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01 December 2012

How the production team of the X Factor prepare for the live final shot in front of 10,000 people

It’s a truly super-sized production. The X Factor final this month’s will play in front of a live audience of 10,000 people at Manchester Central and broadcast to an expected 13m viewers on television.

Producing such a show, says senior exec producer Beth Hart, involves ‘massive logistical issues’.

The Manchester arena is an open space, with no seating or rigging at all. The X Factor production team has seven days to get the whole set in and carry out sound checks and rehearsals before the final on the weekend of 8/9th of December.

It’s a race against time, acknowledges line producer Helen Brothers. And it’s made all the more complicated by the decision to shift The X Factor final to Manchester. Last year, the final was held in Wembley, just a stone’s throw from the show’s base at Fountain Studios.

“It’s good to get out of London a bit – we can feel a bit London centric. We go all around the UK to find talent so it felt right for us to say this is not just a London show,” says Hart.

The move to Manchester means that production team has to accommodate and arrange travel for 500 people, including riggers, dancers, sound teams and cameramen. “The spreadsheet is massive,” jokes Brothers. 

It’s a far bigger enterprise than the rehearsals stage of The X Factor, which involves a crew of 150 and an audience of 4000. And the final is live, with an unmissable deadline of 8pm to hit on ITV1.

Getting the ticketing right and the audience out of the cold and in through the doors is one of the biggest challenges facing the production.

More than anything, says Hart, it’s extremely important that the show is shot in the right way.

She says wide shots of the arena audience are important. “But ultimately we are following the story of the contestants, so we have to make sure they don’t get lost. It’s the intimacy of the performances that people are watching for.”

The edit for the show takes place at its usual post house, The Farm in London, which is fed via an open line from a CTV OB truck in Manchester and incorporates multiple VTs as well as live footage from the arena.

The quality of the sound is also crucial. Sound director Robert Edwards says he plans for the final from the very first week, training up the contestants by week seven to use in-ear monitors so they can perform in a stadium environment.

Edwards’ credits include World Cup football matches through to studio shows, and he says The X Factor final is like a mixture of both. He explains that one of the challenges in football matches is not to let the roars of the crowd drown out the sound of the ball being kicked. And so it is with the performers and crowds in The X Factor – it’s vital for the production team to ensure the perfect balance between intimacy and scale.


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