Innovation in Armenia

Armenia: Where Art Meets Technology

Technology is at the forefront of 21st century innovation. But for countries like Armenia, which have only recently gained independence from the Soviet bloc and are struggling to maintain a stable political system, let alone education system, investing in the technological education of their young people is difficult.

This is where the American-funded TUMO organisation steps in. Run by the ever-energetic Marie Lou Papazian, five of these centres offer top-of-the-range technology to students, and run workshops on how to use it. These range from robotics to rock music, and they’re all for free.

It was a pleasure and an inspiration to work with Marie Lou and the enthusiastic, hard-working team at TUMO, as well as the documentary company we used to help make the film. Armenia has a lot to offer in terms of talent and passion, but its younger generation need to be given the resources to make the most of their fantastic brains.

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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…

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

How to Film an Interview

My last post covered how to film a fictional narrative. But I want to specialise in factual television. So how do you create the same kind of story in an interview? And believe me, it is a story. Everything is about telling the story, as I said in one of my early blogs.

There is a formula: first of all, you set up your interviewee. Have a shot of them walking into the room, or sitting down, or getting out of their car and coming into the interview location. This introduces the viewer to the interviewee. Then conduct the interview – and it helps to have two cameras here, one on the interviewee and one on the interviewer. This is the master shot. In the master, you keep a steady mid-shot to cover everything that your interviewee says. But fifteen minutes of just someone talking is, of course, going to get a bit boring. Which is why you need to make sure you have the opportunities to cut back to the interviewer.

After you’ve done the master, then it’s time to get some ‘listening’ shots – both for the interviewee and interviewer. Not too much nodding and smiling here, it looks fake, just listening. Then a ‘non-sync wide’ (sync meaning talking), such as a mug on a table in front of the contributor in focus, with everything else blurry. Then maybe some cutaways of the environment of the interview: flowers in vases, glasses, books they might be talking about, other objects.

This may seem like a lot for just an interview, but it’s this kind of detail, this kind of building of a situation and scene that makes television different from radio, and gives it an advantage over radio.

So next time you have a coffee with someone, think about everything your eye touches on. The moment your friend walks in to the café. When you notice they’ve got a new bag. When your coffee arrives. When you look around as you’re talking and notice the couple at the next table, or the painting on the wall. That’s how you see the world – and that’s what we need to take into account when filming, so that it feels as realistic as possible, so that we can get involved in the film just as though it were our real lives. Because that is what can make factual television as absorbing as the immersive nature of fiction.

How to Film an Interview

Fast Turnaround

Those are words I’m both hearing and saying a lot these days. On Day One of New Job at the BBC, I was introduced to my director, whose best-friend-by-default I would become for the next six weeks. We were given the topics for our films. There were four of them. Four films, each five minutes long, to be made over six weeks. Needless to say, it was all systems go from there!

Speaking of systems, working at the BBC is like a big fat slice of chocolate cake after a cabbage soup diet. It’s such a massive organisation that there’s support for everything: IT, Legal, Production Services – there’s even someone who will post your letters for you! But that also meant that I had to do a lot of working out which systems I needed to refer up to whenever I needed help. It’s about knowing who to email. Fortunately I worked out on the first day who I should email in order to find out who to email…

Other systems with which I have become familiar are archive databases. There’s one for news reports, one for radio, and another for all other TV programmes that have been broadcast on the BBC. Knowing your way around these is a very useful skill, and will certainly come in useful at future indie (independent production company) jobs! I have also noticed that many other indies ask for BBC Production Safety training, so I can now happily put a great big tick next to that requirement too.

So all in all, I’m learning loads and working hard and fast at the BBC. I’m already halfway through my contract, but it feels like I’ve barely been there a week! I’m certainly looking forward to returning to this beautiful building to work on further projects, but in the meantime I’m going to use that shiny BBC credit for all it’s worth in my applications for my next job…

Fast Turnaround

Bring on the Beeb

Apologies for the recent radio silence, I have been enjoying a long overdue holiday between the end of my contract at Glasshead and my future engagement at the BBC! But now, as I’m feeling restored and ready to re-immerse myself in the world of television production, I would like to share with you my strategies for moving from one contract to the other.

As you know if you’ve been following the blog, in my case it certainly took time and hard graft to build up my experience, my CV credits and my name as a recognisable one in the TV industry. But over that time I have learned certain techniques which, both after and during the build-up of your experience, can help you to find the next job.

First of all, keep a careful record of the contacts you make at networking meetings, in your jobs or through other people. Try to strike up an amicable acquaintance with them. Whether that’s asking for advice, offering them a coffee, or dropping them an update. It keeps your essential TV network aware of who you are and what you’re doing, so that you are at the front of their mind or the tip of their tongue should the need for your skills arise.

So I keep a database both of companies I would like to work for and of personal contacts I have made, colour-coded as to their likelihood of getting me work. Then, when I find myself touting for my next job, I can easily find and remember which people I should contact. In an ideal world, it is best to start putting out feelers two weeks before your current contract ends.

But the advantages of such short term contracts are: huge variety in your work, a lot of experience built up very quickly, and a knack for making new friends. Fortunately, this is the kind of environment I thrive in, and so rather than being fearful of my situation at the end of my six weeks with the BBC, I’m excited. Wherever next?!

Bring on the Beeb