Monday, February 24, 2014

The rugby director's fear of the wide shot

I watched a lot of rugby this weekend.

BT Sport’s coverage of the Aviva Premiership seems pretty good to me. On the other hand I find the BBC’s coverage of the Six Nations Championship increasingly irritating.

I understand that Wales v France in Cardiff and England v Ireland at Twickenham demand to be treated differently than London Irish against Leicester. The former are big national occasions. The latter’s just a sporting encounter.

I understand that you’ve got to go big on the build-up and the pyros and the anthems and the reaction shots. I understand that a lot of people tuning in are more interested in the occasion than the game.

Nonetheless the coverage of the other stuff shouldn’t be at the expense of the action. When you go to a big game you may be a long way from the action but at least you can see where the action is. It’s the single most important piece of information you need. There’s no point having a moody close-up of the scrum if you can’t see whereabouts on the pitch that scrum is taking place and how the two teams are lining up either side of it.

I tweeted about this during the Wales v France game and a TV director friend replied that the traditional watchword is “action is wide, replay is close”. This seems sensible. It wasn’t what the BBC seemed to be providing. When George North scored the first try he was out of shot because they were too busy focussing on the confusion of the French defenders. Later during this game and in the England match the following day the commentator had to tell us which line we were looking at because he knew that the shot was too tight for us to be able to work it out for ourselves. Then there are the penalties. In the post-Wilkinson era TV directors have become so enamoured of the curious rituals of goal kickers that they linger for whole minutes on their close-up of this process and leave us not knowing how difficult it is to score because we can’t see where they are on the pitch.

TV seems to believe that the closer it brings us to the action the more we understand. I don’t think so.


  1. Another gripe, any break in play is instantly filled with slow motion shots of previous action. I understand that the super slo-mo machine is a shiny new toy, but I have been watching the match and I don't need to see endless replays of the action directed as if Werner Herzog was in charge. Just show us the bloody match, we can always watch the highlights later if we missed anything.

  2. ITV do the same thing with football. Last week in the Man City Barcelona game Yaya Toure shot goalkeeper saved. Cue close up of Toure's reaction. Meanwhile the ball had bounced out to a City striker who missed with his shot. We didn't see it because the director was zooming in on Toure. They eventually show a replay of the incident from behind the goal because the main camera had missed it.
    BBC's coverage of the rugby can be summed up by its trailers being a mass of close ups and reaction shots.

  3. '..close ups and reaction shots.'
    Promoting the 'human story' ahead of the fact of things seems to be the default position of the BBC for the last 15 years or so. It isn't enough that we are given the facts - and often we aren't even given that - but we must be exposed to the emotive. People shown doing things must also be prodded to tell us how they good they feel at doing it.

    The BBC treats us like children. Any adult freely imagine how Toure felt. Someone should remind the BBC.

  4. I do think that rugby is a particularly difficult game to televise. While the wide shot is mostly preferable, during close forward play, unless you have a tighter shot, you've no real idea whether or not a ball has been turned over or not.

    In the England game, I actually found myself wishing the director had stayed with the tighter shot on some occasions precisely for this reason. Yes, I could see how the backs were lined up, but I couldn't tell whether Ireland was in fact turning over the ball.

    I completely agree with too many super slo-mos. In context fine, but at times, there were simply a series of reaction shots - "beauty shots" I believe they're called. In isolation they told you nothing about the game at all.

    And there's still no definitive angle I've seen to identify what's happened during a penalty. Sometimes the angle is so woeful that you are just waiting for the linesmen to raise their flags to tell whether the ball both carried and went through the posts. There must be an opportunity for some enterprising video SFX type for the new Hawkeye or whatever.