Crave new world

The jobs I left behind – journalism and TV production – are well-known. They are not well understood and the general public are deeply ambivalent about them. Tell someone you’re a journalist and they often back away thinking ‘Oh God, what did I tell him?’ They say “Don’t quote me.” and “Please don’t put that in the paper.” They say this regardless of how dull and of little public relevance their comments might be. But when they have an indignant sense of some injustice having occurred, they say “Right, I’m going to the papers with this,” and they fully expect us to put it in.

When you tell people you’re a TV producer, they say “Can you get me on the telly? I want to be famous.” When you ask them what they want to be famous for, they reply that they don’t want to excel in any particular field. They just want to be famous. On the other hand, people have a deep distrust of ‘the media’ and believe we are part of a conspiracy to protect bankers, crush the proletariat or whatever.

I shall miss these standard responses to my work. Now I shall have to get used to the quizzical look and the raised eyebrow. “A mediator? What’s that then? Is it like meditation?” Or perhaps, at social gatherings, when I tell people what I do, their eyes will refocus and look over my shoulder in case there’s someone more interesting to talk to. Someone in the media, perhaps.

But yes, that’s what I’ve been up to. As well as getting a shed and learning to ride a motorcycle, I have been training to be a mediator – someone who helps to resolve conflicts before they blow up into court cases, employment tribunals, feuds, wars, you know the kind of thing. I’m still on the course so haven’t done any real mediations yet but I found my experience as an interviewer and as a union rep very helpful. More on that as it happens.

Another thing I’ve been doing is voluntary work for the Witness Service, a division of Victim Support. I’ve been working in Cardiff Magistrates’ court and will be in the crown court tomorrow.

And another thing – poetry. 

ImageHere I am, in the south of France, practising my iambic pentameter. More about this in a separate post, probably but here’s the thing: accepting redundancy has given me the chance to concentrate on the stuff that I believe in. Witnesses play a vital role in our criminal justice system and they deserve all  the help and information they can get. Mediation is an all-round good thing in that it gets to the bottom of conflict, enables people to be happier with each other and saves the nation a fortune. And poetry is one of those precious things that make us human. 

Of course, I don’t know for sure how any of this is going to work out but it certainly wouldn’t work if I never gave it a try. So, if you’re thinking about redundancy, don’t just think about the negatives. Consider the possibilities if you decide to take the money and run.

I go back to work … sort of.

Just as an orchestral work has a score, a recorded television programme has a ‘timeline’ which is produced, second by second, in the edit suite. Just as a score is a series of instructions, read from left to right, so is a timeline. The instructions are written in special code, much as in music, so that the right thing happens at the right time. This could be something like: the black-and-white picture of the gasworks cross-fades to the colour footage of the sunrise. The brass-band background music fades out and the first words of interview clip number eight come in. At the start of the second sentence, cut to the video of that person talking.

After a while, it becomes quite reassuring to see a programme taking shape this way. I didn’t think I would miss it. But I was wrong.

Now that I’ve handed back my camera kit and no longer have access to the editing equipment, my wife asks me (for the first time ever) to help with filming and editing some interviews for a training course she’s presenting at the university where she works. Timing, eh?

So the university finds a video camera and a tripod and my wife arranges for the interviewees to be in a certain room at 10.00am . Once again, I am a producer, directing the shoot. This involves much improvisation such as standing an Anglepoise lamp on a chair on top of a table in order to get some light on the interviewees’ faces.

The hard bit was the editing. What the hell do I do with this tape? How do I get it into my computer? What (free-trial version) editing software should I use? I looked at Microsoft Movie Maker and one or two others but they seemed feeble and over-simple. The software tried to guess what I wanted to do and not let me do anything else. I couldn’t see a familiar timeline with separate video tracks and audio tracks. No proper collection of editing tools anywhere. So I hit on the idea of asking the university’s Journalism School. Despite the reservations of the university’s IT people, this was a good plan. They had a proper AVID edit suite and a tech-savvy chap who could troubleshoot.

So, on Monday morning, I was back at the usual job – writing a score on the familiar ‘stave’ of an AVID timeline. The edited interviews were used today – and they worked. Hooray!