Northern Charm

During my time at the BBC, I had applied internally for another job at their MediaCity base in Manchester. I had almost forgotten about it, and started a new contract as a development researcher at Windfall Films, when I got a phone call asking if I had received an email about my interview invitation. Interview Invitation? I checked my inbox, and there it was: I had been asked for an interview the following week up in Manchester!

I cleared it with my employer; although they made it clear that they were keen to keep me at Windfall Films, they couldn’t confirm a decision like that after I had only been working for them for a week, and weren’t in a position to stop me from making other contacts in the industry. So a couple of emails and a £55 train ticket later, I was on my way.

Bright and early, I took the bus from my cousin’s house to MediaCity. Through the grey November early morning mist, it arose from Salford Quays like a beacon of neon and glass. The MediaCity complex is truly impressive; its purpose-built studios and facilities give it an air of professionalism and efficiency that London’s Broadcasting House, which errs on the side of creative flair, doesn’t quite hold. And there’s so much space. Every square centimetre in London is accounted for, its hustle and bustle and overcrowded fast pace is part of its attraction, but in total contrast MediaCity almost floats on the quayside with an air of serene industrialism.

I have family in Manchester, so I think the Victorian red-brick factory buildings and imposing churches, mostly now re-purposed as luxury shopping centres and theatres, will always have a special place in my heart. Yes, I thought, as I walked towards the tram stop opposite the BBC building, I could make this my life. But let’s see what the interviewers think…

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Northern Charm

Straight as an Arrow

Some of you may remember my earlier post about how to make your network of contacts work hard for you and find your next TV job. Well, after the intense six weeks at the BBC, I was very happy to have a little break – but at the same time I knew I needed to find my next job. So I stuck to my system and sent out CV update emails to my contacts, uploaded my CV to a few databases, updated my CV on social/work networking profiles such as The Talent Manager…and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for Arrow Media!

I received an email asking about my availability on the Wednesday evening and by Friday afternoon I had been offered a week’s work with them. I was to help out the researchers on Animal Fight Night with their script annotating.

I have Chemistry A level, so I could bring a strong understanding of science to the job – but actually my ‘layman’s standpoint’ became an advantage when I was researching web facts for the episodes! Specialists in natural history may find certain facts about animals obvious that to the ordinary viewer would actually be really amazing. So I spent a fun but certainly full-on week finding out all sorts of interesting, gruesome and downright weird facts about every nook and cranny of the animal kingdom.

And so I’ll leave you with this: an ant can carry 5,000 times its own bodyweight. That just so happens to be the same weight as a human testicle. Or two mushrooms.

Straight as an Arrow

Controlling a Shoot

What a busy fortnight of filming! In the last two weeks of my contract with the BBC, we packed in our four one-day shoots for each of our films, and, as ever, it was all rather hectic. But over the course of the shoots I worked out that you can never plan too much! So here is what I think would be a good way to plan shoots for whichever happens to be my next project. The plan I lay out below may feel rather overkill, and it may seem to encroach on the director’s responsibilities, but in my opinion it’s better to have the plan prepared in your back pocket than to leave it to someone else for fear of encroaching on their remit, only to find that there is no plan.

If you are a researcher or AP working on small scale productions, in an intense dual partnership with a director, your director will thank you when you have all the crucial information at your fingertips – even if it’s as basic as knowing where the nearest ATM is.

On a shoot, you will have a balance of controllables and uncontrollables. Controllables are pretty self-explanatory, but uncontrollables include things like the weather, train delays, traffic (not only of cars, but also pedestrian traffic) and noise. As I’m sure you can draw from that, it means that outdoor shoots tend to have more uncontrollables, and need even more planning.

So here is what I hope will be a useful checklist to make sure that everything is covered for shoots.

  • Are all the locations set up? Location release forms signed?
  • Are your contributors prepared? Has their transport been arranged for them?
  • Have you bought any props you need?
  • Is your presenter prepared with any background info? Has their travel been arranged for them?
  • Have you printed off copies of the script for everyone? Has it been signed off and approved? Have you got separate documents for your interviewees with their questions, and a separate document with the pieces to camera?
  • What tech do you need? What is your cameraman bringing? Are you prepared with the right stock (SD/CF/SxS cards etc. – different cameras need different ‘stock’)? Have you got a safe place to put the rushes afterwards, and something with which to label each roll?
  • Prepare a rough schedule for the call sheet, then a very detailed schedule for your own personal use. In the detailed schedule, mark out what everyone should be doing at each point, and what needs to be being prepared for the next bit of the shoot.
  • What are your Plan Bs for the uncontrollables? E.g. wet weather alternatives, sound checks for planes.
  • Have you got spare release forms?

“’Assume’ is the mother of all screw-ups” – David Gilbert, Executive Producer, Factual Entertainment. This is so true. Even if it seems like a stupid question, ask it. It might just be the crucial question, and it’s always better to double check. Better to be a little bit annoying than suddenly discover that no one has brought a boom pole…

I noticed that often the annoying noise that crept into the sound recording was the rustling of various bits of paper that the crew were holding – scripts, call sheets etc. It would be handy to have all the documents in both paper form and on an iPad, so that they can be consulted silently.

It might even be handy to create a Master Document, dictated by the schedule, so each location has next to it the detailed schedule, the script for that sequence and the shot list, all in one easy-to-read table. I think I’ll give one a go for the next shoot and see how convenient it is! If any of you readers have the chance to try this system out before me, let me know how it goes.

Controlling a Shoot