Sunday, 26 October 2008

Harry Redknapp goes to Spurs

And so did I. For Five News. Doing a package based around a football match without the rights to use any of it is hardly a new challenge, but usually under the Sports News Access agreement, it's possible to use limited amounts of material, and if it's a Sky Sports game, we can often negotiate more (because Five News is a Sky News production).

However, the Spurs/Bolton game wasn't going out live, so we had no rights to use any on-pitch material until it had been screened for the first time by the rights holders, which I think I'm right in saying was the BBC's MOTD2. Hmm.

As Sky News were all over the story, it was our job to get some nice stuff in the Five style and put me in the shot, so that we had ownership of the report. When time is tight, this boils down to voxes, GVs and a piece to camera. We had 90 minutes. And we were stuck outside.

Getting some nice external shots of the White Hart Lane stadium is a tricky job at the best of times. On a cold, grey, autumnal day it's almost impossible. The (even uglier) buildings around it block any wide shots and close by there's nothing really to latch onto other than some very prosaic signs. With apologies to Spurs fans who may love it like no other structure on earth, I think it has all the architechtural merit of a landfill pit.

So we had to focus on the intiinsic natural beauty of the Spurs fans themselves. Our opening shot was a speeded up, locked off shot of hundreds of supporters walking up Paxton Road. We then got some lovely voxes from the various people milling around the merchandise stalls and burger vans before kick off, and I risked a piece to camera in the middle of the Spurs supporters in the same spot we did the locked off shot. To be honest, I wish they'd been more rowdy. Most were quietly happy about Harry's appointment, but no one was singing from the rafters and not many people were in the mood to play up to the camera. That kind of day.

The rest of the package was Sky News and Sky Sports News material. They had someone covering Harry getting off the Spurs coach and arriving at the ground and they also had someone at Portsmouth. They also stuck around until after the match to get post-victory reaction, all of it a bit subdued.

But we got Harry, we got the Pompey fans reacting to his departure and we got some nice pre-match colour from our voxes and the post-result update voxes to complete the piece.

We left Tottenham before we got a ticket from the nice man in the Sainsbury's car park and sat listening to the match stuck in traffic on the North Circular.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Broadcast News

I'm sure we've all been there, still editing a package whilst the programme has started.

Still putting astons/supers in inews/enps as your piece is going out. Hells bloody bells I feel mentally scarred by today's experience.

Excuse me if this begins to read like therapy.

At 1pm I get given a story for TX at 6pm. To be fair, it was a story about Walthamstow and I was already in Walthamstow at the time.

I'd been filming material for LVJ's piece, but then LVJ had to be shifted onto another story after an element we thought we weren't going to get until a later date suddenly presented itself (an interview with BoJo, as it happens).

So muggins here gets to pick up the pieces on LVJ's package, most of which he had already filmed with him in shot, so other than a 3 minute interview with a local councillor we had to start from scratch.

To cut a long story short, we'd done all the filming (school canteen staff serving, kids eating lunch, voxes of kids, head teacher, external gvs, internal gvs, piece to camera, bong (headline in vision shot, not water-cooled inhalation device), fast food shop gvs, fast food shop manager, fast food shop PTC, kebab-eating childrens' voxes) by 3.30pm.

In the process we nearly started a mini-riot with screaming kids all desperate to get on TV. I thought the yout' was too cool to be bothered by that any more. They were all high on chips though.

We got in the car thinking we might be alright for time, but the traffic round Walthamstow was appalling. After half an hour we'd gone half a mile, although it did give me a chance to think about the structure of the piece and write a script.

By 4.07pm, things were looking bleak. I got out of the car with the tapes and called the newsdesk, telling them we were in trouble. I ran through Walthamstow to Walthamstow Central station and caught an overland train scheduled for 1620 - it was 10 minutes late and packed.

Discussing edit options on the phone to a carriage full of nonplussed Londoners was not exactly my idea of fun, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I felt like turning round and saying "This is telly, darling, it's important!", but I resisted. They didn't seem in the mood.

At Highbury and Islington I got off the train and headed onto the Victoria Line to go the one stop to Kings Cross. I nearly got run over trying to flag down a taxi to take me half a mile down Gray's Inn Road to the ITN building.

I ran in at 4.53pm and tried to load the main tape into the ingest point. It jammed and then got crinkled. It was taken out of my hands and someone spooled it off. At this stage getting a package out was looking a tad optimistic, but my spirits were raised when I was assigned Dave, one of the top ITN picture editors to cut the piece with.

As I lay down the voice track, it became apparent that someone had got the tape working again and on to the server. We went at it steadily whilst I picked out a basic shotlist from my tired, stressed and generally addled brain.

At 6.02pm with the programme already on air the package went to the gallery server. I was under the impression we were in the second half of the programme, but we were 3rd item.

It was only as I strolled into the gallery (feeling a little pleased with myself) with the final aston details in my hand I noticed my piece was already on air. The producer alternately hissed and glared at me.

Thankfully we got everything into the aston computer in time and it all went out correctly. For some reason LVJ's piece turned into a SOT/grab, which was due to an unspecified technical problem only alluded to obliquely in the debrief.

The debrief ended and I found myself actually shaking with stress.

The nice newsgathering lady who put me all up to this had left by the end of the show, the prog ed had other things to deal with, the producer was standing with the other producers who were all seething about something else.

I chased after the picture editor who cut my piece as he was walking out the door. "Dave", I gushed, "thank you."

Dave raised his hat and strolled off into the night.

"Aw." said Ted, an old school picture editor who witnessed this touching scene, "Go give him a hug."

I felt so jumpy the only way I managed to calm down was by telling myself how terrible I'd feel if the piece hadn't made, or was broadcast with some glaring error in it.

I was in no fit state to get on my scooter for at least 15 minutes so I shared some random bitching with Glen Goodman, a deeply sardonic and very brilliant reporter.

I told him I hadn't seen his piece, but was certain it was a work of genius. He agreed it probably was.

I got home in one piece and watched the programme properly, and my package was actually quite good. I feel ill. The joy of news.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Going Underground

I spent Wednesday from 9pm through to 6am on Thursday filming gang workers fixing the Victoria Line on the London Underground for the ITV programme "/london".

I actually managed to take my personal camera with me, so there will be some photographs going up shortly. It's a strange business alright. Because there's very little available time to do the work, everything is on a very tight schedule. But because everything has to be safe, there's a hell of a lot that has to be done, checked, signed and double-checked before certain jobs can be done.

What struck me most about the whole experience, and I hope this comes across in the piece, is the relish with which these gang-workers attack their jobs. I was expecting professional, but moody, taciturn types getting on with it. Not so. Communication is a big part of the job, and as a result confident, verbose people are a requirement.

They also have to be fit (some of the lads clearly work out, very few are overweight) and they have to trust each other, look out for each other and demonstrate they know exactly what they are doing at all times.

There are no passengers (excuse the pun) on any track gang, and there is no time for anyone who doesn't have a specific, and clearly defined role. As a result - happy campers. It's well-ish paid (a track op starts at around £26K rising to £43 for a SPIC - site person in charge) and there's plenty of overtime.

The work is intense, but the hours are short - clock on at 9.45pm - done by 4.30am (unless something goes wrong or overtime, in which case there is an inquest back at the depot). None of the team seem to mind working nights and they seem very engaged with the work - they sense they are doing something that is precise and useful, oiling the cogs in a very big machine.

They also tolerated us, and when they had decided we weren't complete prats were actually quite friendly. Our chaperones for the evening - a PR guy who was ex-ITN and an engineer from London Underground couldn't have been more helpful.

The night I was there all the jobs got done (some cutting and welding of replacement rails and cracking out of old wooden sleepers to be replaced by cement ones) on time or early and everyone was pleased with a good night's work. I think we got what we needed, but I'm writing this as the rushes are ingesting, and I'll only really know when I've logged them.

Gonzo: the new film about Hunter S Thompson

I knew Hunter S Thompson was a major counter-cultural figure, and I liked what he represented, but I'd never got very far with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and that was the extent of my knowledge of his work.

I also held the mistaken view that he'd shot and killed his first wife in a William Tell-style game that went horribly wrong. No idea where that came from as there she was, bright as life, giving interviews for the film I saw on Tuesday.

It's a 2 hour documentary, narrated (very well) by Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the Terry Gilliam movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and who also payed for Thompson's spectacular funeral.

The movie isn't out until December, and I'm probably not meant to be talking about it in any way that could be considered a review, but it certainly joined the dots for me in terms of linking up his association with Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey and the whole Haight Ashbury movement. And it is extraordinary to see the affection in which he is still held by the people he very publicly hated.

The real shame is that Thompson didn't really produce anything of note for the last 25 years of his life. By the end his alcohol consumption had made him incapable of writing anything useful, and he took his life before he had a chance to see the Obama/McCain tussle, which a lucid Thompson would have relished.

Being Stephen Nolan

It's been a busy week. It started with a 7 hour journey to Manchester on Sunday (thank you Virgin and your incredibly smelly trains) to present Stephen Nolan's show on BBC Radio 5 live.

I'd spent most of that time trying and failing to sleep. By the time I arrived (late) I was a semi-coherent wreck and was, of course, thrust straight into the studio to talk to Dominic Littlewood about Strictly Come Dancing and the Bishop of Lancaster about gay adoption.

The interview with Dominic was not great, but I had warmed up a bit by the time it came to the Bish. It contrasted my style with Stephen's. He likes to go for the jugular, ripping specious arguments apart. I prefer to give people enough rope and let the audience make up their own minds.

Doing what Stephen does takes some balls - you have to be very confident in your own rhetorical skills and certain that even if you are arguing the toss with someone on a subject they may have studied at length for weeks or months, you can go toe-to-toe with them, live on air. I am always acutely aware of my lack of knowledge on a subject, but even I can see some gaping holes (don't even think it) in the churches' problems with homosexuality.

Curiously, I just didn't want to go on the attack. Whether its because I don't want to unnecessarily antagonise a large chunk of the audience, or whether I'm worried about exposing my own prejudices, or whether it is just having aired the argument, and explored it fully, people are perfectly capable of making up their own mind without me having too much to do with the shaping of their views, I don't know. But it made me realise that even if I was capable of doing what Stephen Nolan does, I wouldn't do it.

So why do they hire me to do Stephen's job? I guess they don't. I guess they hire me to do a job on Stephen's show in my own style, and they like me enough and think Stephen's audience will tolerate me whilst remaining entertaining enough to stop the casual 5live listener from switching off.

As I have absolutely no idea how many people are listening when I cover Nolan or Bacon (it's frankly impossible to measure the impact of a stand-in presenter on the radio unless it's for an entire quarter (the period a rajar diary - the way radio listeners are measured)) it's very hard to know whether you are gaining or losing listeners during a show. I guess I shouldn't worry too much about it.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Ashley Cole gets booed by England fans

Why is it left to Danny Baker to say what all the pusillanimous pundits, hypocritical journalists and fantastically self-deluding, venal and contemptuous footballers failed in their duty to acknowledge?

Ashley Cole is a twat and deserves all the booing he gets. It is the right of the paying fans to give voice to their dissatifaction over a mistake made by an unpopular player, just as it is their right to display their delight at a top class performance from a popular player.

Do you think Ashley Cole likes football fans? Where do you think they come in the order of importance after his bank balance, his career, his fellow professionals and his celebrity? F***ing miles away. He treats fans with contempt, and doesn't care if he shows it, so why shouldn't the loathing be mutual?

Still, you wouldn't expect anything less from a top footballer nowadays - insulated from the real world from an early age, surrounded by sycophants, treated as if they are gods among men.

But the media?! Where was the pundit or journalist standing up for the fans? Why didn't anyone make the point that if you pour insane amounts of money and hype into the game, if you remove any possibility of shared identity between a fan and a player, and if that player doesn't make the slightest bit of effort to be anything other than a craven, mercenary, arrogant tosser, then the booing on Saturday afternoon was a refreshing inevitability.

It is the only way the fans have left of making their point heard, and to hear them dismissed so many times by so many hacks on 5live and in the newspapers was shameful.

I can only assume that a) they have relationships with clubs, players and sponsors to protect and therefore don't want criticise for fear of losing access or b) they've been freeloading for so long they've lost touch with reality.

As Danny Baker (cheekily) made the point on 5live on Tuesday night - what happened when Ashley Cole got booed? England got better. They woke up. They raised their game. They got a big boot up the backside and responded. They went from 2-1 up and playing badly to 5-1 up and winning comfortably.

As a result of this I am supporting Danny Baker's call for 30 seconds of sustained booing from the fans at the start of every match across the country this week, followed by random booing every 10 minutes thereafter.

If you want fans to stop booing, start delivering. Start caring. Take a bit more notice of the people you consider suckers and graft yourself a bit of respect.

Then you'll get the unquestioning adulation you think you deserve.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Murderous dogs

Monday was interesting - meeting a woman who was savaged by two pit bulls whilst pushing her 19 month old son home in his buggy. The dogs' owner pulled them off her and then just walked off. He threatened the neighbours who followed him and as far as I'm aware still hasn't been caught. It was lead story on London Tonight after it appeared in the (London) Evening Standard newspaper's first edition.

A couple of the national TV channels picked it up the next day. The woman's husband only contacted the Standard when it became patently apparent the police couldn't give a monkeys.

The woman had deep wounds, she could describe the dogs' owner, the neighbours could give descriptions of him and followed him some distance, but the Met said because no one witnessed the actual attack, they were reluctant to open an investigation. They didn't even inspect the crime scene.

Of course as soon as it got in the paper the police were all over it, assigning the couple a new case officer and promising to get results, but, honestly...

This woman was the victim of a very serious attack and the dogs' owner knew that he could just walk calmly away because he wouldn't be investigated.

I was quite pleased with the piece - we tried something different with the piece to camera which worked, I ordered a treated top, which the editor did before I got back, and that worked, and we had access to the hospital and the lady herself who was willing to be interviewed in the hope the bastard who allowed the attack to happen gets caught. The lady in question is a concert pianist so we also got some good quality video of her performing, which helped.

Tuesday was another stab at the Ark Academy being built at Wembley Park. Basically the council are getting millions from the government to build this privately-run state school and are being accused of running roughshod over the planning process to get it. There's a desperate need for school places in Brent, and this is effectively a free school, hence their determination to make sure it happens.

They've been tackled every step of the way by a small group of agitators who have a problem with the private sector running state schools and who have successfully put lots of flies in the ointment for the council. The council and the school are slagging off the agitators as unrepresentative, and maybe they are, but because the proper procedures don't seem to have been followed (usual farcical "consultation" process etc), there are a lot of things that haven't been addressed, including the traffic congestion that is going to build up along an already busy road, the broken promises given to all the businesses on the site - including a children's nursery that was effectively forced out of business by the appalling way in which the council treated it.

The council's dismissal of the agitators as irrelevant doesn't excuse their shoddy treatment of others. The local MP thinks its a wholly inappropriate site too.