My 29-Hour Day

Yesterday I got my first real taste of the manic working hours of the industry. As I type this I’m still getting the occasional brain twitch, so bear with me if my writing gets a bit haphazard.

Starting out at 5am in Brighton, where I had spent the weekend, I began my journey into London, stopping off at Gatwick airport to drop off my  girlfriend as she flew back to Switzerland. From there, strung with various pieces of filming equipment and feeling like I was about to set off to destroy the One Ring, I continued into London.

Crashing at my uncle’s flat for a few hours, I then went out to Highgate, where I needed to film a Futurenauts podcast recording as part of my job with Atlas of the Future. This was the second shoot I’d had with the Futurenauts- ‘But wait!’ I hear my probably non-existent readers say, ‘Where’s your blog post about your first shoot Matt? How can you deprive us of even the smallest details of your professional activities?!’. Well, dear (imaginary) reader, the reason I didn’t write about my first shoot was that it was my first ever solo shoot and was frankly rather embarrassing. There were a number of factors which led to this.

The first was that I didn’t actually plan much which, although generally not too big an issue at university, in the real world really starts you off at a major disadvantage. There’s really nothing like a bunch of professionals turning to you and asking ‘What needs doing?’ and you not having an answer to really sear the importance of planning into your brain.

The second was that the kit I had probably didn’t even count as the basics of a solo-shoot, consisting of only a camera and tripod. Now, being used to having access to thousands of pounds of top-end tech at university, going into a shoot without even an LED lamp was much harder than expected. Especially when the kit I did have, a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, was much less forgiving if you don’t know your stuff than the Canon DSLR’s I’ve been used to. Manual colour temperature settings, shutter angle instead of shutter speed and no on-screen indicator crucial aspects like exposure really highlight the gaps in your technical knowledge and mercilessly demand you fill them.

The third was something I couldn’t have really appreciated until I experienced it – solo shoots are HARD. There’s not a small team of your mates all working at various levels of focus until you happen to get everything done. There’s just you – having to keep that pace and energy up at all times and with an intense level of focus to get the shots you need. If something goes wrong, if you forget a shot or don’t get it all done in time, it’s your fault and you’ve got to deal with it. I probably learnt more in those cringe-worthy couple of hours than the whole of First Year.

I now realise I’ve actually written about my first shoot. I hope you’re all happy with yourselves.

BUT, as I said before, I learnt a lot from it and this time round was a much better experience. Going in with a detailed plan and better technical knowledge, I got a lot of good footage and came away feeling much better about the future of my career. As they often tend to, the shoot went on longer than expected and I finished up around 6:30pm. From there I headed back to my uncles to try get a bit of sleep because I WAS NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH MY DAY.

That’s right ladies and gentleman, I was yet to embark on one of the most interesting yet harrowing experiences of my life – a night-shift at ITV Studios. I’d managed to arrange the shift during my work experience in September with Loose Women by sitting down with Nick Thomas, the Head of Editing for Daytime, who invited me along to one.

For those of you who don’t know, the editing suites in broadcast television work 24 hours a day, with editors working in 12 hour shifts. So from 9:30pm to 9:30am, I would be shadowing the daybreak editors who worked through the night editing all the clips (known as VT’s) for the following morning shows. I spent most of the night with a guy called Chris who seriously knew his stuff, having started out in MMA 13 years ago and worked his way up from there. It was a really great insight into ITV’s editing workflows and I continued to learn about the importance of Avid’s hardware in such large-scale operations.

I only had one nap the whole night, which I’d consider a success, even though the lines I woke up with on my face from sleeping on my jacket were so deep they made me look like I’d been mauled by a large cat. I can honestly say that was probably the most tired I’ve ever felt in my life – my body was trying to forcibly shut down regularly, like someone as holding down the power button on my brain.

In spite of this I have to admit it was loads of fun, I’ll definitely see if I can do it again!

Starting out at the Atlas

Today I went to London to meet with Cathy Runciman and Lisa Goldapple, Co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Atlas of the Future. It was good to see Cathy again and to meet Lisa in person, who largely operates from Barcelona. We started out discussing the plans for the future of the Atlas and how I might play a role in them, which will continue to develop as my relationship with the organisation does. For the moment, under the instruction of Lisa, I plan to help with the running of the Atlas website as well as their Instagram page. The Instagram page offers an opportunity for growth, both in terms of the way it operates and its subsequent outreach. I have a couple of ideas for how to explore this potential growth and will keep those ideas up-to-date on here.

We also met with a few of the clients which the Atlas is working with at the moment. GreenLab is a new set-up in London which works with local people and organisations to trial food-based sustainability projects. From using hydroponics to grow food with fish-poo to investigating mealworms as a potential food-source, GreenLab offers a space to try these small-scale projects which could have worldwide impact. There is the potential for me to spend some time in the lab documenting some of these projects and the growth of the relatively new space in which they are being trialled. This will be my first practical project with the Atlas and one which I’m very excited to begin working on.

 Traditional methods         Fish Poo

Next, we met up with Louise Ash of Meaning Conference to discuss some ideas for generating video output from this year’s conference. The conference, which takes place every year in Brighton, looks at some of the biggest issues we face today. Through a series of talks, workshops and discussion, it aims to facilitate the creation of ‘new methods, approaches and ways of working to create a more sustainable, equitable and humane world’. The plan is me to go to the conference this year to help cover the event, which would include interviews with key speakers and getting extra footage, outside the static 3-camera setup for the talks, to more fully capture the event itself.

Finally, we headed over to Volans to discuss how to move forward with the latest round of content which the Atlas is producing with them as part of Project Breakthrough. I’m not too sure of the full-scale of the partnership, but the bit that I will be focusing on is working with Lisa to edit footage which has already been filmed for the project.

Overall it’s been a great start to the placement. It’s really exciting working for projects which are working towards a better future; I’m already learning more about our world and how we’re striving to improve it. I can’t wait to see how this develops!

Shaping My First Bonsai

So this is my first attempt at dramatically re-shaping my Ficus Bonsai, which I’ve had for about a year now.

I started by removing some of the branches to give the tree a more sculpted look. As you can see from the picture above, to begin with there wasn’t any particular shape to the tree. When you start shaping a bonsai, it’s good to have the end goal in mind, as this will determine what branches you keep and how you manage those branches over time.

However, because my bonsai has been grafted (as you can see above), the trunk goes straight upwards before branching off. This made thinking of a shape difficult as bonsai tend to look better low and spread out rather than growing straight upwards. In order to work with the flow of the tree, I embraced this upward movement by shaping the branches to flow downwards from a central point in the trunk, similar to the shape of a fountain. Whilst the branches do not immediately reflect this shape, over the course of the next couple of months they will start to.

     Note the string and wire used to shape the                                     branches

I then focused on the roots. A number of aerial roots (which the Ficus is known to produce under the right conditions) were wrapped around the base of the trunk. I felt they could be utilised to give the tree a more dramatic structure and so dug them out and replanted them flowing outwards from the trunk. Hopefully, they will continue to thicken over the coming months to become more prominent features of the tree.

             I found 3 roots around the base

And now we wait. If you’re still reading by this point I must assume you either have a passion for bonsai or you’re my mom. Either way, thank you for making it this far. I admit these posts will be more for my own reference than anything else, but it’s nice to think someone out there is taking an interest.

Loose Women – Day 5

And so my week’s work experience at Loose Women has come to an end. I must admit, even after only a week I felt a pang as I walked out the elevator for the last time. Of course, with all the running about I’ve done this week this may well have just been the ache ebbing from my legs.

But wow. What a week it’s been. The buildup to today’s big celebration show has certainly been an interesting one, with puppies, prosecco and Gemma Collins all featuring in the highlights. It’s been a really educational experience and even in the short time I was there my knowledge of terrestrial television as an industry has grown tenfold. From the Producer’s desk to Director’s gallery, Floor Manager’s studio to editor’s suite, Stylist’s wardrobe to Set Dresser’s workshop, I’ve had a glimpse into the huge workforce behind the TV we enjoy daily. It’s given me a clearer sense of not only what I want to pursue as a career, but my own place within the media industry.

It’s been a great start to my placement year, I can’t wait to see what the rest of it brings!

 

Loose Women – Day 4

So today I shadowed Jack, the Assistant Floor Manager, whilst on air. Running around behind the set getting everything ready, I was suddenly transported back to my acting days at school, the familiar buzz of preparing for a production surging through me. It was a feeling I’d missed.

The Floor Manager’s job is to keep everything running smoothly in the studio. This means organising props, the cast, rehearsals, timings and generally being alert to anything which might cause an issue whilst live on air. As to be expected, this involves a lot of running around trying to do 12 things at once. Thankfully I was only a witness to this, completing errands and relaying instructions, but nonetheless remaining largely observant of this manic activity at work. Gemma Collins (whose memes are dominating Twitter right now) was the main guest who we had to escort around the studio for the day.  It was a strange sensation seeing someone who had garnered such a frenzy of attention online in person.

Me and the Queen of Memays

Once the show was over I went down to wardrobe, where I got to see the somewhat less glamorous side of fashion – sorting through and bagging up all the multiple outfits which hadn’t been worn on the show. Although I don’t have a particular interest in pursuing fashion as a career, it was still another insight into one of the micro-industries which make up the world I want to work in.

Loose Women – Day 3

Well, puppies. As the four tiny Springer Spaniels bounced around the green room, I must admit I didn’t really feel like I was ‘at work’. I must admit, it was a strangely satisfying feeling, seeing the little ribbons which I had spent several hours searching for the day before tied around their collars live on national television. It once again underscored what I have slowly come to realise as I gain more experience in the industry – the sheer scale of effort that goes into making even the simplest piece of media. The puppies that people saw on TV for a no more than a minute were the product of hours of preparation and rehearsal by a whole team of professionals, as well as my personal contribution of the little bows.

It made me wonder how many of those satisfying little moments happen for different people in everything we watch. A prop they’d spent hours finding, a camera-movement timed just right, a line they’d drafted again and again until it rang true. I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to come to more fully appreciate the craftsmanship in such an integral part of the modern world.

Speaking of craftsmanship, I had the opportunity to watch Richard direct in the gallery today.  For those of you that haven’t seen the inside of a broadcasting gallery, it’s not dissimilar to some kind of alien spacecraft (or the set of a JJ Abrams movie), filled with large boards of lights and buttons and manned by a small team of highly skilled professionals.  I’d try to go into more detail, but I think with the number of Star Trek references I’d make this blog would be shut down for copyright. Anyways, manning this futuristic pod is the director, who (in very basic terms) tells the team what camera/footage to cut to whilst live on air.

                                                         Inside the Enterprise

It was like watching a conductor. From the wall of screens in front of him known as ‘the stack’,  shot-by-shot he pulled the show together, the next command flying out of his mouth before I’d had a chance to process the prior. Speaking to him afterwards, he said that the key was to give everyone in the studio enough information to be able to get through the frantic moments. Seriously cool stuff.

Loose Women – Day 2

Well, that was certainly an eventful second day. My list of accomplishments for the day include being in the same room as the Mock the Week cast minus Dara O Briain, but including Hugh Dennis holding the door open for me (which is definitely going on my CV) and being a personal shopper for the 4 puppies on the show tomorrow (also going on my CV). I got a proper feel for the runner role, traipsing through London for a list of items which ranged from leather gloves to birthday candles. Of course, I also got to network and learn more about various roles within the company, such as the function of an Assistant Floor Manager. But mostly the puppies personal shopping.

 

I mean it’s not these puppies but it’s close enough

Tomorrow I get to have a meeting with Nick Thomas, the Head of Editing, which I’m very excited about. I’m interested to see his career progression, from his younger years to where he is now, to gain some sense of trajectory for my own path. As someone with a lot of experience in the industry, I’m keen to get his take on where it’s headed as a whole, both in a technical and wider socioeconomic sense.

When I first travelled to London, looking around the crowded tubes I wondered why people stared steadfastly at the floor in front of them, oblivious of the people-watching opportunities all around them.

Heading back to my flat at 6:30 this evening, with the weight of a long day’s work pulling on my eyelids, I think I better understand.

Loose Women – Day 1

Finally home from my first day working on Loose Women at the London Studios. I’ve chosen a great week to start; Loose Women is celebrating its 18th birthday as the longest running daytime talk-show in Britain. I spent most of the day running around helping with the manic preparation before going live. I got to see a large part of the process of filming the show – pre-production up in the offices, the gallery where they mix the live show, the actual studio (where I got to see The Script warm up) as well as numerous other departments which kept the whole operation running smoothly. Once again I was staggered by the sheer number of people it takes to make a piece of media.

I got to speak to a few people, mostly in the Loose Women team, about their roles and how they had come to work where they were. In particular I spoke to John, the junior editor for Loose Women, who gave me a clearer idea of the career path needed to become an editor (as well as re-affirming my fears that I will, in fact, have to teach myself Avid in order to make a career of it). I need to learn more about ingest (as I will most likely start out in it) and so this will be my mission for tomorrow. I’m very excited to see what the week brings.

Chalke Valley History Festival 2017

So I was hoping to do daily updates but, rather fittingly the history festival had virtually no wifi or phone signal. So instead must sum up my experiences in retrospect. But first a bit of background:

Chalke Valley History Festival has been running since 2011 and is the largest festival in the UK which is dedicated to history in all forms. It has over 100 talks from historians, authors and celebrities throughout the week, as well as an impressive array of Living History spanning from the Romans to WW2. On the Saturday and Sunday there are also air shows showcasing historical planes in all their glory.

It was a lot more hands on than more conventional work experience, we were planning, filming and editing all of the content created. As such, I was able to get involved with all 3 stages of production on a wide range of content including multi-camera talks, cinematic pieces, vox pops and plenty of interviews. Working in a real media environment tested and built confidence in my skills in a way University work could never achieve. It was a great feeling being able to see all the things I’d learnt come together so well.

My favourite project I worked on was the interview of one of the festival’s most beloved patrons, Bryan Beggs. This was admittedly in part due to the quality of the footage being so good, but the man was also a charismatic interviewee, which made staring at his face for several hours a bit more bearable. When I finished they had a private showing for him and his wife which was a bit of a tear-jerker. I was very proud to have played such a large part in the event.

My production manager Georgia, Bryan Beggs, his wife and me

The festival itself was also fantastic. Having a passion for history, the talks I was able to film were very interesting and by the Saturday the whole site’s atmosphere was electric. The Living History was particularly impressive. I was able to talk at length with some of them whilst filming a short cinematic project and the amount of knowledge they possessed about their era was staggering.

Overall it was a great experience, one which I hope to repeat in 2018!