Ever imagined what it’s like filming a professional football game? We caught up with Graham Howe, a freelance cameraman, and discussed what’s it like working for BT Sport, filming on Match Day and his best experiences in the Premier League…
Ever sat at home watching the big game on the TV and wondered what it takes to get the live game to you? You’re about to find out, as we spoke with professional cameraman Graham Howe about all the behind-the-scenes operations that go into broadcasting a live football game, the experiences of filming at Vitality Stadium and some careers advice for those looking to make it into TV.
WHERE DOES YOUR PASSION FOR SPORT COME FROM, AND WHERE DID IT ALL START FOR YOU?
Sport has always been a massively important part of my life. I come from a very sporty background on my mother’s side – one of my mum’s brothers was a very successful professional footballer. I played at all levels of football up to international. In schoolboy football, I was on the books as youngster at Luton Town and Arsenal; I didn’t get very far for various reasons. So I think to me, sport probably got me where I am today more than academia.
WITH THIS PASSION FOR SPORT, YOU NOW FIND YOURSELF WITHIN SPORT BROADCASTING? WHAT DOES A DAY’S WORK CONSIST OF?
Well to start off, it’s a long day. I mean one of the things that I don’t think people appreciate when they say to me, “You’ve got the greatest job in the world,” is the length of day. Living up in the North London area, if you go into somewhere like Bournemouth to cover a match, you’ve got to put into that a possible two- to three-hour journey each way. When you’re on-site, you don’t do a lot for the majority of the day. There’s a lot of sitting around, there’s a lot of time spent either on your own or with other people, if you choose to. One thing that Coronavirus has certainly pushed is that you spend a lot of time on your own.
With the new measurements in place, the broadcasters are quite keen that once you’re on-site in your vehicle, you spend as much time as you can there. You literally come out to do your job and then de-rig at the end of the day.
I would say that you also have to appreciate that if you’re not very good at taking a long day, it’s probably not the job for you because you very rarely have a short day. Again, for example, going to Bournemouth, if it was a 3pm kickoff on a Saturday, I’d probably have to be there around 9am, which would mean me possibly having to leave home at 6.30am. You typically leave three hours after kickoff – so with a 3pm kickoff, I possibly won’t be walking out of there until 6pm. Then dependent on traffic going home, you could add another two-and-a-half or three hours. I could be leaving home then at 6:30am, getting home at 8:30pm.
APART FROM THE INITIAL FILMING OF THE GAME ITSELF, WHAT OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES DO YOU HAVE AT GAMES?
We will go through, with the director, checking each camera, each camera’s job, each camera’s position, so we know that everything works. We’ll check that all the mics work with the cameras that need to work. And we’ll just check everything is working as best as it can.
Now, depending on which camera you’re doing, you then may have, from half 11, 12:00, nothing to do until 2pm. You may have another two- or three-hour window where you’ve got literally nothing to do. It depends on what time you do the facts check.
With other cameras, you may have jobs to do. They may have to do pre-match interviews, live news crosses, get footage of the teams arriving. There’s a whole load of stuff that needs to go into edit packages that will be shown before kickoff. Typically then, an hour before kickoff, everybody will be on camera. And again, depending on what camera you’re doing, you’ll all have different roles then. It will be typically getting pre-match shots, warm-up shots, fans turning up in the crowds. Just getting more edit packages that can be distributed to the broadcasters around the world and things like that.
As we get closer to kickoff, that will come to an end. You will just be told by the director what’s expected of us on the game that day. Then you enter the game — the next two hours are pure game stuff.
DO THOSE TWO HOURS FLY BY?
I would say it depends which camera you’re doing. If you’ve got a busy camera, the game flies by. If you have a camera that’s not doing a great deal or isn’t being used a great deal, then some games can drag. The reason for that will be more because of the weather than the game itself. Because when you’re doing a camera, you’re not always aware of how exciting a game can be. You get a feel for it from the crowd. And being in an empty stadium during the pandemic has made it trickier to gauge how exciting the game is. It’s one thing for the players to feed off that energy, but as a camera crew, you feed off it as well. That’s something else that we’ve really missed during lockdown.
YOUR LINE OF WORK HAS TAKEN YOU ALL OVER THE COUNTRY… WHERE HAVE YOU HAD YOUR BEST FILMING EXPERIENCES? EITHER WITH FOOTBALL OR OTHER SPORTING VENUES?
I actually really love going to Bournemouth. As a club, it’s my experience they treat broadcasters and the crew very, very well. They’re very accommodating and polite. At Bournemouth, I’ve never ever had a bad experience. You turn up and the security guards have a smile, they shake your hand. The stewards ask how you are and ask, “Where are you today? Where’s your camera?” “I’m up there.” “Right. Any problems, just let us know. We’ll see what we can do.” The managerial style, the players, the coaches, the manager, the assistant manager have always just been nothing but charming. And I’m talking about the instances where you have to go down post-match and they may have had a really bad result. But they don’t take it out on you. They don’t make you feel like you’re the reason for the bad result. At Bournemouth – certainly when Eddie was there – win, lose, or draw, he always came out with a smile and he was polite to you and he didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ANYONE LOOKING TO START OUT IN BROADCASTING?
If you’re really keen on getting a job, not just in live sport, but in any form of broadcasting, I would say, don’t give up. The biggest problem that you’ll have is giving up. I know that’s easy for me to say because I’m employed on a daily basis, but that wasn’t always the case. And I did my time of writing off for jobs. At my mum’s house, I think I still have 40, 50 rejection letters. I think if you really want to work in TV, you have to understand that you are going to start at the bottom. You’re not going to get paid a great deal and you’re going to work long hours. But if you stick with it, the rewards are amazing. What you get to see, where you get to go, what you get to be exposed to is fantastic.
Want to see more from Graham Howe? Head to his website for more production pieces both within sport and other popular TV shows. For more local sport stories, click here. And you can also follow HQB Media on all our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.