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!"
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a long career as a distinguished theatre director, Dominic Cooke had a baptism of fire for his first screen directing role when he got the call to helm the second tranche of the BBC2’s Hollow Crown Shakespeare adaptations – Henry VI part 1, Henry VI part 2 and Richard III.
How did you get the job?
Out of the blue I got a call from Sam Mendes. He said we want to make the next lot (of Hollow Crown films) and we want one director doing the whole series and we want you to do it. I was gobsmacked.
Why were you chosen?
Learning how to direct Shakespeare and the challenge of making the language feel like it’s actually being spoken takes years and years of experience in the theatre to get right. It’s hard to bring Shakespeare to life.
Were you able to rehearse as you would in the theatre?
I decided on six weeks of rehearsals. You can’t do Shakespeare by just turning up on set because no one knows what they’re talking about. You have to do the work to make sure everyone knows what the words mean.
Was it a big leap to direct for screen?
All theatre directors are very visual. You have to tell your story in pictures on stage as well. While you have much more range and technical opportunity with the cameras there are parallels.
What surprised you about screen directing?
What surprised me most was how much I enjoyed it. The real challenges were to do with budget and time. We did six battles and four coronations with, on most days, about fifty extras. But that’s quite creative to think how can we convey the sense of a big battle with a small number of people?
What guided the look of the films?
We had the challenge of compressing what is four three-and- a-half-hour plays into three two-ish-hour films. We found a pathway, a very simple spine through all the stories. So you’re choosing shots that support that. Also, you’re pressed for time and shooting very quickly. We had to be as economical as we could to tell the story in the simplest way we could. Very rarely did we have time to play.
In terms of the camera, you just try to find the best way to shoot the particular scene. We didn’t have a clear methodology. We just knew what we were trying to get with each scene so we used a variety of techniques from tracking to quite a lot of handheld. Sometimes we moved from a very static camera to handheld half way through because the scene dictated it. There was always a reason for what we were doing and it was ‘how do we land this scene?’ The driver of this project was to maintain the complexity of Shakespeare but make it accessible to audiences who have never seen Shakespeare before so the clarity of the storytelling is the most important thing.
How did you prepare?
I went on film sets and watched directors work. Then I did a pre-shoot and I thought ‘actually I can do this’ because so much of it was familiar. For the things that weren’t I was incredibly well supported. I had a brilliant team all round me and then you just get the hang of it.
Did you bring crew from the theatre?
Almost all the crew were new to me. The disciplines are very different. The skills in terms of how the job is structured, the budget-holding responsibilities and the managing of the team are different on screen.
How did you find the editing process?
Brilliant. In the theatre, in the end you have to step back and let the actors do it. On screen you have more control over how the story is told down to every nuance of the performances. We made some very radical changes in the edit. It was a lot like starting again.