How We Do It
We are delighted that many of our customers have shown an interest in the production process that we take in order to produce these DVDs, so I thought I’d tell you a little about the methods that we use in order to create the high quality product that is every Stage on Screen DVD.
As you can imagine, recording these DVDs to the highest broadcast standard is quite a complex operation which requires detailed preparation in both the creative and logistic fields.
In the very early stages of rehearsal, the Outside Broadcast Director Chris Cowey and I go along to the rehearsal rooms to meet the play’s Director and the cast. The key thing is for us to explain our plan of action for the recordings, and answer a variety of questions from the actors as to how our presence will affect them on the filming day. The answer is, not at all. When we film, we aim to faithfully record the live performance and not to change or corrupt it for the cameras. This is the overriding concept that drives Stage on Screen. At this point, the cast are generally polite and totally disbelieving. To date they have all expressed a gratifying degree of pleasurable surprise when our assurances prove to be the unvarnished truth.
A few weeks into rehearsal we go and look at a scale model of the set, and from this and a detailed recce of the theatre, we are able to plot the number of cameras and their positions in the auditorium to give us the cover we need to shoot the performance. We of course have to bear in mind that when we record the shows there will be a full house, and clearly we don’t want any audience member to have their sight lines impeded, so a certain amount of seat kill is required to make way for some of the cameras.
Once the play has started its run in the theatre, we bring in our sound supervisor to plan the positioning of the microphones. This is quite a complex operation requiring a mixture of hidden radio mics on actors where costume and action allow it, and a large number of float mics in and around the set and stage. These give us the multiple audio tracks we need to create the 5.1 surround sound on the finished DVD. During the play’s run Chris Cowey and the script supervisor will sit through a number of performances noting and logging the action so that they are thoroughly familiar with it and ready for the filming day.
When the great day arrives, we bring in a state of the art Outside Broadcast Unit, the centre of which is the big OB truck containing all the routers, monitors and mixers, both vision and sound, and all the recording decks. This requires tender and support vehicles including an extremely powerful but totally silent generator, all of which requires some 25 crew, comprising floor manager, cameramen, vision engineers, sound engineers, electricians and riggers to make it all work. The High Definition cameras we use, 7 used in all of our productions so far, are able to capture images of broadcast quality using just the theatrical lighting design, so there is no compromise with the presentation of the show for the filming.
From 0800 hours we begin rigging in all the cables, cameras, microphones and talkback systems to the theatre and by 1200 hours everything is checked and ready to record. We shoot the matinee as a camera rehearsal and to iron out any technical or other glitches which may occur, but it’s the evening performance when we go for it. All 7 of the camera operators are in communication via headsets with Chris Cowey in the Outside Broadcast Truck so that he can direct them to frame the shots he needs. This way, by the time the show is over, Chris has created a live mix of the play sitting at the mixing desk in the OB truck outside the theatre.
After the recording is over we take all the master HD tapes, some 24 hours worth, to a post-production facility in Soho to polish and tweak until we are totally happy with the picture. Then it’s off to an audio suite to mix the 5.1 surround sound track from the 48 separate audio tracks we have captured at the theatre. Finally, when everything is exactly as we wish it to be, we start the DVD replication process.
One of the difficulties facing any television production company wishing to shoot live drama is finding an experienced OB Director, because it is an art that is no longer practised .We solved the problem by approaching Chris Cowey whose background is in live music, but who has his roots in theatre. Chris is a virtuoso of live multi-camera shooting, and has a CV that includes filming most of the major rock bands and a long stint as Exec Producer/Director of Top of the Pops. He has risen to this challenge magnificently as you will see from these productions, and as a result Stage on Screen is now regularly consulted by leading theatre companies keen to benefit from our expertise in bringing live theatre to the screen.