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The art of the drama grade

Drama report: The grade provides a stylish and consistent ‘look’ to a drama, but a great grade can enhance mood, focus and narrative flow. Jon Creamer asks the experts



Simone Grattarola
Time Based Arts
War and Peace, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror: White Christmas, Marvellous, War Book

Because we’re more of a commercials facility we tend to get involved in TV dramas when they’re being made by a director or director of photography that knows us. So because I have that close relationship with them already I’m often involved quite early in the process at the point of doing camera tests. So we’ll contribute at an early stage with references and creating LUTs [Lookup tables]. The DoP will ask my advice on things like what the resolution is like on a particular camera when you make it more ‘contrasty’? Is it still holding up? is there detail in the highlights? Essentially they are trusting your eyes as well as their own. You become part of their camera department.

We’ll spend a day grading a 60-second commercial and we’ll only get two days to grade a 60-minute programme for broadcast. But I can bring some of the attention to detail that is involved with commercial grading to longer form work. You have to temper it though because the budget isn’t there all the time in the broadcast work and you have to work at a faster pace than in commercials. Also television drama is narrative driven, you’re not crafting a look from every single frame. People appreciate that it’s a moving image. Also, it’s often been crafted more by the lighting cameraman on set. On Peaky Blinders, for instance, it’s beautifully crafted already so you’re standing on the shoulders of giants on a show like that. It is all in the lighting so you’re an enhancer as much as anything. On War and Peace there were a lot more set ups and a lot more exterior daytime shots so I was contributing more on that. I have a relationship with (DoP) George Steel so he would send me stills during shooting. That meant that we had quite a firm idea of what we wanted before we got into the nuts and bolts of the grade.

You have to have a bit more empathy when you approach long form grading. You have to position yourself as an audience member. We have a projection suite as well now and we look at that as well as the monitor. It gives us a different way of looking at the drama on a larger canvas.

What makes a good grade is being prepared and being involved early on in the process. You prepare well so that when you come to the work you bring your ideas but you don’t necessarily run with just one idea, you try things and you experiment. I like to try to build in a day before the actual grade for a playtime grade. For me that prep allows me to be instinctive in the grade itself. In commercials you’re sat down in front of the client and you’ve got to pull something out of the hat in an hour or two. You can’t do that in broadcast work. You have to be well prepared. That building block is essential. From then on you’re using your experience and appreciating the subject matter and appreciating subtlety.

To be a good colourist you have got to be a good listener and a good interpreter of other people’s visions whilst also having one yourself. There’s an art in interpreting other people’s visions. Also, when I’m teaching assistants I always teach them that grading is also about being able to match things, to be able to analyse reference frames and be an amazing mimic. You have to understand what is in that particular frame: What colours are there in the blacks? What colours are there in the highlights? What the skin tone is doing in that shot and how do I match it to the next shot? You need to have the ability to analyse all those things really quickly as well but that takes a lot of experience. The more work you do the better you get.



Paul Staples
Encore
Humans, Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Mr Selfridge, Murdered By My Boyfriend, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

I very much enjoy being involved in the creative process from the beginning and generally, being engaged from the pre-production stage onwards is a successful way to work. The DP and/or director will shoot camera tests prior to production filming. Along with this test footage, they will share with me stills from films, fine art, and photographs that act as a mood board. This gives me a sense of what they are aiming for and informs the look I develop as I get to work on the test footage. Sometimes the look will come in our first session together, otherwise the DP and I will continue to work on it as the series moves in to production. Whilst shooting the DP and I will share shots and feedback and continue to develop the look until we reach and hopefully even surpass his vision for the project.

Principally I listen to what the client is trying to achieve and enable it. So much of our job is listening and engaging with a creative dialogue surrounding colour and aesthetics and drawing out the vision of the filmmaker. To do so, I may offer ideas and suggestions but ultimately I do feel strongly that we are here to enable the filmmaker’s vision, not swamp it.

The first stage is establishing a general look that we are happy with. Then we will spot through the episode, getting a better feel for the show. I’ll then go back and start to fine tune. I then tend to work in a linear way, getting each scene and shot as I want it before progressing. However, going back to a shot or scene several times is also common. I wouldn’t suggest that there are too many hard rules in reference to process, I think it’s just that the way you are taught stays with you.

I feel that I work quite instinctively but that has been primed by a lifetime of visual study. I studied photography and just loved being in the darkroom. Moving in to grading was a very natural extension of that training. Of course you continue to absorb and analyse. My clients also keep me primed as to the shows to watch out for.

A key question is if the grade will need to reflect a change of period during the series. Recently I graded Undercover for the BBC. The series included flashbacks, however there was also a whole episode that was in flashback. It was vital that I knew this as it would massively inform the grade. The look of the flashback sequences had to be different enough for the audience to register that they were in different period but as an entire episode would be in flashback, the look also had to be not too distracting resulting in it becoming tiring to watch.

To become a good colourist you need a combination of both hard and soft skills. I’d say a good pair of ears and the ability to pick up on non-verbal communication are essential. You need to have the ability to read between the lines and understand what the client is asking for even if they may not be asking for it in technically literal terms. Also of importance, is the ability to deliver a grade that wouldn’t perhaps adhere to your first instincts but is one that suits the piece.



Gareth Spensley
Molinare
The Tunnel, The Durrells in Corfu, Doctor Who, London Spy, The A Word

I always try and get involved in a project during prep. At the prep stage we’re often initially talking about base LUTs for a show, general concepts of contrast, saturation, tints and tones. On most of the larger budget projects we’ve had a dailies colourist or an experienced DIT doing a leveling pass through the rushes so they are the ones worrying about any exposure shifts; such as from sunny to overcast takes. 

The real starting point of the final grade for me is when I sit down to watch the offline edit. I generally try to let this be the first time I see the narrative run through in its entirety. I’m looking to see where the rushes are working and where I feel I can help the flow of the story. This is my first view and I try to hold on to any ideas I form about characters and plot points; instances like important lines of dialogue where my eye took a while to find the speaking character in a wide shot. This is my chance to establish when I think background details like windows and lamps are adding depth or becoming distracting. I’ll use these thoughts later when I’m in the grade to shift the emphasis from the backgrounds to the characters.

The brief from the director and DoP can take the form of a purely technical conversation or set of notes, or it may range to detailed creative references and swapping of mood boards. I believe in thorough testing and grade setup time. Creating a ‘look bible’ on selected scenes can be invaluable in focusing the production before we commit our efforts to grading a long running series. Allowing everyone in the process to take a copy of the test scenes away to watch over a few weeks really helps make sure the final grade will go smoothly.

I believe in doing several passes of the grade. I find a brisk first pass based on instincts often yields a great starting point. Then I like to watch this through and decide what’s flowing or what is jumping out, adding layers of secondaries in subsequent passes once I have a solid base grade. At this stage I’ll be looking to get the director and DoPs detailed notes on where we’re at. I often prefer to do this in run time rather than in a stop start manner. For me it’s about assessing the grade as a viewer rather than falling into the trap of over analysing a still frame.
 
It’s about consistency - anyone with an interest in Photoshop can make a single image look great. The toughest part of the job is taking a “look” and imparting that creative idea to all the locations and setups in a narrative.
For The Tunnel we found a great look for low-light interiors that needed some careful consideration when adapting it to a bright, sunny exteriors. This becomes trickier on multi-part series that may be shooting across seasons and we’re often asked to lock down a look while the series is still being shot.

Great grades come from collaboration. I think the best grades I’ve been involved in come from good production design, good costume choices and great photography. 

Posted 15 December 2016 by Jon Creamer

True colours: delivering in HDR

High Dynamic Range offers incredible creative possibilities for filmmakers but, at this stage, few have delivered an HDR project. Jon Creamer talks to some of those that have about their experiences with the medium so far


High Dynamic Range content allows filmmakers to show the world on the screen almost as the human eye sees it in real life, with vibrant colours, dazzling light  and incredible detail. Right now though, HDR content that the viewing public can tap into is fairly limited. Amazon and Netflix are broadcasting a selection of shows in full HDR glory, Blu-ray is another outlet and the BBC, Sky and BT are all experimenting with HDR. HDR content will ramp up, but at the moment very few producers and post producers have been asked to deliver in HDR. Those that have often become cheerleaders for the medium, describing it as a step change from SDR. We’ve asked a selection of production pros how they’ve approached HDR so far.



Planet Earth 2
Films@59

Bristol’s Films@59 delivered the SDR version of the BBC’s epic Planet Earth II series and was also asked to deliver an HDR version of the programme. Post producer Miles Hall and inhouse colourist Christian Short explain how they did it

What were you asked for?
MH The decision to deliver in HDR was taken relatively late in the day which meant we had to think carefully about the workflow as the series was predominantly an SDR delivery. We had to adopt the HLG standard which is the BBC and NHK devised Hybrid Log Gamma rather than using a Dolby PQ or Dolby Vision method.

What did the grade have to achieve?
CS The SDR version was graded by Adam Inglis and the key thing was to make sure the original grade translated through into the HDR grade while using as much of the ‘HDR-ness’ of some of the imagery to make those shots pop. Some scenes are shot in flat light and some are in dappled light under forest canopies and so on. We could achieve an overall lifting on the flatter light stuff but the stuff that was shot in HDR-centric environments really did pop and we could play with masking areas to bring certain highlights out. It’s the first HDR experience we’ve had. We’ve done a lot of tests and seen a lot of examples but we were feeling our way on the first programmes. Certain scenes you can do a lot with, others you just lift them and bring them into HDR space

What was different about working in HDR?
CS From my perspective, the environment I’m working in now has to have much brighter ambient lighting than it would do if I was grading in SDR. Frequent eye breaks are needed too because it is super bright and it does fatigue you. You feel smashed at the end of the day compared to grading in SDR though I imagine if I was grading in HDR all the time I’d get used to the muscle strain. Also, when you’re grading an HDR version and then grading something in SDR, as a colourist you need a good clear day to reset your eyes. It’s a good idea not to bolt those sessions back to back.
MH What’s tricky is when you go from the HDR to the SDR version, it’s a bit of a let down. That’s something for producers and post producers to get their heads around because when something looks amazing in HDR, when you come back to it in SDR you might think it’s a bit disappointing.

What needs to be thought about beforehand?
MH You need to plan your workflow carefully and talk to your post house about what the deliverable is because there is more than one flavor of HDR. There might be more than one HDR deliverable so while you might deliver HLG through the BBC, when you go to Blu-ray they might require PQ, so there are additional processes you might have to go through to transform your HDR between standards. You will have to repeat processes. We’re working very hard to try to establish a workflow that will minimise the repeating of vfx work and so on. Noise reduction is very important when delivering in UHD, not just HDR. What you can get away with in SDR HD is a lot more than you can in UHD HDR. There’s definitely an uplift on top of the SDR version, at the bare minimum you have to grade for the HDR. It’s not something you can do as an after thought.



Ex Machina
Molinare


Molinare colourist Asa Shoul created the original grade for Ex Machina and returned this year to grade the film in HDR

What was the brief?
To recreate the film in 4K and to reflect the original graded look and feel as closely as possible. Creatively we needed to represent the original film but, in 4K, there were several scenes that lost the key characteristics of look and feel when using the original grade settings.  We revisited these, taking advantage of the wider range of colour space and contrast to deliver the original look and feel but taking it to a new level. We were conscious of the danger that all our options might accidentally lead to a completely new look, however to avoid this we constantly referred to the original material.  On a standard Rec709 monitor we had the original grade so that we could use this as reference when doing the HDR.

What was the creative upside of HDR?
HDR offers greater freedom and choice in the creative process.  The opportunity to highlight key sections of the image, bring greater depth of field, underpin the emotion and excitement of sequences is even greater.  We can achieve even more during post production than before.  However, used unwisely, HDR can be unforgiving. Its power needs to be harnessed. There is a danger of overwhelming the viewer, thus losing the creative intent but, with sensitive use and a creatively controlled approach, it offers fantastic new creative choices.

Did any scenes really lend themselves to HDR?
In the scenes where there was a power cut and the red safety lights came on,  when grading in P3 and Rec709, we found that the saturation of the red was never quite as rich as we would like, whereas in HDR it was stunningly rich and vibrant.  Also because of the extended greens in Rec2020 (HDR) exterior forest scenes took on a more realistic quality, transporting you to that environment.

What advice would you give to others working in HDR?
HDR offers real creative opportunities but it can be too powerful. The enhanced colour and contrast offer so much more for storytelling.  However it needs to be used with care. DoPs and colourists need to fully understand what it offers and apply their experience to harness the capabilities in a measured and creative way. With both a creative instinct and a technical understanding these tools offer fantastic freedom in post for filmmakers.



Inferno
Company 3


Company 3 colourist Greg Fisher on the HDR delivery for DaVinci Code sequel, Inferno

What was your approach to delivering in HDR?
I was actually a little wary of HDR before actually trying to grade it. The first demos I had seen were basically just the same images, but brighter, so I wasn’t too impressed. Today I think it is understood that you are trying to deliver more dynamic range but maintain an image suitable for its display scenario, which is what I found worked well whilst grading Inferno. In terms of my workflow, I would first use DaVinci Resolve to make sure that the HDR frames appeared similar to the SDR version. I then used Resolve’s grading tools, including log grade, highlight and soft clip controls, to carefully control the roll off. Ultimately, this made the images much more lifelike, with a significant improvement in sharpness despite no change in pixel resolution or file size.
 
Are there any scenes that really lent themselves to HDR?
The first time we meet the lead, he is in hospital,  disorientated, confused and suffering from amnesia. This is emphasised by lights flickering on and off while he’s in his bed. When watching on the 4000 Nit Pulsar monitor, you actually feel the heat of the flashes in your eye and your iris playing catchup. This puts the audience with him in his state of mind to a far greater extent than is normally possible.
 
What advice would you give other colourists?
Embrace it. Real black in a cinema is a revelation, as is the extra sharpness. It feels like a significant progression.



Various film projects
Technicolor


Technicolor’s senior supervising colourist, Peter Doyle has delivered features in HDR including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


What do you need to look out for when working in HDR?
Poor image processing techniques and “dirty” LUTs and transforms are exposed to a much greater degree in HDR. Noise and grain take on a less attractive sensibility, it’s not so easy to hide a less than perfect key or colour separation behind grain. LUT and transforms need to be as wide and deep as possible.

What do you have to think about when delivering in HDR?
Does one reproduce the Rec709 grade on a HDR monitor, or do you take advantage of the extended dynamic range and colour gamut? Does the original photography have the dynamic range to justify opening up the contrast ratio? When grading on a 14 F/L xenon what was felt to be a compromise from a dynamic range stance and should HDR be used to put it back?
What are the difficulties you encounter? Locking down display device specifications and coordination between the various studios differing specs and requirements creatively…it’s always about maintaining the patina and look of the 14 F/L xenon grade. This takes more than a LUT and trimming the colour. It’s about reproducing the flare, cross-colour distortions and the very experience of seeing an image reflected on a white screen to an image reproduced by an light emitting device.

What’s the creative upside of HDR?
Greater dynamic range and colour gamut and finally getting away from Rec709. 709 has served us well, but it had its issues, that have become an accepted look. To be able to take your DCI XYZ grade and reproduce in rec 2020 for a video deliverable is almost an epiphany.
HDR is not just a technology, it’s a toolset for the creatives.Skin tones stay intact, specular’s and highlight modeling are reproduced without compromise. Indeed there is a subtlety returned to the reproduction of the lighting that’s fantastic. It gives great access to performance. Delicate reflections and colour hues can be displayed without needing the sledge hammer that’s needed for Rec 709.



Fleabag
The Look


The Look colourist Thomas Urbye graded BBC3 and Amazon sitcom Fleabag which also had to be delivered in HDR

As the vast majority of the audience will be seeing Fleabag in SDR it was important to me and DP Tony Miller that we got sign off in Rec709 on each episode. We then moved on to the HDR version where I was trusted to keep the integrity of the image intact. The whole series was shot on the Arri Alexa in ProRes 444 at 2880x2160 with anamorphic lenses and the entire workflow was maintained at this resolution.
Once the SDR version was signed off our attention moved to the HDR versions.  Amazon had specced Rec2020/2084 (PQ) and we were told to use the Sony BVM X300 monitor in UHD.  Thankfully the Quantel Rio uses transfer curves at 16bit float to move you from the Rec709 colour space in to Rec2020 & PQ and the image and grade is essentially maintained. However, at this stage, any clamping on highlights and colour saturation is released and the image visually comes alive in highlight areas. Detail that was formerly lacking outside windows and in bulbs suddenly takes on real shape and even skin tones seem to have a new sense of life about them. I had a Sony OLED in Rec709 showing me the episode in SDR and then simultaneously on the Sony BVM X300, the HDR grade. It was important to me that I maintained the same feel in HDR and to not fall in to the trap of pushing contrast or over-saturating the image.  Contrast ratios do increase by the nature of the highlights being unclamped in PQ, so care has to be taken that mid tones in the image are lifted slightly to create the same visual intention.

Posted 13 December 2016 by Jon Creamer

The Christmas ads: who's made what?

All the big brands have now released their Christmas spectaculars and, as usual, very little expense has been spared. Here’s a quick rundown of the biggest ads and who directed, produced and post produced them.

The big focus at this time of year is always on the John Lewis offering and the retailer’s agency Adam & Eve/DDB brought back Blink’s Dougal Wilson to direct his fourth Christmas spot for the brand. Buster The Boxer and his animal chums were created by MPC with Jean Clement Soret providing the grade.



Sainsbury’s stop frame spectacular The Greatest Gift, set to a song written by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie and sung by James Corden, was ordered through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and was directed by Sam Fell and an army of animators at Passion. The puppets were made by Mackinnon and Saunders of course.





Marks and Spencer’s cinematic effort was directed by The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl director Tom Hooper of Smuggler. Post was at The Mill with Seamus O’Kane the colourist, The Quarry’s Paul Watts cut the spot and the score was composed by Rachel Portman.



Waitrose’s tale of a returning Robin was directed by Rogue’s Sam Brown with post-production by The Mill. The agency was Adam & Eve/DDB.



Aldi’s animated Kevin the Carrot ad was directed by Todd Mueller and Kylie Matulick at Psyop/Stink through McCannUK. John Mayes at Marshall Street cut the ad



Argos went with a team of iceskating Yetis this time. The ad was directed by Caviar’s Henry Scholfield through CHI. Electric Theatre Collective provided post.



Burberry has really gone for a big screen treatment with The tale of Thomas Burberry with a cast including Sienna Miller, Lily James, Dominic West and Domhnall Gleeson. It was directed by Asif Kapadia at production house Black Label and posted at The Mill.



TK Maxx brought in Andreas Nilsson of Biscuit Filmworks to direct The Sing Song in which a family bash out an a capella version of The Pulp Fiction theme. Electric Theatre Collective took on the post production. Ben Campbell at Cut and Run edited the ad.





Posted 14 November 2016 by Jon Creamer

Interview: Dimitri Doganis of Raw TV

Best known for its factual output, Raw TV’s latest is a big budget 
US drama. but, Dimitri Doganis tells Jon Creamer, story is just story

At the time of this interview, Raw TV’s founder Dimitri Doganis is ensconced at Molinare putting the finishing touches to Harley and the Davidsons, a three part drama about the founding fathers of iconic American motorcycle brand, Harley Davidson for Raw’s parent company Discovery.

It’s Raw TV’s biggest scripted show by far and a big budget drama bet for an indie perhaps best known for its long running factual shows like Gold Rush.

But it’s not so much of a leap, says Doganis. “This is our first big US mini series but we have done one-offs in the UK” including Cyberbully starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams as well as drama/doc hybrids like Blackout. “And we have a significant film slate in the wake of The Imposter [Raw’s successful theatrical doc).”

But there was still a lot to grasp, he says. “For me personally it has been a fantastic learning curve. What we did of course was find and partner with really great experienced people to make sure that learning curve wasn’t at the expense of the project itself.”

Whether it’s factual or drama or something in between “story is story,” he says. “What was the most powerful thing abou t the experience for me was that sense in which everything comes down to the strength of the story and the strength of the characters.”

Big budget drama, says Doganis, is just the next logical step for the now 15 year old company that was acquired by Discovery back in 2014. “Bart [Layton, Raw’s co founder] and I had always wanted to do it. We both come from factual and documentary backgrounds but that has never been the limit of our ambition.” And he says, a lot of Raw’s factual output is inspired by film. “We’ve take a lot of those ambitions and those sensibilities and applied it to factual storytelling.” Locked Up Abroad and The Imposter are examples. “It doesn’t feel like a leap into the unknown. It feels like the next step on a continuous journey and one which feels very natural.”



And inevitable given the huge wealth of stuff in the development bank. “Many of the projects we’re developing in the scripted space are based on true stories. After The Imposter we realised we had this huge repository of fantastic stories many of which been developed as possible factual programmes that could work in the scripted space. It has felt like a continuum of ideas generation and creative thought that really goes back to our very early days.”

And blurring the boundaries of genre is what Raw has always done, he says “We’ve always tried to ignore the artificial boundaries between genre” because “innovation comes from taking either people or methods from one discipline and applying them to another.”

The success of the company has come from resolutely following its creative rather than commercial nose, says Doganis. “Bart and I have never believed that you chase the money. We believe if you do good work the money should chase you. It’s almost a mental jujitsu you have to do. Running a production company requires you to live with financial risk as an ambient hum. We have always taken refuge in the notion that if you do great work there will be a way in which you can make a living from that. We have never done a project because we thought it would make us money.”

Even Gold Rush, now on episode 137 and counting, started as a way to tell the story of the death of the American dream after the financial meltdown of 2008, he says. “It grew in to something else because of the way we told the story but it didn’t start with ‘hey we should have a long running American reality TV series that would finance other things.’”

Risk is essential for success, says Doganis “partly because you never know where the next long running series is going to come from. You have to keep trying new things and taking risks otherwise you’re just rehashing old things. I’m not remotely interested in rehashing things other people have done before.”

And that means following the instincts of Raw’s staff rather than calculating what the market wants. “Trying to second guess broadcasters has not been a particularly good development strategy for us. What’s been more productive is finding stories we are passionate about and finding characters we are fascinated by. We can be a bit unworldly in that way.”

That’s despite Raw being part of a very large business since its acquisition by Discovery two years ago. But the Discovery deal has been a big positive says Doganis. Not least in aiding its move into drama. “They have trusted us with big projects like Harley and the Davidsons. They have been fantastic in being encouraging of our scripted ambitions” and importantly “The deal was shaped in a way that wasn’t driven by our profit margins, it was driven by the success of the shows we made and it enabled us to keep doing the thing we’d been doing since we set up which was to try to tell great stories about characters that feel relevant to an audience.”


CV
Doganis started out in 24-hour TV news, as a producer and cameraman, going on to make current affairs shows and docs as a freelance producer and director for the BBC, C4 and C5. He set up Raw in 2001 with a small development deal from Channel 4. Initially he continued to direct docs alongside running the company but since 2004 he has concentrated on running Raw and exec-ing on much of Raw’s output including producing theatrical doc The Imposter. Raw’s shows include Banged Up Abroad, Race for the Whitehouse, Goldrush, Cyberbully and Blackout

Posted 15 September 2016 by Jon Creamer

DoP Ed Moore on creating a filmic look for Red Dwarf XI

Ed Moore was the DoP on the latest series of Red Dwarf and was charged with creating a sci fi movie look for a multicam sitcom

What did you want to do with the new series?
I grew up watching the show and always loved the dark, colourful sci-fi world it existed in. It looked like no other comedy show. I wanted to keep the DNA of those early series - my pitch to Doug [Naylor – producer, writer, director] was “let’s make it look like Aliens; but it just happens to have jokes”.

So a ‘big budget sci fi’ look rather than ‘studio sitcom’, how did you achieve this?
Sci-fi can be dark and moody and that’s not always at ease with the tendency in comedy to overlight performers – we tried to balance that out with some sequences being played almost in silhouette, whilst others felt brighter. Always keeping in mind that these characters inhabit a ship that’s millions of years old and mostly broken.

Production design and locations were critical too – designers Julian Fullalove and Keith Dunne did amazing work with our regular sets and the daunting task of producing new spaceships, bases, moons etc every week. We even built an entire 1920s American street set the length of the studio for one episode.

I was fortunate to have the amazing Trevelyan Oliver as my “A” camera operator who not only did phenomenal work on locations, but led a team of four operators on our live record nights. Shooting simultaneously with four cameras can be compromising in terms of getting the ideal shots as you’re constantly dodging each other and all the sound kit, but they found ways to keep the style going. There were some impressive Steadicam-style tracking shots performed with 150kg camera and pedestal reversing at high speed around labyrinthine spaceship corridors with a team of camera assistants frantically keeping the cables flowing...



What did you shoot on?
After testing several cameras, the Arri Alexa proved to capture the high saturation look with the least fuss. To make them work in a studio environment we had them on ‘TV studio’ style pedestals for quick repositioning and height adjustment, and every camera had a 24-290mm zoom so any camera could get any shot. On location we switched to Cooke 5i primes and had a Movi gimbal on standby for tracking shots.

What were your references?
I particularly looked at Red Dwarf’s 4th, 5th and 6th series (beautifully lit by John Pomphrey), along with a whole bunch of sci-fi. Aliens, Battlestar Galactica and various incarnations of Star Trek.
How did you use lighting? We needed to create a lot of different looks very swiftly, so I tried to use as many lights as possible with remotely controllable attributes.

I stole the fantastic lighting console programmer Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn from the world of theatre and with a rig full of Arri Skypanels, Robe ColorSpots and over a kilometre of LED ribbon we were able to change the look of all our sets instantly.

It also enabled a bunch of effects for the inevitable red (and blue...) alerts which could be fired off live. We could play the same corridors as being on different decks by changing accent colours, and projected circulation fan effects gave a sense of churning movement throughout our ship.

I was well supported by Simon Roose and the team at Pinewood MBS lighting.

What technical challenges did you face?
The trickiest was keeping that low-key, backlight sci-fi look whilst shooting with four cameras. A really cool backlight on one camera is a horrible front light for a camera shooting in the other direction.

And with four leads constantly playing off each other whilst wandering the set you need to keep plenty of tricks up your sleeve to keep them in the right side of Stygian gloom...

Red Dwarf XI airs from 22 September, 9pm on Dave

Posted 15 September 2016 by Jon Creamer

Behind the scenes: ITV's Victoria

Writer Daisy Goodwin and exec producer Damien Timmer explain how they created ITV’s drama about Victoria’s early years as queen

Daisy Goodwin is the creator and producer of a long list of returning popular factual formats from Grand Designs to Escape to the Country. After quitting TV to write a series of historical novels she’s now returned to the small screen, this time as the screenwriter behind ITV’s big budget drama based on Queen Victoria’s first years as monarch. Goodwin and exec producer Damien Timmer explain how the show came about

Is it difficult to go from factual producer to drama writer?

DG I read history at university and my plan was always to make historical docs. Then I got sidetracked and ended up making popular TV formats. I’ve worked across the piece but my career has all been about telling stories, it’s just that the modes have changed.

How did you come to screenwriting?
DG I wrote a couple of novels based in the 19th century and my last novel had Queen Victoria as a character and I got more and more engaged with her. When I quit Silver River and decided to write full time I thought I would write another novel about Victoria but as I was doing my research I realised it was really the stuff of drama.

Was it a difficult transition from novels to scripts?
DG Although I hadn’t written a drama before I did 100 years ago go to film school in New York. I always found writing dialogue the easiest thing when writing my novels and screenwriting for some reason feels very natural - once I figured out how to use Final Draft. Also because I’m very familiar with the material I’m not scared of it either. I know what I think is important and what is not, what I can do and not do and still remain true to the facts. Having said that I did have help. I was lucky to work with Mammoth and Damien and Rebecca. I’ve learned so much from them.

What’s your take on the story?
DG My take on it is ‘teenager becomes queen’. I have a teenage daughter and she’s a handful so what would it be like if tomorrow she became the most powerful woman in the world? That was a compelling notion and a great place to start a drama from. It centres on the first few years of Victoria’s reign. It starts with the day she becomes Queen. It’s really about her struggle to assert herself and break free of her mother and her mother’s adviser John Conroy and to show the world that she is capable of being queen. There were a lot of people who thought that maybe the crown should have gone to the next man in line, her uncle the Duke of Cumberland. It was quite a fluid situation. It was not the slam dunk we might expect now.

How crucial was the casting?

DG Casting Victoria was the biggest hurdle. My biggest thought was she must be very small and we must get the sense that she’s this tiny girl at the centre of a forest of old men. That has come thorough very clearly. You really get the sense that this is not the way things were intended to be so she has to work hard to assert herself.

What about the world she inhabits?
DG We wanted to get over in the script and the production that Britain was not an empire at that point. It was a nation on the up. It’s got entrepreneurial and scientific development but it has third world poverty too. It’s a really volcanic place. There were lots of carriages and chandeliers and things we expect from royal life but we’ve also tried as much as we can to show this is a moment of huge technological and social change. This is a world that’s in ferment. It’s not a Jane Austen world of bonnets and balls.

What is the show’s look?
DT The first series is in the early years of Victoria’s reign. When people think of the Victorian era they think of a style that tends to be lots of dark wood, forbidding and rather severe and very ornate. But when she comes to the throne the Regency style is still very present. It’s a colorful, romantic style and that’s a lovely backdrop to this teenage queen.

How was Buckingham Palace created?
DT Rather than build standalone sets, production designer Michael Howells built a big expanse on the ground floor so we could have completely free movement. We could take the camera from the throne room to a ballroom to private areas and huge ceremonial rooms and it’s all connected. A lot of it had ceilings so once you were inside you really were in this early 19th century palace. We based ourselves in Yorkshire which worked really well. The majority of the action is in Buckingham Palace and we very quickly had a model of a combination of a big studio build at the Yorkshire Studios and location filming in other grand spaces around Yorkshire.

Details
The eight-part series follows the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign as she ascends the throne at the age of 18. It is created and written by ex factual producer and now novelist Daisy Goodwin, in her screenwriting debut.

Broadcaster ITV
Production Mammoth Screen
Creator and writer Daisy Goodwin
Executive producers Dan McCulloch, Damien Timmer, Daisy Goodwin
Producer Paul Frift
Lead director Tom Vaughan
Development Rebecca Keane
Composer Martin Phipps
Production designer  Michael Howells
Distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment
Cast Queen Victoria – Jenna Coleman; Prince Albert – Tom Hughes; Rufus Sewell – Lord Melbourne; Alex Jennings; Paul Rhys; Peter Firth; Catherine Flemming; Eve Myles; Adrian Schiller; Nichola McAuliffe; Daniela Holtz; Nell Hudson; Tommy-Lawrence Knight; Nigel Lindsay; Alice Orr-Ewing


Posted 01 September 2016 by Jon Creamer

IBC: the cameras and kit to look out for

Tech show IBC (8-12 Sept) is a great place to check out both brand new launches as well as a chance to get your hands on something already announced at NAB. Jon Creamer gives a small taste of what’s likely to be on offer

First up, Sony. Sony says it will be exhibiting its full ecosystem – from acquisition through production to archive at IBC. A big draw will be the first European showing of its new HDC-4800 system camera, a 4K 8x Super Motion Camera System with Replay Server Function, built for sports live production that was announced to huge fanfare at NAB this year. Also announced at NAB was Sony’s XDCAM shoulder-mount camcorder, the PXW-Z450 which is capable of capturing 4K (3840 x 2160) picture quality from a new 2/3-type ExmorR CMOS sensor. Many will hope to get a look at it in action before it ships later this year.

Canon announced new additions to its family of Cinema EOS products at NAB with the launch of the ME200S-SH, a compact professional multi-purpose video camera, and the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS, a compact cinema EOS lens with cine-servo style functionality that is described by Canon as a bridge between traditional Canon EF photography lenses and CN-E cinema lenses, and is aimed at filmmakers and documentary shooters “who want the control and quality of cinema optics with the lightweight, compact design and features of photography lenses. “ Both will be on display for touch and try, for the first time in Europe at IBC. 

At NAB, Panasonic announced additions to its professional 4K camera lineup, both of which will be on display in Europe for the first time at IBC. The UX premium model (AG-UX180) is equipped with a 1-type MOS sensor, optical 20x zoom and UHD 60p recording capability, whilst the UX standard model (AG-UX90) features a 1-type MOS sensor, optical 15x zoom and UHD 30p recording capability. IBC will also see the VariCam cameras set up in a dedicated production area, including the (relatively) new VariCam LT that gives the famous ‘Panasonic look’ in multiple formats ranging from 4K, UHD, 2K and HD.

The company’s remote camera range and its studio cameras including the AK-UC3000 4K live camera system and the AK-HC5000 will be on show too. Panasonic will also be displaying its AG-DVX200 4K large sensor camcorder.
As always, there will be much excitement about what Arri may or may not choose to announce at the show. There’s been speculation that a ‘true 4K’ Alexa could make its debut at IBC (though NAB is more likely). As Azule’s Duncan Payne says, “I think this may be the third show running that I have said that there will be announcements about a new higher-resolution Arri sensor. I’ll be right one day, maybe this time. RED’s 6K Weapon may force Arri’s hand this time.”

On the subject of Red, many of the show’s visitors will be very keen to head to the Red stand to see if they can get a look at a Weapon camera with the new 8K Super 35 Helium sensor. A few models were shipped as a very limited edition just a few weeks ago after a surprise announcement by Red president Jarred Land (they sold out in ten minutes).  Apparently Michael Bay’s already got his own custom-made lime green version called Bayhem.
There will be lots of lenses to focus on to. Fujifilm will be showing off its 2/3” 4K UHD products including the Fujinon UA13x4.5 (4.5-118mm) Ultra-wide angle lens that has just started shipping. Cooke Optics will demonstrate the new 35-140mm zoom at IBC 2016, alongside a variety of Anamorphic/i, 5/i, S4/i and miniS4/i lenses.

SAM will be launching its new mid-range Vega processing router line-up at the show, featuring four processing router models from 68 ports to 432 ports.SAM is also showing its new low cost, high capability range of signal protection modules, synchronisers and mux’s and is introducing new 12 Gbps 4K signal processing modules and adding its logo detection and alarming technology to its monitoring and control solutions.

Along with its production switchers, Ross is now in the camera business, having launched ACID cameras earlier this year. They make their European debut at IBC. ACID is a series of compact “box cameras” that offer full size studio camera performance. They also offer special performance characteristics for chroma keying in virtual environments.

4K UHD will form the central element of Ikegami’s exhibit. Making their IBC debut will be the 4K-native 2/3 inch UHK-430 portable broadcast camera and the HQLM-3120W 31 inch monitor. Also on show will be the new HDL-F3000 multi-format ultra-low-light camera and the new MCP-300 Network Master Control Panel. Ikegami also celebrates its 70th anniversary at IBC 2016.

Blackmagic
announced a new camera operating system and more easily-navigable user interface for the URSA Mini at NAB and the public beta of it is now available. Users can take a look at the Blackmagic stand.
New products and solutions from Grass Valley making their EMEA debut at IBC include the LDX 86N native HD/3G/4K/ High-Speed System Cameras, the direct IP solution for the LDX series of cameras, the compact GV Korona K-Frame S-series Video Production Center switcher and iTX On-Demand Automated VOD Publishing.

Down at the AJA Video Systems stand, a couple of recently announced bits of kit will be on display. The company has just started shipping its updated Hi5-Fiber Mini-Converter with 3G-SDI support for high frame rate needs. Also recently at InfoComm in Las Vegas, AJA introduced a new Mini-Converter, the HA5-Fiber, for HDMI to 3G-SDI conversion. The small form factor enables this Mini-Converter to easily fit onto the back of a camera or neatly behind an equipment rack, extending HDMI signals up to 10km.

IBC Q&As

Olly Wiggins
Co-owner 
S+O Media


What will you be looking out for at IBC? I’m hoping for news of future camera bodies from Arri and Canon. For new cameras the Red Helium will be a huge crowd puller. 

What manufacturers interest you? Apart from all the camera manufacturers we will be looking at LEDs from Aladdin and DMG Lumiere. Tripods from OConnor and Sachtler.

What new products are you keen to get your hands on? We’ll be predominantly looking for neat accessories to make the day to day use of our equipment easier.

Are there any announcements you’re hoping for? Hopefully roadmaps for the Canon, ARRI and Sony high end cameras. New lenses by Hanse Inno Tech.

What will be the main themes at IBC? With any trade shows the theme is progression. IBC promises to deliver some great announcements and innovations across the board of acquisition and delivery. HDR, VR, and new camera systems will all be there to look forward to.

Bharat Kerai, business development manager, WTS and
Jonathan Lyth, systems manager, WTS


What new products are you keen to get your hands on?
BK Canon launched the ME200S-SH at NAB. It has Canon’s highly impressive Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus system and is going to be great for everything from broadcast and cinematic productions to scientific research and wildlife documentaries. We can’t wait to try it out!
NewTek’s TalkShow VS4000 multi-channel video-calling production system. Designed for SDI and IP workflows, it’s going to make life much simpler for broadcasters who want to conduct multiple live Skype video calls simultaneously from the studio. The imminent arrival of Canon’s new CN-E 18-80mm cine-zoom lens has caused a stir in the office. We’ll be taking the opportunity to take a closer look at it at IBC.

Are there technologies you want to find out more about?
JL At IBC 2013, the SMPTE said that it was striving for improvement across higher dynamic range, higher frame rate, wider colour space and higher resolution – yet it’s only the last of those that has been such a buzzword in the intervening three years. Of all these technological advances, HDR is probably the cheapest for the industry to deliver, and the easiest improvement for the consumer to appreciate. Nevertheless, it opens up a number of questions, not least the setting of standards for what we will actually consider to be HDR, and the possibility that higher frame rates might be needed to address viewer sensitivity to the strobing of 50i or 25p on the brighter screens used to deliver HDR. So WTS will be eager to learn as much as we can about it.

Are there any announcements you’re hoping for at the show?

BK We wouldn’t be surprised to see Sony announce something like an F75 – a 4K cinema camera to challenge the Arri Amira. But something like that might have to wait until Las Vegas and NAB.

Shaun Wilton
Head of facilities, 
Shooting Partners


What will you be looking out for at IBC?
New VR rigs, Sony EF equivalent lenses, personal/small drones, any new camera systems, VR cameras and headsets, IP TV, camera to cloud, PTZ cameras, sliders and jibs, LED Lighting.
What stands will you be heading for?  Sony, Canon, GoPro, ARRI, JVC Bradley, Panasonic and Vitec TVU Networks.
What manufacturers interest you? Nokia have blown us away with the OZO 360 camera. We will be  heading straight for the stand to see any updates!
What new products are you keen to get your hands on? Syrp Magic Carpet, Sync Bac from TimeCode Systems,
Are there technologies you want to find out more about? Virtual reality is fantastic and finally reaching the quality we are excited about!
Are there any announcements you’re hoping for? Away from VR / 360 and HDR, anything that improve on existing kit e.g. time code into Canon XC10, Sony FS5 Maybe something from Arri.

Kevin Moorhouse
COO, Gearhouse Broadcast


What will you be looking out for at IBC? Requests for 4K or UHD content from broadcasters haven’t slowed down so we’ll be on the lookout for the latest cameras and lenses as well as UHD-enabled kit for our workflows. And of course, we’re interested in seeing what’s available in IP infrastructures that will enable faster and more efficient acquisition and delivery of 4K.

What stands will you be heading for? IBC is a great place to catch up with our partners and see what they’re demonstrating around 4K and IP so we’ll dropping by the Lawo stand to take a look at their V__matrix routers. I always like heading to the Evertz and Imagine Communications stands to see what new toys they’ve got for us to play with.

Are there technologies you want to find out more about? Cameras with higher dynamic ranges are something manufacturers have been speaking about for a while. But as we wait for 4K broadcasts to become a reality, HDR has become more important for broadcasters. It’s something we can help our customers benefit from now so we’ll have a number of engineers spending time at the show with a number of manufacturers to see what they can offer in wider dynamic ranges. VR is also becoming more important. Especially in live sports, audiences want to become as immersed as they can and VR is a great way to do that. It seems to be moving from a nice-to-do to something that audiences actually get something from.

What will be the main themes at IBC? While the overall themes of 4K and IP are key, what’s really important is how we can benefit from these technologies now that are of real interest. The possibility of remote production is one of these benefits that will continue to play a bigger part. It’s something that will make our services better if we can deliver operations remotely for our clients.

Duncan Payne
Regional director, Azule Finance


What will you be looking out for at IBC? New trends, particularly in OB IP infrastructure are interesting. There is still an understandable nervousness among tier one OB providers to venture too far in to remote production though. But for second tier events where it’s not so mission-critical, the technology exists right now. Also around live production, second screen technology is becoming more and more lucrative, so the technology from the likes of EVS is becoming increasingly important for rights holders.

What manufacturers interest you? The three main broadcast manufacturers that we’ve done most business with are Sony, Arri and Canon, so we will certainly be heading to see what’s new there. Fujinon have made good headway with their new 4K 2/3” lenses proving popular. Ross Video remain front and centre of a lot of the studio and live production innovations. The pinnacle of OB production camera technology is currently the Sony HDC-4300, which is starting to sell in greater volumes now. With its ability to be used as a 4K camera or an HD super-motion camera, it is a very versatile camera to have in the fleet. NewTek are generally a safe bet to have new product or technology releases at the major shows. Their TriCaster range is constantly evolving, and there is nothing else that does what it can do at that price point. 

What new products are you keen to get your hands on? The Sony PXW-Z450 is the first 4K 2/3” shoulder-mount camcorder. Apparently it isn’t shipping until October but there should be beta models around to try. Zeiss has been consistently adding lenses to its already extensive range, and I’m sure there will be more announcements at IBC.

Are there any announcements you’re hoping for at the show?
I think this may be the third show running that I have said that there will be announcements about a new higher-resolution Arri sensor. I’ll be right one day, maybe this time. RED’s 6K Weapon may force Arri’s hand this time.

Posted 31 August 2016 by Jon Creamer

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
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