Archive for coventry conversations

Surprise 1-Day Professional Experience

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , , on March 31, 2011 by Adam Broome

On the 9th March 2011, I was invited to get some paid work experience for the BBC by John Mair – lecturer at my university and also my mentor for the Add+Vantage module I was taking. I figured there’d be students lining up for this, but that was not the case – whether it wasn’t publicized enough or something I do not know.

Anyhow, I turned up at 12 o clock, one hour before the start of a big conference between some of the highest academic minds of the BBC turned up to have a debate over whether Investigative Journalism was dying out or not. I’d already investigated this case several months ago off my own back for curiosities sake – you may remember me being told by guests lecturer Trish Adudu that formats was the future and documentary was dead. Subsequently asking Mark Kermode at the Warwick Arts Centre, the counter argument was clearly that formats is for making money, whereas documentary is more for information, statements, activism, and many other things. Documentary is never really about the money, and thus will probably never die out. However, this conference set to explore the notion even further, adding in the addition documentary style of investigative journalism – something I’d had first-hand experience of during the Demo-Lition protest march in November last year.

I tuned up as a runner, and the first major problem I was given was that one BBC camera operator couldn’t access the internet in the lecture theatre. I shot out and quickly gravitated towards the nearest ‘tech’ mind, which just happened to be a student in the common room. He outlined the solution, and I shot back to implement it. Unfortunately it didn’t work, but my friend had given me all the pieces, and I saw that the operator was trying to connect to the Ethernet rather than the Airport. A quick change over, and I signed in with my name, getting her online.

This was quickly followed up with another task – simply go and get some refreshments from the corner shop. Two drinks – anything as long as it wasn’t diet. I came back with a Sprite and Fanta, making another satisfied customer. But this was when I suddenly got promoted – the man who wanted the drinks, a guy by the name of Jon Jacob, now needed a camera operator himself to operate his ‘Z’ camera whilst he uploaded the podcast. I quickly stepped in. And stood at my post for the subsequent four hours solid (as long as the debate was in progress, I wasn’t budging). Some of the earlier shots were a little jittery, but the pans got smoother when I loosened the resistance on the tripod it was positioned on. The audio stopped several times, which I silently notified Jon of, and which got resolved quickly with the sound engineer.

I learned one key trick during this ‘shoot’ – I was advised by Jon never to keep the person I was focusing on in the centre of the shot. This was the rule of thirds in video – I had to try and keep the spokesman either to the left or to the right of the screen, but never fixated at the centre. After a while, I understood what he meant – the shots just looked better with the space. Subsequently looking back at footage from Hereward, I can see that some of the interview footage from that has centered characters, and it definitely took something away from the piece.

The most notable guests of the debate were Donal MacIntyre and David Leigh, although both interacted with the audience via Skype. Some students from Lincoln University made some good points about using social networking sites to conduct investigative journalism in the future, which would make the job safer for the journalists, but politically more difficult. The general vibe in the room continued what I’d already established – investigative journalism is, like documentaries and many other kinds of media production, a solid and well-grounded genre of media that will exist long into the future. The internet is changing everything, and all media will adapt and change accordingly. The old ways of investigative journalism will end, but a new era will begin, as people will always want to know the ‘truth’ behind the stories of the world.

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Coventry Conversations – Paul Watson

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , on November 13, 2010 by Adam Broome

Being in the middle of a production of my own documentary, I felt it a good idea to drop by on this Coventry Conversation. Paul Watson is documentary film-maker who has been making his own independent films since the 1970s. His talk was from the outset clearly going to be about his past experiences, and the stories of how he made his most popular works.

The talk starts off rather embarrassingly. ETG34 computers fail to show any signs of ability to play Watson’s video montage of his previous works. He states that even Germany had computers that could play his video. To make matters worse, he is forced to wear a radio mic despite his protests. He turns it into a joke, by commenting to his audience that if you have warm hands, you will go far in the ‘audio’ side of media production (because girls love warm hands, apparently!).

Paul starts off by talking about his early days, being taught about the industry by Alan Whicker (known for Whicker’s World). The most memorable thing Paul was taught was to just ‘get on with it’, plain and simple. He did just that, and his talk drifts smoothly into comments about his works. He calls film-making an ‘opera of the arts’. Paul Watson started off as a painter (and still paints and has works in London galleries to this day), but says that films are like paintings, but with ‘operatic vocals’. He talks about one of his first productions, The Family, and how he was one of the original film makers who decided to video the ‘real’. He comments upon how Channel 4 is to this day ripping off his idea. This provides the focus point for most of his talk.

His says his idea for The Family came about by a dislike for middle classes, who seemed to control politics and the media. He wanted to portray the working class, and in a real and honest light. He is asked by a member of the audience how he gained the trust of the family he recorded for the documentary. He says that everyone has their own space, which you cannot invade. But the best way to gain trust is to make a ‘space’ of your own, and then everyone knows where they stand when they do an interview. He also exchanged secrets with the people he was interviewing, in order to gain their trust faster. Using tactics like this professionally proved unpopular with friends and family, as they ultimately never knew whether he was being authentic or honest with them or not. This all related the ‘human’ factor within his documentaries, which he says is one of the keys to his success.

This leads him to make a point that not all documentaries have to be ‘doom and gloom’. If there is a happy event, then explaining why that event is joyous and what it meant to people is a story in itself. Just after this comment, he states that he clearly hates using Z1 cameras because they’re tough on the hands and wrists. He does, however, put emphasis on the cheap, and that cheap documentaries are always going to be be around, and prove the more popular with the official broadcasters, which is an issue that seems to be around on my course a lot at present.

“If your subject wants to be in your documentary, even if you accept, they will never truly be in it.”

People who have something to say have a persona that they will take on. Although these contrasts between what people like to keep private and what they want to make public is a classic hypocrisy that is at the heart of a lot of his documentaries, he states that it is always best to find people you want to make a documentary about, rather than having people tell you that they want you to make a documentary about them. All of these aspects create a sort of ‘synergy’ which he says is the crucial part to get right, bringing the whole documentary together.

He talks about an eleven-year documentary he made about a man with alzheimers, who eventually died. He refused the film the death, so as to stop the broadcaster using the man’s death as a cheap selling point. However, despite him commenting on several other of his works, he believes that all his work has been undone due to our fascination with celebrity culture. Now, we need Martin Clunes to take us on a tour of the UK. His language descends into vibrant colours of all shades as he tells us all what he thinks of TV nowadays, before urging us to effectively take up his mantle, and make televisions authentic and genuine once more.

To advise us, he gives us three main points. First, he highlights that we as media producers are now on the verge of something great – the internet will inevitably change things, and we are the pioneers who will oversee these changes. Despite being an ‘author’ of all his works, he warns us to always employ an editor if we can. If we edit things ourselves, we will get a perfect cut exactly the way we want it. We will fall in love with our own work, then with ourselves, and will eventually be professionally disadvantaged as media producers. In his own words: “Get an editor you can trust to have an argument with.”. Finally he says that all our works should relate to the future, and our own future careers. Pressed for time, and video still not working, the conversation ends, and a rather well-informed audience leave with much to ponder upon.

Coventry Conversations – Kirsty Wark

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , on October 31, 2010 by Adam Broome

Knowing very little about this ‘Renaissance Woman‘, I decided on spare of the moment to crash into the lecture theatre and grab a seat, given that this talk had been recommended by just about every single lecturer on my course.

Kirsty starts off by talking about her career at present, mentioning Newsnight, and some of her most recent interviews. She has conducted many interviews during her lifetime, and I realise that it will be her pointers on this aspect of media to which I should pay particular attention to.

She says that Jeffrey Archer was her least favourite interview, as he was just an ‘unpleasant character’. In contrast, she also mentions Toni Morrison and Pete Doherty as her favourite interviews. In naming her interviews, one member of the audience pounced upon her now infamous interview with a Scottish MP back in 2007, which was done so bad the BBC had to issue the MP an apology. She explains that she felt strongly on the matter, but was in no way justified in the way she acted. When pressed for an answer of whether she considered it a good interview, she simply replied ‘no’, adding complements to the student for ‘pushing her for a direct answer’.

This leads her to talk about several political points, including the BBC World Service and Wikileaks. With regards to her infamous interview of 2007, she states that it is always important to detach yourself from the material, no matter how strongly you feel about the issue. Detach yourself emotionally, and remain professional. On the topic of challenging interviews, she boasts with a certain confidence that challenging interviews are the better ones for the interviewees, for if they survive it intact, they appear all the more stronger for it. She says that her show Newsnight almost has a reputation for being host to hard interviewing. However, politicians are willing to put themselves up, to try and come out on top, thus proving their steel.

With regards to her show, she highlights the importance of her audience, stating that you should never take your audience for granted, and that you should always welcome your audience ‘into the programme’. She also comments upon something called ‘Empty Chair-ing’ (where an interviewee doesn’t turn up), and how she feels that she has failed her job as an interviewer when she doesn’t cement her interview enough. When asked about what motivates her, she comments on the variety that her job offers her – pretty much identical to what Nick Owen said only weeks ago.

But then comes the most important point – on many an occasion, Kirsty has had to resort to research notes mid-interview, making sure she knew where she stood a hundred percent before making a claim or point. She advises to always have your notes on you when conducting an interview. Always, ALWAYS do your research, and when the interview occurs, bring your notes with you, just in case. You can tell she’s speaking from experience.

As the hour draws to a close, Kirsty mentions that she still wants to interview Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. However, she also states that who you interview depends upon the structure of the show or episode you are hosting. With thanks, our guest subsequently takes a bow and zips off to the next thing on her agenda, ever busy. Students chatter immediately – apparently, they feel they’ve learned a lot!

Coventry Conversations – Nick Owen

Posted in Film Reviews And Conversations with tags , , on October 7, 2010 by Adam Broome

As the induction week went into full swing, I was directed towards two coventry conversations that were taking place imminently. Due to a solid work load, I made my choice early on, and decided that I would pay a visit to Nick Owen’s talk, about his life and career in the media industry. This old-school player has been in the game since the seventies, bringing a vast wealth of knowledge to the table. But would any of his knowledge about the media of yesterday by applicable to us modern-day students?

Things get off to an odd start. Nick immediately opens his enthusiastic talk with several references to football. He is the current chairman of Luton Town FC. I wait patiently as several none-student guests pry in on his past experiences in football. My pen taps on my book as further questions are asked. Then, the signs of the differences in eras begins to emerge quite quickly. I’m not a football fan at the best of times, but Nick Owen is clearly an avid football supporter, full of passion on the subject. I merrily tune out upon hearing ‘The Hand Of God Goal’. Football trivia paradise.

My mind cuts back sharply to reality upon the mention of Anne Diamond. The conversation falls into my area of expertise, as Nick begins to explain why he has based his life around freelance journalism in the increasingly competitive media industry. He says he likes the challenges the job provides. He likes the complexity of the roles, and also the ability to add variety to his career. He harks back to the days of pre-GMTV morning-show TV-AM, and all the accomplishments he has achieved thus since.

He mentions how he knew Chris Tarrant as a fellow journalist, again showing just how far back this man goes. He comments on the advantages of having a variety of staff on TV shows, how they add variety to the content, and how this opens up a wider audience. Following remarks on the ridiculously early hours of breakfast show employment, Nick goes on to talk about how he manages to look at the camera as if he was looking at the people sitting at home (he currently presents BBC Midlands Today). Nick then hammers home a point that he has always favoured quality over quantity, and this is consistent even to this day, even with regards to reporting on stories from around the world. Things start getting deep. I begin to get drawn into the many stories that the media professional before me reminisces about.

But then we return to football. Evidently, Nick Owen is far from the only footy enthusiast in the room. I casually take a drink, wondering if I should ask him about whether or not, in his experience, aggressive tactics in journalism have proven more successful than passive ones. Moments later, I get my answer. Ironically not from the man himself, but from a fellow media student, whose forwardness in questioning the man leads him to accidentally insult one of Nick Owen’s friends, adding some much-welcomed humour to proceedings.

Nick darts away from the sports subjects, and returns to stories involving Diana Dors, and his constant flicking between ITV and BBC payrolls. Some people comment that Adrian Chiles seems to doing the same thing today, to which Nick Owen merely replies that ITV and BBC are two different work cultures, and do things differently. If, like him, you enjoy variety in your work, and use such as your motivation, flicking between ITV and BBC is almost unavoidable. Wise words.

The talks takes a rather more informal tone as it draws to a close. Nick recommends the best way to walk around anonymously is using normal glasses rather than shades, and wearing a baseball cap and jeans. He likes the idea of blogging, and encourages us to the focus on the more unusual opportunities that present themselves. When asked to give specific advice to the media students, Nick Owen draws a blank, the conversation now hitting the inevitable brick wall of the gaping time span. He tells us to have positive mind sets, be ourselves, be honest, and attack our careers with a hundred and ten percent (funnily enough, Chris Evans says a similar thing is his biography).

The talk ends with grandeur, as Nick Owen names our previously-nameless TV Studio in Ellen Terry. The little surprise is a rather sweet ending to a sweet little coventry conversation, that was pleasurable to have been a guest at. Whichever way you look at it, Nick Owen has left his mark on Coventry University for quite some time to come.