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A Royal Gamble

On assignment at the Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle (Apparently I have a thing for Royal Weddings), the circumstances behind this shot were chaos and total stress.

Chaos-- You're fighting 8500 members of the media all gathered in this tiny town of Windsor to cover an event that's completely locked up by the BBC. The BBC is the official outlet for the wedding, and most agencies simply buy rights to their superior camera placements and access to the royals. As a street (or beat) reporter, you try to enhance what the BBC is already covering. Working for Entertainment Tonight, my job is to work our talent, Nancy O'Dell and Kevin Frazier, into the shots everyone else will see. 

Stress-- You don't know what's going to happen, exactly. Everyone is trying to guess what is about to happen-- there is no published plan-- you hear a rumor and have to assess if there is validity to it-- and decide which (if any) resources to allot to the rumor. Then you have to execute, which is stress on a different level.

I was feeding the show live from a satellite position on the grounds of Windsor Castle. We paid a small fortune to essentially rent a piece of land with a pretty background and equipment from a company, ITN, to feed our show out every day. Kevin and Nancy stand in front of bright lights and conduct interviews like the one above, or host the show by reading scripts off of the iPad I hold under the lens of the camera.

We were running through the show at the time the rumor began circulating that Princes William and Harry were going to meet well wishers about a 1/4 mile from our position at 5 p.m. Our live satellite feed is from 4-6 p.m. This is a locked time period called a "satellite window." We have to send the entire daily show back to Los Angeles for that night's broadcast during these 2 hours. It is an immovable window of time. 

The rumor made sense. At the 2011 wedding, William and Harry did something similar a few evenings before William married Kate Middleton at Clarence House near Buckingham Palace. 

I was facing a very difficult decision. The rule in the field is: Never EVER stop the feed. Without the feed, there is no show. There are no hosts. The show cannot air. You don't stop the feed. There are millions of dollars in advertising depending on this feed going ahead as planned. No feed, no show. Game over.

Putting our hosts in front of William and Harry is pretty much why we bothered to travel 8,000 miles to cover the event. If I can make a moment like this happen, the value is immeasurable. Otherwise our footage consists of our hosts standing in front of iconic buildings with crowds-- fairly ordinary stuff you'd see on the news. 

I stopped the feed. 

We began walking toward the gate where we heard the brothers were to emerge and ran into a massive crowd. I didn't have a crew with me, we were renting cameras from ITN, they were wired into the satellite system. But my rule in the field is to never go anywhere without a camera. I had my DSLR, a Nikon D850 that shoots both video and stills. 

 My plan was to shoot video of Nancy and Kevin and the royals as they came out, change to stills mode and capture a few images, then back to video mode as they return to the castle. Better be fast!

But we still had the crowd to deal with-- how were we to get close amidst all of these people? Kevin Frazier is the best reporter when it comes to breaking news coverage. While the crowd was penned into an area surrounded by what looks like bicycle racks, the police had set up a 2nd row of barriers, to give the royals a cushion from the crowd. Kevin saw that 2nd row of barriers as an opportunity and led myself, Nancy and her assistant Liz in front of the gathered crowd! 


As you might imagine, this upset everyone. But covering news is about seizing an opportunity when you see one, and this gave us a big advantage-- we now had a front row view to an historic moment, and the police didn't say a word. Game on.

My job was to lean over the barrier as much as possible, point the camera at Nancy and Kevin, then turn it to reveal William and Harry walk by. I had no tripod, and the camera weighs a lot-- I'm going one-handed here.

I flipped the Nikon to stills mode and took some images as the princes returned up the hill. The key here to go with safe settings. Increase the depth of field so everything around them is pretty much in focus. Speed up your shutter to freeze action. Shoot RAW so if something goes wrong, you have a chance to fix it. Burst mode, fire away and hope they look at your lens. I got a few decent shots.

Then I flipped the D850 back to video mode and rolled, just as Kevin threw a question out. Prince Harry answered, and we got a terrific exclusive. "Harry, are you ready? Are you ready, Harry?" "Of course!" was the response. We were quoted everywhere. The gamble-- stopping the feed-- had paid off. 

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