When your hair has changed as much as the media!
Even though I was around for that momentous switch from black and white, I can’t remember a time when TV wasn’t vibrant. And neither can many of my Sequel colleagues who worked on the small screen. Since turning on to colour, we’ve flashed through everything from BETA and VHS, remote control and delayed record to DVD, laser disc, Blu-Ray, high definition, 3-D, split screen, social and now streaming.
And that’s just for regular content.
The snowballing pace of change is enough to have your brain on the blink. Now, working in PR, the digital age means I am still producing content and my professional TV background is very handy. Here are just a few of the advancements during my time. (Keep in mind this is from a journo’s POV and any tech clarifications are welcome!)
I missed the reel-to-reel years but many of the cameramen I worked with loved to talk about those golden days.
Geoff Stock (our cover boy, above) is one of those.
He is now Sequel PR’s digital content producer and a cameraman I worked with in the days of Wide World of Sport.
Geoff started in the industry when everything was shot on 16mm film – news, current affairs, ads, you name it. After filming, he had to unload the film in a dark room (or black bag if you were on the road) and then it went to a chemical processing machine before being sent to the editing bench. It was cut by hand, essentially using sticky tape to patch the shots together. And that was just the vision. Interviews were recorded on a separate camera in 1-2 minutes. Journos had to know exactly what questions to ask.
This was my “Welcome to Television” (that’s me in the edit suite).
BVU was the start of videotape and the audio was recorded at the same time, on the same tape. It meant the cameraman and the sound recordist were linked. So too was a reporter. The units were heavy and you had to move like a three-legged race.
The tapes were expensive but nowhere near as costly as film. The savings were made because the tapes were reusable but recycling often meant blurring and vision drop-outs.
I recall this time mostly as being able to do a piece to camera using a lapel mic. Still attached to the tripod team but journalists could stand further away and we ran the cable down our clothing. But for my colleague it meant for the first time he could replay in a unit in the back of a car to review what he’d shot. And we could start the shotlisting process in the car.
Shotlisting, aka reviewing the recorded vision to note edit points, took almost as long as it did to record it. Rewind, stop, start, stop, rewind, start, repeat.
Editing was still linear, which was time consuming; spooling and rewinding, spooling and fast forwarding, rewinding, and recycling. But at least the sticky tape was gone!
This was the age of the all-in-one video camera. Tapes went into the camera, there was no external recorder. And the introduction of radio microphones meant we got creative. Reporters would stand as far as possible from the camera, and walk and talk (incredible, I know!).
We also did live crosses, which took almost an entire day to set up. Getting link trucks and satellites and power and line-of-sight to a broadcast tower. It was expensive and only done on the really big news stories, to get a jump on the competition or to promote that we were reporting from a different location.
With the advent of wide screen televisions came SX, XD, cards, discs and other versions for shooters and TV stations to stay on top of.
Shotlisting became a digital version of rewind, stop, start, stop, rewind, start, repeat but the big advance came for the editors. Non-linear editing! This meant digitised footage could be reordered quickly and easily.
Now there are drones and high quality cameras that allow bad shots to be fixed in editing. A black silhouette can be edited to be just as visual as the great sunlit background. I recently spoke to a cameraman who worked on a live sports broadcast and had to simultaneously operate four different cameras. He also did a three hour, three camera shoot for a news program. Can you imagine the shotlisting? Because that, incredibly, is still a process of rewind, stop, start, stop, rewind, start, repeat.
I had one of the first mobile phones for Channel 9 Queensland in the early 90’s. It was the size of a handbag, heavy and ugly, but I thought I was cool. It was added to my portable accessory assortment of police scanner and pager and people thought I was a taxi driver.
Now TV reporters can go live from their phones, on Facebook, Twitter and other social media and the costs are low. That’s why you see so many.
Everyone can edit vision on your phone and upload it to a network, and television news is often using video sent in by a passer-by. Soon live streaming from broadcast quality cameras will be the norm, so there won’t be any need for linking facilities and the quality will be amazing.
And apparently, there’s a whizz-bang camera already in Japan that shoots 360 degrees and you just need to film the scene once. There’s no need for close-ups or different angles.
It seems the only thing that hasn’t evolved is the simple, mind-numbing task of shotlisting. Surely, in the next 42 years, someone can invent the technology to do that? (Please.)