I’m always looking for a fun second camera to add new angles and new opportunities to my broadcast filming. Dan Chung over at newsshooter.com mentioned the Sony A5100 when I met up with him over Christmas and so I thought I’d give it a try.
It’s a tiny little camera but can shoot up to 50mbps in XAVS which is incredible really. It’s touch focus is outstanding, as you’ll see in the film it even does smooth pull focuses.
After having shot this test footage “A day in the life of Ketso” I would even be confident enough to use this as an “A” camera if I had to (though an external audio recorder is needed).
In a bid to help people I’ve recorded a tutorial passing on my still rather limited knowledge of using FCPX for news editing. This isn’t an “official” video by any one broadcaster, just me explaining what has been working for me during my regular news edits.
There so many different ways to do everything in this software but I’ve found this a quick and dirty solution to most problems including colour correction, splitting audio and many other things.
I’d love any feedback and also any comments about your own workflow and what I could improve. It’s a long (35 minute) video that shows me edit an entire piece and explain what I am doing. I hope you find it useful!
We all make mistakes, God knows I’ve made so many that I’ve lost count. Therefore I thought it only right and proper to share a few of the classics that still seem to happen day in and day out across the industry. Hopefully reading the five most common cameraman mistakes here will remind you not to make them yourself.
The five below are the best I could come up with but feel free to drop me a line via twitter (@imagejunkies) or post a comment below with some of your own.
The silent movie
You set up a beautifully lit interview and marvel over the shade of your backlight, you run personal mics out for the guest and your Reporter, everything looks and sounds great. . .And then you have to grab some B-roll or rush off to another big story. You shoot more amazing shots and then after about five minutes you suddenly remember that you forgot to switch audio track two back to the camera mic! How often have all of us made this mistake and come back with mute pictures? These days I’m not so worried because I shoot on a Sony PMW 500 and it has four channels, two of which I always leave on my camera top mic, but if I’m not editing the pictures I know whoever is won’t be happy that I’ve made them mess around ingesting tracks three and four. A true classic cameraman’s gaffe.
The double tap
Quick the event is happening. . . You are all keyed up and hit the record button, only in the excitement you hit it twice and fail to notice. You follow the action for the next ten minutes, stopping and starting the record and think you’ve got great pictures. Then you come to edit. . .and realise all you have is feet running, shots of the sky and and the start of questions – You got your record out of sync. I once heard that an unnamed BBC cameraman filmed an interview with Ayatollah Khomeini on his return to Iran and made this mistake. In a ballsy move he realised what he’ done, owned up to it and asked the head of the Iranian revolution to do the interview again, and he did!
Oh, you mean I just filmed the wrong person?
So you are outside court and have no idea what the person you are waiting to film looks like. Eventually a colleague appears and points them out as they arrive. You throw the camera on your shoulder and record a brilliant tracking shot as they walk into court. “Did you get them?” asks your colleague, “Of course,” you reply, “How could I miss him? He was six foot two with a limp and a pony tail.” Your colleagues jaw hits the floor with a clang, “No,you idiot, that wasn’t him, it was the short guy next to him.”
Another apocryphal story I have heard was of a local news shooter in the Midlands who spent the day filming Princess Anne only to get to the edit suite and be told that he’d actually gathered wonderful pictures of her Lady in waiting.
I thought your hair was meant to look like that. . .
Let’s be honest, many of us shooters are men. I don’t know a good hair cut from a bad one and if somebody asks me how their hair looks I generally think it looks fine. So why do Reporters expect us to notice if a bit of hair is in the wrong place? I learnt the hard way, if in doubt always mention the hair, collar or tie of those you are filming as people get very upset if you let them appear on TV looking a mess.
I wish I’d have done the interview over there
We are nearly always in a rush, it’s the nature of the news business. Don’t you hate the way you arrive in a location and are expected to chose the perfect spot to film an interview in the space of just ten seconds, having never seen the location before? No matter how much I try to act unflappable I always allow other people’s stress to make me flustered and choose an interview spot without always considering some of the less obvious alternatives. Then half way through the first answer I realise that the opposite side of the room is much nicer or the sun is dropping and I’m about to get a shadow descend across their face. . .You think about stopping and asking everyone to move and then your reporter asks the crunch question, the guest begins to cry and you realise there is no second chance to do it, you’ll just have to live with a mediocre shot.
Have you ever wanted to read a novel about a cameraman? I have, and I’ve even tried writing some short stories myself. But there aren’t many of them. I’d been looking for a while when I finally discovered “Shooter in the Crosshairs” by Rick Portier. Rick is a cameraman working in regional news in the US but he is also an incredibly talented wordsmith. Even his blog is well written and entertaining http://turdpolishertv.wordpress.com/
Before I tell you what I thought of his, here’s the blurb to shooter in the crosshairs, to whet your appetite:
Brock Nicholls screwed up.
When his television career went down in flames on the steps of a Dallas courthouse, it made national news and earned the TV photog a night in lock-up. Now, Brock’s stuck in the place where it all started, Baton Rouge, working for Percy Finch and his “Good News” strategy that has viewers flocking to the competition. If that weren’t bad enough, Finch has Brock locked into shooting pet parades for Katie Couric wannabes like Nancy Patrick.
Against his better judgment, Brock drags Nancy to the scene of a fire where he is plunged into the world that originally ignited his passion for this business – a world before cookie-cutter anchors and Barbie doll reporters. There he finds something that has been sorely missing in his life – the first real person he’s met in years, Ida Mae Christophe.
Brock is sure that, through her eyes, he can tell the story of a neglected corner of the metro wallowing in poverty, crime, and fear. A story so intense, it will catapult him back to the top. In order to do it, he and Nancy will have to find the arsonist hiding in the circle of lighted torches around the burning cross.
When he finally comes face-to-face with the man behind the sheet, Brock discovers he has one more demon to exorcise – one from his youth. In order to do that, he’ll have to decide between telling the story of a lifetime and sending a murderer to jail.
So what did I think of it? I bloody loved it. It really reflected our lives, our needs and our fears. The dialogue is electric and some of the quotes are worth keeping. Below are some of the the dialogue I highlighted on my kindle as I read it:
“It wasn’t her story. It wasn’t even our story. The story belonged to the people in it. We were just helping them tell it. That’s why I’d worked my ass off shooing it.”
“It was an accident. I violated the first rule of news. I got involved. I’m supposed to record the news, not make it.”
“The access. The action. The voyeuristic trips into other people’s lives.”
“Reporters were more interested in what I could do for them than what we could do for the story.”
“I was trained to be a fly on the wall – a silent witness to history – never get involved. I always struggled with when to stop being a journalist and start acting like a human being. When did the story stop being the story and become a real person with real feelings?”
“News is significant. It’s weighty. The first draft of history.”
“It’s a job. Just like bartender or meter maid. You act like it’s some glorious calling – like an art you have to suffer for. It’s what pays the bills, man.”
“Everybody’s got a story worth telling, Slick. Something they did. Sacrifices made. Lessons learned. It’s up to guys like me to tell them.”
“There it was, page one in the propaganda handbook – control the message”
“Behind Icky’s viewfinder, I told myself it was just another story and forced all emotion from my body. It was the only way I was going to get through this without doing something stupid.”
I love looking at the top shooters in US Regional news. Some of those guys make me gasp at their creativity and wander I how can incorporate some of their techniques into my own shooting. In the course of my surfing today I came across the work of KARE’s Jonathan Malat – a multiple NPPA award winner. His shots are beautiful and his use of upsound is superb.
Jonathan Malat is the current 2014 Television News Photographer of the Year. Malat has also been awarded this honor by The National Press Photographers Association in 2002 & 1998.
Malat is the Director Of Photojournalism at KARE in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Malat has been a photojournalist for the last 19 years at KARE-TV. He previously worked at WBFF-TV and WJZ-TV both in Baltimore.
Jonathan’s photography has also been featured on 10 National Edward R. Murrow Awards, over 50 N.A.T.A.S. Emmys, and over 80
National N.P.P.A. awards.
In addition to daily news assignments, Jonathan is also the primary photographer for Boyd Huppert’s Land of 10,000 Stories. A weekly feature segment at KARE that Jonathan and Boyd started as a way to work more consistently together on meaningful stories in their community while honing their craft of storytelling.
Huppert & Malat’s passion for storytelling and teamwork has allowed them to share this knowledge of their craft at the National Writers Workshop, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, TV New Zealand, Denmarks Radio, TV2(DK), and NRK in Norway. Jonathan and Boyd are also longtime faculty members at the NPPA Advanced Storytelling Workshop held each spring in San Marcos, Texas.
Yesterday I was interviewed via webcam by the Rory Peck trust. We discussed many things that readers of this site should find interesting inc: Getting into the industry, how important are reporter stand ups? the difference between TV and web video and loads of other stuff. I was a bit nervous and fear that I may have waffled but I hope you find it informative. . . As always any feedback welcome in the comments.
I have covered many conflicts over the years, but in all that time I have rarely felt that my life was in direct danger. I’ve been roughed up at check points in the congolese jungle and dodged bullets in the fields of Afghanistan but I always felt confident that I would be OK.
Today I wanted to draw attention to a man who I respect greatly and whose adventures scare the hell out of me. . . my friend, Abdul Wahid Khan. He is a cameraman and editor for Al Jazeera and has had more close shaves than you can shake a stick at. Just listening to his tales terrifies me and with his kind permission I wanted to share a couple of them with you today. After spending many weeks at a time on assignment in Syria he has recently been working in Iraq covering the advance of ISIS. Here’s his story in his own words:
A few days ago I was informed that I would be traveling to Iraq. For some reason this trip made me feel very nervous. I spent late nights and early mornings checking and rechecking my equipment. Finally my visa arrived and I was ready to go.
I left South Africa on the 17 June 2014 and arrived in Irbil the next day. Shortly afterwards I was asked to travel to another town.
19 June 2014
Its 7am and the heat is staggering. It feels like you are standing in front of a powerful heater. We meet with our guide who is to take us to our destination. Along the way we see Iraqi Government tanks and cars blown up. We pass many check points guarded by soldiers. Every town has their own check points, making sure the bad guys don’t get in. Queues of cars are lining up to fill up on petrol – of which there is a shortage. We also fill up only to discover that the petrol was not good quality and our car refuses to start.
Our driver eventually arranges for another vehicle and we continue our journey. Arriving at the last check point, we interview a commander who tells us of the situation. We await further instructions from a guide on the other side before we can pass beyond the last check point. Eventually he informs us that it is safe to cross. We jump in the car and head off. Thirty seconds later I hear a loud bang and the car begins to burn. The fumes are beginning to make it harder to breath. At this stage I was sure it is a bomb, the burning sounds like a fountain of fireworks. I was sure that the car was going to explode any second. I tried to get out but the child locks on both the back doors were on. The driver and reporter exit the car and eventually manage to let me out.
We rush to the back of the car and kneel on the burning ground to take cover. There’s a sniper. He continues shooting in our direction, twenty more bullets come our way. After about half an hour the firing has stopped. Luckily the car hasn’t exploded and we climb back in and head for safety. I realise to my horror that if I had been sitting on the left side of the car I would have been killed – the bullet had come through the roof of the car, bouncing off the inside and landing on my bag.
19 June 2014 – later that day
We head back towards Irbil.The Peshmarga (Kurdish army) guard checkpoints trying to make sure that its people are safe. Hundreds of people mass at the Kurdish border desperately trying to escape from the advancing ISIS forces( Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). My biggest fear as we travel at 20km/h is that there could be car bomb amongst the hundreds of vehicles along the road.
Our colleagues in the Irbil office have heard of our ordeal, they greet us and thank God we have arrived safely. I spend the rest of my days in Irbil working in the studio doing live broadcasts.
22 June 2014
I am informed that we will try to go back to the town of Kirkuk. This time we will use a different road, hopefully avoiding the sniper. Once again we pick up our guide, who will only take us to the last check point. We call our producers who will meet us on the other side and ask if the road is safe to travel through. Everything seems to be clear. Burned Iraqi tanks are seen along the way. The black flag of ISIS group is seen. We pass an oil refinery. After a nervous journey We reach Kirkuk which is controlled by ISIS.
We are stopped at a check-point manned by heavily armed masked men. We inform them of who we are and our purpose. We are escorted by one of the ISIS vehicles to the leader (Ameer). The gunmen take us to his office. He too is masked. He speaks a bit of English, saying to me, “nice to meet you”. All the men are masked, they would not remove them. We inform him of our purpose and he agrees to us filming at the checkpoint. We are escorted back there and begin filming our first report. The streets are empty, not many people to be seen. The people we did find we interviewed. How did they feel living amongst ISIS? One man told us, it was fine, he did not have any issues. Another said, “I do not wish to answer that question.” Some people have no other place to go. They live in fear, ISIS are the law in the towns controlled by them. We will spend the next few days trying to film some reports in nearby towns as well.
24 June 2014
We film at a mosque that was bombed and shot at. After the midday prayer we decide to head to another location. As we are about to get into the car, we see a helicopter over us. We know that it is not a good place to be standing around. Seconds later, a bomb falls just meters away from us. The bomb lands on a house. I immediately switch on my camera and film the smoke rising. We rush to the hospital, doctors treat a man covered in blood. The doctors ask not to be filmed – Just the patient. The man has no pulse, doctors try desperately to get his heart to beat again. Family members start to arrive at the hospital, mothers,wives, sons and brothers. The women cry, while the men look towards my camera and shout out to the Iraqi government.
25 June 2014
I am awakened by the reporter at 7am. He informs me that ISIS has a demonstration and would like for us to attend. Hundreds of 4×4’s mounted with guns, about a thousand men. All armed and masked. They are all lined up ready for action. I ask the reporter if it’s allowed to get out and film but we are informed by one of the men, that we shouldn’t. He then asks a few men to get into the back of our 4×4 and take us away. We immediately realise that the situation is not good. The reporter calls head office in Doha to inform them of our situation. We are taken to a base surrounded by armed masked men. They ask us to follow them. Some of the men remove my equipment from the 4×4, when asked what were they doing, they replied, that they were just putting it in the room. They took us into a room and asked for our cellphones. We were being detained without any reason.
After a while the reporter asked to talk to the leader, one of the men just said he is busy and could not talk to him. We were detained for six hours, with many thoughts going through my mind. Later another masked man came into the room asking the reporter what we were doing there. He told the others that they should let us go as there were going to be clashes between themselves and the army. He immediately requested us to take our bags and go. We left the base and decided that we cannot trust ISIS, we headed directly back to Kurdistan. When we got back to the office in Irbil we heard that another team has been missing for days. They had been arrested by ISIS and had witnessed over 20 killings including two men just because they were smoking.
On 17th June my friend and colleague Stephen Adrain alongside BBC Reporter Paul Wood, a Security advisor and another shooter called Javier Manzano filmed the above combat footage in the town of Jalula in Iraq. When I saw the piece at the time I found my heart racing just watching it, they were surrounded and the Kurdish troops they were with were outnumbered and beginning to panic. I was fascinated to find out more about the assignment, how they found themselves in that predicament and also the practicalities of filming in such a tough environment. They were lucky to make it out in one piece and I did wander at what point as a Journalist you consider putting down the camera and asking for a weapon to protect yourself. . . Stephen has kindly allowed me to post his story. . .
We had driven to Jalula to do a Piece To Camera and interviews: local driver, translator, BBC security, Paul, Javier and me. We had been to the frontline earlier in the day, and now we had regrouped, and reassessed the situation. With the agreement of those further up the chain of command, we had gone to where was supposed to be under the control of the Peshmerga. What could go wrong?
Javier was filming with a Canon C300, and I had chosen to use a Canon 5D- for the non-technical- these are both cameras that raise the bar in producing a better picture that’s pushing at the fringes of “acceptable” for cinema. Unfortunately neither camera is great for Newsgathering, and the 5D has ergonomics that only an octopus could love.
As we left the vehicle, I remember thinking what a faff it was wearing a helmet, and then moved briskly to the other side of the road to get a PTC- Paul’s mic was already switched on, and the audio levels were set to auto.
Paul and I cross, Javier and the Security advisor follow on. Before I reach my first position someone cries out in Kurdish, Paul cries “Down! Down! Down!” and then the gunfire erupts. In spite of my camera’s awful controls, I am rolling, and manage not to knock the camera out of record. I lie on the ground. I try to assess if this is just a brief burst or something more sustained, but shouts of “Get behind cover!” “Come with me, come with me!” overrule any desire to film the return fire. We sprint for safety. Omar shepherds us towards a basement that the soldiers are also using for cover. It is part of an unfinished building, and is a gloomy pit, exposed at the rear and to one side. Our eyes struggle with the darkness. Our eyes struggle with the contrast between the darkness of the room and the low evening sun that bleaches out the view beyond.
Control of the street has been lost. Have ISIS forces regained the town? There had been a suggestion that 160 vehicles were heading this way to reclaim lost ground. Understandably, our driver has sped off in what was a “soft target”, but will he come back to collect us? A soldier leans heavily against a wall, shot in the leg: Javier applies a tourniquet. There is gunfire, and the return of gunfire on the streets above.
As Paul and I try to get a few PTCs done it becomes apparent that this foxhole potentially offers us the safety of a tomb, with skittish soldiers firing off defensively. Our injured soldier grows paler, and he is becoming thirsty. The PTCs aren’t great in terms of exposure and composition, but I am new to “this”, and there is a trade-off to be made between a better PTC and an increased risk by changing position. In between takes Paul apologises, “I am sorry I got you into this.”
Where have the rest of the Peshmerga soldiers gone? Have we been overrun? Calls are placed. We contact our producer Nicola Careem: Paul shouts down the phone against the sound of outgoing gun shots which are amplified against the concrete walls of a stairwell little more than 2m wide. Javier is rolling; I am rolling; although at this stage I am beginning to question the point of doing so beyond its function as a final historical record. Paul calls a Peshmerga commander we had been with earlier in the day, the line is bad, and the background noise makes hearing any replies difficult. “Bring reinforcements”. Two words, just two words. We struggle to communicate a simple command.
Eventually the panic subsides; the snipers are in retreat, and a first wave of cars pull up. We emerge from the darkness into open ground thinking that they can offer us a ride only to discover that the vehicles are full, and then a second wave of cars arrives. Unable to auto iris or auto focus, my camera is a handicap as we try and squeeze into the boot of an SUV. As we prepare to drive off, I throw out the cooler box to make more room. The vehicle stops. The passenger in the front seat has got out, walks around to the back, and thrusts the cooler box back at me. I come to realise that safe and immediate evacuation is slightly further down this soldier’s pecking order than a cold bottle of water.
In the 15 minutes it takes for us to reconnect with Nicola, and Dylan Nalid, the pressure slowly lifts from the vehicle, there are pauses in the chat as we each rationalise what has preceded. Like a car crash, I remember thinking about my helmet strap, and I remember getting out of the basement, but everything else in between is slightly more prismatic.
We spill from the vehicle at the barracks to be greeted by our producer Nicola Careem, choking words in anxiety, her tears are a cue for me to swallow hard and reflect on our close shave. The soldier who was shot survived. I am told he was in the background as I started to compose the picture for the PTC.
We gather our stuff together, get back in the vehicles and head for our hotel. As we drive for 3 hours, Javier and I start to transcode material, mark up the key shots and get translations of what the soldiers had shouted. By the time we reach our hotel, our laptops are flat, and a 2 hour drive has lasted 3.
The plan is to edit the story in two parts, and though it will be tight for time, this deadline seems achievable. The God of Editing has one last surprise to play on us. Javier’s laptop has slowed to a crawl, and in the time I have cut the first section, the edit next door has stalled. No track has been laid, we are the lead, there are 2 minutes still to cut, and just when you think you have got it all done, FCP won’t let us export the piece and send it to London. Frantic calls to the calming tones of Rob Kennedy (BBC Editing support) reveal a quirk of FCP, we delete phantom in/out points, and we finally feed to London. By the time our piece runs, the euphoria of surviving a gun battle has faded and been substituted with the euphoria of having just made the bulletin.
1 am- and we regroup in a deserted restaurant for a beer and a bowl of soup. Nicola wants to lift the mood, and asks for some music- Tony Bennet kicks into life on the bar’s PA, and as we mull over those 10 long minutes, he croons “The Best Has Yet to Come.”
On June 6th 2014 I was lucky enough to be part of the BBC’s coverage of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. My assignment was to work with BBC Defence Correspondent Caroline Wyatt and Producer Tony Brown and to spend time with veterans.
First we crossed to France and filmed with the wonderful Tony Colgan and his grandson Anthony. Tony was a real character with plenty of good stories. He’d landed with the second wave on D-Day and had fought throughout the Normandy campaign.
After our prefilming with Tony we returned on the overnight ferry to Portsmouth just in time to get onto another boat – this time the British navy’s flagship – HMS Bulwark. Two more veterans accompanied us.
Unfortunately we failed to make our slot on that evenings 6 o’clock news. It took over an hour to feed via our BGAN from onboard as the boat kept changing direction. It was heart breaking as we had a good piece. As always when you miss your slot (not that I’ve really done it before) you analyse what went wrong and try and take away lessons learned. On this occasion it seems to be a combination of the boat moving erratically as it left Portsmouth and possibly the amount of shipping around us that may have been using BGAN’s for comms. I tried to keep moving the dish to keep a strong signal but every time I looked away it would drop again. Even when the signal seemed strong the connection was still very slow.
Luckily we had a chance to redeem ourselves the next day and, once the boat was anchored off the coast of Normandy we were able to do a string of lives for the BBC Breakfast news (happily the BGAN worked perfectly this time).
We then had the amazing experience of wading ashore from a landing craft onto the beach at Arromanches. I love my military history and was very excited by this.
With fresh footage we quickly hooked up with our BBC colleagues and I edited the package in time for the 1 o’clock news. With that finished we then cut our six and ten o’clock news films using our footage filmed earlier in the week with Tony Colgan.
Using my trusty Canon S110 I also found time to throw together a quick behind the scenes film on HMS Bulwark.
I was very pleased with the films that we made for broadcast and decided to recut longer versions for posterity. They are a bit rough around the edges as I squeezed the edit into my limited spare time but I hope you think it was worth it.
I’ve been lucky enough during my career to shoot a number of documentaries. Above is my most recent, a 45 minute film exploring the lack of equality worldwide between men and women.
I find shooting doco’s much more intense than shooting daily news. The whole process takes over your life from the planning stage through to the editing and delivery (I also edited the film above).
The sort of films that I make are current affairs and I try to film real events as they happen. Five useful tips that I’ve learnt over the last few years are:
1) Always have a vision. Decide how you want the film to look. Should it be handheld and free flowing with fast editing? Or is it based around a more formal sit down interviews? If you have a director then you really need to nail this down with them beforehand. Have a style in mind and stick to it. For me I like to keep things natural, utilising a lot of handheld work and as little lighting or staging of things as possible. One concept that I used a lot in the gender equality film was to mic up the characters and then set up far away and let them chat to each other without me and my camera in their eyeline – it seemed a good way to bring forth great soundbites.
2) Shoot more than you think you need. When I shoot news I am always keen not to overshoot, but when it comes to doco’s I’ve learnt that you always seem to need more shots than you could ever predict. Because interviews can run long make sure you have a full variety of cut aways – listening shots, non sync wide shots, close ups of eyes etc etc. Even if you are convinced you don’t need general views of the local town, sunsets etc etc – make sure you get them. If you have a Presenter get lots of shots of them walking around, looking at views and that sort of thing. These pretty, generic sequences can really save your bacon during the edit.
3) Use a sound man! Unfortunately I’ve never had the budget for one, but my gosh I wish I could work with one. At times on my doco shoots I’ve been using all four channels of audio on my PMW500 – a nightmare and impossible to monitor (see the debate in the kitchen in Iceland in the film above for an example). I’m never comfortable using more than one radio mic without a soundy. In the end I had to insist on most debates being done with characters sitting close together and the producer sitting on the floor with my Sennheiser 416 on a long cable.
4) Back up your footage every day. I shoot on SD cards and every evening I would ingest the footage into Final cut so that we always had a back up should the original cards get lost or become corrupt. It also saves the editor a lot of time once you are back home.
5) Hold your shots longer than normal and keep your reframes smooth so that the editor can use them if he or she wants. If you come from news then maybe you are like me and count to five in your head when holding a shot. When working on a doco I try to hold each shot a little longer, to let it breath. I’m also aware that my reframes may get included in the final edit so I try to keep them smooth without crash zooms to focus etc.
These are just a few brief tips but I hope that they help you make the transition from news to documentary work. Please feel to post your own helpful hints and tips in the comments section of this post.
Below are two more documentaries that I have shot. The one about Afghanistan I also edited.