Lights, camera, disruption


This is an article by Dominic Stevenson.
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Today was one of those days when you take one for the team and ignore your better judgement.

Many organisations need funding and as such you occasionally have to facilitate the wishes of those financial patrons that require some heart warming material for their most recent documentary/reality series.

I had been warned by a press officer at another organisation that this crew were leaning towards the unprofessional side of the spectrum. I am thankful that they had made the effort to pre-warn me.

Before the day of filming I had been in regular contact with the director who had assured me that only five people, including the subjects of the documentary, would be attending.

When they arrived, ten of them piled out of three cars: they were twenty-five minutes late. With the smile I carry around in my pocket for such occasions, I warmly greeted them and they set up to do their first shot.

From behind me, the director screamed “f**king hell get a move on”. The runner jumped with a start and ran across a busy road towards where we were standing and apologised profusely. I took the director to one side and told her that the language used, and at such a volume, was inappropriate and if it happened again then I would stop filming and ask them to leave.

I work for an organisation that has a unit specifically to treat children with certain medical problems and as such, my responsibilities lie with the patients, their families and the organisation. The heavy tone I used was to reinforce that I was the representative of the organisation hosting their crew and I expected them to show respect to their surroundings and use common sense whilst on our property.

The next two hours consisted of me having to stop the crew and hangers on walking into people’s offices, from making loud phone calls in corridors, eating in clinical areas, sitting on the floor behind doors and generally disrupting the day to day goings on of the unit. The low point was when I found their soundman trying to unscrew a wall fitting because they didn’t think it would look good in shot.

This may sound like chaos but it worked in the end, patients weren’t compromised and the crew got what they came for. Many PR officers are members of small teams and this means that you won’t have any support to handle the crews, as was the case on this occasion.

The revelation for me from this experience was that it is often not the ‘celebrity’ or patron who causes the fuss, it is the crew and hangers on who feel the need to be seen to be doing something. They want to be the apple of the eye and as such will try to force unworkable situations upon you.

As they left, the patron whispered to me, “Sorry about them lot.”

The upside

Many crews come armed with as much respect as they do sound and lighting equipment. They are honest, precise in their planning and understand the surroundings in which they are working.

I am currently working with a production team on a documentary which calls for filming arrangements to be made at short notice. They are filming aspects of my organisation’s work that don’t normally make it onto television due to privacy issues but a year of negotiation with various bodies means that they now have access. Despite the short notice periods before filming, they have always been courteous, they have never just turned up and they make sure that their cameras are visibly turned off when they are in patient areas.

A good crew will only enhance the negative points of the bad ones.

There seem to be several types of crews:

The ones who work with celebrities: the crew will make a fuss and try to force you into doing things you’re not comfortable with to enhance their reputation with the celebrity. The celebrity will probably be very nice and not even be aware of what the crew are doing.

The ones working on a credible documentary: They will probably be considerate and stick to any agreements that are made prior to filming. Most importantly, they will normally take no for an answer.

News crews: They are after a sound bite and won’t mind messing you about, ignoring any agreements made and trying to force you into situations that you’re not comfortable with. They often have the attitude that either they won’t work with you again and so they don’t mind messing you about; or they believe that you need them more than they need you.

Here’s my recipe for frustrating a PR officer:

1 x director

1 x cameraman

1 x soundman

1 x runner

1 x rich patron

1 x rich patron’s child

1 x rich patron’s child’s grandparent

1 x rich patron’s child’s nanny

2 x hangers on to rich patron

Mix together in an enclosed environment with lots of children and parents to create the perfect frustrated PR officer.

I find working with crews to be one of the most satisfying parts of my job and I get a real buzz when I see a positive piece of news footage or a documentary that I helped make happen. If taking part can boost your organisation’s reputation then do your best to make it work, enjoy it and learn from every crew you work with.

Tips:

  1. Always remember, you are in your job because the people that interviewed you and employed you believe that you are good at it. Don’t let yourself be bullied into performing badly by an overbearing TV crew.
  2. Assess whether it is a worthwhile use of your time hosting the crew. Although it is often a positive thing to undertake, don’t feel pressured into doing it if there is no real benefit to your organisation.
  3. Know your filming agreement inside out so if they break any of the contract, you have the right to ask them to leave.
  4. Never be afraid to talk over your concerns with your manager or a friend in the industry. Shared experiences are invaluable.
  5. If you have a bad experience with a film crew and you know that they are filming elsewhere, call their media office and relay your experience. They will be very grateful. Equally, if you have a positive experience, let the production company know so that they can reinforce good practice.
  6. It is better to annoy a film crew and say no to a request than to let them do what they want and tarnish your reputation at your organisation.
  7. Stand strong, your whole organisation relies on you to protect, defend if needed, and enhance its reputation.
  8. Keep all members of a crew together unless they can be supervised by another member of staff.
  9. If walking through an office or patient area, either request that the crew packs their camera away or carry it for them so that people are aware that it is not turned on.
  10. If filming an interview in an office, do not allow the room to be set up so that the camera is pointed at a glass door/wall as the people on the other side may not wish to be filmed and sensitive information may be on people’s computer screens.

Dominic Stevenson’s website

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