Carrie Smith, Series Producer of our recent travelogue Michael Ball’s Wonderful Wales has written an article for Broadcast Magazine discussing some of the highlights and challenges of putting the series together. In the article she writes:
“When I was asked to series produce and direct a show with Michael Ball, I was delighted. I mean who wouldn’t be thrilled to work with such a national treasure? As an added bonus I would get to take him around my beloved home nation of Wales, a country he has strong links to with his mum Ruth being Welsh but somewhere he was yet to really explore.
The main challenge was time. Michael had a small window of availability due to a new album release and his musical theatre commitments, and Channel 5 was keen to broadcast the series early in July. The channel was a great partners as it gave us the freedom to shape the series as we saw it, but we had just a few weeks to set up and make a hugely ambitious series – not forgetting the matter of trying to film during a global pandemic too.
Luckily, we managed to assemble a fabulously dedicated team in breakneck speed and pulled together to set up more than 40 incredible locations and three times as many contributors (each show features a choir) in a matter of weeks.
The challenges didn’t stop there. Due to still being in lockdown, finding hotels that were not only open but could sleep a film crew of ten in the most breath-takingly beautifully but rural spots in Wales was extremely tricky. Due to availability, we ended up being forced to base ourselves in specific hotels for a few days at a time. This meant we’d often have to travel for two hours between each location. Most days we’d try to cram in three sequences, all long before the luxury of lighter evenings too.
I knew that due to time constraints we’d need all the camera cover we could get – the show had to look incredible and we wouldn’t have time to repeat interviews or film pick-ups. Therefore, we used a DoP and two camera operators, which meant we could gather every single shot we’d need to make each sequence sing, within a matter of a few hours – the interviews, the GVs and the drone footage. This paid off in the edit as once all the cameras were sync mapped, our brilliant editors could cover everything easily and relatively quickly.
I had a team of three amazing APs, two of which were on the road with us and one who was constantly forward planning along with our line producer. This meant that unlike every single project I’ve ever worked on I was only ever a few steps ahead of Michael in terms of information.
Luckily, I’ve got a long background in ob-docs so I’m used to thinking on my feet and, I had the most amazing professional to work with in Michael.
It was very much his journey of Welsh discovery with no scripted piece to cameras, and so he’d get a very basic set of notes the night before filming, we’d have a quick chat before starting to film the sequence and then we were off.”
Assistant Producer Abbie Bolitho also features in the article, writing about her experience of working with choirs and following Covid-19 guidelines. She writes:
“With choirs having to resort to virtual Zoom rehearsals, we knew that finding and recording four for this series would be a challenge. We wanted to show off the amazing variety of Welsh talent without compromising Covid-19 health and safety regulations.
Our chosen choirs had barely been in a room together for over a year and it was an exciting prospect to be able to bring them together again.
We decided the best course of action was to pre-record the choirs in small groups in large or outdoor spaces where they could be socially distanced. Jules Davies, our sound recordist, suggested recording each voice individually for safety. This also this gave us the flexibility to mix the voices later to create a balanced sound.
As a choir member myself, it was a personal highlight to witness the joy that singing brought back to the choristers and how quickly they adapted to singing whilst stood two metres apart, following a backing track and wearing headphones – all of which goes against the very basis of choral singing, which is about listening to each other.
When it came to the visual record with the choirs and Michael Ball, we opted to record Michael live on location so that we could authentically capture his live performance and the natural atmosphere of our surroundings.
The records took place in some of the most beautiful locations in Wales from the beach at Whitesands Bay to the stunning backdrop of Grade-I listed Erddig Hall. Our places were chosen for their beauty but, again they needed to be large enough to allow for social distancing.
Wales is known as the Land of Song and audiences won’t be surprised to hear the classic male voice choir sound featuring in this series. But Wales has a vast array of musical talent which we wanted to showcase by featuring a ladies choir and a mixed choir too, all of whom rose to the challenge of performing under strict Covid guidelines to produce a unique performance to be proud
The full article can be read here (login required): https://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/channel-5/welcoming-michael-ball-to-wonderful-wales/5161315.article