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My Life in Television Chapter 5: Floor Managing, Moon Lighting & News Reading

So – I am in telly production, learning a lot from a weekly live factual entertainment show, meeting famous people in the studio, working hard and loving it. But as always office politics intervenes. Politics is a way of life in any organisation – once a large-ish group of people are put together and put under pressure chances are the niggles, insecurities and stress will cause some to bow to their baser instincts. If something goes wrong the insecure and frightened will try and shift the blame away from themselves. If there is a promotion in sight, the competitive streak may resort to underhand techniques. If a success is evident there will be a fight to claim the credit. If failure looms an even more bitter fight ensues to avoid any association with it.

I cannot recall the details of the fallout but suffice to say the very able and talented producer of ‘Prime Time’ was forced out of her position. The pressure was on the rest of team to leave the show as a sign of support. This was a hard call. Jobs on South Africa’s most popular and high profile entertainment show were coveted. My loyalty to our producer won over and I left the team, moving to the next door office to join the floor managing department.

How I loved floor managing! In this role I had all the fun, action and excitement of various studio and location productions without all the pressure of having to put the production together in the first place. Once the shooting was over I could go home without taking the worry of the next phase of the production with me.  I loved being the connection between the production in the gallery and the artists on the floor, learning to translate the director’s aggressive “tell the stupid bastard to stop swivelling in his chair – he looks like a bloody attention-deficient infant!” to a calm and encouraging, “the director says you’re doing a great job but moving in the chair is slightly distracting on camera. Would you mind keeping it still?”

And of course the variety was interesting and educational. We worked across all productions so I could be managing a cast of hundreds doing major musical numbers on a big stage production one day – costumes, sets, musical scores, pyrotechnics, the lot – and managing a solitary sports presenter linking to live games the next. I learnt that God would not strike me down if I had to stop an entire church congregation mid hymn because the OB director wasn’t happy with the shots; that classical conductors could be very sensitive and had to be handled with great care if you didn’t want them walking out of the studio taking the entire orchestra with them! I survived rolling the autocue for a script written in Greek using guess work and a basic knowledge of the Greek alphabet (gleaned from working with the Greek Cypriots that ran the restaurant where I still occasionally worked), and frequently had to manage productions in the Afrikaans language. I developed techniques to alert a live news presenter that he was talking to the wrong camera, to calm nervous guests, to convince the reluctant to do what was required of them.

Most of all I learnt about production from the crew’s point of view. How quickly an aggressive or incompetent director can lose the good will of his camera operators. How important basic courtesy is when dealing with all members of the team. How essential good communication is between all parts of the production.

Johnny Clegg

And the moon lighting? Well the head of the floor managing department also ran a side business in farming out us floor managers for outside jobs! Brilliant! So we got paid for our regular staff job and then got paid again (minus the boss’s ‘agency’ fee) for the freelance jobs.  Nice money if you can get it! And some of these external jobs were for productions on the African language channel (SABC at the time alternated between broadcasting in Afrikaans for half the day and in English the other half. A new channel was launched to broadcast in the indigenous languages). These were a great experience – especially the music shows and I still retain a great love of the African beat (Johnny Clegg was my hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzlfd5KQAUA).

And the moon lighting didn’t stop there. The male presenter of ‘Prime Time’ had his own radio show and he asked if I’d read the news for it. Yes, please! So every Saturday morning I’d wander down to the radio studio and read the news bulletins. Not very well it must be said. Radio 5 as it was called was probably the equivalent of our Radio 1 and yet I felt the need to read the news like an old-style stuffy BBC presenter – talking slowly and enunciating carefully. How I wish someone had given me honest feedback and told me I could afford to lighten up a bit. Feedback is good, even if it’s negative – especially if it’s negative but also constructive.

Radio is a wonderful medium. It feels somehow more intimate than television and there’s no pressure to illustrate your content so you can concentrate on the stories and the communication with your listeners. Any radio stations out there want an un-stuffy news reader or presenter? I’m available!

And then there was the side line in television presenting – but that’s enough for this chapter. We’ll leave how I ended up presenting on live TV for another article.

The lesson from this chapter?

Every person on the team has a job and every job is important in the making of television. Take time to see the production from everyone’s point of view. If you are in production find out how the studio crew operate. If you on the technical team make an effort to understand the pressure the production are under. The more you understand someone else’s job, the better you’ll do you own.

Feedback is important. It helps people to do their job better when given with honesty and with the aim of improving their performance. If you are a producer or in charge of a team, on-screen or off, don’t be shy in telling them when they are going wrong. Do it with encouragement and understanding and they’ll thank you for it.

For previous articles in this strand:  http://wanttoworkintelevision/category/my-life-in-television-and-what-i-learnt-from-it/

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