Thing of the week: “A Very British Games”

(or: how I made a TV documentary without really knowing).

A couple of months ago, an interesting email arrived in my inbox. A TV producer had spotted the string of clips about unusual British customs & traditions that I’ve been posting to YouTube for the last couple of years, and was interested in “acquiring some footage” for a forthcoming show about “quirky and eccentric sports” — something that they intended to air during the summer, when Olympic-fever was at its peak.

It seemed like an interesting proposal… but… I’ve had a few enquiries from TV companies about my footage in the past, and they’ve never come to anything. Most of my videos were shot with the web in mind as a delivery platform. They were made to visually complement the (written) articles on my wife’s web site – – and although I *now* shoot most of my stuff in TV-friendly 1080p, for various technical reasons my earlier material isn’t really suitable for TV broadcast.

Anyway, on this particular occasion, this problem didn’t phase my contact… he said they had a “home video/clips” format in mind — something that would be (visually, at least) in the style of “You’ve Been Framed” — so the quality wouldn’t really matter.

And things progressed…

So, fast forwarding a bit: I spent about a week dredging my not-very-well-organised archives, digging out the footage for the various events he was interested in (obviously I shoot a lot more footage than I included in the edited-down YouTube clips)… and even botching together a playback rig for a clip he was particularly interested in which only exists on mini-DV tape. It was quite a long, tedious job … the video data amounted to about 50-60GB of footage, spread over a stack of DVDs. (And my DVD writer isn’t very fast!). I signed a release for the various bits and pieces … (actually, my printer died half-way through printing it out, so half the text was missing and I’m surprised they didn’t ask for another one!), took everything to the post office, and sent it away…

And then kind of forgot all about it. (Too many projects, too little time!)

…Until a couple of days ago. I was happily typing away at my computer when an IM from my mum popped up on my screen. She’d been reading the TV guide that came with her paper, and wondered if *this* was the thing I’d been talking about helping with…

…well, that certainly *looked* like the kind of material that I’d sent off, it was the right channel, and it’s around about the time of year that they said they intended to air the show. BUT… it seemed a little bit odd that nobody had told me that the programme had actually been completed… or, for that matter, was going to be broadcast on that very weekend!

I guess this set off some nagging doubts (I’m pretty good at nagging doubts!). Maybe they hadn’t used my footage after all, and had sourced the material somewhere else… Maybe they’d decided not to credit me and for some reason… Or maybe something else had gone horribly wrong with the process. It was the weekend – I wouldn’t get a reply from the production office. I checked all my spam folders to make sure I hadn’t missed an email in the last few weeks. Nothing.

And — somewhat embarrassingly — we don’t actually receive the channel that the show was going to be broadcast on! (“The Community Channel” is available 24/7 on just about every digital TV platform in the UK *except* terrestrial freeview, which only gets it a few hours a day… with none of those precious few hours happening to cover the period of 8-9pm on a Sunday night – gah!). Fortunately, my dad said he’d be able to PVR a copy and drop-box an mp4 to me (Hooray for teched-up parents!).

So I ate dinner that night… mostly thinking: “wow… maybe some of my videos are being shown on TV now. Or maybe they’re not. That’s weird”… though it wasn’t long before my phone lit up with a message from mum: “It’s all your stuff!”.

And indeed, watching the video that my dad forwarded the next morning, I discovered that it certainly WAS all my stuff. With the exception of a couple of minutes stock footage of the Olympic park being built, the entire programme was made from my YouTube clips.

That was way beyond what I was expecting.

What’s more, they’d pretty much kept the clips exactly as I’d posted them on YouTube… instead of using the (hours?) of footage I’d enclosed, they pretty much went with my original edits… there’s just a couple of segments where they diverged from my cuts — The Kiplingcotes Derby segment (my version features a long clip of Nicky Chapman explaining the race — she happened to be there filming for A Day in The Country, so I sort of “borrowed” her sequence for my video. I didn’t think it was prudent to send that to The Community Channel), and various bits from The Egremont Crab Fair… which I’ve never got around to editing myself, but seemed to be relevant to the programme, so I just sent the raw footage. (Annoyingly, it stayed raw when they used it – lots of wobble, rubbish pacing, and all the camera position changes left in… gah!).

And… I got a big credit at the end (both for myself, and the web site), exactly as promised… so no complaints there 🙂

I find it strange to watch. Really strange. The best way I could describe the experience was that it’s kind of like seeing your own holiday movies, but with a complete stranger commentating over them. I have to admit, I agree with the newspaper review — the commentary is a bit flat (sorry Patrick!). The pacing is a bit strange, and it seems like an odd decision to use all the lower-quality, compressed youtube clips (which I’d mostly just put on to help index the high-quality footage!), rather than the high quality shots … but I guess it was nice and quick for the producer to put together that way, and they were probably after something fairly quick and easy. I’m not kidding myself; it’s a rather obscure channel, on the same night as the main Olympic athletics events were kicking off… it probably didn’t have an awful lot of people watching. But my mum did. And that was nice 🙂

But, yeah, I basically made a TV programme (or a fundamental chunk of it), which got beamed out to the whole UK. It was even listed as a “Critics Choice” in the Telegraph. Cool or what? 🙂

Here’s the intro sequence. The Community Channel might have plans to put the whole thing online at some point, so it’s probably not prudent of me to post any more than this for now (though you can see all the original sequences on the Calendar Customs YouTube channel anyway!)

I’m a bit inspired now. I mean, I sort of made a whole “documentary” by accident; the component parts were never supposed to join up, or tell a story… they were just moving pictures and little slices of atmosphere to back up text articles on a web site.

What if I actually set out with the intention to make something bigger and more cohesive?

*sound of cogs whirring*

Posted in Calendar Customs, TV, Video | Permalink.

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