don't even think about going there...)

To those with boy band hair, spots and a penchant for all things Blackmagic Design, yes you... You, typing 'Tape' and 'Film' into Google on your iPhone in between filming with it and scratching your head, may not know of such pre-historic artifacts from a bygone generation, but they existed... And not that long ago.

I still find myself asking my Journo, "Have you got any tapes...?" Only for them to fish around in their pockets, check handbags, jackets and small dark holes to produce a tiny, thin piece of plastic with a metallic strip. Carefully, and making sure we are not standing over a storm drain or crack in the ground into which the card can disappear, we pass the precious object between hands as steady as any brain surgeon.

I slide the card into its tiny slot on the camera.

There is no push of a button followed by a 'Whirr, click, thud as the tape goes in, click and whirr' Nothing is opened and it's insides extracted by mechanical wizardry and stretched across drums with optical thingamibobs.

Nothing happens any more.

Once the filming of the days news is done, then the preciousness of that small, thin piece of plastic with metallic strip must become an even more dangerous and fear provoking work of calm. Imagine, if you will, handling a vial of Ebola virus in a maternity ward.

Dropping a tape was no bother, as long as you didn't drop it into the sea or out of a helicopter door. Things are now a little different. Drop a card from any higher that 2mm and it will ping off into the middle distance of the nearby road and blend in with the surrounding asphalt, from where it will taunt and laugh at your butter fingered buffoonery.

Passers by will look at you in a strange manner as you crawl around on all fours in search of your afternoons work. Office workers will gawp at you as you forensically examine the flower bed under their window like a scene from CSI, (Vegas... Not Miami, which was shit.)

Your Journo will be laughing at you, but secretly aghast at the notion that the work may be lost, and they begin to get nervous. Producers back at the ranch will spit blue murder if they find out their plans for tonight's bulletin are lying on the A325, just South of Aldershot, a mere foot away from his Cameraman's desperate fingers.

All the while, the small thin piece of plastic with the metallic strip, containing the wise words of vox popped citizenry will be lying there, just next to your left foot where you see it as you crouch into a ball whilst holding your head and pulling at what's left of your hair.

The ball of fear knotted in your stomach dissipates, not just because of a 'mislaid' SD card, but because of those vox-pops, the sage like knowledge, and their importance in the well being of the very nation known only to news producers. (And the fact that the producer would make you do them all again.) Cue a huge sigh of relief.

So let this be a lesson to us all because apparently, this is what happened to a friend of mine and in no way whatsoever involves the author of this blog post. Just to make that perfectly clear. Here at the ukcameraman institute of TV news studies, we are a bit more careful.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter, and is hugely relieved for his 'Friend.'