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Conservatoire and Cutaways

Ascending the steps of Chamberlain Square again to stand before the current Birmingham Conservatoire, it was exciting to return to the building this time with camera in hand. Andy and Carly from the Parkside Media Centre had brought with them the Canon C100 and Sony HVR-Z5E; the latter was for the use of us students, as Andy would be operating the C100 on this shoot.

Phil Thickett was director and Caroline Officer (our MA Award Leader) was producer on the project. Exterior shots were set up with the C100, as Phil expressed the importance of cutaways and recording a ‘wild’ or ‘buzz’ track (a track that may be layered on top of intermittent background noise and so create an uninterrupted soundtrack).

The Z5E typically records to tape, but an HTMI output had it connected to a BlackMagic SSD (solid state drive); this meant that the camera and the SSD had to be fixed onto a shoulder-mount for them to stay attached, and in turn making the overall use of the equipment rather cumbersome. I was designated camera operator on the Z5E, and it proved suitable to a short one-shot POV piece in which Phil directed me to enter the Conservatoire building, walking through the hallways and up to the practice rooms. It took two takes, using my fellow students as extras (or strategically-placed doorstops), so that the walk was as unobstructed as possible.

We were scheduled to film a performance by Tradicional Cubano in the Adrian Boult Hall that afternoon, and here the Z5E provided more of a challenge because of the cumbersome shoulder-mount. The C100 was stationed in the third row with a fixed view of the band – capturing sound and a general wide shot, whilst my role was to record the cutaways (you can never have enough cutaways, according to Phil) – sympathetically zooming in on the musicians and occasionally the audience.

The plan for the overall piece, which will eventually be edited down to a 3-5 minute feature, is to give a taste of the Birmingham Conservatoire as a working building – buzzing with life and learning – talent emanating through its concrete walls. In less than two years the structure will be demolished and the new Birmingham Conservatoire will be erected behind the BCU city centre campus, so we needed to record interviews and vox pops with students about the current facilities, and what they might be looking forward to with the new build. Many cutaways had been captured earlier in the day, in and around the practice rooms, recording a variety of musicians and different instruments being played. The narrative of the feature will not include an on-screen reporter or V/O, so interviews were conducted as a conversation.

We rounded off the filming in an interview with Professor Lamberto Coccioli in his office. Access to his office was granted before Professor Coccioli’s arrival, so that this particular location could be set up ready for his interview and begin recording straight away. Again having to contend with the outside traffic and dwindling natural light peeking through the window, we used one key light and then relied upon a reflector and the pale background to suitably highlight our subject sat in front of a piano.

Overall a thoroughly interesting day and somewhat practical experience. Having begun on the MA in Television Production only a couple of weeks before, it was fascinating to observe and learn directly from the experience and contribute to some cinematography. TM

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