PROTECTING PRODUCTIONS WHAT NEXT AFTER DCMS REMOVES SUPPORT?
DECEMBER 2022 DEFINITIONMAGAZINE.COM
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Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson ‘brought back to life’
“We had no way to charge on the mountain at all” Renan Ozturk on filming Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR
WILDSCREEN AT 40 ON-LOCATION
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I t’s difficult to recall a year when so many documentaries made the headlines for different reasons. That’s why this issue is dedicated to the non-fiction genre. From Attenborough’s Wonder of Song and Frozen Planet II for BBC One, to the cinematic release of the David Bowie odyssey Moonage Daydream and Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler , there were hard-hitting docs across many major platforms. The Letter: A Message for our Earth , presented by YouTube Originals, shows an unprecedented call to action for climate change from Pope Francis. The film, which premiered at the Vatican’s New Synod Hall, was a major talking point at the 40th anniversary of Wildscreen Festival. In this edition, there’s also the fascinating story of how Thunderbirds mastermind Gerry Anderson was brought ‘back to life’ with the aid of deepfake technology. Meanwhile, we hear from Kazik Suwała, director of the European Film Center Camerimage, who explains how Toruń is welcoming two Ukrainian festivals this year.
3. DECEMBER 2022
Industry 17 SAFEGUARDING THE
Production 06 SINGING THROUGH A PANDEMIC
FUTURE OF PRODUCTION Media industry leaders call for affordable insurance to replace the DCMS Restart Scheme
An Attenborough documentary filmed by a lone cameraman during Covid-19
39 WILDSCREEN AT 40
24 PEAK POWER
We hear from attendees at this very special festival milestone
Discover the importance of reliable kit when filming in extreme conditions 30 A REAL FAKE STORY Thunderbirds creator comes ‘back to life’ with clever tech 50 STRANGER THAN FICTION Gear 44 F ILMING ON THE MOVE Award-winning directors discuss their favourite run-and-gun kit 56 SONY’S SUPER 35 SAVIOUR Brand-new hybrid FX30 tested 62 WHAT’S IN STORE? Experts discuss market-leading storage options Pairing a thrilling subject matter with cutting visuals fit for cinema in Navalny
Regulars 71 CAMERA LISTINGS
A look at the latest products
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ACTING EDITOR Robert Shepherd FEATURES WRITER Lee Renwick
DEPUTY CHIEF SUB EDITOR Matthew Winney SUB EDITORS Harriet Williams, Ben Gawne CONTRIBUTOR Adam Duckworth
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Cover image © BBC/Sam Barker
5. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. WONDER OF SONG
Singing through a pandemic
We delve into how Attenborough’s Wonder of Song was filmed in the UK, Germany and Australia – in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak
WORDS. Robert Shepherd IMAGES. Mike Birkhead Associates, George Woodcock and BBC
W hen BBC One ordered scientists and healthcare professionals. People commuted to the office (a bit more than they do these days), schools were open and hospitals weren’t overrun. For the most part, nobody had any idea that the world was about to grind to a halt. Following the success of Attenborough’s Wonder of Eggs , which had premiered on BBC Two in 2018 (highly commended in the best science documentary category at the Grierson documentary awards), production house Mike Birkhead Associates had been rewarded with this follow-up commission. Attenborough’s Wonder of Song in 2019, the word ‘coronavirus’ was limited to the lexicon of
The synopsis was beautifully simple: the beloved Sir David Attenborough selects his favourite songs from the natural world, all recorded during the 96-year-old broadcaster’s lifetime, featuring animals ranging from lemur to humpback whale and lyrebird. Human understanding of animal song has long been informed by Charles Darwin’s theory on sexual selection; although singing is dangerous since it reveals the singer’s location, males must sing to attract a mate, while females listen and choose their suitor. However, recent scientific discoveries now challenge certain long-held beliefs. Many females sing too, for reasons scientists still don’t fully understand.
WONDER OF SONG PRODUCTION.
“The pandemic was no problem for me when it came to filming birds in the wild, because I was on my own – I was very lucky in that respect”
BREATH OF FRESH AIR A robin singing with breath visible was a target shot for the documentary
07. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. WONDER OF SONG
GREENHOUSE EFFECTS To comply with Covid-19 regulations, shooting took place with Attenborough inside and the crew outside a greenhouse
At the outset of the documentary, in the words of director Mike Birkhead, there was nothing on the horizon to suggest production would be anything other than plain sailing. “Everything was in place,” he says. “Funding, contracts and everything else was ready in early 2020, just in time for us to film in the spring.” All Birkhead and crew had to do was visit some beautiful locations on a project to film spring songsters. However, we all know what happened next; the Covid-19 endemic that was reported in Wuhan, China soon became a global pandemic. Flights were grounded, offices and later schools were closed – and unless you were going out to exercise, most people were all but housebound. However, unlike many projects that didn’t get off the ground for another year or more, it was a shorter hiatus for Birkhead and his team. The rules prohibiting filming for the masses were soon relaxed enough to allow a solitary camera operator to work alone. All of a sudden, Attenborough’s Wonder of Song was back on. George Woodcock, principal photographer on the series, was the solo cameraman tasked with filming the UK scenes – but shooting with Attenborough was postponed indefinitely. Woodcock was chiefly tasked with filming the dawn chorus as well as birds singing into the evening, in locations
across the south of England. He would have no help – only himself, his kit and a series of long days ahead. OUT ON LOCATION Knepp Wildland is a 3500-acre estate situated near Horsham, West Sussex. As Woodcock explains, it was perfect for a project of this kind. “We used Knepp Estate, a fascinating rewilding project in the grounds of Knepp Castle,” Woodcock says. “It’s a popular place because there’s a rich
“Everything was in place – funding, contracts and everything else was ready in early 2020, just in time for us to film in the spring”
BRANCHING OUT The global pandemic forced the crew to explore new ways of approaching a documentary of this kind
PRODUCTION. WONDER OF SONG
of few British species that sing during the winter months. “It’s also a rare example of northern hemisphere species in which both male and female sing,” says Birkhead. “Females sing almost exclusively in winter.” Birkhead says catching a robin singing and then exhaling its cold breath was a primary goal for the series. “I remember an iconic shot of a wren doing the same thing in [Attenborough series] The Life of Birds around 25 years ago,” he says. “David said he wanted us to recreate
AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING The documentary focuses on seven creatures with some of the most remarkable songs in the animal kingdom array of wildlife and birds – they’ve got nightingales, storks and cuckoos.” Another key filming location was Penn Wood, in the heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It was there that Woodcock filmed other breeds of bird, such as skylarks, robins and grey tits. Shooting took place during spring and winter – and for good reason, too, Woodcock says. “Spring is the best time to film birds singing because that’s when they’re getting ready to lay eggs and start mating,” he adds. “In winter, I was going for icy breath shots. That involved getting up at ridiculous times in the morning, walking around with my tripod, camera and long lens.” Woodcock also filmed at the wetlands of RSPB Otmoor Reserve, where he looked for turtle doves and warblers. ROCKIN’ ROBIN Robin aficionados will know this already, but for those who don’t, the bird is one
“In winter, I was going for icy breath shots. That involved getting up at ridiculous times, walking around with my tripod, camera and long lens”
SPINNING WAX Sir David listens to an assortment of top tunes from the natural world on-set for Attenborough’s Wonder of Song
WONDER OF SONG PRODUCTION.
LYRE LYRE The beautifully plumed lyrebird is a ground-welling Australian native, with a song that’s famed for mimicking its surroundings
WORKING WITH A LEGEND Filming with Attenborough had been shelved until August 2020. When the time finally arrived, it was possibly the only day they could shoot with him, despite budgeting for five more. However, filming a nonagenarian who happens to be TV royalty in a pandemic meant a change of approach. For a start, no one could go near him. “Covid-19 was no problem for me when it came to filming birds in the wild because I was on my own,” says Woodcock. “I was very fortunate in that respect. However, when we had to film
had to use a Sony A7S camera. They are also great in low light and you can go to ISO 125,000. Noise can be fixed in the grade when editing.” After that, Woodcock generally used Canon Mark III long lenses, 400mm and 600mm primes. “They’re lightweight, so good for working by myself and having to carry long distances,” he adds. “Also, f/2.8 is great in low dawn light.” After a day’s filming, he would download the footage onto 3TB drives, each of which had its own duplicate. The data was then handed off to the Storm TV edit suite.
it in this series. George patiently waited for hours for the right weather conditions – and he got what was asked of him. I just tell George what I want and he delivers it every single time. That man is a genius.” Woodcock wanted to travel light, but employed a couple of different cameras depending on where and when he was filming – and the light available. “I filmed with a Red Gemini, which is good in the low light and particularly useful filming at dawn, when the birds are singing,” he adds. However, Woodcock had to change kit for shoots later in the day. “I was up from 4am until around noon,” he recalls. “Then I would sleep for two hours, before filming again until dusk. Nightingales start singing in the evening around 6pm through the night, so for those guys we
GROUNDED International travel restrictions forced the crew to rely on local teams for overseas shooting
13. DECEMBER 2022
WONDER OF SONG PRODUCTION.
David Attenborough, it was suddenly very challenging because we had to take massive safety precautions. Usually, I’d be shooting close-up, but here I had to keep a big distance and change my style a little. For example, using longer prime lenses to film David within a greenhouse that I wasn’t allowed in! I had to work around those parameters to still make it look as good as possible.” Audio was a problem, too. Not permitted to radio mic Attenborough, a boom was held through the greenhouse doorframe to record his voice on the other side. “That was particularly challenging for the sound man,” Woodcock recalls. “For that day, we used a lot of slider action. We were able to get some footage of David walking around outside, but for that sort of stuff I needed a gimbal.” It wasn’t until spring 2021 that the crew could film with Attenborough again. Covid-19 rules were still strict, and only permitted filming him from outside. The crew chose a greenhouse in Richmond Park, near Attenborough’s home, and created a set with old audio technology such as tape recorders, old turntables and radios, which were used to play original recordings of songs from different animals. PRODUCTION WITHOUT BORDERS The filming schedule wasn’t limited to English locations, though. Birkhead explains how the team required essential filming to be carried out overseas, where there were important scientific stories to learn and relate. “When lockdown struck on day one of our shoots, I knew things were going to be more than tough,” Birkhead recalls. “George and I were due to film in Australia and Berlin as well as the UK. In fact, David Attenborough had agreed to shoot in Germany even though it involved an overnight shoot – much to his agent’s amazement. We needed our lyrebird sequence in Australia and the nightingales in Berlin. The big challenge was finding alternative talent at very short notice – and as I discovered, this was a problem for every other production around the world.” Birkhead says this “Overseas, we couldn’t film in the traditional sense, but were very fortunate to discover excellent local crews amid competition from other productions”
is where ‘experience and old age’ come in useful. He managed to find talented alternatives within a month, whom he praises for their professionalism in what was an arduous period. “We couldn’t film in the traditional sense, but were very fortunate to discover local crews amid competition from other productions,” he recalls. “In Germany, field producer Rosie Koch and principal photographer Roland Gockel managed to capture the nightingales. Their low- light camera caught some unusual shots of the birds singing at night.” The pair also filmed nightingale expert Conny
Landgraf describing nightingale song behaviour in detail. Although conditions were far from ideal, Attenborough’s Wonder of Song was made, delivered, screened and picked up glowing reviews. In the turmoil of a global pandemic, the team managed to accomplish an international production flawlessly, sticking to ever-changing guidelines, keeping all cast and crew safe – and avoiding ruffling any feathers. Watch Attenborough’s Wonder of Song on BBC iPlayer
A RESPECTFUL DISTANCE Filming with a 96-year-old national treasure during a pandemic is something you would only ever do extremely carefully
15. DECEMBER 2022
Industry briefings The latest news, views and hot tips from the world of video production
SAFEGUARDING THE FUTURE OF PRODUCTION The DCMS’s £500m Covid-19 fund ended in April. Now, many want an ‘affordable’ commercial scheme in the event of infectious diseases
When the Covid-19 pandemic pulled the rug from under the feet of the nation in early 2020, countless film and TV productions ground to a halt. People were laid off and there was no indication as to when filming would start again. On 28 July 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), led at the time by Oliver Dowden, announced the launch of the UK-wide £500 million Film & TV Production Restart Scheme. This was designed to give relief to productions struggling to get insurance for Covid- related costs, in return for a registration fee of 1% of their production budgets. It provided compensation to producers that incurred costs caused by abandonment due to Covid-19, or for delays to eligible new or pre-existing productions. At the time, the government said: “The new scheme will fill the gap left by the lack of available insurance, and cover coronavirus-related losses for cast member and crew illnesses, and filming
delays or disruptions caused by the ongoing battle against the virus.” Although many in the industry were critical of the government for not introducing any help until four months after the first UK-wide lockdown, there are those who support the approach. John McVay, chief executive of Pact (Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television) says the government must be given credit where it’s due. “It was one of the fastest and biggest interventions for an audio-visual economy by anyone, given that we were inventing a £500 million public intervention to support our sector,” he adds. “In the teeth of a pandemic, while the entire world was closing down, economies were collapsing and many other sectors had problems – while I love all my people, we’re special, but sometimes we’re not that special. Looking after public health was a bigger issue for the government at the time.” In fact, it was the McVay-fronted Pact and domestic broadcasters that led a
PACT WITH POTENTIAL John McVay of Pact (above) pushed for more government assistance in the production industry
charge for the government to intervene – even helping to design the package that kept the sector afloat. The BFI also played a key role in bringing the industry and government together. Its cross-industry BFI Screen Sector Task Force worked on key issues. Once the pandemic struck, it was focused on key concerns to get everything back up and running. “We identified six priorities for helping the industry recover – and creating a system that would enable independent productions to restart is one of those,” a BFI spokesperson says. “The problem was that they were
17. DECEMBER 2022
unable to secure insurance against Covid- related interruptions. The DCMS Restart Scheme was born from that industry and government working group.” Barry Ryan, drama producer and founder of Free@Last TV and The Format Factory, had to stop filming Agatha Raisin Series 4. He says the absence of traditional insurance meant companies had no choice but to sign up to the scheme. “Restart stepped in to underwrite losses from interruptions to schedules from the impact of Covid-19,” he says. “The rules were draconian, confusing and didn’t really match how production works, so new models had to emerge that were expensive, and stop-starts due to infections were costly and disruptive.” Initially, the scheme was scheduled to run until December 2021. However, that October, then UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries extended it for a further six months amid the ongoing pandemic. Applications to the scheme remained open until 30 April 2022, providing cover until 30 June. The rationale behind the decision was to support a further 400 productions. To put this into context, at the time of extension the scheme had helped 640 domestic film and TV projects, including romantic drama Mothering Sunday and Peaky Blinders Season 6. It was, prima facie, great news for the industry. However, from 1 November, the scheme’s registration fee increased from 1% to 2.5% of the production budget, to ‘ensure that the current needs of the UK production industry are maintained while balancing value for money for taxpayers’. McVay says Pact ‘wasn’t keen’ on the hike, but it also turned out to be counterproductive for the government. “Lots of shows with big budgets decided to cover Covid-19 losses themselves, while those with small budgets had to do the same because 2.5% was too detrimental.”
THE FUTURE While Covid-19 is seemingly gone at a pandemic level, its arrival in 2020 was a warning that we should expect the unexpected. Going forward, how is the industry supposed to protect itself? “The big problem we face this year with regards to insurance is that technically Covid-19 is over,” asserts McVay. “Of course, it’s great news that thousands of jobs were protected and many companies saved from going bust; we preserved a lot of jobs and productions are back on. But the scheme was strictly an intervention package. Now there’s no pandemic, it doesn’t exist.” However, Pact was working with the government through the latter half of last year and the beginning of this year, swaying commercial insurers to return to market and offer thorough cover against infectious diseases. “At the moment, the commercial insurance sector isn’t offering anyone cover for Covid-19 at all,” says McVay. “There are some products, but they’re so grossly expensive and offer such limited cover that many find it’s not worth it.” So far, McVay says he’s seen no signs of a shift by insurers, but hopes something changes by this time next year: “Once we’ve assessed what’s going to happen this winter – if there are any new surges or versions of Covid-19 that arrive.” The DCMS declined to comment.
The show must go on
When the UK lockdown was announced on the eve of the BFI’s Flare Film Festival (March 2020), it quickly pivoted to an online offering. The organisation continued that for the BFI London Film Festival in October that year – working to increase its digital backing for audiences. “We maintained support for the sector, refocusing National Lottery- funded activity, such as for the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), in order to support cinemas and enable them to reopen,” says a BFI spokesperson. “We organised access to BFI Player so that cinemas which were members of FAN could continue to engage with and support their audiences.” Over £3 billion worth of production and over 100,000 jobs have been supported by the scheme, helping to propel the sector into recovery. Nearly 1300 projects got on board, including films Mothering Sunday , Medusa Deluxe , Boxing Day , Blue Jean , The Lost King and The Phantom of the Open – with strong releases and critical success at international festivals. Information supplied by the BFI.
RAISIN HELL Producer Barry Ryan (left) was forced to cease production on Agatha Raisin when the pandemic struck. Mothering Sunday (far left) was helped by the scheme
ENERGACAMERIMAGE MARKS ITS 30TH BIRTHDAY AND WELCOMES TWO FILM FESTIVALS FROM UKRAINE
The city of Toruń in Poland may not have the cachet or glamour of Venice, Cannes or LA, but it’s cemented its status as the home of world cinema as far as cinematographers are concerned. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, renowned international film festival EnergaCamerimage, which is co-run by European Film Center Camerimage with Tumult Foundation, was founded by art historian Marek Żydowicz. His vision was simple: make it about the image. “He was teaching students all about the importance of structure and composition in paintings at the university here in Toruń,” says Kazik Suwała, director of the European Film Center Camerimage. “Around the time he started to think about the event, Marek was dealing with medieval and contemporary paintings. The painter’s job was to deal with light, just like a cinematographer does. That’s where he got the idea to make a festival that’s quite different to the others.” Although silver screen heavyweights are more than welcome to attend every year, Suwała says the event is very much aimed at cinematographers – so much so that the organisers have started to focus more on those attempting to break into the industry. “The event has three legs: we focus on films, students and debutants, and technology,” he adds. “It’s not about celebrities and directors. The cinematographer was someone who was not appreciated and recognised as they should have been. As the festival grew, Kazik Suwała, director of the European Film Center Camerimage, talks about the festival’s history and vision
GOOD NEIGHBOUR Festival organiser Kazik Suwała has found resources to host two displaced Ukrainian film festivals – called Oko and Kinoko – at this year’s EnergaCamerimage in Toruń, Poland
“The Ukrainian festivals can’t operate as normal, so we’re giving them a platform” cinematography – called Kinoko (‘cinema eye’) film festival. “Two Ukrainian films will be screened, but the most important thing is around ten people will travel 50 hours by bus from Ukraine to Poland for a seminar called Cinematographers at War, where they will share their stories,” Suwała concludes. THE EYES HAVE IT This year, the red carpet treatment has been rolled out to Ukrainian festivals. “Because of the situation in Ukraine, their festivals can’t operate as normal. So we are giving them a platform,” says Suwała. One is Oko (Ukrainian for ‘eye’), a festival of ethnographic and anthropological cinema. “The organisers are creating their own festival within the framework of EnergaCamerimage,” adds Suwała. “It will showcase 24 films in different competitions, and four special screenings. “We gave Oko’s organisers resources to do that in terms of covering travel costs and the hospitality here – but we’re not involved in the programming. They retain their autonomy.” The other, smaller festival given a platform is dedicated to the art of
we began inviting directors, production designers and talent, but the focus remained on the image.” To get an idea of just how popular EnergaCamerimage has become, over 5000 people attended the 2019 event, of which 860 were cinematographers based in 60 countries. The 2020 festival was switched to online because of the Covid-19 pandemic – in 2021, it welcomed 3000 people, including 450 cinematographers from 40 countries. Some 4000 attendees (made up of between 500 and 600 DOPs) are expected this year. “That’s why companies like Arri, Panasonic, Sony, Canon, Panavision and Vantage Film are here to meet filmmakers and other key people, so they can learn about their needs. That’s what makes the festival different.”
JUST A TASTER Simon Mozgovyi’s Salt from Bonneville (left) will play at the festival within a festival, Kinoko
What’s on? As you can imagine, competition for screen time is rife. North of 3000 films have been submitted for consideration, but only a fraction of those will make the cut at the festival. “Although Camerimage is celebrating its 30th birthday, in my personal opinion, I don’t think that anyone has found the answer to some key questions,” says Suwała. “If a film isn’t very well shot, but it’s still a good film – should we show it? Likewise, if a film has beautiful cinematography but as a complete story actually isn’t very good, should we show it? It’s a difficult balance, but the answer is probably found when you work out how important the cinematography is in the story being told.” Once all submissions have been received, Żydowicz discusses their merits with a team before whittling down the list. “We just talk about art, and how the image shows what is seen through the eyes of the subject,” Suwała adds. “Films are chosen not because politically they
are important to be seen, they are chosen on merit.” Blockbusters such as Elvis , Top Gun: Maverick and Blonde will be screened. So too will Empire of Light , with the film’s director Sam Mendes set to be honoured with the Krzysztof Kieślowski award. There is also a raft of films not in competition that will be screened, including The Son , Armageddon Time , The Banshees of Inisherin , Women Talking , The Whale and Argentina, 1985 . Camerimage will also show films shot by Stephen H Burum ( The Untouchables ), who will receive the lifetime achievement award at the event, as well as documentaries by Alex Gibney, this year’s recipient of the award for outstanding achievements in documentary filmmaking. The EnergaCamerimage organisers are in the process of designing a bigger venue for the festival, which will be located next to the Cultural and Congress Centre Jordanki. It’s expected to be ready for the 2025 edition.
ONLY THE FINEST More than 3000 films have been submitted to the festival. Żydowicz and his team sift through all entries, seeking the best cinematography
21. DECEMBER 2022
MOTOR CITY Radiant Post Production has provided post services for a number of TV titles, including BBC One’s Fraud Squad and Channel 5’s Lost Worlds with Ben Fogle: Detroit
RADIANT OPENS MANCHESTER ARM Demand for post-production in the north of England has driven Radiant Post to open a sister company in the heart of Manchester
Ben Plumb, director/owner of Radiant Post, explained that with the continuing push for programming to be made in other home nations and regions beyond London, a number of the company’s clients either have a regional office or plans to set up outside the capital. “It’s something we’ve planned for a while. It started with requests from clients to be served with the team approach, friendliness and quality of Radiant Post, but closer to home,” he added. The new facility also offers production space for long- and short-term rentals. Radiant North is the sister company to Radiant Post Production and Rapid Pictures, both of which are based in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. The new facility will be fully open and operational by the end of 2022.
Broadcast post house Radiant Post Production has expanded its business, opening a new facility in Manchester. The new arm, Radiant North, will offer picture post, finishing and audio creative services in the region. This new 8000 sq ft
and remote, online or offline – as well as grading with Media Composer Symphony and DaVinci Resolve, plus Atmos dubbing theatres and V/O facilities.
The move builds on a pop-up facility Radiant Post opened in Deansgate last year for post on the BBC One shows Fraud Squad Season 4 and The Moment of Proof Season 2 – both made by long-serving client Brown Bob Productions.
site sits in a building being developed as part of Allied London’s Enterprise City – a tech and creative hub in central Manchester. Radiant North says it will provide full post- production services – onsite
GOING UP Ben Plumb of Radiant Post Production is setting up a sister company
23. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. PEAK POWER
When filming in extreme conditions, having reliable equipment is absolutely paramount Peak power
WORDS. Robert Shepherd IMAGES. Renan Ozturk
H ave you ever had a nightmare nothing to catch you when you lose your grip? Well, there’s a very real extreme sport fitting that exact description – free soloing. It’s a niche and technical form of rock or ice climbing performed without ropes or harnesses. In fact, it’s so niche, it’s been described as ‘a niche of a niche’ – yet some practitioners have used it to climb to celebrity status. One of the most recognisable names in the business is Alex Honnold, whose name entered public consciousness after his 2018 documentary Free Solo . The film follows the daredevil as he realises his where you’re thousands of feet in the air, desperately hanging on to something by your fingertips, with
lifelong dream: scaling Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan without a rope, via the climbing route Free Rider. Not only did he become the first person to free solo the 3200ft vertical rock formation, but the film won the Academy Award for best documentary feature – as well as the corresponding category at the Baftas. Thanks to Honnold, all of a sudden free soloing was in vogue. For those of us who prefer to free solo vicariously, the American’s latest death-defying adventures have been chronicled in Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR , an immersive two-part documentary available in the US on Oculus TV, part of the Meta Quest platform. Produced by Jonathan Griffith Productions, in
PEAK POWER PRODUCTION.
25. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. PEAK POWER
ON TOP OF THE WORLD For Renan Ozturk, having robust and dependable
film equipment is as important as having reliable safety gear
PEAK POWER PRODUCTION.
partnership with Red Bull Media House and Meta Quest, viewers are transported to some of the world’s most remote and beautiful climbing locations, captured using the latest high-res 3D 360° cameras. UP FOR IT We know Honnold’s job is a perilous one, but imagine being the person filming him in the mountains of Europe and the US – it’s a tough assignment even for elite climbers. Meet Renan Ozturk, an experienced expedition climber for The North Face and a photojournalist for Sony and National Geographic. For him, heading to extreme environments requires the highest levels of focus and gear prep – filming someone of Honnold’s standing is as intense as it gets. “We try to prepare ourselves for success,” Ozturk says. “On the wall itself, every gram matters. You don’t want to be worrying about gear in those scenarios, because you need to be thinking about safety and survival. You must know that all your kit is going to be up for that kind of a test.” I’VE GOT THE POWER When you’re working in extreme conditions with zero amenities, an essential part of filming is having enough battery power to make following someone on a treacherous adventure worthwhile. Ozturk had some bad experiences with batteries in the past, so was desperate to avoid the same when he started working on Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR . “We’ve had cheaper battery brands fail; we’ve had them taken away at the airport,” he says. “It’s something we do not take lightly, especially with the trips coming up this year. If the batteries fail, we have nothing.” Having shopped around, Ozturk explains how the Anton/Bauer Titon Base was the answer. One of the key features of the IATA-certified, ‘travel-friendly’
68Wh base is that it offers filmmakers ‘portable power they can take anywhere’. It functions in freezing temperatures, making it conducive to brass monkey weather and extreme filming techniques. “I found it super useful, as I’m a time-lapse junkie,” Ozturk says. “We used the Titon Base for landscape time- lapses every day – and when we’re doing lighter-weight stuff in the mountains with Alex, it powers the full-frame Sony Alpha camera perfectly.” At 14v/8A continuous draw, the 68Wh battery prides itself on delivering hours more runtime than standard batteries supplied with cameras. The Titon Base was also used to power an extra monitor for the drone as well as the crew’s phones. “There were countless times we’ve taken the base just to charge other accessories in a pinch,” he adds. What’s more, with the built-in LCD display, users know their battery life down to the minute, which suits shooters like Ozturk. “It’s cool just to be able to get into the mountains, pop the camera up and run a time-lapse for hours not having to worry about battery failure,” he says. “We had no way to charge on the mountain. Every
bit of power is precious.” DON’T LOOK DOWN
Even a seasoned professional like Ozturk struggled to balance high-level climbing and filmmaking with no margin for error. After all, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death, so even he had fears.
“You don’t want to be worrying about gear, because you need to be thinking about safety and survival”
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HIGH PLACE Lugging camera equipment to the top of a mountain is no picnic – it pays to pack light
27. DECEMBER 2022
PEAK POWER PRODUCTION.
“There are certain times where it’s horrifying and you don’t want to watch; you’re hoping nothing falls off the mountain and kills him, including things like the camera equipment,” he recalls. “Then sometimes it feels like another day in the office, his demeanour is so relaxed.” Other times, he and Honnold ‘were on the biggest walls, which were crumbling and falling apart as the ice melted out of them… and there was falling rock’. These conditions prevented them from being able to rehearse their moves. “Every time you go up, you must do it what we call ‘on-site’, which is figuring it out on the fly,” says Ozturk. “So that makes it more dangerous with factors out of your control.” The crew on Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR utilised the Insta360 Titan – one of the biggest VR cameras available today. Ozturk and his team were mounting the camera on the walls as Honnold was climbing past. The way it’s shot, the viewer is immersed in a VR environment, so they see and feel like a bystander as the protagonist clambers past on the wall. An excited Ozturk says it’s a technique not seen before. “It’s going to be a groundbreaking way to look at climbing in general,” he asserts. “The fact that Alex is without a rope on these crazy objectives makes it that much more captivating. It’s insane how you can watch him climbing for five minutes and not take your eyes off him.” BLOWING HOT AND COLD Working at altitude means exposure to the elements. Ozturk and crew were up against extreme weather conditions, which the kit itself also had to survive. “We’ve been taking the OConnor 1040 system and Titon Base battery to the highest, coldest places in Europe, and then through extreme 120°F (49°C) heat in Las Vegas. I just know that with this kit I can get shots and not miss moments. It helps me take that expedition-style filmmaking into these commercial productions. To have the OConnor 1040 and the Titon Base working seamlessly with the gear that I know and trust – that’s imperative.”
“If you don’t have power, you have nothing. Shooting in this style, you can’t afford to miss a moment”
GOING SOLO Time is money on any shoot, but you’d struggle to imagine a more pressurised situation than hurriedly setting up a shot on a windswept mountain peak. Ozturk again opines the pairing of the Titon Base with the OConnor 1040 in these scenarios. The former’s quick- release 1/4in-20 mounting allowed him to snap on and off the OConnor tripod in seconds for a reliable adventure set-up. “The OConnor 1040 flowtech system is the perfect intersection of high-end feature films and adventure cinematography,” Ozturk declares. “Now we have the ultimate stabilisation for our cameras. The 1040 technology is the same OConnor innovation people shoot on huge feature films and we’re proving you can take these tools to the most remote places on the planet. They function just as well – if not better – in scorching desert heat or -40°C in Antarctica.” Ozturk argues that if you’ll go to such extremes for a film, it’s a false economy to do it on a shoestring budget. He compares camera kit to safety equipment.
“Just like when you’re climbing a mountain, you’re not going to skimp on the rope that will save your life. It’s the same with camera equipment,” he says. “It’s worth every penny to invest in gear that’s going to survive from base camp to summit. You don’t want to compromise on new gear, because everyone’s been in a position where terrible gear lets you down. Making the right choices removes that element of doubt and fear.” ALL OR NOTHING If you happen to be a budding adventure cinematographer, Ozturk has some words of advice when it comes to sourcing your camera kit. “Really focus on investing in reliable power because it does make a significant difference,” he insists. “If you don’t have power, you have nothing. Especially if you’re shooting documentary-style, you can’t afford to miss a moment.” Watch Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR in Oculus TV on the Meta Quest platform
TOUCH THE SKY Alex Honnold: The Soloist VR is a documentary shot for Meta’s virtual reality goggles. Viewers can expect to experience sweaty palms
29. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. DEEPFAKE TECH
The man behind a documentary about Thunderbirds creator
Gerry Anderson explains why deepfake is not taboo
WORDS. Robert Shepherd IMAGES. Jon Bond
DEEPFAKE TECH PRODUCTION.
LEGACY Gerry Anderson produced iconic children’s TV shows, including Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet
T hings that are fake are generally not praiseworthy,” says Benjamin Field, head of development at The Format Factory. “Fake news, fake watches and fake tan, to name but a few. Fakes are designed to mislead, trick and deceive. Is it understandable then that ‘deepfakes’ get the same negative treatment?” It’s a fair question, because deepfake, arguably, has a worse reputation – especially as it’s synonymous with blackmail, fraud and pornography. However, there have been some more positive examples where deepfake technology has filled the role of CGI, by recreating the likeness of unavailable or deceased actors. The recreation of the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), who passed away in 1994, is just one example. Field is convinced that filmmakers can reframe perception of this powerful tool and use it for good. “Where deepfakes differ, in my view, is the context in which they are used,” he adds. “It’s about the filmmaker’s honesty with the viewer.” ‘Fakery is honesty’ is a 21st-century paradox, but Field explains how this formed the basis for his discussions at
“Where deepfakes differ is the context in which they are used... it’s about honesty with the viewer”
a Turing Network Development Awards conference, which he was invited to off the back of his documentary, Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted . Anderson and his wife Sylvia created the classic British science-fiction series Thunderbirds back in the mid-sixties. MAKING HISTORY This feature documentary, produced by The Format Factory in association with Anderson Entertainment, was the first film to utilise machine learning to bring a central contributor to the screen long after their passing. “As soon as Britbox announced the film back in October 2021, I was inundated on various social media platforms (Twitter is a great place for rational and logical debate) with questions about the ethics surrounding deepfakes,” says Field. “They all generally asked the same question: why did we think it was
either appropriate or necessary to bring Gerry Anderson ‘back to life’ to appear in a documentary, and were we about to set a ghoulish precedent for filmmakers to run roughshod over the deceased under the banner of ‘creativity’?” The answer to the last question is no, but he does feel obligated to explain the rationale behind the decision, why deepfake was so important to the film and what it means for the future of content. Field says that in order to understand, it’s important to first look at what the film was about – and how the producer managed to get it funded. “Commissioners and acquisition executives love authenticity when it comes to factual content,” he says. “They also love ‘new angles’ and approaches to material, so with Gerry Anderson we sort of hit the jackpot.” Working with Anderson Entertainment and specifically Gerry’s youngest son,
31. DECEMBER 2022
DEEPFAKE TECH PRODUCTION.
BUILDING AN IMAGE In the end, some good, old-fashioned hair and make-up complemented the deepfake tech
like if he were pulling the exact same facial expressions as our body double,” says Field. “In computational terms, every frame would be brand new, created as an independent image with no reference to what the previous frame looked like – or what the next frame might look like. It’s not like rotoscoping Gerry’s face from existing material, each frame is made from scratch.” Jamie Anderson and Field decided early on that the success (or failure) of the project was likely to rely on the casting of the ‘Gerry double’. The duo trawled through Spotlight for an afternoon and discovered that only six actors registered there had enough of a physical similarity to Gerry. Of those six, only three were interested in auditioning. “We asked them to film themselves lip-syncing to a 60-second section of audio, which we would then ask our VFX producer, Christian Darkin, to attempt a rough deepfake of in order to ascertain their appropriateness for the role,” says
Jamie Anderson, Field and his team were given access to over 25 hours of unheard archival audio that had been recorded by Gerry Anderson’s two biographers. “This material was like gold dust – Gerry was a private man, he never gave anything of his personal life away in public. But, with the estate’s permission, Gerry’s story could be told in his own words,” explains Field. “My challenge was how to present this in a visually engaging way. Initially, we discussed dramatic reconstruction, but that proved too expensive. Then, during a morning of procrastination and work avoidance, I stumbled across Tom Cruise on TikTok. Or so I thought.” However, it wasn’t Tom Cruise at all – instead, it was a clever deepfake of the Hollywood star. Field was so impressed by the ingenuity that it gave him the idea to ‘interview’ Gerry Anderson and use his pre-existing audio to form answers. “We could create new visuals to present historical audio,” he continues. “A new approach and a new angle. We spoke to (then head of editorial, Britbox) Craig Morris to see if this would fly. He took very little convincing. Whether it was the passion with which we pitched the concept or the incredibly poor initial version of the deepfake we created that persuaded him, I’ll probably never know – but the chances are it was the former.” Even with a major online digital video subscription service backing it, the producers were still significantly below the target budget, so needed to secure
investment from a distributor to make the numbers work. “This was trickier,” Field recalls. “We were pitching an idea that had never been tried and tested, but in the end Abacus Media Rights took the risk and joined us. On signing, one condition surprised us: the contract was dependent upon us delivering at least ten minutes of high- quality deepfake.” Having started discussions about the film in April 2021, by the beginning of July the co-producers had raised a budget of approximately £175k. HOW FAKERY WORKS The deepfake process is centred around filming a body double who can successfully lip-sync to the original audio. The face and parts of the head would then be swapped out using artificial intelligence after a lengthy period of cloud-based machine learning. “During that time, the program learns what Gerry Anderson would have looked
“In computational terms, every frame would be brand new, created as an independent image”
PERFECT MATCH Finding a body double for Anderson was no mean feat, with only two actors in the running for the part
33. DECEMBER 2022
PRODUCTION. DEEPFAKE TECH
Field. “This knocked one of the candidates out straight away, as he refused to do the audition. We were down to just two. Two actors in the whole of the UK who might be able to do the job that our entire film was sold upon.” The first audition tape came in and unfortunately, he was not what was needed. So, all hopes rested on Roly Hyde, ‘a jolly northerner with a penchant for thirties architecture’. Luckily, he was ‘spot on’. Even though Field was excited about how the show would look, he concedes that ever since he became aware of the need to deliver ten minutes of deepfake: “I was apprehensive of over-promising and under-delivering.” This meant having to think of alternatives in case the strategy didn’t work out. In other words, he couldn’t fake deepfake. One way of doing it was to place all the archive materials into era-specific television sets and put the ‘new’ deepfaked interview material in
FOOD FOR THOUGHT Many grapple with the ethics of deepfakes, but as with so many things, it is less the technology and more how it is deployed that creates issues
DEEPFAKE TECH PRODUCTION.
“Just two actors in the whole of the UK who might be able to do the job our entire film was sold upon”
53 minutes for him to work with,” recalls Field. “This changed our entire approach. Initially, we hoped Roly would learn the dialogue by heart, but that now simply wasn’t possible.” Two days were set aside in October last year to film the interview. Field and DOP Ash Connaughton decided that, in order to give the AI program Deepfacelab the best opportunity to capture Hyde’s expressions, the documentary was to be shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K G2. “This was even though the maximum resolution the AI could deliver was HD. But this comparatively low resolution was another reason I opted to put the deepfake material in television screens in the first place,” explains Field. Given the amount of audio material that now needed to be covered, an autocue was used for Hyde to read from. Generally, this method worked well, with each segment requiring around six or seven takes to get into a safe window for the lip-sync. Unfortunately, the only way to tell if it was synchronised was to watch it back on a 65in playback monitor. “With hindsight and a new deepfake production looming, I have put improvements to this technique in place. Our dubbing mixer Kenny Clark, using Pro Tools, still had a hell of a task to ensure the lip-sync was as good as it possibly could be.” Another challenge was waiting. Anderson was bald and Hyde’s head shape wasn’t a perfect match. In theory, it’s possible to replace all of someone’s
them, too. “This would allow for ‘static interference’ created in Adobe After Effects, to mask any potential issues or artefacts,” Field adds. “It would also allow for the discrepancy between the quality of the audio archive and the new interview footage to be explained away.” Although that decision solved one issue, he says it caused another. There was the potential he was going mislead the audience into believing they were watching authentic interview material. When Field contracted Hyde to appear as Gerry Anderson, he did so anticipating that he would be looking for him to lip-sync to approximately ten minutes of audio. “Once we’d finished our research into the biographical audio, we’d chosen
TIMING IT RIGHT Monitoring the footage on a screen out of body double Roly Hyde’s view was the only way to check if the lip-syncing was working
head with a deepfake, but the team kept getting aliasing and shadowing. “So, at the eleventh hour, we adopted a new approach,” says Field. “We gambled on changing Roly’s head shape in real life, with make-up and hair, and then hoped a deepfake of just Gerry’s face would do. But we wouldn’t know until we’d completed the first day’s shoot.” MEETING THE MAKER The production team used Google Drive as its cloud system for working across various files and graphics, making it possible to send Christian the footage almost immediately. “The result was incredible,” says Field. “Jamie Anderson stared at it in disbelief. We’d just created a new interview with his dad.” For Field, the questions surrounding ethics were gone. The deepfake wasn’t fooling anyone, but a disclaimer was placed at the top. “I wanted to be as honest with my audience as I was with Jamie and his family,” he assures. “If they could accept it, then an audience could too. I’m bringing honesty to the fakery.” Watch Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted on Britbox and Prime Video
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