February and March saw technical production company ELP fulfil a challenging brief for a BBC show that exposed street level talent...
Millennium Square in Bristol, part of the city’s multi-million pound harbour side rejuvenation project, played host to Upstaged — a new BBC entertainment event — in February and March.
Conceived by production company Endemol and presented by Scott Mills, it was open to anyone across the UK who considered themselves worth watching. In short, it was equivalent to having their own studio where they could broadcast whatever they wanted to the nation, live on the internet.
Every weekday, pro and amateur contenders — solo acts, groups, entertainers or intellectuals — went head-to-head on two specially-built glass stages in the middle of Millennium Square. Here, they tried to entertain the nation for up to eight hours. Their acts were shown via live webstream on the Upstaged website and featured in a BBC3 highlights show.
After scrutinising their performance, the public voted for their favourite act and the winner stayed onstage. The champion would perform again the next day with a new challenger brought forward to try and ‘upstage’ them.
There were two stages (orange and purple), each housed in a ‘glass’ box. The stages themselves made up a 100ft structure weighing in at a massive 25 tonnes, and each act was in charge of their stage set. They were designed for complete interaction between the online community, live audience and on-stage acts. Digital clocks inside the boxes showed the acts how long they had been onstage, and plasma screens displayed messages or requests from the Upstaged community, for a fully interactive event.
The unique glass box studios conceived by set designer Julian Fullalove and structurally interpreted by ELP’s managing director Ronan Willson appeared very futuristic whilst merging well into the surrounding architecture.
“This was something that struck me when I first surveyed the site,” commented Willson. “The area is home to the At-Bristol science expo and the innovative Explore building, and it is all linked to the waterfront by a series of public squares which feature original water and light installations, sculptures, a planetarium and public artworks. Julian’s brief was to create a ‘modernist’ building inspired by the Barcelona Pavilion which has proved perfect for the location.”
ELP test-built the stage structure at its massive hangar facility in Alconbury and was able to resolve any technical difficulties before arriving on site. But something Willson and the ELP crew could not have foreseen was the terrible weather for almost the entire two-week build.
Hardly anything about the set-up was straightforward. For example, the flagstones in Millennium Square cost £400 per m2 so the crew had to be immensely careful. Endemol production staff were obviously keen not to upset the local council. “Everything had to be transported very carefully,” said Willson. “Our telehandlers had to be fitted with plastic tyre covers to avoid marking the stones and our ramps and other equipment all had to be padded.”
Another consideration was that there was an underground car park beneath the Square which meant that there was a maximum loading capacity of 1000kg per m2. So instead of the usual dozen or so base plate legs that would normally support a stage structure of this size and weight, the ELP team had to fit over 100 extra legs to distribute the load to within acceptable limits. “I think the Endemol production team appreciated our extra efforts,” Willson added.
It was at the test-build production meeting that ELP’s John Singer showed lighting director Nick Collier a range of brand new Pulsar ChromaFloods that ELP recently purchased. Collier was concerned that key-lighting people in the glass boxes was going to prove problematic, but he said: “The new generation of ChromaFlood 200 TC did the job very well.
“They produce mixed colour within the LED unit, eliminating multicoloured point sources and multi-coloured shadows. Also, you get full remote DMX control of RGB levels to allow endless colour mixing.”
This last point was particularly important to the LD as each of the contestants could bring in what they liked to dress their stage. Collier continued: “They can have it exactly how they want it. We had no idea what was going inside the boxes from day to day.”
Some of the more professional artists requested specific colour changes and the LD would oblige. But mostly the amateur performers would just concentrate on their acts and leave tempo and colour changes to the LD and board operator.
Another useful feature of LED lighting for this specific application was their low heat emissions. “The acts are on for six hours straight so the glass box studios would simply get too hot if any other type of predominant lighting were used,” said Collier.
With the ‘turns’ lasting so long it was a good thing that the LED fixtures are incredibly low maintenance. The equipment list also included assorted James Thomas PixelPars, Pulsar Chroma Banks and Chroma Strips. Even though these LEDs pulled very little power, an ELP twin set generator was on hand to provide power for the whole site including production offices, edit suites and live broadcast feed.
Collier was full of praise for the ELP crew, not only for the way they coped in adversity on the painstaking build but also for finding bespoke solutions to specific structural and electrical issues on site.
For example, ELP built some custom dimmable fluorescent boxes to an exact specification for the LD. ELP also designed and built air conditioning vents under the stage floor to stop condensation on the glass walls and to regulate the temperature for the comfort of the acts during their six-hour stint.
“That’s the thing with ELP,” concluded Collier. “You can get all this production knowledge, technical expertise and range of equipment all from a single source.”