Kaija Larke with her camera in Afghanistan

Q & A with Soldiering On Awards Videographer Kaija Larke                                                                                                                                                                                              

Hi Kaija, the awards are days away so we really really appreciate you making the time to talk to us.  To summarise your rich and varied career for our blog readers: You are a media consultant, videographer and media trainer with 20 years’ experience as a journalist. And you are a Media Partner for the Soldiering On Awards taking place on Friday5 April 2019 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster, London.

How long have you been covering these very special awards? 

I first covered the Soldiering On Awards nine years ago, as a reporter for the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS). It was an amazing night honouring some truly inspirational people. I covered it 2-3 times as a reporter as well as other Awards ceremonies. When I left BFBS I got in touch with the organisers to offer my services to help improve their media engagement, initially on a voluntary basis. That was over two years ago and my involvement has stepped up a gear since then.

This year I am both running their Videography and the Media Relations and PR. That means pro-actively arranging interviews in the media for the Finalists and also producing all the videos around the Awards – those which will play out on the big screens on the night, B-Roll for TV News Channels to use and all the post-event videos, of which there are at least 14. I am bringing in a team of eight trusted associates to work with me on the night, including cameramen and editors so we can work to a tight turn-around for the media and sponsors.

Could you tell us a bit more about your emotional connection with these awards?

As I mentioned, I first covered the Soldiering On Awards whilst working for BFBS. I spent ten years as a defence reporter, travelling the world to a host of dusty places with the military. I did three months living in Afghanistan, I was the last embed reporter in Iraq before the British troops withdrew and I’ve covered too many training exercises with the British military and NATO to count.

I was in Afghanistan at one of the most ‘kinetic’ periods of the conflict, in 2010 when the injury and death tolls were particularly high. I visited the hospital at Camp Bastion and would often be woken at night by the CASEVAC helicopters returning the latest casualties for treatment to their life-changing injuries. I also visited Headley Court several times, where most of the severely injured servicemen and women were treated.

I have always been inspired by the mental strength of our Armed Forces personnel, and the way they tackle their rehabilitation when injured. The current narrative around veterans is often about suicide rates, the number of homeless, or those struggling with life on ‘civvy street’ and whilst that is true, it’s only a part of the story. Many I have met are dealing with their demons and going on to achieve feats the rest of us can only watch in awe. Many of our Finalists this year are ten years post-injury, so they’re carving out a new life after leaving the military. That’s what the Soldiering On Awards is all about, celebrating the achievements of those who are continuing to inspire us whether in sport, business or simply in everyday life.

Awards ceremonies are such a particular style of live event, do you have any tips for the participants about how they can be best filmed?

The best thing about working on a night like this is the sheer surprise on the Winners’ faces when their names are announced.

You can’t fake the surprise and you can’t stage it, so the cameras have to be poised in position ready to capture it, without giving the game away! @KaijaLarke Media Partner for the @SoldieronAwards #SoldieringOnAwards Click To Tweet

A few of the Finalists may have had a little media training as part of their service, but most won’t, and how you deal with media on operations is very different to that moment when you are recognised amongst your peers for doing something amazing. And that’s the beauty of it.

The event is a celebration and an opportunity to thank those who go above and beyond the call of duty. The fact that most of them are so very natural in front of the camera makes it a pleasure to work on. I do work with the senior organising team to ensure they are media ready and well briefed on any questions they may be asked.

The main tip I’d give all the Finalists though, is don’t drink too much before your Award category has been announced, just in case!

What do you most enjoy about the Soldiering On Awards?

There are many things I enjoy about working on the Soldiering On Awards, the main part is the story telling, and getting to know the Finalists each year. Some have become friends; others are charities I now support, as you build quite a relationship in the run up to the event. This year there were twice as many nominations as last year, so being on that Finalists list really is a big deal.

From the Media Relations perspective, seeing their stories on television or in a magazine, newspaper or online is very rewarding. Even with the charitable organisations, many are very small and don’t have the expertise or budget to spend on PR, so this is a great opportunity to help raise their profiles. I don’t know of another Awards ceremony that offers that to Finalists to the level that it’s achieved with Soldiering On.

With regards the Videography, this is my first year running that side, but I have enjoyed getting to know the Finalists as I’ve been liaising with them over potential content. I’m really looking forward to working with my trusted team on the night, many of which are veterans themselves, reservists or have worked with the military for many years. And of course helping to capture those special moments.

Memorable moments? One moment which sticks in my mind from last year was when one of the Winners was announced, he is a double amputee and had both his ‘legs’ off, and his shirt had become un-tucked. He was so shocked when his name was read out he nearly fell off his chair and had to rush to put his prosthetics back on and make himself ‘camera-ready’ and up to the stage. The military has quite a dark humour, and this caused a lot of laughs in the room. But the key thing was the genuine surprise when he was announced, and that’s what the night is all about.

One category is the Animal Partnerships Award-will there be animals at the event?

Surprisingly yes! Some of our Finalists have assistance dogs, mainly to help with severe PTSD, so there’s usually a couple of dogs in the room. Their humans have to be positioned very carefully on the seating plan as they often suffer from hyper-vigilance. The dogs are always the centre of attention, and although they are working, their owners normally allow them a bit of fuss. This year we also have one young boy attending, Jamie Small. He will have just turned 11. His dad committed suicide after leaving the military and Jamie has turned his grief in to an amazing fundraising effort for military charity SSAFA, so nobody else should suffer like he and his Mum. They’ll both be there on the night and I’m sure there won’t be a dry eye in the house if they win.

Award ceremonies usually last a few hours-how do you make the most of the footage you create?

All sorts of things! There will be a separate team running the social media on the night, working closely with the photographers. On the night I will be sending out a B-Roll of rushes from the first part of the evening, to the TV channels who may be interested in covering it in that’s night’s news bulletins. It’s never been done before for this event, so I’m excited about that. They will be national and regional stations for the first few winners. There will be a guard of honour, celebrity guests and senior military personnel, and the event is being hosted by Carol Vorderman and JJ Chalmers, so I’m anticipating quite a bit of interest.

Then the next day we will produce a full media B-Roll of all the Winners and a lot of the atmosphere, to send out to a wider media audience. Then I have a team of editors working with me throughout the weekend and for the following week, producing a series of highlights videos for the organisers and also for the sponsors and winners. Each category has a corporate sponsor and they receive a short video, which they can share on their own social media channels a week on from the event on the 5th April.

The rest of the material will be used on the Awards website, for short social media videos or kept as archive in case it’s needed for future events. Everyone else goes home on the Saturday morning after the event, but it’ll still be full on for me and my team afterwards, to maximise the impact of the stories, so keep an eye out for some inspirational stories in the media over the coming weeks!

Kaija! Thank you so much for answering all our questions about this special event. We look forward to following all the action!