Threesome, Channel 4. Arri Alexa, C300
In the days of the Two Ronnies and Tommy Cooper, shooting a comedy sketch show was comparatively uncomplicated. Today's directors, however, seem to be influenced more by the great film directors than by early pioneers of TV comedy and place huge demands on the crew.
The focus on peculiar continuity linking each sketch - with the fastidious noting of camera settings and lightmeter readings on set – was a hallmark of Them From That Thing, a two-part sketch show for Channel Four's Funny Fortnight. The programme, made by Zeppotron, is filled with visual effects, many practical and done in camera. The result is bewildering and hypnotic:
“A sketch might have a character in a lift as the next scene begins, the back of the elevator opens up... onto a suburban residential street. In another transition between sketches Simon Callow closes his front door and as he moves down his hallway a waitress opens the same door and on the other side is no longer the exterior street but an awards ceremony and the camera tracks through the door into the hall beyond. This was achieved by building matched sections of the location as a set and taking it to the awards ceremony, a feat made all the trickier by the fact that the shots had to be shot out of order but ending up seamless, with matching pictures. Quite a feat, and only achievable due to the brilliant camera crew I’m lucky enough to work with.” Notes DOP Pete Rowe.
This level of experimental film making, together with unusual shots, such as pictures from inside a fridge, were only possible due to the camera choice. According to the DOP, the wide picture latitude and low noise levels of the main device, an ARRI Alexa, enabled images to be manipulated easily in post. Plus the screen grab feature of the Alexa gave the crew a visual guide to matching shots exactly from one day to the next. Secondary Canon C300PL cameras delivered flexibility and versatility due to their small size, allowing the crew to capture any angle required to deliver the visual style that the director wanted.
“I've used DSLRs on many occasions so I was really keen to find out how VMI's C300PL would compare. They suggested that we try one out on the second series of “Threesome” a comedy Central series made by Big Talk. We initially used it to replace the Cannon 7D we had used to great effect alongside our Alexa on the first series. We were very quickly converted to C300 users. In a word, it's brilliant. The handling is great and its images are excellent – and simple to match with the Alexa output in post.” Remarked the DOP.
Indeed, Rowe's enthusiasm for the C300 was such that the camera evolved from being a tight-angle-only device to being a bona fide second unit on set, often capturing wide shots to complement the Alexa's close-ups. “It worked so well that when the team moved on to Them From That Thing I said we had to have a C300 on the unit and The Director Ben Palmer was very soon a convert to the system as he saw the extra angles and coverage we could achieve.”
As for the Alexa, Rowe is brief and to the point:
“Unbeatable. I'd rather use it than anything else. Compared with an F900, it's in a different ball park.”
With more cameras rolling on set than ever, the amount of material recorded increased by 50%. Handling this quantity of data was not an issue, only because a plan was in place and the DIT ready to process the files immediately.
Them From That Thing airs in the summer of 2012.
Threesome airs autumn 2012
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