Phantom goes high definition – part two…

In part one of our look at what goes on when a show like Phantom is captured on film, we learned that the process of filming an EPK (‘Electronic Press Kit’) takes a fair bit of setting up…

So what happens once the cameras are ready to role?

Phantom goes high definition! Part Two

Filming begins the next day at 10am. There are a lot of people around! As well as the full cast and film crew all the backstage staff have to be on hand. Wardrobe, sets, sound, lighting. This requires all those involved in putting on a normal show. As well as Brett, who is directing the film, Lawrence the Associate Director and JP the Resident Director for the show are also on hand for stage direction. Lyn, the show’s Associate Choreographer is in the wings, ready to cue the movement as required. Make Up Artist Tanya is especially busy, having to devise and apply revised make up for the entire cast which suits the medium of camera. Even the scale of the Phantom’s deformities need to be adjusted. “Basically it’s a much lighter make up with a more minimal base to suit the high definition format”, explains Tania.

It’s time to film the iconic boat scene. This promises to be truly amazing. The Jimmy Jib is used to create a sweeping, cinematic effect, starting from a close crop on Christine’s face and pulling back further and higher to give a panoramic view from the heights, down into the lake. It looks stunning on the monitor.

Once Brett is happy with the main camera footage he calls for the steady cam to take over. This huge and heavy looking piece of kit looks far from steady but in the hands of an expert operator is used for close shots where the actor can be followed in more intimate fashion. When you see one of those 360 degree pans around a specific actor on film, you can be sure this has been filmed using a steady cam.

The steady cam is not used to film a whole number, it is called in for short set up shots and “cutaways” which will be used as fillers when the montage is edited together. These fillers will mainly be made up of dialogue scenes. The crew are aware that this is a cumbersome piece of equipment to handle and there are regular cuts to give the operator necessary breaks.

Two adjacent monitors display the output. One is fed by the Jimmy Jib and the other from the steady cam. The high definition format makes for an intensely high quality film, picking up every detail with an incredible depth of richness and precision.

High definition has it’s drawbacks. Music of the Night is taking some time to perfect. Ramin Karimloo, who plays the Phantom, explains some of the difficulties the actors are experiencing. “We recorded the music yesterday, and are lip synching today, but it is actually not easy getting it exactly right”. Actors used to the medium of live theatre are aware that each performance will vary and in musicals they will respond slightly differently to the music on a nightly basis. These marginal changes in interpretation are imperceptible subtleties that would go unnoticed to the naked eye but are picked up by the unforgiving scrutiny of the close up camera. “It’s difficult remembering the precise details of how I sung it 24 hours ago”, says Ramin. This problem is exacerbated by the constant requirement to make changes to movement, speed and stage direction to suit the camera angle and range.

Gina Beck (Christine) comes on stage to perform Think of Me. This demonstrates the point about the camera range perfectly. Numerous takes are required with Christine assuming different positions on stage in an attempt to bring both her bows to the auditorium and Raoul’s applause from the box, as she finishes her debut performance, into the same shot.

It is slow progress. By lunchtime the filming is already over an hour behind schedule. Backstage is a blur of costumes and wigs as actors are quickly changing for different numbers. And of course the stage takes time to set. There is added pressure in that everyone knows the requirement to be clear of the theatre in time for it to be set for that evening’s performance.

The montage will be edited in chronological order, although it is not being filmed as such. David explains that the required finished effect will be along the lines of a film trailer rather than a traditional theatrical EPK. He is perfectly placed for this project. “It’s like taking a step back in time”, he explains, adding that before his days at Cameron Mackintosh he edited pop videos. “I don’t miss the temperaments of some of the stars I worked with”, he mentions no names, “some of them were real divas”. Ironically this last remark coincides with Carlotta coming on stage to warm up for Il Muto.

There is a big break in the action as the stage needs to be set for Masquerade. It is fascinating to watch what normally goes on behind the curtain during the interval happening in full view on centre stage. It is at this moment that you cannot help but be astounded yet again by the brilliance of Maria Bjornsen’s original designs. The stage is transformed and the effect as the cast take their places in their beautifully detailed costumes is breathtaking.

After a long day the filming in the auditorium draws to a close. The cast retire to their dressing rooms to prepare for that evening’s show. But it is not yet time for the film crew to go home. David tells me that the chandelier crash will be filmed during that evening’s show from one of the boxes. This will enable the audience reactions to be recorded for the montage. With that he rushes off to ensure that the necessary notices are posted in the foyer notifying the audience of this.

So, what will the fruit of all these labours look like? It certainly promises to be an outstanding visual representation of the most famous and successful production in musical theatre history. Hopefully you won’t have too long to find out and judge for yourselves. David hopes that a rough edit will be ready within a couple of weeks and then the final approved version will be made available a few weeks after that. And you can see it here as soon as that happens! Make sure you come back regularly to check for progress!

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