*Livewire Pictures and Telegenic were not mentioned in the original publication of this article
The BBC Proms is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest classical music festivals. Stretching over eight weeks each summer from the Royal Albert Hall in London, there’s something in it for everyone, whether you’re into classical music or not.
We spoke to Post-Production Engineer Andrew Emmerson, who shares his experience of working on this prestigious annual assignment alongside TV production company Livewire Pictures and OB provider Telegenic.
Livewire Pictures specialise in creating and producing music programming, live events, entertainment shows, and everything in between. Telegenic’s crew is knowledgeable, technically expert and understanding of client needs, offering full support from planning, through to project management and delivery of the finest coverage.
Given its an eight-week programme of concerts, The BBC Proms is one of the longer jobs that we do in a year. On top of the eight weeks of events, we spend at least one week before it starts, getting everything set up onsite, and another week before that getting all the kit configured and tested back at our Southwood HQ.
It’s definitely my favourite job of the year. I remember going to The Proms when I was at school and being fascinated by both the spectacle and the Royal Albert Hall. Now I’m able to wander around the building, going through the ‘Restricted Access’ doors, exploring all the backstage areas and even popping out onto the stage – all that brings a really gleeful, joyous smile to my face and reminds me of how fortunate I am to be in this job. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love that venue.
In terms of the setup, onsite we have four Avid systems: two full edits, one assistant edit and one finishing edit with 5.1 surround sound. They all work from Avid Nexis storage using the Avid Interplay/ Production Management solution. We’re responsible for the streaming of The Proms into the edit, which is done by integrating IPDirector and XSquare/XTAccess into the OB truck’s existing EVS network.
In the weeks leading up to The Proms, we’ll set up a number of EVS XT3s at our Southwood HQ and run tests with the kit we’re taking to site, to ensure there are no software incompatibilities and that we have enough processing power to be able to stream in real time to the Nexis and at least one other archiving location. We optimise our setup so that we’re able to capture as much as possible with the kit that has been requested; you only get one chance to archive the largest classical music festival in the world.
We spend about a week at the venue, getting our Avid and EVS kit installed and talking to the OB truck’s network and equipment, making sure cables are run tidily and labelled correctly, running further stream tests and doing rehearsals for the First Night of The Proms. Once the season starts, the Avids get used almost every day, even when a live show isn’t happening that night. A Gravity Media engineer is onsite for all of the Proms, whether they’re being broadcast live or recorded for a later date. This can also include rehearsals, as sometimes footage of the rehearsals is requested for VTs, so we’re there to get that into the edit too.
Production generally request six or seven streams into the edit and archive, which comprises a clean copy of the programme as broadcast, and five or six ISOs from the many cameras available to the live show producer. This can generate anywhere between 400GB and 2TB of data per Prom, and at least the same again for rehearsals.
In the UK, The Proms are either broadcast as live, usually with a half-hour deferment so any interval can be removed, or they’re recorded and then broadcast at a later date in the schedule. Recordings of the Proms are then used to deliver to international broadcasters and partners, so it is vital all media captured is correct and complete.
Getting the streams into the edit in real time is critical, as some records have less than 12 hours to be turned around into a fully finished programme for delivery. For example, a two-hour Prom that’s being broadcast the following evening in a 1.5-hour time slot will have the online editor and a producer come in a couple of hours before the Prom starts, at about 5 or 6pm, to attend production meetings and get settled in. When the Prom starts at around 7:30pm, they edit from the real-time streams and work overnight to cut the programme down, finish and add any VTs, transitions and wipes, fix any audio issues, give it a colour grade, render and export it. This gets reviewed by production executives the following morning at around 8am, and any requested changes are applied. The final show gets delivered to the broadcaster either by internet file transfer or by being played out directly to their control room. The editor clocks off just before 10am, and the broadcaster has the show by 12pm, ready for broadcast that evening. A Gravity Media engineer is on hand to support these overnight edits and deliveries due to the tight schedule.
The two full edits are used for cutting VTs/features and pre-recorded interviews for the live show, with the assistant edit being used for the ingest of camera cards, archive tapes, social media footage and Avid projects and media from third parties. The finishing edit is then used for the colour grade, audio mix and review by production, before being transferred to the OB truck for use in the show.
The First Night and the Last Night of The Proms are definitely the highlights of the season. The anticipation of the First Night and what the season will bring, and then the joy and sense of accomplishment when the Last Night is done. The Last Night can be a challenge as an additional OB truck is brought to the venue and integrated into our working system. This additional facility is then used for the live streams from across the country, and as such we make sure we have enough processing capacity to add additional streams to the edit if production request them.
I’ve done the Proms in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and last year was definitely the weirdest experience to date. Normally, once we’d come off-air, we would leave the OB truck and find thousands of people outside the Royal Albert Hall, leaving to go home. It was a communal experience. Last year, as we went off-air and opened the OB truck door, there’d just be silence, emptiness. No people, no noise, no chatter – none of the usual post-concert vibrancy. It didn’t feel right, but I suppose on the positive side, with London deserted at least it was easy to find somewhere to park!
Everyone involved in The Proms loves doing it. The performances, the venue, the overall vibe – there’s just something special about it. The 2021 season takes place from 30 July to 11 September; everyone at home can tune in on BBC Radio 3, BBC TV and online.
To find out how Gravity Media can help you with your next production, email firstname.lastname@example.org.