By Lachlan Forsyth
In late 2005 I was sitting on a pink, pock-marked couch in a Wellington flat that used to shake as it was buffetted by the northerly winds. It had magnificent views over the harbour, and an algae-green carpet, and I was watching a man called John Campbell discuss the events of the day on television.
I came to journalism slightly later than many of my colleagues. After finishing school I'd spent several years studying before bouncing around various jobs, cities, continents. Having returned to Wellington in my late twenties and finding myself almost paralytic with professional boredom, I began investigating other options. Five years in the insurance industry had lit a particularly toasty fire beneath me that could only be extinguished with the knowledge I wasn't squandering my talents. I decided on a return to university, and a career in the glamorous world of journalism.
Six years later, I'd be sitting on the seat normally warmed by John's besuited bottom, my legs scrambling to find the floor from the lofty perch, and Director Dan barking in my ear that the tie I'd chosen was too shiny for the studio lights.
The decision made by that unhappy insurance broker had led me directly across the room - from a pink, pock-marked couch, to the very chair on that television I'd been glued to.
I still vividly remember the first time I presented. I had been a television journalist for about 3 years, and I'd been informed a few days earlier that I would be fronting the national bulletin that weekend. It was the 6pm news with the wonderful Carolyn Robinson, and my heart was beating so hard that I was concerned about it bursting from my chest and sending a horrible crimson shower all over the pristine 3 News set.
The chest-bursting debacle never eventuated, and since then I've managed to tame those pesky nerves - all part of becoming accustomed to life in the presenter's chair. Even the ones that are too tall.
The studio is a funny world - half hidden in shadow and half exposed by blinding lights. The calm atmosphere you see on screen has little semblance to the realities of getting a show to air. The earpieces wedged deep inside every Presenter's ear canal allows the Director to incessantly chirp away - perhaps how much duration is left in the show, or when to start wrapping up an interview, or something about needing to straighten your tie (curses!).
Meanwhile the Floor Manager is barking that there are 30 seconds left to run on the current story, the studio lights are burning permanent shapes into your retinas, and icicles are forming under the desk because Sacha McNeil keeps insisting it's too hot inside the studio and the air con needs more cranking.
The Floor Manager informs the studio of how the show is ticking along, keeping everyone inside it - Camera Ops, Autocue Op, Presenters - aware of how long until the next on-air segment. They relay the countdown - 5... 4... 3... 2... *Lachlan, cue*. Campbell Live producers Pip Keane or Kim Hurring may pipe up through your earpiece about changes to the show, tweaks to scripts, and occasionally wildly inappropriate comments moments before we return to air. New scripts are rushed in as they are chopped and changed throughout the show. The papers in front of us aren't just props - in the event the autocue goes down, that's what we'll have to read off. It's a complicated production, all done under the unforgiving glare of the three hulking studio cameras as they slide silently around the news desk.
As stories play, there is the chance to view the next item. The Autocue Operator spools through the scripts, the Floor Manager will confirm the order of the next few items and which cameras will be used. It's also a chance to view the story we've just introduced, laughing, tut-tutting, and marvelling at a clever piece of scripting or beautiful shot.
And there we sit, caked in thick makeup that dulls the harsh glare of studio lighting (it also has the effect of knocking a few years off your appearance - one of the last things I need) and we wait as the minutes and seconds tick by until the next segment. These few minutes are the culmination of the day's efforts and the hard work of dozens of people up and down the country.
There is little margin for error - when you're being shot in a medium close-up the slightest expression, slip or reaction is magnified in the most excruciating of ways. What tone do you convey? When is it appropriate to smile or joke, or react to what you've just seen on screen? When do you take a breath? Where do you put your hands? And if you're going to attempt a camera turn you better be sure your timing is perfect...
The only way to become more comfortable is to do it again. And again. All the practice in the world can't prepare you for the pressure that comes with live television. It is not easy, and I suggest that those who claim it is, are clueless, and you should never listen to what they have to say about any topic of substance, ever again.
It is incredibly hard, and we are spoiled by the quality of presenters such as Hilary Barry, Mike McRoberts and John Campbell. They are truly world-class, and as someone still in the early stages of a presenting career I couldn't be happier to be surrounded by such talent. Even if I do have to put up with John Campbell hijacking my Twitter account.
Thinking back to those uncertain days in my creaky, windswept Wellington flat, and those evenings spent parked in front of the television soaking up the days events, I'm struck by the twists and turns and undoubted good fortune that led me to my new career. How often do you get to not only meet, but work alongside people you've watched and admired for years?
If you think I'm about to launch into some inspirational passage about following your dreams and pursuing your passions, I'm not. If you think I'm going to wax lyrical about the unbounded talents of my ever-inspiring colleagues, I'm not. And if you think I'm going to offer some sage advice about the hectic world of television journalism, I'm not. Except to say - never try and adjust a chair's height in the middle of a bulletin, and always make sure your that your tie is straight.