Take history, literature, drama, art, creativity, wrestling, Shakespeare, things not just Shakespeare… And stir well…

aka Lockdown Part 2

The answer to the questions is 42. Oh wait, not that question. The answer is A Bit Lit.

I met Andy Kesson at the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was “resident film-maker” and he was working with the Company on some non-Shakespeare plays coming to into the Swan Theatre. We had a meeting with other folk from press and marketing teams and a lot of ideas were thrown around about films we could make, there was enthusiasm and creativity… sadly little support and no time! So most of the ideas were shelved.

But the twitterverse is a small-ish place and I saw him posting about a project to explore creativity, theatre, arts, wrestling (we’ll come to that) and other things to help keep discussions going in lockdown. He was looking for ideas and tech support. So I got in touch and we had new enthusiastic conversations and I jumped aboard as some kind of producer / consultant / geek…

The idea was to be informative but not stuffy, fun, irreverent (“You had me at irreverent” to misquote a film or two), about art and education, open to all ideas, connecting academics to theatre makers and other practitioners, actors and writers and directors and obviously all done remotely. I met Emma Whipday, Callan Davies and Mat Martin over emails and eventually the new normal of Zoom as the idea started to move to planning the website.

A Bit Lit started just as a channel on YouTube as behind the scenes Mat built a lovely website and logos and things started to come together. Meanwhile I worked out how Zoom recordings could be improved for later use. The answer is not that much. But you can bring down some exposure, battle the blues and yellows of outrageous auto-white balance and try to steady the mics! It was all being recorded on laptops to start with no webcams or using phones etc. There will be update on that I suspect!

Theatre and literature have always been part of my life from first experiences of school plays to working at the RSC and acting in various forms over the years so a lot of the topics were like coming home – and then taking that knowledge up to another level entirely! A level you seldom get access to outside of academia. One of the joys of working at the RSC was building on my knowledge of drama, history, acting etc and the privilege of meeting and working with great actors and directors but also writers and visiting historians – or going out with a company to see objects and places that related to the work they were doing. The actors got a lot out of it, connections between museums and drama and times and spaces were made. A Bit Lit feels very much like a continuation of this idea.

It’s been a great and highly entertaining source of new and exotic knowledge, also a way to meet at least virtually new people but also learn some new skills. Without being able to film I wanted to add some things to films where I could. I’ve never been a fan of just dropping images over people, wallpapering to cover edits. So I started to play. I’m am in no way a Photoshop / After-Effects expert – I have one of those on speed dial! I can do the basics of namestraps, a bit of general sticking words on stuff…

… But for this I was able to take images apart, summon demons, have witches fly and bring a storm (and faerieland) into Emma’s office and talks! The Stay at Home Shakespeare series allowed me (and thankfully Emma trusted me) to play a lot! In a fairly lo-tech Monty Python way, because it was “easy” but also funny and allowed ideas to be off the wall when needed!

Tapes & Negatives & Memories Oh My!

AKA Lockdown Part 1

So, work is cancelled for the foreseeable future. Having moved house not so long ago I have become “box blind” so the things that didn’t get sorted immediately have been invisible and possible to work around.

Most things at least are labelled as I have learned my lessons in previous moves but there boxes are old bits of kit, cables for things that no longer exist or just in case I need to wire up a VHS deck from the 80s to 00s technology and kit.

But one box has been opened, sifted, sorted and brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It’s a box of photo negatives, Hi8 and DV tapes. It’s funny how this lockdown has led to reconnection with people scattered across the world or just brought back memories so this seemed an apt way to spend some time. The negatives go back 30 years which is a bit scary so they are nice to have to scan but not for public consumption!

But having edited a couple of “birthday tapes” for clients last year it was fun to see how much pleasure could be found in retrieving lost treasures! Adding some music and graphics and a lot of editing and suddenly 23 tapes over 21 years became 10 minutes. And apparently the subjects of these films actually enjoyed watching them! So that’s a bonus.

The tapes mostly go back to the University of Sheffield Film Making Society and the madcap films we made of which I seem to have some of the rushes. These are fun! The legendary Twang was filmed in a couple of freezing hours when in snowed sometime around Easter. Yes we were watching a lot of Tarantino and so on…

I spent two years in Japan from 1997-1999 on the JET Programme. My job was teaching English but I filmed pretty much everything as well. Local village festivals, people’s hobbies like Japanese archery and drumming, some of my and other people’s students at work and play, karaoke sessions, the scenery… S

A lot of memories but also some playing with seeing what can be done with old Hi8 tapes and modern editing – scaling to full screen, noise reduction, colouring. Is it worth it in the long run or for whole tapes? Probably not. But when I get around to editing 2 years in a short film I will carry on experimenting!

A Qawwali-ty evenings work…

I’ve been filming quite a lot of music over the last few years from Falcon Lodge’s Live at the Lodge, to Rick Astley, The Pretty Things, ExCathedra and others.

Sunday night was a night of music at Town Hall. This time in the company of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. I know very little about this type of music bar it has Islamic and Indian traditional roots, the singers and musicians span incredible range and the audience were totally absorbed, drawn in and occasionally dancing in the aisles!

It was the final night of an 8 city UK tour – not sure Qawwali groups have the same “last night buzz” of more rockier types but it was brilliant night!

A benefit of all the music filming seems to been to master the minor art of toe-tapping along to the music – if it doesn’t disturb the camera gear obviously – and thoroughly enjoying the performance while at work!

It’s been a while since I shot in HD, in straight out of camera Rec 709 and on a long lens that still didn’t seem long enough! I actually put the A6300 on my Sony 1.8 50mm Prime while the A7Sii is on 24-240 3.5-6.3. I struggled a bit on this – mainly trying to disable the auto-focus – but the ClearImage Zoom was very, very useful.

Not looked at footage fully yet as not all tracks realised but will revisit – and because I will want to sync it all up and have a look anyway!

Some links:

The concert you all missed at Town Hall:


The Asian Arts Agency: Extending the boundaries of South Asian music

MckNasty by name but not by nature

One of the best things about working in this “world” of journalism / TV / broadcast / digital / stuff is the places you go and the things you get to see. From backstage at the RSC to standing in the sea watching a reconstruction of a 9th century ship triumphantly… not quite launch the first time.

And then there’s the people. Some people are awesomely talented. Some are nice. Some (irritatingly) are both. Others are neither, and worse.

Joshua “MckNasty” McKenzie is one of the good ones, a great talker and teller of tales, incredible drummer, and an actual human being not media trained out of all reality or afraid of talking about his flaws. Fascinating to hear about his early life and his discovery of music as his thing – and determined to make it work for him – along with his own faith. He’s managed to tame or at least work with his demons and learnt a lot about life.

We spent the day filming with him at the Red Bull Studios in London as he recorded his new album with a range of pretty amazing guest musicians and a sound that combines a huge range of styles. Having heard bits of the sessions I really am looking forward to the record! 

On the work side it was an “interesting” first shoot using Sony A7Sii as A and 6300 as B camera but with no 2nd operator, runner or Doc Ock extra sets of arms.

The baby brother camera of the A7Sii worked well left to it’s own (PUN WARNING) devices… The autofocus proved snappy and reliable autofocus and part of the reason I added to kit. I kept it in HD and do need to run tests regarding the 4K overheating issues but in HD not a worry at all. About as savage on it’s batteries as it’s elder sibling.I would have liked to keep a better eye on it with regards to exposure / SLog as some got a bit iffy but a little ProDenoise in the final stages of the edit did make up the slight flaws.

It did also make me finally go out and buy the Sony XLR audio box system as I do not want to deal with two cameras, keeping a bit of producer-head on (as I was going to be editing as well) and run a Zoom with a radio mic and backup! Plus for the run and gun or rapid grabbing of vox pops etc it just fits need.

Promo for MXTV UK with variety of versions on here:

And link to the full half-hour programme featuring Josh here at MXTV UK:

Robots and Gorillas and Wrestlers OH MY!

I spent a morning the other day with the fine and slightly bonkers gentle-beings from the band GorillaBot. Aside from getting odd looks from many  people trying to work we were actually filming a piece for Birmingham THSH Inside Out Festival which is a bit more “access nearly all areas” and “performing in not the usual locations” festival!
I now have the music from their EP Malware on in my head and more usefully on my running playlist!
Full piece will be up soon so just a few pictures for now
The band are here: https://www.gorillabot.co.uk  and details of Inside Out here https://www.thsh.co.uk/whats-on/season/sh-inside-out

Staying Alive(stream)

More streaming with the lovely folks at THSH and a fun and toe-tapping event…

Due to “events beyond our control” it became a one-man OB in the end. Mixing 3 cameras but trying to vary shots on the close when had a chance – thankfully the TH tech staff sorted and monitored audio feed leaving me one less thing to do. Taking into account safety and ethernet ports did end up at the back of the hall so not most dynamic shots but safety of visiting kids vs cables (even thoroughly taped down) and discretion was better part of valour etc.

Canon C100, Sony A7sii plus Logitech HD920 and could have matched colours a bit more but in the end became more important to client to go to air! The webcam set to wide, high and dark became vital for not showing kids at an event for kids…

OBS held up for full 1 hour 30 mins and according to the stats no dropped frames.

THSH link here:


My creation IT’S ALIIIIIVE(stream)

It amazes me how quickly things move in this industry. From sat trucks, OB units and galleries to sending live pictures from your smart phone in what feels like a very few years of being around news and TV.

Theatres moved into Livestreaming and I was lucky to be involved on the first RSC productions to come from the theatre – links will follow.

There are some great all in one solutions – the Mevo manages multiple “shots” from one camera, with a lot of effort a decent mic can be rigged… The LiveU box is a fantastic SIM based box you hook to a camera and beam back to a watching client.

And these are new players compared to established high-end systems, things like Teradeck that I’ve not used because well they are expensive.

I’ve used more  jury-rigged, stripped down, “affordable” solutions for streaming AKA Studio In A Box. The idea being taking the bare minimum, using clients existing kit, or whatever you can hold of, having converters, cables to make the whole thing fit together. Oh and Ethernet cables.

While it is nice to be able to transmit something from anywhere, on an iPhone, it is much better to be able to run proper sound, vision mix, use multiple high-end cameras, bring in video, stills, straps, bugs, all on a laptop with some very clever software.

Originally tested with trial of Wirecast, some cabled EX1s. Since tested and proved with an iMac for a bigger screen and an added audio mixer and a couple of MC50s… Then adding a vision mixing box in for ease.

Most recently I worked with Birmingham THSH to stream a band live to Facebook. One presenter wielding a gun mic; 2 Canon C100s, one fixed wide, one with an operator on a 70-200mm;  iPhone SE on 3m long cable for a spare angle; XLR and USB audio mixer to override all the other macs for clean sound. And free software. Free. Plus me directing, mixing, checking sound, and streaming etc. And it worked.





OK so updates have been a little scarce mostly due to work – which is a good thing!

I did a course on making interactive documentaries a couple of years ago and wanted to look at it again – see if I could remember anything at all for example! The software / website was called Interlude and has now become Eko.

Register for free and start playing around with the Treehouse builder – a very simple experiment below. There are some amazing examples and great guides to making it all work https://company.helloeko.com/



New Toy (NOTE: NOT a toy)

I finally upgraded from Canon 5Dm3 to a Sony A7Sii for personal kit. I would love an FS7… but that is what hire companies are for as I am mostly a P/D rather than a full-time camera op. But it’s definitely an upgrade!

I was invited to the opening of the International Festival of Glass by the lovely people at the Ruskin Mill Land Trust and seemed like a nice opportunity to test the new camera. I read the whole instruction manual, I watched numerous tutorials… No.

I figured out how to switch it on, get all settings I wanted to manual, stuck it on SLog2, 4k (well UHD) and went out to play! (All handheld due to numerous people and expensive pieces of art so my new Three Legged Thing test will have to wait it’s turn)

Interesting exercise in shooting and grading! Been a while since I shot away from fast turnaround Rec709, need to adjust to exposing everything right – especially noticeable on the wides! There is a LOT of stuff on the EVF and screen and working around zebras and focus peaking etc going to take some time to adjust etc.

Camera worked very nicely with Metabones and my Canon L24-105 f4. I do need to look at a cage / rig, the camera felt really nice but is a trifle small, good in many ways but need a little more support to lose some shake! Cut in HD with FCPX and very quick grade with Color Finale mostly just dropping a 709 LUT on.  Need to get back into grading and work out stabilising but was turned around in a couple of hours which was the test I was conducting!

Film here:

Side by side with SLog2: