Shaun Dempsey was a student at Glasgow Clyde College and during the HBTI he was a Content Assistant to the Editor at the IBC. His journey with the HBTI has been very personal, a little fraught and an overriding success. Here is his story in his own words.
All in all, I’ve been writing what you’re about to read for half a year. When I started it, I was a student at Glasgow’s Cardonald College; now I’m a graduate, living in a freelance world, surrounded by ingested SD cards, frayed notepads and empty, chipped coffee cups.
For a story’s sake, allow me to rewind.
I’m Shaun Dempsey and I studied television operations; during my HND1 studies, I was told that every year, outgoing HND2 students are offered work experience, be it working with a singular industry professional, a larger company or at a particular event. As the year I would be leaving would be 2014, the idea of being involved with the 2014 Commonwealth Games was brought up. When I say “the idea”, it was a seed that had just been planted; nothing had grown from it yet.
Before then, the closest that I had come to the Commonwealth Games, and the world of television, was when I was a seventeen year-old pupil and when ‘Glasgow’s 2014’ was born – I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. BBC Reporting Scotland were visiting Saint Mungo’s Academy as part of the live announcement as to who would be hosting the games. At the time, if I had been asked about the benefits of Glasgow hosting the games, then “New roads, I suppose” would probably have been my response. As we sat there waiting for the decision to come through, everyone was primed to respond. Amidst cheers and clapping, I never heard Glasgow being called; what I do remember is jumping around, almost falling, getting up and jumping around again. We were elated, young and naïve, celebrating something that hadn’t taken shape, that was years in the making.
To work at live events you need to have the proper health and safety clearance, namely something called Safety Passport training. As part of the Host Broadcaster Training Initiative (HBTI), the people at Creative Loop had been putting students from various colleges and universities through this training. A long story cut short, I didn’t make my Safety Passport session and the chance of a lifetime was walking away from me. I was given a multitude of advice, from the people whose opinions I deeply value, and the single greatest thing that anyone said to me was, “Fight for it. Go on”.
On the Thursday that followed the Safety Passport session, Simon Anderson, broadcast director of the ATP World Tour and squash competitions at Glasgow 2014, gave a master-class on outside broadcasting at my college. Sat in the corner of a studio-turned-lecture theatre in a Detroit Red Wings jersey, I sat mesmerized as he explained the world of sports broadcasting. You know when you get those ‘Looney Tunes’ light-bulb moments regarding where you want to go in life? One of those. Accompanying Simon was Helliate Rushwaya, Project Manager of Creative Loop. I felt that I owed her an explanation about the Safety Passport day that I missed. After the collective advice that I had been given over that week, about the training day and from Simon, I felt an impulse that took those words of encouragement of sparked them. So I did fight for it and asked to meet Helliate; she told me to come to BBC Scotland.
Intimidating does not come anywhere close to what I was feeling. As I was walking along the Clyde-side, thinking that I would get there in record-time, I found that due to extensive road works at the Pacific Quay, a lengthy detour was needed in order to make it to the meeting – “New roads, I suppose”. Why did I have to suppose that, of all things? During our meeting, Helliate was refreshingly frank with me, in regards to the way in which a large group of people in this industry have to rely on each other, and I appreciated that honesty. Sitting inside this citadel of Scottish television broadcasting, it dawned on me that my time at college was almost over and the working-world was around the corner. I just had to be reliable, professional, step up to its door and knock until my knuckles were sore.
After the meeting, after crossing the rain-soaked Millennium Bridge and after laughing at myself for a solid fifteen seconds, – it’s longer than you think – I turned around and looked at the building I had just came from, “BBC Scotland” placed at the top right of it like a first-class stamp. Two thoughts went through my mind; the first was “I want to be a part of this – the industry, the games, whatever comes afterwards. I want to be there”. The second thought was “I should invest in an umbrella”.
When people say that you don’t know what you had until it’s gone, it’s more important to realise that you don’t properly understand the value of a thing until you feel it slipping from your grasp. That’s what happened with me and the pretty wee flower that the seed, that is the HBTI, had become. After everything that I’d gone through in those few weeks, I knew that I’d never let go of it.
If you’re a believer in fate then, in one way or another, I was meant to be part of these games – I was born in Ardenlea Street in Dalmarnock, an area which was always stamped as being deprived and indigent. Not many people from areas such as that get the opportunity to experience life-chances in a creative and meaningful way. If you want to know what’s happened to Dalmarnock in the time since, then all you have to do is look at the Athlete’s Village that stood there up until a couple of weeks ago. Twenty-four years on, I now live a fifteen-minutes walk from there and when I wake up every morning, the view from my window looks directly on to two of Britain’s most relevant sporting structures: Celtic Park, which hosted the Opening Ceremony of the games, and right across the road from it, the Emirates Arena, home to the cycling and badminton events.
“Legacy” was a word that was used a lot, in relation to these games. There’s so much debate about what the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games will be, and I think that’s subjective. From growing up in an environment that was stereotypically labelled as being underprivileged, I found myself feeling very grateful and extremely privileged that I had the chance to tie a legacy of my own into that of the games.
So how did I go about that? Well, after making it past the initial selection stage, I was asked to select three different sports to work at. In order of interest, I believe that I chose cycling, swimming and then something that may or may not have been lawn bowls. I wasn’t picked for any of these; instead, I was chosen to be an editor assistant at the International Broadcast Centre – editing was my speciality subject in my final year; I love telling stories and editing is telling a story with a keyboard – needless to say, I was completely stunned, but thinking back to the meeting at BBC Scotland, I understood what had happened: I was told to apply myself and I did.
For the first couple of days, nothing really happened; I began on the 18th and the editors arrived on the 21st – if your role is specific to assisting someone in their role, then if they aren’t present then the same can be said for your purpose. This was pretty difficult to take on board as the impression that was given off was that, because I had nothing in front of me to do, I wasn’t up for doing anything. So I began to ask people if they needed help with anything; you want some extra chairs in the suites? Cool; needing some bits of paper hole-punched and filed? Done. I had to keep in mind that my lecturers always told me that, through feedback they’ve received on their students in work placements, that it’s the people who actively seek out things to do that make a good impression; and yes, I wanted to get in about the editing software and everything else that was in front of me, but, to be honest, sometimes there’s paper that just needs to be hole-punched.
After a couple of days of getting to know the editors and producers, I found myself ingesting XDCAM discs/SD cards for the people in news and features, who would then work with the editors to make the footage into a package; I was also asked to look over events and pick out things that I thought were good enough to be put on the Games Channel. This was my favourite thing as it allowed me to bring some sense of myself to my work: I love sport, I really do, and my approach was that I’d only put something forward for consideration if I could see myself shouting at my screen in frustration or adoration, in the comfort of my own home.
This is where things really kicked into gear. I had gotten to know a contracted worker in the highlights area who was asked to work on a different production, whilst the games were on; the producer/director of IBC output, and my supervisor, Stephen Booth, came to me and offered me the vacant role. I couldn’t believe the situation I found myself in, but I kept my feet on the ground and came in the next day with bunches of stuff to do: I was beaming. I learned how to use the software that all clips were stored and logged through; this allowed me to clip up what I wanted and send that through to the Games Channel directly, as opposed to through someone else. It basically gave me the platform to use my own initiative and editorial judgement, and I liked that. At the same time, if someone from the Games Channel asked me for a specific event, or slow-motion clips to be used in their closing packages, then I’d do it. I began to make this part of my everyday routine, so that they never had to ask; that it was just there and if they wanted to use it then it was ready to go.
To be honest, I don’t really know what else to say. The Games that were in the making for six years came; stayed for two weeks; records were broke and national anthems were sung; Usain Bolt danced in the rain; and off the Games went again for another four years.
I think that the most important thing about working at the Games is coupling what happens after it to what happened during it, because there is a very palpable comedown that comes with going back to your life of sending out CVs and planning what your next career move is. It was a moment in time that’s provided me with the experience to know that I can work in an industry to a competent level, whilst bringing my creativity to it.
So, right now, as we speak (sort of), I’m working my first paid job in this career. It’s a music video that’s got a lot going on in it, hence the SD cards, notepads and coffee cups. Maybe I’m speaking for myself here, but I suppose that what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter if you think things aren’t working out for you, just because the Games finished and there was nothing immediately afterwards to go on to; like I said, it’s about knocking on doors and showing people that you really do have something to offer them; that it’s something that you genuinely love doing, because if you can take both of them and apply yourself at the same time, then who’s going to stop you from going anywhere, from doing anything that you want to do?
I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to say that the XX Commonwealth Games was my first step into the world of television, after leaving my studies.
Naturally, I was apprehensive about walking into one of the world’s largest televised events – certainly the largest that had ever visited the city that I’ve grown up in. I had ideas that about it being a baptism of fire, but just as I’m fortunate to have worked at it in the first place, I was lucky to be surrounded by a group of people who welcomed me into an experienced environment.
Throughout the two weeks of working at the International Broadcast Center I was provided with numerous opportunities to contribute to the service that we were providing, which I took with open arms. Said opportunities have provided me with a confidence that I can’t quantify; one that I’ve taken beyond the Games and into my freelance life
Shaun Dempsey is available for hire, visit his website for details.