Project Report – Director’s Role
For our multi-camera video production, we decided early on to attempt to produce a full edition of the popular game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. We decided on this because the format is widely-know worldwide, and therefore wouldn’t have to be explained as much giving us more time to produce, there are numerous materials and resources to draw from and also it would prove an interesting challenge for us as students.The ‘live’ version of the show, an unmodified edition of the show taken directly from the tape. A perfected ‘broadcast’ version, which was edited afterwards, is also available.
For a start, our group was asked to do some research into the past, present and future of multi-camera video production. This was relevant, as a greater understanding of the subject would give us greater insight and improve our decision-making over the course of the project.
The Role of Director
With the context of the subject now clear to us, we were to put together a proposal presentation in order to get a green light for our production. It was at this point that some (but not all) of the group decided on their job roles, so as to add extra focus our research efforts, and I was given the go-ahead to be the director.
I have had experience of being a director on a large, single-camera production the previous year, and it was from this (and especially the mistakes that I made) that I drew most of my methods from. Before, I was so afraid of failure that I was unwilling to do or say anything that might upset anyone. I was determined to change these factors and prove to myself that I could be a good director.
The main thing I had learnt from my previous experiences was that if a production goes well, it is a team effort, but if a production goes badly, it is the director’s fault. I drew from this that it is always the director’s responsibility to ensure a production’s success, no matter what they have to do or how much extra work. This meant that throughout the Millionaire production, I tried my best to ensure that everyone knew what they were doing in their job roles and were able to do it well, and if there were any problems I would assist them as much as I could.
Research & Planning
The proposal would require research into every aspect of the show both on-screen and off-screen, quantify how that aspect could be achieved and assess its feasibility given the experience and equipment available to us. This included set-design, camera positions, number of cameras, on-screen graphics, music and sound mixing. The other major aspect was the subject of the screenplay – given that for most of the group this was the first real time in a studio-based production, do we plan to keep faithful to the game show’s intentions, film it unscripted and be prepared for what may happen or do we script the production and focus on what we know will happen? In the end, it was an easy decision – the setup and experience required for us to produce the performance unscripted was asking far too much of us (e.g. a graphics system that would have every possibility programmed into it), and I thought that given the amount of work we already had to do, we needed some structure or plan.
We did, however, decide to have a live audience on set for the final performance, since this would make the show seem more genuine and hopefully encourage the crew to perform better under the pressure of observation by others outside of our crew. To keep faithful to the live nature of the project and to add to the challenge of production, I wanted to record the entire performance in just one take. I felt this would demonstrate our ability to work as a team and to address any problems that arise quickly and smoothly as to not interrupt production.
In spite of the assignment brief only asking for a five to six minute production with a recommended maximum of then, it was agreed to produce a forty-five minute piece, however this was shortened to around twenty-five at our lecturer’s advice. I felt that this was achievable, since the show has a regular format that would easily fill the time. It was at this point where I decided to have one or two advert breaks, since in such a long performance I felt it was necessary as director to be able to talk, and give advice and direction to the actors and audience.
I tasked each of the crew (including myself) to research a certain aspect of the production for the pitch, including studio layout, music, sound recording, graphics and production roles. At her request, Nef spent the week writing the first draft of the screenplay.
I recommended that the crew watch “Tonight With Trevor MacDonald – Major Fraud” (ITV, 2003) (a documentary about a famous incident involving the use of coughing as a form of cheating), as it revealed a lot of information on how the television show worked technically (e.g. it is revealed that the actual show has an eight camera setup), as well as the relationships between crewmembers and the chain of command.
After diligent research by the whole production crew, we were able to put together a presentation showing everything we had researched and to prove it was possible for us to achieve this. The presentation included a complete breakdown of every graphic used in production (courtesy of Rachael), a complete floor plan including audience, actor and camera positions (courtesy of Adam) and a breakdown of all 41 music tracks and how they are used in the show (by myself). We also featured the full first draft of the screenplay (written by Nef).
The production was given the green light to proceed, and based on the feedback from our peers, the whole crew decided on their final job roles.
Myself – Director
Adam – Vision Mixer
Rachael – Floor Manager
Nef – Graphics Operator
Nikolay – Sound Mixer
Matt – Main Camera Operator
Jake – Lighting Director
We required five additional people from outside our group, including two camera operators and three actors to play the parts.
A schedule was, to my mind, crucial if the production was going to be a success. Unlike a single-camera production, this was going to be done all in one go, and I felt it important to ensure that we all had exactly what we needed (including resources and practice) in order to succeed.
After the schedule was agreed amongst the crew, I advertised the roles we needed on the University’s ScreenProduction society and filled them within one and a half weeks with student volunteers. I also finalised the screenplay at this point, cleaning it up and producing a crew edition with appropriate cues and an actor edition.
I then turned my attention to the on-screen graphics. Since I possessed the knowledge of how to do it, and because I possessed a complete graphics breakdown from Rachael and a set of provisional images from Nef, I designed and programmed the graphics system from the ground up, attempting to match it as close to the show’s as possible (including using the correct fonts). After talking with our Sound Mixer (Nikolay), I decided to include the music tracks in the graphics system – this meant that they would be perfectly in sync, and leave Nikolay to concentrate on balancing the sound output. I managed to adapt our custom graphics system to output to the older studio system, and on the advice of our Vision Mixer (Adam) and technical assistants, used the colour red for the desk to key out and overlay the graphics onscreen.
Rehearsals and Technical Run-throughs
Since we were planning to perform Millionaire live, I reasoned that we had to do as many rehearsals with actors and technical run-throughs as we possibly could with the entire crew present. The original plan of two technical and two rehearsal sessions had to be changed, as we ran into problems of actors and crewmembers not turning up, double-bookings of the studio as well as some technical faults. As a result, we had something like four technical sessions and three main sessions, with two run-throughs each, totaling around fourteen rehearsals overall.
Additionally, our Graphics Op was away for a lot of the rehearsal period and missed many sessions, and given that operating the graphics system whilst listening for cues from both the director and the actors on set required a lot of practice I felt it necessary to search for a replacement to ensure the show’s success. However, this turned out not to be necessary. Nef returned in good time, and I ensured I spent enough time with her practicing operating the system in one-to-one sessions so I’d be satisfied that she could get her cues right when it came to final production.
The actors took to their roles very quickly and didn’t require much direction – this had a lot to do with the choice of production, since Millionaire is well known, the actors knew exactly what was required of them and performed brilliantly in every practice. Every member crew also did fantastically, showing dramatic improvement session by session. I accommodated their every need whenever I could, and tried to give them as clear as possible instructions.
I also insisted on setting up the system so we could pipe the show’s iconic music into the studio during the performance. I felt that this would help the actors get into character as well as make it more realistic for the audience.
As a further precaution, I requested a second tape deck be fitted to run simultaneously with the one already in the gallery, in case something went wrong with the main tape deck. I reasoned that if we were going to do this only in one take and something went wrong with the deck, we would lose our only copy.
I made a point of pushing my crew for perfection, but I wasn’t expecting it on the final performance. I anticipate that in spite of the many practices we had done, the pressure of the final performance may cause us to make mistakes that we had not made before, and we would have to do our best to compensate for those without having to start again. That being said, not a lot went wrong during the production and it mostly went extremely well.The reel from the gallery from the final performance.
Major Technical Fault at the Start
When we began our final performance, the sound from the graphics system was not coming through the soundboard or studio. We attempted to fix it on the fly, but after a while I judged it best to call cut and find the problem (on television they would then cut to a breakdown caption card) . We fixed the problem and restarted the show.
There were a few communication difficulties between Nikolay and myself during the production. I feel I am to blame, since the phrases ‘fade out’ and ‘fade up’ sound so similar. If I were to do this again I would research a more effective way to communicate during production.
Ask The Audience
During the production, a graphics glitch caused the audience vote box and music to cue far too early. I compensated for this by cutting to a wide angle shot while the graphics were paused by Nef, and we resumed them on their rightful cue. According to audience feedback, the mistake was not noticed.
Despite these incidents, I think the whole production went brilliantly. The whole team pulled together, and the actors did a very good job. It was a lot of hard work over weeks, but it was easily the most fun and one of the most fulfilling projects I have ever worked on, and I am extremely proud of the result. I learnt so much about the studio and putting together a production, as well as really boosting confidence in myself in leading a team.
It was a fantastic experience, and I would be genuinely interested in following this up some day.