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Better, simpler, cheaper

Way back in the 80’s when Margaret Thatcher was busy changing all there was to change, she became responsible for a lesser known but, for those in video communications, significant revolution.

Legend has it that she was enraged when told the number of staff from the BBC who wanted Downing Street accreditation for a live Panorama interview with Sir Robin Day.

This simple operation required, apparently, a crew of over 40.

Well, she’d had enough and she told the BBC in no uncertain terms of her thoughts. This trickled down the layers of BBC management and resulted, many years later, in what was calledProducer Choice. Basically, it set out to simplify (ie make cheaper) everything that went into broadcasting and boughtaccountabilityinto an industry that didn’t really know what the word meant. The effect was seismic and its fallout can still be felt today.

It forced programme makers to change the way they thought about the way they bought services and made them search for the best creative solution at the right price. As budgets were squeezed further, innovative new ways of programme making had to be found.

For example, I was the producer on a BBC2 programme in the early 2000s that required crews to be sent all over the world. There was no way I could hire a traditional two man crew (and their kit) and send them off to far flung places on a BBC2 budget.

So some of the programme budget was used to buy camera and editing kit. I trained my researchers and assistant producers to use them. It was revolutionary at the time but now it’s commonplace.

Surprisingly, those efficiencies have remained stubbornly absent from the corporate market. Many unscrupulous corporate producers (not World television, obviously) have used their client’s lack of knowledge in modern shooting techniques to their advantage and have continued to send expensive crews to cover shoots that could be done much more simply and certainly much cheaper.

Modern camera equipment is stunningly good. It’s pretty easy these days to shoot a full HD movie and edit it on your iPhone. Post production effects that used to require a room full of humming servers that looked like they were on loan from NASA can now be achieved on a fairly modest laptop.

But it’s important not to get carried away.

Content, especially in the corporate arena, is king. The person wielding that kit needs to be totally on top of their game- editorially and technically. From a creative standpoint, shot composition and pacing in the edit are vital. We usually only have one chance to get a message across to our audiences and that message needs to be clear, concise and not buried underneath fancy (or bad) camerawork or inappropriate editing. Creativity must always contribute to messaging and never detract from it.

Our films also need to be clear. Sound is vitally important. Interviews need to be recorded properly and not just rely on a built in microphone. Poor sound quality is a major switch off for audiences.

So yes, modern technology means that you can create engaging, on- message location films with a dramatically stripped down crew and kit list and that can only be good for corporate clients. The key to it is engaging therightpeople with therightkit. Many expensive mistakes have been caused by a lack of understanding of exactly how far you can cut back on a budget before the investment in the piece you’re making becomes wasted.

There’s still room at the higher end of corporate productions for more elaborate crewing and resourcing but the majority of clients are now demanding the efficiencies from their agencies that new technology and training can allow.

At least some of the geeky buzz this year is around cameras that can stream their content to the internet live and wirelessly. It wouldn’t be much fun for the viewer to look at but that could mean that you could broadcast an entire live interview with just one person behind the camera.

Mrs. T would be proud.