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AN EVENING WITH JANE BENNETT-POWELL

On February 28th we were honoured with a talk by Jane Bennett-Powell.
Jane's career started in radio - Radio Sheffield to be precise and progressively moved through all the technicalities of television news gathering and on to present day freelance journalism, training and communications management. Her talk imparted good advice in constructing commentary which was eagerly absorbed by members and visitors from Haywards Heath, Copthorne and Sutton clubs. A clip of YES MINISTER was flashed up on the screen and gave a wry example of the impenetrable and deliberately ambiguous and in the end meaningless twaddle that was the hallmark of that brilliantly humourous series. In direct contrast to this Jane underlined the importance of the message.
Jane Bennett-Powell
Yes Minister Her talk focused on news scriptwriting but also having some bearing on the treatment of fiction and drama. Jane put the proposition - what is new, dramatic, interesting and relevant whether it be in Bosnia, the Basque Country or Barnsley. Jane then very neatly summarized her career right through from her early days in Radio and of all things 'Gardening'! She gained valuable experience as a sub editor in the news-room at the BBC, drafting scripts for the approval of John Tusa and Peter Snow, "et al."

From there her experiences being further broadened at Channel 4 News concentrating on politics and general news covering a period of 20 years. Although we were told commentary could be delivered on average about three words per second, it would be wrong to assume that commentary should match the sequence end to end. For example a clip from a Horizon programme commemorating the life of Frank Whittle was shown where the delayed commentary came in very effectively 1 minute and 10 seconds from the start.  An example of letting the film 'breath' and as Jane remarked, "What you don't say is almost as important as what you do say." As an aside I am told by John Harwood that both Jane's father and mother worked for Sir Frank Whittle during the development of the jet engine - so here was something of a very special personal interest. She went on, aided by a video clip, to talk about her visit with a team to Bosnia to report on the partial unearthing and recovery of bodies from the Srebrenica massacre.

The opening shot was of a line of empty coffins waiting while the local villagers dug down to reveal wooden boards that helped to protect the bodies over the previous 4 years. The point being that after such a dramatic opening the dilemma of where the commentary would go next was solved by describing what the circumstances were which lead to it. When Jane spoke about structure she propounded several examples which utilized the previous device to help build a storyline bearing in mind to avoid repeated use of the opening dramatic shot. Bosnia

For another type of treatment you might be making a film about a canal trip but it could also be about our industrial heritage or how we could make more use of the waterways. John Grierson the pioneering Scottish documentary maker was quoted as saying "You can write an article about the Post Office but a film would be about a letter." Then Jane referred to a method which was mentioned in John Suchet's talk - that of "writing to the picture." It seems that the BBC reporter voices his script and the editor pastes the pictures to the words. But at ITN and Channel 4 News the reporter drafts out his script for the editor to sequence the scenes allowing for the pictures to 'breath' and the reporter then tweaks the script according to the picture's needs. In other words it's all about the pictures. The tweaking could be something as simple as changing an active verb to a passive. For instance with reference to the recent floods," The RNLI rescued the villagers." Changed to "The villagers were rescued by the RNLI," and Jane went on quoting other examples.

Nick Park As an illustration of allowing the film to breath, a news item was viewed reporting the loss and return of the puppets Wallace and Gromit to owner Nick Park when he visited New York. Jane's commentary and video report allowed gaps for a sprinkling of clips from Nick's films. During her visit to Bosnia she had to report on some very harrowing situations affecting all types of citizens and classes so the stories had to be empathetic and human. It is very important not to overload with too much information - allowing for spaces gives the listener a chance to digest what was said. Ian Ross would annoy the director and the editor as he would speak his commentary live but it would always be delivered perfectly and carefully measured but never too much.

Avoid long flowing sentences and do away with adverbs and adjectives and make the dialogue conversational. Read the script aloud and make it English as it is spoken- not as it is written. She asked do you need words like 'which' and 'that'? Bertolt Brecht as she liked to quote said, "Style is everything you leave out." Some of the things you leave out are acronyms, jargon and technical language or if you must use jargon - explain it.: Mixing proportions and percentages; 'estate agentese'; and then there is a great list of clichés to avoid.

The next news clip came about through collaboration with her sister in Italy exploring the youth employment in the black economy. As an example it showed a young female being instructed in an unofficial job on how to make a pizza. The commentary appropriately opened up by stating, "It may look like pizza dough but for these young Italians they hope it is their passport into the world of work." Then very neatly at the end it finishes as the pizza sizzles in the oven, "For Stella that black economy option is a necessity. She and other trainees are hoping their new skills will be a pathway to work even if it's a long way for Italy where the recipe for legitimate jobs still doesn't seem to be working." This cleverly links Pizza and Recipe in a pleasing manner. Italian Black Economy

Other tricks that could be utilized such as building things up in threes or contrasting pairs. Such examples have been used are to quote, - (On pensions) "All day long ministers said 'Wait and see the rises we will make in a few weeks time; trust us'. All day the unions said 'We don't'.  - (The Falklands war) 'I counted them all out and I counted them all back.' - (The Potomac air crash) "Their chances of survival are like the weather - below zero!" If all else fails and there are no pictures then the fall-back is the 'piece to camera'. This device also offers the viewer the opportunity to see if they have trust in the reporter.

Tower Colliery A piece to camera was demonstrated in the next news clip where a sooty faced Jane found herself deep down in a coal mine in Wales. This was when the Tower Colliery was condemned to closure but the miners and management decided to use their redundancy payment to buy it back and made a successful going concern of it. Jane advised when all is said and done if there is not enough picture content for the script then cut the script down. Do not overload your audience with too much information. In closing the talk Jane advised to get a good voice to dub the script as it would be a shame to spoil the ship for ha'p'orth of tar.
Jane There followed an informative questions and answers session inserted with some very amusing anecdotes. On one occasion Jane managed to grab a much prized snatch interview with the Spanish Prime Minister. At the programme post-mortem John Snow was beside himself saying "How wonderful Jane got an interview with the Spanish Prime Minister. What a pity it couldn't have lasted longer as he turned away and talked to some other old bag!" The last question to be asked from the audience was, 'Has she ever had an occasion to be scared?' Jane replied that there were a couple incidents whilst she was in Bosnia. Then whilst on an investigation on the illegal ivory trade in sub-Sahara Africa she spent the night in a tented camp.

She was awakened by a rustling noise in the middle of the night and unnervingly found an elephant perfectly framed peering through the netted entrance of her tent. Fortunately the elephant lumbered off without incident. Whilst at breakfast in the morning she remarked on her encounter and querulously she asked "Didn't the camp have a fenced off enclosure?" "Oh." Came the reply from the owner, "Didn't you see the lion paw prints around the tents?" With the sound of laughter echoing around the hall Jane's talk came to a rousing conclusion. We are very grateful to Jane for taking the time out for our modest little club to give such an informative and entertaining evening.

SECOND TAKE August 2014

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My Introduction to the Wonder ful World of DV!
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HOT CHESTNUTS
WIDER AND WIDER
Early Cine Ramblings
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