Saturday, 31 January 2009

Harry Potter and the seriously injured stuntman

According to the front page of the Mirror, Daniel Radcliffe's stunt double was seriously hurt during The Deathly Hallows pre-production testing at Leavesden studios, which is 4 miles north of Watford.

I was initially down to do a live from outside the studios, which meant I had some time (ie most of the day) to kill, so I was sent to the GLA to interview the Deputy mayor of London - Richard Barnes - because another reporter who was doing that story was running late.

I went with Gemma the PJ or RJ - a sort of hybrid camerawoman/journalist, who I think prefers the camera side of things - filmed the interview then got a lift to Waterloo where she was meeting the late-running reporter.

I got a bus back to Gray's Inn Road and started digitising the tape. On the way back I thought my story deserved a package as well as a live. We had plenty of Daniel Radcliffe b-roll, the Half Blood Prince trailer and a couple of other elements and I was sure we could find a stuntman.

So I went to see the Prog Ed and News Ed and put my case to them. They thought it might just work. We found a stuntman in Essex - Steve Truglia - and so cooked up a scheme to write my script whilst driving to his gym in Repton Park, (Woodford Green) film the interview and set up there, meet Joe the Sat Truck at Repton Park to file track and interview, then head on to Watford to film a Piece to Camera (PTC) outside Watford General before heading to the live point outside Leavesden Studios. My producer would assemble the package back at base.

Amazingly, all went according to plan. Got the script written whilst navigating Kate the camerawoman (she refuses to use sat nav), arrived at the Esporta gym at Repton Park, knocked off the interview, during which Joe arrived in his Sat Truck (that's him below). We left our interviewee and ran round the back of the gym, filed the track and interview, said goodbye to Joe and struck out for the M25.

I navigated into Watford, filmed a bong (for the top of the programme) and PTC outside Watford General, grabbed a seriously nice chicken filet burger and chips from Zaks Grill n Go Piri Piri opposite the hospital and started navigating out of Watford towards the live point. When I told Kate it was the first time I'd ever been to Watford in my life she laughed at me.

On arriving at Leavesden studios I was unsurprised to see two Sat Trucks outside the entrance and correctly guessed the other belonged to Five News. Their chief correspondent Jonathan Samuels and the Head of the Camera Unit Adam Cottam were on this. Jonathan was editing somewhere and Adam was busy wiping dog crap off his shoe.

Our Sat Truck engineer, Dave, was busy helping their Sat Truck engineer find the "bird" as they call it. Kate left me to it as she was going off shift and my next cameraman, the Legendary Bill Jones, arrived within five minutes. There is nothing that is not nice about Bill, a Welsh ex-copper who appears to be able to get on with everyone instantly. Given we were factoid-lite on this story I asked Adam what he knew. He said they had a name and a photo (more than us) and quite correctly said he wasn't sure he should tell me any more. I said I hoped he didn't mind me asking (he didn't) and we agreed I would wait for Jonathan Samuels to return as he would be a better judge of what information he might be able to pass on.

When Jonathan returned we discussed the story. Journalists often do this. When I was an entertainment reporter I would often have lengthy discussions with my rivals as to what lines were important about a given celebrity and where we wanted our interviews to go. You could often judiciously withhold information from your rivals if you had something particularly juicy up your sleeve, but 9 times out of 10, you help each other out.

Given a) our engineer had just spent some time helping Five News get a satellite signal to get their package on air and b) they were on broadcasting their story exactly an hour before us and so any information they were holding onto would be in the public domain, I don't think our discussion betrayed each others' competitive advantage.

It's always a potentially delicate situation, though. I once interviewed an old man about his classic 1939 Hillman car in Wiltshire. I'd driven down from London and got there at 10am. We filmed the car and did an interview with him outisde the car's garage. At 11am we were just leaving to do some filming of the car on the Wiltshire downs when a man from local TV arrived saying he'd got an appointment to film the old man too. The old man had probably double-booked us, but as we were just leaving I said we'd be back by 12.15pm and we headed off. Filming proved to be a very lengthy process. We returned at 2pm to find local TV man jumping up and down with steam coming out of his ears. We'd shafted him and he had every right to be furious.

In mitigation, we didn't shaft him on purpose - we were in a hurry and nothing would have made me happier than driving back to London with the rushes in the can at 12.30pm rather than 2pm, but there were certain shots that were necessary to make the piece we wanted to make and I wasn't going to compromise them in order to get back for the man from local telly. He should have taken my number.

Anyway I called base, told them to watch Five News - Jonathan did his live at 5pm - and I watched as he did so. Jonathan is very very good at what he does.

I then called base and we discussed what he'd said in his piece and if there was anything that needed changing in mine. Jonathan packed up and the Five News crew left, leaving Bill the same spot in which to set up for my live. As we were there in good time and my brain, unusually, appeared to be in good working order, I had a very clear idea of what I was going to say and almost memorised it very easily. I stayed in the warm car until 5.50pm, then got out, got rigged up and stood in position. The live top and tail was reasonably smooth. We de-rigged in the dark...
Men, de-rigging things.

...   and Bill gave me a lift to Watford Junction. During this journey the planning desk called and asked if I'd mind jumping into the Thames on Friday. I said I would if I could get a train straight home and a taxi to the river in the morning, which would save me having to go via Gray's Inn Road that evening to pick up my scooter. They agreed. I was home by 8pm.

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