posted by Ian Russell

Directing at St Pauls

If you've ever found yourself shouting at the TV because you're not seeing what you want to, then it's people like me you're yelling at. So, in a way my job is to show the audience what they expect to see and - sorry Gogglebox - so avoid any bemused or annoyed comments from viewers' on their sofas.

For the Queen's 90th Birthday service from St Paul's, I wanted the television coverage to reflect both the happy occasion and the magnificent location. We'd need lots of shots of the Royal family and other important congregation members. The chosen music had an energy that suited a faster pace of cutting. And of course, in contrast, there would be reflective moments when visually, the serenity of the cathedral and a slower pace was called for.


To deliver this, we had 20 cameras inside and out, spread around the cathedral. Each camera had an ordered list of shots that took us, more or less, from the first arrivals; through the hymns, prayers and anthems; to the royal departures after the service.

It's not just cameras of course, Sound and Lighting had to be planned and rigged; outside broadcast vehicles parked and powered and of course St Paul's, Buckingham Palace and even the security services all needed to agree our plan.


It would be wrong to give the impression that everything was precisely planned - live TV is never like that. Before such events, the crucial part is to find out what will happen - and that can be surprisingly tricky. A couple of weeks ago, at our planning meeting, when many decisions had to be made, there were still elements of the service yet to be confirmed so we had to position our cameras and make our plans using an element of guesswork.

In fact, it's quite surprising just how frequently even firm plans can change. Three days before the service, the timings of the arrivals were altered, that meant our TV running order had to be rewritten. Some of the readings were delivered after our script had gone to print. The seating plan, vital for working out how to film key members of the congregation, was also tweaked and changed until the day itself.

We were expecting such changes, just as were expecting to adapt our plans on the morning of transmission and even during the service too. The minute-by-minute arrival times give the impression of total accuracy but in reality, they very rarely are. On Friday morning, traffic in London meant some of our interviewees arrived late. Inside the cathedral, the congregation took longer to get to their seats. Even the Queen arrived twelve minutes after we expected, her car having been diverted south of the river, weaving it's way through traffic jams to get to St Paul's.


So, on such live broadcasts, there are some sequences that we've seen and rehearsed but much of the programme is inevitably 'As Directed' or, to put it another way, made up as we go along. The aim is always to make the service look as if we've all practised it several times and not to give away that we too are seeing it for the first time.

I hope we succeeded and viewers felt part of the happy occasion. I hope they enjoyed hearing the wonderful music, seeing the beautiful location and were smiling like so many at St Paul's. Most importantly, I hope they didn't feel the urge to shout at the TV, at least not very often.


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