What does it take to put out a live show for broadcast and a live audience? This is a question I would have found so broad at the start of this academic year that I may as well have asked myself ‘how long is a piece of string?’ In the past I have done shows that were recorded live but this was always done in a very sterile, academic environment with no live audience and a very long time to prepare the show for broadcast in comparison to what is required in this year- my final year at University. Thankfully now, as I sit here and write this blog many months later, it is much clearer what is required to put out a live show for broadcast and a live audience and I can confirm- It is still a very broad question. Nonetheless the objective of this blog is to break down and explicate what it takes to achieve the task in hand not once or twice but four times in total.
So why do I have to be involved with four live shows I hear you ask? The short answer is that it’s a requirement of one of 6 taught modules on my aptly named university course- Television & Broadcasting. This module in particular is named (shock, horror) ‘Television Broadcasting’ or ‘TVBRO’ for short. But maybe you were looking for the long answer? If so then I don’t actually have to answer this myself as my course leaders have done it for me as outlined below:
“The module provides comprehensive practical experience into broadcast programming, management, commissioning and delivery. Students will be required to organise, design, produce and prepare programmes for broadcast transmission. The purpose of this module is to place the emphasis on the students to deliver regular broadcast TV programmes. Students will have an intensive hands-on experience continually producing live television material for assessment, regular screening events and online broadcast.”
So what does this mean for us in practical terms as students, living out the process day-by-day? Each show broadcast would have a crew of 25-30 people which was then divided into four mini-groups covering the following areas: Production, Studio Floor, Gallery and VT production. As mentioned before- I worked on 4 shows, allowing me to adapt to the different challenges that each mini-group would have. The show we would work on was titled ‘This is Portsmouth’ and it was to be broadcast fortnightly by the CCI TV Channel which is the channel that all shows would be broadcast under at the university. Each show would incorporate the following: community, sport, history and education in and around the Portsmouth area.
Throughout this blog I will recall the processes learned and undertake the following tasks: Evaluate my specialist role in each separate production and reflect upon duties attached to the specialist role in question from technical and creative perspectives where appropriate. Additionally, I will evaluate the performance of my working group within each of the four shows, and finally make considered conclusions on the success of the transmitted programmes throughout the academic year.
For the first show my group was delegated the task of producing the VT’s (video tapes). We were asked to produce two VT’s that followed a Halloween theme due to the date of broadcast being so close to Halloween. I chose to take on the role of director for this task and felt confident to undertake this as I have had experience directing in the past, during my time at university. The two VT’s being produced by my group were a visit to a Pumpkin patch with a demonstration on pumpkin carving and a guided tour of a ‘haunted’ theater. Having chosen this role, it meant that I would not only work closely with my own team consisting of two camera ops, two editors, a sound op and a production manager but also the show producer and their team who would oversee the whole production, including VT’s. Generally speaking “the Producer handles the business side of things and the Director handles the creative side of things, but many decisions are made together” (Contis, 2019) overall, I am not convinced this is what happened or at least what happened to an extent that I would consider to be a good working relationship. Often I found myself being dictated to from creative a perspective which was frustrating at times. It must be noted however that I cannot blame others for my own performance which is why I feel that upon reflection I should have been more confident in my own ideas and pushed harder for those ideas to be implemented. When my creative ideas were overruled it left me feeling somewhat lost and confused on what was needed for each of the three VT’s. This was a problem as a Director should be able to “see it, hear it, create the vision and execute it” (ScreenSkills, 2020) but due to the issues faced I found myself at a loss on how to tackle the three VT’s in question. My group’s performance was one of a committed and well intentioned nature and even though we faced difficulties in gaining information for the shoots we were asked to do we had confidence in our skills to complete the tasks in question. We spent time learning how to use a new camera available to us- the Sony FS5, and how to use it to its full potential within the confines of what the VT’s required. The Sony FS5 camera was a valuable asset as we were aiming to shoot footage at the highest quality possible, thereby adhering to broadcast standard. The FS5 is able to utilise ‘ProRes raw’ which “will give you more data to work with in post-production with fewer compression artefacts than the internal 8 bit UHD XAVC.” (Chapman, 2018) This was Important as we were working to tight deadlines so therefore wanted to make it as easy as possible for the two editors to cut films together; having as much high quality footage as possible made this task less strenuous than it could have been. I felt that my group were organised and I was particularly happy with my camera ops willingness to use their initiative when we were on shoots in order to capture ‘B-roll’ (cut away footage) wherever possible as well as work cohesively to implement appropriate lighting set ups for interviews.
When making conclusions on the overall success of the VT’s it is clear that the Pumpkin VT was much better than the haunted house VT; to improve the quality of the haunted house VT more time should have been taken to ensure we had back up research as the tour guide we were promised never turned up. We tried to make the most of the locations and the lack of knowledge we had by being inventive with shots of interesting objects but the key issue here in the word ‘fill’- you shouldn’t have to fill time up and regardless of how nice the shots were they were still only there as a filler and it could be suggested that they did not progress or improve the narrative of the VT overall stills from the Vt’s produced can be seen below.
Chapman, A., 2018. What Are The Benefits Of Prores Raw With The PXW-FS5? | XDCAM-USER.COM. [online] XDCAM-USER.COM. Available at: http://www.xdcam-user.com/2018/07/what-are-the-benefits-of-prores-raw-with-the-pxw-fs5/ [Accessed 20 May 2020].
ScreenSkills. 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.screenskills.com/careers/job-profiles/film-and-tv-drama/development-film-and-tv-drama-job-profiles/director/ [Accessed 20 May 2020].
Contis, E., 2019. Producer Vs. Director: Who's The Boss?. [online] Careersinfilm.com. Available at: https://www.careersinfilm.com/producer-vs-director/ [Accessed 19 May 2020].
For the second show my group were the production team who would be in charge of overseeing the whole show from start to finish. Initially I decided that I would like to take on the role of researcher as this is something I have never done before and the prospect of “looking online trying to find the right material for a show, from stories and locations to props, products and information” (ScreenSkills, 2020) was something that appealed to me. In the instance of the show ‘This is Portsmouth’ this meant delving deeper into the history, community, sport and culture of Portsmouth. Furthermore, the idea of seeing my research come together for the rest of the production team and VT team to then use creatively in order to deliver the show was something I thought could be very gratifying for me overall. I feel that I performed well in this role as all the elements that I brought forward to the producer were implemented in the show in one way or another. As the date of the show was just after Remembrance Day the producer decided that it would make sense for this to be featured heavily within the show and as such I spent a lot of time gathering research to work in tangent with the scriptwriter to ensure all the information that would be spoken by the presenters was 100% accurate. I felt that this was imperative not only because of the seriousness of the day but also because of the naval history surrounding the city of Portsmouth.
This all sounds like it went very smoothly- I was that was true… before I make this production sound like it was an absolute disaster I really don’t think it was and this was reflected in the mark we received back after the show. But (oh my goodness) it was not easy to get there. Overall the production team as a whole went through over 10 elements that we felt could have made it to the live show but were held up either by dates not being agreed for filming, contributors not wanting to participate or events being cancelled. Finding the strength to keep going after being knocked down this many times was something that I admire in my groups performance and made me feel that as a team we could get over anything together if we needed too.
“Contributors can be extremely nervous before the camera starts rolling - your natural ability to put them at ease can turn the situation around” (Myfirstjobintv, 2020) which is why from a technical perspective, a researcher’s role is more of a cognitively and emotionally technical challenge as opposed to the technical aspects of a physical thing like a camera for instance. I was able to demonstrate this when dealing with two contributors who were going to be sitting down on the sofa on the live day for a chat with our presenters. 10 minutes before we went live they got cold feet and really didn’t want to go on the show- this would have been a huge issue for us as we had a 5 minute interview planned out with them and losing this amount of content with no time to think of something else would have been a disaster for the show as the allocated time slot for broadcast was half an hour. Fortunately I was able to get them feeling more relaxed by having a casual chat with them about the weather and how ridiculously overpriced the drinks were in the building we film in, Which they found amusing (perhaps they thought because I rely on this building for my whole University life I would not dare to criticise it). Once I had got them feeling at ease I started to coax them into coming on the show with the classic line “Oh go on why not? You’ll have fun!” and...Finally! They caved in and agreed to come on the show. Whilst they waited for their segment to sit down on the sofa I kept talking to them just to ensure they felt at ease.
This brings me nicely to my last paragraph- evaluating the overall success of the show. Although it was a very bumpy journey getting there I think the show flowed nicely overall, moving from one section to the next felt like it happened naturally which is something that takes a lot of careful writing and research from the production team and good direction from the gallery team. The show was relevant to Portsmouth throughout and made use of the timing of the broadcast date by featuring Remembrance Day heavily. I feel that the core sections of history, community and education were well covered by the Remembrance Day sections and the live music performance. Sport was covered by the reporting on Portsmouth ladies team but overall I’m not convinced there was enough there to make it an interesting segment for the audience. If I was going to give this show an ice cream flavour I would probably say it was vanilla- does the job but not very exiting overall. I think if my group as a whole decided to start working on this show earlier than was decided then perhaps more flavour could’ve been added- I’m a mint choc-chip man myself, that would’ve been nice.
Myfirstjobintv.co.uk. 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.myfirstjobintv.co.uk/resources/careers-guide/detail?page_id=26 [Accessed 20 May 2020].
ScreenSkills. 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.screenskills.com/careers/job-profiles/unscripted-tv/editorial/researcher/ [Accessed 20 May 2020].
For this show I was once again in the role of a Director! This time however I was going to be the Gallery Director which comes with a different set of responsibilities to that of a VT or on location Director. “A director of a multi-camera studio program is responsible overall for the inner workings of the control room, and the crew working within...As such, they hold responsibility for the final product of a program as it goes to air live, trying to maintain quality output from the in-studio camera operators; as well as vision switchers, audio operators and graphic operators in the control room. A talented director is knowledgeable of all equipment in studio, plus the broadcast equipment it feeds in to.” (Billings, n.d.) I felt I conducted myself well within this role and undertook all responsibilities of this role effectively and efficiently. Most importantly of all I decided to devise my own processes to help the studio floor team better understand what I wanted them to do at any given moment. I had 5 cameras at my disposal and found that trying to keep track of which camera I wanted to be moving to a specific time was challenging with so many words on the page; not only for myself but the camera- ops as well. To tackle this issue I devised a colour coding system whereby each camera was highlighted by a different colour- this meant that the important information stood out and was easy to isolate whilst going through the motions of a live broadcast or rehearsal. Camera ops now only had to look for their colour as opposed to having to find ‘where camera 2 is’ for example every time with the only sure-fire way of not missing out a shot being by reading every single camera shot until you find your next one.
The gallery is an interesting place and it often reminds me of a mission control room- all its missing really is some launch codes and a big red button. There are so many screens, buttons and headsets that it is unsurprising that comparisons can be made in this way and to some extent with so many moving parts and even a count down from 10 seconds to live it really does feel like ‘lift off’ when you do go live from the gallery room. So how does such a complex system run so smoothly? Well for the most part that is down to the ‘Newtek tricaster TC1’ which enables you to do so many things that if I list them all you would be bored by the end of it. If I was going to highlight my favourite feature though it would be the “Native software driven processing for maximum production power and flexibility” (CVP.com, 2020) which just gives you the confidence that the system is going to deliver the best broadcast quality whilst also being 100% reliable.
Overall I think my group performed well in the gallery and there was a good level of cohesion and understanding of what each other’s roles required to work properly. We did encounter a problem where the auto cue stopped working for the presenters and no one realised until it was too late- the presenters then started to improvise and after a small bit of miscommunication we missed a segment out. We did manage to rectify this in the end though by recording that section again once the show was finished. When looking back at the show that went onto the YouTube channel you can’t even notice there was a mistake made. Although it may be easy to suggest that this was therefore a failure I think we used our experience well to fix the problem and make sure we stayed calm and carried on regardless.
Billings, D., n.d. Television Production Roles And Responsibilities. [ebook] SYN media. Available at: http://syn.org.au/app/uploads/pdf/SYN%20Guide%20to%20TV%20Roles%20and%20Responsibilities_0.pdf [Accessed 21 May 2020].
CVP.com - Professional Video Cameras, Broadcast Camcorders. 2020. Newtek Tricaster TC1. [online] Available at: https://cvp.com/product/newtek_tricaster_tc1 [Accessed 21 May 2020].
For my fourth and final show my group were the studio floor team which meant we were responsible for the correct setting up, taking down and storage of all kit being used which included cameras, lights, microphones, talk back sets and a jib camera. We also, of course, would be operating this kit for the live show so it was important we understood the kit properly so that we could capture the best image and sound quality possible. I was responsible for the Jib camera (sometimes known as a Jimmy Jib or boom shot) which is probably the most interesting piece of equipment to look at for anyone who happens to be a member of the audience on a live broadcast day. “Jib operators capture the shots that the camera supervisor or director asks for. They swing the jib to move the camera, creating moving shots while adjusting the pan, focus, tilt and zoom” (ScreenSkills, 2020) With so many moving parts and variables it becomes obvious that this is not an easy piece of kit to use and certainly requires a lot more practice than it would to operate a camera on a standard tripod. To counter the free-moving nature of the jib, it is often used for wide, high angle shots which often make the audience “marvel at the resulting birds eye views and breath taking cinematography” (Media-match.com, 2020) But I wanted to make more use of this piece of equipment and refused to just have it used for high angle birds eye view shots. I did successfully use some much tighter shots- in particular bottom-to-top shots which ended in a close up of his of the musician that was on the show’s face; keeping a steady movement whilst zoomed in on the subject was tricky but I think I pulled it off well. Still photos of this can be seen below. Personally, I found that having a wide leg stance enabled me to feel like I was in control of the jib rather than it being in control of me (which can happen when working with heavy things) and if I was going to give one piece of advice for operating this piece of equipment it would be this.
My group performed well overall, particularly with the assembly and disassembly of kit as well as storage. We worked as a cohesive unit to complete this task quickly and efficiently which enabled ourselves and the gallery team to get as much rehearsal time as possible. When reviewing the show it is clear that some shots are not as tight as they could have been and sometimes had too much head-space. Having said this, if the director has cut to their camera before they have had a chance to frame up properly then it is good practice to just keep the shot still rather than adjusting whilst your camera is live- in other words it’s better to own your mistake rather than try and awkwardly correct it whilst live because nine times out of ten- the untrained eye will either not notice the mistake or not care for it. I think this show was an interesting one overall with elements such as a pancake cooking demonstration from a former ‘Great British Bake Off’ contestant adding an element of star quality to the show that none of the other shows broadcast across the academic year had. Furthermore, having a panel of guests sit down at some nicely decorated tables and try the pancakes gave an element of community that hadn’t been seen in other shows. I did feel that the history segment was there just because it had to be and more time and care could have been put into this.
So here ends my blog! I do sincerely hope you did not find this too tedious to read but I suppose if you have got to this last paragraph then perhaps it wasn’t? It feels almost surreal that this is the last time I will ever be involved with a show at the University of Portsmouth and I have to give my most profound thanks to all of my lecturers over the past three years I have spent here. If there is one thing I will take away from this experience as a whole it would be this: The right answer is never the easy one and sometimes it can be hard to find. You will fall over hundreds if not thousands of times and you will graze your hands and knees doing it. What will make you achieve the tasks in question is picking yourself back up and moving forward- accepting failure as a part of success is I feel, the most comforting way to deal with setbacks. Learning new techniques (regardless of how pointless they seem) are all part of an incredibly powerful learning process that will see you come out the other end as a better, more well-rounded person- in this case, a person ready to move into the professional world. Who really knows what the future will hold? Let’s hope I return to this blog one day in the future and feel satisfied that it was the start of an amazing journey.
Media-match.com. 2020. Jimmy Jib Operator | Film And TV Jobs In The Entertainment Industry | Media-Match.Com. [online] Available at: https://www.media-match.com/usa/media/jobtypes/jimmy-jib-operator-jobs-402730.php [Accessed 22 May 2020].
ScreenSkills. 2020. [online] Available at: https://www.screenskills.com/careers/job-profiles/unscripted-tv/technical/jib-operator/ [Accessed 22 May 2020].