7 May 2014

How The Hit List was stillborn

For several years now CXtra has grown almost exponentially in viewers as internet TV takes off. Video now makes well over half of all internet traffic. CX Magazine wouldn’t exist now if not for advertising revenue from our internet TV platform,

Today we have three channels: GEARBOX contains product reviews which mirror those in CX Magazine. There are hundreds of these online, each running between three and six minutes, and almost all shot in our studio at Chatswood in NSW. Our media HQ features three studio sets, the Gearbox set is where all equipment comes for review.

Our second and singularly most watched channel is CX-TV NEWS, currently this is a news bulletin shot monthly, usually hosted by Meg Macintosh. It is shot against a green screen, and bridges news between the current issue of CX and whatever has happened since. While GEARBOX clips don’t carry advertising, NEWS does – in two blocks. The standard advertising duration on CX-TV for each advert is 30 seconds.


Which brings us to the subject of this BLOG, namely our panel talk show CXtra. This started several years ago, led by the enigmatic John Maziels, who dreamed up most of the initial content. It morphed along, and had production values akin to community TV – shot in front of a black drape, with some ornamental lighting.

Clearly we needed to lift the show up, and a well intentioned professional who operates a company that shoots video came to us with a new concept package. Enter ‘The Hit List’!

Here’s an episode of the old CXtra:


The new show would do away with the black drape set and be shot green screen with a virtual set. We didn’t feel we could deal with chroma-keying a panel show, so our expert said he would bring his TriCaster system to our studio. This meant several things – one being we needed to get a green screen large enough, and the other being we would need to relight. Those were easy. The need to bring in external crew and equipment made us nervous. Very nervous.

Of course we talked it through with The Guy. He was very reassuring.

So we shot the first episode of The Hit List in April.

He was brilliant director. We took everything on board. We needed to sharpen the delivery, dress better, and define the show into timed segments. He brought a timer, the TriCaster, and five wireless mic packs to replace the dual boundary mic’s we’ve always used. His wireless packs went into a mixer, then direct into the TriCaster as a stereo feed.

We had two studio guests – Marty Beaton from MGB Backline, and Steve Knight from Norwest Productions. Our Melbourne guy Jason Allen flew up for the shoot. With crew, catering and a whole day dedicated it wasn’t cheap. We had seven thirty second adverts scheduled, across three ad breaks in the half hour show.


Off went our Guy and his assistant, and we settled in to await the completed project. It came a week later, a nervous week later, with a cheery email asking for any edit suggestions. We clamored around the video Mac and pressed play.

‘Well it sure looks different’, Jimmy said as the intro rolled. ‘Wow that is a cool opener’.

Sophie introduces the panel. Jimmy opens his mouth and talks, there is an audible bang mid sentence. Julius talks, and his channel clips.

‘Woah, this isn’t good’.

Emails back to The Guy. Polite concerned enquiry about the audio. No reply. Then he is off overseas, but will send the edited version before he goes. It doesn’t arrive. A frustrating half week goes by, no reply to the emails.

Then this:

A small, and unusual, break in the communication chain has come because my phone provider has charged me almost $2k for data I allegedly used during 11 hours in Singapore last week. They took the money off my credit card without asking me, and whilst I fight it out with them I am refusing to give them any more money – as such I haven’t had any data whilst in London. I only got a pay as you go modem today (Sunday) and that is when I got your email. I have been on location and have not had access to WiFi or other data. So please accept my apologies for missing your messages.

By now it is almost the end of April, and our advertiser deals are about to fall over. We have a new show, with a new name, but we don’t have a show.

We take the hard decision to start again, but draw on the experience to make improvements.

First of all Jimmy Den Ouden works out how to key the set using our version of Final Cut. Then we asked our Art Director Lee Murray whether she could create a new Opening graphic. They both rose above the occasion, and you can see the new show which contains an excerpt of The hit List, is here:

So we lost a month, and we lost some chunky change for the shooting day. Our ‘Guy’ was quite repentant, and of course worried about his reputation. Which is why I have not named him or his firm here.

Why write about this?

There’s several lessons. First of all, always have impeccable and validated audio because video is worthless without it. Second, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. And third, learn from your mistakes.

We’ve ended up with a much better show, and will now apply the lessons to our other and forthcoming CX-TV shows!


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