Thursday, 26 June 2014

TV news cameraman tries wildlife filming... Or... New shorts please.

Ordinarily, as a TV news cameraman, there are not many chances to use the Macro ring on the lens. Most days find you performing the back step shuffle on a public road, mid shots and close ups on interviewees, or expansive wide shots of a business park in Basingstoke.

Your TV news cameraman bravely fights off the wildlife and rescues his journalist at the same time.

If you're lucky, a pull focus whilst panning to the journo is enough to excite the news producer out of a caffeine induced haze back at base, a reminder of what a cameraman is for, and a timely reminder that sometimes it takes two to film the news.

What I mean is, nobody wants to see the nose hairs of your local politician, the sweat stains on the running criminals shirt or the screw holding in a window frame. Wide shots, mid shots and close ups are the staple diet of your average news cameraman.

Today however, I was in the wilds of the Hampshire and Surrey borders filming a piece on the ever diminishing pockets of Heathland, and the wildlife that lives there.

Smooth snakes, sand lizards and the rare natterjack toad are in as much danger as the heathland itself, but were easy enough to film in the hands of a registered wildlife ranger using normal zoom and focus tactics.

Heathland also supports a wide variety of insect life, and so it was that I found myself filming a small ball of spiderlings neatly wrapped up in a silk web the size of a golf ball. The parent spider sat atop the ball no more than 1cm long so remembering that I actually have a macro ring, I sidled gently up to the ball and focussed in tight... Really tight.

I could actually see the joints on the legs, the hairs on the body and the sparkle in its eye. In the HD colour viewfinder, it filled the screen in terrifying glory. For 20 seconds or so I lost myself and was in its world. Tiny spiderlings played youthfully within the silk ball beneath, the parent sat there for a long time, quietly, unmoving, and very still...

Then it jumped...

So did your brave news cameraman...

In fact, it's fair to say that I almost shat myself there and then. So engrossed was your author in the viewfinder, displaying what to me looked like a 20 foot tall beast, that when it jumped towards the lens, I reacted like a small girly girl with big arachnophobic tendencies. So much so, that you could hear the squeal of yours truly when we played it back in the edit van. It was all a tad embarrassing if i'm honest.

You see, the threat of violence towards a TV news cameraman is never far from the surface in many jobs that we film but usually you can see it coming and prepare for it. But just for a moment, a small tiny spider no bigger than a penny, made my heart leap more than any confrontation on the court steps ever has.

From now on, I'm sticking to the news and leaving the Macro ring to the wildlife cameramen... They must be bloody nutters. Oh, and the footage will be safely buried... I have a reputation to uphold y'know.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter, and is off to change his shorts.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Book review: The News, a user's manual. By Alain De Botton.

It's not often that during the whirlwind that is our news gathering lives, involving the day to day dissemination of death, destruction, politicking, unfaithfulness, health and invention of our fellow man, do we think about what it is that we, as news organisations, are actually peddling to the news watching public as they push fish fingers into their offsprings little faces during the tea time bulletin.

The News. A user's manual.

We should be thinking about this a little more.

I came accross Alain De Botton's book online whilst searching for comic references to the news, for as regular readers of this blog will attest, my mind works in mysterious ways when it comes to telling you how i go about my day as a tv news cameraman. A work more about the philosophy of our industry, it delves deep into the psyche of those that gather, report and consume the news.

( You see, even though most of this blog has the gravitas of Spongebob Squarepants, i can sometimes deliver serious material. This post is one. )

I'm glad i found the book. Having read it within 24 hours, i recognised nearly every single sentence it contained. A philosophical book containing references to Greek culture, Shakespeare and Catholic religion is not a book i would ordinarily read, but tie them up with the modern language of the news industry of today and you have a book that will make you think a little differently about how to go about your daily news producing life.

It isn't light reading. I had to stop and think on a page by page basis about what it is that the news industry is about and why we do what it is that we do. Is the news a constant stream of failure, death and destruction? Are we obsessed by health, disaster and celebrity titillation?

Yes, yes it is and yes, yes we are. It's the modern world of news overload.

Why is this and what can we, as news people do about it? This book will make you think about it. Not just as a news professional, but as a person in a wider world where differing culture, expectations and meaning are almost limitless.

The book has resonance for me. Alain writes of an incident in Hampshire where a Father killed his two children and then himself. I was one of the tv news crews that filmed the scene. The deeper meaning and consequences of such an act and the subsequent news coverage is explained by Alain in the book.

I on the other hand, had a different outlook on the scene before me. Desperate not to think too much about what had occurred on the very ground beneath my feet, i turned my attention inward, to something much more mundane.

If reading a book doesn't do it for you in the modern digital world, you can at least watch the video above, a kind of condensed version. Whatever your interest in the news though, be it a reporter, editor, photographer or news junkie, find a way to read the book. I recommend it.

You can get the book HERE.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.