For the Love of Chapatis

This week was another big filming week. We had worked a lot with Mwihaki last week on a predatory conferences video. This week we would be working with Bernice filming a bioinformatic BLAST video. We were recording presenter-to-camera inside shots in front of a green-screen, and outside on-location multi-camera shots. We were so fortunate to have two individuals who came across brilliantly on camera and were easy to work with.

In our small studio set-up, we would record multiple takes of lines standing in-front of a green screen for some shots and outside on-location for others. These ultimately would be edited and spliced together later in post-production

One of us would read a line aloud, then the presenter would repeat that line on camera. We did initially have a laptop which acted as a makeshift teleprompter, but we found this didn’t work as well. Unless the text is directly over the lens as with a traditional glass mirror teleprompter, the angle of the eyes looking towards the laptop is just too obvious and looks unprofessional. We tried to rectify this by having the presenters read the line off the laptop placed to the side, then say this line to the camera. What we all found is that, under the pressure of filming, this is near impossible to do consistently. Reading a sentence is one thing but trying to remember and then say that sentence perfectly in just a few seconds was just too tough. Reading aloud the lines however led to far better results and as such, we’d recommend this method to anyone trying a similar presenter-to-camera segment without a traditional teleprompter (which are usually quite expensive).

We were filming in front of a green-screen which is exactly that, a screen or sheet which is bright green. This allows the green colour to be removed and replaced through a technology known as chromakey in post-production. This green could then become a picture of video behind the presenter. In our case, the green would be replaced with a background image that we had made for the video series. The green-screen needs to be evenly and well lit with stage lights and must be relatively crease-free to allow for optimal chromakeying. Our lights were battery power LED lights and our green screen seemed to have more creases than we thought was possible, but we made it work. We used the LED lights at full power in combination with the ceiling lights and natural ambient light from the windows to allow for a better lit green screen and we tried to remove as many creases from the sheet as we could by ironing, rolling and hanging. The end result was by no means perfect, but it gave us a professional-level chromakey removal which we were happy with considering the limitations. The background was clear, and the presenter stood out well with minimal spill-over, distortion, noise or artefacts. 

During the filming process, we met with a person called David. He had previous experience with filming and video production and so he was able to offer us several useful tips and tricks. This is another thing we would recommend for others trying to produce a video series like ours. Getting the advice and possible mentorship from someone who has previous experience can really make a big difference with the final output. This helps to highlight the importance of building networks and establishing collaborations and partnerships; you never know who might be able to help.

Once we had all the multiple-takes of footage we needed, it was off to the editing suite (a.k.a. our laptops). This would be our challenge for next week, our final week in nairobi.

Now for a slight change of pace. I see this as an ample opportunity to share just how great the lunches have been. A surprising interlude for you I am sure, but such a simple thing can make a day so much better. We’ve been able to sample a wide variety of traditional Kenyan cuisine everyday at lunchtime, freshly prepared.

Some examples of my regular lunchtime feasts – bean casseroles, grilled chicken, beef stews, goat, fish, ugali (a maize/cornmeal-based white, starchy set porridge/dumpling – its quite hard to describe), mixed vegetables and greens.  

My favourite food? This award has to go to chapatis. These are flaky, buttery, dry yet oily unleavened pancake-like breads. They reminded me of a naan bread, crossed with a pancake, crossed with a tortilla, crossed with a croissant. I have never had anything like this before but wow, were they tasty! You can get something similar back in the UK from Indian restaurants, roti or paratha, but they aren’t quite the same. To get the real deal, you have to head out to Kenya.

It’s also very difficult to make yourself. There is a real art to it. It requires a good technique with several waiting periods. For many who make it, it will have the wrong texture entirely. The art of chapati-making is not to be under-estimated.

Overall, chapatis are great and you should definitely try it, should the opportunity arise!

With that, it is time to draw this blog post to a close. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and give this a read!

Danny Ward

[“This work was supported by the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP), by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (BBSRC) through the BBSRC-STARS grant with reference BB/R020272/1 awarded for the ABCF Bioinformatics Community of Practice, and by the BecA-ILRI Hub through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. The ABCF program is funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the BecA-CSIRO partnership; the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)”

Key personnel/contributors linked to this project:

BecA-ILRI hub (Nairobi) – Dr. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner ¦ Dr. Peter Emmrich ¦ Dr. Wellington Ekaya

John Innes Centre/UEA – JIC Graduate School Office ¦ UEA Internships and Placements team ¦ Hans Pfalzgraf ¦ Danny Ward    

We would like to extend our gratitude to all those listed, along with all others, who contributed and supported towards this project in various capacities – this wouldn’t have been possible without your help]


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