What I've Learnt: Broadcasting Richard

What I've Learnt: Broadcasting Richard

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By Lilli Geissendorfer, Almeida Theatre
Date Published: 21 November 2016
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A new collaboration

In July this year we premiered Almeida LIVE; our first live broadcast, beaming Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III to cinemas across the world. We partnered with two specialist companies – producers Illuminations Media and distributors Picturehouse Entertainment.  On the night over 120 people worked in and outside the Almeida Theatre to make it happen – from extra make-up artists backstage to satellite technicians in 40ft trucks parked on Almeida Street. It was a thrill to sit in the truck in front of the 6 camera screens, knowing it was being watched simultaneously thousands of miles away. As with any first time, there was plenty to learn… 

It’s not cheap: Live vs Pre-recorded

We debated long and hard whether a one-off live broadcast, with potential for encore screenings and ultimately, DVD and other media releases further down the line, was the right model for us. Pre-recording the show, editing it and giving it to cinemas to broadcast on their own timeframes would have cost significantly less – but meant fewer cinemas would be interested, and those that were would take more of the Box Office up front.

Start planning early

We had just eight weeks to sell in nearly 1,000 cinemas - 558 of those in the UK. We had to learn to hold our nerve as cinema has a terrifyingly (for a theatre!) high walk up and day booking rate; over 30% of the final box office.  The start of summer holidays also coincided with lots of big box office openings, which we would hope to avoid with longer lead times.

Agents, actors and everyone involved

We researched extensively how our experienced live broadcasting peers had managed artists’ fees, royalties and additional pay for their backstage team. The main principles seem fairly established, but there are subtle differences between models and I was surprised by the number of agents to whom I had to make the case for a live broadcast, and the value of their client’s involvement.  

Stage vs Screen – the master shot vs the close up

Artistically, it proved an interesting journey for the creative team. For live broadcasts, a specialist screen director and team are engaged to recreate as closely as possible the experience of being in a theatre for the cinema audience. This was not straightforward on Richard III which did not have a proscenium arch to frame the action, and whose world was one of darkness and shadows – far from ideal bedfellows when the camera loves a close up and plenty of light. This resulted in our broadcast featuring one of the highest number of camera shots of any live broadcast. This got us mixed feedback from our cinema audiences, with some finding it harder to follow and others loving the opportunity to watch and the casts’ performances in such unique detail.

It made us realise there is still a real discussion to be had across our industry about what this third way medium of live cinema theatre is; should its liveness be acknowledged or should it look to a a more self-contained studio version with close ups that draw you closer into the action than you would ever get to be in the theatre?

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Photo: Marc Brenner (Ralph Fiennes as Richard III)

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