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June 26th, 2009

Wimbledon 2009It’s the time of year when BBC’s OB’s (Outside Broadcasts) has a field day.  Or I should say a field and court day.  Or maybe a field and many courts day.  It’s Wimbledon and Glastonbury time and interestingly, last year the entire BBC OB department was sold to indie OB provider, SIS Live who now provide facilities for both events.

I was wondering what it’s like being an OB cameraman, especially the guy who does the static wideshot of the tennis court?  I assume it is a guy and not a remote camera?  It’s a guy on, Have I Got News For You, you see him at the end, sitting there behind the camera pointing at the presenter.  Maybe it’s a trainee?  There are probably worst shows to be an OB cameraman on, darts, snooker, though I’m sure they all have their demands.  Surprisingly, they even have slow motion replays on darts and snooker.

This year’s Wimbledon goes fully HD, whereas in previous years only centre court and court one have been HD. There are the four trucks including the ominously sounding OB7, dedicated HD truck, along with 70 HD cameras, 8 slow motion cameras, 31 HD video recorders and 20 networked EVS recorders, allowing slow motion replays to be accessed by any user.  And the obligatory 50 miles of cable, riggers, etc, etc.  It’s complicated and of almost sci-fi proportions.  Indeed the BBC trailer for the event seems to be inspired by just that, having been made in the style of Tron.

The Wimbledon championships started in 1877, twelve years before even film was invented, but early coverage in the thirties, was very similar to that of today.  A little shakier maybe and in black and white, and of course, not exactly live, but otherwise…

If you think the HD coverage looks good, maybe the next big thing will be Wimbledon 3D, then the cameraman on the static wide shot really will have something to say. Which brings me to Glastonbury.

3d-discoThe big thing at Glastonbury, is the silent disco. Seriously!!  And 3D, for the ultimate clubbing experience.  Two thousand clubbers, surrounded by huge screens, will wear radio linked headphones and 3D glasses to immerse themselves into the one hour, audio visual extravaganza created by DJ’s and motion graphic and visual artists. Already tried out in Trafalgar Square in 2007 it’s expected to be the experience of the Glastonbury experience.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s 117 hours worth of coverage of the event will present a different perspective to the OB cameramen here.  I have a picture of them in rock concert black, as opposed to their Wimbledon counterparts in white Fred Perry shirts and slacks.  I wonder if they swap jobs?

The BBC started pGlastonburylanning for Glastonbury in April, and have a crew of 275 people on the event.  This year they’re using a half hour delay for some of the acts who might use offensive language, after two years ago, Arctic Monkeys let rip before the watershed.  Apparently they’re standing by for Lily Allen.

I bet they wished they had that piece of equipment at Wimbledon!


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BECTU Fair Tomorrow

June 25th, 2009

kidulthoodposterBECTU’s Freelancer’s Fair returns tomorrow, Friday June 26, at BAFTA.  The all day event features workshops and seminars by luminaries including Tony Garnet and Franny Armstrong who will be panellists on, Breaking Through – Film Making Which Makes A Difference.  And late entrant, cineatographer Brian Tufano – Trainspotting, Billy Elliot, Kidulthood, will be presenting a masterclass.

Beginning at 9.30 and running to the end of the day, which will be topped-off with the Pitching For Success seminar, booking is online.


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Up North

June 24th, 2009

damned_united_posterjpgThe North could soon be the new South if Martin Cook has his way.  Martin is the MD of Leeds International Studios, which he set up in 2006 and which he now has big plans for.  The studios, once the factory best known for making board games including Monopoly and Cluedo, has housed productions ranging from Michael Sheen’s, The Damned United, to Wuthering Heights, Lost In Austen and the dark Channel 4 drama, Red Riding.

As business has been so good, plans are now being put in place to double the studio’s 16,000 sq foot space and to add more production offices and other facilities to make it competitive with London studios and attract big productions.  Already, one production is scheduled which will double Leeds for London, as it’s far cheaper to shoot in the area than down south..

Currently the local economy benefits from around £12m a year of movie and TV spending, Martin believes the additional space and facilities could take this beyond £80m and make Leeds a creative centre of the UK.


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Norway Digital

June 24th, 2009

NorwayNorway isn’t the country that first springs to mind as the likely European leader in digital cinema.  Well they’re about to be.  Norway’s Film & Kino, has signed a deal with five Hollywood studios to help funds it’s country wide digital cinema conversion which includes, their mobile cinema used in rural areas.

The deal is what’s been called a Virtual Print Fee and will allow the distributors to provide digital releases of their movies to cinemas when the conversion programme begins at the end of the year.  The costs will be shared by distributors, cinemas and the Film & Kino group.  The studios hope this will prove an influential example to other European countries, like…. Germany.

The German digital expansion has been held up or some time because of wrangles between the film industry and cinemas over who pays.  A common problem.  Now, the German Federal Film Board has decided to help speed-up the project by investing $56m of public money.  Producers are hoping this won’t be a diversion of funds used primarily for production.


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Bollywood NYC

June 23rd, 2009

Poster for Bollywood movie New YorkWith average budgets of around $7m, you’d be surprised to hear Bollywood producers love to shoot in the most expensive location in the US, New York City.  But the city’s backdrop is what attracts producers as Indian audiences have a fascination for seeing foreign cities on screen.

This month, sees the release of the latest from one of India’s largest production companies, the $15m, New York.  Since 2006, eight mainstream Bollywood movies have been shot in New York and now there is a growing service industry tailored especially to their requirements.

New Jersey based, Bollywood Hollywood Productions, provides crews, equipment, extras and organises filming permits.  Interestingly, the district of Queens is home to over 50,000 Indians, so extras are never in short supply.

Still from Bollywood Movie, New YorkBut no Bollywood movie would be without big musical numbers with many dancers, though when in New York, the dancers have to look like they’re from New York. So step up to the plate, the New York based, Bollywood Axion Dance Company who provide Caucasian dancers, trained in many styles, including traditional Bollywood.

Most recently they were involved in providing dancers for Jaan-E-Mann, or Sweetheart, in which a spectacular dance number was staged on the streets of Manhatten.


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Man Meets Vue

June 23rd, 2009

Still from movie, Me And Orson WellesIn an interesting side swipe at the traditional distribution model, the Vue cinema chain have entered into a deal to directly distribute films made by Isle Of Man finance and production entity CinemaNX.  Vue has agreed to distribute three films from CinemaNX, the first of which will be Richard Linklater’s, Me And Orson Welles which will come out towards the end of the year.

The innovative deal will cut out the middle man, the distributor, so giving CinemaNX a greater cut of the box office, 50% of which normally goes to the distributor.  Me And Orson Welles is likely to go out to 150-200 screens and could herald the beginning of other exhibitor/producer deals which are becoming popular in mainland Europe.

We’ve yet to see how this relationship will affect those established for many years with the major distributors, in one of the world’s most important territories.


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Film Fund For Spain

June 23rd, 2009

AlmodovarIn the hope of re-vitalising the Spanish film biz, the Spanish government is setting-up plans for a $125m (€90m) film fund which it hopes to launch in October.  Box office for local fare has been poor over the past few years and piracy has taken a huge toll on the theatrical market, through illegal downloading.  Last year there were 350 million downloads in Spain, with the very first prosecution of a P2P administrator being in April this year.

The new plans will give the producers of 12 films a year, 50% of their budget up to $2.7m (€2m), which can go towards any stage of the production from development to exhibition.  The funds will also be available to co-productions, in which case they would go to the Spanish producer.

It is hoped the scheme will bring a resurgence of film production to the country and quell criticism that the government has previously backed films that failed to attract audiences to the screens.

Now where have I heard that before…..?


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BBC 4 Best Factual

June 22nd, 2009

James MayLast Thursday saw much coiffing at the Broadcast Digital Awards, at the Park Lane Hilton, in which we sponsored Best Factual Channel.  It reminded us of how these niche channels provide producers with a great outlet for individual and unique programming.  These days, some of the most interesting fare is to be seen on these, rather than on the terrestrial giants.

Although being up against formidable competition from the likes of Blighty, More 4 and Discovery Channel, BBC4 walked away with the award for Best Factual Channel, for diverse series including this week’s, James May At The Edge Of Space, Secret Life Of The Airport and Wainwright’s Walks.

Must fly, tonight is airport night!


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It’s Dangerous Out There

June 19th, 2009

redcliffposterjpgThe release of John ‘two guns’ Woo’s, Red Cliff, which at $80m is China’s most expensive film ever,  brings our attention once again to the occasional, yet remarkable glimpse we get of the Hong Kong film industry.  It made me wonder, what goes on, in Hong Kong?  I found out, it’s dangerous!

John Woo on Red CliffJohn Woo, along with Wong Kar-Wei are probably the best known exports of Hong Kong cinema, with Woo’s mega-action fare contrasting with Wong Kar-Wei’s mega-beautiful, movies of romance and poetry, enhanced by the photography of DOP Chris Doyle.  Although the majority of Hong Kong movies don’t get seen in the west, beyond the Asian cinema shelves in DVD stores,  the influence of Hong Kong movies is huge.

Movie making in Hong Kong peaked in the ‘90’s and it has become the third largest movie maker in the world after India and Hollywood.  Films had to be made incredibly fast as average budgets were around $5m.  Then came Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan who’s movie budgets rocketed to $20m and who gained worldwide cult following for their stunt-filled, kung fu, kick boxing movies, which took the attention of one Quentin Tarrantino.

the-departedjpgTarrantino’s, Reservoir Dogs is said to be heavily influenced by City On Fire, with Kill Bill a more obvious nod, while Scorsese’s, The Departed, is well known to be a remake of the Infernal Affairs trilogy.  John Woo meanwhile was making, Hong Kong gangster movies, Hard Boiled and Hard Target with rising star, Chow Yun-Fat.

I was talking to John Woo’s 1st AD who gave me the inside track on Woo’s influential balletic, slow motion, action style, which brought him to Hollywood to make films including Face Off and Mission Impossible II.  The famous shoot-outs happened on the set just as you see them on screen.  Many cameras, shooting many stuntmen, shooting among many explosions.  No health and safety here, there was no time, it really was mayhem and authorities turned a blind eye to the whole thing.  It was as dangerous as it looked and people did get hurt.

Stunts on Hard BoiledIndeed Chinese film crews believe danger lurks on every set, in two forms, ghosts and gangsters.  Before a shooting a stunt sequence, stuntmen burn incense and bow their heads in a Buddhist ritual, worshipping the ghosts and praying that they should protect them rather than possess them.  It is not uncommon for an actor to believe they’re possessed by spirits when their acting isn’t going well, while producers encourage their crews to worship the ghosts as a means of team building and creating unity.  The other malevolent force on the film set, is the Triads.

The Triads offer that other sort of protection, and have controlled film sets and locations for many years.  When cameras mysteriously break-down or people are robbed, it’s put down to one ghost or the other.  Indeed the AD I met in Hong Kong told me most of the locations were Triad controlled, and if they shot there without paying, he would personally suffer!!  I didn’t believe him of course, I thought he was having an inscrutable joke with this westerner, but the look on his face told me otherwise.  It’s also said the Triads have involvement in financing and controlling labour on productions, coercing actors and production and construction crews to work on their films, ensuring a smooth production if they do so,  Scary!

How much the tradition of gangster involvement in film making was seen on the set of John Woo’s, Red Cliff I don’t know.  This was Woo’s first film in Mandarin since leaving Red Cliff the moviethe US, and the ghosts seemed to be ever present.  During the filming of a major battle scene, six crew were injured and a stunt man killed in a fire. Some say the production was cursed.   Beset by problems, including many cast changes as star Tony Leung left on the first day of shooting, soon to be followed by Woo’s long time friend and actor collaborator, Chow Yun-Fat, who he’d worked with since Hard Boiled and whose departure was a mystery.  This along with a major set being washed away by torrential rain, made director Woo wonder who was really controlling his massive project.

Like I said, it’s dangerous out there.


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Deal For Hollywood North

June 18th, 2009

Location Of John Cusack movieVancouver, capital of Hollywood North, will become more popular with US producers now a new deal has been done with film unions.  The British Colombia Council of Film Unions, has agreed a 3 year deal with US producers which will include a 2% raise for their members along with contributions to health and welfare.

Currently taking good advantage of the Canadian dollar are John Cusack’s, Hot Tub Time Machine and Jeff Bridges’ Tron sequel.


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