Wednesday, 4 July 2012

AJ 'Mitch' Mitchell on a typical day in the life of Python in the studio...

AJ 'Mitch' Mitchell of BBC Electronic Effects worked on Monty Python's last series in 1974, kindly elaborated on a typical day in TV Centre based upon the duty sheet for Michael Ellis* which gives a good eye-view of how a typical studio session would run.  *''Michael Ellis' was recorded on Saturday October 19, 1974, in TC8, while 'Parkinson', 'Warhead' and 'Dick Emery' were being taped and the Doctor Who episode The Ark In Space was being rehearsed elsewhere in TVC that evening....

I worked on 5 episodes of Monty Python in 1974 – this was on video effects which was probably called "electronic effects" at that time...

I was part of the studio crew in TVC so had nothing to do with the exterior sequences which would have been done on film.  I do remember that the director Ian MacNaughton was on a pretty short fuse because of all their ad-libbing and messing about, although the audience thought it was hysterical.  Mind you my memory is particularly confused because i also worked with Ian on Spike Milligan’s Q9 and that was the same thing - he was incapable of ever doing a scene the same twice, making it worse to shoot than a football match, especially since they all played to the live audience who lapped it up!

Overnight the previous days set will be removed and the one for Monty Python brought in - this is done by overnight crews...

Once the previous day’s set had been removed the night before, the lights would all be adjusted according to the plan on their respective scaffold barrels according to the plan (e.g. each light could be made soft (fresel end) or hard (spot end), they could be pointed in the correct direction and they might have coloured or diffusing gels put over the faces).  Once the rig was all correct the entire rig would be taken up (sky'd) to the grid (roof).  The new set (in this case monty python) would then be moved in (they were all prefabricated previously) and erected according the set designers plans... once this was done the entire lighting rig would be dropped to just above this set.

Set and light: 9.00 - 9.30

The day crew of sparks (electricians) come in & start adjusting the lights to point more precisely at the set according to the plan - vaguely adjust barn doors and height using the pantographs (spring loaded extensions which give a bit more vertical accomodation).  At the same time the scene crew (chippies and prop men) start adjusting and properly dressing the set - like hanging up pictures and so on.

Technical Lighting and rigging: 9.30-10.30

The camera crew pull all the cameras out from their stores and cable them up according to the Technical Manager's floor plan - they then point them all at a chart for the engineers and vision operator to line them up - line up was from ten to ten thirty. The camera crew go for breakfast during this half hour.

At the same time the lighting supervisor (TM1) will go round with the chargehand spark (lighting/electrical chargehand) and fine light the sets one at a time starting with the first to be rehearsed - here they adjust the
barn doors acurately, the focus of spots and exact angles they are pointed at - on this style of shooting the TM1 would go stand where he thought the actor would be and looked directly at the light and new from experience how it and the barn doors should be adjusted - this is the opposite of a film
lighting cameraman or director of photography who would have a stand in (or the actual actor) stand in position whilst he (or she) would stand by the camera - since TV used multi cameras the lights needed to be adjusted in a different way and much more quickly...

Camera rehearsal 10.30 - 12.30

During this time the scenes would be "blocked" - they would all have been created and rehearsed during the week in a hall somewhere with just tape on the floor representing the sets - then on the last day they'd have a "technical run through" where the senior cameraman and both TMs (there was a TM2 who looked after general technical stuff such as vt and sound liaison since the TM1 though in theory in charge of everybody would not have the time due to his lighting activities), sound supervisor, etc. would come and see a walk-through of each sketch - this is when the TM1 would plot his lighting and ultimately create the plan used to set the lights in place.

So now for the first time the artistes and director get to see the show in the actual set and with the real props - thus the action would have to be adjusted to accommodate the real location and indeed the feeling of the set and props would inspire the artistes and director into perhaps changing the business or even be inspired to ad lib some new ideas...

During this time the various shots would be decided and marked up by all and sundry and TM1 would "fine light" as everything else was happening because now of course he'd see the real heights and adjusted positions of the various players...

12.30-1.30 Lunch will be taken during this period

During this time all the cameras would usually be pointed at the charts again for the engineers to have a quick "tweak" - the EMI2001 cameras though amazing for their time did drift a bit and needed constant attention!

1.30-6.30 Rehearsal

Either finish blocking if not already - then run through the show at least a coupla' times to make sure everything worked at speed and in sequence…

6.30 - 7.30 Camera line-up

At end of rehearsals the cameras would be pointed at the charts when we all went off to dinner until 7.30

7.30 - 8.00 Sound and vision lineup

This was still the line up being finished but with all the tech ops back to help in any way necessary - this really was for live shows and didn't apply to these recorded types of shows – in fact the camera and sound crews would go to the directors gallery for notes - this was last minute changes based on the final run-through just before dinner and maybe other things that had been thought of during the break – e.g. last minute script alterations...

8.00 - 10.00 Videorecording on tape

A lot of these recordings were infact 1930-2200 rather than starting at 8.00: they would let the audience in at 7.30 and we'd pull all the cameras into position in that time so that the actual recording could start exactly at 8 o'clock...

10.00-10.30 Strike lighting practicals and studio lighting

Camera clearance, technical de-rig and property movement.   This is all the technical equipment such as the cameras and floor standing lamps and props to be moved out again.


First the Monty Python set is removed immediately the show is finished - usually around about ten in the evening - by 1974 they didn't tend to over run...  When the set is cleared the entire lighting rig was lowered to the floor - then using the floorplan supplied by the lighting supervisor (in those days
called the TM1 for "technical manger one" - he was sort of equivalent to the director of photography on a movie - did the lighting and had ultimate responsibility for all technical services - infact apart from the producer he was the only person with the power to shut down a production - say if it were over running or the director was incompetent - i worked on a show where the TM1 did it for the latter reason - seriously amazing i can tell you!

That was the procedure for a studio recording session back in that period...  it was all done very quickly and efficiently - different world – different era!

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