Shooting in a working Hospital: Working with Nurses, Patients and gaining perspective.
Back in June I was asked to shoot a project for a recruitment campaign for a working Hospital in Leicestershire. The production company wanted to create a fluid campaign film, involving a lot of dynamic movements to allow for free flowing cuts between different spaces in the hospital. The footage would then be cut into different types of video, aimed at recruiting more staff (predominantly different types of nurses) for the hospital for their Congenital Heart Centre. This post is a reflection on the experience and how we went about shooting the video series, looking at the limitations we had on quite an abnormal set. You can see the series here - http://www.eastmidlandscongenitalheart.nhs.uk/our-services/centre-of-excellence/
One of the great things about this shoot, was that all the problems we would face were clearly flagged up in pre-production discussions. Often problem solving is left until the day of the shoot, and although there are some issues which you can't foresee, it is a huge help when a production company actually want to sit down and figure out the main concerns from the outset. The first and biggest issue we would have to work around was that this was a working hospital, and would involve shooting in a place where we had to be mobile; keeping a very small footprint. For various practical reasons, this restricted what we could and couldn’t do in terms of lighting. We would also be filming a live operation, and obviously, this meant trying to shoot in a way where we were totally out of the way of the surgeons. Because of this, we decided we would have to make use of the practical lighting we had in location, which is never ideal. We decided we would keep a set of Aputure Light panels on the cart just in case we needed to throw a light up in certain circumstances.
With the inability to light the spaces we would be shooting in, we decided the best way to help create an image that was visually engaging and one that communicated the emotional beat of the films, would be to try to create a clear sense of motion through moving the camera. With much of our images depth having to come through the motion and compositions of each frame. Doing this on a budget can be tough. We decided on a shooting package which was available on a very fair price, whilst also being one I was familiar with. We combined an Fs7 with a MoVi M15 along with a follow focus and Teradek hooked up for Josh Bamber (who very kindly helped me out as he is a bit of a MoVi God) to pull focus and take control of the Gimbal head for more complex moves. We then paired the Fs7 with Josh's brilliant Leica Summicron R Primes. All of which are converted Photography glass. Theses lenses are really beautifying, and give a lovely focus roll off to the image. They are also exceptionally fast and would allow us to open the Iris up as we moved across rooms with varying exposures. We kept the 24mm on throughout the shoot as we were shooting in quite small spaces and wanted to strike a balance between shooting quite wide, but also having a lens which would give us some limited depth of field when wide open. Sometimes on wider focal lengths you lose that depth no matter how open your iris is.
Originally, we were going to go with a set of Canons CNE’s, but I’ve always found these quite digital in nature; I’ve also previously found the Fs7 to give quite a digital looking image when compared to my URSA or the Alexa/Alexa Mini, so I felt this combination might not be the best for something which is supposed to be more focused on creating a certain sentiment, opposed to a more crisp style of image. As a side note, the reason we went for the Fs7 over say the Arri Mini was mainly for budget. But also, because we needed a camera we could fly on the MoVi, but could also film interviews that would be cut later into a different series of videos. The Mini isn’t known for its ability to record sound, and we weren’t in a position to have a sound guy with us when we were recording sporadic interviews. The Fs7 is, in my perhaps limited opinion, the best all round camera option out there, easily adaptable to various shooting styles from a run and gun on the shoulder approach, to a more structured tripod set up. I’m a big fan of the cameras form factor and although I do prefer the image from my URSA; or the variations of Arri; or the Varicam; there are few options out there which are able to be used across so many situation. And the image is still exceptionally good from the camera.
With all this decided in Pre-production all that was left was to get on set and shoot.
Soon the shooting date arrived and we were ready go. The first issue we had in the hospital was, as we expected, the mixed colour temperature of every light, some were throwing out tints of green, others various shades of magenta, and all of them were a few hundred Kelvin apart. As previously mentioned we couldn't start fiddling with lights or gelling the ones in the hospital, so we kept the fs7 at 4300k in Slog-3 as this was the closest match to the colour temps we were getting from a light meter, whilst knowing the camera had enough Dynamic range and information stored in each file for us to push it a bit in post if we needed. Any weird greens to magentas would then be removed in the grade.
The first day consisted of filming interviews with various members of staff. For this, me and Josh took it in turns to operate keeping a simple three-point lighting set up. This was surprisingly quite an emotional experience, more so than I think anyone on our small team was prepared for. There were many tears from our talent in front of the lens as they told us the things they most loved about their work and the relationships they built with their patients and their families. It was also quite humbling knowing that we were all working on a project which could have a positive outcome, opposed to just the usual corporate P.R. video which seems to have become the typical day to day.
As shooting progressed we found we were having to work at the pace of the hospital. Understandably filming must always take the back seat when your job is very much concerned with keeping some quite poorly children comfortable. It’s slightly bizarre being an observer in this setting and seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes. But also in seeing the commitment each of the staff brings to their jobs. Whether it’s the surgeons, the nurses or even the cleaners. We really were working with some wonderfully strong individuals who clearly took a real pride in what they do. It put a new perspective on just how lucky we are to have an NHS made up of these types of people. However, working with Patients and Nurses did have a set of draw backs. The biggest was the speed in which we had to get it right. I’m glad I had Josh on hand as a safety net to watch the screen and to pretty much nail the focus every time. It’s great working with another cameraman as there is always someone there to bounce an idea off, but also having complete trust in them when you have a maximum of three shots (including your rehearsals) to nail on a shot good enough to be used. Because for every minute of the talents time we were taking up, it was keeping them from doing a job far more important. Romek the director was brilliant at keeping us focused and prepped. Talking through and working through sequences before the talent arrived, along with keeping us upbeat. There was one shot where we only had one take to do it and had to be in and then out of the space quickly. And there was something I wasn’t so happy about, but he was ever present to tell me that it’s more than good enough and to remember under the constraints there is little you can do when you have one take to nail it with no time to rehearse. It really goes to show it’s all about the people you get to work with and everyone trusting each other on set to do their job. A good director is, I think, someone who can communicate with his crew and trusts them to do their job, this could have been a nightmare to shoot had someone else taken the reigns, but there was a nice balance in temperament. In terms of shooting style, we tried to always keep something in the foreground just to help stimulate a bit of Depth where possible, all quite simple things but making sure we were shooting at angles where we had some natural depth or leading lines to create a visually stimulating image; like moving around objects and people, and then using TV screens, or people to wipe the screen to provide a natural point for a cut and a fluid transition. We were mainly focused on creating images which were fluid and where there was enough going on to not only tell the story, but to also keep the viewer engaged in what they were viewing. The project was a challenge, but it was also one of the most rewarding projects I’ve had the privilege to shoot so far in my short career. It allowed me to work with some brilliant people in terms of crew and on screen talent, and hopefully make something which can have a genuinely positive influence.