Glastonbury Festival

ARRI Multicam at Glastonbury Festival

Director Paul Dugdale discusses the challenge of shooting multiple live performances across the sprawling music festival site, using ALEXA Mini and AMIRA cameras.

“Glastonbury Festival: Live at Worthy Farm” was shot over seven days at Worthy Farm, home of the UK’s Glastonbury Festival, using ALEXA Mini and AMIRA cameras controlled via the ARRI Multicam System. It comprised 11 music performances and nine spoken word interludes, with each artist captured and cut live on location, to create a six-and-a-half-hour global livestream film. It was broadcast 24 hours after it finished shooting to viewers at home around the world and to over 300 theaters, delivering a more cinematic look than any previous coverage of the festival has ever achieved, not just in terms of scale, but specific image attributes such as depth of field and colorimetry.

Director Paul Dugdale shares details about the ambitious project and the talented team and cutting-edge technologies responsible for recreating the spirit of the festival in film form. 

How did you first get involved with the film? 

I was approached by the team at Driift Live and Emily Eavis and her husband Nick Dewey, who of course run Glastonbury Festival. I had previously directed The West Holts Stage at Glastonbury for the BBC, and during the last 18 months of COVID was lucky enough to have directed and exec-produced two other high-profile livestreams for Driift. I was also in the process of working on several projects with Coldplay at the time, who were engaged early in this project, so it seemed like a perfect fit.

What did your initial discussions about the look and feel of the film include?

One of the best things about actually being at a real Glastonbury Festival is stumbling across things that you weren’t expecting, whether it’s hidden bars, surprise DJ sets, interactive theater, mind-blowing art installations or simply an artist you had never heard, whose music you become obsessed with. We really wanted to grasp that feeling of never quite knowing what’s around the corner and translate it to the screen.

Because the film has such an extraordinary ensemble cast, we had a great opportunity to create a sense of movement and a journey around the farm. We wanted the performances themselves to have a feeling of spontaneity and adventure, and to help promote this we didn’t shoot the performances multiple times. I wanted it to feel like we were balancing on a line of documentary and movie, where performances felt super real and honest, but in an environment that we had manufactured or embellished. 

Another key thing was that it was vital that we moved this project away from the regular festival coverage aesthetic and created something new that would feel at home in a cinema. The project deserved and earned that elevation, and I think that in this instance, changing the aesthetic like that demands the audience to be less passive in watching it because it feels like something less familiar, which is crucial to hold engagement.

How did you work with the cinematographers to ensure the creative vision was realized?

Myself and the cinematographers had a mutual vision for the aesthetic and feel of the film. That bit was easy. It was the mechanics of the execution which required a bit of work. Vital to a capture of this nature, when you only get one chance, is nailing camera positioning. I come from a camera background, so I am very conscious of what I want in terms of lensing and positioning, but because in every location we were coming to a unique setup, we had to work very closely as a team to lens, rig, and be set in time for each show.

The key team was headed up by DP Brett Turnbull. Brett was the overall DP and would carry out all the duties you would expect during each capture. Our schedule was such that we were shooting two artists a day in different locations across a 900-acre farm. Additionally, locations were being de-rigged from the previous day and rigged for the following day, so we needed to be working and solving problems in multiple locations at the same time.

DP James Rhodes was essentially our ‘advance party’ who was able to prepare each of the following days’ locations before we got there, based on a camera plot that I had created. We would collectively try to grab 10 minutes in each location the day before we shot, so that we could confirm lensing and positioning. Once there, camera supervisor Rob Mansfield got into the nitty gritty in terms of placement and making sure all the camera ops had what they needed. Each day we dived into something completely new, with very little time for rehearsal, so we had to be really tight. 

How did you make a film based around live performance feel cinematic?

I approach every live gig or performance like I would if I were shooting a drama scene. For me, music performance is about humans and their relationships. We are documenting people creating something, so I always want to capture real passion, real tension, real drama, real escapism. There are so many tropes and bad habits in capturing music, often emerging from television performances driven by the fear of people turning the channel over. The appearance of something that is cut fast might ‘seem’ like it has energy and excitement, but often it doesn’t, it’s just a distraction.

We aren’t interested in creating false energy like that. Creating true engagement with a viewer comes from somewhere else. The most basic example is having a close shot of a singer when they are not singing. In a lot of TV music coverage that would rarely happen, but the currency of seeing that, and the emotion on their face, is worth so much in creating feeling, which is what it’s all about. Every decision is made to accent the drama of the music, just as one would do with a movie script. It’s as simple as that. 

What camera package did you use and why was it so well suited to the production?

Cameras were ARRI ALEXA Minis and AMIRAs shooting Super 35. I love the ARRI aesthetic. Lenses were a mixture of Angenieux, Canon, Fuji, and Cooke, depending on what best suited the application. Remarkably, we had absolutely no technical problems with any of the tech, despite it being outside for the entire time. A real testament to the team and the kit.

Setups ranged from six to 12 cameras. The run-up to the project was complicated to navigate for several reasons, so we weren’t able to green light anything until incredibly late in the day. Procam Take 2 provided most of the gear and were courageous in getting involved at a late stage; I was very grateful for them taking something on when they knew it would be under immense pressure. 

How did you capture the action of the live performances?

Our method for capturing the action was different for every artist. A common key value across the performances was always switching between something intimate and something epic. Shifting the sense of scale throughout the capture and reminding the viewer that this is all happening in a really interesting and amazing environment. Generally, though, the approach for capturing action had to change each time because of the variety of setups and environments we were shooting in.

For Coldplay, for example, I requested a circular stage so not only could we easily get around the whole band, and look in every direction, it also really promoted linking the band members together and seeing their relationships, as well as all the different instrumentation they had on stage. Kano, on the other hand, was more like a contemporary theater piece. We covered it with a focus on first-person perspective, as though the viewer was on stage with him a lot of the time. It made the drama of the lyrics so powerful and direct, but also meant that when we stepped away from that angle, the change felt more impactful.

How did you approach the grading?

Before each artist we would set a camera look. In the past I have used live grade, where we have been coloring using Resolve in real time, during live-to-air broadcasts, to great effect. On this project, to protect budget and workflow, we painted the cameras live through the truck. Vision supervisor Mark Dunning, under the guidance of DP Brett Turnbull and myself, would set the aesthetic ahead of recording. The postproduction workflow didn’t allow for each set to be colored post-record, so live painting was the only option. Mark and his team did a fantastic job in realizing our vision.

What lessons will you take away with you?

For me, it really crystalized ideas about what the essence of live music capture is all about. Identifying the key values and ingredients that are required to make a record of something special. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of a project that attempted to do just that.

To see an extended version of this article, please visit www.britishcinematographer.co.uk