North London's Alexandra Palace was to be the location for a commercial for Apple's new "Classical" music app release. The commercial was Directed by Rohan Blair-Mangat, shot by Roman Vasyanov and Produced by Luke Goodrum at Nice Shirt for Eleanor.
I hadn't been into the main auditorium of Alexandra palace for at least ten years, when the auditorium was semi-derelict, to light a Sony commercial. Although It had been refurbished it still maintained its look of faded glamour. Built in 1873 the structure was mainly huge oak beams and brick. New steel work had been installed in the roof space to support the new lighting rig but it was still loaded onto the 150 year old wooden beams spanning the width of the huge auditorium.
In our first meeting on location, Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov drew out a very basic plan on his iPad. It consisted of a large soft box, a long back light and a circular truss surrounding a smaller circular soft box. Together with William Gibson from TFR Rigging we started building a lighting plan. Thege of the building and its structural limitations was going to be the main obstacle……and time. We had two days to get in the lighting rig, build a white stage for the orchestra, install all the musicians and a grand piano, and allow them time to rehearse as well as practice our lighting cues. It was going to be tricky.
Lighting lists were sent to Christian Schofield at Universal Production Services who quickly turned them into a quote for production. After budget approval we had to confirm all the weight and loading to be signed off by the head of technical production Steve Brooks. That was touch and go as we were very close to our load tolerances. Universal Production Services sent a total of three trucks over two days to facilitate all the cabling, lighting fixtures and accessories. They all had to be timed to precision as we were working around deliveries from construction and all the musical instruments. It was a logistical exercise which went exactly to plan.
With four riggers, a desk operator and six electricians - we set to work. As the venue was expecting a show loading in within hours of ours leaving, we had to maintain the existing lighting truss and lights so they wouldn't be disturbed. They would have no time to re-hang lamps and re-program any changes we had made. We did, however, remove the large PA suspended in front of the stage for both aesthetic and weight reasons. In order to keep turnaround to a minimum we decided to fly their truss rig to the ceiling and use it as a "mother truss" hanging ours from it. Although this would add weight it would save time. Above the orchestra in front of the proscenium arch we too created a 40' x 20' soft box. We used 24 Lite Panel Gemini 2x1 Hard lights as they were punchy but significantly lighter than other fixtures. The softbox was completed with a full grid cloth. Between the soft box and the proscenium we added a full line of 16x Gemini 2x1 Litepanels with DoP Choice snap bags and egg crates to create an edge light for the orchestra. Inside the circular soft box we placed another 5x Geminis in a star pattern. This was surrounded by a circular 16ft diameter truss above pianist Sara Ott, consisting of 24 Creamsource V4 fixtures in a 280-degree arc. We wanted a lamp that would look good in shot as it may be seen in reflection as well as act as a good quality source. The Vortex V4's certainly fit the bill.
On the stage just behind the proscenium hanging from an existing truss designer Freya Bardell had designed a light box in the shape of an iPhone. It had to be interactive with full color capability and low profile. As it was suspended from wires it couldn't take any heavy fixtures. Again weight was an issue for the existing rigging which was only designed for curtains which he had to remove. The metal structure could only hold so much as could the truss it was hanging on. I decided to use individual bars taken from the SumoSky system, they were fully interactive lightweight and modular. Simon Evans at Sumo calculated the weight and spacing of the LED bars which were delivered and rigged within two hours. The beauty of the SumoSky system is its ease in installation and programming. A bespoke full grid cloth was added to blend the bars of light. We used Astera Helios, Titan and Hyperion tubes as well as Pixel bricks to complete the dressing of the stage and a 360-degree view architecture.
Day 1 - Equipment was loaded-in and the main rigging built, hoists and power was dropped through the roof spaces. Construction built the extended stage and laid the white vinyl floor. We started lighting the architecture of the building while that was carried out.
Day 2 - We completed the rigging, hung all of the lighting and stretched grid cloths on all of the soft boxes. The SumoSky soft box was built and tested. The orchestra came in, set-up their equipment, rehearsed and our Desk Operator Danny Cunningham started programming lighting cues with Roman.
Day 3 - Shoot started at 08.00 and went to 22.00. De-rig crew came in as soon as we wrapped and finished at 04.00. The venue was cleaned and prepped for the new show arriving at 06.00 am.
What a great experience! Thanks to then entire crew, Universal Productions Services and SumoSky we pulled it off!
- Director: Rohan Blair-Mangat
- Cinematographer : Roman Vasyanov
- Gaffer: Julian White
- Production Designer: Freyja Bardell
- Line Producer: Luke Goodrum
- Location: Alexandra Palace London