ADAPT – HOW TELEVISION USED TO BE MADE

by John Ellis, Royal Holloway University of London

Originally published on https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/viewfinder/articles/adapt-how-television-used-to-be-made/

Suddenly it is hard to avoid an encounter with TV material created using analogue technologies.

• BoB contains several thousand analogue-originated programmes

• Organisations as diverse as Kaleidescope, BBC Archive, Ident Central, Talking Pictures TV and Network Distributing are all actively engaged in making old programming available

• YouTube contains vast amounts of analogue TV, much of it posted informally from private collections of VHS tapes

• The substantial amounts of ITN news material, once curated by Learning on Screen for Jisc, is now available again through Proquest’s Alexander Street subsidiary

Thanks to widespread digitisation programmes, huge amounts of archive are now available. Digitisation makes old programming visible, but at the same time it obscures how those programmes were made.

How TV got made in the analogue era has now become an urgent question for anyone wanting to understand or use this footage, whether for teaching, historical research or enjoyment, or even for its value as data. To make TV used to be a rare and difficult activity. TV production required expensive and cumbersome technologies that needed teams of skilled individuals to work them, and the resources of large organisations with the funding to afford them. The TV footage we have from the last century (and the earlier years of this century) are profoundly determined by the affordances of analogue technologies and the production systems that went with them. TV tended to record what was convenient or accessible, and in forms that were manageable and predictable. This has determined the nature of the visual record of that time: what was chosen to be shown and how it was shown.

So how can we find out how TV used to be made? There’s only so much that you can learn from looking at old equipment, and even less from photos of them. The archives themselves contain very few programmes explaining how TV used to work. Fortunately, many of the professionals from the fifties onwards are still around, and there is an international network of collectors who still maintain “obsolete” equipment in working order. It is a miracle that this equipment still works, and this is entirely thanks to these dedicated private collectors

For the ADAPT research project, we seized this time-limited opportunity to reunite working equipment with the professionals who once used it. We challenged them to make a programme as they used to. We used contemporary ‘fixed rig’ video methods (14 cameras for one shoot) to produce over 160 videos in all. They show how TV professionals in the UK filmed and edited using both video and 16mm film. The processes of both video and film as explained at www.adapttvhistory.org.uk, and all the videos can be downloaded from the repository at https://figshare.com/collections/ADAPT/3925603

We have extraordinary revelations: how quickly and economically a film crew used to work; the sheer difficulty of getting a live show on air; the crucial importance of repair and maintenance; the time and effort it took to line up cameras. We see how the 16mm Éclair camera and Nagra sound tape recorder revolutionised what was possible. We see how one (energetic) person can run an entire film lab. Our footage enables a comparison between film and videotape editing, as well as an appraisal of AVID’s early digital system. It shows the combination of many different items of equipment that were required to make the simplest of sound and image material, the heavy cables, the cumbersome tapes, the long waits for equipment to warm up.

We concentrated on the everyday production of everyday TV, to present examples that were as typical as possible. The equipment used is mainly British or European and the professionals involved had all once worked for the BBC. But the work routines and the basic arrays of equipment were similar even then. Many of the crews interact in ways that are startlingly similar to those reported by Beth Bechty in her ethnographic studies of US freelance film crews in the early 2000s. They show the same rituals of exaggerated politeness and mutual respect. The biggest difference is in the social composition of the professional group we were calling on: they were overwhelmingly male and white.

The equipment (and some of the attitudes) may be from another era, but this work is no exercise in historical recreation akin to a Civil War battle recreation. Instead it is a combination of hands on history and memory work. These professionals recall past actions that, more often than not, are deeply embedded in body memory. The additional challenge to create again brings forward all their professional skills. The participants are ‘playing’ their younger selves, encountering long abandoned equipment: “Come to Daddy” says one of the cinematographers, unselfconsciously, on picking up the Éclair camera.

Our videos are edited to different lengths: a bitesized two minutes that can be used in a lecture; a medium length for seminar use and full length versions for research and concentrated study. Taken together they show clearly why archival TV is as it is: they reveal the strengths and limitations of a whole, lost, era of television production. It was an era when filming was not the commonplace activity it is now. As it involved scarce resources, large expenditure, and highly specialized skills, the decision to film was a weighty one that involved considerable planning. When you watch these professionals at work, and see their demonstrations of the equipment they wrestled with, it seems remarkable that they achieved so much.

In the next few months, a series of publications will appear relating directly to the project: articles in the online peer reviewed journal VIEW using some of the videos, and a book Hands on Media History (Ed. N.Hall and J.Ellis, Routledge 2018), including essays on the methods we adopted from video director Amanda Murphy and project researcher Nick Hall. This material can serve as a guide for those students and researchers fortunate enough to have access to hands on collections of old equipment. There is a growing network of ‘hands on history’ collections which allow students to handle old equipment, to better understand its limitations and capabilities. This is not yet common in the UK, but there are interesting initiatives at Groningen, Colorado and Humboldt universities.

The ADAPT videos stand on their own as a vivid witness to the analogue era. Used together with hands on collections they can help decode the relationship between different items of equipment and the mysteries of circuitry. They also reveal the common industry work-arounds that kept the show on the road. Museum display equipment may look spectacular, but if it is not maintained, it loses not only its ability to function, but also its ability to speak to us. Old footage can be valuable historical evidence, but only if the conditions of its production are properly understood. Old entertainment, drama and documentary are essential for understanding our past as well as in their own right as texts, but this can only really be achieved by understanding their own history as artefacts. The ‘How Television Used to be Made’ website and the ADAPT video collection are designed to provide the missing element of ‘equipment as it was used’ and so enable those understandings.

Hands On TV History

by John Ellis, Royal Holloway University of London

Originally published on http://iamhist.net/2019/03/hands-tv-history/

Huge amounts of TV material are now becoming available for historical researchers, thanks to digitization. Digitization makes old programming visible, but at the same time it obscures how those programmes were made. As access gets easier, understanding the footage as source material is getting harder.

The proliferation of potential sources range from the carefully curated to the anarchy of YouTube:

  • Learning on Screen’s Box of Broadcasts (BoB) contains thousands of hours of analogue-originated programmes
  • The substantial amounts of ITN news material, once curated by Learning on Screen for Jisc, is now available again through Proquest’s Alexander Street subsidiary: https://alexanderstreet.com/products/mediaplus 
  • Organisations as diverse as Kaleidescope, BBC Archive, Ident Central, Talking Pictures TV and Network Distributing are all actively engaged in making old programming available
  • Europeana, the European Digital Library has over a million TV items from the EUscreen project
  • National broadcaster archives, inspired by the vast resources of France’s INA, are increasingly making their factual material visible to academic or even public users
  • YouTube contains vast amounts of analogue TV, much of it posted from digitized VHS tapes

How TV got made in the analogue era has now become an urgent question for anyone wanting to understand or use this footage, whether for teaching or historical research or even for its value as data. Making TV used to be a rare and difficult activity. It used expensive and cumbersome technologies that required teams of skilled individuals to work them, and the resources of large organisations with the funding to afford them. The TV footage we have from the last century (and the earlier years of this century) are profoundly determined by the affordances of analogue technologies and the systems that went with them. TV tended to record what was convenient or accessible, and in forms that were manageable and predictable. This has determined the nature of the visual record of that time: what was chosen to be shown and how it was shown.

So how do we find out how TV used to be made? The television industry itself provides only clues. There’s only so much that you can learn from looking at old equipment, and even less from photos of them. Broadcaster archives contain very few programmes explaining how TV used to work. Fortunately, many of the professionals from the fifties onwards are still around, and there is an international network of collectors who still maintain “obsolete” equipment in working order.

For the ADAPT research project, funded by the European Research Council, we seized this time-limited opportunity to reunite working equipment with the professionals who once used it. We challenged them to make a programme as they used to. We used contemporary ‘fixed rig’ video methods (14 cameras for one shoot) to produce over 160 videos in all. Our  promotional video gives a good idea of the scope of this work.

They show how TV professionals in the UK filmed and edited using both video and 16mm film. The processes of both video and film are explained at www.adapttvhistory.org.uk, and all the videos can be downloaded from the repository at https://figshare.com/collections/ADAPT/3925603

We have extraordinary revelations: how quickly and economically a film crew used to work; the sheer difficulty of getting a live show on air; the crucial importance of repair and maintenance; the time and effort it took to line up cameras.

We see how the 16mm Éclair camera and Nagra sound tape recorder revolutionised what was possible. We see how one (energetic) person can run an entire film lab. Our footage enables a comparison between film and videotape editing, as well as an appraisal of AVID’s early digital system.  

It shows the combination of many different items of equipment that were required to make the simplest of sound and image material, the heavy cables, the cumbersome tapes, the long waits for equipment to warm up.

We concentrated on the everyday production of everyday TV, to present examples that were as typical as possible. The equipment used is mainly British or European and the professionals involved had all once worked for the BBC. But the work routines and the basic arrays of equipment were similar even then. Many of the crews interact in ways that are startlingly similar to those reported by Beth Bechty in her ethnographic studies of US freelance film crews in the early 2000s. They show the same rituals of exaggerated politeness and mutual respect. The biggest difference is in the social composition of the professional group we were calling on: they were overwhelmingly male and white.  

The equipment (and some attitudes) may be retro, but this work is no exercise in historical recreation akin to a Civil War battle recreation. Instead it is a combination of hands on history and memory work. These professionals recall past actions that, more often than not, are deeply embedded in body memory. The additional challenge to create again brings forward all their professional skills.   The participants are ‘playing’ their younger selves, encountering long abandoned equipment: “Come to Daddy” says one of the cinematographers unselfconsciously on picking up the Éclair camera.

Our videos are edited to different lengths: a bitesized two minutes that can be used in a lecture; a medium length for seminar use and full length versions for research and concentrated study. [See the playlist on YouTube here]. Taken together they show clearly why archival TV is as it is: they reveal the strengths and limitations of a whole, lost, era of television production. It was an era when filming was not the commonplace activity it is now: it involved scarce resources, large expenditure, individuals with highly specialized skills. The decision to film was a weighty one that involved considerable planning. When you watch these professionals at work, and see their demonstrations of the equipment they wrestled with, it seems remarkable that they achieved so much.    

This material can serve as a guide for those students and researchers fortunate enough to have access to hands on collections of old equipment. There is a growing network of ‘hands on history’ collections which allow students to handle old equipment, the better to understand its limitations and capabilities. This is not yet common in the UK, but there are interesting initiatives at Groningen, Colorado and Humboldt universities. 

The videos can help decode the mysteries of circuitry and reveal the industry work-arounds. It is also a miracle that this equipment is still in working order, and this is due to the dedicated private collectors, the owners and maintainers. Museum display equipment may look spectacular, but if it is not maintained, it loses its ability to speak to us. Our material is intended to restore at least some of that ability, to bring the  back to life.

The ADAPT project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 323626).


Bringing Old Equipment Back to Life

by John Ellis, Royal Holloway University of London

Originally published on http://mediacommons.org/imr/content/bringing-old-equipment-back-life

Curator’s Note

How did TV get made in the analogue era? Now that huge amounts of archival TV have been digitized, this has become an urgent question. There’s only so much that you can learn from looking at old equipment, and even less from photos of it. The archives themselves contain very few programmes explaining how TV used to work. Fortunately, many of the professionals from the fifties onwards are still around, and there is an international network of collectors who still maintain “obsolete” equipment in working order.

For the ADAPT research project, we seized this time-limited opportunity to reunite working equipment with the professionals who once used it. We challenged them to make a programme as they used to. We used contemporary ‘fixed rig’ video methods (14 cameras for one shoot) to produce over 160 videos in all. They show how TV professionals in the UK filmed and edited using both video and 16mm film. The processes of both video and film are explained at www.adapttvhistory.org.uk, and all the videos can be downloaded from the repository at https://figshare.com/collections/ADAPT/3925603

We have extraordinary revelations: how quickly and economically a film crew used to work; the sheer difficulty of getting a live show on air; the crucial importance of repair and maintenance; the time and effort it took to line up cameras. We see how the Éclair camera and Nagra sound tape recorder revolutionised what was possible with 16mm filming. We see how one (energetic) person can run an entire film lab. Our footage enables a comparison between film and videotape editing, as well as an appraisal of AVID’s early digital system. It shows the combination of many different items of equipment that were required to make the simplest of sound and image material — the heavy cables, the cumbersome tapes, the long waits for equipment to warm up.

We concentrated on the everyday production of everyday TV, to present examples that were as typical as possible. The equipment used is mainly British or European, and the professionals involved had all once worked for the BBC. But around the world, the work routines and the basic arrays of equipment were similar even then. Many of the crews interact in ways that are startlingly similar to those reported by Beth Bechty in her ethnographic studies of US freelance film crews in the early 2000s. They show the same rituals of exaggerated politeness and mutual respect. The biggest difference is in the social composition of the professional group we were calling on: they were overwhelmingly male and white.  

The equipment (and some attitudes) may be retro, but our work is no exercise in historical recreation akin to a Civil War battle recreation. Instead it is a combination of hands-on history and memory work. These professionals recall past actions that, more often than not, are deeply embedded in body memory. The additional challenge to create again brings forward all their professional skills. The participants are ‘playing’ their younger selves, encountering long abandoned equipment: “Come to Daddy” says one of the cinematographers unselfconsciously on picking up the Éclair camera.

Our videos are edited to different lengths: bitesized two minutes that can be used in a lecture, medium lengths for seminar use, and full length versions for research and concentrated study. Taken together they show clearly why archival TV is as it is: they reveal the strengths and limitations of a whole, lost, era of television production. It was an era when filming was not the commonplace activity it is now: it involved scarce resources, large expenditure, individuals with highly specialized skills. The decision to film was a weighty one that involved considerable planning. When you watch these professionals at work, and see their demonstrations of the equipment they wrestled with, it seems remarkable that they achieved so much.

This material can serve as a guide for those students and researchers fortunate enough to have access to hands-on collections of old equipment. They can help decode the mysteries of circuitry and reveal the industry work-arounds. It is also a miracle that this equipment is still in working order, and this is due to the dedicated private collectors, the owners and maintainers. Museum display equipment may look spectacular, but if it is not maintained, it no longer works and loses its ability to speak to us. Our material is intended to restore at least some of that ability, to bring the retro back to life.

How Television Used To Be Made

by John Ellis, Royal Holloway University of London

Originally published on http://blog.euscreen.eu/2018/11/how-television-used-to-be-made/ 

Digitisation has enabled archive footage to travel far and wide, but this has created a new problem. It’s easy to misunderstand the origins of that footage. How do we explain how television used to be made? We invited John Ellis, professor of media arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, to tell us about his research project ADAPT which investigates and documents the history of British broadcast television technology between 1960 and the near-present. The outcome of a project is a website which will help archives everywhere to help explain their audiovisual holdings.

Preparing to film a 16mm interview

How Television Used to be Made shows both the 16mm film and the broadcast video methods of creating TV. It is the gateway to a collection of 160 videos, created by reuniting the old equipment and the people who used to use it. Retired television professionals were brought together with “obsolete” equipment that they last saw thirty or forty years ago. They set about making new programme material using the working routines that were once their everyday practice. They demonstrated how everything worked, showing the sheer difficulty involved in making even the simplest of TV material.

For both film and video, there are examples of all the major stages of planning, rigging, shooting and editing – even including the workings of a film laboratory, telecine and video graphics. We have one-inch video and 16mm film, a Steenbeck cutting room in action, joyful reunions with an Éclair camera (“the best camera ever made”), and a cavalcade of video editing equipment from U-Matic tape to an early Avid digital platform. We have a first generation PAL colour video truck coaxed back into action and a vivid demonstration of the astonishing power of Quantel’s Paintbox.

Brian Tufano with Éclair camera

The videos are all downloadable and cleared for a Creative Commons CC-BY license. Almost all of them come in three versions of different lengths:

  • ‘bitesize’ for an overall impression, a couple of minutes or less
  • ‘medium’ for a conventional narrative edit with time elisions
  • ‘long’ to show the entire process in more or less real time.

Our intention was to enable many different uses: from public display, for example using the short versions to contextualise museum items, to providing detailed information for serious archival researchers.

A sample of videos available on Figshare repository

The videos were made using a major research grant from the European Research Council. The vintage equipment used was not sourced from museums but from private collectors who spend long hours maintaining their equipment in working order. Most of the crew members we filmed are now retired, but some still work: the director of our outside broadcast reconstruction, Geoff Wilson, is still contracted to the BBC to direct the coverage of royal funerals.

Our filming of their work was done using multiple cameras, some fixed and some operated by students or professionals. The most ambitious shoot, about live outside broadcast TV, involved 4 days shooting using a fixed rig of twelve cameras with two additional roving cameras and 20 microphones. It generated almost 11TB of material.

We hope that the website and the videos will be used as widely as possible, as the go-to place for anyone interested in the materiality of archival television material. The footage is mainly of former BBC equipment and staff, so is currently in English only, and allowances will have to be made for the major differences between BBC standards and those of other major broadcasters. However, the BBC was a technical reference point for broadcasters in many European countries, and the working practices shown were relatively standard, as far as I know. Apart from the group discussions and interviews about working practices, much of the demonstration material can be appreciated by viewers with little or no knowledge of English.

Steve Harris repairing his BBC North 3 outside broadcast truck
Colour cameras warming up

We would love to know more about any experiences using this material, as well as suggestions for how we could present it better. Please email john.ellis@rhul.ac.uk with all feedback.

Finally, such ‘hands on history’ methods of media archaeology have many applications. In December 2017, some of the privately held collectors’ equipment was used for a two-day live demonstration of how live TV used to be made at the UK National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. Our retired participants had enjoyed the experience of reawakening the old equipment so much that they wanted to do it all over again. The equipment responded admirably: there was just one minor camera fire over the two days and that was immediately dealt with as part of the show. This demonstration provided many opportunities for (controlled) hands-on experience for members of the public. It became clear that ‘how television used to be made’ is a subject that excites much public curiosity and can create exciting events.

Image credits – ADAPT project.

“How television used to be made?” Rencontre avec John Ellis autour de la production télévisuelle

Originally published on http://wp.unil.ch/tvelargie/nos-articles/how-television-used-to-be-made-rencontre-avec-john-ellis-autour-de-la-production-televisuelle/

Le séminaire « Dispositifs audiovisuels, industries de l’imaginaire et professionnels de l’écran » a accueilli, le 24 octobre 2017, John Ellis, professeur à la Royal Holloway University de Londres. Dans le cadre de sa conférence « How television used to be made? », ce chercheur et ancien producteur de télévision a présenté le projet de recherche ADAPT qui vise à étudier les techniques et pratiques de la production télévisuelle en Grande-Bretagne avant la généralisation du numérique.

Par Roxane Gray

“How television used to be made?”. Le titre de la conférence prononcée par John Ellis résume tout autant la recherche d’une meilleure compréhension du fonctionnement de la production télévisuelle que les questionnements auxquels font face les chercheurs/euses en histoire des médias pour y parvenir. La production télévisuelle, parent pauvre des recherches sur les médias, demeure mal connue. Cette situation favorise une mauvaise compréhension des conditions de production de télévision au sein des recherches académiques, concernant notamment le rôle des technologies et des professionnels dans le processus des productions des émissions. Retour, par le prisme des expériences et projets menés par John Ellis, sur quelques modalités d’approche de l’histoire de la télévision.

Un parcours à la croisée des mondes médiatique et académique

Le parcours professionnel de John Ellis, à la croisée des milieux académique, télévisuel et cinématographique, est un exemple probant des possibilités d’interactions entre ces différents mondes. En 1982, le spécialiste des médias publie Visible Fictions, ouvrage dans lequel il compare les modes de production et de réception du cinéma et de la télévision. Partisan d’une analyse conjointe de ces médias, l’universitaire dispose néanmoins d’une expérience et d’une connaissance différenciées de ces deux univers. S’il est membre de plusieurs organisations de cinéma telles que l’association des réalisateurs indépendants ou le magazine Screen consacré à l’industrie du cinéma, son expérience de la télévision se résume, quant à elle, à celle d’un téléspectateur : “I approach broadcast TV from a more common position, as one of its anonymous and fragmented audience.” (Visible Fictions).

Son engagement au bureau de production du British Film Institute – établissement public chargé d’encourager et de promouvoir le développement de la télévision et du cinéma au Royaume-Uni – conjugué aux mutations du paysage audiovisuel britannique, lui ouvrent néanmoins, au début des années 1980, l’accès à la production télévisuelle. En 1982, cette institution participe en effet à la mise en place de Channel 4, une chaîne privée créée afin de rétablir l’équilibre d’un paysage audiovisuel occupé par les deux chaînes publiques de la BBC et la chaîne privée détenue par ITV. La structure originale de Channel 4, qui ne produit pas en interne mais finance des programmes produits par des structures extérieures, amène John Ellis à fonder, avec deux producteurs de télévision, la boîte de production Large Door. De 1982 à 1985, celle-ci produira pour la chaîne nouvelle-née le magazine télévisé Visions consacré… au cinéma !

Premier extrait du sujet « Cinema in China » de Visions diffusé en 1983 sur Channel 4:

D’abord observateur extérieur de la télévision, John Ellis en découvre ensuite les modalités de production, ses règles et spécificités ; expérience qu’il mettra à profit dans ses recherches, à l’instar de la réédition augmentée de Visible Fictions, publiée en 1992. L’apprentissage du métier de producteur de télévision exercé durant près de vingt ans a donc nourri son approche de chercheur et a contribué à changer sa vision de la production. John Ellis fait converger son regard de chercheur et l’œil du praticien de la télévision sur son objet d’étude tout en soulignant la difficulté d’approcher le monde télévisuel sans la maîtrise de ce double langage :

“I realized that I can talk as a professional. I know the kind of way of speaking. I can understand the assumption which is driving somebody to make the statement they are making. I think it is a major problem for anybody which has no the experience (…) It must be very difficult for a person without experience to be able to adopt a position when you know enough in order not asking stupid questions but also not too much to ask questions which require no answers.” (Entretien avec John Ellis, 24 octobre 2017)

Pour une meilleure compréhension de la production télévisuelle : l’exemple de Visions

L’étude de la production télévisuelle pose en effet aux chercheurs/euses de nombreuses interrogations. Quels outils et approches adopter pour appréhender les conditions de production d’une émission télévisée dans une perspective historique ? Comment limiter la formulation de jugements inappropriés sur le fonctionnement de la production à la télévision ? En bref, quels rapports entretenir avec ce terrain d’étude ? L’expérience de production télévisuelle telle qu’elle est racontée par John Ellis offre de nouveaux cadres d’analyse aux chercheurs/euses.

Le point de vue du professionnel de télévision incite, avant tout, à ne pas négliger les caractéristiques matérielles du média. Celles-ci influent en effet sur les choix opérés en termes de production. John Ellis explique, à cet égard, que les formats utilisés par le magazine télévisé Visions sont en grande partie déterminés par des contraintes de temps et d’argent : “We planned mixture of cheap and expensive” (Entretien avec John Ellis). Les premiers sujets de l’émission, des revues de cinéma basées sur l’interview d’une dizaine de minutes d’un invité, reposaient en fait sur une pratique flexible et peu coûteuse.

Le récit de la production de Visions rend également attentif les chercheurs/euses au caractère résolument pratique, non déterminé voire parfois improvisé du processus de production. « I think I understood how difficult it is, what an incredible achievement to get to make a film and what a risk it is, when everything fall together and makes a film or a television program, which is exceptional.” (Entretien avec John Ellis)

Le cas de Visions souligne enfin l’influence de l’institution télévisuelle et de ses différentes parties prenantes sur la production de l’émission. Channel 4 devait en effet répondre aux objectifs fixés par un mandat d’engagement de service public : être innovante et créative tant dans la forme que dans les contenus de ses programmes. La série Visions a, dans ce sens, abordé le cinéma anglais et international par le biais de formats diversifiés : montage de clips, critiques, interviews, portraits, ou encore reportages sur un événement particulier. L’originalité de la série Visions, conjuguée à sa programmation irrégulière sur la chaîne, n’a néanmoins pas su constituer un rendez-vous familier pour ses téléspectateurs.

Ces quelques remarques méthodologiques trouvent leurs échos dans le courant de recherche anglo-saxon des media industry studies qui s’intéresse aux modalités de production des médias ainsi qu’à leur aspect industriel et matériel. L’intérêt longtemps dévolu aux rapports entre la signification d’une œuvre et son auteur a laissé place à des interrogations diversifiées sur les contextes institutionnels, économiques et industriels dans lesquels le produit s’inscrit, sur les modalités d’organisation des entreprises médiatiques et sur ses interactions avec ses parties prenantes.

Le projet ADAPT : une approche novatrice de l’histoire de la production télévisuelle

Vidéo promotionnelle des simulations de tournages de films en 16 mm:

Les recherches récentes sur la télévision invitent à lier une histoire des métiers et des techniques afin de développer la compréhension des programmes télévisés par une approche plus pragmatique et matérielle. Cette focale sur les pratiques au travail est le parti-pris du projet de recherche ADAPT, fondé en 2013 et financé pour une durée de cinq années par le Conseil européen de la recherche. Ce projet, qui met en contact des anciennes technologies télévisuelles, aujourd’hui obsolètes, et leurs utilisateurs de l’époque, présente un véritable intérêt historique puisqu’il dévoile les processus de production du média avant l’arrivée du numérique. Ces simulations de travail collectif ont été filmées dans des configurations particulières (le tournage d’un film en 16 mm, le tournage en extérieur) et ont été complétées par la réalisation d’entretiens individuels et collectifs au cours desquels ces professionnels sont revenus sur leurs pratiques de travail.

Cette approche novatrice offre au chercheur/euse de nouvelles manières d’interagir avec les professionnels et d’analyser le fonctionnement de la production télévisuelle. ADAPT ouvre aussi de nouvelles perspectives à l’utilisation de l’histoire orale, moins centrée sur les récits de vie mais davantage sur les modalités d’utilisation de la technique. La présence physique de l’objet technique permet en effet de visualiser ses modalités de mise en œuvre et d’utilisation par les professionnels de télévision.

“Even having the piece of machinery in the room with you, the person talks differently. You can ask him to show you something, the presence of the physical objects. A lot different kinds of memories come and different ways of speaking and analyzing. You’re breaking through”. (Entretien avec John Ellis)

Simulation de l’installation d’un plateau de tournage pour une interview réalisée avec une caméra Eclair et un magnétophone Nagra:

Les interactions entre les spécificités des techniques de télévision et leurs usages par les professionnels ont permis de comprendre d’une manière pratique le fonctionnement de la production télévisuelle. Les simulations d’ADAPT ont en effet démontré les difficultés quotidiennes liées à la production de contenus télévisuels : chaque situation de tournage apporte ses propres défis et défaillances mécanique ou électronique. Si les capacités des technologies fixent des limites sur ce qui peut être réalisé ou non dans le contexte physique du lieu de tournage, le cadre institutionnel lui-même, en exigeant une utilisation fiable et répétée de ces techniques, influence leurs modalités d’utilisation par les professionnels.

Les équipes de télévision mettent donc en place des routines et disciplines de travail afin de réduire les difficultés techniques et de rendre plus efficace le processus de production. Celui-ci apparaît donc plus que jamais comme le fruit d’un travail collectif, au sein duquel de nombreux techniciens, aux cultures professionnelles diversifiées et aux rôles spécifiques dans le processus de production, travaillent ensemble pour fournir, à chaque situation de tournage, une réponse adaptée. Loin d’être des formations stables et préétablies, les industries médiatiques sont, au contraire, le fait d’activités hybrides et le fruit d’un travail collectif sans cesse renouvelé.

Cette rencontre avec John Ellis a apporté un nouveau regard sur le milieu télévisuel et son histoire, en soulignant notamment l’importance des caractéristiques techniques de la télévision, la variabilité du processus de production et la diversité des acteurs impliqués en son sein. En somme, un regard de chercheur éclairé par une pratique de la production télévisuelle. John Ellis « sait parler les deux langages » et le grand apport du projet ADAPT qu’il dirige, en plus du renouvellement historiographique qu’il promeut, consiste à (re)créer cette mise en contact ; cette opportunité, pour le chercheur, de s’approprier ce langage brut, inséparable de la réalité matérielle dans lequel il s’inscrit, et ainsi, de faire évoluer ses propres cadres d’analyse. Ce cadre de recherche, propice à la mise au contact et à la compréhension du langage de l’autre pourrait, par ailleurs, ouvrir des pistes de recherche fécondes en termes de comparaison internationale.

Références

Entretien avec John Ellis le mardi 24 octobre 2017 suivi de sa conférence « How television used to be made ? »

John Ellis, Visible Fictions, Routledge, Londres, deuxième édition, 1992.

John Ellis, “Visions: a Channel 4 experiment 1982-85” in Laura Mulvey et Jamie Sexton (dir), Experimental British Television, Manchester University Press, 2007.

Le site et la chaîne Youtube du projet ADAPT Television History


ADAPT Live @ Being Human Festival, Bradford

Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th November 2017

National Science and Media Museum, Bradford

Pioneering ex-BBC television crews responsible for bringing colour into our homes in the late 1960s will bring TV history to life in the foyer of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford later this month (November 23-24).

ADAPT LIVE, part of the Being Human festival, will reunite veteran TV crews to demonstrate the skills that brought us some of Britain’s earliest colour TV shows.

During ADAPT LIVE, participants – all of them former television producers and technicians who worked on BBC outside broadcasts during the 1960s and 1970s – will share stories, host live demonstrations and screen footage to share how television used to be made.

The event will include a rare opportunity to see working demonstrations of historic television camera, including the iconic Pye PC80 and EMI 2001, which were among the earliest colour cameras regularly used in the UK.

The exhibition includes:

  • Live outside broadcast with original kit from late 1960s/early 1970s.
  • ADAPT footage screening and live Q&A with experienced directors, cameramen, sound and lighting engineers.
  • Memory Booth – Your opportunity to tell us about your memories of 1970s TV and your thoughts about the ADAPT project.

The exhibition is FREE but booking is required for the Q&A via the Being Human Website https://beinghumanfestival.org/event/adapt-live-2/

To find out more about the ADAPT project visit: www.adaptTVhistory.org.uk

For further information about ADAPT Live, please contact

Producer Amanda Murphy Amanda.murphy@rhul.ac.uk

Research Assistant Stephanie Janes Stephanie.Janes@rhul.ac.uk

 

How Early Pioneering Television Crews Succeeded in Bringing Colour Into Our Homes

The talents of early day pioneers are not always recognised or celebrated, and this is arguably the case of the early TV engineers and crew responsible for bringing the first colour programmes to our TV screens back in the late 60s.

A young David Attenborough as Controller of BBC2 in the mid-60s was determined to beat the Germans in the race to fully launch colour television, so he ambitiously promised a colour service starting with Wimbledon on 1st July 1967. It was a great success and history was made even though there were, in fact, only 4 colour cameras in operation at the time! Given that most homes still only had black and white television sets, these cameras had to be able to broadcast in black and white as well as in colour. This all presented a considerable technical challenge for the engineers and cameramen of the day!

ADAPT sets out to better understand television technology and the processes by which it was made in the past. So, in 2016/7 we reunited some of the original cameramen from that historic Wimbledon event, along with other ex-BBC crew from those early heroic years, with much of the original kit, including two of the first- generation colour cameras and a semi-restored ex-BBC outside broadcast truck known as North 3, all from the late 1960s.

The veteran crew, made up of 18 men (and one woman) rather miraculously recreated a live outside sports broadcast to show us how it was done in those early pioneering days. Their efforts were filmed and are currently being edited. All of this footage will all be made available online (for free), with highlights being released on the BBC History website for the first time to coincide with the BBC’s 50th anniversary of a regular colour service.

It was an ambitious mission to say the least, gathering a full line up of mostly retired outside broadcast crew with the expectation that some, if not all, might actually remember the kit they habitually used 30-40 years ago, and more importantly, would ideally make it all work again!

Ken Osbourn on camera at Wimbledon July 1967

It transpired that the real challenge was locating predominantly obsolete kit from dusty lockups, cubby holes and the fierce clutches of collectors, with the faint hope that it might just be made operational. We knew this venture was ambitious at best – and many ex-crew initially thought we were insane! Our first real glimmer of hope appeared with Steve Harris, collector and owner of the lovingly restored ex-BBC outside Broadcast truck North 3 unit. Luckily, he was up for the challenge!

What followed was several months of hard toil as Steve and his team with their trusty soldering irons working tirelessly around the clock, along with a fair few roped in ex-BBC engineers who traversed the country to help out. Each of them was committed to rejuvenating ancient machinery- like an old one inch Videotape recorder, and two first generation colour cameras: an EMI 2001 and a Pye PC80, along with all the associated cabling, connectors, sound kit and monitors.

One engineering crisis followed as brief signs of life in one piece of kit would quickly be followed by another part dying. By the end, the team deserved medals for sheer determination and patience.

OB Truck – North 3, a Type 2 Colour mobile control room (MCR)

When North 3 finally pulled into the filming location in Wales, it was to an uproar of cheers from the veterans who only half believed it would actually make it! To our surprise, the crew then revealed they each still had a master key in their possession, that allowed them to enter any BBC outside broadcast truck-including North 3! Seeing the joy on their faces when they actually stepped back inside was priceless!

As they re-familiarised themselves with the craft of their past, we filmed and witnessed these incredible pioneers quickly fall back into role. They seemed to dig deep and use every engineering trick in the book replacing boards on the old cameras, supplemented connectors, rigging up a temporary talkback and all the while fixing faults on old hefty G101 cables. Toughest of all, they were faced with driving two different types of first generation colour tube cameras, both around 50 years old. One favoured the London EMI 2001, and the other, the northern workhorse Pye PC80. It took every ounce of ingenuity to get these behemoths up and running, and perhaps the greatest challenge of all came during the complex task of lining them up. For the vision engineers and cameramen, this process brought back painful memories of the many difficult hours spent during those first years of colour. With new red, green and blue tubes added to cameras, the cameramen and vision engineers needed to work in tight teams to perfectly align the tubes to achieve pictures with the right colour balance. The process took up to two hours per camera, and with at least four cameras at most outside broadcast events, this was a time-consuming job! 38 years since he had seen the EMI 2001, cameraman Robin Sutherland took a while to find the correct dials, but with the help of vision supervisor John Coupe, finally got there.

Director Geoff Wilson in BBC outside broadcast unit 1969

Meanwhile, the veteran sound crew were making half-century old microphones work so as to record a commentator and two darts players, plus the all-important sound of a dart hitting a board. They were also lining up title music to play in live, while director Geoff Wilson focused on familiarizing himself with a bank of monitors and mixers so he could not only direct cameras but live mix the match too! With all 18 veterans working as a tight knit team, driven by their professionalism and sheer determination to pull off the mission, it made for a mesmerising watch. And proof indeed that proper training in television pays!

After just 24 hours together, it was as if the years rolled back to the late 60s. Director Geoff Wilson’s ‘Stand-by’, ‘Roll VT’ and ‘Action’ created excitement and nostalgia in equal measure. Geoff successfully led his crew to record an astonishing 20-minute period-feel darts match complete with Letraset captions for the opening and end titles and credits. Both of the 50-year old cameras behaved and delivered pictures, though given that they have not worked since, it all felt rather miraculous!

As this is a celebration of our pioneering crew and their incredible achievement, I’ll say less about our own technical challenges behind the scenes except to share a couple of points. Given the small spaces of the OB truck and with so many areas and veteran crew to cover, I decided to shoot the event as a fixed rig 14-camera shoot. In order to fully capture the approach, decisions and processes involved, we chose to record all crew activity from the moment of reunion with old kit, through rigging, rehearsing, and on to recording and finally reflections on it all. For Adapt, this inevitably resulted in an enormous amount of filmed footage, in fact 11 Terabytes worth (over 300 hours!) which we are still grappling with in the edit. Ironically, after just a couple of days back at the job following a 30 to 40-year hiatus, our veteran crew manage to achieve a 20-minute recording of a ready to broadcast live mixed show complete with titles and music!

Amanda Murphy directing from the Adapt video village

Perhaps we should have also turned over the task of our recording to the veteran crew, as no doubt they would have delivered the very same piece within a few days! Here’s to fabulous BBC training and to learning from such talented trailblazers!

And to a wonderful 50th Wimbledon this year where I will have a much greater appreciation of the greenness of the grass and the feeling of closeness to the game colour brought us.

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

For more information about the ADAPT television history project, follow the project on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adaptTV

This footage was recorded in May 2016 as part of the ADAPT project, which investigates the history of British television production technologies.

A veteran television crew was reunited with a restored outside broadcast truck originally commission by the BBC in the late 1960s.

The crew used the restored cameras, microphones, and vision mixing desks to record a darts tournament in the style of a 1970s television production.

The event was recorded from multiple angles by a “fixed rig” of miniature video cameras.

The restored outside broadcast vehicle, North 3, is a Type II Colour Mobile Control Room. It has been brought back to life by Steve Harris. For more information about North 3 visit http://www.vintageradio.co.uk/htm/tvprojects2.htm

Produced By: Amanda Murphy

Edited By:  Lisa Forrest & Dominic Clarke

For ADAPT

 

VETERAN TV CREW

Director: Geoff Wilson

Engineering Manager: Ron Clare

Vision Supervisors: Roger Neale, John Coupe

Vision Engineers: Bill Baldock, Peter Foster

Cameras: Dave Taylor, Robin Sutherland, Rex Palmer

Lighting Director: Steve Harris

VT: Ian Rutter

Sound Supervisor: Doug Whitaker

Sound Assistants: Ken Osbourn, Dave Howard

PA: Jane Whitmore

Chief Rigger: Bob Parry

Additional help of: Steve Jones & Brian Summers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call for proposals: Hands On History

We seek proposals for a small number of original essays to include in Hands On History, an edited collection focusing on practical and embodied approaches to the history of media technology.

The collection explores the relevance of the new methodology of hands on history to the study of media. Forging links between the diverse fields of media studies, history of technology, and media archaeology, this collection brings together current practices in museums and academic research into hands on history in the fields of image-based media. These range across:

  • computer games,
  • photographic history,
  • television and film,
  • professional and domestic practices,
  • industrial production,
  • leisure activities.

We seek proposals for essays of between 5,500 and 6,500 words in length. They may be on Any subject which relates to “hands on” research or practice around the image-based media, broadly defined. The editors will be very happy to discuss and develop proposals in advance of submission.

The collection is under contract with Routledge and will be delivered to the publisher in 2018.

Please send enquiries or a short (approx. 200 words) proposal, along with a CV or resumé, to nick.hall@rhul.ac.uk no later than 10 July 2017. The deadline for submission of accepted proposals will be 13 November 2017.

ADAPT at the Nordic Media Festival, Bergen

Nordic Media Festival Logo 3

ADAPT project leader Prof. John Ellis will be speaking about the ADAPT project at the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen on Fri 11 May:

“In an ambitious experiment, 20 retired BBC employees filmed while recreating a simple live broadcast using the equipment they used in the 70s. For the first time, we see how difficult it was to make direct TV in the BBC in the 70s during the heroic first period of broadcast history.

With this experiment, Professor John Ellis presents unique knowledge of the interaction between technology and human beings, and a wonderful glimpse of how much television media as a profession has changed from the 70s to today.

This session is part of NMD SIDETRACK.” (Description from Nordic Media Festival programme)

For more information about the festival, visit http://www.nordiskemediedager.no

ADAPTing to social media television

Previous blog posts by my Adapt colleague, Professor James Bennett, on our social media  research project have focused on ‘Social Media in the Television Workplace’ and social media’s impact on the production of live TV. This post shifts our focus from The Voice, as a ‘shiny floor show’ with social production by a discrete digital unit, to draw on our subsequent ethnographic observations of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch gallery team, 1)The observation was undertaken by Dr Niki Strange on Sunday 13 November 2016 and in particular the modus operandi of their Digital Content Manager. Her role and responsibilities, and the attendant tools and technologies deployed in their service, evidence various adaptations to live television production. As I set out below, this work is increasing integrated into the production processes, timelines and expectations of live TV, but nevertheless somehow remains in a liminal space: both within and beyond television’s previous production boundaries.

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch is a magazine and cooking show that goes out live between 09.30-12.30 on Sunday mornings on Channel 4 and has been running since 2012. Hosted by Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer it features guest interviews, cookery demonstrations, food and drink features and music performances and video promos.

In terms of its digital presence, there’s a website, serving as a repository for the weekly recipes, previous shows on-demand and the weekly Spotify playlist; accounts on Twitter (@SundayBrunchC4, 313,000 followers), Instagram (42,800 followers), Facebook (114,888 likes). 2)Statistics as of 8th February 2018 It is considered to have one of the most successful social media brands of all Channel 4’s shows. 3)Source – Sunday Brunch Executive Producer, i/v 32, 2016, Adapt Social Media Project In what follows I map those social media activities into three, overlapping, modes: format and related content derivation; promotion; and audience engagement.

Format and related content derivation

During an interview that pre-dates the ethnographic work, the show’s Executive Producer 4)As above described how the production team uses social media to both solicit content for the formatted segments of live show (e.g. call outs for photos, videos along a weekly theme) and as a source of content in and of itself (often tweets, photographs, videos posted on the above platforms by viewers reacting to the show’s on-air content, which could then be integrated into the live show ‘on the fly’.) She spoke of the innovative speed and scale with which this process of viewer content solicitation – itself an established format convention of TV magazine shows – now takes place, due to the proliferation of smart phones and social media platforms and applications and their increasing integration into TV production’s technical array.

I witnessed this in practice as Sunday Brunch’s Digital Content Manager 5)i/v 37, 2016 juggled various devices, social media accounts and aggregation apps, to content manage both pre-scripted and reactive items. Guests, cookery demos, music performances and unexpected or amusing moments were captured by her sprinting from the gallery to the studio to grab shots on her own smart phone, which were then instantly captioned and uploaded to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using this or another device. Alongside this her role involved the constant surveillance of the show’s numerous social media timelines for viewer responses to format calls for materials (mainly photos) and also unsolicited reactions to the show which could nonetheless be responded to with a reply, retweet or, perhaps most prized of all, inclusion in the live show. Any ‘influencer’ interest – such as a viewing celebrity, or one of the guests, referencing the show on social – was re-tweeted to extend the show’s reach to that person’s own network of social followers.

Promotion

This connects to the second goal of the show’s use of social media – that of promotion. In our interview the Executive Producer spoke of how ‘the ultimate drive is to grow awareness, get re-tweets and new followers and build the show’s brand’ and that social media is considered a vehicle for amplifying the chatty, irreverent tone of voice of the show both during and beyond live transmission. This could be by replying or re-tweeting viewers’ tweets, responding to questions posed, or by commenting on broader pop culture and topical events in the show’s ‘voice’ to maintain a presence in social media timelines outside of TX. In the latter case, this would be at the discretion of the Executive Producer and Digital Content Manager, using their personal devices in their domestic spaces and/or on the move: thus extending the times and spaces of TV production’s workplace.

This promotional aspect to the show’s use of social media was exemplified by the Digital Content Manager’s tweets to build anticipation and awareness among its social followers for the show’s tx at 9.30 with tweets from 7am ‘to signal we’re awake’ 6)i/v 37, 2016 (see fig 1.) and to announce the show’s liveness (as well as intention to mine ‘the conversation’ on its social feed for possible content therein (see fig 2.))

sundaybrunch-253x450

fig 1

sundaybrunch2-253x450

fig 2

Audience engagement

Finally, and leading on from the two aspects of content solicitation and promotion/brand extension above, the show’s Executive Producer spoke of social media in terms of highly prized audience interaction and engagement. As well as being a means to build viewer loyalty and a sense of intimacy with the show, she talks of this as a source of professional reward and pride, with social media offering members of production teams access to near instantaneous (though clearly partial) feedback on viewers’ enjoyment (and also, it must be noted, displeasure). I witnessed firsthand how, with social media enabling production teams on live shows to gain viewer ‘feedback’ on items, there is a temptation to ‘check-in’ from the gallery during a live transmission. Both the Executive Producer and Director were using their own devices to see how certain segments had fared with viewers, taking any criticism hard but with a policy not to respond.

In the case of Sunday Brunch, then, my observations illustrate that the addition of the role of Digital Content Manager within the gallery production team evidences social media’s impact on television production practice. This role requires new skills (capturing behind-the-scenes live on mobile devices and instantly sharing; surveilling multiple social media feeds; cultivating tone of voice in ancillary platforms), adaptation of existing production methods (such as the movement from viewer phone/text-in to hash-tagging and @-replies) and of technologies (the integration of the smartphone; the adaptation of gallery space). Social media, in the case of this show, is seen to be fundamental to the live format, with key features relying on content sourced, wrangled across platforms, captioned and integrated quickly and easily. In addition, it is used as a promotional tool to enmesh and extend the show’s profile within and across communities of interest. Finally, social media function as the sites for ‘conversation’ and exchange between the producers and viewers, of content and opinion. However, the Digital Content Producer position discussed here is in many ways liminal: called upon to traverse the ‘lives’ of the show across platforms, she is both voice of the show, and commentator on it. These shifts point to the increasing ubiquity of social media as a part of television’s producer’s work worlds, but at the same time that the significance, and practicalities, of social media activations for television are still something being very much adapted to.

 

Dr Niki Strange is a research fellow on the Adapt Social Media Project, based at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is also a business and innovation strategist for creative media companies.

This blog was originally posted on Critical Studies in Television Online. The original can be found at: http://cstonline.net/?p=3656

References

1. The observation was undertaken by Dr Niki Strange on Sunday 13 November 2016
2. Statistics as of 8th February 2018
3. Source – Sunday Brunch Executive Producer, i/v 32, 2016, Adapt Social Media Project
4. As above
5. i/v 37, 2016
6. i/v 37, 2016