Making Magic Takes Time

Derek Watts
By Derek Watts | Follow @DerekWatts
Derek Watts has been a journalist for nearly 30 years, presenting on South African television since 1985 as a sports anchor. Derek has been an anchor and presenter on Carte Blanche since the programme's inception in 1988. See full profile

Carte Blanche

We run a tight ship on Carte Blanche.

Our crew numbers just four. Producer, camera, sound and presenter. The mission is to produce a 10 minute insert in just two days – including travel time.

The days are long. You’re lucky to find time to grab a Nando’s for lunch while consumed by the energy of getting the best interviews and visuals to make an absorbing and complete story.

A quick huddle between producer and presenter to decide on the line of questioning, and another short collaboration to agree on a “link”. That’s when we talk to the camera as if it were a living being and bystanders think we’ve lost the plot. In some cases they may be right!

To use an outdated expression – it’s the way we roll. And it’s been that way for almost three decades.

The planning


Then the word is out… this time we’re not on a Carte Blanche story… we’re in fact doing an advertising or promo shoot for the programme. It’s not quite a cold shiver down the spine, but it is a red alert that we have to switch to another mode (a mode we’re not accustomed to on shoots).
The emails start coming through. A wardrobe specialist will be calling to arrange suitable outfits. Maps of how to get to the location an hour’s drive from Joburg. Even the option of dietary requirements!

Then the full crew list: from director to focus puller, from grip to gaffer, from spark to loader. This is like a Springbok squad, each with a defined position or role to play.

No self-respecting ad shoot starts after the sun is up!

And there’s always the bad news. We have to assemble at 4am. No self-respecting ad shoot starts after the sun is up!

The day of the Carte Blanche promo shoot

The crisp Highveld dawn finds us out at Suikerbosrand a few clicks out on the N3 and a popular spot for racing snakes, the eager cyclists who are willing and able to pedal the 70 kilometre one-way route around the nature reserve.

We are already kitted out in our finery, fully made up for action with stomachs lined after a hearty breakfast and loads of instant coffee.

Carte Blanche promo shoot

I’m consoled by the thought that Daniel Craig must have to go through the same prep when shooting yet another James Bond movie.

And while some of those 007 scenes might be a little testing in the early morning light, we have a slightly more sedate start.

To put it mildly…In fact all we do for the first two hours is watch Devi sitting in the bush with a pile of  cardboard files around her. She is filmed from every angle with massive LED lights and reflector screens two storeys high manoeuvered in every direction. The calls of “action”, “cut” and“reset” are repeated ad infinitum.

Carte Blanche promo shoot

And then it’s Bongani’s turn, notebook in hand, to interact with a rather recalcitrant sheep which decides that stardom is not in its stellar chart and flees with the authorised and red-faced handlers in hot pursuit.

Carte Blanche Promo SHoot

Personally I thought that Mr B handled this rejection with dignity and aplomb and not a small dose of his dry humour.

Eventually it’s my turn to take centre stage! Well centre road actually…walking with Claire and glancing meaningfully left and right.  For Claire it’s a flashback to a previous life of modelling and fashion shoots. For me it’s a challenge to stay on the allocated flight plan and muster the right expressions to impress the director.

Carte Blanche Promo Shoot

It is certainly not a walk in the park.  With all the resets of dollies, tracks, screens and whatever  else, it takes a couple of hours. And I get an inkling of attention to detail when the shot of the back of my shoes takes about 10 takes before it’s “in the can”.

Over the 12 hours or so walking the Suikerbosrand tarmac, watching the other presenters strut their stuff, and raiding the catering division on a regular basis, I can say that this production crew performed like a well-oiled military machine.

In fact that does them a massive disservice.  Most military operations are chaotic and confusing with orders being barked out and then retracted.

And, although I reflected on a regular basis on how we were so mean and lean on our Carte Blanche operations, I held a sneaking respect for how every person on this ad shoot plied their trade with very little supervision.

The basic difference is that we tell stories and they create magic.

And soon I will understand why Devi was filing in the bush and Bongani was interviewing a sheep.

I can’t wait.

View the Carte Blanche Promo image gallery 

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