Work's floodgates have opened for me recently; I've been submerged in a sea of shot scripting, Shakespearian shot scripting. We've just finished the recordings of The Tempest for next season's Globe on Screen and the post-production is underway. I'm also preparing for the live webcast of Shakespeare's Globe's Henry VI - Parts 1, 2 and 3, all performed in one day and staged, not in a theatre, but on a Wars of the Roses battlefield. Although my working life is currently full to the brim with Shakespearian drama, in many ways these two projects couldn't be more different.
Work on The Tempest was fairly conventional: the play was first viewed in the theatre, 'scratch tapes' were then made as a visual reference allowing a camera script detailing the moment-by-moment shooting plan to be prepared.
For the three Henrys we were compelled to develop a new approach. Time didn't allow for conventional planning yet we're striving for the same high-quality results. I still want to linger on close-ups during heart-felt monologues and show wide-shots when the stage fills with action. Every shot change should be motivated and, above all, I don't want to draw attention to the filmic style, my aim is to ensure the viewer feels they too are watching a piece of theatre rather than cinema.
Our new Henry VI production technique is a development of the system we devised for last year's Globe to Globe festival: 37 plays in little more than 37 days and, challengingly, also in 37 different languages. Then we had a single chance to view each play before a single recording. For the three Henry's we've been able to watch, make our 'scratch recordings' and write a considered set of notes against the script that is, this time, mercifully in Shakespearian English.
It is this list of suggestions, rather than directions, that will provide the catalyst to motivate everyone in the experienced team to react together. That way we'll capture what we need to see and hear as each scene, and each act unfolds.
There's such a sense of teamwork on these occasions, a kind of visual volleyball game is being played. If one team member has been unable to get to the ball another will jump or dive to ensure the point is won. Only, for our six-hour marathon, camera operators will be diving from shot-to-shot and sound supervisors jumping swiftly between microphones.
If you're interested in seeing the results of this new, collective approach, then watch thespace.org from midday on Saturday 24th August. And please do tell us what you think about it here or @sparklylight
I think perhaps the best measure of success on these occasions is how invisible the coverage appears. Normally, you should see and hear what is expected and surprises should be rare and in keeping with the performance. If as a viewer, you feel you are missing some action, then the shot selection is obviously wrong. If you become annoyed by too frequent, unnecessary changes of shot, that's wrong too.
Usually, the choice of what to see and when to see it, is fairly obvious but all too often, deciding the next move in the four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle the director plays, it's not such a straightforward decision. Getting it right takes consideration.
Recently, after seeing Brahms Requiem at the Proms, I was reminded of one of my unresolved director's dilemmas. It happened, in 2007, when filming the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, playing Shostakovich's 10th Symphony. The first movement begins with the solid, powerful low notes of the double basses and celli. To contrast, at the end of the movement, the piccolos play a fragile, haunting theme. This starts with a single piccolo playing three notes before another joins it. I couldn't decide the most sympathetic visual choice for this wonderful musical moment. Should I show the single piccolo as it starts or perhaps delay the cut until both are playing a few seconds later? Of course, there was also the option of watching Dudamel conducting at this point, which is what, after much thought, in the end, I chose to do. Even though I'm sure there's no right answer, I've wondered about that decision ever since.
So, whether you're watching The Tempest in the cinema next year or Henry VI on your computer this Saturday, I hope you will never be compelled to stop and think about the shots you are seeing, instead I hope you'll be as captivated by these extraordinary performances as I was when I saw them for the first time.
- Henry VI: Battlefield Performances, Shakespeare's Globe, Towton, Yorkshire, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- VIDEO: Henry VI staged on original battlefield (bbc.co.uk)
- In praise of ... battlefield Bard ' Editorial (guardian.co.uk)
- Shakespeare on the battlefield: the Globe theatre step out (guardian.co.uk)