Wednesday, 27 October 2010

BBC Bitesize

Back in February I made a series of six short drawing tutorials for BBC Bitesize. I’ve embedded a couple here in this blog, and the others can be viewed on the Bitesize site here.

It came about more by luck than judgement. Producers were looking for ‘experts’ in some art and design specialisms (photography, painting etc) and came across my work in the Guardian Guide to Drawing. They called to see if I’d be up for demonstrating some really simple sketching techniques on camera.

There were originally nine short scripts, most suggested by the producers after seeking advice from GCSE teachers, together with a couple of extra scripts (and lots of edits/suggestions etc) thrown in by me. The idea was not to make films about me or my techniques as such, but merely to introduce some of the very basics in drawing.

On the evening before, a filming unit consisting of two producers, a lighting man, sound man, and cameraman all came down to Brighton. We went out to Wagamama in town to break the ice and discuss the filming.

On the day, we made a 7am start. For each film I merely had to talk through the scripted bullet points in my own words. Obviously this should have been easy, but it’s crazy what can happen to the human mind when a TV camera is switched on. The pressure not to mess up made me mess up. My brain literally turned to soup.

There were several things the cameraman continually briefed me to remember... Firstly, make eye contact with the camera. Sounds easy but my only natural human inclination was to look at the man behind the camera, or at the producer occasionally prompting me to the left. After a couple of takes they stuck day-glo tape round the camera lens and wrote ‘LOOK AT ME!’ on it.

In between each bullet point, I’d take a breath and try to remember what came next. When I did so, my eyes involuntarily darted up to the left. A previously un-noticed tic in my face suddenly became rather embarrassing, and vitally important. “Cut! No, sorry we can’t use that Peter, you looked away again.”

Another, related thing was language tics. I managed to keep ‘ummm’ and ‘errrr’ to an absolute minumum. Instead, for me the problem was ‘so’. “So, pencils come in a range of grades...” “So, here’s a sketch done only in 9H...”

Then there were the props. I had to bring across, say, an HB or a 4H pencil at the right moment without breaking my eye contact, pausing my spiel or fumbling around. Easier said than done. After a failed take I then had to be careful to place the objects back exactly where I’d taken them from, for fear I make continuity blunders.

One producer sat at the side of the room with a monitor, observing the action and furiously jotting notes. At first I wondered what she was doing, but she soon piped up. “Peter, you had the 4H pencil on your left at the start of that last take. Now it’s on the right. We’ll have to go again.”

A few takes in, the cameraman topped it all off by pointing out that I looked a bit miserable. They added the word ‘SMILE’ to the edge of the camera in day-glo tape.

At other points in the shoot, I smiled too much – when repeating a short script over and over, unusual things became funny. I’m a bit of a giggler by nature (more so when nervous), though I have to say the crew were the worst offenders here. My laughter was usually prompted by a stifled guffaw from the sound or lighting guys – then it became a battle to keep a straight face. The ‘Rubbers’ film presented quite a few such challenges, especially the bit where I use a plastic rubber to smudge a woman’s face. Whichever way I described it seemed faintly smutty – and with every failed take the challenge in not laughing seemed greater, and somehow more desparate. Equally, the last line of the ‘Shading’ video (“I’d recommend sharpening your pencil every few minutes!”) ought not, in normal circumstances, to have been remotely funny. However, the lighting guy was actually banished into the corridor like a recalcitrant child for disrupting us with his laughter over this gem.

For each script they filmed me between five and ten times – first as long shots, then a few more goes using tight close ups on my face, before finally a few more run throughs with the camera over my shoulder. Each clip is very short but took a long time to produce. We were in there for about twelve hours and the result is six or seven minutes of footage.


  1. You are my hero Peter James Field.

    Bestest Hooper & Shaw x