113MC Task 3

(As uploaded to Moogle earlier in the day)

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYt-C5pGdSs

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113MC- 1st Reflection

Being responsible for both the studio and gallery sound, I must ensure that all of the microphones are working and in the correct positions if I am to gain the desired results from the sound board in the gallery. In the past I have recorded the sound for live events, but this production is different in the way that the sound is for the gallery (and more specifically the recording tape) rather than for an audience. During the live events the microphones for the band members or dances would be supplied and fitted by the music or drama department, with the sound board in the gallery adjusting the sound levels of the speakers. My job was to film the event with two or three cameras and use a microphone ‘stereo pair’ set to record the sound that the audience hears in the drama hall.

For this assignment, I am responsible for the microphones that the presenters and guests are directly speaking into. As this is a magazine show rather than a music event, it would be best to give the presenters and guests wireless ‘Lapel’ microphones. With these  microphones the presenters will be able to walk around and have their arms free for holding cards and other tasks, rather than holding the microphone like a sinker. The discrete nature of the Lapel microphone also enables the presenters to appear more naturalistic, chatting on the sofa as if it’s a normal social occasion.

A boom microphone is also being used for our group’s studio production. This should be useful because it is very reliable as a general purpose microphone, as well as having the advantage of being out of camera shot. Another reason why we are using the boom mic is because it is connected to the mains and Phantom Power. This means that if any of our wireless microphones have a fault, we will always have a backup source of sound. Due to the lack of working wireless microphones, we may use wired lapel mics. However these may drag against the floor and are more viable, which is another reason why the boom mic my be useful if the wireless mics don’t give enough working sources on the day of filming. However, the disadvantage of the boom mic is that its volume changes as the presenters and guests get closer to it. We don’t have a boom pole (or ‘fishing rod’) operator, so the only way to adjust the sound if needed would be via the sound board.

Once I have given the presenters and guests their microphones, a sound test before the production goes on air is needed to ensure that the volume  levels and other adjustments to the sound signal are set correctly.

Learning to be a Sound Mixer/Technicain

For my 113MC task I have been chosen as the team’s ‘Sound Mixer’. At first I would have preferred to be the Vision Mixer as it has been my previous role in college studio productions as well as being in similar roles in my voluntary work. However, I have grown to appreciate the placement of ‘Sound Mixer’ due to it being similar in ways to the Vision Mixer desk. While the sound mixer is obviously different as it is to do with the production’s audio operation rather than visual operation, it is similar in the way that it involves the precise operation of a gallery-based board; bristling with dials and faders to operate during the live production.

The Soundcraft Spirit E12, the sound mixing desk which I will be using during the 113MC module

The other reason why I’m pleased to be the Sound Mixer is that it presents the opportunity to learn a new skill, broadening my professional skills for later life. As my previous experience in the media has mostly revolved around visual media and post-production work, I have never had the opportunity to control a sound mixing board, other than viewing a demonstration by the technician who I done voluntary work for at college. The sound mixing desk also gives the opportunity to research the electronics behind line-in levels and ‘gain’. Editing sound during my many years of post-production experience has been very useful, but it just isn’t the same as the opportunity to operate a live sound-mixing board.

While this position is primarily in the gallery, it also involves work in the studio; ensuring that the wireless microphones have sufficiently charged batteries, checking that their wavelength corresponded to their relevant transmitters (which they were not when I first tested them) and connecting the transmitters to the XLR sockets.

I have found the ‘main meter’ which shows the mix output to be invaluable during our team’s production rehearsals, particularly considering that the sound which the gallery staff hears isn’t necessarily the same volume as what is being recorded. This is due to the gallery speakers having their own volume dials on both the sound board and the speakers themselves. Monitoring the main meter’s coloured LED lights is important during the production rehearsals to ensure that the recording volume isn’t too high or low, altering the relevant dials or faders.

As the 113MC module progresses I hope to learn even more about the sound desk, especially during the specialised skills session which may be given. The introduction of working VT-inserts will mean that I’ll be switching between the VT sound and studio sound when appropriate.

Finding greatness in the mundane

I think that the BBC programme ‘The Box that Changed Britain’ (aired 9th May 2010) has been a great example of how a great documentary from the most unlikely subjects. In this documentary it was the humble ship container.

In a separate production the BBC have also added a GPS tracker to a shipping container to enable online users to track it live, in an attempt to portray the global trade system.

The BBC's own shipping container

A bizarre wheeled shipping container, appearing in the game 'Garry's Mod'

The BBC have managed to tell a long story about the history of British dock working, an inventor’s dream, conflicts with the dockers unions, the rise of Felixstowe (where I spent the first 7 years of my childhood) as Britain’s modernised docks, and how today’s consumer society and service economy would struggle to survive without the humble shipping container.

The fact that the BBC were able to gain this much documentary material from a seemingly mundane object is quite inspiring. Documentaries are more commonly focused on a person or a historical event, which shows the originality of this documentary. Though having said that, the BBC have also been running a series of documentaries on Radio 4 named ‘The History of the World in 100 objects’, portraying the development of mankind via significant objects.

113MC Task 1 (With Powerpoint file attached)

![Click here to download the Powerpoint version]

In this task I will compare the two magazine shows Top Gear and Russell Howard’s Good News.

Since both of these programmes are magazine shows, it is possible to draw comparisons between them and literal magazines, as well as eachother. Top Gear can be considered as the broadcasted version of several motoring magazines such as Autocar (which is partially ran by the same staff) and of course its own magazine, Top Gear. Russell Howard’s Good News comes from a less common but still significant genre, the political satire magazine. This genre comes in the form of Ian Hislop’s Private Eye magazine, which takes a humorous look at the news of the last fortnight. Russell Howard’s Good News however has some differences along with its many similarities with Private Eye.

The most notable difference is that Russell Howard’s Good News is aimed at a much younger audience. This is evident by the fact that while the jokes are presented in a similar way to Private Eye’s, they are often very sexual and are spoken with a much ‘younger’ register. Other examples in the media of trying to gain a teenage/young adult audience often fail by appearing too obvious and almost patronising, as if they were thought up by a focus group of parents. Yet Russell Howard has gained a young audience very successfully by the fact that (especially compared to other comedians) he is relatively young, presenting the news almost casually yet with a certain amount of exaggeration for his stand-up comedian style.

To further convey the young/casual style of presentation, Russell Howard would show many VT-inserts that appear to be made with his friends and a relatively small budget, sometimes commenting on the production of the VT as if he only done it for a friendly bet. Top Gear also has a semi-informal style in the way that it has a standing audience surrounding the presenters and their cars, as if to purposely imitate motor shows/street races or outdoor social events. The audience forming a circle around presenters not only replicates motor shows but also conveys the presenters as the centre of attention, as if the audience have willingly moved closer to hear what the presenters are saying, rather than being sat down on studio chairs and watching whatever is placed in front of them.

The Top Gear team expresses this presentation style further by interacting with the audience, even asking the audience if they would like to see the upcoming VT-insert as if they have a say in the matter. The audience would inevitably shout “yes!”, giving the impression that the VT-insert is given by popular demand. Sometimes they will also ask them other questions, most notably how cool a car is on the ‘Cool Wall’. Russel Howard also regularly interacts with the audience, conforming with his ‘stand-up comedian’ background by commenting on the audience’s reaction, sometimes making a whole new joke from something that an audience member has said.

The set of Top Gear is an aircraft hanger-turned-car show, expressing how different and radical they are to other magazine shows. This style of ‘unique and pushing the boundaries’ is further shown by the aircraft hanger featuring several cars which featured in their many extreme challenges, such as James May’s Triumph Herald from the Amphibious Challenge, and the Toyota Pickup which has been mounted on a large plinth at the centre of the studio background ever since the team failed to destroy it in several challenges. The Toyota Pickup is also focused on during many of the establishing crane shots at the start of the shows. Russell Howard’s Good News is quite different in terms of studio layout. The audience is sitting in front of a raised stage and there are no props used at all apart from the ‘mystery guest’ item and occasional jokes requiring a costume. The background changes with the topic, keeping a flow of variety to the visual background. This visual representation of subjects is further conveyed by the short animated stop-motion VT-inserts which involve some toys or other small objects with relate to the subject.

The use of stop-motion animation is also used in the intro titles (though probably with added computer effects too), with a miniature Russell Howard walking/climbing over radios and newspaper quotes. Top Gear’s titles are much more dramatic, using advanced post-production techniques to show the extreme challenges and fast cars.

The music of the titles for Russell Howard’s Good News is ‘Fast Fuse’ by the band ‘Kasabian’, an alternative/indy rock track that suits the non-serious style of the program very well. Where as Top Gear’s title music is a somewhat modernised version of its famous intro theme that is more than 20 years old.

Top Gear used to be much like its sister-magazine Autocar, being strictly about car reviews. But in the last 10 years Top Gear has drawn in an increasingly broader audience by being a car-based entertainment show, paving the way for its rival show Fifth Gear to fill the gap in the market, albeit with smaller viewing figures (Top Gear with 2.56 million compared to Fifth Gear not even making Five’s top 30 table according to BARB . Though having said this, Top Gear does still give car reviews. Given Top Gear’s relatively new format, it has its own magazine- the Top Gear Magazine.

The items on Russell Howard’s Good News often start with a short news clip selected in such a way to be the punch line of a quick joke. The main ‘bulk’ of the show being various news stories of the week, with the stories being split into segments such as “Law and Order” and “Religion”. The stories will be presented by Russell Howard and given a humorous spin with accompanied VT footage, sometimes given a further VT-insert in the form of a humorous re-enactment by Russell and what appears to be his friends; the same age as him and not professional actors. There is also a ‘Mystery Guest’ item, which involves Russell sitting down (and that is the only time he does sit during the show) with someone who has been in the news recently and Russell has to guess who they are. Living up to the show’s name, each episode always ends with a heart-warming story, typically of someone doing an extraordinarily good deed for a charitable cause.

As part of Top Gear’s bid to draw in a wider audience, they have a ‘star in a reasonably priced car’, the ‘Cool Wall’ and the challenges as well as the traditional car reviews. Relatively recently Top Gear has even devoted entire episodes to the challenges as ‘specials’; these being shot as boyish ‘adventures’ in Africa, Vietnam, the United States and South America.

Top Gear is different from Russell Howard’s Good News and indeed many other programmes in the way that it has three permanent presenters, plus the mysterious ‘Stig’. This choice works in two ways; giving more presentational variety as well as working with its ‘laddish social event’ style, each presenter having positive and negative aspects to make up a balanced trio.