Victory in Austerity

As we approach the 2012 London Olympic Games, the UK's focus on this great sporting event is intensifying. Countdown clocks, announcements about the torch's route, ticket sales, policing tactics: the country's media channels are awash with news, debate and hype.

For the Olympic year BBC1 has scheduled 25 hours of new drama. Among the new productions is a feature-length period drama about the men's double sculls at the 1948 Games, which taps into the general mood of excitement and anticipation in the run-up to July's sporting extravaganza.

Although the skies over post-war Europe were no longer dark with bombers by 1948, the continent's economies were in the same ruinous state as its cities. The unending miseries of rationing, the devastated infrastructure and widespread personal loss had had a withering effect on society. The 1948 Olympics in London would be a means of restoring a sense of normality and optimism to the international scene, even if severe shortages meant that it would go on to be known as the Austerity Games.

In my view the ALEXA is the best around; in fact, even if the budgets were doubled, I'd still go with the ARRI.

BERT AND DICKIE, written by William Ivory, traces the improbable sculling partnership between Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell in the lead-up to those Games. Bushnell, a state-school-educated tradesman, stood 175 cm tall, while Burnell, a writer, historian and Old Etonian, towered above him at 193 cm. The story follows this unlikely sporting duo and is set against an even more unlikely sporting backdrop, with facilities still darkened by black-out paint, athletes' food rationed and private homes used to house the competitors.

 

The drama was shot on location in England by DP Kieran McGuigan, BSC, using two ARRI ALEXA cameras hired from London-based VMI Camera Hire.

As a drama principally about competitive oarsmanship, much of the action was filmed on the River Thames. Marine Film Services Ltd was ideally positioned to do the water work after recent experience working on the rowing scenes in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK. For BERT AND DICKIE, an ALEXA, mounted on a dolly, shot the sculling sequences from an accompanying boat. Despite unexpectedly inclement weather and the necessity to shield the camera with a waterproof cover, the resulting pictures beautifully captured the serene backdrop of Henley and Eton amidst the furious battle between the athletes and the tidal river.

Recreating the illusion of a post-war setting on London's main waterway meant the timing of the shoot was all-important. Financial constraints were always an issue, so the river could not be closed to traffic simply to suit the production. Moreover, rigid broadcast calendars meant hitting tight deadlines. Richard Carlees of Marine Film Services notes, "We had a demanding shoot schedule and an equally demanding budget, so we had to work closely with the crew and all the departments."

In this pressured environment the ALEXA came into its own. As line producer Martin Coates comments, "My main aim is to have a crew that is comfortable and confident with the kit. From previous shoots I had been on, my experience with the ALEXA had been entirely positive and I know that DPs share my view. But it goes beyond what happens when the camera rolls: the workflow into post is very simple with ALEXA. However, most importantly, the BBC is delighted with the results."

Although television dramas do not always enjoy the same budgets as feature films, the BBC maintains a reputation for delivering high-class HD broadcast programming. Martin concludes: "In TV, compromises always have to be made in terms of equipment, but I will always give the crew the best camera we can possibly afford.  And in my view the ALEXA is the best around; in fact, even if the budgets were doubled, I'd still go with the ARRI."