Life Through A Lens
Oh My Gurd
The video cassette had a little boom back in the early nineties, not that they ever sold a lot in their original format. Those who were involved at the very beginning soon realised there were much richer pickings to be had by shooting other subjects. In truth the novelty never actually caught on sufficiently for it to actually wear off.
Today the VCR has been superceded by the DVD, although all the old stuff seems to be coming back as compilations and re-launches with different covers. They sell because Auntie Maud recognises a bargain when she sees one and at £2.99 a pop it’s hardly more than the cost of a McFlurry for the kids. Alternatively they make nice stocking fillers. I just wonder what happened to all those royalties we were promised…
But what’s it like to actually make one? Well from my perspective it was downright terrifying but it wasn’t until the camera started rolling that I realised I was going to be hopeless. Fortunately I am not alone in having made some absolutely boring films yet the strange thing is, folk come up to you at shows and tell you they actually like them, that you have a calm reassuring voice and you get things over in an understandable way.
Me? I cannot stand to watch myself on the TV.
Again I’m not alone. Old Matt (Hayes) tells me he finds it hard to watch himself in action and he’s spent more time in front of a camera than Ron Jeremy. Mind you, he’s certainly made a few stiff ones in his time!
Hand on heart I can finally say with a degree of pride that I’m finally able to perform in front of a camera with confidence and assurance. In many ways I wish I was making films today because I’m able to do it, but it took a lot of heartache and soul searching to get there. (Note: The previous sentence was written in 2003, long before we made Barbel Days And Ways).
My first experience in front of a camera was dead easy. Len Gurd invited me to spend a long weekend at Anglers Paradise where I might do some background shots for a promotional video he was making. It was simply a case of catching a few fish in the driving rain and wind. No problems.
But when it came down to shooting a full blown video, me to camera, using a script of sorts, I found it completely impossible.
Len and I would discuss the next scene in detail, I’d work out exactly what I wanted to say and then he would disappear behind the camera. That great big fish-eye lens would bear down on me and Len would say, so matter of factly, “Rannin…”
I would immediately freeze, begin to stutter, or more likely talk like an imbecile.
I needed a bollocking, harsh words, a kick up the backside, but Len was such a gentleman, so placid and quietly spoken. I loved the guy but I found him impossible to work with and it was all down to me, not him.
David Hall said to me after he saw my first efforts, “That’s not you, Bob! You should have asked me to come and direct you.” And it was true.
But Len persevered with me and I thank him for that. I had an idea for a new venture at that time. I reckoned that if someone could come up with the equivalent of a magazine on video it would be a good seller, providing the price was right.
Len, Matt Hayes and myself knocked the idea around quite a bit and decided that it might be a good idea to try it out as a readers special offer through an existing angling paper so we went along to EMAP and sold the concept to them as an Angling Times offer. I took Len along to the first meeting, then with Matt to the second and the Videozine concept was born.
The first Videozine was introduced by Matt and me and featured a number of clips from videos that Len had produced with a selection of anglers plus a number of bespoke clips shot with Matt and me.
It sold a lot of copies straight off the page and the people at EMAP were dead keen to do another.
In all honesty it was the right thing to do. But I do wish either Len, Matt or Keith Higginbottham had told me that was going to happen before I saw the completed video. It’s bad enough knowing you’re crap but that hurt.
There wasn’t to be a third videozine and the idea kind of died. Some might say the format of Matt’s Total Fishing TV show was not dissimilar to the videozine format but I’d like to quash that idea straight off. I saw the rushes for Matt and Len’s showreel demo tape before videozine was ever put together.
One thing I did learn was that I’m pretty good at interviewing other anglers on video. The stuff I made with Tom Pickering on the Trent at Long Higgin is something I’m particularly proud of and I do think the Bolognese video with Mark Downes works well. These were made with Len but I guess I was finally starting to relax in front of a camera.
Even so, one of my personal video hells occurred whilst with Downsie and Len on some Midlands canal the name of which escapes me.
My task, and I did accept it, was to walk towards Len’s camera and introduce the second Videozine, say where I was and explain that I would be joining Mark Downes who would be showing us how to get the best out of a winter canal.
I walked back to my cue point, ran through the sentences I had to deliver in my head, turned to accept Len’s direction,
“Welcome to the second Videozine, I’m Bob Roberts and…”
“Nothing, I can hear a train.”
Sure enough there was a train passing down in the valley.
We started again…
And again we started…
“Cut! There’s a bloody tractor ploughing in the field next to us.”
And thus began the longest hour of my life because I then started fumbling my lines. If it wasn’t a train it was a plane. If it wasn’t them, the tractor would be coming towards us. We must have done 20 takes to get 20 seconds of filming done.”
I could cheerfully have gone home and given up filming forever.
One thing the whole episode taught me was that if I was going to make any more videos I would have to be better, much better. It’s easier just to walk away but I hate failure so when Liam Dale asked me if I’d be interested in making a couple of videos for Hyperactive Films loosely based around my legering book I thought, why not?
But nothing is simple, is it? Liam asked if I’d mind doing them in voice-over so he could widen the market for them. That’s how I came to be well known in Poland, but that, as they say, is another tale.
So I had to write a proper script for the films, shoot each sequence in order and then sit down by the water (for ambience) at the end of a tiring day and record the entire script as a voice over.
This was really good when we shot the running water video because you couldn’t hear a thing for the weir I fished next to, but late on in the afternoon, with time running short, we moved above the weir to record a ten minute piece on groundbait feeder fishing and to save time I did it at lightning speed, to camera, without the script and I finally discovered that I could actually work in the video medium.
That segment still stands as one of my finest video hours.
Being ‘The Talent’
I thought I’d gotten videos out of my system after that until Keith Arthur rang out of the blue and said that he was making some videos with Mickey Shepherd, who along with David Hall had been behind the original Clean River Videos. Did I fancy spending a week at Anglers Paradise. They’d shoot a couple of videos with me and in between times they’d nip off and do one with Mike Stone on the Bridgewater and another with Kim Milson. Keith was to be technical director on all of them.
Now you have to remember I’d done a video at Anglers Paradise with Len and Zyg had made it his personal crusade to ensure we were very relaxed throughout, in fact he kept us so relaxed that he was forcing wine down our throats all night long and during filming as well. I was barely sober during the entire week!
Keith said, “Don’t worry, we’ll keep Zyg out of the way.”
Mickey’s crew turned out to be the best video team I ever worked with. Trouble was there were loads of ‘em! Two cameras, a director, sound man, technical director, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Not to mention a gaggle of inquisitive holiday makers. Before shooting commenced I had to wait around while cables were strewn through my swim from the back of a rowing boat, an editing desk set up, stakes driven into the ground for umbrellas to be fixed to to provide shade and finally I was told, “Come on then, you’re the talent, get some fish caught!”
Oddly, where I felt insecure working in a relaxed one-on-one environment with Len, I did brilliantly under the additional pressure of working in a crowd. To this day I can’t explain it but Keith was very supportive offering ideas and making suggestions. Mickey didn’t have to worry about sound or operating a camera so he could just concentrate on his two monitors but it’s one hell of an expensive operation.
Like I say. Len didn’t let me down, I just guess I didn’t have enough experience at the time.
And The Winner Of The Oscar For Best Actor Is..!
Now I had earned my spurs, I found I could do reasonably okay whenever a camera was present. Tight Lines came a-calling and obviously I jumped at the chance of appearing on the show. It was to be the first of many appearances.
The show flies by when you’re going out live and I found the combination of Keith and Bruno Brookes in the studio worked well for the guests. They eased you in and out of conversations, stepped in when a viewer asked a question on a subject you knew little about and I never once felt flustered.
When the lights came on at the end of my first ever live show the Producer came onto the floor and said things like, “Great show folks, everything okay your end?” Keith and Bruno then brought up things I was completely oblivious to because they wear earpieces that give them feeds and so on.
I took the producer to one side and said, “Tell me straight, Andy, how did it go? I need to know because it’s the only way I can learn and get better.”
Andy looked at me a bit quizzically and said, “You know we were on about this in the gallery while the show was on air. You looked so relaxed our only worry was that you might fall asleep. You’re either a natural at this or you’re the best actor we’ve seen!”
Praise like that certainly boosts your ego and further appearances followed before I took on the challenge of shooting some fishing segments for the show. These included things like fishing for tench from a boat on a stately house lake and winter carping. The former was dead easy and I hammed it up for the cameras like a good un. The latter was a bit harder with a hoar frost and bright sunshine but I caught and that’s all that matters on television.
The Gospel According To Ed
I did do some filming on subsequent Stateside trips with Peter Clapperton. Peter can charm birds out of the trees when he has a mind to and that’s how we came to be shooting a feeder fishing sequence on a manicured pond set in the grounds of an Oklahoma university with a cameraman called Ed Womplar.
Ed Womplar – there’s a name you won’t forget in a hurry. Has a ring about it, wouldn’t you say?
Ed owned a religious channel on local TV but as a minor diversion from bible thumping shows, Peter had talked him into making a fishing video. We’d spent the afternoon catching mostly carp on the Arkansas River slap bang in the middle of the city of Tulsa. So prolific were the carp that the catfish could barely get a look in. Your feeder would hardly hit bottom before the rod would hoop round. Carp after carp after carp. No wonder the Americans aren’t too enamoured with a species that colours up the water, ruins trout streams and competes with bass for food.
So we moved to the university pond. Ed knew someone who’s brother knew someone who would vouch for us, so it was okay…?
Or something like that.
It didn’t take long before we started catching a few channel catfish, nothing big but at least we were back on track with the target species, until I hit something that behaved nothing like a cat. When a terrapin as big as a dinnerplate popped up on the surface I did a double take. What the hell…?
So I netted it and picked it up very carefully because I could see it had a fair old beak on it and I dare say it could give you a very nasty bite. It was hooked fairly and squarely inside the mouth and therein lay my problem. Every time I pushed a disgorger towards it the head would disappear back inside the shell. If I could keep its head visible it would either refuse to ‘open up’ or it would clamp down on the plastic disgorger.
That’s not the sort of problem you face every day, is it?
When The Piper Calls The Tune
Up on the St Lawrence we threw ourselves into making a video for the American carp market. It was to be basic instructional stuff tailored around the products Peter was selling out there and majored on some hectic carp crunching action.
We’d taken Peter’s son along as cameraman, hired very expensive camera equipment and in all fairness ended up with some spectacular footage. The trouble is, if Peter wasn’t on it, it ended up on the cutting room floor!
On one occasion I stalked a 32lb carp. Both the cameraman and I were stood knee deep in crystal clear water when I lowered a worm on its nose. The action was explosive and short. You simply cannot give any quarter in the midst of a St Lawrence reed bed. I’ve never, ever, shot anything like this on video before or since. It was my finest hour.
Peter Jnr did a fantastic job, too, but that counted for nothing. The breathtaking action footage ended up on the cutting room floor, too.
And On It Goes…
The intervening years have been more than kind with numerous opportunities to work with Sky TV including being part of the outside broadcast team for a Fish-O-Mania final but perhaps they’re tales for another day.
Of course, I’m so pleased I had the opportunity to make all those mistakes while in the care of other cameramen because the experience gained made the making of our Barbel Days And Ways DVDs pretty much a cake walk compared with my earlier trials and tribulations.
We’ve even reached the stage where our own DVD footage has been used by several TV stations and we occasionally shoot bespoke clips for the likes of Tight Lines. How cool is that for a pair of amateurs!
What the future holds, we’ll have to wait and see. With four Barbel Days And Ways DVDs now in the can or as good as in the can Stu and I will be knocking them on the head, enough being enough. What started as a bit of fun almost turned into a full-time job and we could both do without that. But it was fun.
Break a leg!!!!
If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here