27 Jun 2022
This weekend Broadcast Now went behind the scenes of Sunday Morning Live.
Executive producer, Brendan Hughes explains on why there is no barrier to Green Inc & Tern TV’s thinking on developing the popular BBC format.
"Northern Ireland was once famously described as “The Edge of The Union”, but to those of us who live and work here it’s not like that - it's our centre of gravity. In fact, we refer to the rest of the country as “the Other Island”.
Broadcasters love to visit here, but many then return back to their London bunkers, having enjoyed their “visit” and learning all about the award-winning shows that are made here. Entertainment, quizzes, comedy, specialist factual, docs.
But, could it be that we’re starting to see the green shoots of change? At the end of last year, the BBC decided to put its popular Sunday morning, topical and ethical discussion show out to tender. After a very competitive pitch we (Tern) won that commission for Sunday Morning Live in partnership with Stephen Stewart’s long established Green Inc production company. Daisy Scalchi and her team at the BBC recognised that she was taking on two companies with a terrific track record in making programmes for network audiences. Stephen and I are very proud to be running the all-new Sunday Morning Live across 4 series and 48 episodes for BBC ONE from Northern Ireland.
For the best part of forty years Stephen and I have spent a lot of that time travelling between Belfast and London, Glasgow and all other places in between. We bring a different view from many UK production companies – we tend to look “in”, rather than look “out”, and that gives us a different perspective. We like to think that that was one of the reasons why we won the tender.
Of course, in winning the job we then had to produce it and that brought its own challenges. One important aspect for us was to have VTs that give voice to different parts of the country, including all four nations. Our solution was to place our self-shooting PD in Sheffield, with great access to most parts of England and Wales - God Bless Yorkshire - whilst in Northern Ireland and Scotland we are using our own people.
And now, in 2022, the world is genuinely a smaller place. Gone are the couriers and shuttle drives winging across the country. In Northern Ireland our courier bills used to be huge and with the complications of the Northern Ireland Protocol as a result of Brexit (don’t ask!) we needed to find a cost effective, and speedy, solution to getting rushes here. Simple. We now upload everything at the end of each shoot to our media management team in Glasgow. They ingest them into an Avid in a cupboard there and using the brilliant Teradici software which has become one of my best friends (I am beginning to become VERY sad) our editor in Belfast drives it from here. It's magic.
One big hurdle was finding a brand-new home for the series, and we knew we were looking for something very specific. We also wanted a versatile studio as each programme has several elements and we need the space to be able to accommodate that.
Google Maps became our friend. Stephen Stewart, our head of Tech Olly Strous, and I spent hours, days, weeks, on Zoom calls sharing Google Map views of various parts of the country. I have been to shed loads of places that I have never visited. But I can tell you every interesting looking park, car park, waterfront, and back yard configuration anywhere near a studio in most of the country.
We visited a few. Walked around. Drank too much coffee. Took pictures. And then the fun part started – costing it all.
Eventually we landed in a very safe space – another big prerequisite for a live show - at ITN on Grays Inn Road which has a fabulous garden space around the corner within easy reach for a live show. And of course, the big techy heads in ITN have become firm friends. Nothing is too difficult for them.
With people in so many bases, countries even, we all need very clear heads. Our Executive Editor, Neil Dimmock, floats between Essex and Finaghy in Belfast, with London in between. We have very many WhatsApp groups linking all the teams, and different email addresses, depending on what we need them for. My Inbox is a very complicated beast. With multiple groups set up, getting information around is simple. I am well trained by our Head or Production, and now have loads of different colour coding systems in use.
What has changed most for me, and what makes this series work well, is the change in mindset that the technological changes have enabled. With Tern as a pan-UK company and Green Inc operating as an all-Ireland company, we find multiple cities, indeed multiple countries, no barrier to our thinking. We are proud to work from the smallest of the nations,– looking in towards London from the Nations and the English regions, not looking out.
That small change is actually quite massive. And it's what gives us a distinctive flavour. "
Brendan Hughes (left), Stephen Stewart
My tricks of the trade - Brendan Hughes
. Communication is key – WhatsApp groups and email teams become your friend
. Remember to take time off – a weekly live show will still be there next week. On Sundays.
. Hire people who know what they are doing
. Drink lots of water
. Remember you can only do so much in a day
. Get out and walk
With people in so many bases, countries even, we all need very clear heads. Our executive editor, Neil Dimmock, floats between Essex and Finaghy in Belfast, with London in between. We have very many WhatsApp groups linking all the teams, and different email addresses, depending on what we need them for. My Inbox is a very complicated beast. With multiple groups set up, getting information around is simple. I am well trained by our head of production, and now have loads of different colour coding systems in use.
What has changed most for me, and what makes this series work well, is the change in mindset that the technological changes have enabled. With Tern as a pan-UK company and Green Inc operating as an all-Ireland company, we find multiple cities, indeed multiple countries, no barrier to our thinking.
We are proud to work from the smallest of the nations, – looking in towards London from the nations and the English regions, not looking out. That small change is actually quite massive. And it’s what gives us a distinctive flavour."
Olly Strous, Chief Technology Officer at Zinc Media Group talks below on how to ‘work smarter not harder’
Olly Strous, Chief Technology Officer at Zinc Media Group
We had two key principles when setting up the project. Firstly, to offer the voice of the nation we needed to employ from across the whole nation and secondly when taking over a well-established brand like Sunday Morning Live from BBC Studios we needed to ensure our technical solution was first class, empowering us to deliver relevant and topical stories close to transmission.
With the core production team and VT editor in Belfast, Post Production facilities in Glasgow, DoP in Sheffield and Studio team in London we certainly have our spread of talent.
When it comes to tech we try to apply the mantra “work smarter, not harder” to our approach, driving efficiencies through all manner of tools. Whether it’s how we move data around the country, automate post-production processes or using a studio engineered to require less crew through intelligent systems. We’ve optimised everything we can at launch and will continue to iterate as the series progresses.
Our DoP travels the UK filming the most relevant stories of the week and uses MASV accelerated upload to get rushes back to our Glasgow facility.
We won’t pretend that upload speeds are consistent in every location but we’re fortunate to have a number of offices across the country which can be used as upload hubs where possible and make sure we shoot in optimised Long-Gop codecs to balance superb broadcast quality and data size.
We’ve invested heavily in camera kit and postproduction in recent years and with a robust infrastructure that allows remote editing we were able to connect our Belfast VT editor to core infrastructure using Teradici.
The outside space adjacent to the studio was a big factor when selecting the most suitable partner as well as their track record of robustly delivering live transmissions.
From a short list of the most resilient studios in the UK we decided on ITN in London. A world class facility renowned for delivering daily live news along with The Jeremy Vine show from the same studio we’re now using. The courtyard, just round the corner from ITN is an ideal space for Sunday Morning Live and using LiveU cellular bonding technology we pre-record links and features, all directed from the gallery and locked in playout servers moments before we go on air.
Whilst we all hope Covid is behind us, the recent lockdowns in Shanghai illustrate we can never say never so ensuring we have a robust plan B is key.
Remote guests on Zoom have become commonplace on topical programming so that was a given and with the ability to extend gallery output and talkback across nations, should the worst happen again, we can continue to keep the show on air!
Read the full article here