GPs: Behind Closed Doors | Knickerbockerglory | Channel 5

GPsNHS GP surgeries are the centre of every community. They are the first port of call for ailments physical and mental, and the hub around which health care is administered.

“The health centre is a natural setting for a television documentary series,” says Jonathan Stadlen, Executive Producer with independent production company Knickerbockerglory. “It’s a very dynamic environment. The doctors work long hours with incredible dedication and deal with every conceivable health and emotional issue: no two appointments are the same.”

It’s a tempting location for a fly on the wall documentary, but one with numerous potential pitfalls. The first big issue for the producers was one of trust. As GPs have intimate access to patients’ private lives, fears and concerns, the team had to reassure doctors and service users that the programme would be made honestly and sensitively. Secondly, it was critical that the production did not interfere with the normal running of the practice nor impinge on the professionalism of the staff.

“We put in a huge number of safeguards to ensure that the surgery team and the patients were fully aware of the aims of the programme. They had complete control over their right to participate or opt out. We were very open, candid and frank about the type of production we were trying to make and put no pressure on any of the contributors.”

Not knowing how the patients would respond, how the doctors would act and whether the programme would work at all was a terrifying prospect for the production company. However, patients and staff alike bought into Knickerbockerglory’s vision of a pared back production with no voiceover, no incidental music or dramatic graphics.

“They liked our idea that GPs: Behind closed doors would simply let the stories come out naturally; they were happy to put their trust in us.” Adds Stadlen.

In early test shoots, the crew came across an unexpected obstacle. Knickerbockerglory found that patients were happy for their consultation to be filmed, but paradoxically:

“What they objected to was having a camera operator present. It’s interesting psychology that they were comfortable being watched by millions on television but not by an individual cameraman in person.” Observes Stadlen.

The solution was to go with a fixed rig system supplied by Minicams. Panasonic HE60S Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras were located throughout the premises, with a gallery installed in a room within the surgery. The HE60S is supremely versatile: it has a 18x optical zoom and a versatile pan and tilt range. Controlled remotely over cat-5 cable, the camera operator was able to frame each shot precisely and capture the emotion and intensity of each scene.

“Four cameras in a consulting room are far less intrusive than a traditional set up so they’re ideal for this kind of environment. Their flexibility meant that some scenes looked like a 9-camera shoot – they were incredibly good, delivering excellent pictures.” Remarks Stadlen.

With years of experience with fixed rig production, Minicams installed the system over a weekend. Nick McLachlan, MD of Minicams, notes:

“To keep within the short timeframe allowed for setting up the rig is always a challenge. Planning ahead is clearly essential but it’s really about having the skill to cable discreetly, to fix cameras without damaging the surgery interior and to create an efficient and portable production unit that can be operated by a small crew.”

For GPs: Behind closed doors, Minicams used Quadrus’ Ingest Machine, a new multi-channel recording system that delivers immediate workflow efficiencies. The PC-based system allowed four individual HD streams to be captured as Avid DNxHD. The system was selected because of its use of the intermediate recording format which does not need to be transcoded prior to editing. Secondly it integrates with Avid ISIS storage and has the capability to check clips into the Interplay asset management system.

Nick McLachlan of Minicams says:

“Alternative technologies are ill-suited for fast turnaround location shoots. Racks of VTRs are bulky and inflexible while broadcast servers are very expensive and cumbersome. Quadrus, on the other hand, records Avid-compatible files and is PC-based so it’s light, portable and easily maintained. It works with local or network storage, and as it runs on a standard workstation, it can be configured to our changing needs.” Continued McLachlan.

Minicams acquired the fully configured Quadrus system on an HP Z820 workstation. The solution removes the need for individual decks to record each camera output, an approach that requires regularly swapping out recording media and the drawn-out process of manually ingesting and logging files from each card. With Quadrus, each channel is recorded to a central storage silo, with production management software able to manage every asset during the shoot. The software also supports chase editing which enables post production teams to cut the programme even while cameras roll.

Knickerbockerglory used Quadrus’ ‘Live Cut’ feature to create a basic EDL on the fly via a keyboard which can be read by most NLEs. By dynamically selecting and routing cameras to the recorder, Stadlen could switch between different video and audio feeds to capture scenes of most interest. As a non-linear system, reviewing clips instantly became a simple process.

“We were able to work creatively, recording either four cameras in a single room, two cameras in two rooms or even a single feed from four rooms simultaneously. Ingest Machine was flawless – I’d highly recommend it. If Grierson’s definition of documentary was ‘the creative treatment of actuality’, Minicams’ rig allowed us to apply as little creative treatment as is humanly possible with the minimal amount of intervention to provide a very honest portrayal of life at the surgery.”

GPs: Behind closed doors is a four-episode series transmitted on Channel 5 starting on the 19th April 2014 at 9pm.

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