SUMMER SCREAMS DOPs relish lighting The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it and Censor for fully immersive terror
SMOOTH MOVIES Are high frame rates a good idea?
Soon, all studios will have LED volume” Arri Rental’s Andrew Prior on the staying power of virtual production
NEWS BRIEFINGS AND MORE CAMERA LISTINGS
How the industry is rebounding from lockdown-induced drama binges
EDITORIAL Deputy editor Chelsea Fearnley firstname.lastname@example.org Features writer Lee Renwick Chief sub editor Alex Bell Sub editors Elisha Young, Matthew Winney Contributors Kevin Hilton, Phil Rhodes Editorial director Roger Payne ADVERTISING Group ad manager Sam Scott-Smith 01223 499457 email@example.com Senior accounts manager Emma Stevens 01223 499462 firstname.lastname@example.org DESIGN Design director Andy Jennings Designer Emma Di’Iuorio Ad production Man-Wai Wong PUBLISHING Managing directors Andy Brogden & Matt Pluck BRIGHT PUBLISHING LTD, BRIGHT HOUSE, 82 HIGH STREET, SAWSTON, CAMBRIDGESHIRE CB22 3HJ UK
CHELSEA FEARNLEY DEPUTY EDITOR Chelsea Fearnley WELCOME C ompared to some of the many fantastic film and TV professionals I talk to, I have not been in the industry long. However, I’ve been in it long enough to know there is a dark cloud dampening spirits. No, it’s not the smog – although industry-induced pollution is real and was addressed in our July 2021 issue. It’s the ever-growing strain on resource. There is a shortage of equipment and crew, and this is being felt across all areas of production. Every DOP, producer and gaffer I have connected with in the past two years has expressed concern about the demands the 2019 production boom and lockdown aftermath is having on their ability to thrive. So, I sat down with ScreenSkills, the industry body committed to delivering resource and training opportunities across the UK, to try and draw out some solutions our readers can look into. Also in this jam-packed issue, we spoil the shoot stories of two summer horrors, get the lowdown on the latest tech in batteries and broadcast, and answer the question: are high frame rates a good idea?
CONTENTS 05 INDUSTRY BRIEFINGS
MEDIA PARTNERS & SUPPORTERS OF
27 HIGHLY DIVISIVE
The latest news, views and hot tips from the world of video production. 07 LIGHTING THE HELLSCAPE Dungeon-like caverns, unsettling naturalism and baffling day-to-night transitions in The Conjuring 3 . DOP Annika Summerson discusses her descent into video nastiness for the giallo-inspired Censor . 19 NO LIGHTS, CAMERA, CREW 12 DIRTY WORK
Can high frame rate technology be cracked – and is it worth the pursuit? We talk to the professionals to see if it holds a place in the future of film. From stackables, to greener power and beefier capacities, discover the batteries with electrifying features. As the static camera becomes a thing of the past, broadcasters want modern tech for dynamic moving images. And there are certain brands making it happen.
31 THE GOLDEN JOULE
@definitionmags @definitionmags @definitionmagazine
38 NEVER MISS A THING
We look at how the industry is rebounding from the 2019 production boom and lockdown-induced drama binges.
47 CAMERA LISTINGS
COVER IMAGE The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it © Warner Bros. 2021
A showcase of the camera bodies currently revolutionising how we create digital images.
24 A REAL MIXED BAG
Arri Rental’s Andrew Prior talks diverse lenses and LED volume in our inaugural Rental Reports series.
Definition is published monthly by Bright Publishing Ltd, Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridge CB22 3HJ. No part of this magazine can be used
without prior written permission of Bright Publishing Ltd. Definition is a registered trademark of Bright Publishing Ltd. The advertisements published in Definition that have been written, designed or produced by employees of Bright Publishing Ltd remain the copyright of Bright Publishing Ltd and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. Prices quoted in sterling, euros and US dollars are street prices, without tax, where available or converted using the exchange rate on the day the magazine went to press.
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BR I EF I NGS | INDUSTRY
INDUSTRY BRIEFINGS The latest news, views and hot tips from the world of video production
Blackmagic Design has released its Raw 2.1 update, which adds support for Apple’s M1 processors. This will enable editors to import native BRAW footage quickly, and start editing on Macs with the M1 silicon chip. Additionally, non-BMD cameras that shoot BRAW gain support and improvements, like the Panasonic S1 and S1H, which can now record in BRAW via the Blackmagic Video Assist 12G. Other new features in the update include CPU optimisation for the Ursa Mini Pro 12K, enhancements to the Blackmagic Raw Premiere Pro plug-in, and a generation 5 colour science technical reference. blackmagicdesign.com
73 RD EMMY NOMS
CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A SINGLE- CAMERA SERIES (HALF-HOUR) • Mark Doering-Powell, Grown-ish • Adam Bricker, Hacks • Nathaniel Goodman, Made for Love • Matthew Jensen, The Mandalorian • Marshall Adams, Servant CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A LIMITED OR ANTHOLOGY SERIES OR MOVIE • Dana Gonzales, Fargo • Ben Richardson, Mare of Easttown • Steven Meizler, The Queen’s Gambit • Shabier Kirchner, Small Axe • James Laxton, The Underground Railroad CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR A NONFICTION PROGRAM • Jackson James & Steve James, City So Real • Gavin Thurston, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet • Kirsten Johnson, Dick Johnson Is Dead • Lincoln Else, Rebuilding Paradise • Hayes Baxley, Andy Mitchell & Brian
Netflix’s The Crown and Disney+’s The Mandalorian tie for the most nods – a whopping 24 each – as nominations for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards were unveiled on 13 July. In addition to appearing on the outstanding series list, the shows’ DOPs – Adriano Goldman for The Crown and Baz Idoine for The Mandalorian – are both up for an award in cinematography for a single-camera series (one hour). The other nominees are Jeffrey Jur ( Bridgerton ), Marcell Rév ( Euphoria ), Tat Radcliffe ( Lovecraft Country ), David Franco ( Perry Mason ) and Neville Kidd ( The Umbrella Academy ). The awards come after a TV season that took place amid a global pandemic, creating a whole host of new challenges for filmmakers. The winners will be announced at the Primetime Emmy Awards on 19 September. Here is the full list of cinematography nominations:
ABOVE The update adds optimised CPU decoding for the Ursa Mini Pro 12K
Armstrong, Secrets of the Whales • John Behrens & Jonathan Pope, The Social Dilemma
Lexar has introduced a CFexpress Type B Card Silver Series, built for the increasing bandwidth demands of high-resolution video. The cards come in 128GB and 256GB capacities, can read up to 1000MB/s and write up to 600MB/s, and are ideal for pristine 4K or Raw images. Compatible with firmware-enabled CFexpress cameras, the cards also have backwards compatibility with XQD cameras. lexar.com
AUGUST 202 1 | DEF I N I T ION 05
THE CONJUR I NG | PRODUCTION
Cinematographer Michael Burgess had big shoes to fill for the third instalment of The Conjuring, but he brought unique touches of unsettling naturalism to the series
WORDS LEE RENWI CK / PICTURES WARNER BROS . ENTERTA I NMENT
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PRODUCTION | THE CONJUR I NG
T here are few modern fright-fests quite so beloved as the world of The Conjuring . With spin-offs spanning the Annabelle films, The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona , the story that started it all now has a third chapter. For The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It , series icon, James Wan, passes the directorial reins to Michael Chaves. This gives cinematographer, Michael Burgess, a whole new level of responsibility. But after collaborating on The Curse of La Llorona , the pairing was a strong bet. “Leading the team is always daunting, no matter what the movie, but having the weight of the franchise on top did heighten that tremendously,” Burgess says. “It’s about getting the director’s vision across to the screen. I take it one shot at a time. You work through it that way, hope to do the best job possible, and put your own touch on every shot.” Of note, four out of Burgess’s five feature films as director of photography
The Arri Alexa Mini makes wonderful images, so we used that for the tightest, most compromising positions – or on Steadicam
are horrors. While his earlier work within the camera department spans a whole host of genres, it’s safe to say he’s a true aficionado. “Horror films allow you to be more expressive with lighting,” he continues. “You can do things out of the norm – that makes it so fun for a DOP. “There certainly was visual language that we sought to maintain on this shoot – an integrity that the world of The Conjuring is built on. But, at the same time, this was the first one James Wan didn’t direct. In that sense, it was approached through new eyes, and what I tried to do was help Chaves bring his vision to life.” In crafting the look of any film, there’s much to consider, not least the tools used to capture it. For Burgess, though, practical concerns remain as vital as creative ones. “We used the Arri Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini, with two sets of lenses from Panavision – the Primo Prime and Super Speeds,” he explains.
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THE CONJUR I NG | PRODUCTION
if watching through parted fingers. An atmosphere of dread builds through the scares, but it all starts with some disarming naturalism. “In the narrative-driven trial scenes, there were pretty sizeable HMI units outside the windows on lifts. For the final moments, I also had a helium balloon light inside the courthouse, just to brighten it up even more. I wanted it to be a nice, resting, end-of-movie feel,” says Burgess. “The first time we were in the courthouse, though, I didn’t really supplement any ambient light. I just let it all come from the windows so the shadows played a little darker – it’s when the journey begins, so you need to start creating the mood. “Those scenes needed to feel very natural. The audience had to be thinking, ‘OK, we’re in a horror world, but this is also very true to my own life.’ That way, when you get into the terrifying moments, the mood really shifts heavily and the scares are real.”
“The real draw of the PVintage was actually the stops. They start at T1.1, which is great – since we were often in very low-light conditions. There’s vintage texture I liked very much, but a lot of the film’s eighties look and feel came from the production design, clothing, props, plus some lighting. We didn’t want to rely on the lenses for that, as good as they are. “As for the camera choice, the Alexa LF and 65 were options, but the SXT is a bit smaller in size and still fantastic quality. I knew we’d be moving it a lot, shooting handheld often, so I thought that would be the best camera for those particular needs. “The Mini makes wonderful images as well, so we used it for the tightest, most compromising positions – or on Steadicam because of how light it is. But wherever possible, we’d use the SXT.” BUILDING THE FEAR There’s plenty for audiences to feast their eyes on in The Conjuring 3 , even
ABOVE Director, Michael Chaves, casts a keen eye over a frame during one nail-biting interior scene. Through a complex lighting sequence, viewers see Lorraine Warren transported from day to night in an instant
The set pieces certainly don’t come much more disturbing than a late, subterranean sequence – one Burgess relished in lighting. “They’re travelling through these underground caverns and we wanted it to feel hellish, or dungeon-like. So, when we did incorporate any lighting, it was on the warm side to represent the feeling of fire. We also wanted it to be very dark and disorientating – often the only source of on-screen light was one torch. “My gaffer, Josh Davis, built us plenty of options, ensuring we could exert as much control as possible – so, dimmable and colour temperature changeable. “We tried to stay away from beauty lighting in a lot of this movie,
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PRODUCTION | THE CONJUR I NG
particularly the scenes in the caverns. The characters are in a compromising, scary position, and we didn’t want to change the perception of that. We were seeking full, immersive terror. “We kept it dark, but needed to see characters’ expressions. It’s Ed and Lorraine – they’re the heart and soul of the movie! “Supplementing some of the light by bouncing it off a board allowed us to pick up facial details. Our characters could only believably point the flashlight at the surrounding environment, not themselves, so we’d either hide little bounce surfaces, or get someone to travel with the actors.” There’s another touch of practical movie magic to look out for – one that was very memorable for Burgess. “Before getting a script together, Chaves talked about using moving light in the film. In a scene where Lorraine is walking through the woods, there’s a big lighting transition from day to night. “We did a nice, high, wide shot looking straight down to a small BELOW In narrative scenes short on scares, Burgess created true-to-life naturalism that puts viewers at ease, making the startling moments all the more frightful faded, we dimmed the LEDs, creating a cool, night-time ambience As the artificial sun
RIGHT Franchise heroine, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), comes face to face with evil in a hellish maze
much space – perfect for battling the canopy of branches in the woods. It even kept out the way of the camera crane. That element was another of Davis’s choices. He shone brighter than the lights that night!” The final piece of the fear-inducing puzzle is a focus on practical effects. It’s something Burgess values highly – and, as he sees it, audiences too. “One of the best things about The Conjuring universe is the in-camera terror. It allows the actors to really experience what’s happening, holding the viewers right there with them. And it helps to maintain the fourth wall. Audiences are smart these days – they know what’s real and what’s not – so we’ve got to be one step ahead.” Don’t doubt the professionals. You may be in for the fright of your life.
section of the woods that I control to make it feel like daylight. Going too large-scale isn’t feasible – without a colossal budget, anyway. I got one crane for the camera and another 50-footer, with 100ft of track, for a 20K lamp. “Starting 50ft in the air with the sun-effect light, we moved it down to the ground, while pushing the crane 100ft through the forest, dimming as it went. When the light faded, HMIs came up in the background as moonlight. “We needed some light above the scene, so a huge tarp filled with small LEDs was rigged 40ft overhead. It was another controllable source, and we set a daylight colour temperature. As the artificial sun faded, we dimmed the LEDs, creating a cool, night-time ambience. “The tarp was a fantastic choice – it was incredibly thin and didn’t require
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PRODUCTION | CENSOR
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CENSOR | PRODUCTION
DOP Annika Summerson discusses the descent into video nastiness for her giallo-inspired horror
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY / P I CTURES PREM I ER COMMS
G loomy in tone and grey in palette, Censor is set in the often drab screening room where Enid (Niamh Algar), a conscientious film censor, sifts through a stream of gory exploitation movies. It is 1980s Britain – a time of rotary dial phones, VHS rentals and indoor smoking; the ruling classes grimly waiting out the miners’ strikes; and the press in a panic about video nasties. “Eye gouging must go!” Enid pens in her notebook as the horror unspools. Then, two things happen that undermine her buttoned-up exterior. One of the films inspires a freakish copycat murder, and the public decide she’s to blame – and, more disturbingly, a scene in another movie eerily resembles the circumstances of her sister’s disappearance years earlier. The film therefore has two very distinct and contrasting looks: the bleak and visually constrained Thatcher era (which Enid and her insufferable colleagues inhabit), and the world of the video nasty. ITALIAN INSPIRATION While the video nasties list included grimy horrors such as I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left , the verboten collection also featured colourful, surrealist works from directors such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. “We wanted the video world to be a mix of the two,” explains the film’s DOP Annika Summerson. “For it to feel somewhere in the middle of a cheap, trashy horror and a classy one, while remaining true to the colour palettes of the Italian filmmakers we took inspiration from.”
Censor gazes on movie history with style, and commits to the era’s grainy VHS aesthetics. Despite the switch to a Sony Venice for a forest-set night scene that required VFX, much of it is shot on 35mm, with a speckling of Super 8. “Some of the Super 8 scenes came from a short called Nasty that film director, Prano Bailey-Bond, and I did in 2015. Others are new footage we shot of Enid in the forest being filmed by the movie’s fictional director of Don’t Go in the Church , Frederick North,” explains Summerson. “We also captured a news report in a 1980s estate on a Panasonic M40 – an old VHS camera. It was hard to get hold of, but finding a VHS player to check the tape afterwards was even harder!” Many of the productions we see Enid censoring are actual video nasties, like Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer , but there are a few faux nasties that Summerson and Bailey-Bond made specifically for Censor . It’s worth noting that these weren’t shot in full, so there won’t be a stream of slasher flicks following the film’s release. The team were rigorous and only captured what was necessary. “We pretty much shot-listed the whole film,” says Summerson. “The exception being the Frederick North film, Asunder , because when Enid is watching it, she keeps rewinding the tape. So, we had to record a lot of scenes that were going to be rewound on-screen – that was stressful, as we were really short on film stock.” Today’s film stock – mostly Kodak Vision3 – is much cleaner than what video nasties were shot on. Summerson
We wanted it to feel somewhere in the middle of a cheap, trashy horror and a classy one, with the colour palettes of Italian filmmakers considered 16mm for more grain, like she did for Nasty , but found texture through her choice of lens. “I used Canon K35s – they’re soft and have low contrast, which gave the film more of a vintage expression. I also paired them with Black Satin filters, then switched to heavier fog filters when I needed more effects. For some scenes, we pushed the stock to make it a bit grainier – but that’s expensive, so unfortunately we couldn’t do it for the whole film,” she explains. LIGHTING THE MIX Reminiscent of the giallo masters, the video world is full of saturated colours achieved using a mixture of Arri Sky panels, and HMIs and fresnels. Before becoming a cinematographer, Summerson worked as a spark, so gelling these old-school lights was less of a chore – more a labour of love.
LEFT Censor’s video world is full of saturated colours, achieved by gelling HMIs and fresnels
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PRODUCTION | CENSOR
ABOVE Enid’s viewing room is completely windowless, lit by desk lamps and overhead fluorescents – the cyan-based palette and subterranean atmosphere provoke claustrophobia in both the characters and the viewers. Close-ups like this are key in helping to generate this fear factor
sitting in the dark, watching something scary. The rooms are very small, so I opted for top lighting, then additional floor lamps for close-ups. We tried to add in practicals to create depth,” Summerson explains. Although it had its limitations – especially for camera movement – the office’s cramped rooms were key to the plot progression. As the edges of Enid’s prim exterior begin to fray, and she comes face to face with the video world, the camera becomes less static and transitions into handheld. “We developed it slowly; when she started losing control, we got looser with the camera and, by the third act, went completely handheld.” RED ALERT The third act brings us to a woodland, where Enid experiences horrifying childhood flashbacks that have taken root in her mind. Here, Summerson used the Sony Venice instead of 35mm. There’s no need to replicate realistic moonlight – by this point, Censor has catapulted into full-on red and cyan craziness. “It’s giallo-inspired – garish and colourful. The two worlds have married The rooms are very small, so I opted for top lighting, then additional floor lamps for close-ups
“In my head, I have a good back catalogue of gels, but I like to run tests for each production so I can see the colour combinations. Understanding what they do when captured on different cameras, lenses, and with different costumes is a great help. The variables change, so even though I have a notion of what to start with, I’ll still try a lot of similar colours before making a decision,” she says. Lighting the office was a different story. The environment has a cyan-based palette, and feels almost subterranean because there aren’t many windows – the viewing room doesn’t have any. Motivation mainly came from desk lamps and overhead fluorescents. “We wanted to create a close, low- key environment that’s mysterious and frightening. Our intention was always to make the characters feel as if they were
CINELAB Cinelab provided the film with various on-set tech and digital imaging services, including the film processing, which involved 93,000ft Super 35mm 3-perf stocks, a Scanity HDR Film Scanner and a 2K ‘scan once’ workflow. Paul Dean, who is the company’s head of scanning and grading, was Censor’s film dailies colourist.
together perfectly,” she says. However, there was still a vast forest space to illuminate – challenging on a budget and tight schedule. “We scouted so many forests, because we wanted the right type of trees; they had to be bare and quite uniform. One bigger light source didn’t reach far enough – it needed flat ground to park on, but the forest floor was bumpy. So, we complemented it with HMIs dotted around the trees, and Skypanels for close-ups and mid-shots,” says Summerson. “We had to light 360° as much as we could, because there’s no time to relight for a turnaround in the middle of the night – moving a cable 100m takes forever in the dark. I would have loved more lamps and more time, but honestly, I don’t want to see a forest ever again!” she laughs.
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ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE | SAMSUNG
Facing his first film project as director of photography, Will J Carman needs to save time, maintain a professional workflow and look good doing it. Cue the Samsung Portable SSD X5
FOR SEASONED HOLLYWOOD professionals, approaching a new project is a daunting enough task. For a young and upcoming cinematographer like Will J Carman, success lies in every single detail. Getting to indulge the creative vision on this scale is a real joy, but one that’s easily diminished by the stresses of the process – without the right tools to support you, at least. “My work predominantly lies in corporate and branded video content, where I shoot and occasionally edit,” Carman explains. “Recently, though, I’ve been working towards narrative projects. “In June, I began production on my first independent feature, All Roads Lead to Home . It’s a film with a small crew, so I knew time would be tight. As such, I was excited to use the Portable SSD X5 for my external storage. “Throughout the first block of filming, the Samsung portable drive has filled the very functional role of our dailies drive, used constantly to clear rushes from the camera’s card, then upload them to a larger-capacity static storage bank.” Certainly, one of the most impressive things about the drive is its portability – a fact not lost on Carman. Impressive specs only go so far with internal media.
“Among external storage devices, the Portable SSD X5 is impressively small – under 12cm and weighing just 150g” devices, the Portable SSD X5 is impressively small at under 12cm in length, and weighing just 150g. Ideal for challenging work, the body has no moving parts and is reinforced with magnesium alloy that can withstand a 2m drop. Its sleek looks also impressed Carman. The ability to hold that power in the palm of your hand is something else entirely. For many, it’s priceless. “Like a lot of freelancers, I often find myself working in hotel rooms or other less than ideal locations. With no access to my home machine and storage system, having an SSD or two as good as this Samsung Portable SSD makes it all happen. I’d be nowhere without reliable storage and a means of reviewing and editing footage.” Even among modern external storage
ABOVE Shooting 4.6K Raw footage will fill a camera card in no time. The transfer speeds of the Samsung Portable SSD X5 allow rushes to be offloaded quickly – essential for filmmakers and producers
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SAMSUNG | ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE
BELOW DOP Will J Carman relies on portable storage for a smooth shoot; the SSD X5 impressed him with its efficiency
“They get their rushes in less than 30 minutes and we can both invest that extra time elsewhere. It’s a great look professionally to exceed expectations.” Carman was delighted to find the Samsung portable drive equally impressive once the camera stopped rolling. “I’m no professional colourist, but I like to grade the rushes after a shoot to get a better feel for them. In this case, I was editing directly from the portable drive. “The rapid read speeds allow me to leave my laptop’s internal storage free – not having to make the additional transfer from drive to machine is a real time-saver. “The Raw files I shoot, like those on this film, are very demanding. Editing straight from a powerful external SSD is hugely beneficial in that sense. I can make quick edits, apply different looks, and have smooth playback with no issues.” As the first block of All Roads Lead to Home comes to an end, Carman has more than a thrilling career step to excite him. “The Portable SSD X5 has offered real peace of mind. It’s worked for me and the film, and it will dazzle commercial clients.” What’s not to love?
transferring the footage the moment we stop shooting, and by the time we’re packed down and ready to leave the location, our files are safely on the portable drive. Optional Password Protection via AES 256-bit Encryption offers further peace of mind.” To put some figures next to Carman’s experience, the Samsung Portable SSD X5 has read speeds of 2800MB/s and write speeds of up to 2300MB/s. All this is possible thanks to advanced Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and Samsung’s astonishing NVMe interface. “Those transfer speeds help when working with producers,” Carman adds.
“I love the design – like a futuristic supercar in hard drive form,” he enthuses. “The textured red underside makes it stand out in my kit bag, which is a hidden benefit.” QUICK CUTS During days on set and in-between, Carman has come to rely on the Samsung’s SSD X5 speed. “We’ve been shooting 4.6K Raw footage,” he says. “So we’re filling the 256GB card quite rapidly. Thankfully, all of that data can be offloaded in quick time. “It’s come in particularly useful during unit moves. We’ve been able to start
MORE INFORMATION: samsung.com/uk/memory-storage
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CREWI NG | INDUSTRY
WE KNEW WE NEEDED A BIGGER WORKFORCE – BUT THAT NEED HAS GROWN
SINCE THE PANDEMIC The UK high-end TV industry is still struggling with crew shortages and a skills gap, following the 2019 production boom and lockdown drama binges. We talk to ScreenSkills about its incentives to address these problems
E THE W
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY / P I CTURES NETFL I X & BBC
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INDUSTRY | CREWI NG
A lack of available crew and a skills gap have been key challenges for the UK high-end TV industry, since it underwent an unprecedented boom – buoyed by tax sector relief – back in 2019. That year, the industry-led skills body, ScreenSkills, reported that the downside to positive production figures meant people faced burnout from taking on work without breaks between jobs, and stepping into more senior roles before they were ready. Although some fantastic initiatives have been put in place to ease some of these pressures, Britain’s high-end TV producers are still facing crew shortages, as the industry struggles to keep up with the demand for new shows, caused by lockdown-induced drama binges. “To put it in perspective, I was working on at least 70 high-end TV productions last month, so, if we’ve got 70 productions – and that’s not all of them – there’s 70 producers, 70 DOPs, 70 directors, etc. Then, there’s all the workers in prep,” explains Nicky Ball, senior high-end TV new entrant manager. “We knew we needed a bigger workforce, but that need has grown exponentially since the Covid-19 pandemic.” Not only has the pandemic contributed to the public’s seemingly insatiable desire for new content to watch, but it’s had a tremendous impact on production schedules. With shows overlapping, producers are often left scrambling for staff to pick up the last few days or weeks of work, after crew have left for other commitments. “While the industry is incredibly loyal, it’s becoming increasingly common
IMAGES Around £1.13 billion from inward investment – where financing originates from countries outside the UK – was spent on high-end TV productions, like Netflix’s The Crown (top), last year. The 2020 spend is the second-highest on record and is testament to the resilience of the country’s TV sector. Domestic HETV productions, like His Dark Materials (above), accounted for £375 million – only 4% less than the £327 million for the mammoth production boom of 2019
to a d
e s ren
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CREWI NG | INDUSTRY
mp yea r 82% loye rs fo und t a p rob
for staff to leave midway through a show for something that pays better,” says Ball. “It’s another knock-on effect Covid-19 has had on this sector, which is so reliant on freelancers who saw their incomes collapse, as they were unable to access the same government furlough or self-employed support schemes that were available to so many others.” Inward investment from US majors like Netflix and Disney setting up shop on UK shores has also contributed to crew shortages and skill gaps. Ball says, “More drama is being made and budgets are getting bigger, so the demand now is that producers are looking for crew with specialised skill sets. The popularity of continuous drama is having a further knock-on effect on the whole industry, not just the high-end, and we’re even seeing TV broadcasters advertise for crew.” While it’s easy to imagine issues caused by a crew shortage on sets, Ball also raised concerns about a desperate lack of accountants to keep an eye on production budgets and manage wages. The problem has become so severe, Netflix has been forced to set up its own accountancy training scheme to supply behind-the- scenes staff for UK productions. “We’ve managed to get a lot of accountants into the industry via our career transfer
programmes, which extend to army veterans, many of whom are now working on location,” she adds. SOLVING THE SCREENS Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for the cracks felt among production crews. Training new people and upskilling existing talent is an investment producers have to commit to in the long term. But any high- end TV producer that contributes just 0.5% of their budget to the UK High-end TV Skills Fund can take out 60% of what they pay in, for training and upskilling. “The HETV fund is worth 3.8 to 4 million pounds a year, and it’s all industry money, so
we’re absolutely answerable to industry, and must react and deliver what it needs with our training and skills incentives,” says Ball. Addressing crew shortages, ScreenSkills has Trainee Finder. A programme placing talented, creative individuals across film, high-end TV and children’s TV – but more specific to skill shortages is the Make a Move programme, which is funding to subsidise the cost of employing and training individuals in higher grades, with the aim that a future role will be at the next level up. “Potential steps up could be a location assistant moving up to unit manager, clapper loader to focus puller, or production secretary to production coordinator. The scheme covers all departments, supporting travel and accommodation expenses, mentoring and short courses, but actively encouraging applicants to support craft and technical roles – like accountants, ADs, location managers, unit managers,
Inward investment fromUS majors like Netflix and Disney setting up on UK shores contributed to crew shortages and skill gaps
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RENTAL COMPANY LOOKING TO INSPIRE
Leading manufacturers also feel a duty to rectify the industry’s skills shortage – a huge player like Arri Rental, a company that has backed big DOPs on large-scale productions, is even supporting those outside its remit, with the Inspire Programme. “It was set up six years ago, designed for people with no experience or contacts in the industry,” explains Robert Waters, camera operation manager at Arri Rental. The three-year training programme enables young, raw talent to get real, hands- on experience in a professional working environment, make priceless connections, and have the support of Arri Rental as they navigate their way through their first freelance role. “We found that everyone in the programme is offered a freelance job towards the end of their time,” enthuses Waters. “The benefit of them meeting crew and gaining contacts, coupled with the knowledge they obtain, sets them up for success – and we are extremely proud of the programme and people that passed through it.” For those already in the industry, Arri Rental offers a diary service called Arri Crew, which manages the diaries of freelance technicians. This isn’t a direct rental service for providing crew, but it does help production managers gain access to a pool of highly skilled individuals with experience across feature films, TV dramas, documentaries, commercials and promos. The service is run by Kate Collier, and her aim is to guide workers as they navigate the complex world of production. More than just a diary service, it is a place where freelancers have space to grow, getting the support needed to work at their best.
grips, editors, art directors, production coordinators and line producers – these are the most under-represented,” explains Ball. Producers can apply for up to £15,000 per production, and it can be claimed if more than one individual is being ‘stepped up’, or if the person being proposed is following senior roles, like producer, line producer or a head of department. By supporting more than one applicant on each production, the HETV fund can ensure it is delivering maximum value for money from its investment. “If productions are paying into this fund, they should absolutely make the most of Trainee Finder and Make a Move,” says Ball. “We also have Film Forward, designed to create change in the industry by supporting experienced Black, Asian or minority ethnic professionals advancing into more senior roles. The programme offers financial and coaching support, and If productions are paying into this fund, they should absolutely make the most of Trainee Finder and Make a Move
also matches workers with at least five years’ experience in below-the-line roles with paid placements in UK productions.” BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS As a call for greater collaboration on improving social mobility in the UK screen industries, ScreenSkills also runs outreach programmes, including Discover!, Creative Careers Week, and First Break, supporting those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Research by the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC), supported by ScreenSkills, showed that only a quarter of people working in the sector come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 38% across the workforce as a whole. “There’s a lot to be done, but ScreenSkills is collaborating with colleagues in the sector to unblock barriers to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, by supporting employers to introduce fair recruitment and genuinely inclusive working practices,” says Ball. “Everything we do is open to all, but a major challenge is getting the word out – people often find us despite having no idea we existed. Many producers use us for the production side, but don’t look at other areas where they’re underskilled or understaffed. So, it’s worth reiterating that our funding is open to all people who want to work in the UK’s screen industries.”
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A REAL MIXED BAG In our inaugural Rental Reports series, Andrew Prior, head of camera technology and development at RENTAL REPORTS | ARR I RENTAL
Arri Rental, discusses lens diversity, the impact of drama and the staying power of LED volume
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY
LEFT Andrew Prior has noticed a slight trend for TV dramas to be a bit more anamorphic
Everyone is doing a bit of everything right now, so when we watch our shows, it’s nice to see that they’re all slightly different three schools of lenses: there’s the clean, high-performing lenses; the quirkier vintage ones that are harder to handle and need to be learnt; and then you’ve got the in- between lenses that are clean, but still have a bit of character. And what’s interesting is that all of these lens types are currently out on shoots; everyone is doing a bit of everything right now, so when we watch
What’s new? Last time we spoke, the industry was getting back on its feet. We anticipated a perfect storm of busyness. ANDREW PRIOR: It’s been a very busy year – and on top of that, streamers are just haemorrhaging money right now. They are throwing cash at TV productions like there’s no tomorrow. And what’s interesting is that the shows being made – The Crown and The Witcher , for example – don’t really compare to what you would typically see on ‘normal telly’. They’ve got big budgets and, although it’s a wonderful thing for business, it’s a huge drain on resource – the industry is quickly running out of equipment, crew and space. To put it into perspective, we’re currently working across four or five big streaming shows, and they’re about six or seven months into production, which is unheard of outside the realms of feature
films. It’s the Batman films, the James Bond films, and the Spider-Man films that typically take that long to produce – and because TV budgets are now equivalent to the budgets of feature films, everyone wants to use the same equipment, but for a much longer period of time. Are there pieces of equipment being used in the production of TV now, that wouldn’t have been previously? PRIOR: I’ve noticed a slight trend for TV dramas to be a bit more anamorphic – it certainly isn’t traditional, but goes hand in hand with the increasing production value of TV. In general, though, the trend isn’t leaning more towards anamorphic or spherical, because – just as an artist chooses watercolour, acrylic or oils – it’s about their different uses and what they do to enhance the story. However, I’ve definitely noticed
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ARR I RENTAL | RENTAL REPORTS
IMAGE The use of LED volume on The Mandalorian has created a new standard for production
problems start to arise, because once lit, that green will spill out on to the actors and set, creating reflections that are extremely costly to remove in post. I’m not a soothsayer, but I think, even just for the benefit of this, LED volume is a no-brainer. It’s not easy, though. You need special teams to operate the screens and people who can run Unreal Engine and do the rendering. You can’t just click on an object with your mouse and move it around. An action like that can sometimes take three or four hours to render – and that wouldn’t work in a real-world set, because you can’t have actors and crew waiting for the machine to render a change. You have to be ready and there’s a lot of prep involved, but this isn’t just going to be another 3D blip. Virtual production is definitely here to stay, and the technology is going to keep getting better and better.
the quality of the panels is not excellent, and they cannot be used to light the actors alone. Arri, among other companies, makes very high-end lights, but how we make those is quite complicated and expensive. These lights also had years and years of research put into them, and the panels market – which is dominated by China – is still relatively new. What is the benefit of LED volume if there is still work to be done? PRIOR: The lighting quality of the panels isn’t great, but what they’re able to show you is the correct colour. So, if you’re in a dark green forest, or next to a vibrant orange fire, this is what will be reflected off the screen and on to the actors. Scenes like this are traditionally done using green screen, which needs to be lit, because it’s made out of fabric. However, this is where
our shows, it’s nice to see that they’re all slightly different.
Arri Rental has just opened its own mixed- reality studio. Is this a sign the industry is committing to virtual production? PRIOR: Absolutely. All the major studios either already have LED volume, or are working towards having it. Warner Bros. just announced a 24,000 sq ft stage at Leavesden, and Disney has an entire wing of its company dedicated to mixed reality, which is used to provide LED volume to its own shows, as well as others. And that’s something we took note of – we wanted to be able to provide this technology similarly to multiple productions. Soon, it will make sense for all stages to have panels on the walls instead of blue or green screen, because they can actually create the perfect chroma key. Right now,
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No recent innovation is as contentious as high frame rate technology. But can it be cracked, is it worth the pursuit, and what place does it hold – if any – in the future of film? HIGHLY DIVISIVE 120FPS C I NEMA | INDUSTRY
WORDS LEE RENWI CK / P I CTURES LOVE H I GH SPEED & EBEN BOLTER
ABOVE Keen to experience new filmmaking technology wherever possible, DOP Eben Bolter recently put his skilled hand to Percival, a short virtual production
L et me establish early, I’m very pro- Eben Bolter. “It’s completely intertwined with film as an art form – more so than any other medium, I believe. “We’ve had 120 years of motion picture at this point. In that time, innovations have come and gone. Some have worked, some haven’t. But, as it stands, high frame rate isn’t doing well.” technology and think the advancement of it within our industry is a great thing,” says director of photography,
we’re used to. James Cameron’s Avatar sequels and Andy Serkis’s Animal Farm are set to use the technique alongside motion capture performance. The result is difficult to describe to those yet to experience it for themselves. Some would call it smooth, others unnatural, but there’s no shortage of opinions out there. You’ll find a host of videos online comparing cinematic 24fps with 60fps and beyond. “There’s a particular experience of watching a movie that we, as humans, have evolved into,” Bolter continues. “We’ve grown up as viewers, and there’s certainly a nostalgia in that, but it teaches you how to watch a movie. You learn how to give yourself over to a story and suspend
HFR recording is nothing new, especially in the context of the fast-moving production world. Still, there have only been a handful of western feature films screened at frame rates beyond the standard 24fps. In recent years, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man were subject to mixed reviews from audiences and critics alike. The former took tentative steps in a new direction at 48fps, while the latter leaned into visual rarity at 120fps – five times the number of frames
Innovations have come and gone... but, as it stands, high frame rate isn’t doing well
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INDUSTRY | 120FPS C I NEMA
“I saw The Hobbit in 48fps 3D, and it felt like I was standing on a filmset – when you’re on a set, the moment of shooting something feels very fake. “You have to remain faithful that through the art of cinema magic – editing, lighting, score and, in my opinion, 24 frames per second – the audience will suspend their disbelief and buy into what is happening. Watching the final story is different to seeing its creation.” For some, though, complete immersion is a good thing. Perhaps therein lies the mixed response. Even current sceptics, like Bolter, can see the potential benefit away from feature films. “HFR’s ability to create a window of reality could have a huge future – like live sports. If you could go to a cinema and watch the World Cup final in 4K 120fps, it would be as close as possible to really being there. Live theatre, documentaries, interactive experiences like VR – they’re all ripe for this technology.” Bolter also raises another much- discussed issue. “A lack of motion blur is touted as an advantage of HFR, but it’s a very natural thing for us. If you were to shake your hand in front of your face, there would be blur, so when we see Tom Cruise sprinting through an airport, we expect the same to happen. “I am very open to using the technology on a shoot and think it will catch on, so there may be more opportunities for DOPs. Finding a way to deal with motion blur would be key for me. “There are a few other practical issues, like the necessity of more light. Many
cinema cameras require you to drop the resolution at higher frame rates, too. I think that will be solved very soon.” Ever the tactful professional, Bolter concludes: “My opinion is just that of one person. I’m curious to see where we can take it – it’s interesting that James Cameron will put his own spin on it with the upcoming Avatar sequel. But I’m certain we have work to do before it’s a success.” MAKING IT SLOW Frame rate must be considered in two distinct parts: capture and playback. Thus far, films have been recorded and viewed at faster-than-usual speeds. Yet, if you were to capture footage at 120fps and play it back at the standard 24fps, the result would be entirely different. The specialist slow motion sequence is now more common and, often, much more widely praised. Love High Speed is one such company bringing this expertise to sets. “Slow motion capture is a very powerful tool for filmmakers, for both creative and technical applications,” says company director, Stephen Price, whose credits range from the dramatic biopic Rocketman , to the action-packed Justice League . “ Wonder Woman director, Patty Jenkins, used our services during a few pivotal scenes in the film, and to a number of different effects. “When soldiers arrive at Diana’s home and violence erupts, it’s the first time she witnesses what humans are capable of. Shown in real time, this poignant character moment would have been lost in the rapid action sequence. “Elsewhere, we might use slow motion to dictate pace or accentuate action.” While 120fps isn’t all that uncommon – many consumer mirrorless or DSLR cameras are capable of more – the technology used for an extreme slow motion effect is much more advanced. There is great potential, but many of the Phantom’s design has progressed lately, with much more thought put into integration with other industry-standard kit – complexity is no longer a concern LEFT On the set of a Love High Speed product shoot, six tungsten lamps produce a sizeable 72kW key light – this is vital for HFR recording
disbelief. It’s a human element that can be overlooked on the quest for innovation. “There’s a commercial aspect to HFR, of getting people to visit cinemas and buy the latest televisions. That turns the wheel of this industry, which is a good thing, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of viewer experience. Audiences are aware now more than ever of any gimmicks.” Bolter believes one key aspect is key to viewing engagement and enjoyment. “The storytelling element is huge – fundamentally, that’s what film is. If you gathered around the campfire and told a fable, there’s a certain way you’d engage people. There’s an art form to it. If you included every single accurate detail in the story, it might not be so enjoyable. “That’s my problem with HFR – it shatters the illusion and breaks the suspension of disbelief we’ve all developed. The best films draw us in with every available element, and without us realising.
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