FEATURE: TELEVISION PRODUCTION

By: Napoleon Ato Kittoe/ www.africanakua.com, Ghana

You cannot generate television content without going on location. Going out there to pick material for content, requires logistics and personnel. News requires speed and special programmes require adequate time for mobilising and presenting innovatively. The news have to hit the television screens both to serve notice and to affect. The other programmes, obviously outside the news bulletin, needs patience with time deadlines also in mind. Innovation must be the watchword for content and to surviving the highly competitive television broadcasting industry.

The process of television production that starts with conception of an idea, fleshed out and finally hitting your screens, follows an elaborate chain that comes under four broad segments. The planning phase which includes editorial meetings, is pre-production. Next is the actual production where personnel with logistics hit location to gather material for use. Now, the material so gathered needs to be filtered at which stage it is compressed and garnished. This third phase is post-production. The last but not the least of segments within television production is previewing. Stations worth their salt that are minded by professional ethics and the law, are expected to demonstrate responsibility. The station will take pains to preview the final product before it goes on air. 

This is the point where you need professionally savvy gate keepers to deliver a verdict. Do the law and culture frown on sexually explicit scenes? Are there any grammatical errors? “Drop outs” is television technical term for grainy pictures. Under some circumstances, videos that are not sharp enough, probably undermined by improper storage or extraneous factors that impinge on integrity of the tape, are allowed on air as proof of a happening. The preview which is done in respect of recorded programmes, would now have to focus on personnel serving as anchors and presenters, if a production has to go live. At this point, you want to be sure about the personnel handling live television. There is nobody who is perfect under the sun but you want to put your best foot forward. Far preferable are the tried and tested ones and NOT one that you are experimenting. The first-timer on television might have done many dress rehearsals before given the go-ahead to be on set.

Post Production

The fine tuning and the garnish that are done for recorded programmes during post production, find other forms of expression during live telecasts. The studio’s set design from where recorded and live presentations are done, must be attractive. Again, technicians typing graphics on a fast changing situation must give new pointers denoting the transitions that are taking place. You are a technician/graphics artist but you must also be astute in language to make it crisp and free from errors. If the station is not sure, put a grammarian beside the technician to guide that which are to be written on the screens. 

The end product starts life as a small seed, which is the idea to be generated into pictorial material. You probably might have been taught in media school, the journalistic elements that bring value to informative material disseminated in the growing number of media outlets. If you are wider read, you are in better position to develop the seed. All situations that warrant deployment of a television crew are manifestations of any of life’s facets, thus an avid reader or listener of any literature or electronic outlet, is in better position to give global angle to a particular happening. This would be good for news features, documentaries and other special programmes such as synopsis for talk shows and panel discussions. Less of it in the straight news item which does not need any verbosity to convey message.

A motor accident at a given roundabout is a single incident on the day but that must task thinking minds to develop that seed. Check from relevant authorities, whether this accident is an isolated case or data proves similar occurrences over a period. If the second scenario is proven and triggered in the television production presentation, you are likely to arrive at the point where you have to make a case for an interchange to replace roundabouts. It could also broach the debate on city traffic management.

Producers of discussion programmes who turn to the international system, can follow developments there to generate ideas. The UAE has made the case that oil producing countries may have to prospect other revenue sources. The Emirates have carefully knitted travel and tourism in a manner that completely outclass the petroleum sector, in rewards. This then poses a challenge to other nations struggling to overcome basic sanitation before launching into their wildest dreams.

Gabon has oil. UAE has oil. Qatar has oil. Libya has oil. Nigeria has oil. Russia has oil. Oil is common tread within their scope but dividends on citizens have not been same. To develop this seed in media production, you realise that oil producing countries that are rich with higher per capita incomes are those with smaller populations. Nigeria grapples with poverty owing to its large population. Russia, previously a G-8 member and made to exit the elite club on political considerations, also have a relatively large population but she could be further examined to see implications of the variables within her peculiar context.  Also, governance style determines the derivatives. Would these signposts be useful to nations which have just found oil?

The other time, China rejected some exports from Ghana, due to large traces of lead in the products. Did the export skip internal regulators and the checks system or what? The larger picture on the story would surface once this question arose.

Similarly, Ghana’s attempt to improve on livestock production cannot take off properly if something is not done about importation of soya for preparation of livestock feed. The curious television producer, would then examine the possibilities in growing soya in Ghana. You cannot compete with say Argentina if you concurrently import dressed livestock and animal feed from them. You can then use your medium to explain why any mission to make a turnaround, could be in jeopardy, should research scientists keep limping on limited funds. You can then enquire what research may want to do to put options on the table, by providing alternatives to expensive livestock feeds.

“Apuskeleke”, was a type of trousers commonly worn by females in Ghana at the turn of new century (2000/2001). It was a fashion that exposed undergarments of those who wore the apuskeleke. Why it disappeared would induce the larger picture. Was it the case of social rejection due to negative tags or was there an export ban to protect local tailoring jobs or were the fashion undertakers attracting philanderers but failing to grab husbands?

Is society reduced to only bread and butter issues such that other critical issues that border on lives, escaped governments and the people? Why are motor accidents, occupational hazards, population control, relevant culture and traditions as well as climate change, not electoral topics? A producer of television programme can take a look at the unattended topics using examples to explain why they impact lives, directly or indirectly.

Almost all the pandemics that constituted a global health threat such as avian flu, Ebola, swine flu etcetera were determined to be communicable diseases. Why is the covid-19 different from the others, even though it is also communicable? This is the question that would cascade the issue. It raises questions about the convergence, concomitant to globalisation as against domestication. Food has always been indispensable to human but the lockdown which ensued the height of the pandemic, placed more value on the food industry.  For the first time, all sides of the globe are interested in research and science, since any hopes of taming the disease could be product of science. Others are looking at it from the angle of inability of the many African prophets to predict the occurrence of the pandemic. Could this blow the lid on ignorance or expose fraudulent prophecies? Remember, we are still in the phase where ideas are generated to make television content.

To develop an idea, also requires close observation and putting tabs on a specific subject. Specialisation does it better.  Political leaders, let us narrow it down to Heads of State or Government presenting the state of the nation address. More often than not, their speeches would trace to a certain genesis to the present and then make forecasts. Heads of Institutions also do same. Aside from the straight news reports, do reporters take the pains to ascertain the veracity of matters arising?

For sometime now, young men in Ghana have taken to growing long beards. While it is fashionable, we may also want to know whether they are oblivious of the fact that long beards are increasingly becoming associated with extremists hunted down by western powers? What happens if there is an explosion of a gadget and the area immediately surrounded and cordoned off by troops to interrogate those within that space? Remember, you could be mistaken for what you didn’t do. However it is most likely contacts with police would bring out denials as to suggest proper investigations to get to the bottom of a matter which could attract fallacy of hasty conclusions.

 Are there any examples to strengthen line of arguments? Till this day, “post mortemists” of Sept 11 have not left the US off the hook in accusations of having been capricious in either deliberate or random arrests of suspects in the 2001 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Centre. Victims of the swoop became prisoners on the Guantanamo Bay near Cuba, only released in dying embers of the Obama Administration and once again dispersed on the face of the globe, in arrangements with willing, recipient countries. The beard of an anonymous truck pusher in suburban streets has set the television producer on a survey that lands on the Guantanamo. The sub layer in this context is no less innovative.

Long beards are symbols of age and wisdom. Portraits of great thinkers such as Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Baron De Montesquieu etc depict them in such outlook. Since these men are associated with remote past, bringing their style into today’s perspectives, also bring a particular word alive. Atavism is a form of restoration of ancient practices. 

It is most likely the ideas running through the mind would be raised and discussed at production and editorial meetings. Production refers to the entire processes regarding inventory, booking and deployment of equipment, transport and role players. Editorial meeting determines the line of action to be taken by newsrooms. This launches us into the production phase. In the very conventional sense, the location crew would be the driver of the vehicle, the camera person, the sound person, the one handling lighting and the producer or reporter. The producer who might have conceived an idea which occasioned the coverage, may double as director of the shoot. If it is organised event, it is most likely the producer knows more about theme because of pre-deployment briefings. This information must quickly be relayed to other members of the production team, so that they know what it is about, especially the angle to be explored. Do not assume the person holding the camera knows what you are about. Let them know what you are looking out for.

A cameraman who had no insight into the plan for a project, was brisk alright on location which gave the producer a false sense of the outcome. Watching the videos a day after the event, the producer discovered, that cameraman was not interested in the stage dances, audience reactions and the music that filled the auditorium of the entertainment night. The videographer gave the producer only formal bits, the speeches and intermittently tilted the camera in the opposite direction to capture a stern looking audience listening to speeches. The producer got something far short of what the programme was initially figured to be. Instead of the original plan of developing a long programme out of the beauty pageant event, the producer had to summarise the event and committed it to the news bulletin. This usually happens when it is not live coverage which allows the television viewer to follow the event in its natural sequence. Lighting is particularly needed in enclosures and in dark weather if pictures are to look bright. The sound technician would also ensure that the recorded sound is strong and clear.

Also, the producer ought to remind the cameraman to open the pot in camera to capture natural sound in the environment on the video. Natural ambience gives a natural tone to the videos. The other members of the crew must remember not to speak near the camera, as this would pollute the ambience and render it useless. Cameramen sometimes forget to open the pot so producers going through the checklist, ought to remind them about this necessity. For your videos to look genuine and original, the natural sound in the environment such as chirping of birds, snarling of dogs, crowd noise, tidal waves and honking in vehicular traffic ought to be captured.

The Producer must work closely with the camera man

The location report is one that finds the producer, presenter or reporter right there in the event, holding microphone and speaking into camera. It is your duty as presenter to wipe away sweat or clean pomade on the face. The camera person can also remind the presenter to this, in addition to pointing out for correction, the state of apparel in which the presenter is. If a tie knot is tilted to the side, let the presenter pull it to the centre of the shirt collar. Sweating and too much pomade on the face, do not give good pictures that is why make up is done on the presenter’s face. These days, the drift is into multi tasking so the crew members on location are expected to learn and perform all or some of the other functions. It is cost effective. One of the most difficult tasks for the presenter who attempts to do location reports, is when the event is highly technical and esoteric to event attendees. It is better to get back to the office to assimilate the information and run a scripted commentary as part of the edited material than to pretend to know and mumble incoherence on location. Do not forget that the  professionals related to the subject matter would be watching and assessing you. Let your location report be brief if you attempt to do so.

In all these, the cameraman must be creative. “There are so many ways to kill the cat”.  For instance, if you want a short person to look taller, you send the camera down and tilt the lenses upward, in a low to medium angle pointing at the object. The Broadcast College of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation offers detailed lessons on these technicalities.

Commonly used jargons include “cutaways”. It refers to the selected pictures of audiences or others within the environment where the event is taking place. “Zoom” is a close up on the object, while the pull out has the opposite effect. Close up, medium close up and long shot detail the sequence of picture frames. At tense meetings, it pays to take close ups of the protagonists to depict exactly what the body chemistry or demeanour is. This brings out the intensity of a situation. Long shots are recommended in situations which bear on sensibilities when graphically portrayed. Surgery in hospital theatres, accident scenes and open defecation are some of the scenes not to be given close ups.

Some reporters erroneously think that as people react by covering their faces to grave situations, then their stories are making the impact. How could you possibly assume that television viewers with their faces covered, are following the story? Rather, they missed out on that which made them turn away voluntarily.

The television crew members must nudge each other into performance. In addition to formal shots, it is important to film the pleasantries that precede or supersede the actual event. Outdoor scenes and the pleasantries even if indoors, make interesting viewing. Some reporters or presenters wanting to shed the formal scenes, may sit in meetings only for information but choose the ensuing scenes in the outdoor to conduct interviews to complement the pleasantries.

Covering sporting events takes on additional responsibilities. The commentator on the event has the job cut out. Facts to be ascertained before the event include the team sheets or participants, stadium capacity, the umpire or referee and city information. It is important private information on the participants is known so that occasionally it is chipped into commentary, especially as stopgaps during hold ups. Often there are more cameras to give various angles to the visuals, guided by the director watching the sports event from monitors in the OB van.

Establishment shots are sine qua non. A wide angled view of the location where the event is taking place or about which a commentary is to be given. Quad copters often taken to be drones, may be used for expansive aerial views. The camera person must not be in a hurry to fold up after an event. You never know which two known political foes may suddenly have a handshake on their way out. That is news. Big news indeed, thus reporter must always follow the camera and direct the shots or let the camera person know that which could make big headlines. On your way back to the office, keep the tape in camera, let the camera person be in the front seat of the vehicle. It is to allow a quick reaction to an event that breaks out on the spur of moment. It is certainly heart breaking if television crew members would put down their guards midstream to make a dash at item 13 or the snacks.

Post-production is a very critical stage of the process. Without it, television would fail. The major work is video editing, that is cutting and putting the pieces together. A reporter or producer may direct the camera person to film a situation which he/she, the producer, can turn their faces away and not to see. The camera person who must take the picture by watching the object through the viewfinder and the video editor cannot avoid watching any scene in the videos. The raw videos or rushes probably contain material that are unlawful, unethical, superfluous, unprofessional, inflammatory or self-destructive. In the outdoor such as a durbar event it is possible that any of the speakers likely to be used as sound bites, could have a big fly landing on their foreheads just at the critical point where important statement is made. The video editor cuts off the scene where the fly is on a forehead and joins up the pieces. If a point must be allowed but the visuals are not appropriate, the video editor splashes other pictures on the main picture, to erase the unwanted but keep the voice message. The superimpositions are called bridging, and the cutaways are usually used for this purpose. The cuttings are done for brevity, to correct speech errors, to graft two or more portions in speeches into seamless unit among others. In other words, it is to re-compose the rushes into its miniature, guided of course by the producer’s script. It is here that commentaries and videos are combined.

Another aspect of the quality control in television production, is script editing. The script editor checks on facts, language, house style, significance of material and ethical compliance.

In most occasions, the producer sits by the video editor helping out in selection of videos to match script content. Whilst script must not necessarily itemize situations in either a chronology or disjointed fashion, it is important that is minded by the principle of not stating the obvious. That which the eye readily sees. Do not state that demonstrators are clad in red, as this can be seen in the videos. Let the video editor select these videos for a portion of the narration that may not necessarily be in the videos. If the rich, the powerful and the leaders are to say a word of gratitude, loads of it must go to video editing. It is at this stage that items are polished and packaged. Graphics are the special effects and anything infographics. Graphics are the adornments but essentially for titles or footnotes on the footage. Without graphics the material showing on the television screen looks bare and drab.

Video editing can be challenging, the machines rather than the human beings manipulating them, also have a role to play in meeting deadlines. The strain comes in when the entire edited material gets missing and the whole process started all over again. Product manufacturers clearly have the snag in mind in designing editing softwares, thus the edited material which goes missing, sometimes resurfaces for editing to continue. The editing bench has to wait for the information technologist (IT), to do some of the de-bottlenecking before process can continue. It can be really nerve wrecking at this stage. While the print journalist is home and dry with the write up accompanied by few uploaded still photographs, the broadcast journalist bears the additional headache of having to edit video for a script.

It is when any of the segments in the production chain fail to put themselves in the production that the process hits a bad patch. Where corrections are supposed to be made, rather invites errors if the video editor is inattentive. It is wrong for a video editor to pick phone calls but if they do, the conversation must be kept short. It is highly unprofessional for a video editor to put hands that are pressing on keyboards, in soup while still editing. It is distracting when others who have no business to do with the job at hand, barge into editing rooms in a cacophony. The various role players, when they are lackadaisical, constitute spokes in the wheel of production, noting also that the reward follows good production. It is probably one of the most tiring but thankless jobs. It stirs passion and grip industry players.

Multimedia platforms require multi tasking to obviate the hitches induced by wrong attitudes in the television production chain. Given the intensity of this work, role players must sufficiently be motivated.

END

The writer, Napoleon Ato Kittoe, is a senior journalist with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

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