Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Queen's tour with a Kingsized nightmare

Wednesday 19th

There are good days and bad days. Then there are days like today.

This was the day that the best package possible was needed to mark the first day of the Queens Royal Tour of Australia.

Royal Correspondent Tim Ewart, ITN’s royal producer Georgina and I had flown with the usual stack of kit from London via a quick stop over in a very wet Bangkok to get to Canberra a day or so earlier than the Queen so that we could do some filming prior to her arrival.

The kit ready to go on to the Paddington Express to get to T3.

A grey, wet day in Bangkok.

Might not be the Queen we were going to see but an appropriate sign for our trip.

In our hire car I drove us almost 200 km out of the rather boring city of Canberra to a small town called Crookswell where we could get some opinions from the locals on the current relevance and importance to Australia of the Queen.

The rural town of Crookswell.

Georgina talks to London.

The shots and interviews in the can we headed back to Canberra to do a piece to camera in front of the parliament building and pay a visit to a meeting being held by the Republican organisation where we would once again get the opinions of the people attending and get a few shots of them drinking a toast to the Republic.

Tim writing his piece to camera.

Georgina still keeping in contact with London.

Like Crookswell they were fairly easy and relaxed shoots with about as little stress as can be.

This morning we started to prepare for the day ahead which should not have been too stressful either even though the Queen was due to arrive in the early evening.

Along with other members of the British press the various media people from Buckingham Palace and The Australian Government arrived at the hotel.

Duncan, the BBC cameraman and his colleagues including their Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell had already had a share of stress because none of their personal bags or equipment had made it on to the BA plane that they boarded in London.

It turned up almost 24 hours later than they did.

As with all Royal Tours the first thing that happens is a briefing to discuss logistics and who will be doing what on the pool facilities.

The media briefing.

The Queen has her own dedicated cameraman who does all, or the vast majority of the close up pool.

He is the renowned exITN cameraman Peter Wilkinson. In the seventies and eighties if there was a hot spot, war or place where dodgy things were going on he’d be there getting the shots. He is amongst the legends that went to the front line and beyond for ITN.

So, getting the pools organised for this trip would be easier for the producers from ITN, BBC and Sky News.

The legendary Peter Wilkinson shoulders his camera in preparation for the Queen's arrival.

The event for the evening was simply the Queen arriving at a quiet corner of Canberra airport.

There was of course all the pomp and ceremony that you’d expect. Smart soldiers in crisp white uniforms standing stiffly to attention, a military band resplendent in red playing rousing tunes, loud bangs from artillery guns blasting off in salute and of course a well prepared crowd of well wishers with plenty of little bouquets of flowers.

We all arranged where we would be. There was no point in all us cameramen being in the same area because we would all get the same sort of shots. Tim would be at a live position to do lives into ITV Daybreak being crewed and sorted out by a combination of Australia’s Channel 7 and 10.

The Live positions.

Tim prepares for his live broadcast for Daybreak.

One little media pen.

I ended up on a flatbed trailer that had been literally decked out to be used as a camera platform. It was not ideal but, then none of the locations were ideal for everything.

My media pen, pallets on a flatbed truck.

Cameras on the truck including one from Germany's ZDF.

From my position I was able to get a great shot as the Queen and Prince Philip came down the stairs of the large aircraft. and a few average shots as she met the Australian dignitaries.

When she was doing a little walkabout along the small but enthusiastic crowd, accepting the flowers from the cute little kids all that I could see was the occasional bobbing up of her light blue hat in between jostling heads, raised cameras, phones and at least one iPad.

The Queen is in there somewhere!! Blue hat in front of the red hat. That's her.

However, it was not the inability to get good shots of the action that turned the warm sunny evening into a night from hell.

It was my arch Nemesis Avid and the need to get an edit done quickly.

The first thing that I did when I got into my room after checking into the hotel was to pull all the electronics, cables and assorted paraphernalia required to make an edit suite out of the boxes and set it all up.

The room had a very convenient desk for the purpose. It did not take long until the vt was happily whirring away and the screens and meters on the laptop were all doing as they should have when I fiddled about with some sound and pictures.

There were a couple of things that I wanted to make sure were right and a quick phone call to Bob, the font of technical knowledge back at ITN made sure that they were as they should be.

The first sign of the stress ahead was finding out when Tim and I had started to edit before going out to the airport that I had not copied all the archive material that we needed because when there was a large chunk of black I thought, “that’s that then” and stopped recording.

So, precious time was eaten up getting that material in.

Then the pressure started to build as I went to give Tim the mic to record his voice over and it would not work.

I fiddled on trying to get things to work for what felt like an epoch. At last I found the problem. It appeared to be a loose cable that made things come good.

Then a whole legion of things would not do what I wanted them to do. Sound would not go where I instructed it to, external drives would not be recognised and of course there was the obligatory blue screen.

My stress levels were starting to max out at a similar rate to Tim’s justifiable loss of patience.

I needed advice but, there was no one that I could call because of the time difference. They’d all be in bed and Nick the Avid expert at Daybreak was not on shift.

When we left for the airport the edit was almost done. It just needed a bit of tinkering to get sound levels right and perhaps the odd mix or two when we came back from the airport with the material to put on at the start and the finish.

When we did come back things went form bad to worse. The pressure was now on to get the report finished and into London in time for the ITN lunchtime bulletin.

A lot of that time would be taken up simply getting the material into the machine. Once more I envied the BBC and Sky who, on Final Cut had ingested most of their material in double quick time.

Things were not going at all well. I had to concede that I would not get the edit done in time so I had to send various bits to be completed by editors in London.

I did get the material to ITN in time for it to get cut for the Lunchtime news but, I was very unhappy at not being able to get the piece cut myself.

There was one more edit to be done for the evening news and after another call to Bob things were looking much better and I felt that if Avid treated me fairly we’d be fine.

Of course that was never going to happen. I was lulled in to a false sense of having a grip on the beast when with just the last bit voice over and a couple of happy shots of the queen to go Avid threw me a banana skin that all but totally upended me.

For some reason when I tried to get the voice over done in the correct manner, I’d just gone through it with Bob a few moments earlier and I knew I was doing exactly as I should have, the little clip of sound before it started drifting out of sync.

I ended up recording the voice over in the camera and laying down that way.

Tim and Georgina went off to bed and I got the finished piece back to London in plenty of time for the evening news. The room service food that they had organised lay cold and congealed on the floor, a bit like how I felt.

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