On Set of ‘Ackley Bridge’, Series Two

Ackley Bridge is a Channel 4 series about the clash of cultures preceded by the merging of two schools from a segregated British and Asian community. Series two is currently being filmed in Halifax and will be released in mid-2018.

Through the show’s assistant Editor, Kane Williams, I managed to get a week of on-set work experience, giving me close insight into the everyday workflow of an high-end television production unit.

The first day began with meeting Kane and Adele, both assistant editors, whose day-to-day activities typically involved cutting scenes alongside backing up, logging and importing footage.

It was clear I had arrived on a particularly busy day, with the cafeteria being packed with crew and lighting equipment for a scene that was being shot next door, yet Kane kindly managed to pause between the busy rush to explain the details of his process to me.

I was surprised by how quickly everything moved. A scene was blocked and rehearsed immediately before being shot and then the footage from the shoot was then taken to Kane, who would methodically back it up on several hard drives before sending everything to Simone Nesti, one of the show’s Editors in London. Kane compared his process to that of someone operating in a well-oiled factory, ensuring footage/sound quickly and smoothly goes through the correct procedure before reaching the Editor.

Kane cuts scenes using Avid Media Composer, the editing software that was used for the first series. Avid has become the industry standard, with the software being used by the majority of high-end production companies.

After spending three days assisting Kane with logging footage, syncing sound, and doing the occasional errand, I was taken to see the art department where I met Alex and George who gave me a tour of the sets they’d both had a hand in creating.

From the lab-tech to the pencil holders, everything was designed or altered by both the prop department and the art department. They ensured that wine bottles, chocolate bars and mugs were all labelled with imaginary brands invented by them so to avoid copyright issues. However, despite the amount of work that had gone into these props, they were only to feature in the background of one or two scenes.

Whilst their work may not be obvious, it’s integral to creating a believable world for the characters to operate inside of. Their work also informs audiences more about a character than dialogue may. By the way in which a character’s bedroom or office is structured subliminally suggests what sort of personality they might have. This is something the art department have to consider alongside ensuring the brand colours and style of the imaginary ‘Ackley Bridge College’ are present within every scene the college is featured in.

After spending Thursday assisting the art department with one of their projects, Friday morning began with an exercise; to cut together a scene. I only had time for a neatened assembly, but there was an abundance of video coverage for me to cut from. I edited with the guidance of a continuity logging form, which highlighted the director’s preferred shots and made note of which shots were unusable.

This form had been written by the Script Supervisor (also known as ‘Continuity’) whose job it is to be the ‘Editor’s eyes onset’, watching out for errors in continuity, a break in eye line, making sure what actor is saying matches the script and spotting for anything that shouldn’t be in shot.

After completing the editing exercise for Kane, I spent the rest of the day shadowing Karen Everson, the Script Supervisor on this series, who explained the details of her role to me in between takes. She explained to me how her job also included includes estimating the run-time of episode based on the script and to suggest where to trim a script if it’s too long, or, in fewer occasions; where to add stuff in if it’s too short.

I sat with Karen as she watched, from a monitor, a scene that was being shot in another room. Whenever she noticed something wrong, or if she thought the scene’s length might go beyond her estimated runtime, she’d discuss it with the director.

Through shadowing Karen, I got first-hand experience of what it’s like onset. I watched the camera department setting up reflectors and lighting equipment, the director blocking and rehearsing a scene with the actors and supporting artists, the makeup and art department making the necessary touch-ups between takes.

What surprised me, but perhaps shouldn’t have, was the amount of people involved in one scene. However, despite the volume of people, all working on their individual tasks, everything ran like clockwork. Runners and production assistants/co-ordinators were heavily responsible for the smooth flow of things, ensuring there was quiet onset when there needed to be, and for making sure everybody was in the right place at the right time.

The week’s experience highlighted the importance and existence of roles that went unexplored at University. Some of these roles I was only able to scrape the surface of, however, by being made aware of their existence, I can research these roles further. The experience also prepared me for the rush and speed in which high-end television is produced, and to the standard in which is expected for all those involved.

Posted by Adam Coburn

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