Taking its inspiration from the classic 1950 film, Ivo van Hove’s stage production of All About Eve, starring Gillian Anderson as theatre darling, Margo Channing, and Lily James as the eponymous Eve, retains the themes of ageing, celebrity and obsession. The piece, produced by Sonia Friedman Productions and Fox Stage Productions garnered stellar reviews during its recent run at London’s Noel Coward Theatre.
As with his previous productions including The Damned and Network, Ivo integrated live camera feeds into his staging, with a conscious choice to place operators onstage and in full view of the audience, creating a unique aesthetic. Production manager, Anthony Newton and video supervisor, Chris Jackson take us through the creative and technical thinking that brought Ivo’s vision to life on stage.
Creating a different perspective
“The set was designed with the cameras in mind, so we thought about how to incorporate them from day one,” begins Anthony. “There are several rooms within the main stage that are built and furnished in full detail, but that are hidden from the audience’s view; it’s only when the cameras go in to film one of the actors that we get to see inside.”
The production’s initial concept consisted of two roving cameras, with operators that move around the performers on stage. “From the first rehearsal, the operators were treated like additional cast members, making sure they could get the shots we needed, but without disrupting the flow of the scene,” Anthony explains. “It becomes like an elaborate dance routine as the camera plots its way around the action. We were able to collaborate with Ivo and set designer, Jan Versweyveld, and experiment to find the very best shots,” adds Chris.
In fact, the rehearsal process was so successful, it led to additional video elements being incorporated, including two ‘hidden’ cameras placed in a dressing room mirror where both lead actors gaze, with the live feeds mixed seamlessly into time-lapse sequences to show them ageing or morphing into each other.
As with previous productions, the team worked with Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4Ks for all four setups. The two roving units were paired with external Video Assists for monitoring, and rigged on Ronin M gimbals within Small Rig cages. This allowed the rigs to be lightweight but flexible enough to pull off some complex shots, for example, when the camera tracks Margo drunkenly struggling around the bathroom during a party scene.
Designing for minimal delay
Deploying a live system with very little delay in signal processing was critical, and Chris explains that rather than using a media server, the team opted for a fast production switcher and a HD workflow to handle the live feeds. “Signals from the roving units were transmitted wirelessly, and as much as we would have loved 4K images, it was a much more practical choice to keep everything to 1080p50, to make sure there was never any noticeable delay.”
Vision mixing and system control was done using Streamdecks running Bitfocus Companion, which allowed the team to build complex cues into a single button press. One Streamdeck was used to cut cameras and for playback control, where each page contained each of the cameras required for a particular scene. A second Streamdeck delivered system control, projector commands via PJ link, matrix switching and control for a series of HyperDeck recorders.
Effective live projection
As soon as Chris saw the set design, he knew that projection would be a challenge. “The matte red surface of the side and back walls was going to give us a very definite look, without any need for grading.”
The 10x4.5m back wall of the set became the main projection screen that needed to be filled. “It was almost an anamorphic aspect ratio, so with the cameras outputting a 16:9 image, we had some fairly heavy cropping and upscaling to fill the screen horizontally,” he continues. A bank of four stacked and blended Panasonic RZ120 projectors were selected as a solution that delivered minimal noise, and high luminance across a tricky projection surface.
“When it comes to digital glue, Blackmagic Design products make up a huge part in most of my theatre productions, and All About Eve was no exception, with relay monitors connected via Micro and Mini Converters, and our stage management team using the SmartScope Duo to monitor live feeds during each performance,” explains Chris.
“Originally, the director was going to call the camera cuts, but the mix of live feeds, effects and pre-recorded content continued to grow and grow,” concludes Anthony. “A flexible infrastructure, complemented by the micro cameras really helped the collaborative process with Ivo, because we knew we could incorporate more and more requests without the technology stifling the creative development of the production.”