Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

What happened with the IFTAs?

An omnishambles of a broadcast overshadows the real victories in Irish television and film.

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 10:25


In the weekend’s paper, Ann Marie Hourihane wrote what turned out to be an extremely prophetic article about the “close to crisis” IFTAs. And that was before Saturday night’s almost-live broadcast that has been widely slated.

The Irish Film and Television Awards has its ups and downs. Most of the criticisms in recent years have been the minor moan of expensive tickets (no, you don’t just get to bop along to the ceremony. If you’re not a nominee or an invited sleb, you have to pay), and the broader structural problem of the categories, which often position unlikely productions in competition with each other. As Larry Bass points out in Hourihane’s article, what was The Voice doing competing with Moone Boy in previous years? Bass’ criticisms point to widening cracks in the IFTAs, especially considering Screentime Shinawil (who make The Voice, Masterchef Ireland, Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice) now essentially boycott the competition by not submitting entries, according to Hourihane’s article. Much has also been made about the cost of submitting productions for consideration. Personally, I don’t really think it’s a big deal to pay €100 to submit work for competition, so the criticism is clearly about who you’re competing with rather than the cost of entry.

But all of these things are industry mutterings in comparison to the public perception of the IFTAs, which is a big night out you can watch on TV and look at the dresses in the papers and magazines afterwards. If you’re sitting in on a Saturday night watching the IFTAs, you basically just want to have a gawk at the Seoige sisters and Colin Farrell and see what Amy Huberman is wearing. The audience doesn’t actually have big demands.

As Bernice Harrison writes today, the broadcast was a “badly produced shambles.” I watched it on Saturday night and would have to reluctantly agree with that assessment. And it’s a hard one to agree with, because I don’t do it gleefully. Why would you? People put a lot of work into it. As someone who works in TV, I really feel for the IFTAs people. I feel for them because they work hard all year and this is what a lot of that work leads up to. It’s their big night out. It’s a night that gets a massive amount of media coverage and generates loads of chatter. It’s the biggest opportunity to celebrate Irish television and film. This is the shop window for the industry and its output. This is IFTA’s shop window. And unfortunately that shop window ended up looking more Guineys than Brown Thomas. But I don’t think the blame just rests with them. There’s a broader issue about production values and oversight in general.

RTE clearly put their hands up by pulling the repeat broadcast. That’s an emphatic statement about how the show ran over by a whopping 25 minutes, and perhaps in the background of that decision were the other technical problems of the broadcast.

The main issues are of course the two most important ones: how it looked, and how it sounded. The most immediate impression was how harshly lit it was. The lighting smacked you in the face instantly. It was glaringly bright, almost clinically bright. Of course, it’s hard to light something in a hotel function room. Surely it would make sense for an awards ceremony to be held and filmed in a space that already had a decent lighting rig – Grand Canal Theatre, the Olympia, Vicar Street – because at least then, there could be variations in lighting instead of an overwhelmingly stark glare throughout. The result was ugly.

Then there was the sound. I’m not sure what happened in this department. The presenters Laura Whitmore and Simon Delaney were wearing ‘Britney mics’, so I don’t know why their sound was overcome by two issues. The first was that you were hearing the room, not the sound in the room, but the actual acoustics of the room. It felt like every level was up, instead of just taking the sound from their mics. This problem was coupled by hearing the actual noise within the room itself. The constant chatter rose to an unstoppable din as the ceremony progressed. Why? Why was the sound not taken exclusively from the presenters’ mics and the podium mic, with everything cut off until we needed to hear applause or whoops for atmosphere? I saw people tweeting who were at the ceremony that they couldn’t hear what the presenters were saying, which would also explain the audience’s apathetic ‘chatting amongst themselves’ vibe. If they couldn’t hear what was going on, then they’re not going to spend a couple of hours straining, they’re just going to chat with their friends and colleagues.

You can forgive a dodgy script and occasional wonky camera work. Dodgy scripts are pretty much the bedrock of award ceremonies. It’s not Tina Fey and Amy Poehler up there. Wonky camera work is forgivable during a live-ish broadcast. Vision mixing is frantic, so an audience can deal with the occasional slip or cutting to the wrong person. In fact if anything that adds to the live feel of something like this. But when the camerawork is more dodgy than not, and when random audience members are repeatedly cut to when the presenters are specifically referring to people that you’d expect to be cut to, then it just feels all over the place.

At the end of the broadcast, the credits cited that it was an IFTA production. But IFTA isn’t a production company. Where was the production oversight? Well, according to the details of the production team on IFTA’s website, (*update* after being live and perfectly readable  this morning, that page is now 404ing it. It previously listed the executive producers, production coordinator, lighting technician, sound production team and post-production houses) the oversight was there. All of the people involved seem like good, experienced people. So what went wrong? Surely early on in the week or at least on the day, there was someone pretty high up in RTE production or management at rehearsals looking at the monitors and listening to the sound and pointing out that it was going to be a huge ask to put this out at prime time on a Saturday night? Surely someone was there to oversee the production values on a broadcast that gets nearly 600,000 viewers? Was it a location issue? Was it a time pressure issue?

Or if RTE really want oversight, surely they could produce it in a venue where it’s easier to actually enable the production values they want and crew it themselves? [I'm just going to pause here so I can let the laughter die down amongst independent production companies at the idea of RTE actually being able to cost and crew an OB on a Saturday night without breaking the bank.]

And why do the IFTAs need to be broadcast live-ish anyway? If it happens on a Saturday night, why not just film it, cut it overnight, fix the sound up and let it go out Sunday night or Monday night?  If the budget isn’t there to make it the production that it needs to be, then all parties will have to seriously review the validity in broadcasting something subpar.

At a time where people watch event television with their phones in their hands ready to tweet every cruel criticism, the fact is you can’t afford to broadcast something that’s so easy to slag. Criticism is amplified online often unfairly, and the stakes are raised. Media coverage often takes cues from online reaction these days, including tweets and the general sentiment, and if the sentiment is overwhelmingly negative, then that will be reflected in the overall reviews and conclusions.

Ultimately, the most frustrating thing is that the media coverage of the IFTAs focusses on the quality of the ceremony’s broadcast, rather than the winners on the night. It’s not just the IFTA people who worked hard getting this thing done, it’s the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked on all of the programmes and films that were nominated and that won, who’ve had their achievements slightly overshadowed in coverage terms by the broadcast of the actual award ceremony. That’s unfair to everyone.

The list of the winners is here.

You can watch The IFTAs on the RTE Player here.

(Photo by Dara Mac Dónaill)