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Rembrandt Rob

Technicians are people too.... Supposedly

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My first blog.... ever.

So, we have a studio based broacast with an insert from a separate studio. The scene is a presenter in a dark, atmospheric room, bookcase as background, giving a serious piece to camera. Down in the studio there are two monitors. One connected to the camera and one from the control room, showing what will go to air. In between me and the broadcast image is a technician...

Technicians are usually bright people. Often geeks with a hint of nerd they have a degree in something technical but don't always have an "artistic" side. Having spent the whole morning creating an "aaaah" image I'm a bit perturbed to see that the "air" picture is boring.

Guru "What's happed to the image? There's no shadow detail."
Techie "I've had to correct it to make it broadcastable."

So I walk up to the gallery. I do not storm up in a fit of rage because that's unprofessional but I do keep repeating the mantra "He's only a technician, he's only a technician" en-route. In his dark corner I politely ask "What's the problem?".
"There's no white." He says
"No" I reply "It's supposed to be dark and atmospheric with the talent barely seperated from the gloom."
"But I don't get more than 80% anywhere at all!" He whines.
I see he's looking at his vectorscope. I also notice that the only monitor showing the picture is tucked away in the corner, all the other monitors are on vectors or graphs or waveforms.
"Which one of these is to air?" I ask.
"Er... all of them."
"Oh! So we're broadcasting waveforms? The viewer is sitting watching a white line on a black background is he?"
"No but..."

Here I have to stop before I resort to violence. The techie is only interested in his waveforms. He doesn't see any high notes (in fact, since the presenter was tanned, the highest level was about 75%) so the techie increases the brightness until his monitor shows numbers he likes. He then realises that there's no true black, so he fiddles with that. We end up with a picture where all the shadow detail, created with painstaking delicacy, is lost.

"Where's the shadow detail?" I ask.
"There." He replies, pointing to his A1 monitor. "If you look closely..."

Now these monitors each cost more than a brand new saloon car and, if you look closely, in a darkened control room, in ideal viewing conditions, you can just about make out a few of the old books which the props dept spent days sourcing and setting up. On a Curry's flatscreen in a living room it will be a black patch.
I try explaining that to the techie who fails to comprehend. This may be because he has a 2k television at home which he watches with the curtains drawn but is more likely to be because he doesn't actually watch television, preferring to interact through his computer.

It doesn't matter what I do, I know that the broadcast image will be what the techie wants, not what I created.

Then some tabloid so-called TV critic who has never made a film, video or photo in his life will cleverly and sarcastically comment on the "cheap set consisting of a black cloth background". The producer will have a pop at the props, who will blame the set-dresser who will blame the Lighting Director (me) who will not even try and blame the techie because:
(a) I'm too far up the food chain (I never blame those below me ...Too tacky)
(b) The techie would deny it and blame me anyway.

The grass may be greener to you, but that's only because an awful lot of manure has been spread in my field!

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  1. Marc Peters's Avatar
    I'm impressed by your constraint. It's always interesting to hear just how 'ordinary' broadcast work really is. That problem is no doubt repeated in just about any industry you could name. Even in my data-centric world, I still have spats with techies that assume their way is the best way...
  2. TimStannard's Avatar
    Fascinating. I love these real world stories from bits of the real world which I'm never likely to see, but which probally has some small effect on me every day.
  3. Mark W's Avatar
    That is a great tale and i am impressed at your professionalism. In a less faluting way I have noticed the sae - I fiddle in post - often it is the blacks that bother me - then i make a dvd -see it on a telly and no blacks.

    People have thier tvs set up all worng and not many people are as nerdy as me with my obsession at seeting up my tv and now projector with a set up disc s it looks proper.

    I have a spare tv and I am considoring yet another screen to my system - a f wire feed to the tv sety up all bright voer coloured and contrasty so i can check such things.
  4. Editinglinks's Avatar
    Great post Guru. LOL.
    This is the never ending fight against the mechanical correction of levels disregarding the image content.
  5. HWright's Avatar
    Great post . . . shame that techie proficiency and artistic sensibilities don't always go hand in hand. I am sometimes confronted with the auto-iris overexposed footage generation not being interested in the "atmosphere" and detail of the actual scene and its lighting, but say they "are just interested in seeing everything nice and bright". I don't know who to shoot . . . myself or them!
  6. JMM's Avatar
    This tech is wierd .... there must be some 10 000$ monitor in is room to look at the on air picture.

    But as lightning director you dont have any power on the on-air picture ? Like you can say no, leave the black and the white at these level, its fine.