Radio Etiquette

One of the other things I learned on the drama shoot was appropriate radio etiquette. Yes, that is a thing. And there are rules. And if you break the rules, people get cross with you. Here are a few rules I learnt the hard way:

  1. When you’re asking to speak to someone, say your name, then “to/for”, then their name. So for example, “Zenia for Tom”.
  2. If someone asks for you and you hear them, respond by saying “Go for [your name]”. For example, “Go for Zenia”
  3. Over-communicate. If someone asks you to do something over the radio, acknowledge them (by saying “copy that”), do the thing, then tell them when the thing is done.
  4. Any conversations that are longer than simple commands or questions should happen on a different channel. To do that, ask for the person you need, say the channel number you want to switch to, then switch to that channel and wait for them to come in. Don’t forget to go back to Channel 1 when you’re done.
  5. Code for the loo is ten-one. Technically, ten-two means…well…a number two, but no one ever says that. Too much detail.
  6. If you hear someone asking for you over the radio, but you’re busy when they ask for you, just wait till you’re finished and then say “Go again for [your name]”.
  7. If you don’t hear anything over the radio for a while, there’s probably something wrong with it. Check that your earpiece is in correctly, and that you’re on the right channel.
  8. To start up your radio in the morning and let everyone know you’re on comms, pick up the radio, fix on your earpiece, and say “radio check”. Repeat this whenever you make a change to your radio. The response to “radio check” is “good check”.
  9. If you can, go for the over-ear D ring connection, rather than the in-ear ‘covert’ connection. That way, you won’t feel half-deaf, and your ear won’t get really itchy.
  10. Radios, funnily enough, emit radiation, so try not to put them near your kidneys or your ovaries. This sound piece of advice was given to me early one morning by the 2nd AD. Try to wear the radio, therefore on your hip, and make sure you wear something that will support it (basically, wear jeans – slotting a heavy radio on to thin leggings can get awkward, as I found out. Also pockets are just generally very useful on shoots).
Radio Etiquette

CV Tips

I think it’s fair to say that every industry has a preferred CV format. It’s the same with TV – but I’m sure that many of my friends who work in the Civil Service, for example, would baulk at how my CV is laid out, and I at theirs! But when the average employer spends 30 seconds looking at each CV, you need to make sure yours is one that grabs their attention, that tells them everything they need to know about you at one quick glance.

One genuine moment that changed my life was when a talent manager at the BBC gave my CV a brutal makeover. After that, I appeared far more professional – and felt it, too! So here are a few do and don’ts of how to write a ‘TV CV’:

  • DO put your name at the top. In big letters. So people can easily see whose CV they’re reading
  • DON’T put your picture on. It’s not your social media profile, and anyway this helps to prevent unconscious bias
  • DO put your industry level – and make it appropriate for the job that you’re applying for. So don’t put Sam Jones – Producer, if you’re applying for a Researcher job!
  • DO put a little mission statement – but only if it’s a good one. A bad mission statement is worse than no mission statement at all. This should just be a couple of sentences that’s like a trailer for your CV – highlighting your best credits and top skills. Maybe try asking a friend to write it for you – they may highlight things about you that you might have missed! You can then use this mission statement across other professional platforms, like LinkedIn and the Talent Manager
  • DO put your contact details – email address, website and phone number are fine
  • DON’T put your address. It might genuinely cost you a job, if for example you’re applying for something in south-west London but live in north London. That’s an hour-and-a-half commute, and a kindly production manager may well try to save you the trouble by rejecting your application
  • DO put your skills in a list or table right at the top of your CV. This can include things like self-shooting, editing programmes you can work with, a clean driving license, training courses you’ve been on etc
  • DO head up each credit with a straightforward top line: COMPANY, Production, Role, Date.
  • DO mention who you worked with on each production, or put them as references after your top line. Your potential employer will call them up if they know them and ask what you were like to work with. So logically –
  • DON’T put down anyone on your CV with whom you didn’t have a good professional relationship. If your potential employer knows them, they’ll ring them – and that person may not give the best recommendation for you
  • DON’T put your references at the end of your CV. Your potential employer probably won’t read all the way to the end
  • DON’T put every exam you’ve ever taken as your qualifications. No one cares whether or not you did Ceramics GCSE – unless it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, in which case put it in your cover letter
  • DO save a copy as a pdf, to prevent the formatting from going weird on different operating systems

Your CV should enable employers to IDENTIFY, VERIFY and CONTACT you. Anything superfluous to that and it starts to become your life story – and that’s called an autobiography!

CV Tips

Eight Things You’ll Spot in Every Documentary

In order to make sure that the shooting style is consistent across the series (we’re using four different directors spread across the eight episodes!), the Series Director asked me to find examples of different scenes that you would find in a typical documentary. I realised that I had essentially compiled a list of what you need to shoot to make a high-end presenter-led documentary! So here they are – and look out for each one next time you watch factual TV…

  1. The Two-Way Interview. This is where the presenter introduces and then interviews someone, such as an expert or witness. Check out my blog post ‘How to Film an Interview’ for more on that.
  2. The Talking Head Interview. This is just a mid-shot of an expert making a relevant point, with a ‘name tag’ appearing at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Two Way Archaeological Investigation. The presenter is taken around an archaeological site, or shown an object of interest, while a resident expert explains the significance of that object or place.
  4. Walking Piece to Camera (PTC) Exploring a Site. This is where the presenter explores a site or shows an object and explains it by themselves.
  5. Walking PTC Storytelling. The presenter walks through a neutral or themed location (e.g. along a path, in front of some ancient-looking columns, down a corridor flanked by statues etc.) while they tell a part of the story of the documentary.
  6. Static PTC. The presenter is sitting down, or standing still, telling us another part of the story, or making an important point.
  7. Presenter on a Journey. This is quite self-explanatory – short sequences of the presenter in a car, on a boat, in a helicopter, cycling – whatever you like – to show them on their way from one location to another. This is particularly important if your documentary takes you to locations all around the world – although it’s perfectly fine to snap from the presenter in front of the Parthenon to a sewer in Tunisia, sometimes it can feel like a sudden and disjointed transition. This helps to smooth it out, and allows for some explanatory narration over the scenic shot.
  8. Wallpaper Shots. These are non-sync (not talking) shots of the presenter walking along, or big sweeping landscape shots, or aerial drone footage, or close-ups (cutaways) of objects, flowers, road signs, whatever you need to fill in some narration time, or just some contemplating time in your documentary. Remember, you can never have too many of these!

The last two in this checklist are often called B-roll. Sometimes they’re shot by a different cameraman or director, and you can have a bit more fun with these – make them pretty, artistic, effective. They’re just as important for building the story as the talking shots – because, as we saw in a previous blog, one image can speak a thousand words.

I’m thinking of making a few of my own short films over the next year, so I’ll make sure I capture these eight different types of sequences when I’m shooting them!

Eight Things You’ll Spot in Every Documentary

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

Top Ten Treatment Tips

Most of my job involves writing up ideas, to all different stages of development.

Stage One: the Pitch. This is usually a one page Word document with a title, summary strapline, short idea overview, and a few pictures. The real core of the idea.

Stage Two: the Treatment. This extends the idea into a PowerPoint presentation, imagines how an episode would play out, and is a lot more visual.

I’m used to writing pitches, but haven’t had much experience with full treatments. So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what really matters when creating them, and how to put together a really, really good one. So for anyone who’s interested, here are Zenia’s Top Ten Treatment Tips:

  1. MAKE IT VISUAL. Use the title page to say as much as you can about the show with a picture. They say an image speaks a thousand words, and they’re right! Identify the three key things about the show and put them together in a bold, statement image, along with the title of the show. Even better if you can use Photoshop and create a really cool composite picture.
  2. KEEP IT CONSISTENT. Find a background design that subtly creates a mood for the show. But don’t make it too elaborate – you’ve got to be able to read what the page says too.
  3. TARGET AUDIENCE. If you’re writing for a specific channel, keep the channel’s typical target audience, its colour scheme and its logo in mind. Make it really easy for the channel to see that show idea in their schedule, show them clearly how it fits into their existing broadcasting.
  4. MIND READ. Put yourself in the position of the commissioner. They get hundreds of these things per day, they’ll probably read it in an Uber on their way to a meeting while also worrying about their five year old with chicken pox, and if they can’t get past the first two pages they won’t read on. So make sure they get what the show is about within the first two pages.
  5. CHECK YOUR TEXT. If you wrote two sentences, can you say it in one? If you wrote ten words, can you explain it in five? Short and sweet. Sure, this is the extended description – but remember that busy commissioner…
  6. USE YOUR IMAGINATION. Let it run away with you! Draw out a full episode, think about how it would work, invent characters, create tension. By doing this, you not only visualise it for the commissioner, but you also anticipate potential production problems. Many a treatment has been almost completely written up, but then when the sample episode is written out, the fatal flaw is discovered…and you have to start again from scratch.
  7. DAFONT.COM. You’re a creative. Your job is literally to come up with ideas. So a PowerPoint template and Times New Roman are not going to impress. Download a new font that is totally in the style of the show – but check how it converts to pdf before sending it off. Sometimes if the person you’re sending it to doesn’t have the same font, it’ll go all weird on their computer and look more like a beauty pageant show than the next Jackass…which could lose you that commission!
  8. LOTSA PICTURES. TV is a visual medium. I know, it’s obvious, but if you’re used to writing stuff in a university setting, this often falls by the wayside. Anything you say that comes with a strong mental image, back it up with a real one! Remember what we said in Point 1…
  9. EASY TO READ. Choose a font colour that stands out from the background you’ve chosen, make the text big enough, and space it out nicely, so that your text isn’t too intimidating.
  10. TIME TO PLAY. Play around with all the formatting options available to you. Sometimes just adding a shadow here, a glow effect there, a subtle background colour tint, will turn your dull treatment into something stunning.

Pitches can be written in about an hour if the content is strong – treatments take time. Don’t expect to turn these around within a day – the extra hour you spend playing around with where that picture sits on the page or scrolling through reams of fonts will definitely pay off. This is the important stuff. And remember that a commission could be worth millions…and that translates to what a good treatment could be worth.

Top Ten Treatment Tips