Wednesday, 5 September 2012

WW1 from the Air

BFTF recent watched a fascinating programme on BBC called “WW1 from the Air”. It was was based around footage from an airship that travelled along much of the front line, just after hostilities had finished, filming the devastation below.

And “devastation” is the right word, with towns and villages having being reduced, in their entirety, to rubble by the remorseless artillery fire that was a characteristic of the conflict.

The presenter, Fergal Keane, did an excellent job of explaining how the introduction of aircraft into the war gave commanders - for the first time in history - an aerial view of the battlefield and allowed them to direct artillery fire and assess its effects.

Fergal also talked to experts about the conditions that the soldiers faced, painting a grim picture of life in the trenches.

If you read the BBC article about the programme you will notice that there is a picture at the top showing the effects of the artillery bombardment on the village of Passchendale, the image shows “before” and “after” shots of the same area, clearly showing that there was not a single square centimetre of ground that was not now part of a shell crater, and that there not so much as a garden shed had survived the assault intact. A similar image, this time from Wikipedia, is shown below. Note how both images are of the same area, oriented in the same way - so that the reader can quickly and easily compare features in the two images.

Passchendale - before and after shelling.
The white spots in the lower image are water filled shell holes
The reader can see how the the shell craters had become filled with water and it was this kind of mud and water-filled crater landscape that troops had to cross when attacking enemy lines.

Imagine it just for a second.

And then imagine being a soldier in those conditions for months at a time.

What’s with the pop video camerawork.
In contrast to the article, with it’s simple, clear image; the actual programme chose to show these key photographs held by a person, with a camera moving around, and reflections making it hard to see the detail, and only for a few seconds.

"Can you see the Church" - well, no I can't because your hand is in front of it.(Via iplayer)
In another section of the programme, the presenters wished to show how examination of aerial photography had allowed commanders to identify a hidden barracks and then target it with artillery. The presenters then showed the effects of the attack, not by placing the relevant image on screen but rather by displaying it on a wall, having someone stand in front of it and then zooming right up.

Lets inform the viewer by projecting an image onto a wall, zooming right in and then having a bloke stand in front. What could possibly be clearer? (Via iplayer)
It was hugely frustrating to see these important sections of the programme being directed as though they were a pop video.

Incredibly, during this section of the programme, the director chose to spend a lot more time showing the audience the presenters talking to each other than the actual images, as illustrated in the chart below:

Time (in seconds) spent looking at the images vs time spend looking at the presenters.
Of course, the opinion of BFTF is neither here not there, so BFTF took a quick straw poll of friends, family and work colleagues, asking them 5 questions about the Passchendale section of the programme. The questions, together with the possible answers are shown below. Most popular answers are shown in bold:

1) Overall, how do you feel about the audio commentary?
a) Good
b) Bad
c) Indifferent

2) Overall, how do you feel about the visual presentation?
a) Good b) Bad
c) Indifferent

3) Overall, how do you feel about the balance between the time the images were on screen and the time the “talking heads” were on screen?
a) Too much talking heads
b) Too much images
c) About right

4) Regarding the time the images of Passchendaele before and after the attack were on screen, do you think the images:
a) Were on screen too long
b) Were on screen not long enough
c) Were on screen for about the right time

5) Regarding the use of hand held photos and camerawork vs rigidly held photos and camerawork, would you :
a) Prefer hand-held
b) Prefer rigidly held
c) Don’t mind either way

BFTF has been here before:
Back in late 2011, BFTF was so frustrated by similarly "pop video" style camerawork in a science programme that it had contacted the BBC to complain, receiving the following response:

"Thank you for contacting us about ‘The Search for Life: the Drake Equation’ broadcast on BBC Four on 29 December. I understand you feel the camerawork made some of the detail in the programme hard to follow and the graphs should have been presented more clearly.

I am sorry you feel the camerawork was obscuring some detail. This was not an Open University programme where data is everything, while the dialogue did explain the overview of what the data meant. All programmes must strike a balance between content and presentational style and I am sorry you felt the style detracted from some of the detail.

I do understand you feel very strongly about this, so I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Image Source:

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