As I’ve written earlier, I’m working as a creative assistant to Karen Footman. We were planning a series of 20-min ‘chat show’ style programmes and we had to find a location to film them – so on 23 October we went out driving around the Warwick / Leamington area in search for a good filming location.
Since Karen had been working with events for some time, she had a few ideas where we could go – we had three locations in mind. The first one was Mallory Court in Leamington Spa, they have some nice lounges to chill out and / or have a coffee, tea, read a book, work uninterrupted – but all the areas we checked were either too big for what we needed (which meant there would be personnel / clients going around and disrupting the filming), some were too noisy (one was next to the kitchen, with hard wood floors – so lots of unwanted sounds); another one was quiet enough, but it was too dark and too old style-ish for what we were trying to make.
Then we moved on to call another location, but their hiring prices were just too high.
The final location – and our choice – was The VeNEW in Leamington Spa. It’s a pub on evenings, but behind the bar, they actually have a separate area with a scene for events / parties available for hire, and empty on most days – it has its own bar, lights, lovely modern / minimalistic furnishing and it’s quiet. The price was also within our budget, so we were soon convinced that was a good choice.
I had taken a Z1 camera and an omni-directional Shure microphone with a stand to do some test filming. Here is a screen grab from the clip:
Fortunately, we had Karen’s daughter around, so I was able to test, film and play around with the equipment long enough to figure out a technical plan for the actual filming. I got them to talk about their breakfast (to check the sound levels of course), then they just kept changing subjects, laughing and rolling on the chairs (you get that a lot with children), so I was able to see how bad it could get. I like planning for the ‘worst case scenario’ – and if it still looks / sounds OK, I know I’ll be fine – then I actually start thinking about improving small details to get a better result.
The first thing that needed sorting out was lighting. We weren’t going to carry our own lights, so we had to make sure the ones in the pub worked well enough for what we needed. While doing the recce, there were colour-changing LED lights in place, which was of course awful. We made sure the people at the venue would contact their lighting technician before our filming day to sort out the settings to get constant, white light.
Another point regarding light were the blinds behind the set. We had to cover them with the black curtains and made sure the mechanism worked. The pattern wallpapers worked quite well – even though the set was pretty much black, they gave it a fresh look – something nice to look at while watching the shows.
Of course it’s quite obvious from the screen grab that I hadn’t placed the camera properly – first, because we were using a small tripod and it was not well secured – so I wanted to stay close to the camera at all times and make sure it doesn’t fall. So at that point I was certain I needed a much more stable tripod – which I took care for on the actual filming day.
I was recording in SD for the recce, as I wanted to see what the footage would look like at low resolution. All these blacks on the set, plus the details in people’s faces etc. had to be visible enough. Another concern was how to make the microphones and cables less obvious – I was using just one microphone for the test, but even then I had a cable in shot. For the actual filming, we used two microphones, moved the camera to a central position – so there is no tilting and / or strange framing, and we hid the microphones’ stands and cables with some flowers.
The main concern was sound. Even if our visuals weren’t mind blowing, we had to make sure we could record our content’s sound properly. Since I had taken out an omni-directional Shure microphone with no phantom power, it was very quiet, there was lots of noise, I had to apply a gain in-camera, which of course brought even more noise from the amplification – so I had to do something different. For the final filming day, I changed the microphone type, used two microphones with phantom power, and even though we had some reverbation because of the acoustic properties of the venue and the insufficient number (and placement) of microphones, we ended up with a ‘good enough’ quality of sound.
In reflection, it was an absolute must for us to go and test film on location – and that is something I want to do more for my media production projects, within and outside uni. You can never plan a shoot properly if you’ve never been to the location, and it’s always a good idea to do test filming with similar equipment and settings to the ones that you plan to use on the day. I’m definitely happy we avoided lots of the confusion for the day of filming – we needed to be focused and thinking about the content, and equipment and technical details had to just work for us.