The KSI Show – filmed over the course of two days during a five-day residency at London’s Garden Studios and later broadcast on Moment House in partnership with Proper Loud, MBA Live and Ignite – was an exclusive multidimensional spectacular show featuring a revolving door of guest stars, surprise performers, dancers and artists affiliated with KSI’s (Olajide ‘JJ’ Olatunji) past, present and future as a YouTuber, boxer and number one-selling recording artist.
The brainchild of KSI, Mark Bennett and Mams Taylor, The KSI Show was produced by Proper Loud, MBA Live, Fast Lane Entertainment and Gold Dust Films. The one-of-a-kind spectacular followed KSI from his bedroom, where it all started, moving in and out of a dream-like state around custom stages that incorporated elements of music performances, TV sets and comedy skits devised by American Dad writers, Joe Chandler and Nick Wegener, as well as comedy writer James Farmer, along with KSI.
“We were keen to put together a show that pays homage to KSI’s past, present and future,” Executive Producer and Manager, Mams Taylor of Proper Loud said, explaining the roots of the project. “We’re at an age where audiences require more stimulation than solely video or audio. The speed of transmission of a catchy hook and visual, along with the pacing of a show is important and I think that embodying that in a live show is the next progressive step for future success – livestreams need to be more than just a musical performance.”
From discussing the possibilities of a livestream over WhatsApp to then bringing the vision to life was an “incredibly rewarding experience” for Executive Producer and Agent, Mark Bennett of MBA Live, who dubbed the experience equal parts ‘exhausting’ and ‘overwhelming’. “There were times I thought it wasn’t possible with COVID-19 and financing a show of this level,” he conceded. “Thankfully, we put together a team which was able to overcome all odds to make this show a success.”
Producer, Rob Lane of Fast Lane Entertainment, believes many livestream shows lack production value, so achieving a bespoke, technologically advanced spectacle was key. “We’ve produced a lot of livestream shows over the past 18 months on various social media platforms but Moment House’s model of compensating the artist while promoting the album is very exciting. There was a desire to make this event special. KSI typically gives away his content for free, so we wanted to elevate production values.”
Producer, Kate Sinden – one half of Gold Dust Films along with Director, Liz Clare – co-produced the show with Fast Lane Entertainment. “The KSI Show was about engaging the audience and increasing the production value of conventional livestream music shows, by putting as much of the budget on screen as possible,” Sinden commented. “I’m proud of The KSI Show as a demonstration of KSI’s capabilities as a multitalented artist and the ingenuity of the live events sector.”
As well as producing the action, Sinden and Line Producer, Abi Heilbron acted as COVID-19 Supervisors, with additional support from H&S Advisor and COVID-19 Supervisor, Tom Solly from the Event Safety Shop, as well as COVID-19 testing and medics from Oak Valley Events.
On site, crew wore masks, socially distanced where possible, with regular testing employed throughout. “We were lucky to have them as part of our team to make the production COVID-19 compliant,” Lane reported, praising his colleagues. “Stringent testing protocols were followed, in line with the latest government guidelines.”
The supplier roster boasted the collective expertise of Blackout, Christie Lites, Creative Technology, CTV OB, CW Plant Hire, Eat To The Beat, ER Productions, First Option, Flying By Foy, Inner Sanctum, Inside Broadcast, John Henrys, Leviathan, Media Access Solutions, Oak Valley Events, Pixelmappers, Procam Take 2 Projects, Red TX, Stage Miracles, Sweeney Todd Carpenting, Templine, and The Event Safety Shop.
“It was such a joy and pleasure to set up a stage with a big LED backdrop, talk about rigging plots, lighting, and show calls,” Sinden said. “Every supplier that worked on this went the extra mile. It was important to spread out the work and, above all, see each other after over a year in exile.”
Providing a backdrop to the 70-minute showcase featuring comedy skits and stage renditions of some of KSI’s back catalogue – namely the first time he performed tracks from All Over The Place live – was huge production value, highly stylised artistic direction, set design, screen content and choreography curated by Black Skull Creative’s Dan Shipton, Ross Nicholson, Jay Revell and Paul Gardner.
“There were a number of practical constraints which helped drive the design,” the design collective said, explaining how the show was split into four sections. “We wanted to bring the All Over The Place album cover to life.” The creative house did exactly that by starting the show with an animation, which then transported viewers into the real world as the automated LED stylised like an oversized computer opened in the middle to reveal KSI and S–X making their entrance to a chorus of “w’s” in the Moment House chat text box.
“We wanted to establish in this first scene that this script had dropped us in this dreamlike narrative, which helped us define the main stage V-shaped screens. We knew what we could have practically in Garden Studios, which helped us define the areas for the other sections of the show – referencing KSI’s boxing career, reimagining a boxing ring with an LED floor, and including the boxing narrative from Anne-Marie x KSI x Digital Farm Animals’ Don’t Play music video.”
Among the key looks was the reflective pyramid stage structure, which helped transport KSI underground. “The beauty of livestreams with no physical audience present is encapsulating an artist in a 360° environment without leaving spaces. While we miss audiences and can’t wait to get back to live music with mass gatherings, knowing that this show was being viewed only through a lens allowed us to change the spaces dramatically and think differently about how it would fit together,” the designers stated, reviewing the result.
‘A BEAUTIFUL CHOREOGRAPHY OF CREW’
“We had significant time and budgetary constraints with what we wanted to achieve in the shoot; there was a heavy degree of measure about what was realistic within the parameters of the ‘new normal’. Achieving something of this size in such a tight time frame was challenging but rewarding,” Lighting Designer Matt Pitman of PixelMappers said, speaking to TPi over Zoom with Lighting Crew Chief, Adam Morris and Christie Lites Account Representative, Andy Strachan. “Andy and I worked hard on communication of what kit and crew was available.”
With confirmation coming just two weeks prior to the shoot, Pitman said the lighting team would typically have set up everything required to shoot over two days as individual elements. However, logistical and budgetary confinements meant the team built something, shot it, then moved the equipment around the studio to shoot the next scene. “Andy and Adam spent a lot of time chasing me around to fulfil my overbearing requests, regardless of how difficult they were,” Pitman recalled, modestly.
“A key factor to the success of previous livestream experiences has been to be one step ahead – preparation is key,” Morris said, joining the conversation. “Andy and I ensured that the infrastructure in any part of the building was able to be added or taken away, allowing us to change something quickly when required.”
Truck pack, Strachan said, was vital from the outset. “Matt had numerous areas to light, which meant both versatility and quantity from his fixture selection. With Christie’s uniform custom cases, we could maximise available truck space, giving Matt the opportunity to increase quantities as he saw fit to get the most out of his fantastic design.”
The Christie Lites package included 62 Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron 1000mm and 320mm fixtures, 51 MAC Aura XBs, 25 Viper Profiles; 60 Chroma-Q ColorForce II 72s; 36 GLP impression X4 Bar 20s; 12 Claypaky Xtylos’; six Robe BMFL followspots and eight ARRI Sky Panels S60cs. Lighting was programmed, controlled and operated by a pair of MA Lighting grandMA2 full size lighting consoles, with MDG Fog generators and Unique Hazers providing atmospherics.
Strachan pointed out the LD’s keen eye for detail. “Matt had the great idea to put ARRI Sky Panels on wheeled Manfrotto stands, which meant these were moved as required, cutting the number of fixtures required.”
The production build schedule, Strachan noted, was another key component of the design’s success. “A beautiful choreography of crew was required, as multiple themed areas needed to be up and running in a specific order to maximise time,” he recalled. “Adam made sure we kept in sync with production requirements, as well as making sure Matt and PixelMappers had exactly what they needed.”
The team implemented a shooting schedule to manipulate the equipment and crew around eight different shooting spaces. “Adam and I worked simultaneously on an online sheet which mimicked the shooting schedule and told Adam what we required next, what could be struck and reused in advance of arriving,” Pitman pointed out.
ER Productions provided special effects and laser solutions. SFX Technicians, Joey Jackson and Ross Deeker oversaw the deployment of 26 Beam-ER fixtures and two Cryo-Fog HP/XL low smoke machines, which were utilised inside the reflective pyramid structure during KSI’s performance of the track, Madness. Around 12m of DMX rotators were rigged high around the boxing ring for a falling snow look for Is it Really Love, while CO² jets, handheld flares and flash pots were used during the heist scene. On-site techs were armed with battery-powered P-Tiny smoke machines, deploying smoke before the cameras rolled.
Blackout collaborated with Production Manager, Maggie Mouzakitis; Lighting Designer, Matt Pitman on the production rigging requirements, drapes and automation across all the stages in two studios.
Blackout provided a selection of equipment from standard hoists and truss to black drape and specialist items such as Kinesys hoists and a beam trolley to raise and lower lighting and open and close the large LED screen, provided by Creative Technology and overseen by LED Crew Chief, Steve Grinceri and LED Technician Tomasz Gnilka.
The company also deployed pipe and drape systems to create two scenic elements with bespoke drapes along with standard black drapes to create COVID-19 compliant dressing room spaces.
“I believe we were the first show to use the venue, so as usual we pushed it to the max,” Blackout Director, Kevin Monks said, recalling a last-minute challenge when the team overloaded the new grid and had to install two vertical truss props in the centre of the spans in order to get the capacity required. “The venue and its contractors were really helpful so we could achieve this at such short notice. The schedule was tight, but the crews worked together above and beyond to deliver what was an incredibly ambitious show – it was a pleasure to work on thanks to the team involved.”
Pitman praised Blackout’s on-site ingenuity. “Blackout was great at providing drapes for negative fill and draping off things we hadn’t factored until arriving at the studios, finding 500m of gauze strips and cutting for me to attach to the front of the lights so they did not reflect when they weren’t on,” the LD noted. “Adam and the team spent three hours fitting the gauzes to the lights so it looked just so – those types of things almost nobody will notice apart from us, but they were super important to me.”
The wider Christie Lites crew comprised Dimmer Technician, Simon Howarth and Lighting Technicians, Chris Taylor, Nathan White, Tom Comrie, Sam Jackson, Paul Emery, Dave Moorcroft and Ben McHugh. “It was a privilege to have the opportunity to work with such a talented production and creative team and such a great crew, after the horrific year we’ve all been through,” Strachan said, earnestly. “It really does bolster the reason why we all love this business!”
Pitman praised Lighting Programmers, Dan Crowther and Joe Lott. “Both of them walked into the room on the first day and didn’t stop pressing buttons and making things happen,” he remarked, summing up his experience of the project. “It was no mean feat, and we were super grateful to be involved in an ambitious project with lovely people at a time that’s been really difficult for the sector.”
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‘AN INCREDIBLY AMBITIOUS FEAT’
To capture the action, Procam Take 2 Projects provided a range of cameras, ancillary lenses, and equipment, while CTV OB handled connectivity, recordings, communications and direction – providing a multiview for Director, Liz Clare, affording her the ability to switch between cameras for pre-editing and communicate with the crew. “It was a good combined and hybrid effort for production technique and end product,” CTV OB Unit Manager, Martin Brown said.
With his own company, Inside Broadcast, Brown provided cameras mimicking security cameras as on-stage props, which were fitted with iPhones to make them interactive. “It was a complex and adventurous shoot, cramming in a lot of work in two days, between two studios and eight different setups in two days in addition to side shoots,” he commented. “Despite the challenge, I found the experience both refreshing and fun to be a part of – I had a ball!”
Procam Take 2 Projects Unit Managers, Adriano Martelli and Dan Studley were brought in to manage capture from a cine workflow, rather than using broadcast cameras. “It was shot with 35mm ARRI cameras, so it was my job to effectively integrate the cameras providing beautiful pictures into CTV OB’s truck,” Studley said.
Director of Photography, Nathaniel Hill of HD Films Ltd specified four ARRI Amiras and three Alexa Minis – matched with a Angineux zoom and an Ultra Prime lens. “The ARRI cameras give us options that aren’t necessarily there with broadcast cameras both in post and live capture; working with a super 35mm chip provides a filmic look that the viewer expects to see on high quality productions with a shallower depth of field, advanced technology and a greater dynamic range which I knew would be stretched to the limit within the concert lighting. From the main stage with its large LED screen to the low light look in the van which we lit purely with practical light. Using the larger sensor is a great way to capture live music, something we wanted to push with Gold Dust Films and something the viewer expects,” Hill commented.
“We shot mainly in 2:1 ratio but utilised a 1:1 ratio to help with the framing of some of the music performances, as well as filming with iOS cameras in both landscape and portrait mode – a look that online viewers and fans are accustomed to seeing, especially as a lot of recordings are now viewed on phones. There is a fantastic opportunity nowadays to stream and capture in real time, making artists concerts and music more accessible around the world than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the grip department, Procam Take 2 Projects supplied three peds and a wide lens camera on the back of a Bazooka to achieve the heist scene. Specialist suppliers supplied Jimmy Jib, a Newton Head housed on a Kinesys motor to achieve the bird’s-eye shot of the boxing ring on a wire cam, descending from the roof, as well as a wireless Steadicam. Eschewing typical livestream camera setups paid dividends, according to Studley, who said the final product looked “fantastic”.
The wider camera crew comprised Camera Manager, Claire Hughes; Camera Operators, Alan Wells, Alex Dodd, Carl Veckranges and Charlie Bryan; Steadicam Operator, Curtis Dunne; Jib Operator, Marcus Leon Soon; Jib Technician, Sam Bishop; Remote Camera Technician, James Woods; Focus Pullers, Warren Buckingham, Jeff Vine and Chris Robertson; Autocue Operator, Jeff Williams and Camera Trainee, James Trewartha.
Hill praised the versatility of the crew’s expertise – from the Patience shot, in which the team harnessed a Blackout-supplied Kinesys 1 system to drop in and out, allowing the camera to get as low as below eye line and climb as high as possible to embrace its surroundings to the simpler camera techniques and static shot during the heist scene, in which everything else, other than the camera position, does all the work. “It is always an easy process when you work with people who are experts in their field and understand a collective vision,” Hill concluded. “Despite being extremely ambitious to film over two days, it was great fun and an incredibly funny show to be a part of.”
‘HIDDEN EASTER EGGS’
Red TX Sound Supervisor, Ollie Nesham was tasked with organising the record, miking the performing artists, as well as booking and ordering PA from Plus 4 Audio and freelance crew for the sound department.
“The term ‘livestream’ summarises the events scene in lockdown,” Nesham remarked, speaking to TPi from a shipping container, mid-build on another project. “The fact it was a YouTube artist was apt. The KSI Show signifies a new era for hybrid events. It felt like a variety show as opposed to a generic digital music concert.”
Artists shared regularly disinfected Sennheiser SKM600 handheld mics, aside from Anne-Marie and Craig David, who brought their own mics, with 22 individual mic capsules for each performer, in keeping with COVID-19 guidelines. Additional DPA 4060 microphones were hidden under the clothing of performers during skits, with most artists comfortable with IEMs on stage.
Nesham collaborated with Musical Director, Kojo Samuels, who oversaw playback and rehearsals; RF Engineer, Dan Wallis; Floor Sound Assistants, Eduardo Puhl and Will Langdale; Audio Engineer, Silas Roase; Monitor Engineer, Pete McGlynn mixing on a DiGiCo SD12 console and PA Floor Assistant, Jacob Skinner.
“The challenge, shooting across two studios, was having the RF coverage for IEMs and mics during the various performances and skits,” Nesham recalled, explaining how the team harnessed the capabilities of a Wisycom antenna combiner as well as a Sennheiser RF system to overcome this, sometimes relying on a trusty boom pole with a radio mic to capture atmospherics. Music was then sent to Cameron Gower Poole to mix, while Nesham mixed the skits, received Poole’s tracks and mastered it to sound like one continuous show. “Quite a lot of sound design was done by [Director] Liz Clare and [Editor] Reg Wrench during the audio dub. However, I changed some pieces from mixing mics to sound design across the skits within quite a tight timeframe. There were a few late nights, but it was a wholly enjoyable experience,” Nesham said.
“When it first landed on my desk with a running order of 14 tracks and six skits with effects needed in two weeks, I was a bit sceptical,” Editor, Reg Wrench began. “However, upon reflection, it was the perfect job. I was afforded creative freedom by the team to play around with various Adobe Premiere Pro and Motion Array effects and have some fun with the edit.”
Wrench said the ‘hidden easter eggs’ buried within The KSI Show – only noticeable to loyal KSI fans – were half of the fun of the editing process for him. “Learning about KSI as an artist and his fanbase as I went along was a joyous experience. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this project – it was really good fun to work on,” he reminisced. “During the middle of the edit, I was pinged with a COVID-19 alert while at THE BASE HQ. Thankfully, with a tight turnaround, my transition to editing from home while self-isolating was seamless and didn’t affect anyone else.”
For those working closest with the genre-spanning performer, the journey has been inspiring to witness his rocket ship success. “In the two short years that I’ve worked with KSI, he’s become a household name while still retaining his internet presence,” Taylor said. “His work ethic is relentless and manifests his vision with hard work and dedication.”
Bennett, who’s been with KSI every step of the way as his Live Agent, added: “When he steps onto the main stage of Reading and Leeds in front of 100,000 people to perform at his first ever festival, he will finally be reaping the rewards of all the hard work and dedication that he has put in over the past 18 months. There are not many artists that go from playing a 600-cap show to 100,000.”
This article originally appeared in issue #264 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Lee Malone – www.LEEMALONE.co.uk