Highlights of the first season of Abbey Road Studios: In Session with VW Beetle

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Post-production ended for the first series of Abbey Road Studios: In session with VW Beetle on Christmas Eve 2012, and now the dust has settled and I’ve had time to recover from the show’s gruelling schedule (6 x 30 minute shows, 2 x 45 minutes shows – shot, edited and graded in 2 months), I thought I’d share some of my favourite moments from the series with you, as well as giving you a bit of background into how the show is made.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that part of the benefit of using Adobe Premiere CS6 and the HP workstations on this series, was our ability to be on set previewing rushes for the director Matthew Amos as soon as they were uploaded from the cameras.  The best example of this in practice was during the Django Django shoot.  Our lead camera operator Jamie Carroll always comes to the set with some interesting kit, and on a couple of previous shoots we had used a rotating tripod head placed in the centre of the band.  One thing you’ll notice about the way Matthew sets the bands up and stages a shoot is that wherever possible he likes to have the band facing each other.  This gives a sense of the band member’s relationship to one another and is great for shooting interesting two-shots using the angles this creates.  So many other shows stage bands front-on in a line, just as they would stand on a concert stage, but we try to do it a little differently to break from that tradition.  It also gives the drummers a chance to see something other than their band mate’s arses, which they’re probably sick and tired of.

We’ve had varying degrees of success with the rotating shot in the middle, relating to how it intercuts with the shots from the 4 other cameras we use to film each session.  But on the Django Django shoot Matthew and I agreed it would be good to try and nail the performance with a single rotating shot, without cutting to the other cameras.  Matthew’s motives were creative ones – to do something different and unique, whilst I was thinking about how much time I would save on editing the episode by not having to make one single cut for 4 minutes!

So as not to approach it half-heartedly, Matthew removed all the other camera ops from the set, so he had a clean shot.  After a couple of rehearsals, Jamie recorded the band’s first full take, and once the performance was over we were able to load the native file from the camera’s CF card onto the Z1 and review it to see how the shot had worked.  The first effort was ok, but not great – when the lead singer started his first line the camera was on the drummer, and when the camera got round to keyboard player he was taking a sip from his tea.  After some adjustments to the camera’s starting position, and a second unsuccessful take, we finally got it right on the third time of asking.  We double checked the footage in Premiere, and with Matthew happy he had the shot, we moved on to the band’s second song.

Film and TV sets are stressful places, where time is always against you.  This edit set-up was key to allowing us to get a shot like this – both in previewing the unsuccessful takes and making the decision to move on once we had the shot we wanted.  If it was left to reviewing rushes off the camera or waiting until we were in the edit suite the following day, we would have been relying on guesswork and the director wouldn’t have been as confident on-set.  This kind of experimentation is only possible with a relaxed production team and is also reliant on the band playing their part.  Luckily for us Django Django have a background in experimenting with their own sound whilst recording, so they were the perfect band to try this out on.  Here’s their live performance of Firewater.  Hope you enjoy it.

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