Learning DV With Auntie

Submitted by Robert Alstead on Tue, 05/04/2004 - 16:00

One of the more obscure, but, as far as budding DV filmmakers are concerned, useful corners of the BBC's sprawling internet presence is the online courses section of the Training & Development web site, bbctraining.com.
Here, anyone can find technical advice and animated tutorials on working with DV, from the pros and cons of digital video to steps you need to take to prepare footage for broadcast.
If you don't know your redheads from your blondes, need tips on handling a DV camera, are confused about all those DV tape formats or want to read about the best way to shoot widescreen with a small screen DV cam then you would be hard pushed to find a more dependable source of information than Auntie Beeb.
The site is primarily aimed at BBC employees and companies supplying programming and content to the BBC, but it offers the kind of succinct information that many new filmmakers or content providers can benefit from. It assumes that the journalists using it have limited technical ability and short attention spans with each tutorial rarely longer than 15 minutes.
It's very accessible. A series of modules on DV lighting safety, which explains both creative and safety issues, ends with an interactive crossword test, another section uses a multiple-choice question and answer quiz and Flash animations offer tips on recording audio (under the radio section).
The chatty tone and even the bad jokes recommend it. For example, after giving a long shopping list of noises that could disrupt your recording, the Beeb tutor notes sarcastically "And there's always someone next door with a power drill... especially in BBC buildings."
When writing about using gels to control the colour temperature of your light source the author advises against using a "non-approved diffuser or gel that could be a potential fire risk. Keep the greaseproof paper for your sandwiches!"
If you plan on using DV cameras such as the X2000, VX1000, PD150, and PD100 then the PDF manuals (under "DV Camera Shooting Guides") provide a useful 10-minute run-through of the camera operations, including tips on getting the best lighting and audio.
Of course, some of this kit is not the most recent, but you can be sure that it has been tried, tested and pushed to its limits. The information has been gleaned not from a couple of days of benchmark tests in the lab but, no doubt, thousands of hours in the field.
From a journalistic point of view, or even as someone who is curious about the BBC's language choices, John Allen's 92-page BBC News styleguide, also in PDF form in the online courses section under "Journalism", is an important reference source.
Every major media organisation has its own styleguide setting out appropriate use of language and usually pointing to a whole list of clichés, misused words and expressions and other common "mistakes".
Allen prefaces his guide by saying that maintaining good English is "our contract with the licence payer" (a contract that, as the Beeb is keenly aware, is up for renewal at the end of 2006).
That means avoiding Americanisms, whether that be in choice of words, pronunciation or, more subtly, by "turning nouns into verbs."
But good communication can also mean simply reading your radio or television writing out aloud to hear if it comes across clearly. He warns against, for instance, contractions like "haven't" instead of "have not", because "haven't" could be mistaken for "have".
He suggests using simple words where possible ("improve" rather than "ameliorate", "pay" instead of "renumeration", "catch" instead of "apprehend") and watching out for the meanings of "vogue" words ("fashionista", "caring", "leading edge") or "troublesome" words ("crescendo", "assassination", "fatwa").
The guide was published too early to warn against using "sexed up", the two words that helped get BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan into hot water, spawned the Hutton report and led to the resignation of the corporation's director general Greg Dyke.
But you get the message. Choose your words carefully.
Visit the BBC training site online courses