The new six episode series of Hotel of Mum and Dad is, in every respect, a production on the run.
“Securing the agreement of the couples and families to film is no easy task in itself. But, moving them into a rented property of their choice, rigging the house or flat for an extended fly on the wall documentary, completing the shoot and then quickly clearing all the gear out – all within a week – is really challenging.” Notes Deby Pinnock, production manager with Mentorn.
The BBC Three-commissioned series follows the real-life drama of young couples who have forsaken independence and continue to live under the family umbrella. The transition from this cosseted lifestyle to sudden autonomy (and the inconvenience of managing a small budget) brings a mix of emotions for all parties, ranging from relief and excitement to anxiety and frustration. For parents, offspring and their partners, while the end result is unpredictable and different for each episode, the change in circumstances makes for fascinating viewing.
Stylistically, the program has an edgy reportage approach: families speak directly and frankly to camera, the crew shoots on the move for a realistic, unscripted style and mini cameras are positioned high to give a kind of CCTV feed.
“We used small and discrete technology wherever possible”, comments Pinnock. “Rented flats can be small and full-size cameras can be very disconcerting, especially in programmes where we are doing our utmost to put participants at ease. Canon’s XF305 serves as the main camcorder – it’s light, agile and produces great pictures.”
The interplay of different styles produces a fast paced and slightly unsettling effect which perfectly mirrors the trials and stresses the couples are undergoing. Essential for the production is Toshiba’s 1K-HD1 miniature camera head that delivers broadcast quality HD via its 1/3” CCD. The slight mismatch in colour, depth of field and shooting angle from the mini-cam compared with footage captured by the Canon camcorder is a device the production company uses repeatedly to keep the audience’s attention and remind viewers of the realism of the situation.
To supply, rig and manage the miniature cameras, Mentorn engaged specialists from London-based Minicams.
“We worked closely with Minicams to develop a workflow and an installation routine that could cope with our extremely curtailed turnaround times both in terms of preparing properties for the shoot and sending files for post-production.” Continues Pinnock.
To enable the crew to work with a single recording format, Minicams captured footage from the Toshiba camera heads onto Convergent Design NanoFlash. Consequently the technicians had only CompactFlash cards for both sets of cameras, making data downloading onto external drives especially straightforward.
“NanoFlash is a mature and proven system, totally reliable and easy to operate.” Remarks Nick McLachlan, MD of Minicams. “The files it produces are compatible with editing systems so the producers on set could simply dump data from the cards onto external drives and bike them instantly for post-production.”
Shooting locations included Cheltenham, Swansea, Cardiff, Glasgow, Kent, Bristol, Manchester and Lincoln. Working on a restricted budget and to a tight schedule, transporting kit that was as lightweight as possible was a key consideration. Even more important, however, was the need to install an extract kit fast. Pinnock reflects:
“Only a few years ago, we simply couldn’t have considered this kind of production. Rigging poor quality minicams, installing VTRs, recording to full-size tape and the need for lighting rigs meant for a slow production, excessive transport costs, the need for on location storage and a lengthy tape ingest process – all this would have made the production of unworkable. Now, with the Minicams guys able to install discrete cameras in what seemed like a matter of minutes, and tapeless technology letting us from location to location with a minimum of kit, we can produce great TV at a fraction of the cost and in half the time.”
However, tapeless technology with Hotel of Mum and Dad is not just about production efficiencies and carefully managing budgets. The production manager reports:
“Because the workflow of files from camera to laptop is so slick, we can make the participants for more active within the programme itself. We can put clips of the couples struggling for their independence in the rented property onto a laptop to show their parents how their offspring are faring in their new life. This added dimension increases the drama and can give a real poignancy to the production, as the older generation is shown their child coping with freedom the first time.”