So, the weekend before last I attended the Battle of Ideas at the Barbican as film crew no less! Having being pumped full of camera knowledge for the last two weeks the culmination of all my training was pretty stressful, especially as I had to get up at six both days…
The WORLDwrites crew was split up into four rooms to film the debates, though there were loads more going on all the time. The Barbican is vast– it’s like its own little city with streets of flats and two tower block included (it is my new ambition to live there) with open spaces, restaurants, multiple cinemas, fountains and millions of conference rooms and theatres.
My crew was in Frobisher Auditorium Two filming the technology strand of debates on the Saturday and the education strand on the Sunday. On Saturday I wasn’t actually on camera, but I was the runner a couple of times (which involved introducing myself to the speakers and telling them not to touch the microphones, pouring out their water and helping pass notes to communicate between the two cameras). The first thing I did as runner was in fact spill the water everywhere which was really smooth… I was also camera one and camera two assistant.
Camera one was sat three rows back in the audience and camera two was at the front to one side of the speakers. They each had shot lists of what to film when, with camera one mostly going from speaker to speaker as they did their five minute introductions, and camera two taking the wide to cover these movements and getting audience cut-always, as well as focusing on the speakers from the audience when the debate took questions and extra points.
Camera two has more tricky settings, with the difference in focus, framing, light level and light type (tungsten vs. fluorescent) between the panel and the audience needing the assistant to help focus and switch to different pre-sets quickly, as well as to listen out for when the speakers were about to finish so that the camera could get back in place in time.
Camera one’s assistant has far less to do– literally only having to pass the tapes for tape changes and pass notes, as you can’t speak near the cameras because of their microphones.
The weekend built a lot of friendships between the camera crews—we all bonded through desperately trying to not make mistakes and face the wrath of Ceri, the leader of WORLDwrites! We had one free slot on both days to go to another debate.
The Sunday stated with my break but I was far too nervous and worried about tiring myself out by going to a debate as I was actually filming after, so I went to chat to people on the WORLDwrites stall and hand out some business cards for the Read-a-thon which ran all day. It was a brilliant event– if anyone wants to donate to WORLDwrites still you can text FSWW and then the amount you want to donate eg £5 to 70070 — it’s a great charity that produces some excellent content and has helped me a lot! Anyway, the read-a-thon started with Steph reading a racy bit from Lady Chatterly’s lover which she did with great dramatic flair, and as followed by loads of other people including Professor Frank Furedi, author of ‘On Tolerance’ and ‘Authority – a sociological history’, Philip Davies MP and Brendan O’Neill, editor of spiked, which campaigns for unfettered free speech. They read from all sorts of different things, from other banned books to philosophical writings on the purpose of free speech.
However, I couldn’t spend all day hiding at the read-a-thon, and before long I was back in Frobisher Two ready to be camera two for debates on faith schools and then evidence based education. Both debates were actually really interesting, and so my camera assistant and I filled a notebook which we were meant to be using to communicate with the other camera full of things like ‘what is he saying??’ and ‘that’s complete rubbish!’ Between our obvious opinions on the debate, us shaking our heads at the audience members making stupid points and my look of pure stress I don’t think we were the most professional looking of camera crews!
On the first debate everything went pretty smoothly– we predicted where the speakers were going to end with not too much difficulty, and our tape changes coincided nicely with camera one being able to cover our shots. However, both tape changes in the second debate went atrociously, not to mention the audience was pretty sparse, so taking interesting cutaways was hard. Just as we thought we were safe to change tape the first time the chair unexpectedly changed their mind and went back out to the audience, meaning we ended up changing the tape in the few seconds before someone stood up and started speaking. I think it went fairly successfully for that though! Luckily my assistant was experienced and didn’t panic, unlike me frantically making the ‘running out of tape right now!’ gesture at a helpless camera one. Never has a mechanism operated so slowly as the tape insert on that camera! Our last tape too was on its very last seconds when the chair finally wrapped up so that we could get that vital shot of everyone applauding at the end.
Inefficient chairing of debates was just one of the things that made my blood boil as a camera person. I quickly got very frustrated with people coming in late and sitting in front of a camera, speakers rocking in and out of frame as they spoke, people not standing up to speak, not waiting for the microphone, and maybe worst of all carrying on speaking after they had to be shouted at to stand up, the result of which being that their interesting point has my voice yelling ‘please stand up’ in the middle of it. The list goes on. Being a camera person is not good for your stress levels!
However, I think my camera skills dramatically increased over the steep learning curve of those two debates– or at least I hope so! The whole weekend was really fun, not least the free drinks reception at the end of Sunday where a combination of adrenaline and tiredness from the weekend meant we were already acting tipsy before we reached the drinks. It was a great weekend, and an experience I would thoroughly recommend for anyone interested in what goes on in TV/filming!
The Battle of Ideas was also an awesome festival, so much so, that I am now on the committee for next year’s (though don’t let that put you off, it is mostly run by incredibly intelligent and acclaimed people (!)) it’s a real place to have difficult and interesting discussions as well as interact with some of the top minds in the world on subjects from economics to education.