It has certainly been a while…so it’s high time this site got itself up and running again.
Not that I/the company has been idle; in fact the past 2 years have flown by and work in hand has had to take priority over everything else, sometimes even over personal sanity. I’ve always known I’ve had a work/life balance which teetered on the brink of disaster, but it was only reading Philip Bloom’s superb post on the matter back in January when I truly recognised the extent of the problem. Being fairly new to the freelance/self-employed worlds hasn’t helped; it’s easy to say yes to every job going and before you know it you’re working double the hours you were back in a staff job just in case the work dries up. And frankly when you’re working so many hours on the actual job, the last thing on your mind is keeping a new blog going when you know it has yet to establish itself and find an audience.
So I’m going to give it another go; initially I’ll be getting the website updated with recent projects and then hopefully I’ll find time to blog more regularly (and more relevantly) in a bid to find my voice and an audience. Recently I’ve found myself with a lot to say on YouTube, digital video and production in general so let’s see if I can keep it up and put fingers to keyboard more in future!
So if you read my previous blog you’ll have heard me mention that I’m not afraid of hard graft. What I am afraid of is finishing a 13 hour shift at Wembley at 9.30pm, nannying the driver with the best route back to Surrey, and then leaving home again at 3.15 the next morning for my next job. I suppose I’ve done it now, I survived, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The day (I use the term very loosely) started badly when the driver who’d come to pick me up considered it normal to arrive 10 minutes early (at 3.15 in the morning that’s not a virtue), leave his engine running outside my house (my street is so narrow you can touch a car in the road by leaning out of the house either side of the road) and to talk to his mate on the phone with his window open. I repeat, at 3.15 in the morning. That said, there’s something quite intriguing about getting up that early; if someone asks you to get to work at 7 it’s a pain, but a 4am start is altogether more of a challenge and therefore almost…fun. Driving to work past the fleshpots of south London when they’re kicking out after a solid Saturday night is an eye opening experience, and ordering sober at 5am from a 24 hour McDonald’s almost righteous.
Again the job was with/for an old Soccer AM/Channelbee chum, this time the bearded wonder that is Robbie Knox. We’ve embarked on a similar journey so help each other out by hiring one another when we need an extra pair of hands on a shoot. His client in this case was the agency for the Spanish Tourist Board, organizers of the now annual ‘A Taste of Spain’ extravaganza which takes over Regent Street offering food, drink, entertainment and sport with an Iberian twist. The event was due to kick off at midday, leaving us 8 hours to pick up shots of the preparations. The main idea of the early start was for us to pick up a great timelapse of the street being transformed into a fiesta but in reality (and I haven’t seen Robbie’s shots yet) we’ve probably got an hour of Saturday night dregs relieving themselves outside Uniqlo and then 7 hours of vans delivering scaffolding.
The sky looked nice though, and McDonald’s did well out of us (except Jamie the runner who inexplicably for a young bloke who can get away with it has made a pact not to eat fast food throughout 2011).
Midday came and so did the throngs. I had mega rig with me
which is never easy on the move in a big crowd but I did my best. Our brief was to capture as much of the event as possible but with a focus on the sports zone, a pretty impressive collection of stands offering golf swing analysis, an F1 simulator, the World Cup, basketball matches and more. Robbie got the job of filming the massive paella and sangria stalls, for some reason, maybe because he was the boss.
That’s pretty much it really. It rained and we didn’t get any paella or sangria (well, Robbie says he didn’t and we have to take his word for it) but we did get a few pints in at the end of the day (whilst we were transferring the rushes from my camera to his laptop, in case our wives are reading this) and Jamie the runner got to guard our bags behind the motor sport stand all afternoon. We got closer to the World Cup than we probably ever will do again, and I can say I saw Regent Street sober at 4am. As for the film of the event, we’ll have to wait until it goes through the various channels but if it reflects the effort many people put in it should do the trick. I’ve long since been sold on Spain but anyone getting their first taste on Sunday will have had a treat.
Due to my commitments on GoalMouth and also to the fact that he’s got more staff now, I haven’t done much for Sheephead at FATV recently. In fact those who knew Channelbee will be happy to hear that Joe’s not only got Jon Dyson but also Tony ‘the Hammer’ Watson on board now which is great news as he’s a top bloke who knows his football even if you can’t understand what he’s saying most of the time. So naturally I was happy to get the call to do a day with the team up at Wembley covering for Dyson who was on U21 duty.
FATV seem to be growing as an operation and now have tv giants Endemol behind them so I fully expect them to go from strength to strength; think of the assets they have at their disposal (England players/footage, FA Cup) and the huge fanbase (pretty much anyone who’s interested in football) and you can see I’m hardly going out on a limb there. Joe and his team have the access, they have the creative experience and vitally they have the trust of the hierarchy at the FA and the end result is a great example of what branded content should be; it engages the audience whilst promoting the product. They’re not taking it easy either; on Saturday at various times I think I counted 8 pieces in production. That’s a lesson to any brands seeking to get into video; one glossily produced corporate or brand promo does not a digital audience make, unless you get lucky with one of those elusive ‘virals’. In my humble opinion little and often is the key to building brand awareness and eventually loyalty through video.
8 pieces on the go in one day also meant I was in for a pretty full-on day’s graft. First up was a 3 camera acoustic set and interview featuring Brother, hosted by ESPN’s Richard Lenton. Lighting conditions weren’t ideal and it was a fast turnaround in edit so it’s pretty rough and ready but we prioritised getting the piece out before kickoff rather than making it look and sound prettier:
Channelbee trivia point about Richard Lenton: he appeared as a guest in the original pilot show for the project. Back then he worked at Sky but not on camera, and came to us with a brilliant clip he had of him when he blagged his way onto an African channel as a presenter during the World Cup. During one game his co-presenter was caught short whilst he was on air…cue a lot of jiggling in his seat and an eventual panic dash off camera whilst Richard tried to hold the fort. Wish I could find the clip on YouTube…
Back to Wembley, and Brother duly edited and uploaded, next job was pitchside to pick up whatever I could for a low angle perspective on the game. I may have been 10 feet away from the Swiss keeper but I can tell you, crouched behind the goal isn’t the way to watch football. Stuck without a stool, hunched over a tripod just high enough to peek over the hoarding but low enough not to attract the wrath of the fans in Row A, sweltering under the mid-afternoon sun wrestling with temperamental kit…so I couldn’t tell you how we played but it was certainly a buzz. Then a mad dash into the tunnel for half-time, a desperate swap of cameras and off out onto the pitch with the England Women’s team for their official send off to the World Cup. Back into the tunnel for interviews with some of the Women’s team, back pitchside for midway through the second half, another mad dash upstairs after full time and another hurried edit to get the pitchside cut up on the site for 10pm. Again, priority for the edit was to get it up as soon as possible rather than creating a masterpiece, but I think it’s always interesting to view action from a different angle and here it is:
Today I edited the interviews with the Women’s team so that’s up now:
A pretty full-on day but as I say, I really believe in what FATV are doing and it’s a pleasure to put the hours in with them. Looks like I could be heading out to Germany to be the videographer for the Women’s team at the World Cup which if it happens would be a real honour.
Back in January I was privileged to meet and shoot three generations of Welsh rugby icons: Gareth Edwards, Jonathan Davies and Shane Williams. I wouldn’t claim to be the world’s biggest rugby fan but I know enough to appreciate the quality of the lineup; it’s like getting Sir Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan and David Beckham around a table. Old Soccer AM mucker Robbie Knox and I were on hand to record the interview for the Jaguar Academy of Sport, who wanted to get the guys together to discuss how rugby has changed over the generations. Because of the timing of their careers it made for some fascinating insights; Edwards’ era was staunchly amateur, Davies played both as an amateur and professional, famously also swapping codes, and Williams has enjoyed the trappings of the modern game for the majority of his career. The way the game has progressed is epitomised in the way Wales have prepared for internationals over the years; in the 70′s they’d meet up on a Friday night for what seemed to amount to a team talk and a pint, and nowadays players have their training, nutrition, weight and even sleep monitored 7 days or so in advance of a big match. From my point of view it was also interesting to hear how modern media has affected the game and the ‘celebrity’ status of today’s players, although we probably would have heard a bit more about that had Gavin Henson been there…
Jaguar wanted a short edit of the group interview plus some more individual profiles relating to players’ highlights, heroes etc, plus a final video on the current state of Welsh rugby.
You can watch the group interview here:
And you’ll find the individual pieces on the Jaguar YouTube account.
Robbie and I shot on Sony EX1/3; location was the Miskin Manor outside Cardiff. Rather lovely, actually, and certainly rather more lovely than the Legacy Cardiff International where we stayed. If you’re thinking of staying there, don’t. It might encourage you to throw yourself onto the fast lane of the M4 just outside the window.
Matt Le Tiss is one of my favourite footballers. Pure class on the pitch in his day, now pure gent off it. I had the good fortune to meet him a couple of times back in the Soccer AM days and our paths have now crossed twice more in the past year, first for an 888 video pre-World Cup, and back in February for an FATV shoot. Partly due to his experience on the box and undoubtedly equally because he’s generally a top bloke, you know that when you’ve got a shoot with him, he’ll give you exactly what you need without any fuss.
We were at Warsash Wasps FC, regional winners of the FA Charter Standard Development Club award last year, to help launch this year’s nomination process for the FA Community Awards http://www.thefa.com/yourgame and after a tour of the (very impressive) club he gave me an interview on his early days, influences and memories in football:
While we were there I picked up a few more bits with him including his fantasy 5-a-side team (edited by FATV):
It was the first outing for my new rig including my new Canon 70-200mm F4 IS lens which was pretty essential for the football action, and all in all I was pretty pleased with the result. Part of the problem with filming mostly ‘run and gun’, reality style pieces is that it’s tough to get those perfect shots and there’s always a degree of compromise but I think the key is to have a plan. Yes, 90% of the time that plan will change with the weather, the schedule and usually the talent, but a plan is a good place to start!
Sorry to break the silence with news of someone else’s work, but this has just been tweeted by Mike Butcher of TechCrunch Europe, and it’s the best thing I’ve seen in blummin’ ages.
According to The Daily What, Newsweek recently declared Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of USA’s ‘Dying Cities’. Understandably the good people of Grand Rapids weren’t overly happy with that so they decided to do something about it. Something positive. What resulted was this astonishing video. Now I’m no fan of lip synching videos; I think they’re one rung below cats playing the piano, but they clearly do it for some people. But this is a lip synch with a difference. Watch this, marvel at the preparation involved and then imagine trying to get your town to do the same. Then imagine the pressure of filming it, and the discipline involved.
Go on, watch it to the end of the song; you’ll thank me for it.
PS I’ve been taking another break from the site because of my involvement with GoalMouth but I’m back on it now so more to follow shortly…
Picked up a fun job in more ways than one last week. Fun because I got to team up once again with Soccer AM and Channelbee’s Robbie Knox and also because we were tasked with filming some of the nation’s best comedic talent, at the Loaded LAFTAS. A job for co-sponsors Yazoo, we were in the media run interviewing guests and nominees, quizzing them on their favourite films/funny lines/funny words etc. I was doing the donkey work and brought Robbie in to be the on-screen talent as a) I used to like his vox pop bits on Channelbee and b) he is cheap. Not a huge amount to report, all went pretty much according to plan and predictably the bleep machine (tone, for the technically minded) got a good workout in the edit, especially when it came to everyone’s funniest word. Keith Lemon told us bizarre stories about sweaty nether regions and touching dogs, David Baddiel admitted that The Infidel didn’t make his top 3 funniest films and Vic Reeves seemed pretty perplexed by Robbie’s interviewing technique. He may be no Paxman but all in all I think he did a pretty good job. You can judge for yourself anyway now that the vids are up on Yazoo’s YouTube and Facebook channels. There were about 6 in total so you might want to check back there in a while to see the others:
I love a good behind the scenes video. Yes I pick up a lot of work making them (really wish I could have done this one) but watching them brings out the geek in me; I really want to know how things are done. So when I saw @cinescopophilia tweet this today I had to check it out…it’s a pretty in-depth overview of how Sky Sports put together a 3D sports OB:
A few points I noted in particular which may or may not be of interest…firstly it’s always music to my ears hearing the great Bruce Hammal on a voiceover. Now that certain people have…ahem…departed Isleworth, there’s certainly an argument to be had that he should be crowned King of Sky Sports for his long and distinguished service. I had already been a fan, having watched TransWorld Sport for years, so when we started using him for voiceovers on Soccer AM it was an honour. Robbie had the good fortune to be producing him on his sessions and I don’t think he ever got used to hearing that voice behind everyday conversation…so you’re thinking “THE TITLE DECIDER….TWO GIANTS GO HEAD TO HEAD…MANCHESTER UNITED VERSUS CHELSEA, LIVE, ON SKY SPORTS 1 AND HD 1″ and you’re getting “Ah, Robbie, feeling a little worse for wear this morning?” There’s a half decent sketch about living with a voiceover guy – this one the equally great Peter Dickson – here actually:
Sorry, I digress. My second point about the 3D video is that an accusation often thrown at technology is that it cuts jobs; 3D has done the opposite. In this case, Sky Sports now have two separate teams broadcasting two different feeds, and completely new roles have even had to be created; it’s someone’s job to calculate the perceived depth on any particular shot, for example. On a slight tangent, the video explains why the shots chosen on the 3D feed are often very different to those on the standard feed…
…which brings me onto my final point. Soccer Am viewers should notice another familiar voice, if not face, from the piece. If you didn’t, go back and listen to it again when they’re at the OB…
The match director wearing the specs is Steve Smith…of Steve and Jonty fame. We’re going back a long, long time, and I only joined the team towards the end of the Steve and Jonty run, but it has gone down as one of the most fondly remembered items. Top blokes who went on to become two of the most senior football producers and directors in Sky Sports. Anyway, if you fancy a dip in nostalgic waters…
The Badgers v Williams F1…I’d forgotten they used Colonel and Ginger as mascots because we weren’t good enough to play for them. Seem to remember having a decent day out though; had a random love note posted on my car (planted I’m sure by someone on the team), met Dean Whitehead who then was just a young pup making his name at the mighty Oxford United, and then, as always with Badgers matches, had a few drinks with the boys. I do seem to remember this one ending very abruptly when a few local lads turned up to cause trouble but that’s another story, mainly because I can’t remember what happened.
I think I started this talking about 3D technology and ended up talking about a ruck in Didcot but that’s my career for you.
Edit: It almost completely slipped my mind to mention Mr Lovejoy’s hair, more accurately Steve and Jonty’s description of it looking ‘like an onion’, and that penalty miss…think it marked the very start of the ‘Lovejoy’ penalty cry we would hear often over the next few years…
Hot on the heels of the intense post about multi-skilling comes this little gem about geeky new technology. Some would say I’ve changed, others would claim that I always had it in me. Yes I might earn more hits blogging about Richard Keys and Andy Gray, but an old boss once advised me to keep my opinions about people in the industry close to my chest and on this occasion I’m going to follow his advice.
So I have a confession to make: since last summer I’ve been having an affair. With a hard piece of black plastic. It may sound like a Channel 5 documentary but this goes somewhat deeper and I’m hoping it’ll last the course. It has certainly cost me a lot of money, there’s an argument that it may have taken its toll on my marriage (I can’t go anywhere now without bringing it along…the plastic, not the wife) and on many occasions I’ve felt inadequate right after getting it out.
The object of my affection is called HDSLR, and more specifically to me, Canon 7D. If you’re in a relationship with one, especially if you make your own videos, you’ll know what I’m about to say, and frankly there are many who say it better, but if this is news to you, it may be worth reading on.
If you read the last blog or indeed my biography you’ll know that over the last few years I’ve picked up cameras. At Channelbee we used the Sony EX1 or 3
which was a great starter as it’s really user-friendly and you get decent results for minimum effort. When I started out on my own last year I was always going to buy kit and I was heading the same way, but I wouldn’t have got much change out of £10k once I’d bought camera, tripod, mics and lights. And perhaps most importantly I probably wouldn’t have learned anything new. Then early last summer my brother, who’s a news documentary maker at the BBC, told me about a new trend for film-makers using stills cameras…and I was off on a new journey. I saw the beautiful footage people were shooting, read the blogs (links below) and took the plunge. Since then I’ve probably forked out a similar amount to what I would have done for an EX3 kit, but I think I’ve got a lot more to show for it and I believe that my skills have improved because of it, which has to be good for business in the long run.
I’ll keep the geekiness to a minimum because again others do it better and this isn’t about that, but yes, the gist of it is that some stills cameras now shoot superb video. Apparently they were originally designed to cater for news journalists who wanted to be able to grab quick video clips in the field, but since then the boundaries really have been pushed. House shot an entire episode on one (5D Mark II), a 7D-shot film has just been bought from Sundance by Paramount, and if you know what to look for you’ll see music videos, commercials and just about anything else shot on them.
The 7D is a mid-range Canon
and will set you back about £1200 without lens, but you can pick up a 60D for a lot less and your video quality will be the same. There are plenty of choices in terms of video DSLRs out there but the key to their appeal is the size of the sensor inside, which is larger than in most mid-range video cameras and therefore gives you more flexibility with light. Add to this the fact that you can pick and choose your lenses (which is the norm in the film world, and offers more creative flexibility in terms of depth of field)
rather than being stuck with the lens you’re given, and you can start to see why they’re changing the game. Then think about their size, the fact that you can shoot without anyone noticing, and you’re probably sold. And for afters, something which has been a real revelation to me is the genuinely supportive community which has sprung up in the HDSLR world; I wouldn’t have known where to start without the likes of Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, Shane Hurlbut and El Skid who share their expertise and opinions freely, in some cases to an extent where they have become worldwide ambassadors for the movement. I can’t think of a similar community existing in tv and it has come as a truly welcome surprise.
For all their virtues, however, shooting with an HDSLR doesn’t come easy. They’re not designed to be held like a video camera so you need to stabilise them somehow, the sound recorded is practically useless so you have to record that separately, you are limited to clip lengths of around 10 minutes, and there are some more techy issues too which I won’t bore you with. By overcoming these hurdles, most serious HDSLR shooters end up with weird and wonderful Heath-Robinsonesque rigs surrounding the actual camera; this is what I’ve based mine on, for example:
The other side issue of the limitations of HDSLR shooting is that you learn a lot more about how moving pictures (and stills, naturally), are put together. I mentioned earlier that it’s possible to pick up a modern video camera, even a prosumer one, push the red auto button and shoot away but with these it pays to learn the basics of aperture, ISO, shutter speed before you even attempt to master the rest. So it’s a steep learning curve, and as a perfectionist it’s an unsettling experience comparing yourself with very experienced cinematographers, but it’s certainly rewarding. I’m not using my 7D on every shoot, sometimes it’s just not practical, but I’m using it enough to warrant having bought it and I’m not looking back. Looking forwards, the big hitters have already cottoned on to the huge uptake in video DSLR and they’re now building the more attractive features of HDSLR cameras into their new video camera releases so where the future lies I don’t know.
So that’s my new mistress out in the open. I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an example of my 7D in action at the recent ‘No Trousers’ day. It’s a good example to choose because it showcases the positive in that I was able to film on the tube without attracting attention (or getting permission) and the negative because as I was forced to shoot without any support, some of the shots are a tad wobbly:
I got into tv production way back when because I wanted to be creative. I’m pretty sure it was Chris Evans’ antics on The Big Breakfast which planted the seed although for a few years after I harboured some sort of pretence that I was going to become the next big theatre director by ripping people’s tickets at the London Palladium. But when I eventually jumped into tv I had my career plan worked out: 5 years in the ranks, then producing, then running my own show, running an independent production company and eventually running the BBC.
I’ve always been interested in learning new skills (sometimes at the expense of sense, like my ill-fated and somewhat ridiculous attempt to pick up Esperanto), so the frenetic pace of early life at Soccer AM suited me. Whether it was because we were a small team or because Sky Sports always seemed to encourage a ‘sink or swim’ mentality, we were all called upon to do whatever it took to get the show to air on a Saturday. So we’d be calling up fans one minute, bands the next, sitting in on goal edits, chucking in a voiceover, writing a shoddy gag or knocking up a prop for Sheephead’s flea circus. As the years went by and I moved up the ladder I made less flea circuses and spent most of my time doing producery stuff like writing, checking and sitting in the gallery, but my point in all this is that most of us in the team could quite rightly call themselves multi-skilled. Unlike many productions we didn’t have the luxury of specialised archive researchers, scriptwriters or guest bookers; we all had to muck in and get the job done.
When some of us left to start Channelbee, part of the appeal for me was that we’d need to become even more diverse to survive. We’d all directed shoots and sat in on edits but we hadn’t actually used the cameras or pushed the buttons, and we certainly knew nothing about codecs, bitrates and HTML. Two years on and most of us left as half-decent self-shooting, self-editing tv and digital producers with a pretty good grounding in social media. That’s all well and good; it’s clear that with digital convergence and cost-cutting impacting every budget, production staff are going to need more than a basic grasp of technology to survive. The reason I’ve been able to go it alone rather than sitting waiting for the tv jobs to come in is because I’ve thrown myself into the learning experience, and I’m enjoying shooting in particular far more than I ever thought I would. I also believe that from a personal point of view, sitting inbetween ‘traditional’ tv and digital production is going to be useful; I’m already picking up work because of that particular experience.
There is another side to the story, however, and it’s one which worries me in quieter moments. The more production staff become all-singing, all-dancing Jacks of most trades, the less we encourage the genuine craftsmen who made our media industry one of the strongest in the world. If we’re expected to pick up a new skill every six months, what chance do we have to become the very best in just one discipline? And the more multi-skilled content producers there are, the less the rate clients/employers are willing to pay which in turn begins to price genuine experts out of the market. In the last 6 months or so I’ve had at least 3 conversations with specialists in tv/film/photography who learned and mastered their crafts in the 60′s and 70′s and who now can’t either find the work or can’t work for the rates offered. Add to this the fact that equipment needed to produce content is more accessible and affordable than ever (DSLR technology in particular has brought film-making within the pocket of most of us) and the issue becomes even more complex. I agree with the argument that reducing the barriers to production in this way expands the talent pool and therefore ultimately helps the industry, but I just wonder where we’ll be in 20 years’ time if the whole industry is self-taught and multi-skilled.
Perhaps the responsibility lies with broadcasters/studios etc who could do their bit to safeguard the future by offering on the job training, but I’m not holding my breath. The only training I had in 8 years at Sky was Health/Safety and a day on team leading. I pushed for camera and edit training at Channelbee (which, thankfully, was forthcoming) and I’ve since funded some out of my own pocket.
There’s no real answer to this and as you’ll probably gather I’m not quite sure where I stand; I’m just happy to be surfing the wave right now in order to keep my own head above water, but if you’ve got an opinion, especially if you’re involved in the industry, I’d love to hear it.