Shooting a 5G video for Huawei makes my dream come true
Becoming a famous TV presenter is the dream of many young people. The job seems so easy. The money is so good. And imagine how it must feel to be recognized in a restaurant and asked for an autograph. When I left university this was one of my dreams but nobody could have predicted that it would take thirty years and a Chinese technology company to make this dream come true. And my audience would be the top management of the world’s greatest telecommunications companies.
After studying Computer Science at university, I began working in journalism and during my 20s I worked in newspapers and then TV as a reporter, producer, director, and presenter. But I never hit the big time because senior TV executives had never fully recognized my talent.
As the end of the 1990s approached, the internet started to make computers interesting to me again and I embarked on a second career at an internet startup – a pioneering streaming video company – and I rose through the management ranks to become the Chief Operating Officer. But with the first internet boom, came the bust and the company failed. So, after completing an MBA at London’s prestigious Imperial College where I was regarded as an elite student, I began a third career in large corporate telecommunication companies in a senior role at BT.
I mention all this because when I joined Huawei in 2017, it was only this third career at tier-one carriers that seemed relevant. How wrong I was.
Working in journalism during my 20s
2020 has been a challenging year for all of us and the Carrier Marketing department has had to react quickly to the changing requirements of our customers who are now frustratingly distanced and unable to visit us in Shenzhen. When I returned to HQ after quarantine, I discovered that our exhibition halls Galileo and Columbus had been turned into live TV studios and my marketing colleagues had quickly retrained and learned the skills of broadcast TV: cameramen, sound operators, directors, editors, and vision mixers. And my job had turned into being a live TV presenter.
It took no time for the TV presenting skills I had learned 25 years ago on British cable TV channels to come back to me and I was confidently hosting live TV broadcasts to the most senior CxO customers across Europe. I remembered how to smile, react, and interact with the camera as though it was an old friend. But the best was yet to come.
Shenzhen is the first city in the world to have 100% 5G coverage with the latest generation of SA 5G that enables many of the new business use cases. One of these is at Shenzhen’s Mawan Port that has pioneered the use of 5G to completely automate the port operations. Huawei’s industry-leading 5G solution has transformed the lives of the people working in this harsh environment. The crane operators used to spend eight hours a day trapped in a stifling control room 40m above the ground but now they remote control the cranes over 5G from the comfort of a beautiful air conditioned office. The tallymen used to spend all day, every day, on the dockside in every type of weather from the bitterest cold in winter to the sweatiest heat in summer but now the inventory paperwork is done automatically by intelligent machine vision and AI in the cloud over Huawei’s 5G. We talk about Smart 5G Ports in the Galileo exhibition hall but the exhibit is a static model that does not bring the subject alive. Could we do better for our customers?
I was asked to join my Carrier Marketing colleagues to present a video about the 5G automation at Shenzhen’s Mawan Port. We would only have permission to shoot for a day so we would have to be well planned and hope that it didn’t rain. Thankfully my colleagues in Carrier Marketing were excellent before, during, and after the shoot, and the planning, scripting, filming, and editing have rightfully received huge praise from Huawei’s senior management.
As the presenter, I brought my previous TV experience to the production. Learning a script and delivering it convincingly to a camera needs a collection of different skills. You cannot just stand there and read key messages because you will look and sound like a robot.
First we divided the script into two categories: these are called In Vision and Out Of Vision (OOV) or Voice-Over (VO).
I recorded the In Vision sections on location at the port on camera. This takes the most time to film because there is always a risk that I will mispronounce the words or forget what I am saying. To avoid this, and to make it more natural, I turned the In Vision sections of the script into bullet points that are easier to remember and I make up the actual sentences as I go along. Professional actors memorise entire scripts word for word but TV presenters are not actors so we remember bullet points. It means that each take can be slightly different but we’re not making The Wandering Earth 2.
We also record the Voice-Over sections on location so that the background noise is the same. The Voice-Over will play underneath shots of the port operations at work that Americans call B-Roll and British news crews call GVs. I had already rewritten the Voice-Over script to fit my voice and style of speaking so this was quick.
As well as delivering the script, you have to perform as a presenter and this is a bit like acting. It’s very un-natural to appear natural on camera. To be a natural TV presenter you have to be an actor and learn how to manage your facial expressions, body language, and gestures in a way that looks natural on camera but is not – in fact – natural at all. This takes time, practice, and really critical appraisal of your performance on camera so you don’t look ridiculous, nervous, or just plain weird. On the shoot, I was able to improvise some action to bring the video to life, turning to jog up the stairs to the crane room and recording one piece from a terrifying 40 meters high in the air at the top of the crane while the wind rocked us from side to side. It was privileged to be able to visit and experience such a ground-breaking demonstration of Huawei’s 5G strength.
The Mawan Port video came out really well. It had its World Premiere at the annual summit between the top management of Huawei and Vodafone Group. The full version ran for seven minutes and the Front Line in the UK was so happy with it that they ran it in full despite the limited time in the summit’s agenda. Afterwards, Vodafone asked for a copy and has shown it throughout the company as an example of Huawei’s innovative 5G solutions and our leading role in digital transformation. One executive remarked that the real-life video inspired her to reflect on how similar 5G applications could drive digital transformation in other industries.
We have now made a second 5G video at the Xiangtan Iron and Steel Company, and more are planned in a series we are calling “5G Scene One”. We are playing the long versions to customers in executive summits and playing the short versions during our Galileo exhibition hall video tours. I am really happy that Huawei has found a valuable use for this age-old set of skills from my distant past. And I quite enjoy the fame as well even if it’s just with our customers.