Shooting Our Way Out of Lockdown..



We don't know exactly what health & safety requirements will be placed specifically on production in the film & tv industry as lockdown begins to lift. All we can do is plan based around other countries exit strategies and more broadly applicable rules & guidelines for work environments.

What we do know is that social distancing is going to remain key in studio and on location. This will potentially mean smaller crews, a lower maximum number of people on set at any one time - for interior shoots each person inside will potentially require 4m2 working space.. and there'll be minimal travel to set where possible.

These are our thoughts on how minimum impact shooting could be achieved as lockdown eases, specifically in this case around working with footballers which is a large portion of TVC production in the North West. The working practise is applicable however to any situation in which content is required to be shot remotely with few/no crew on set. The ideas are based around 'exit' info from a variety of sources - a collection of official guidelines from government work & health authorities alongside leaders in the film & tv industry.

Camera Kit

There are a few options we can work with depending on how lockdown exit is achieved and whether it's a full lift or more likely a gradual change over a period of several weeks/months.

If under restricted working conditions and most likely minimal crews, the aim would be to achieve the minimum impact of a self shot piece whilst getting as close to the production value and flexibility of a conventional shoot as possible.

We've seen some productions opt for home/self shot iPhone/Zoom content during this period - it fulfils a need and in some cases, adds to the feel they're trying to achieve but the results can be limited (also this way of shooting isn't great for a rental house.....). Another option is 'Drop Kits' again, some productions have used this to great effect during lock down - 'sterile' basic camera/lighting/audio kits can be delivered to location and utilised by the talent/subject themselves. No other crew would travel to set and other than positioning - which would be done by the talent themselves - the kit could be operated remotely over the internet. In this scenario, the type of kit would need to be of a more basic level that could be used successfully by one individual (who likely has no prior experience of film production). The type of cameras that allow full control over IP are generally from a broadcast field, the overall look and feel produced would be very different to what we're used to; the type of lens mounts allowing full remote lens control very much limit lens choice. Whilst this won't be a concern for certain scripts, the limitations perhaps aren't necessary...

A large amount of TVC work in and around the North West centres around footballers and recently we've produced quotes for several production companies itching to get back to creating work initially from within a footballers home setting for clients around the world. We've been able to work on an ideal scenario for location shooting (most likely at the talent's home) where although the shoot is crewed with camera/playback technicians there is no need for crew to enter the location - this is obviously assuming lockdown rules in the UK haven't been fully relaxed at the time of any potential shoot.

Pre shoot remote recces are key, location photographs room dimensions and talent height details are going to be super useful. All of this would allow us/DOP remotely alongside a director - to pick an area of the location we think works lighting wise i.e not looking into a window, no large mirrors or pieces of glass to cause reflection issues. That area would ideally be on a ground floor or the same level as a doorway that we can deliver equipment to.

One crew member (ideally a DOP or Focus Puller that is lighting savvy) delivers the equipment. The camera is delivered on a tripod set to the correct height to get the shot we want. The tripod would be on a rolling spider allowing easy adjustment into the pre planned shooting direction.

One battery powered LED Lamp - again on a stand with wheels - can be wheeled in and placed next to the camera. This would be controlled by a wireless app, essentially like the lights were plugged into a lighting desk allowing control of brightness and colour temperature remotely.

Basic audio could be achieved with a pre levelled gun mic on camera - more accurate audio could be achieved with a close up directional or body mic but this would need to be thought out and agreed between talent/management as by default it would impose on the social distancing rules.

DOP and/or Camera Assistants would be based outside with a wireless video feed, wireless camera control and full lens control. The ideal scenario being to shoot as large a format as possible and ideally on a Zoom lens giving the ability to adjust frame size both at the time of shooting and subsequently in post. Simple comms between talent and DOP would allow fine tuning of camera/lighting position.

If remote viewing over the internet is required then another crew member would be required to work from the driveway or even inside their own vehicle with a QTake Server setup (further info below). This can be viewed anywhere in the world so there's really no limit to who can view and contribute to the shoot.

In terms of set up, the kit would be full prepped at No Drama the day before so that there's minimal set up time on location. Especially with football shoots, the quicker the process the more obliging they are going to be with time in front of the camera. Testing and set up at location could be achieved in 30-45 mins with roughly another 20 mins of fine tuning with the talent pre turn over.

Having even one technical crew member on location opens up much greater Camera & Lens choice - Arri Alexa, RED DSMC2 Cameras and Sony Venice all have the ability to be controlled over WiFi and therefore become a 'drop kit'. Combined with a full lens control system again designed to be operated wirelessly lens choice is no longer an issue and it is feasible that additional crew members - Focus Puller etc could join the shoot whilst still working within restrictions, off set and suitably distanced away from other crew. Every shoot these days relies on a wireless link between camera/video village/playback - that workflow is well established and in this case a line of sight link would be provided by a Teradek Wireless video sender.

The advantages of making this setup remotely operated from outside the house rather than over the internet are massive. It allows much greater control of settings and the ability to troubleshoot any issues immediately rather than relying on a network connection to be able to control the camera. Tech that is shaky at best in our experience and usually requires some user input to get it working. We are not relying on autofocus, auto iris or auto sound levels to get it right eliminating the risk of any potential surprises in post.

Playback Kit

In the immediate future it is likely not going to be possible to have many clients & agency on set. Therefore, the use of remote viewing & playback will be key to maintaining what we'd expect of usual 'on set' collaboration. The ideas below would work either in the 'remote' shooting situation above or as lockdown lifts further, on a more conventional shoot minimising the number of crew on set and the need for client/agency or international crew to attend.

The development of bespoke QTake based playback kits has been at the forefront of No Drama's offering since our founding in 2011. We've been testing new workflows based around Qtake Monitor & Server applications with Duncan Lees, one of the UK's leading Playback Operators.

Qtake monitor onset allows the user to generate a local wifi network which enables various departments to view a live picture via an iPad or phone when it isn't possible to be near a monitor. As work starts back up this is going to be more useful than ever; accommodating social distancing recommendations and therefore minimising any cross contamination between different departments handling equipment - all whilst still maintaining the focus and attention to detail needed to deliver a high level product.

QTake Monitor also allows people who are unable to physically attend set to view the same live image. The operator uploads - in real time - a Live stream to an integrated server built around the Qtake software platform. Viewing is essentially unlimited at this point - anybody with a Wifi or Cellular internet connection would have full access to the live stream. With access to international and possibly even domestic travel undoubtedly some way off this will prove invaluable in keeping the creative minds and those paying the bills fully connected to the project throughout.

The system itself can stream up to 4 cameras with sound, all in sync with one another, to a maximum of 16 iOS devices. There is some setup but it is very straight forward and our operator can talk people through that the day before a shoot begins so that everyone is ready to simply Log in and out at their convenience. At the user end it allows for controls such as zooming in on the image or adding your own custom frame lines (allowing individual users to check 9:16 or 1:1 framing, for instance).

If it makes sense for the production in question - monitoring cameras can also be installed on set, so that video village can follow along in a more conventional sense. Used alongside the readily available video conferencing software we've all become used to over the last few months would allow simple talk back with the director or producer.

Expanding on this system is an option to upload H.264 files of the clips recorded by Qtake's op to a server which again - can be independently accessed by each viewer as the shoot is progressing.
Connectivity would be via LAN connection to Wifi at the location or through 4G (or even 5G) dongles which give the ability to offer and work this system almost anywhere on location shoots. Mobile reception is the only barrier but there are systems that allow aggregation of multiple providers to best mitigate any loss or poor signal.

We've combined our knowledge of the Qtake software platform and our bespoke hardware builds refined over the last decade with the skills of IT professionals who specialise in the set up and maintenance of wifi networks for large outdoor events. Between us we have been able to tailor and fine tune the technology used to create and maintain our own onset, local wifi network making it as robust as possible.

Practical solutions prepped and operated by the best technicians allowing maximum production value on screen is what we've been always been about and we hope that these temporary working solutions offer exactly that to our clients.

Health & Safety

Above and beyond all of the technical aspects of shooting in this temporary new normal it is hugely important to understand that No Drama are taking the utmost care to ensure that any equipment arriving on set is safe for working.

We are able to work safely in our 3500sq' warehouse maintaining social distancing and have re thought our prep, check and testing procedures to ensure exceptional cleanliness and equipment arriving on set is fully disinfected, sterile and safe to use.

We envisage returning to work with minimal staff and have put together training in the donning and doffing of PPE, the correct order and procedure to fully disinfect equipment prior to loading and delivering in a safe way that minimises unnecessary contact with people on set or elsewhere.

If you have any questions about anything in this article please feel free to get in touch and we'll be more than happy to talk through any technical queries or other concerns.