48 Hours as a VJ with Solana in the Middle East

By Raymond Frenken

Walking on the streets of Brussels on a recent Monday morning, I received a call asking if I was available for an immediate assignment to the Middle East, to report on EUHR Javier Solana’s tour to Cairo, Israel and Amman. Back in Brussels Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

Of course I had other obligations, so I suggested they first look for someone else, but that they could call me back in an hour if they really could not find anyone else. Five minutes later, they call again and told me to bring over my passport, and that I had to do the camerawork as well. Ok, very well. I did have a toothbrush with me.

The footage filmed during this trip was for Solana’s video team at the European Council. It has been made public via the Europe by Satellite service, so any broadcaster in the world can use it free of rights. Brussels-Cairo-Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Amman-Jerusalem-Ramallah-Jerusalem-Brussels basically in 48 hours, with Solana due to meet key Mideast players over the war in Gaza.

During the trip, we did three satellite feeds from JCS in Jerusalem, using the DVI output of my PMW-EX1 tapeless Full HD camera, which proved very effective on a monopod for this type of coverage. The technology was untested for satellite feeds, but thanks to Sony’s Clipbrowser software, I managed in the end even to re-export the reports to the SXS Pro disc for playout from the camera. Not easy, because it required a version of the software that was only released a month earlier. But after taking these hurdles, it proved to work very effective and even allowed me to edit the broadcast footage in the back of a car and on the plane. It can change the way these types of trips are covered by broadcast journalists.

During the trip, I also happened to have a small new camera with me, a Flip MinoHD camcorder, which I ordered in the U.S. just a few weeks earlier and which came on the market only last year. The minoHD creates 720p footage in YouTube-ready H264, unlike the EX1, which can produce the professional 1080p (‘Full HD’). But the Flip is very small, costs 30 times less, and is a fantastic addition on trips like this one. The New York Times raves about it. It’s also a great camera for print reporters who need video without the hassle, by the way. The success of the flip basically is in the easy-to-use software, which takes all the pain out of producing videos. In the Middle East, it was a camera useful for filming ‘unofficial’ moments. This allowed for additional footage that otherwise would not have been easy to get, like when travelling in motorcades, during checkpoints, or at airports. That said, the red tally light on the flip can’t be switched off, so one has to remain careful.

On the final evening, returning from Ramallah to the King David Hotel, just before midnight, I was waiting in the lobby to hear about the departure time for the next morning. From a corner on the far left, a group of people walks up the stairs. I recognize George Mitchell, Barack Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, followed by a dozen or so of his staffers. On my right, waiting for the elevator, it’s Mr Solana about to go upstairs.

They had met a day earlier in a VIP lounge at Cairo Airport, but since then, both of them had seen key actors in the mideast. Among them, they had probably seen all the top people in Israel, Palestine and several countries in the region.

It’s obvious that an unplanned, informal meeting is going to follow, around midnight in the lobby of this historic hotel. I was allowed to film them briefly – three shots, with the EX1. Their meeting lasted about 15 minutes, with Solana speaking passionately. Mitchell did not make any public statements during this trip. Obama sent him to listen first.

Watch the official videos on Solana’s YouTube channel:

In Ramallah

With Shimon Peres

With King Abdullah II of Jordan

With President Mubarak In Cairo

With George Mitchell at Cairo Airport


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