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The art of covering live events

Covering live events is not for the faint hearted, much can go wrong and often does so careful planning is key. Here, five exponents of the art explain how it’s done


Europe: The Final Referendum Debate



Production manager John Keyes on Channel 4’s Europe: The Final Debate with Jeremy Paxman produced by ITN Productions

We explored venues across the country and not just TV studios but random locations. In the end it was set in the Troxy in east London, a former cinema. A TV studio is easier, it has inbuilt technical capabilities but whenever you’re looking at locations you choose something that offers you the most flexibility for filming. The programme had a live audience of 150, a large set with a large video wall and signposted graphics as well. We found a space that could fit all that in. Some TV studios are compromised by size or shape or availability. You can use the London Studios or Elstree or Pinewood but then sometimes you’re fitting 150 into a space that could take a 1000 so you get lost in the wilderness. The Troxy fitted our production well and was available and architecturally an interesting space to shoot in.

If not filming in a studio you have to install full technical facilities.We partnered with Cloudbass. The immediate concerns are parking. You’ve got to have the OB trucks very close to the venue so access is important. There are 150 people coming in so you need to get them in and out safely in an emergency. You need production space, dressing rooms, space for camera jibs, Steadicams. There’s no point trying to shoehorn that into a smaller, prettier venue which lacks any kind of facilities.

It’s about the flexibility of the venue too. Some historic buildings are limited in what you can and can’t do with them. Also, what are the power capabilities? Does it have internet built in, phone lines? For redundancy you’re required to have solid BT phone lines rather than relying on mobile communication in the OB truck. We installed that in advance.

We knew the nature of the programme was to be reactive and cover a topical story so you have to ensure you’ve got cameras and sound to cover every eventuality. We ended up with eight cameras. As well as five ped cameras we had a large jib at the rear. We used a Steadicam as Paxman’s main camera so we could always move with the debate. We built in sound platforms for boom operators to work from to ensure we could cover every part of the audience. We had four operators working across the studio plus key panellists miked up. The key thing is redundancy. You have to ensure you’ve got back up for power, lighting, cameras in place and main and back up satellite lines in place as well.




The Isle of Man TT



Unit Manager Mark Bunkle and Head of Production Robert Gough on North One’s coverage of the the Isle of Man TT for ITV4

The planning for the next one starts as soon as the last one has finished. The race has become so popular you need to book the freight, the flights, the accommodation straight away. It’s an island in the middle of the Irish Sea so it’s not so easy. Everything has to be booked on to ferry boats which are often booked years in advance particularly during the TT week. Early planning is key.
It’s also about reserving the key people and getting them signed up. We’re lucky in that pretty much since we’ve started we’ve retained the same camera crew throughout. You got to have that experience in terms of health and safety know how.

We have 100 plus camera positions. The production staff is about 85 people altogether. We have 20 cars, satellite uplink, Hi-motion van, a VT truck, three 15-metre double expanding trucks for our office space. We have the heli-telly, Polecam, other fixed cameras. We’ve got the Steadicam rig at the start/finish. We use the NAC Hi-motion super slow motion camera – that gives us a special form of analysis with a high frame rate. The on-board cameras are built to our specifications now. It’s so complicated putting them on to the bikes with very limited space so they come in an articulated form. The various component parts of the cameras are stripped across the bike where space allows it. They’re very unique. It’s the same with some of the effects cameras. With the kerb cameras we use it’s logistically challenging. We can’t get to them so we use mobile phone technology to control those cameras. We can switch them on and off. The cameras then send us a reverse message to tell us what status they’re in so we should be able to know what media we’ll get back. The story of the race, apart from listening to the radio commentary, is coming to us in terms of data. The editorial team start constructing the programme based on data. If we know if there’s been an incident at a certain location at a certain time we can work backwards and see what pictures we’ll get that will support that.

Ingest wise on a big race we might be taking on 40 to 50 hours of material. We’ve got to ingest and work through that to make the material for that night. It’s harder than any of the live sport OBs we’ve done. The degree of difficulty on this is off the scale. The giant jigsaw puzzle is 37.5 miles of track and getting all the material back, the sheer scale of that material and then disseminating that into a creative editorial programme that tells the story of the day with the right pictures in the right places. It sounds easy if you say it quickly. And it’s a close road situation so that adds to the difficulty of how we can get that stuff back from areas that are quite hard to access.
We make use of the course cars and bikes and the travelling marshals. They can go around quite fast at the end just before the roads reopen to collect all that media for us.

The show goes out at 9pm that night. We do two shows, one for ITV which is English speaking with talent. That also goes to America and Australia among others. Then we do an international show without the talent which goes with a guide script. From May 30 through to 12 June we put out 15 ITV programmes and from the 2nd to 12th we made 12 international programmes as well.



Premier League Productions



Nick Moody, Head of Premier League Productions

PLP is the best kept secret in British broadcasting. We are not host broadcasters. Sky, BT and the BBC are covering the 380 matches for the Premier League. Our job is to pick up the match coverage and distribute it to 190 odd territories around the world. We bring everything back to IMG Studios at Stockley Park and everything then has graphics and the PLP look and feel added. We make a world feed around every single one of the matches with a ten minute build up and half time coverage and five minutes post match. For smaller broadcasters, we provide an English speaking channel with a very high end studio production with a lot of the talent you see in British broadcasting.

For every match we put in additional cameras. We put in a tactical camera every match. We put in a wide angle for broadcasters who might wish to populate thier own studios with the wide on the video wall to put their graphics over. We also send out an Iso angle that follows players during the game and that doubles up as an interview line for broadcasters that wish to go on site for unilateral hits pre and post match.
We have a new deal for this term with Telegenic for OB facilities. We’re having purpose built trucks that will be on site at 190 to 200 matches. Where we have high demand from overseas broadcasters who want to be on site for those games we put extra facilities in to take the burden off host broadcasters. We put a technical producer on site at every game to look after all those additional feeds and also four purpose built trucks that will look after the filming of the unilaterals so Sky, BT and the BBC don’t have to worry about it..We also look after the commentary positions. On big matches we can have six or seven commentary teams from around the world that wish to be on site. We also have commentary cameras that we put on.

We have deals with all the satellite providers in every market if one satellite goes down we have another we can turn to. We also have a fibre network at every Premier League ground. There are 16 lines out of each ground to get all the facilities back to Stockley Park.
We’ll be bringing back the 18 Yard and the High Behind now too. We are connected to the Hawkeye truck on site and we use them to hook into the host broadcaster so we can bring out up to ten angles via the Hawkeye. We play that down our fibre lines and make a clips channel. If Rooney scores an overhead goal we can access all the angles that the BBC or Sky or BT have for their replay. We can access all those angles directly even if they’ve not been used as replays and play them out around the world. Remote production is growing and we will be doing more but we’re not looking at a scenario where licensees around the world will cut their own games but we are looking at providing them with extra angles and cameras.

Apart from the core world feed we also make a magazine programme for every day of the week using all the content we’re bringing back and shooting ourselves as well. We’re also now expanding into short form content to allow broadcasters to get clips out to their digital areas.




ICC World Twenty20 Cricket 2016 - India



David Tippett, Sunset + Vine’s Executive Producer on the recent ICC T20 World Cup


The 2016 T20 World Cup in India was not the normal run of the mill event. We only won the contract just before Christmas and the T20 started in March so we didn’t have as much prep time as you would like. For a big event like that you would start crewing it and planning it up to a year ahead but we didn’t have that option. It was a competitive tender so a lot of the planning took place in the tendering.All the televised venues regularly host major international cricket so the camera positions and the way the game is covered is pretty much set to a certain degree, you’re not starting from scratch. We knew we had people on the team that knew the venues and what was required in terms of cameras and equipment and numbers of crew etc.

For the T20 it was primarily a local crew. They cover cricket all the time there and the quality of the camera operators and EVS is very high. But because it was an international event we wanted to bring in a decent level of international expertise to ensure you’re bringing the best of broadcasting from around the world or at least the territories that are big in that sport. You need that core sporting expertise, the coverage has to be credible but this is a world event so you have to be mindful of a broader audience. You need that sense of scale and occasion to the coverage.

It’s a fly pack based solution. We had seven televised venues so there were seven separate OB kits. Each venue had an OB kit installed for the duration. We had four separate production teams and crews. Each team had about 100 people from director, producer, exec producer, camera operators, VT, graphics. They then travelled around to operate one of the seven kits. It’s quite a complicated OB and production crew schedule which you apply on top of the match schedule. We did 48 games. Essentially what you’re doing is seeing what’s the smallest number of production crews you need to cover that number of games. We couldn’t do it with less than four. And then there’s a core team centrally managing the overall production. You need a uniform look and feel across the four crews. We don’t want a mish mash of different types of cricket coverage. It’s important for the ICC to have a uniform style. You’ve got four of everyone. You’re trying to allow them their own creativity. You’ve hired them because they’re the best in their field so they have their own thoughts and ideas but at the same time you’re trying to have this consistent output.

We were producing the world feed. Something new for ICC events was we were producing an entire programme rather than a raw world feed. We produced a programme with a half hour build up, mid innings shows and and then carried on with post match interviews. Cricket can do that as all the main rights holders are English speaking. And then some rights holders take all of that and others like Sky in the UK or Star in India would just do their own studio wrap and join the feed at predetermined points. Around that you’re also doing unilaterals for other rights holders. Another new thing was an additional content production operation. We had eight self sufficient ENG crews roving around India shooting press conferences, interviews and packaging those up. They were available on an ICC cloud based content distribution network for broadcasters to download.




Red Bull Culture Clash



Rob Lane, executive producer at Fastlane, on the Red Bull Culture Clash at the O2 which goes out on YouTube, Red Bull and is also simulcast on Radio 1 and 1Xtra

It’s our third year of doing the event. Each time we try to grow the event in terms of scale and ambition. We start by sitting down with Red Bull and looking at the previous year and how we can tighten it up and make it better. We work closely with the event production team to make sure it comes across as well on screen in terms of lighting and design. 1.23m tune in to the event. We bring in our own lighting designer, a multi-cam director and sometimes set directors so aesthetically it looks great on camera. We put together a bespoke team. We used the same director who did the show before, Liz Clare, who does the Brit Awards. We used the same lighting director too. There is a core group, they’re all live event TV experts.

It’s a competition format between four crews so it’s not a regular gig. The competition format is pretty set so there are rules and parameters that we stick to but what changes is the artists and presenters and the special guests. There are always surprises. There were a couple of venue changes this time so we had to re-spec the show twice. To begin with it was going to be at ExCel then the Olympic Stadium and finally the O2 was chosen. The O2 is a great venue to film in but, in previous years, each crew has had their own stage. The main difference this year was, due to the venue, we didn’t have four separate stages for the four separate crews. Our challenge was how do we get everyone to share a stage but have individual areas that feel like it belongs to them?  We went through a lot with LEDs and our screen content to create a canvas, to pinpoint individual areas. It was about how we draw the audience attention to each part of the stage.

We look at the stage designs initially and then spec out a camera plan based on those designs and what we want to capture. We try to get in as many camera positions as possible without taking too much capacity from the event. We’re always mindful that they want to sell tickets but we usually get what we want. We had 15 cameras this year including the Technocrane and two cameras behind the scenes in the pres area for our wrap around show.
You have a little bit more flexibility doing a broadcast online. You can come off air and go on air when you decide but it all needs to be coordinated so the audience knows when to expect the broadcast. We time everything as you would a normal live broadcast show for TV but there’s a bit of flexibility if the winning act plays a few minutes longer for instance. But we’ve all got to be wary of the curfew at the venue. We do have hard deadlines to hit.

We have a streaming company we partner with. We go to the venue and test their lines and do a streaming test to YouTube. The streaming company have a set of encoders that they bring along and we make sure we have an uncontended internet line and a back up with the right bandwidth to cope with the amount of traffic we expect for a broadcast of this size. Also there are a lot of feeds. We’re feeding all the screens at the O2 as well as YouTube, Red Bull and Radio 1 is taking a feed as well. It’s a lot of planning and double and triple checking and a lot of talking about feeds and patching cables and cable runs and set up time.

Posted 05 August 2016 by Jon Creamer

Brexit: what the UK's post production and vfx houses think

What will the Brexit vote mean for the UK’s post and vfx businesses? We asked post company owners and managers for their views.
 
While many are still attempting to take in what the Brexit vote means for them personally, others are now trying to divine what this seismic event will mean for their businesses.

And the post production sector more than most. It is, after all, an increasingly internationally focused business that relies on a steady supply of foreign talent. Are there fears of a talent drain in post? Will instability stall the greenlighting of projects? Will a weak pound actually lead to an upsurge in international business?

The heads of many of the UK’s leading post production businesses share their views below. We’ll add more as they filter through.

William Sargent, CEO, Framestore
I am very saddened by Brexit.
I am an Irishman who believes in the benefits of the European Union.
Having a business embedded in the UK film and advertising I have the following observations:
1.  As many of our clients are US based a weaker currency enhances our competitiveness.
2. The prospect of work permits for EU based nationalities makes me uncomfortable as we have traditionally been an open welcoming society. And they cost £1,000 each and every year - a cost which will quickly add up to a significant amount.
3. Our UK advertising business is dependent on the UK economy for which i have some concerns although I am confident that HM Treasury and the Bank of England values the need for supportive economic measures which I hope will neutralise much of the negative sentiment associated with Brexit.

Natascha Cadle, Facility Director and Co-Founder, ENVY
“It is probably too early to predict what the full impact of Brexit will be. It's not the result a lot of people expected and it's not the result most businesses wanted. There will be a lot of discussion and uncertainty for a long period of time and decision making will be slow which is not good news for anybody.  

However we are a strong industry operating within a vibrant creative economy and hopefully we can weather the storm. We just have to keep doing what we do best and hope our clients won't be affected too much by the impact.”


John Rogerson, CEO, Halo Post
The obvious one is that if the Pound continues its fall (and sticks at a lower value) production and post production in the UK will be cheaper for overseas (especially US) producers - that combined with the excellent tax breaks (enshrined in UK law not EU law thankfully) should make a pretty compelling case for working in the UK. The ‘unknowns' are all based around confidence and that’s a tricky one to second guess. The damage that Brexit causes to the wider economy is probably a more likely threat to the post sector, especially if it compounds the already challenging operating conditions caused by high rents, over capacity and cut-throat competition.

As a business in a hugely competitive sector we spend time making detailed plans for most eventualities - this one however is slightly open-ended and it remains to be seen whether Parliament can act to limit the fallout. At the moment it seems everyone is just waiting to see what happens next.

Robin Shenfield, CEO, The Mill
The leave decision has triggered a great deal of political and economic uncertainty, the true impact of which is unlikely to be known for some time.

As with the vote itself, opinion is divided. One EU finance minister called it an act of 'self-harm'. Others are more optimistic though the inevitable pause before negotiations begin and plans acquire some flesh seem likely to cause tremors across the economy.

On waking up to the news, my first concern was for the status of the EU Nationals who work in London as part of the VFX industry; we alone have over 50 at The Mill in London. Fortunately, and thanks to the work of organisations like UK Screen and the Migration Advisory Council, the VFX industry is acknowledged by the Home Office as an area of 'skills shortage' so, as an industry we already have an enhanced ability to source visas for non EU recruits.  As and when it becomes a requirement (and that seems likely to be in years rather than months), we are confident of being able to do the same for our staff from the EU. The multi-national and multi-cultural make-up of The Mill is at the very heart of our business and we will continue to recruit from Europe, just as we have always done.

Whatever the economic fall-out, there are a number of reasons why I remain (no pun intended) very bullish about The Mill's prospects. That is because I see The Mill and Beam as businesses that are absolutely at the top of their game. The Mill's market-leading position was emphatically demonstrated by our unparalleled awards success at the Cannes Advertising Festival last week (10 Lions, seven of them Gold). We successfully trade not just the UK market but a number of key markets in Europe too. I am confident that we will continue to successfully do that.

While London is a major hub for us, we are also fortunate that The Mill is a strong global business with a very significant presence in the US via our studios in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. While hoping there is limited or no negative economic impact of Brexit on the UK economy and on the advertising sector in particular, we don't anticipate a significantly negative economic impact to be felt in the US.

While the vote was underway so was the Cannes Advertising Festival, which provided a timely reminder of the immense scale and breadth of opportunities available to businesses like The Mill. The global advertising economy is changing in ways that put an even greater premium on creativity and innovation. Our clients are very much in the market for the solutions that The Mill’s ever-evolving proposition can provide to them in VFX, via our Mill+ division and in emerging areas like VR. The creative problem-solving capabilities of The Mill are globally recognised and that stands us in good stead if uncertainties persist and markets tighten.

Julie Parmenter, MD, Molinare
"With the shock result from Thursday, the UK is seeing the financial markets impacted by the uncertainty this has caused. 

In the cold light of day, the realisation that we have not yet left the EU and have another two years as full members as a minimum, we hope the markets will settle. 

For Molinare it remains business as usual, we are having a record year and the recent vote will have little impact on the business in the short to medium term. 

We have the license to sponsor individuals to work for us and have done this for individuals from outside the EU previously. 

We value the rich mix of cultures in the team and will continue to ensure we attract people from all over the world to work for Molinare. 

The UK is an exceptional hub of talent for the TV and Film industry and with the support of the government through the UK tax credits, the UK will remain a highly attractive for international clients to post."
 

Martin Poultney, Commercial director, Goldcrest
“I was attending as an industry guest at the FEST New Director's Film Festival in Portugal when the result for Brexit was announced on Friday morning.

FEST is a great example of EU cooperation at its best as the attendees come from every member state of the EU with a common love of feature film and a willingness to share information, experience and education amongst up and coming European film makers.

There was a general sense of disbelief at the result, followed by sympathy for us Brits who had voted remain. Later on there was a slight sense of anger too. I asked the festival's Director over dinner how the Portuguese generally felt about Brexit. He said to me candidly that they did not care what happened to the UK going forward but were now deeply worried about the long term effect on the EU as a whole. Even with high rates of youth unemployment, austerity and other perceived EU "evils" he and his colleagues still held a very deep routed sense of loyalty to the EU project and its philosophies of partnership.

Not a particularly proud day to be British.”

Derek Moore, MD, Coffee and TV
“Whilst I'm personally as devastated by the result as the rest of the media community, I do believe that there are a raft of opportunities opening up to us. Obviously the falling value of sterling will make our services more affordable to the rest of the world. Who wouldn't want to work with some of the most creative and pioneering companies on the globe if they could afford to?

But beyond that, I like to think that the media community as a whole exists almost an independent group in its own right. We will stick together, be inspired by each other, help each other out, work, play and commiserate together, both locally in the UK and with our friends around the world.”

Dave Throssell, Owner, Fluid Pictures
“My main fear for the future is stagnation. We are about to invest in new technology and spent the weekend convincing ourselves that it was still a good idea in this post referendum landscape. It still was, but how many other companies are having the same conversations and deciding to wait before embarking on new purchases, acquisitions and productions. I foresee a lot of green lights starting to flicker. We rely on highly talented freelancers, and in the past a large proportion have come from Europe. Whilst I don't imagine the doors at Dover slamming shut immediately, I am concerned that we may have difficulties recruiting such talent in the future.

What will happen with Tax Credits? Probably nothing in the mid-term but will they be sacrificed for some greater trade deal? Difficult to see an upside except maybe short-term exchange rate bonuses making us even more competitive in the States.


Neil Hatton, Chief Executive, UK Screen Association
“It's still early days to know exactly what impacts Brexit might lead to. I'd like to emphasise that the UK will continue to be an attractive destination for international production. We have great talent, great facilities and great tax incentives. The creative sector tax credits are part of UK law not EU and so we don't anticipate them disappearing any time soon. In the short term, VFX companies and studios servicing American clients will benefit from the lower exchange rate, although this will be subject to volatility, cannot be relied on and has negative effects elsewhere. In the broadcast sector, PACT has highlighted the risks for indies and if they suffer a downturn that is bound to affect facilities serving those clients.”

Russ Shaw, Owner, Nice Biscuits
I think it’s way too early to predict what the effects of Brexit will be on Post Production in the long term, however with sterling sitting where it is, on day two of trading, we’re certainly more competitively priced than we were several months ago! That said many investments are on hold until the markets settle and I would think that means commercial advertisers may well be re-considering their position before making large financial commitments.

Simon Frodsham, md, The Independent Post Company Ltd
"The freelance sector will experience little, if any, change.  The only possible adjustments may be to EU employment law, which gives freelancers some fringe benefits.  The UK is unlikely to change any such entitlement and, let's face it, they've got so much else to contend with I imagine any employment law tweaks are at least ten years away.  

Other than that, Independent Post editors contracted by overseas production companies will probably find the exchange rates go in their favour - for the moment anyway.  Otherwise, it's business as usual."

Nigel Hunt, Glowfrog
“One thing’s certain, it's going to become more challenging to run a creative company, but hopefully when we get through this common sense will prevail.

London's cosmopolitan vibe and multiculturalism is something that some of us are extremely proud of. With London being a global creative hub, we have embraced talent from all nationalities, especially the EU. However the uncertainty of Brexit on this European workforce is now unclear. We seem faced with two main choices; remain a member of EEA (like Norway) or WTO (like the USA, China).

Immigration will not change if the UK remains a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). Sadly for our EU friends this scenario seems unlikely now.

The alternative Global Britain Free Trade Option means that the UK will operate directly under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, as do most developed and developing nations outside the EU such as Australia, Canada, the USA, Switzerland, India and China. Leaving the EU and EEA offers new opportunities to build bridges with other countries, such as developing visas for professions as opposed to those just linked to employers. 
This may sound like to positive scenario for exports but ignores where the labour that creates them comes from. The creative services sector is one of the most important industries in the UK generating £71 billion and creating jobs across the whole country. WTO may in effect be devastating for the UK creative industry bringing a return to skilled Tier 2 General visas for all EU and EEA members. This will bring in a minimum salary threshold of £35,000.  Yes, many working in London earn more than £35,000 and will likely qualify, but it will have a massive culling off of anyone paid lower than this including all younger talent, entry to mid level positions and skilled support staff from the EU.”


Gina Fucci, Managing Director, Films@59
"In relation to the facilities sector, there may be a slow down in growth and further consolidation as investors "lay low".  Some will see it as a time of opportunity.  Thanks to the UK tax treaty, there may be more capacity for lower budget feature work which might keep things "ticking over".  From my research,  our industry has been facing a few challenges, that I think it will continue to face:
- delayed commisioning due to high level exec moves
- low margins - lots of work, but little leftover for investment.
- technological change

So the uncertainty brought on by the vote (and indeed the USA elections this November) could breed more caution but could also ignite collaboration!  Manufacturers are certainly trying their best to sell and show confidence.

One article quoted that we have to remember that "the UK is the fifth largest economy globally putting it in a strong position when negotiating trade deals with both EU countries and elsewhere after Brexit.  The UK is still the EU’s largest customer and a devaluation in sterling is likely to boost demand for UK exports as they begin to look cheaper.  Where we have been dependent on foreign goods: AVID, Sony, Panasonic - maybe there are a few "hidden" gems?

The reality is, the facilities industry will probably "coast" and continue to concentrate it's efforts on finding ways to continue to support production creativity whilst finding efficiencies in time and budget.

I have written to our staff and reminded them that at Films at 59 it is: "business as usual" - continuing to work collaboratively, remaining calm, balancing opportunities and risks, delivering under pressure.  We have always tried to embrace change.

I do believe that leaving or staying would have had implications.  So it's up to all of us to now engage, gather facts, focus on our work and homes and make a difference in our communities.  For our city, we are all part of Bristol's success and we have to see ourselves as part of: the Southwest, England, Great Britain, Europe, and Earth!  I am hoping we can all channel courage rather than fear and stay calm, focussed and lead by example."

Patrick Fischer, Creativity Media
"The shock result of the EU referendum will affect the filmmaking community negatively in the short and long term. Most noticeably in EU MEDIA funding for companies, producers and funds like Screen Yorkshire. In terms of post-production I don’t think there will be a marked effect, films will still get made and weaker sterling will actually be helpful in attracting overseas projects. We are certainly seeing a very active film post-production market right now."

Steve Owens, Group CEO of Loveurope Group, owners of Locomotion Soho
"What we’re seeing in the immediate aftermath of last Thursday’s vote to leave the EU (and I’d remind everyone that leaving the EU doesn’t mean we’re no longer European!), is a fairly tectonic macro reaction across the entire economy.
 
Whilst in the immediate sense that doesn’t specifically impact Loco, it has clearly impacted on general business confidence and this will be felt across our client-base. We need to be realistic and expect this to have a generally negative impact on our clients short-term marketing spend. I’m therefore hoping for a fairly quick bounce back towards more normal market conditions, where our clients current marketing plans and 2016/17 budgets remain broadly intact in an immediate sense.
 
In the longer-term the challenge for the post-production sector and Soho specifically, really is to maintain that energetic creative culture and ability to attract the very brightest creative talent, that has made us the leading centre of excellence for the pan-European market. In this sense, those other European creative centres such as Amsterdam and Berlin, must be shaking their heads in disbelief, whilst rubbing their hands together at the opportunity the UK vote has presented to them.
 
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be confident and opportunistic ourselves!
 
Smart communication and technology has allowed the creative industries to flourish in an increasingly flexible and virtualised world, where talent is not defined by borders, territories or the ability of people to move freely between markets.
 
This actually presents a fantastic long-term opportunity to reinforce our position on the global stage. To reach out to new markets with renewed confidence, trade on our reputation for international excellence and build an increasingly virtual talent model that genuinely leverages the brightest creativity from across a world, that may now be brought more sharply into focus by the decision to Vote Leave.
 
So at the risk of sounding horribly clichéd, it’s a case of riding out the current rapids, steering a course for some clearer waters as quickly as possible and then plotting a course for some new oceans of opportunity…. apologies, that was horribly clichéd!"
 


Posted 28 June 2016 by Jon Creamer

Creative showcase: best of the month in post, vfx, animation, graphics and more

Each month in the Televisual print edition we showcase the best work in post production, vfx, animation and graphics. Here's what appeared in the June issue

Axis
Dawn of War III trailer
Axis worked with Canadian games developer, Relic Entertainment on this trailer for  science-fantasy, real-time strategy video game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III. Director Abed Abonamous worked with the Relic team to stay true to the established Warhammer 40,000 and Dawn of War lore, while pushing the boundaries of the art style. Abed said: “In game trailers, there is always a balance between daring art and commonplace expectations. Often, it’s usually a safer bet to rely on what is already known to please the audience. With this trailer, both Relic and Axis consciously treaded off the beaten path as often as possible.”

Dawn of War III: Announcement Trailer from axisanimation on Vimeo.



Bluebolt
Peaky Blinders
BlueBolt continues as sole vfx vendor on Peaky Blinders for the show’s third series. Bluebolt brought back 1920s Birmingham including Charlie’s Yard and Watery Lane. Bluebolt also created a CG ocean liner and period Liverpool docks along with some large explosions.

BlueBolt - Peaky Blinders VFX Breakdown from BlueBolt Ltd on Vimeo.



Strange Beast
Fanta spot
Strange Beast’s Andy Martin directed this spot for Fanta for Brazil and Mexico. The new ad takes the existing Fanta characters and puts them in the middle of modern teenage issues ‘throwing them a few surreal curveballs.’ The main action is animated in a traditional 2D style with the Fanta itself created using specially developed liquid CG technology.

Fanta 'Meme' from Strange Beast on Vimeo.



Absolute
Danepak ad
For Outsider director James Rouse’s new Danepak spot, Absolute added matte paintings and weather effects to every shot to increase the drama. For the exterior shots, matte paintings were combined with a lake at the bottom of the cliff. The rigging for the jeep was removed and comped into the plate too.

Danepak 'Precipice' from Outsider on Vimeo.




Peepshow
Map of Hell
Peepshow created over 30 animated sequences combining live-action with composited animation for Nat Geo’s drama doc Map of Hell. The show visualises different cultures’ ideas of hell over the last 3,000 years. Peepshow turned to graphic novels, Jack Kirby and film poster compositions to create the stylised sequences and used a colour palette based on the comic book printing process.

Map of Hell from Peepshow Collective on Vimeo.



Lipsync
The Infiltrator
Lipsync Post colourists Jamie Welsh and Sam Chynoweth recently completed the grade of The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston. The film tells the true story of  a US Customs official uncovering a money laundering scheme involving drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The Infiltrator Movie Trailer from The Infiltrator on Vimeo.



Passion
Motorola Droid
Passion directors Kyra & Constantin directed these two online spots for Motorola Droid. The spots give a few instantly recognisable Emojis a life of their own after they escape from a smashed phone screen. The agency was VML and the producer at Passion was Juliette Stern.

Motorola 'Splat, Afterlife, Rescue' from Passion Pictures on Vimeo.



blue 2.0/Lola
a Midsummer Night’s Dream
Lola Post was sole vfx vendor and blue2.0 conformed and graded A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of the BBC’s Shakespeare season. It stars Maxine Peake and is adapted by Russell T Davies. Lola’s Rob Harvey supervised the shoot, head of CG Tim Zaccheo and 2D supervisor Max Wright led Lola’s team back in London.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream VFX breakdown and showreel from Lola Post on Vimeo.



Time Based Arts
Three ad
For Somesuch director Daniel Wolfe’s Three spot featuring Will.i.am and ‘Jackson’, Time Based Arts created elements, including clouds, CG horses and breaking glass, as well as adding in the light trail effects and building augmentation.

Three "Dial" from Somesuch on Vimeo.



Big Buoy
Transpennine ad
WCRS and All Mighty Pictures brought in Big Buoy to provide the extensive vfx and cg on this spot for TransPennine Express.

TransPennine Express Before & After - All Examples from Big Buoy on Vimeo.


Encore London
Love Nina
The See Saw Films/BBC series Love, Nina was graded by Encore’s Jet Omoshebi with online edit by Nick Tims. The 5x30 series is Nick Hornby fictionalised TV adaptation of Nina Stibbe’s bestselling book about her time as a nanny in literary north London. It stars Helena Bonham Carter, Sam Frears and Faye Marsay.

Love,Nina from joe francois on Vimeo.



Hotspur & Argyle
Bet Victor
Hotspur & Argyle’s Richard Swarbrick  created this Euro 2016 campaign for BetVictor. Producer was Danny Fleet.



Locomotion
Wagamama delivery
Locomotion’s Loco-create directed a series of stop-motion films for Wagamama’s launch of its take away and delivery service. The animator was Harry Dwyer and the grade was by Jon Davey.

Wagamama_compilation from locosoho on Vimeo.



Posted 21 June 2016 by Jon Creamer

The art of the editor

In advance of EditFest London 2016, three editors behind films and TV series including The Empire Strikes Back, Footloose, Room, The Missing and The Crown 
tell Jon Creamer what it takes to  create the perfect cut



Paul Hirsch
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Footloose, Falling Down, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Warcraft



When I start work on a project, my first task is to build the film as it is shot. So it is a process not of editing, but of construction and addition. It does involve selecting portions of the dailies, but the emphasis is not on cutting down, but of building up. 

In the current digital era, there are no limits as to how long takes can run, so it has become common practice for directors to shoot resets within a given take, so there may be multiple takes with a single slate. As a result, the dailies may amount to several hours every day. 

To deal with such a volume of film, I rely on my assistants to organize the material according to a method that works for me. I ask for a locator to be placed at the beginning of every reset. I also ask my crew to “stack” the line readings. That is, in every scene there is a small edit of all the lines spoken by a given character from every take, in order of the widest angle to tightest. It thereby enables me to quickly review the possibilities of coverage as well as the individual line readings. I consider what point in the scene I am dealing with, keeping in mind an ideal construction, in which the most dramatic moments are delivered in close-up. Though there are of course always exceptions to this.

In the best of all worlds, I would prefer to watch all the dailies in real time, but on some days there is so much extra material being filmed that it is just impossible if I am to deliver a first cut at the end of principal photography. Add to that a ‘B’ or ‘C’ camera, and perhaps a second unit, and you can see how finding shortcuts is imperative.

There is an additional benefit during the period when the director and I are working on his or her cut.  When asked, “Is that the best reading of that line?”, I can bring out the stack, and we can quickly compare all the possibilities.

Although it is called a rough cut, or editor’s cut, my first cut is neither.  It is not rough, as I try to make the cut as fluid as possible, (unless that is not the intention), nor does it represent what I believe to be the best cut of the picture. 

In building up the scenes, I usually include as much as possible, at least to start with. So that first cut enables us to easily see all our choices, and it is the best starting point from which to begin the final shaping of the film. This is the most satisfying part of the whole process, when you begin to refine and reshape the footage to arrive at the final cut. 




Nathan Nugent
Room, Frank, What Richard Did, Tomato Red



Different directors court your opinion at different times in the process. I’m not someone who starts offering opinions too early in that process. If I do give my thoughts it’ll often be in broad strokes, generally about how a story would move rather than the specifics of any scene. I’m of most use to a director when the film starts being shot.

The script is something people are orbiting around right up until the shoot but once it is shot it is inherently changed. You make choices then whether to be loyal to every aspect of the script as you proceed or to engage with what you actually have on screen. That’s the only game in town: what you actually have. You have to be happy to be led down the garden path in ways you hadn’t imagined before. There are too many things changing during a shoot that it’s almost impossible to do a direct replica of any script.

It’s about reacting to the rushes and performances and trying to get scenes to work on their own level first and then seeing if there’s anything else in there.
I try to stay on board as long as directors are happy to have me there. I always want to be around for the final mix. It’s all very different. Room was relatively quick. We shot in Canada in October, November, December 2014 and then cut it in Dublin and locked by June. That’s good going as there were execs in London, Canada, the States. In another world that film could have been cutting for a year and it wouldn’t have been surprising.

For the director’s cut sometimes scenes will stay the way you cut them, other scenes you will recut about 40 times. You tend to focus initially on places where you feel you can do a lot better. There’s two things going on: how can we make the story better but also is this scene too long? Often you’ll spend seven or nine weeks doing the director’s cut.

It’s good to go and watch other films even over a weekend or an evening. Then you’ll come in the next day and look at your film in a brand new light. Everyone can convince themselves that something that isn’t working is working for lots of different reasons but for me it’s a big part of the job to never get lulled into that false sense of security where you think this is the best version of this scene that we can get at this point of time. You can totally reimagine it two days later. That psychological aspect is a big part of editing. You have to make sure you retain a creative objectivity about what you’re doing at all times and not convince yourselves this is working even if it isn’t.  That’s what’s good about film post schedules: they’re longer than television. That’s what the time is there for, to figure out the kinks in the stories.

An essential quality for an editor is wanting to tell an interesting story, the need to discover ways to do that. The second one is longevity. An editor will need to be on board for sometimes seven or eight months. It’s about always staying locked in and engaged and being able to occupy the mind space of another person, in this case the director. It’s not all about you and trying to find your best way of telling a story. You do always find a way to express their vision. That takes time if it’s a new relationship.




Úna Ní Dhonghaile
The Missing, The Crown, Doctor Who, Ripper Street, The Tunnel, Wallander



The first assembly is a very privileged place to be because it’s very instinctive. You’re trying to find the truth of the performances. When I’m in the later stages of locking I review my first assemblies again just in case there is something really great in there that through the notes and changes I could have lost. Sometimes your first assembly for some scenes stays until the very end.

Sound and music are so important. One of the seminal films for me from a sound perspective was Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives. He used the sound design from a very subjective point of view and that has informed me as an editor. When I’m cutting I always try to find the subjective point of view. If it’s a dinner scene, there might be something going on in the subtext that’s more important to my cutting than just the dialogue. Sometimes the dialogue is telling the story of the scene but actually what’s happening under the dialogue is the thing that’s important. Then the craft of editing is how you can show that. That’s a beautiful challenge finding that point of view. Whose story is it? It’s not just about following the dialogue. I always try to find what’s at the heart of the scene and how best to structure it so that the audience empathise with that person.

I don’t think any editor can come to projects and impose their own style. The script is the first step and you grow from that and, with a great director, cinematographer, sound recordist, you begin to build. The script and the director informs the editor. And hopefully we always come with a fresh approach because the worst thing is the same edit style on every project.

On series, I’ve been quite lucky. In general, I’ve always done the first block or the last which is a good place to be. On a couple I’ve been in the middle. But even if you come into the middle block you’re never under pressure to just do what they did in the previous block. In general, each block has a different director and editor so there is a kind of freedom along with a respectfulness to what has gone before.
On The Crown, I worked with Julian Jarrold and Ben Caron and we came after Philip Martin and Stephen Daldry but the directors have had conversations before and Peter Morgan wrote all the scripts. The scripts are the blueprint that sets up the story. And the actors stay the same. Viewers don’t mind the style changing as long as the performance doesn’t suddenly change. You need consistency in character. That comes from the script.

A big skill in today’s climate where we do have a huge amount of material coming in to the cutting rooms is keeping a clear head. I don’t get snow blinded by it. I read the script again and go through the material and watch for anything that has truthfulness to it or has beauty in the composition. If you only watch the director’s selected takes you’re going to miss something incredible.
You need a good memory and a clear head so when all the exec notes come in you keep to what is right. All notes are valid but sometimes notes exclude each other. If you did everyone’s notes you’d destroy the thing. You have to be very diplomatic and very wise and remember what the story is about and why you’re making the film.



Posted 16 June 2016 by Jon Creamer

What would you earn on a Hollywood blockbuster?

It’s not long since Televisual published its annual survey into what people earn in broadcasting and production in the UK.

But what would they earn for the equivalent roles on a $200m Hollywood blockbuster movie?

Vanity Fair has produced this breakdown of the take home pay of every human involved in a theoretical blockbuster.

For some roles it’s less than you think, for others it’s more than you believe.

Posted 10 June 2016 by Jon Creamer

VR: doing it for real

VR is burgeoning with projects being created across AR, promos, TV spin-offs, journalism and more. Jon Creamer looks at some real 
world examples

Framestore 
Our Mars


Framestore created Our Mars for McCann and aerospace company Lockheed Martin.

Our Mars is billed as the first-ever headset-free group virtual reality vehicle experience. It involves a classic American yellow school bus that transports its passengers to the surface of Mars. Passengers get on to the bus, and as it begins to navigate the streets of Washington DC, transparent 4K monitors in the place of windows, suddenly switch on, blocking the view of the city street and replacing it with the surface of the red planet.

The imagery of Mars tracks on to the movement of the bus: as the bus turns in real life, the bus turns on Mars, as the bus goes over a bump, it does so on the Mars surface too. Sound design adds to the experience.

McCann brought the idea to Framestore, and left it to them to discover how to achieve the result. “They had an idea bubbling in their minds of what it was going to be rather than having the foggiest idea how they were going to make it happen,” says Jonathan Shipman, Framestore’s head of integrated production. One major challenge was that passengers had to have no idea what was going to happen before it did. “The challenge how do you build a bus that looks and acts like a bus until it’s not a bus anymore?” The transparent screens made this a possibility.

Creative director Alexander Rea and CG supervisor Theo Jones created a system that would allow real bus speed, GPS and accelerometer to be translated into the Unreal game engine, creating a real school bus that would exist inside the realm of a video game

The Mars terrain (just the interesting bits) was modelled by Framestore according to satellite photography along with additions that will come in the future – the Rover Curiosity, a space colony and Lockheed’s Orion capsule for the upcoming Mars mission.

The biggest challenge was “linking all the different pieces of technology and using things in a way they’ve never been used before,” says Shipman. The monitors had only just come off the production line and weren’t commercially available, for instance.

“This kind of experience leads you to understand what the value of VR will be. It takes the leash off and opens up what the possibilities can be of VR in the real world,” says Shipman.


Nexus
Chapita promo




Director, Eran Amir “The main theme of Mind Enterprises’ single Chapita is time. Time is ticking around and around repeating itself ad infinitum. The goal was to take that theme to the extreme by creating a mesmerising world of loops, clones, and repetitions. The premise is very simple: the viewer starts in the middle of an empty warehouse (our canvas). The warehouse is then slowly painted in vibrant colors with our dancer. As the song develops our protagonist conquers more and more of the space (and the viewer’s attention). In the end she is everywhere and there is no possibility of looking away. From the outset, the main guideline was to keep everything as real as possible. Although the final cut is composed out of hundreds of separate clips, it had to feel like it was shot in one take.”
 
Nexus technical director and VR artist, Elliott Kajdan “The constraints of filming this were having one day to shoot multiple passes of the same dancer going around the viewer in 360 degrees, and it had to look like it was all one three-minute shot. With this in mind I started looking for places where they could control the lighting for consistency between the takes. Once we secured the warehouse location, we realised that the action cameras typically used to capture 360 videos were struggling with the limited amount of lighting on site.

Eran’s idea was to put the viewer in the middle of a colorful procession of dancers. Therefore it made sense to film at 50 frames per second allowing more fluidity and to be in line with the high refresh rate of current head mounted displays. However, tests we did with consumer grade 360 rigs proved to be blurry, grainy and not good enough.

So instead of working with multi-camera rigs, I caught on to the fact that we didn’t need to film everything around the warehouse. Although we had to keep the dancer in frame, everything else would be discarded. We rigged a single RED Epic on a nodal head, fitted with an Arri 8mm wide-angle lens. After some preparation of the footage, we could layer multiple instances of the dancer on a still panoramic image of the warehouse. It made the editing process smoother and we could skip the stitching process completely.”



Atlantic
Great Barrier Reef




To coincide with the recent BBC1 and Atlantic Productions series, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef, a VR experience was also created for an exhibition at the natural History Museum.

The television show and the VR experience followed Attenborough under the waves in a Triton 3300/3 submersible.

The main underwater camera was a RED Dragon 6K and, inside the Triton, a Sony F55. There were various GoPros fixed inside and outside the sub.

For the VR, the production had a Jaunt rig inside the submarine “so you could sit with David and hear him talking to you,” says series director Mike Davis. Outside of the submersible, the production used the Kolor Abyss spherical rig with six GoPros in an underwater housing system. “That allowed the cameramen to capture scenes with marine life swimming all around you,” says Davis. “You could also see the submersible off in the distance. The audience was able to hop in and out of the sub and feel really feel immersed.”

The production also let the VR see behind the scenes. “With the VR we embraced that,” says Davis. “Because it’s David you expect it to be a filmed experience anyway. And it’s fun to be able to see the other divers and the sub and the boat above you. It’s set dressing in a way. We embraced that. We deliberately haven’t spent time painting out poles and divers, they’re part of the experience. It makes you feel like you’re one of the divers.”



The Mill
The Guardian 6x9




The Guardian brought in The Mill to help create 6X9: a Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement.

The project is a VR piece that placed the viewer in a small cell to start a discussion about the use of solitary confinement and the effects it can have. “The UN states that solitary confinement is a form of torture, yet it is really hard for the general public to rally around an issue like this when criminals are involved,” says Carl Addy, creative director at The Mill. “The act of using VR was tactical, so as to generate empathy and conversation around the topic by giving members of the public a way to experience a simulation of solitary confinement. Essentially this was a well researched piece of journalistic filmmaking, a factual documentary that has been translated and directed in VR as an immersive experience.”

The interactive team from The Mill used game engine technology to create the film.

The Mill worked from first-person accounts and documentaries as references for both the cell design and spatial audio capture. The cell was designed in Maya and then further developed in Unity. Environmental binaural audio was also used which ensured the audio was anchored to the environment, enhancing the sense of space and ensuring the sound continually moved with the viewer.

Effects typical after long-term sensory deprivation were played with to mimic a prisoner’s experience of being locked away for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. “Part of us trying to build empathy was to give a user agency; the ability to make choices and interact with the experience makes you invest emotionally in the narrative and outcome,” says Addy. “VR puts you in the cell without any of the safety one gets from the detachment of a screen. This is not like watching a documentary, you are in it.”

Guardian 6x9 was initially pre-launched at Sundance Film Festival on the Gear VR with the public release taking place at Tribeca Film Festival for Google Cardboard.


Made in Chelsea
Monkey, Rewind, NBC Universal



Indie Monkey along with parent company NBC Universal’s innovation unit and VR specialists Rewind produced two VR specials for Made in Chelsea. “We make a lot of shows that target a young demographic so we’ve always done a lot digitally and online over the years,” says Monkey md, David Granger. “And ever since Made in Chelsea started there’s always been a massive appetite for extra stuff. And I was keen we played with VR just to find out more about it frankly.”

Granger says he was “interested from a producing point of view. What’s it like managing talent in that situation? Will they react well? What about narrative structure? It was really a pilot project.”

Granger says he found the VR show required “a different mind set” for a producer. “Essentially it’s live and everybody’s on all the time. You can’t go back and edit that frame. It is what it is.” But the viewer will accept that. “Where you might have to be tighter for an episode, on this thing you’re permitted for it to be a bit more relaxed.”

The restrictions took some getting used to though. “You can’t move around the room. In some ways it feels like it hems you in. And it’s expensive. It’s also quite laborious. Literally stitching it together is a pretty intense process. You can’t say ‘sod it, let’s shoot something and put it up online tomorrow.’ But those techniques are changing quickly. The more instant it becomes the more exciting it’ll be.”

Posted 09 June 2016 by Jon Creamer

Director Benjamin Caron on shooting the last series of the BBC's Wallander

For the fourth and final series of feature length Kenneth Branagh Wallander films, director Benjamin Caron had only been signed up to direct two of the three films but found himself stepping in as a last minute emergency director on the third one too.

How did you get the job?
I’d just finished making Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This for Left Bank. Andy Harries set up meeting with producer Sanne Wohlenberg and then I met Ken and spoke about the previous seasons and what the ambition was for the last three films.

You directed all three films, but were originally only signed up for two?
As part of the tax break we did the post for the two Swedish set films in Cape Town while the third film, The White Lioness, was shot in South Africa.
Then the director who was there to do The White Lioness had to leave for personal reasons a week in to the shoot. So on a Sunday evening I was given the script and asked ‘can you turn up and direct this tomorrow? That was a first for me. I read the script until four in the morning, had about an hours sleep and then I was on set. I’d not met the actors, never seen any of the locations. Fortunately I knew the producer, it was the same Dop and I had a really good relationship with Ken by then. We managed to pull it off.

Did you continue to edit at the same time?
I was shooting from 7 in the morning and then back at eight in the evening and going to the cutting rooms and then struggling through the next day. It’s not something I d like to do again.

Do series benefit from having one director throughout?
As a director, yes, you want to do everything. It happens more and more. Tom Shankland directed the whole of The Missing for instance. It’s the time thing that’s tricky. Bringing individual directors in means you can keep the machine rolling. Whereas for a director to do ten episodes means the delivery might be later than they’d like.

How did you approach the look of Wallander?
The DNA of Wallander is very much established. Wallander to me was always a bit like a western. Instead of a horse you had him driving around in a Volvo through this stunning, beautiful landscape. I’m a huge fan of these Nordic noirs be it The Killing or The Bridge or the Larsson trilogy. For a filmmaker it’s the landscape that offers so much, the tonal colours, the pastels and these vast skylines that make the weight of melancholy feel heavy on your soul. That already exists. As a filmmaker on Wallander, you do have to appreciate what fine directors have done previously and make sure you’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We shot on Alexa with Cooke S4s.

Did you have time to prepare?
For the initial films, we started in August and didn’t start shooting until mid October so I had two and half months working with the designer Tom Burton and cinematographer Lukas Strebel, who’s previously shot earlier Wallanders.
 
Is there a danger a falling into Scandi-noir cliche now?
For me those landscapes express the drama. People bandy around the word cinematic but that’s exactly what it is. It’s beautiful but bleak. You have these heavy grey skies that feel like they’re pressing down on you, for me a landscape like that adds an extra dimension to the drama. Sweden has these really long dark winters which give the country a kind of melancholia which is very striking but also ripe for tails of dark deeds. I don’t know if that means we fall into cliché, I try not to. I try to find the truth in the drama and hope that that is enough. When you fall into cliché that’s when you start not being truthful, when you’re prepping or working you have to keep asking the question ‘are we being as truthful as possible?’

Kenneth Branagh has played the role so many times and is also an exec on the show, does that make things difficult for a director?
And he’s also a famous director in his own right! For me as a young director it is incredibly intimidating until you meet him. I was lucky enough to go New York and see him in Macbeth at the Armory and then after we would meet one on one to discuss the script and Wallander’s journey. He’s an inspiration. He wants to be challenged and he wants you to direct the film. That was the first thing he said to me and that was liberating. For him it meant he could focus on being an actor and not have to worry too much about the shots; he could just focus on the personal journey. Of course we collaborated. I would share cuts as we went along.

Was there anything new you picked up from the shoot?
One of the things we did do, and I had not done this too much in the past, was we would always start with Wallander’s close up. Every time you run a scene on set something happens for the first time. It’s always so hard to create and you want to be ready to capture that. By starting with that close up, you were capturing that first reaction to the characters around you on the close up. And then we worked outwards. Typically in drama you start wide and choreograph everything and actually you end up spending way too much time on the wide shot compared to how much you use it. That was an eye opener for me.

Wallander begins this Sunday on BBC1

Caron has recently finished shooting his block on The Crown and begins shooting on series 4 of Sherlock next week. He’s also soon to direct a live theatre broadcast of Romeo and Juliet in black and white.

Posted 20 May 2016 by Jon Creamer

Secrets of the fixed rig: the series directors

Four series directors of fixed rig docs tell Jon Creamer how running a rig is more akin to being the conductor of an orchestra than just a talented soloist


Alisa Pomeroy

Series director 24 Hours in Police Custody
Currently documentaries commissioning editor at Channel 4

On 24 Hours, we did a time and motion study. We had 15 people in the different rooms logging everything that was happening across the 24 hour period. That helped us to map out the stories geographically across the police station. By having people there with clipboards it helped us to work out where our cameras should be in order to capture all the different parts of the story because that’s quiet complex. We mapped the story through the station and then out of the station. Obviously we couldn’t do that with the rig. We did that with single cameras and we had to think how that material would look with the rig material. Would it work? Would it jar? Before we did 24 Hours the perceived wisdom was that it didn’t work to mix rigged footage with single camera footage but we did make it work. The reason it worked was if there’s a good narrative reason then the audience goes with it and accepts that it looks different.

When directing a rig the traditional producer/director documentary role is very fragmented. That role is taken up by lots and lots of different people doing different jobs and the series director sits above that with the general creative vision working alongside the executive producers. It’s very much a team effort. The floor producers are with the contributors negotiating access, explaining how the film is working and dealing with contributor issues, the director isn’t choosing the shots, the gallery and hothead operator do that. It’s a really different way of directing. It’s much more like conducting an orchestra rather than playing a solo.

But directing is the same role even though the role is very fragmented. You’re still looking how to tell a story visually and compellingly. All the really basic things are the same.
Your need to trust your team and be happy to devolve responsibility to other members of your team which is hard, not all directors want to do that.

The big limitation of the rig is you feel a bit distant from people. It all feels a bit fly on the wall and observed. That’s why there is now this convention that when you have rig films you have Interrotron interviews too. You feel quite distant from people in the actualite so you need to create that intimacy by looking straight into someone’s eyes.

With a rig your cameras are omnipresent. You can see everything in a scene, everybody’s minutest reactions to the unfolding story. Normally the really interesting dramatic story is on people’s faces and in their twitches. On the first episode of 24 Hours, the suspect said ‘no comment’ for an hour. If that had been done on single camera that would have been very hard to sustain but we broadcast about 30 minutes of it. The reason we could do that was the real story was in his twitches and the beads of sweat on his forehead and his grimaces. You can capture those with a rig and play them out really slowly in a scene, that is where the drama is. But we wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise. It would have been boring on a single camera with not such tight shots

I’ve just commissioned a couple of single films that are rigged. That is becoming more and more affordable. It’s still expensive but more conceivable. What’s exciting is the mini rigs now operated by the director out a suitcase set up, so it’s more nimble. There’s also talk about a wireless rig. That’s amazing as it means you can move your cameras around, you don’t have to wire up the whole building and the costs come down.





Nicola Brown
Series director The Secret Life of Four, Five, Six Year Olds, series PD Educating Cardiff , PD 24 Hours in A&E

The biggest challenge on The Secret Life Four Year Olds was that the contributors couldn’t sit still. It was tricky in terms of getting the gallery ops to work in a different way. It’s not a controlled environment, the kids are running around. You might have a camera op who’s in control of ten cameras. We had to work at a much faster pace. On a conventional rig you might have decided who you’re going to mic up so actually you’ve only got four contributors in a group. For Secret Life we had ten kids all mic’d and, at that age, their conversations don’t really make any sense. The interactions are really subtle so you’ve really got to listen carefully. All conventional programme making narrative and logic went out of the window

Rigs are a big machine and everybody needs to be marching to the same tune. You have to have great people that you can trust in their role. The rig is quite a frantic environment  so you need to have people you’re comfortable working with and that you can have a shorthand with. The team plays a hugely important role. You have producers on the floor a lot of the time in rigs who have often done the casting and who know the characters and have a really good sense of where things might go. But you need everybody in the gallery to be really on it and across it too. You need gallery directors who are not just thinking visually but thinking editorially too – what’s the motivation? What’s the story? There’s a real skill in trying to tune into people and their personalities and their motivations and getting a sense when the story’s bubbling or when you’re about to have a breakthrough or when an important moment’s about to come up. You’ve got to put yourself in the contributor’s shoes the whole time and predict what’s going to happen.

The rig allows you to take a step back. It’s amazing how quickly people forget the cameras. It’s so unobtrusive and it takes off the pressure of having to put someone in that room, having to match up personalities, having to manage issues that perhaps arise because someone is physically there with a camera. Things happen in a very natural way and it’s all very genuine. There’s a charm to those interactions that feel truly observed which you wouldn’t get if it wasn’t the rig.

The rig gives a real intimacy. There’s never an off camera and on camera moment so contributors are much more relaxed. You get those quiet moments, at the end of a school day on Educating when teachers were alone in their offices. Someone might pop in for a quiet word. If you’d been filming in a conventional way you might have left already. It’s these little details I don’t think you’d necessarily always get if you were filming in a traditional way. But things happen in a very natural way and it’s all very genuine. There’s a charm to those interactions that feel truly observed which you wouldn’t get if it wasn’t the rig.

On the other hand, it is much more difficult to produce any content with the rig because you can’t intervene, you can’t throw in questions. You can’t produce in the moment which all of us are ordinarily able to do.






Paddy Wivell
Series director, The Tribe; director/producer Fast & Fearless: Britain’s Banger Racers; director/camera, Bedlam; director Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS In A Day

On The Tribe, there were four adjacent huts so it was ideal for a rig. It felt like walking into a film set with these exotic extras wondering around so I knew immediately it would work. We had this very charismatic family that fitted the template of a sitcom. I already I knew I had something reliable. It felt familiar but also really exotic at the same time. You want to promise the audience something they haven’t seen before but also a riff on something familiar. It had that essential buzz of excitement you get when you know you’ve stumbled into a really good idea. That was there from the off.

It was the first time I’d done a rig show. It wasn’t terribly difficult as I had a brilliant company called Complete Camera Company and Ben Hoffman who knows the rig inside out. He could advise on where to put the cameras. The trouble is it’s so expensive to do we could only afford two cameras per hut. We had quite a small scale rig compared to the hospital shows. But the form’s developed a bit more now. You rig certain spaces and then use observational handheld cameras too so you get the best of both worlds. When the family left the homestead we could follow them outside with crews. Some days you’re having a really slow day on the rig, sitting in 40-degree heat and watching absolutely nothing happen and you’re reassured by the fact there were camera crews following people outside of the rig space getting stories.

You become a team leader. Normally it’s me and another person on a film and suddenly there’s an enormous cast of people. It’s fun. Sometimes it’s such a solitary experience making documentaries. There’s something about the collective team that gives it a drive, energy and excitement. You’ve got to trust that people are good at their jobs. It works as long as you’re all working to the same brief and you think as one.

Once you’ve got beyond the fear of the apparatus, storytelling remains the same. You’re after compelling characters doing interesting things that are telling you something you don’t already know about the world. That’s a constant whether on single camera or a rig.

The rig gives you such versatility and allows you to explore moments in way you can’t with single camera. You can look at a single moment from three or four different angles and explore it and make it longer. It’s the grammar of eavesdropping that gives it a different quality. Filmically moments work differently on rig. You can’t ask questions when the actualite is being played out because it would break the spell. You are tied to a certain way of telling a story but once you’ve made your peace with that it’s actually quite freeing.

In future there’ll be much more smaller scale rigs and it’ll become cheaper to do. Up to now it’s kind of expensive so you have to make the most of a limited amount of time. You have to get all your action to play out in the space of a few weeks whereas when it’s cheaper it’ll mean you’ll be able to play stories out over a longer period. You might only get a small percentage of the programme from the rigged space with the rest of it playing out elsewhere. It’ll become more malleable and the rig will be just another tool at your disposal.




James Incledon
Series director, The Catch; series director The Supervet

I wanted to do the first fixed rig show on a boat. I’d spent a lot of time filming on boats and personal time too. I used to sail quite a lot, it’s a love of mine.

We did a test with a rig camera to prove it was going to work. Minicams made me a single rig unit – a single camera and controller and monitor and I went down and met (the captain of one of The Catch’s ships) Drew and he welded some plates on to the boat and we went out and moved the camera to different positions. We came back with these rig shots and it got commissioned.

We were worried. These outdoor dome cameras had never been tested at sea before. There’s constant salt water spray, things clanging around the boat and then the vibration of the engine and the winch to take into consideration. When we installed the big rig there were a lot of hurdles, vibration being the worst. The cameras we got for The Catch were the latest Panasonic heads. They had anti vibration and they were much higher quality, more responsive and faster. It was all about being able to achieve close ups that made it work. The vibration was the biggest challenge because the minute you zoomed in you could see the vibration and overcoming that with those new cameras was a game changer. Without those reactions and close ups I don’t think it would have worked as well.

There’s also the problem of getting to these cameras in rough seas. If there are any technical issues, some of them were mounted high up the mast. We had to clean all the domes every day. When you weren’t in the gallery you’d be harnessed up, climbing a mast or swinging out over the sea trying to clean a dome.

It was so much better with the rig. When I went on trips in the casting process, because it’s such a closed off environment, you walk into the galley area or the wheelhouse with a camera and everyone just shuts up and all this amazing Cornish humour disappears. 

A ship is very much an upstairs downstairs world. The skipper is upstairs running the ship and downstairs are the crew. You often have these cross conversations where they’re doubting the skipper’s decision and then upstairs the skipper’s mouthing off on the radio about the crew. There are beautiful scenes playing out at the same time constantly that you couldn’t cover as a single shooter.

It was all about achieving the maximum coverage on the budget we had. We figured out that 20 cameras was our maximum, not just financially but also because of the size of the gallery we could fit in one of the cabins. It was about covering the boat. But it was definitely worth going on the recces and seeing where people spend their time. You had to do a proper time and motion study and understand where things were going to happen.

Cameras always flatten the sea. It’s difficult to get an impression of a big sea as the camera has to be really low to sea level to get an impression of how big the waves are. With rig cameras being so high and not being able to zoom a massive amount we had a GoPro on a pole and covered it that way but you’re constantly making a decision about whether you should be in the gallery or out trying to cover the sea.


Posted 19 May 2016 by Jon Creamer
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