Camera kits

Proper diagnosis saves The Good Karma Hospital from location drama

Proper diagnosis saves The Good Karma Hospital from location drama

Hit ITV medical drama The Good Karma Hospital required a top to toe check-up of its own to keep camera equipment operational in the heat and dust of a location shoot in Sri Lanka.

The show stars Amanda Redman, Amrita Acharia and Neil Morrissey as medics working at an under-resourced and overworked cottage hospital in south India.

The first season of Tiger Aspect’s production was dogged by blocked air filters to the cameras and other problems associated with heat and dust which caused an enormous amount of damage to the kit and consequently extremely expensive repair charges.

When VMI were invited to supply gear for the second and third series they put in place some additional checks and measures to ensure the production didn’t face a repeat of the issue.

“Sri Lanka is a beautiful country to work in but filming in any tropical country brings well documented issues and challenges,” says Graham Frake BSC Director of Photography for Season 3 of GKH. “Good facilities, testing and expert technical back-up is essential in camera prep and even more so when the location is 5,500 miles away. VMI were well placed for the challenges to come and knew what to expect.”

Frake took a similar camera package from VMI to that hired for second 2: three Alexa Minis, sets of Cooke S4i primes and Angenieux Optimo zooms.

Throughout the three month shoot temperatures only occasionally dipped below 30c (at night) and often much hotter during the day. The humidity was extremely high and heavy rain was a regular occurrence. However, away from the coastal strip where most of the locations were - it could be dry and dusty.

“One of our most idyllic locations was ‘Greg’s Bar’.  This was a set constructed only a few metres from the Indian Ocean on a beautiful beach.  Paradise to look at but torturous and incredibly demanding to work on,” says Frake.

“We had two tropical suns to deal with - one in the sky and the other one glaringly reflected off the ocean. The noise of surf made conversation and communications difficult and the breeze blew fine sand mixed with salt spray.”

In order to protect the sensors from airborne salt and sand it was not possible to change lenses on the exterior set so much of the photography was made on zooms.  When a lens change had to be made the cameras were taken from set to an adjacent room where it could be done safely.  A layer of film constantly built up on filter surfaces and needed to be removed regularly.

“We put a strict regime in place that was adhered to by our disciplined camera crew from shoot day one,” Frake explains. “Routinely, when cameras were on set, they were protected by umbrellas and covered in a lightweight white fabric to help keep them cool. Small portable fans also helped. The show’s Teradeks became uncomfortably hot so cold gel packs covered in fabric were used to reduce the possibility of condensation.”

At the end of every day the cameras and equipment were cleaned before being loaded onto the camera truck and transported back to base where they were placed in a room with case lids open and dehumidifiers working to help protect against rust and moisture in the electronics.

The shoot was scheduled around two blocks over the three months.  It was pre planned for Kevin Oaten, VMI’s Operational Director, to fly out to Sri Lanka at the half way stage and service the cameras mid-production on location in as clean a room as he could find.

“This was essential,” says Frake. “Not just to fly out between blocks to strip down and service the hard working cameras but also the opportunity for feedback from him about how well our camera care was working and what - if anything - we could do better. 

“We also had the opportunity to swap out one of our Teradeks which Kevin brought out with him from a 600 to 1000 for better reception. We were in good hands with VMI and had 24/7 support.”

Oaten stayed for six days to cover the first day of block 2 shooting ensuring everything had a clean bill of health.  The images that you can see on the right are taken from one of the cameras as Kevin stripped them and cleaned them.  The dust inside the fans managed to penetrate the air filter and failure to clean this would eventually have led to this camera overheating.

The harsh working environment didn’t just affect the technical equipment. It was tough for hard working crew too - moving gear across soft sand is not easy.

“My job was nowhere near as demanding as the challenges my camera team faced to keep the cameras safe and working. I had two great 1st ACs (Shirley Schumacher and Jo Smith) who, together with the Sri Lankan crew, were amazing.”

Good Karma Hospital uses Anton Bauer 150XT Batts for first time

VMI’s support extended to the transport of the camera batteries.

Traditionally, drama productions have used 100WH batteries but as cameras are loaded up with more and more peripherals, the power demands on batteries increases. Tiger Aspect’s team were keen to try out Anton Bauer’s new 150WH XT batteries

Since Lithium batteries are classed as dangerous goods and can pose a fire hazard, strict regulations preventing their carriage in the hold of aircraft had come into effect before production commenced.  They could though be carried as hand luggage.

“When preproduction began the production team and crew members travelling to Sri Lanka took two 150WH batteries out with them (twenty in total) to ensure they were ready for principal photography.

“Nothing was too much trouble at VMI in prep,” Frake adds. “Bespoke cables, splitters and rigging plates were all made or purchased on request. With the support and experience of VMI and the disciplined working practices put into place by the entire team made this a happy, enjoyable and almost trouble-free shoot.”

Tiger Aspect plans to begin production on Good Karma Hospital series four soon.

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