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How to frame an epic story off camera.

There’s an unwritten adage. What‘s not on film, never happened. Television is about the inframe-performance. Everything left or right side of the frame, the non-performance, isn’t important until the camera catches it.

This shifting mise en scene defines the craft of the TV director, but even then this dynamism between the performance-non performance alters over time and is a bit like a Penrose stairs. We like to call it progress, as opposed to change that tears up the rule book. Progress — gradual tiny shifts — then is never ending. What is de rigueur today was not yesterday. Currently we’re some distance away from all in one consumption — the end goal for Einstein’s special relativity in vision. One day perhaps.

Our belief in the evidence of that print is almost absolute. I once told a client how I’d met and shook hands with President Mandela, and comparatively recently Prince Charles from a Prince Youth Trust gig staffers were co-producing; Jay-z was there too. Pull the other one he said. Non-performance became the performance, when I found the print.

Yesterday was a blinder all around for this duality. I watched on television myth and powerful conventions being captured one spectacle after another. Television at its best designed to maximise the viewer’s reach or director’s eye, or is it? Sometimes it appears it can be both, but they’re not the same.

There was a moment when the cameras were lingering on Harry and William talking about things they thought or knew cameras would have little time for. It happened again between Harry and Meghan. The non-performance had become the performance — someone must have hinted to the live team to move on.

It’s not just the matter of what’s not on camera at any point, but how the design of the shoot is seen with empathy for the viewer in mind. If it sounds familiar by another name then design (cultural )thinking is the art of the alt approach. It was the approach videojournalism had in mind to break the deadlock on in conventional performance conventions. We’ve observed this many times, when television producers go one way and photojournalists turned videojournalist go another.

The overhead shot at the top of the article is typical of a photojournalist on their game. Better still out of frame performances are best illustrated watching the curiosity of children unfold. There’s a pattern in children’s behaviour which is lost to adults, moreover in television which comes with a ready set of conventionally framed approaches.

Lest it be misconstrued I’m not knocking the Wedding — not in a million mate! And by the way hats off to the photographer for the overhead photo of Meghan and Harry. He graciously said it was serendipity. He took the shot not knowing what would emerge. Somewhat modestly, I would say, he had to get himself in the position in the first place to lan any chance of the photo, which then became a matter of technical competence.

Given that in the control booth, the director would have been looking at a dozen monitors, why in the age of sharing can’t users have access to these feeds to direct their own performance. Otherwise what about an an app that could aggregate votes to determine the linear TV feed’s direction — the people’s direction. Frankly I could have watched Meghan’s mother all day wondering how proud she must be and what’s going through her mind.

This idea seems rather inchoate. What you saw was the best that was available and indeed ask a thousand people how they enjoyed it and they’d confess its brilliance, but often they’re talking about the event rather than the inframe performance.

The Queen’s coronation on the 2nd of June 1953 was a turning point for this new device called television. If there was ever a time to showcase the onset of a new inframe paradigm with its rendered agency for intimacy then 360-VR was it. Think of all the places you’d put the camera and then let the user control.

The inframe performance too is as much about what’s said and not. Hence, the obvious in designer outfits, celebrity and pomp and circumstance hit the mark. Being black too was deemed necessary. How could it not be? Britishness ( race, identity and class) is a voluble subject at the moment and the prism through which it’s being refracted is not just experiential but emerges from epistemological constructs from a new cohort of British intellectuals.

Many commentators flagged up a first by Meghan and the royal house. Few though could remember Queen Charlotte (18th Century) — a direct relative to Queen Elizabeth, she was of African descent. Trouble is most painters at the time painted her to look European. Allan Ramsey was an exception.

In the Duchess and Duke breaking various protocols, the symbolism was perhaps a statement that places a younger more internationalist pair at odds with the country they serve, but don’t mention the “B” word. That would have been unacceptable. Would it? Depending on the audiences?

Reframing also had me thinking about connected stories that linked the Royals to Africa e.g. Ghana — where my parents come from and where I was sent to Secondary school

Ghana was the first to acquire independence from its colonial ruler. If Queen Charlotte is hidden in plain site, you can’t deny the present royal’s association with Africans. Here, paradoxically Ghanaians in particular are staunch admirers of the royals. My late father being a classic example, who would also cart me off to a school built by an Eton missionary.

Prince Charles in Ghana, dancing with VIPs and My Dad celebrating in UK ( far right)
Rev Pearson with King of Ashanti and Prempeh College. Our documentary on Reverend Pearson

What’s not on film however is far from being a case of the right motor and cognitive skill. It’s a politicised one in which the aesthetics of the image is formulated by strong iconic socio-political conventions. The following books are worth reading.

  • The Future of the Image by Jacques Rancière
  • The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain
  • Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett, Dave Evans,

They reveal in their own ways possible break down to the norms, which you can also read further about in my essays on my own practice cinema journalism.



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Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.