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  • 07 Sep 2020 9:04 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Niki Winer. Photo credit: Te Waiarangi Ratana 

    Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program:

    These placements are an important part of our strategic plan to increase the numbers of women within the world of cinematography. They would not be possible without funding from NZ Film Commission, and the hard work and backing from the productions who agree to take on the placements. Productions not only meet the NZCS halfway in funding, but there is also a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to ensure these placements run smoothly. In this particular instance we would like to thank Line Producer Michelle Turner and Producer Paul Yates for making this opportunity possible.

    Report from Niki Winer:

    “We have recently wrapped production on Wellington Paranormal - Season 3, shooting in July 2020. I was not only the A camera 1st AC, but the lucky recipient of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program though the NZCS and the NZ Film Commission. This meant that apart from working in my usual capacity I was allowed a certain amount of days in pre-production, production, and in post (which will happen in the next few months) where I was able to shadow cinematographer Bevan Crothers.

    The short time in pre-production was insanely busy. The days were spent going on location recces where I was able to watch as Bevan and directors Tim Van Dammen and Jemaine Clement talked through the scenes for the very first time in that environment. Then back to our HQ at Avalon Studios for several meetings with the art department, costume and makeup to discuss challenges such as: practical lights built into costumes, special UV makeup, glow-in-the-dark ghost vomit and a thousand other oddities. Getting to spend this time seeing the lighting plans being developed with gaffer Nick Riini and Bevan’s extremely detailed shot breakdowns was a great way to get my head around the world that’s being built.

    My Gender Diversity placement gave me access to situations I would not normally be part of, such as the scene blocking, the director’s tent, the lighting builds and shooting plates with VFX supervisor Stan Alley. With this extraordinary access, I was able to absorb so much information and have a much greater understanding of all of the things a cinematographer works on day-to-day.

    Directors Tim and Jemaine were incredibly encouraging, not only taking the time to talk through set-ups and explaining their process, but speaking to me in a way that was expected to be understood by a cinematographer. This program allowed me into all of the conversations I’m not usually privy to and the opportunity to have my many, many questions answered with patience, understanding, and a lot of good humour by all of the HOD’s on this show.

    One of the things I enjoyed most was watching all of the set-up plans and diagrams come to life. Due to the mocumentary style of the show and incredible improv from the actors, things often didn’t turn out as planned, or where planned. Knowing this, Bevan and Nick had to be flexible and light entire alleyways or houses, Cam op Matt Henley was always ready to dive out of shot, and key grip Paul Murphy was almost always sprinting after them. Coming into a location with an incredible amount of pre-planning, and still having to work on the fly was such an amazing way of learning.

    It has been a fantastic opportunity to be able to be a part of this important program on a job that I am already so involved in. 1st AC Andreas Mahn was super adaptable and open to the days I stepped way and 2nd AC Cam Smith was always ready to jump in and take care of anything that needed doing. Wearing multiple hats became a bit challenging sometimes but the overwhelming support from the crew and my camera team was incredibly humbling. Even though I have spent almost every day on a film set over the last few years, having the freedom and the time to actually step back and observe has been invaluable. From already having the understanding on how we do things, I was able to focus on why we are doing them. 

    I would like to thank the NZCS and Film Commission for creating these opportunities, Producers Paul Yates and Michelle Turner for being so welcoming, the entire Paranormal Crew for the love and support, and Bevan Crothers for pushing me to be more.”

    Cinematographer Bevan Crothers with Niki Winer. Photo credit: Stan Alley

    Cinematographer Bevan Crother’s report:

    “I recently finished filming Season 3 of Wellington Paranormal and It was a real pleasure to be accompanied by Niki Winer as part of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity program. 

    Niki was the perfect fit and really embraced the opportunity. She was incredibly pro-active and positive with our time, asking and discussing all the aspects of the show’s cinematography.

    Niki already has a wealth of on-set experience so it was great for her to be part of the prep side of the cinematographer’s role, with production meetings, VFX meetings, Director/DP script breakdowns, prepping of lighting and camera plans.

    What was great about the situation was that Niki knew the show very well, having already worked as 1st AC on Season 2. This allowed us to get into a lot more detail about how the show was being constructed.

    The Paranormal crew really embraced the Gender Diversity program and Niki was able to be involved in the lighting rigs and have discussions with Gaffer Nick Riini as well as both Directors Jemaine Clement and Tim Van Dammen, who were more than happy to discuss anything whenever they had time. 

    Niki has the right mind-set to do great things as a cinematographer, and I look forward to working together in the future.”

    DP Wars. Photo credit: Stan Alley

    Line Producer Michelle Turner’s report:

    "The gender diversity programme was fantastic for us as a production to support and encourage women to progress to becoming a DOP. Both Producer Paul Yates and I were very supportive of this programme and very happy to be part of it. 

    Niki Winer was a great choice - she was a fast and keen learner and she and Bevan were a really good team. He was also a great mentor. We selected shoot days that were very heavy and complicated on lighting and camera work for the best learning experience. Niki also found the prep/tech recce days invaluable as she was not normally part of this process in her 1st AC work.

    I would be very happy to continue to support this programme on other productions."

  • 03 Sep 2020 9:38 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Donny Duncan NZCS, hands-on with lighting - Photo credit: Raphael Bonatto

    A short film collaboration with the Media Design School students in Auckland and director Peter McCully has picked up the Best Cinematography award for Donald Duncan NZCS against hundreds of global entries, at the prestigious One-Reeler short film competition in Los Angeles. 

    “Kino Ratten” (Cinema Rats) is a live-action with CGI animation short film, set in a pre-war German cinema. In a defiant act of sabotage, the rats of the cinema disrupt the screening of a Nazi propaganda film, replacing it with a shadow play cabaret performance – starring themselves.

    After shooting wrapped in 2018, around 30 MDS students worked for many months on the visual effects components under the watchful tutelage of visual effects supervisor Ryan Mullany and CG supervisor Kris Slagter. 

    Donald Duncan’s notes on the cinematography:

    I was inspired by Peter McCully’s visionary script and the challenge of pulling off this project with a very modest budget, a mostly student technical crew, and a handful of great local actors. The idea of a 1938 pre-war period piece was very attractive to me, and the chance to collaborate with Ashley Turner on production design and Hannah Woods on costume design sealed the deal.

    German street scene 1938

    Upon viewing the completed film, I was most impressed by the transformation in the VSFX world – especially the 3D realism of the animated rats. Scenes shot with actors and foreground elements against green-screens in cold, grey warehouses were magically transformed into lushly enhanced city street scenes in pre-war Germany.

    Rigging exterior green-screen set-up - Photo credit: Raphael Bonatto

    While debating the visual style for the film, we decided the technical approach would involve using a small mirrorless DSLR camera – a Panasonic GH5 in 4K mode – and shooting hand-held with the excellent in-built stabilisation or gimbal stabiliser where appropriate.

    To capture the 1938 period look, we lit scenes hard and contrasty and used old-school White Promist filters on the camera, to bring the softness back into the image by halating the highlights and bleeding them into the dark areas. The colour grading was then used to crush and restore the blacks, which tend to get milked out by the filter package, and then desaturate the image to move it in the monochrome direction. The colour palette was chosen to contrast blue/green night exterior tones with straw/orange practical lamp sources.

    Animated rats play 78rpm record

    Our cinema projection booth was an actual location, in the Crystal Palace theatre, in Mt Eden, although we had costed out a plan of building a set to make it easier to work in. The space was tight and cramped with very limited opportunity to hide additional lighting, so most of it was lit by practical sources. The DSLR camera was certainly an advantage for the tight space and several shots were taken with the camera remoted through a phone app, as there was no way to get anywhere near it for viewing. 

    John Leigh as projectionist Hermann Winkler

    It was satisfying to make this film work using a very modest camera kit and a couple of fast prime lenses, but relying on strong lighting, bold compositions and camera moves that enhanced the story telling. The best feedback on this approach has come from contemporaries who were most surprised to find that it wasn’t shot on a RED or Alexa with an expensive lens package.

    Peter McCully also picked up Best Director for Kino Ratten in the One-Reeler competition. We’ve since collaborated on another project with the MDS students, titled “Killing the Parson Bird”, which is still deep in VFX world, but will be released in the not too distant future. 









  • 04 Aug 2020 6:16 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    At a time when Gender diversity is more important than ever, we at the NZCS are proud to be able to tautoko our members successes as always. NZCS Committee member Tory Evans has some great news as she’s breaking new ground in her role as Camera Op at TVNZ. 

    Tory has recently been promoted to start a new role as ‘Camera Journalist' on the Sunday program at the beginning of August. Here’s the lowdown:

    ‘Sunday wanted a camera op who lives and breathes current affairs, and could bring a fresh approach to shooting a more modern, stylised product, whilst keeping news journalism at the fore. So I’m expected to bring my ‘news brain’ with me, as well as my technical and production experience’ Tory explains. 

    ‘Traditionally TVNZ hasn’t had many female Camera Ops in News - when I started working for them three years ago, we had one female crew in News, who’d been there for 11 years. The atmosphere wasn’t exactly one of discouragement but there was definitely no movement in the camera section for the foreseeable future’. 

    Tory had spent over a decade at Mediaworks previously, where they had at least six female crew at any given time! ‘I’m pretty sure there have been at least three other female crews at TVNZ over the last two decades, the amazing Steph Mohi, and also Mel Burgess come to mind. Another was Briar McCormack who started out filming for Sunday, and moved into a Producing role. All exceptional, talented women in their own right.’

    ‘Now, as I write this, we have seven of us across the network, thanks in no small part to our wonderful GM of Operations Andrew Fernie, who has nurtured and encouraged all of us along the way. I have a job at TVNZ purely because of him - he embraces diversity, and isn’t afraid to take on newbies / female crew if he sees they have talent’.

    ‘I’m excited about the role, I’m the second female to work on Sunday since its first episode in 2002. Big shoes to fill no doubt, but ever since I got my first big job on Campbell Live a few years back, I knew Sunday was the next goal for me to achieve ... Long may it last!’

    Congratulations Tory, great to hear you’re being recognised for your visual talents and passionate commitment to your craft. We look forward to seeing more of your beaut visual storytelling on the air waves as you journey ahead! 

    You can follow Tory on Instagram @torygraceevans

  • 30 Jul 2020 1:49 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Photo credit: Chris Blundell

    Director Paora Joseph’s new project Mahara Dreams of Opo shot in the Hokianga area this July. Joseph’s 2018 documentary Maui’s Hook tackled suicide and mental health issues in New Zealand and the new project addresses mental health in narrative form.

    Written in collaboration with Lani-Rain Feltham, who also served as Producer, it is the story of a young girl named Mahara who continues to struggle with the death of her mother, and finds herself institutionalised after receiving visions through wairua from Opo, the famous lone dolphin.

    Photo credit: Chris Blundell

    The film features actor and mental health advocate Rob Mokaraka as Mahara’s father Hemi. Hemi also struggles  with his own grief and how to best help his daughter.

    Photo credit: Chris Blundell

    Shot by NZCS member Tim Flower, Mahara filmed in and around Omapere and Opononi for two days this month. With support from Imagezone in Auckland, “Mahara” used an Alexa Mini with a set of Super 35 Caldwell Chamleon lenses to capture the beauty of Hokianga.

    The short was shot as a proof of concept for a feature film that will hopefully go ahead next autumn.

    ~ Michael Paletta, NZCS Committee Member

  • 30 Jul 2020 1:42 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Joe has had a camera in his hand since he learned to walk on the bumpy streets of South Auckland. He is now a filmmaker and Cinematographer based in the stunning Alpine town of Wanaka, New Zealand.

    He is a creative thinking, whiskey-drinking, Swanndri wearing kinda guy who has an extensive background working on News & Broadcast, TV series production, and online content.

    Joe’s love for all things film has seen him work as a DP and Cinematographer on a variety of productions around the world. He has a natural talent for inspired and innovative approaches to movement, light and composition. ​Founder of The Film Crew Ltd, visual content production co. with a focus on Commercials, FoodTV, Music Videos and Corporate video production.

  • 27 Jul 2020 1:42 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Scheduled for cinematic release on August 6th, This Town will be the first Kiwi film to release in cinemas Post COVID lockdowns. 

    Written, directed by and starring David White (Meat), This Town features Robyn Malcolm (Outrageous Fortune), Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Toi Whakaari graduate Alice May Connolly in lead roles. 

    This Town follows one man’s attempt to return to normality, and one woman’s utter determination to prevent it. Charged but acquitted for a terrible crime, Sean (David White) is now the most infamous person in the small community of Thiston. But his attempts to move on with life are made difficult by ex-cop turned petting zoo and adventure park owner Pam (Robyn Malcolm), who’s convinced that Sean is a guilty man walking free.

    We asked DOP, Adam Luxton, a few questions:

    Cinematographer, Adam Luxton

    What was your vision for shooting the film?

    I was quite keen for it to kind of look like Pingu. We were shooting wide, graphic frames at deep stop and everything started to feel a lot like miniatures somehow. It's a really unfashionable cinematography style, but it felt really fun and like we were doing our own thing. We would just set up a big wide frame and then dress and dress and dress the shot. We wanted to see everything; all the little art department jokes a styling and everything. The whole film's initial idea was to play out in those wides, which I thought would have been really odd and original. As we went on, the film needed modulating for rhythm and story sense, so we started shooting more coverage, and it started to feel a bit more conventional. But we had a whole bunch of weird rules. Everything had to be straight on, squared up to the set or the horizon, or to any referencing structure in the location. Often that would mean we would end up shooting our scene completely front-lit, but that was just what we did to obey the rules we had. Then we would only cut down the line or to a camera position at 90 degrees to the master. So it was always odd. It came from a really particular kind of documentary style that David had been evolving for a number of years. It took some getting my head around! I'm not sure if anyone will ever shoot a movie like that again. 

    Were there any specific challenges, and how did you overcome them?

    Lots of challenges. The film had a tiny budget, lots and lots of locations and a huge cast. And about two weeks out from shooting David decided we'd make it a two camera shoot. So we were maxed out across the board really and there was a lot of compromise in various areas to get the whole thing to work. But it did work! Which felt against the odds a lot of the time. I think David and the producers of the film can feel pretty stoked about that.

    Who comprised your team?

    In the camera team was Damian Seagar, who was the gaffer, B-cam operator and 2nd Unit DoP, then Fenton Dyer and Laura Tait were the AC's. Bill Bycroft came down for a shooting block too. They all worked really hard. And that are all pretty great humans too, which is really important to me. 

    How did shooting on location in Hawke's Bay add to the unique style of the film?

    Well, it meant that we were able to make it at all. Auckland is such an inhospitable place to film in at the moment. Getting permission to be anywhere or do anything is costly and takes time, so on a tight budget things quickly get sticky. Shooting in Central Hawkes Bay was the opposite of that. People couldn't help enough. Everyone wanted to help. If we wanted to close a road for a shot we'd just call up the council and they'd tell us to stick out a road cone. So we bought a few road cones and did our own traffic control. I'm probably not allowed to say that. But that's what it was like down there, it was like shooting a film in the 80's or something. It was relaxed, people were cool and interested. We got a lot of mileage out of our budget there. The weather wasn't too flash though... 

    Can you tell us about your favourite shot or sequence of shots from the movie?

    Don't know, I haven't seen it yet. But if David's shot with the enormous chainsaw made the cut, then that's my favourite shot.

    You can watch the trailer HERE.

  • 02 Jul 2020 3:05 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    A Technodolly workshop hosted at GripHQ has seen the "Share the Knowledge" programme successfully branch into the practical side of production. Held over five days spread across June, ten successful applicants learned the inner workings of the Technodolly from world-renowned expert Lee Buckley and New Zealand's own veteran grip Tony 'Spotty' Keddy.

    In New Zealand for an upcoming Amazon project, Buckley has been involved with the Technodolly for roughly the past ten years and has seen many iterations over his career, watching the technology advance from a ceiling-mounted newsroom crane to what it is now. His work on films such as War for the Planet of the Apes and Altered Carbon push the boundaries of the rapidly advancing technology. "Camera control, repeatability, the Technodolly can take prebuilt moves and recreate them practically on set or a practical live performance-led camera move that is then ingested into Maya. Now there's greater integration with things like Unreal and real-time CG environments that actors can exist in."

    There are currently about 30 Technodolly around the world, with three in New Zealand and developments to acquire a fourth. Keddy believes this to be a huge drawcard for productions looking at New Zealand as a filming destination. Drawing on his extensive experience with motion capture, Keddy suggests the modern audience has grown a lot smarter so it takes a lot more to sell the illusion of film making, the Technodolly being an ideal piece in the modern film making puzzle. "It's a more flexible and reliable tool than it's ever been, and for a digital world, it's the right time for it." 

    With each Technodolly needing a crew to operate, the number of knowledgeable operators is thin. While there's been a demand for quality training for a long time, given COVID 19 and many productions looking to relocate to New Zealand, that need has escalated dramatically. "The machine's just a machine, and it will attract productions, but we need to have skilled people running it." says Keddy. He believes there needs to be a culture change in the film industry. "The only way we can go forward is if we share the knowledge and get the whole level of filming up. There's a huge gap between the A crews and the D Crews, if you're not shown what to do, it's a long journey to work your way up. Whereas we can elevate people quicker and better with education."

    "When starting in the industry, to get that job you need the experience, and then to get that experience you need that job." Says Buckley. "Whilst the training doesn't give you the experience of set and what you would do on set it does give you that experience and ability to see how it works in the real world." 

    Local cinematographer Christo Montes attended the course and gained an appreciation beyond the hands on experience. "[Seeing] Lee's insight of what an actual set with the Technodolly means. Especially the set dynamics and how those can be challenging in a lot of situations, for me it was definitely a benefit to know." The training featured elements of real-world situations requiring critical thinking and a steady composure. Buckley says "By applying pressure to give a sense of 'Yes you have the knowledge, but how do you now make that knowledge fit within a set environment.' And that's the key to training is to get people so they've got the base awareness and base knowledge, and then that gives them the tools to be able to implement them on set."

    When comparing New Zealand to a heavily unionized North America, Buckley says the multi-discipline nature of motion control crosses so many departments, and it's an attitude of collaboration that allows Kiwis to excel. "New Zealand has that willingness to jump into different worlds and just muck in and help out. It's both challenging and rewarding." With the government earmarking significant funds for international productions, there's never been a more pertinent time to foster the development of skills within the New Zealand film industry.

    ~ John Ross, Cinematographer

  • 02 Jul 2020 2:57 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    The ScreenSafe/SWAG Screen Industry Professional Respect Training Project is back up and running. The initiative designed and implemented by ScreenSafe and SWAG, and with the financial support from NZ Film Commission, NZ on Air and Te Māngai Pāho.

    The ScreenSafe/SWAG Professional Respect Training Project was developed to
    support the new health & safety guidelines around harassment and in response
    to feedback from successful pilot training workshops. The course will
    address sexual harassment and harassment, definitions, disclosures, and
    respectful behaviours in the workplace. We also have an Intimacy Coordinator
    segment incorporating the new Intimacy Guidelines and role of the Intimacy
    Coordinators. While it is designed primarily for Producers, Directors, and
    Heads of Departments, it is open to anyone from the screen industry.

    ScreenSafe and SWAG encourage everyone in a position of responsibility to
    upskill accordingly.

    Upcoming dates are below: All participants will receive a ScreenSafe
    Professional Respect Training certification.

    Wellington – Friday 17th July
    Auckland – Friday 24th July
    Christchurch – Friday 14th August
    Auckland – Friday 21st August
    Queenstown – Friday 27th August

    Time: 9am – 5pm

    Venue: Details will be emailed to you on confirmation of your placement.

    To secure your seat, please email your details to:

    Date and town of workshop: 
    Company (if relevant): 
    Preferred role title:
    Mobile number: 
    Dietary requirements: 

    Note: numbers for each workshop are limited to 30, so book your space now.

    If you have any further questions please let us know.

    Ngā mihi,

    Kelly Lucas
    Screen Industry Guild Aotearoa New Zealand Inc.

    (Previously the NZ Film & Video Technicians’ Guild Inc.)
  • 30 Jun 2020 11:40 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    Long time listener, first time caller. I'm not a DOP but I am your biggest fan. I am a colourist based at Images and Sound in Auckland, where, minus a couple of excursions to Australia and LA, I have been for over 12 years.

    I was fortunate to start out when film was still quite prevalent in the industry and we were just starting to shift into digital, so am grateful for the opportunity to have seen that shift and the advantages and disadvantages that came with it.

    I cut my teeth colouring as an assistant on shows like Outrageous Fortune and Power Rangers and can barely believe that I now get to sit in a room and collaborate with the people l looked up to and studied in Film School. (Hi AlBol).

    These days I grade everything from TVC's and short films through to Long Form Drama Features, Television, Documentary and everything in between. Recent highlights include The Luminaries, Fresh Eggs and Mystic the young adult series I am currently working on for the BBC.

    Throughout my time as a colourist I have been fortunate to work alongside and learn from many of you. Some of you being pretty instrumental in my progression (I'm looking at you Simon Raby).

    The reason I joined NZCS was to try and mine you all for your expertise so that I can better serve you at the other end.

    I look forward to meeting many more of you.

  • 09 Jun 2020 11:54 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

    A production report by Marc Swadel BFE - Committee member NZCS.

    In the current climate, the lockdown and isolation, has hit the young, charities, and communities at risk, around the world hard. Which is why I am proud to be involved with a wonderful, positive initiative from the Roald Dahl Story Company: 'James and the Giant Peach - with Taika and friends'. 

    This loved children's book, is read over 10 episodes, narrated by Oscar winning director Taika Waititi, who is joined in the storytelling, by a fantastic bunch of friends, who have given their time and allowed us into their lives and living rooms, for a very good cause – they include triple Oscar winner Meryl Streep, Billy Porter, Cate Blanchett, Eddy Redmayne, Chris & Liam Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberpatch, Lupita Nyong'o, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Ruth Wilson, Ryan Reynolds, Nick Kroll, Olivia Wilde, Gordon Ramsay, Camilla, Princess of Wales, Yo Yo Ma, Governor Cuomo of New York, Kumail Nanjiani and Cynthia Erivo. An impressive line-up of star power – if you added up all the Oscar/Bafta/Golden Globe, Emmy and Grammy awards and nominations between them – it is over 200!

    It is all in aid of Partners in Health - a charity restoring social justice by bringing quality health care to the most vulnerable around the world. Roald Dahl Story Company have pledged to match donations dollar for dollar.

    My role in this, was as a hybrid Technical Director and Cinematographer - working out how to make it work. It was challenging – the brief was the need to record from up to 4 time zones at once, needing to get isolated video and audio, for up to 6 people at once, as well as recording instruments and foley, and on top of that make sure everyone was able to set themselves up and be audible, framed and bright – from 4k webcams in home studios to iPads and iPhones in remote locations all over the world, live under lockdown, from the front room. With a week’s notice to make it happen. 

    Being a totally isolated project – I had to work out how to make it happen with the platform provided – Zoom. I had used Zoom, and had recorded before, for other client gigs – but nothing of this spec. This was the brand new COVID19 world – I could not find any other productions that had attempted this – and there definitely was nothing In the Zoom instructions that alluded to being able to do anything like it, in fact, talking to Zoom – they had no idea if it could be done. So, we had to work it out, and make it work. 

    How we made it happen, to cut a long story short – and bypassing a long-winded rundown on settings etc. we had to match the number of participants with a ‘Camera Operator’ who would ‘pin’ each of them full frame in Isolation as we recorded, and then ‘go invisible’ for the record. 

    Out of necessity, all involved –  Lucy from The Roald Dahl Story Company, Michelle from Team Taika, Taika himself,  Laura the Editor, and Maggie  & Bee the U.S Producers,  got stuck in  as ‘Cam Ops’ and worked closely on the project, pre-record, to test, test and test!

    For Taika, we had his laptop recording the normal down the barrel web cam shot, and set up a ‘B’ camera (his daughters iPad) as a higher resolution wide, that we could punch in on if needed. We bought a nice mic and lighting set up for Taika – but guess what? Due to the lockdown, it never arrived. Luckily Taika managed to find an SM58 vocal mic and we plugged it in direct, as a ‘B’ source of audio, and also for Foley.

    For the participants,  I wrote a Zoom settings manual, and a protocol to check through for both audio and video – framing, lighting, sound levels, making sure they are getting maximum bandwidth etc. and also made sure the communication channels were open pre-record, if they had any problems setting up.

    Operationally – we had the routine down pat. We crew would join the meeting 30 mins before Taika + Participants, we would test record and check back on quality, we would identify who was recording whom, and we also had a comms channel outside of Zoom – a WhatsApp group where we could communicate freely, without distracting the participants. This was a really big point – we needed to be as ‘ghostlike’ as possible, and not get in the way of the flow of the storytelling. 

    Just before the meeting time – Taika’s P.A would join, and we would make sure things were good to go, and Taika would jump in. As the participants would arrive in the ‘waiting room’ and Lucy from Roald Dahl (who was the host)  would meet and greet, and let them in, and we would say hi, introduce ourselves as the crew, I would talk to Taika and the participants if there was an issue ( for example, Meryl had a message alert beep on her desk top we had to sort, and  we had a chat with Benedict had to sort his cell phone level) once all was good, and I had made sure Taika was recording, we would sound off that we were each recording, then say bye, and turn off our audio and video, and ‘go invisible’.

    If there was any problem, say a garbled line, or a freeze  - we crew had the WhatsApp group and would alert each other - and then Lucy would drop into the Zoom convo and ask for a re take. Working with such professionals – aside from tech issues – we could just leave them to it. 

    We would get ISO individual video and audio tracks, Taika would get the ‘Gallery view’ on his laptop, and the master wide on the side angle – which he would turn towards, and use for Foley when needed. Sounds simple… but..

    Problems. First big one – resolution. As we had a Zoom Corporate Plan,  which mentioned 1080p recording (on request) and 720p as standard, we thought we would be fine. Problem was, 1080p was on request – which we did – but the HD tap didn’t get turned on in time for our records. 720p? well we managed it a handful of times on a few computers. Mostly we were getting… 360p. 

    Second issue – latency – loads! No fault of Zoom – recording live over the internet across 4 time zones – you are going to have a load of lag. Taika got on top of it and made sure lines were read individually if things got garbled due to lag. it did get interesting  recording Yo Yo Ma and his cello – we recorded an ISO track, plus also his engineer recorded Yo Yo as well. We got an interesting echo across some of the other participants ISO tracks – so we just  asked Yo Yo to turn off his  Webcam mic – and problem solved.

    There was also an interesting problem with Taika’s ISO track – when he played his guitar – it just blanked in and out. Not sure if it was an overload thing, or if Zoom optimises the audio  bandwidth for the human voice  – but it wasn’t good. Luckily, we had great audio on the  ‘B’ Mic, into the iPad. Phew...

    Aside from those hiccups – it went well. Once shot the turnaround was a week to TX for the first episode, on YouTube – then three episodes a week until the final, 10th episode. 

    Despite where we find ourselves currently in this moment – a team of people who haven’t met each other got together and made it happen for a good cause, and I am really happy  the Roald Dahl Story Company had this bold idea and took the leap to make it happen. 

    One really good thing about a YouTube release – you can read the comments section from viewers – the joy and happiness this little project has brought, plus the donations and exposure for the Charity, have definitely made the Coronavirus blackhole I found myself in turn to a positive thing.

    So grab the kids, sit down and enjoy the story!












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