Barely Legal Drivers Series 2 | Renegade Pictures | BBC Three

In-Car Multicam

BLD S2 screengrabObserving members of the public driving badly has always been an obsession for reality TV. Nevertheless, watching teenagers, who would probably be a liability at the handles of a shopping trolley, step behind the wheel of a car still makes for compulsive viewing. In its 9 o’clock BBC Three slot, the last series of Barely Legal Drivers opened with a highly creditable 689,000 viewers or 2.9% of the audience.

“For this autumn’s series, the producer wanted to keep the format fresh.” begins managing director of Minicams, Nick McLachlan, “We were able to help Renegade Pictures up the game by offering a fully integrated in-car multicam solution.”

Most series of a similar ilk have used a single dashboard camera, with occasional material shot by handheld camcorders from the back seat. Often the result is that the mounted camera focusing on the subject is the only real perspective capturing the action; other angles merely add incidental shots. Barely Legal Drivers took this to the next level. McLachlan continues:

“Over the past couple of years, television companies have called on us to place cameras in all sorts of strange places, including inside fridges and in trees. So we suggested to Renegade that we could install multiple mini cameras very quickly into virtually any car for a real multicam production.”

Installing a series of cameras and recorders in an ad hoc manner would potentially create problems down the line in post production. With all cameras running for hours without pause, fast and accurate editing would only be possible by matching the output of each device and synchronizing timecode throughout, for video as well as audio. Furthermore, to allow for extended journeys something not previously attempted on this scale – a suitably stable power system had to be devised, with batteries easily swapped out as required to keep the cameras rolling.

“A tremendous amount of R&D goes into our in-car systems. We have to call on our experience with traditional fixed rig systems which has taught us the importance of making the systems simple to operate in the field, under the pressure of extremely tight deadlines. We also had to incorporate advanced elements such as sophisticated passive and active fan assisted air cooling and hum isolation protection which can make all the difference between broadcast standard video and unusable files.” remarks McLachlan.

With cameras and mics rigged in the cabin, recorders and batteries were packaged and pre-configured in small Peli-style cases and placed out of sight in the boot. This rapid deployment dramatically reduced set-up time for each car. McLachlan notes:

“Each of our kits is built from a variety of components but it’s important to focus on the complete workflow. In effect every car becomes a small scale system integration project.”

For Anne Bos, Renegade’s Junior Production Manager, one of the biggest challenges today is the short time allowed for technical preparation of the cars and the quick turnaround between filmed journeys. She notes:

“Often there is an incredibly small window of opportunity between members of the public signing up to participate and the filming actually starting. Minicams installed the kit under huge pressure. Working with lots of cameras and recorders is always going to be fiddly but once the crew got the hang of it, switching media cards became just part of the routine.”

The result is that the finished production resembles a typical studio shoot, with the producer able to call on any angle at all times. Viewers can therefore follow the reactions of the driver and all the passengers. Indeed, while earlier productions were restricted in terms of numbers of passengers able to travel in the car in order to accommodate the film crew, there is now no such limit. The camera heads, discreetly installed in multiple positions, deliver a rich television experience.

Unlike earlier HD mini cameras, the latest generation of in-car technology is truly miniature and much higher in quality. Bos outlines the advantage this gives:

“Not only can we mount them in any position, but they are also small enough not to distract the driver. Nor do they unduly unnerve the passengers. We got the sense that everyone was able to quickly ignore the cameras completely and just act naturally.”

Compared with handheld camcorders, a significant advantage of mounting cameras is shot stability. Previous programs had relied on shaky handheld devices whose optical stabilisation systems were largely inadequate whenever challenged by a dire example of clutch control, or a particularly potholed road surface. The mounts employed by Minicams dampen the car movement resulting in a far more comfortable experience for the viewer.

Bos also remarks on the progress made on in-car sound recording in the last couple of years.

“Our drivers and their friends can be pretty excitable at times. In an instant the car can go from a quiet conversation against the hum of the engine, to screams, expletives and laughter from the front and back seats. We had to work hard with Minicams to install kit to deliver usable and balanced audio. We experimented with the mic position and ended up with dual microphones with each channel able to be mixed in post; the results have been far better than we’ve ever had previously.”

The resulting high quality sound recording is monitored wirelessly in real-time by the director from the relative safety of a chase car.

The production company employed a fast turnaround tapeless workflow to ingest media continually from the Convergent Design Nano recorders and the Canon camcorder and begin editing immediately on-set. Like the rest of the production, the DIT process and initial rough cut were all carried out in the field and against the clock. Because of the advanced design of the Minicam kits, despite shooting more footage than ever, timecode-accurate clips could be assembled with precision and edited quickly. To date there have been no data losses or corrupted files.

Just as importantly, other than a few cosmetic scratches, the cars and their passengers have also come through pretty much unscathed.


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