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Live and Kicking: The Outside Broadcast Report

Major technical changes such as UHD, HDR and IP are driving big changes in the outside broadcast market. Michael Burns reports

The UK’s outside broadcast firms tend to work in two-year cycles – odd years are busy, while even years are manically busy. In 2018, then, the OB sector is as frenetic as an anthill.
The technology suppliers are pushing for higher resolutions, as well as HDR, while IP continues to be touted as a panacea for signal transport pressures, but from talking to OB companies, it appears demand is still lagging behind the curve. However, many see 2018 as being a watershed year, particularly when universal standards such as SMPTE-2110 are adopted.

On the playing field
The OB sector isn’t in quite as much flux as in the past. “The market remains solid and stable after several years of consolidation,” says Richard Yeowart, MD of Arena Television. “Investment remains key for any company. You can’t sweat your assets forever and when you have a fleet as large as ours, you need to be rolling out several new trucks every year. Membership of the OB club will set you back about £5m per large UHD-IP truck and there is little point in not going UHD and IP if you want to make your money back.”



Mike Ransome, CEO at Presteigne Broadcast Hire, says spending is tight with everyone. “OB remains an expensive business and everyone is doing what they can to trim the cost.”

An interesting direction of travel seems to be towards what’s referred to as simplified production, represented in some OB companies’ kit list by the Vibox from Simply Live. This ‘OB-in a box’ can control up to 12 cameras and offers a video switcher, audio mixer, graphics, slow motion and replay/highlights via a touchscreen control interface.

“[Simplified production] is used widely by European sports broadcasters, especially for the OTT and second screen market. This is an area we expect growth for OB operators in the UK,” says Adam Berger, COO of CTV. “We view that the small to medium sized work may migrate into simplified production rather than high-end UHD.”

This is perhaps what has really changed – where the OB is transmitting to. “The streaming, OTT part of a broadcast was initially something of an aside, but it’s steadily migrating to becoming the primary way that content is delivered and consumed, especially by younger generations,” says Ransome. “The primary content of a live broadcast is in some ways becoming increasingly incidental.”

Ed Tischler, MD for Gearhouse Broadcast UK, feels the industry is modernising too. “It’s becoming more corporate. There’s a lot more framework in place,” he says.

UHD
There has not been a dramatic increase for UHD, rather there’s been a slow growth in demand both in the UK and globally. Alan Bright, director of engineering at IMG Studios, says: “There are lots of challenges in terms of storage and transmission formats but maybe the biggest problem is that on 55-inch TVs, it is very hard to tell the difference between HD and UHD.”

 “The demand for UHD has increased but is still a small fraction of the output of the majority of broadcasters,” agrees Quinn Cowper, head of vision – outside broadcasts, at Timeline.

ES Broadcast Hire says it has seen steady year-on-year growth of UHD hire, with around 20% of jobs being UHD broadcasts. Warren Taggart, MD of ES Broadcast Hire says: “Even when broadcasts aren’t in UHD, we have seen several instances of 4K technology – with its superior imaging capabilities – being used. We expect that trend only to grow in the next 12 months.”



All of Timeline’s OB fleet is now UHD capable. “We anticipate that more and more premium sports and other events will be shot and distributed in 4K UHD and HDR,” says Cowper.

 The demand for 4K UHD is growing steadily, agrees Eamonn Curtin, commercial manager of Telegenic. “More projects are requesting it across all sectors, from sport to light entertainment.” Three of its trucks are UHD/4K capable with a fourth coming soon.

HDR
There is a lot of talk about HDR, but producing HDR live comes with its challenges. NEP’s director of technical operations Chris Cannon describes several technical challenges around implementing a HDR workflow, including the grading/racking of cameras, the simultaneous production of multiple colour spaces, and the issue of providing replays when working in the sports sector.

Vicky Holden, MD of Procam Projects, feels the standardisation of what broadcasters require for HDR is the biggest challenge at the moment. “Most productions shoot SDR as well as HDR, and the challenge is to vision engineer for both with just the single iris control,” she says. “Demand [for HDR] is limited for now, but there is a slow increase in requests.

Jonathan Lyth, technical director of ES Broadcast, reckons that HDR could become a critical part of broadcasting. “From a viewer perspective, it’s probably the most impactful technological development – more so than higher resolution. For that reason HD HDR – as opposed to UHD HDR – could be a great step.”



So HDR is being eased into OB, but costs will have to rise to accommodate it. “Budgets do seem to be larger, especially when Arri Cameras and PL mount lenses are specified,” says VE Live’s technical director Richard La Motte.
“I costed HDR up for one of our clients recently and I would say it was a relatively small uplift,” Ed Tischler recalls. “But it wasn’t huge.”

“Production costs are likely to increase a small amount, but I feel that this will be absorbed by the fact that we all have to invest in future technologies when upgrading trucks, studio, galleries and so on,” says Richard Baker, sales manager at Finepoint.

IP
Arena has clocked-up hundreds of IP OBs in the past two years. “The beauty of IP is the ease of upgrading and we have already rolled out several enhancements to retain leadership in the field,” says Richard Yeowart. ”We expect the uptake of IP to snowball in 2018.”

NEP UK is building its first two IP trucks and an IP fly-pack system, to be deployed at Wimbledon 2018. Chris Cannon says: “The IP infrastructure enables NEP UK to build far larger broadcast systems in to trucks; systems incorporating UHD HDR workflows that would have not been feasible with a baseband SDI architecture.”

Finepoint’s Baker feels IP is not quite ready for the market, due to a lack of standardisation. “Will such a complex technology with many great benefits be overshadowed by 12G, that is easy to implement into existing facilities?”
“We haven’t taken the plunge with IP yet because we are waiting for the technology to settle down and become more reliable,” agrees Telegenic’s Eamonn Curtin. “The workflow of Quad-Link HD-SDI works well for us and all the contracts we have. It makes fault finding easier and keeps our trucks flexible, so we can move between different contracts, giving us the best utilisation for our trucks.”



 “Now that the SMPTE-2110 standard has been ratified, we will start to see more manufacturers producing that all important ‘2110 Interface’,” says Timeline’s Cowper. “We are confident this is going to happen, and we will essentially be able to connect these new devices into our IP router. The devices will become a source and/or destination and be treated the same way that our SAM [now Grass Valley] gateway cards are now used in UHD2.”

This is Timeline’s triple expanding, IP 4K HDR outside broadcast truck, which delivers large scale complex OBs simultaneously in uncompressed 4K UHD HDR and 4K UHD SDR.

“IP technology removes traditional SDI matrix limits, enabling production teams to fully harness the power of UHD 4K,” says Cowper. “Our UHD2 OB truck is based around the SMPTE 2110 standard, enabling both audio and video to be separately processed in the IP stream.”

“IP needs to be more in line with the prices of existing technology, in order to make the transition sensible,” says Gearhouse’s Tischler. “When you make engineering changes like this that production companies won’t necessarily see the advantage of it, so they’re not going to relate that to an uplift in price. I think also maturity of product is an issue.”

Going Remote
IP, however, is absolutely made for remote production, says Presteigne’s Mike Ransome. “IP connectivity on a camera head means that the majority of your infrastructure can be back at your primary location. The on-site requirement is about 10-20% of a normal crew. The cost savings are self-evident.” That said, there’s one important caveat, he adds. “It’s impossible to do remote production over a public network. If, however, you’ve booked a dedicated data pipe, remote production over IP works really well.”

Arena is also testing the water with remote production projects, says Richard Yeowart. “However, we only really see low profile events being considered for remote production in the foreseeable future. The cost savings aren’t enough to win over high-profile productions.”

“There has been a lot of interest in remote production for lower tier sporting events,” agrees VE Live’s Richard La Motte. “There will be more sport streamed live.”

Remote production is also a major talking point at Timeline. “Ultra-fast fibre connectivity is starting to appear, but there are only a handful of areas that have the infrastructure points to transmit these pictures from remote sites to broadcast centres,” says Quinn Cowper. These include Premier League grounds and city centre hubs. 
“A wildlife OB in a nature reserve in the Welsh mountains will probably not be suitable for a remote production – the high bandwidth IP connections would not be cost effective.”

“As in all TV production that content needs to be relevant and engaging to really gain the traction and push it to its limits to generate enough viewers to make the investment [in remote production] worthwhile,” says Richard Baker. “With all of this emerging technology it’s going to be an interesting and challenging few years to 
see if the content creators can work quickly 
to implement the products that manufacturing 
is delivering.”

Posted 27 April 2018 by Michael Burns

The Art of the DoP

DoPs Barry Ackroyd, Danny Cohen, Greig Fraser and Neville Kidd have between them shot films and shows including The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips, United 93,  Jason Bourne, Green Zone, Detroit, The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl, Room, Lion, Zero Dark Thirty,  Snow White and the Huntsman, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Doctor Who, Outlander and Sherlock.

The four tell Michael Burns the secrets of their craft, and explain the techniques they used to create the work


Barry Ackroyd

CREDITS
The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips, United 93, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Raining Stones, Jason Bourne, Green Zone, Detroit, The

I think you put together your personal style, based on the mood board, the period of the film maybe, and the director’s view of it. 

Once you’ve got the right equipment, once you’re surrounded by professionals on the day, you can achieve a look, a feel, using all your experience and all the talent that’s around you and make the film that you were always intending to make.  Because no-one can really predict it. But that’s definitely with directors that you have a particular relationship with.

I like to think that there is a strong vocabulary or an accent that you hear or see when you look at my films.

My history is in documentary and I’m deeply entrenched in realism, in the intimate relationship between the camera and the subject.

I handhold the camera and I’m usually just on the edge of the scene, which is a very documentary thing.  You intimately link to the subject but you are not necessarily feeling the pain or the joy; you’re just absorbing it all. 
Cinematography is an art form, the most personal and unique way of communicating that we’ve developed.

It’s about communication, it’s about people being moved by that wonderful thing of light-exciting chemicals… that is now light-exciting silicon chips!  But as long as we have a lens in front of the camera the process remains the same.

What has changed is not the cameras so much as visual effects and CGI work –  knowing that the background can be fixed, or that we don’t need to be in that location. The digital grade is just a whole new level of the dynamic. The quality of film-making has improved because of that.

I don’t tend to light exteriors at all. It’s fighting nature. You enhance what you can.



I have one secret weapon when working with available light [for internal scenes] - it’s just a down pipe, a drain pipe.

I got in the habit of taking a Kino Flo tube and a pipe just a little bigger than that. You cut out an 18inch section of the pipe, spray the inside white, clip the tube inside that and then you have a light, like a black down pipe, a stick, and then you can just move that around.

You can hide the pipe just behind a chair or a table and it’s just low enough to disappear behind that but throw light in the right direction. It might just lie on the floor and output a little under-light on someone’s head behind the chair, or just under the chin. To do that is the most subtle thing. It’s how I would get the best from what seems like a very natural unlit scene.

My method comes from my documentary background. I presume that the environment that has been chosen – usually a location – is the environment, and the look is how it should look. And the performances in it, although they’re by actors, and sometimes non-actors, should be as real as life is. 

So I give [the actors] all the space and we dance around them a little bit. We hide in corners and position two cameras so we get simultaneous action, and no-one is too worried about continuity.  But within that is a classical framing.  It’ll drift with the eye if someone turns their head. 

I can just listen, look and react in the same split-second way that you do in real life. You’re already informed with the script, with knowing what the actors are like, with knowing what the director is after and what the story requires. In a documentary you may never have another chance.  If you miss that moment, you’ve missed it but in film you can do that. I think it would terrify a lot of people.  I find it the most relaxing way to make a film. 

I get terrified if anyone wants me to turn every shot into the most beautiful painting.  I think what I do is much more like sculpture.

Every frame is precious to us and we make it work. An editor comes along and turns it into a masterpiece. It is this great collaboration.  The whole film industry is about collaborating and showing respect for each other. That’s why I love it.



Danny Cohen

CREDITS
The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl, Room, Victoria and Abdul, Final Portrait, This is England, Creep, John Adams, Longford, This is England’86

I read a script to start with and then we start a conversation.  That’s the beginning. But all directors work completely differently. That’s the one thing that is completely consistent – they are all completely inconsistent and different.  Nothing prepares you for the next project. 

How you prepare for each film changes. I did a film called Final Portrait, directed by Stanley Tucci, about Alberto Giacometti the artist. Weirdly, when we were testing the film there was a really good retrospective of Giacometti at the National Portrait gallery and there are tons of interviews and photographs on YouTube. It was a matter of going through lots of material about how his studio looked and what could make the film interesting. Sometimes, if it’s an original screenplay, then it might bear no resemblance to reality at all. In a way you’ve got far more freedom, because you can make it all up from scratch. 

I take tons of photos. If you’re discussing something a photograph is something concrete that you can show a director and he can say “that’s interesting, or that’s boring” and you get a sense of their taste. 
 
The composition leads the eye to where you, as a storyteller, want the audience to be thinking about. Composition is a massive part of the filmmaking process, what you put in the frame and what you leave out of the frame is key.



Aspect ratio is always an interesting one. It’s changing, it’s something that isn’t locked in stone any more. I’ve shot lots of films that are classic wide, but I did something at the end of last year for the BBC and we shot that 2:1 which is a framing I hadn’t shot on before.  Essentially that’s come about because of people watching more Netflix and the big audience at home. It’s just a bigger frame that fits on a TV – there’s less banding top and bottom.

If it’s all going to be hand-held then the equipment needs to be sympathetic to that. You have to have a slimmed down, simple workflow. If it’s all something in a studio on cranes or a dolly then you might go a different way with a much bigger camera because you can and it makes sense. It’s just all part of the process of putting a project together, looking at all the different things you need to do and how they work for the story. It’s all narrative-driven.

Lighting technology is changing. Ten years ago you had to deal with three different sources - tungsten light, HMI and fluorescent lights. LED lights have come along. They consume a lot less power, you can get quite big lights now that run off 13A domestic. The equipment changing has a big impact on how you work because you can just light things with smaller lights potentially. It gives you more tools to make interesting films.

The big killer in film and TV is time - there’s never enough time to do everything you have to do. The more prepared you are on the day, the more you can achieve what you’re trying to do. When you’re filming and you’ve got a big crew and big lighting setup, in a way you can’t leave too much to happy accidents.



Greig Fraser

CREDITS
Lion, Zero Dark Thirty,  Snow White and the Huntsman, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mary Magdalene, Foxcatcher, Let Me In, The Gambler, Bright Star

I’m a really big fan of getting involved very early on because the ‘photography can paint a thousand words’. A good, strong script is very, very important… but I believe that the visuals can augment that script massively.  

One of the beautiful aspects of the journey of discovery with a director is coming up with the same visual language, coming to the same conclusion via our different paths. And that’s really quite satisfying, when you’ve worked at growing an idea together, either through pre-visualisation, through locations, through discussions, through referencing… and then you come to that end product. It’s a small idea, a seedling at the beginning, that you contribute to and you end up having, hopefully, something really good.

You can over-plan in my opinion. You can basically shoot the whole day in your head and then something on the day happens where something changes. The weather comes in or you can’t shoot in that direction because there’s a truck parked there. If you’re 100% fully planned, that will throw you into a spin. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan or shouldn’t [story]board. I love boarding and I get a lot out of it. It means that we can tick a box, before we’ve even walked on set. Being on set is really expensive time.



We really make sure we have all the tools at our disposal to test. For Mary Magdalene, which I’ve just finished with Garth Davis, we tested 35mm anamorphic lenses because we’d just shot Lion on that. However after we tested all the formats, we decided that 65mm had the most open, the most beautiful, wide scope.

To make a movie that is coherent visually, you’ve got to follow a framework. That framework might be that the lenses are a certain width, the lighting is a certain brightness …there are certain rules that you could follow to make a film feel coherent. For example, on Foxcatcher, one of the rules that I gave my camera operator was to imagine the camera was on valium. If it moves, it doesn’t move in a reactionary way to a sound. It’s a little bit late to an action. A lot of the story is told really slowly, very methodically, quite beautifully in the sense that the pans and moves are slow. Kind of like you’re blissing out.

Camera movement depends on the project. I love hand-held. I loved doing Zero Dark Thirty.  It’s one of my favourite camera styles, but at the same time [if] you shot Foxcatcher like Zero Dark Thirty, it would be a different movie. And vice-versa. You just couldn’t.  But if you were to mix those two together you can really come up with some interesting drama changes. 
  
I always get to the end of a job and hope I’ve shown the design in the very best way.  That’s the design of the costumes too. The art department consists of hundreds of other people too – model-makers, painters, builders, carpenters… I’ve seen these guys labour for hours and days over things. I have a huge amount of respect for that. If I’ve not shown them in the best light, I haven’t succeeded. It would do them a huge disservice.



Neville Kidd

CREDITS
Doctor Who, Outlander, Sherlock, Childhood’s End, Altered Carbon, A History of Scotland, Lip Service, A History of Celtic Britain

You have a hugely close relationship with the directors.  You are given the prep time to spend with the director, to look at the scripts, to find ways of telling the story, what trick shots you want to bring in, whether you want to bring in drones or aerial shots or how many cranes… it’s working out how many ways to slice a pie.  It’s working out where to spend the money, where not to. 

When you’re doing a lot of VFX work you’ve got to make decisions very early on. You will make a bit of a pre-vis, and the stunts guys will make a pre-vis of the stunts. We’ll make a pre-vis of the VFX work, we’ll combine that and then we’ll get the studio or network approval, and then we’ll film it. 

Use camera movement and framing to keep people’s attention. When you look at the scripts, you look at each scene and work out whose scene it is. Who are you going to focus on?  Whose story are you telling in that moment? Whose emotional journey do you want the viewer to go with? That kind of dictates where the camera is going. 
One of your jobs as DP is to make your world as big as possible. We’re now filming for people with televisions that have big screens. Whereas several years ago you were filming for people watching on a 32inch screen. It’s taking that scope and making it bigger so you can show more of your world than you traditionally could before. 



The advances in LED lighting technology mean you can just change colour temperature with the press of a button. It’s made our lives hugely easier. LED takes a lot less power, so power consumption has come down. We use a lot of Sky Panels for street scenes and chase sequences, so we can go from daytime to nighttime without having to change the fixtures. We’ve got far more control than we’ve ever had.

When you’re doing documentary you learn to be adaptable. I think you can take that into the drama world and keep the pace going. In episodic you’ve got to build to get a momentum going to be able to complete the days, and film the day’s page count, on time, on budget. 

Traditionally you did one grade but [with Netflix] you’ve now also got to do an HDR grade. But when you put an HDR look on it, it’s phenomenal. It’s almost like it’s ‘two and a half D’.  The pictures almost start to pop out at you, because HDR televisions are so much brighter and you have so much more extremes with your whites and colours.  It’s absolutely phenomenal to see.

What makes a good DP? There’s a way you see the world and it’s the way you transfer that through the cameras.  I read the script and I shut my eyes and I know I’ve done my job when what I’ve seen in my head is what I can see on the monitor. And if you combine that with collaboration, with the directors and the show runners and producers and production designers, I think that’s a huge skill. You can’t have egos that demand attention. You need to be all able to work together for the greater good. The show is number one, everyone is rooting for it, and nothing is bigger than the show. 



Posted 20 April 2018 by Michael Burns
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