“So, I’m working on a Pendulum show where we have the guys playing in a fort in the middle of the sea.” In these COVID-19 times, this was certainly one of the more obscure messages I received from Production Manager, Mattie Evans a few weeks prior to the band’s ambitious performance.
When he first mentioned the project, many of the details were still under wraps, but on 2 October, the band dropped the live premier of the performance, captured by a team of drone pilots and showcasing a truly jaw-dropping visual spectacle. With the cat out of the bag, TPi caught up with Evans and the rest of the team to find out how this production came to fruition.
This year marked the first release from the band in a decade and naturally the drum ’n’ bass juggernauts wanted to make an impact to promote the new material. “Their management got in touch with me pitching the idea and asked me to start working out the logistics for taking a full rig out to a fort off the coast of Portsmouth – not exactly a regular job request,” laughed Evans, aware of the peculiarity of the job at hand.
With the band also bringing on long-time Lighting Designer, Andy Hurst to create a design for the show, Evans recruited both Lights Control Rigging (LCR) and ER Productions to provide the visual backbone, with Video Illusions working as technical crew for the project. Director and Producer, John Paveley, captured the entire show using a pair of drones and an arsenal of cameras to create the high-octane production in the middle of the sea.
Any production manager is used to coordinating a fleet of trucks from one venue to another, but with the only transport option to the fort being a boat with a just over a tonne weight limit, this was an interesting challenge for Evans. “We had to break the load-in into different sections, which resulted in around 11 trips all told,” he explained. “This meant we had to ensure each supplier was on the same page and have the timing really set in stone.” And the strict timetable didn’t stop when it came to load-in. Due to the fort being located so close to a naval base as well as a major port, there was a lot of communication to all the various port authorities to ensure they knew exactly when lasers and pyro would be firing. “To say it was quite a logistics-heavy show is an understatement,” laughed Evans.
The PM concluded by recognising the clear trend towards many artists opting for these “location shoots” to promote new material in this uncertain time. “It’s tricky for any artist bringing out new music in this time as the normal channel of promoting – namely touring – is not possible. This means they have to turn to streaming with either the band or label having to foot the bill. People are being incredibly money conscious, right now, which is why I think we are seeing more location shoots like Pendulum’s Spitbank Fort show,” he commented. “If you just stream a performance from an empty venue you are not necessarily giving the audience anything new, but performing in an unusual location seems to gain traction and therefore gives a greater return on your money.”
‘IT’S LIKE RIDING A BIKE’
Taking up the conversation was the band’s long-time LD, Andy Hurst who, with the help of a handy 3D model of the fort, was able to transfer the file into his wysiwyg setup at home and start crafting a design for show. “Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the original site visit, which made the 3D renders vital,” stated the LD. “The interesting thing about Spitbank as a venue is that the top of the fort created a natural stage. It was different from a normal show with no audience; from the beginning, we knew the main shots would be coming from the drones we had on site. This made the pre-visual work I did very useful as I could design the show from the perspective of the drone shots.”
While ensuring the show was visually impactful, Hurst was very conscious that he had to choose fixtures that would be able to deal with the extreme conditions of the Solent. “As the show was set for the end of September, weather was a huge consideration,” he stated. “As the performance area was so exposed to the elements, we selected a range of SGM fixtures that were all IP rated.”
As well as the need for robustness, Hurst explained how the fixtures also needed to be easy to transport – flight cases were not an option as each fixture had to be carried up the several flights of stairs from the boat. “It was certainly an interesting load-in and the locals who helped us were not used to this type of show,” he stated. “During some conversations it seemed that the only other major show was a rave back in the 1980s.”
Giving his thoughts on the load-in was Mike Oates of LCR, who complemented the hard work of everyone involved with this show, who “worked their arses off” to make it happen.
He continued: “The passion of everyone involved was amazing. None of us had worked on a show for six months and getting involved with a project like this is what gives us energy.” Oates brought another two of the LCR team to help build the show with fellow owner Ryan Hopkins and Steve Bliss, the company’s main Project Manager.
LCR already had a decent stock of SGM fixtures including P10, P5 and G4 Washes. “We also supplied the new G7 BeaST via IPS, which gave Andy the option for the bigger beam looks,” explained Oates. “The P5 and P10 worked really well as an architectural light as well as to produce strobe events.” Also on the rider were a number of Martin by Harman Sceptrons to provide some key lighting for the band.
“One of the main issues we had to consider was the use of haze,” stated Hurst.” If we had put them on the top of the fort we would have had no control, so in the end we opted to put them right at the depths of the building so the smoke would rise slower, which meant we only lost it at 10ft above the stage.” The hazers in question were four Viper Delux Smoke Machines provided by ER Productions.
During the show both Hurst and the SFX operator’s makeshift FOH was set up behind a bar on the top deck. This meant the LD was essentially “flying blind” during the show. “Normally for a project like this I would have a TX monitor to see what the director was cutting, but that was not the case here as the video team were shooting the show to edit later.”
Not only was Hurst dealing with this peculiar setup, like many of his colleagues in the industry, he had barely touched a desk for six months due to the lockdown. “I have my own desk – an High End Systems Hog 4 – which I keep at LCR and I had that ‘dear God’ moment when I first got my hands on it again, worrying if I would be able to pull this off,” he recalled. “But it’s like riding a bike and it all comes back to you, although this has hands down been the longest time that I’ve ever gone without touching a desk.
‘ONE THAT WE’LL REMEMBER FOR SOME TIME’
As well as the unique location, the sheer amount of special effects that were deployed set the project apart from the majority of livestreamed productions this year. Special effects supplier ER Productions provided an arsenal of lasers along with a number of pyro elements, which produced some of the truly impressive looks of the night. Speaking of ER’s involvement was Director, Ryan Hagan. “It was quite a short notice period on this one,” chuckled Hagan as he recalled heading down for a site visit two weeks prior to the shoot.
Early on in the planning, with the fort being a circular structure, Hagan explained that there was always this goal of the performance being a 360° experience. His aim was to place lasers and SFX around the circumference, so no matter where the drones were, they would get a great shot.
The laser package ER provided comprised nine Phaenon Pro30, 12 ER Laserblades and 10 ER BB4s, all controlled by BEYOND Server mode using ER Productions’ Workspace via a Roadhog 4. Meanwhile for flames, there were eight XL G-Flame and eight Pyro Positions, which fired a variety of hits from 60ft Mines with Tails to 120ft Ultra Fast Comets with Tails.
With a wealth of knowledge putting on show in outdoor environments, ER is well versed in the various hoops you have to jump through, but even Hagan admitted that this particular performance was a challenge.
“As we were shooting lasers up into the sky, we had to contact Civil Aviation, which is standard practice for us during festivals and other such events,” he stated. “The other main consideration with this show was that it was taking place right next to the Royal Navy base and naturally they were quite keen to know what we were up to.” With the aid of Evans, they communicated with the Navy what time to expected to use any effects and stuck to that time rigidly.
Despite the show having a heavy electronic element, there was no timecode to speak of for the performance – a fact that the ER team were more than aware of having worked with the band since 2014.
Along with Hagan, the rest of the ER team working on his show included Crew Chief and Laser Programmer and Operator, Tom Vallis; SFX Lead, Asher Heigham and Benjamin Bayley Cook. “The show was kept to a bare minimum of crew,” stated Hagan, who explained that these smaller numbers made social distancing measures a possibility during the load-in. “Elements such as social distancing were incredibly easy to implement due to the size,” he reflected.
Hagan was quick to highlight some of the extra measures that were put in place due to the location of the shoot. “On our first site visit, after a particularly rough crossing to the fort, there were certainly a few raised eyebrows as water was coming over the edge of the boat,” he laughed.
“Not only were we looking at transporting some expensive equipment, we were also taking over flames that, unsurprisingly, don’t like getting wet.” The team at ER had to then work on some waterproofing solutions for the equipment before they made the crossing. Thankfully these measures ended up being just precautionary as the weather was relatively mild on the day of the show.
“It was certainly a very different project,” reflected Hagan. “It was great to do a show, particularly in these times, in such an amazing venue with such a long history. It was one that we’ll remember for some time.”
‘WE ONLY HAD ONE SHOT’
The job of capturing the performance fell to Eager! Productions and was overseen by Director, John Paveley. Eager! had already worked with the band in 2009 for a multicamera shoot in Brixton Academy.
“We’d also worked with Mattie Evans for another act he looks after, Jonas Blue, during his show on top of a 24-storey building in Shoreditch,” recalled Paveley, clearly no stranger to obscure settings for a live show. Paveley, and the Eager! team were first approached about the Spitbank Fort show in mid-August. The band’s management – Decade – already knew the location could lend itself to “something very different,” explained Paveley. “The initial brief was to capture a spectacular 60-minute live set that would herald the return to the scene of the ‘Pendulum Trinity’ – the latest three-piece configuration of the original members: Rob Swire, Gareth McGrillen and El Hornet.”
He continued: “Their management wanted us to capture the scale of this event on a fort in the middle of the Solent but, at the same time, were keen we didn’t lose the essence of the up-close-and-personal part of the gig the avid Pendulum fanbase would want to see. Thus, following the brief, we suggested the mix of camera package we then delivered so nothing would be missed.”
The package comprised two DJ Inspire x5s drones, each with their own operator with an added gimbal operator. The video crew also deployed three Sony FS7s with operators and a locked-off Sony A7S. Finally, adding some extra shots were four GoPro Hero 7s.
One of the major challenges faced by the production was to ensure flexibility on which date they could shoot.
“The weather made a big difference to when the gig and filming happened,” explained Paveley. “We had to remain flexible as a crew over a two-week period. As it happens, the day boasted perfect conditions – no wind and a beautiful sunset.”
Like the other departments, the logistics of getting all that kit over to a fort in the middle of the sea on a series of small boats while running to a tight timescale certainly presented a challenge. Not only that, but the Eager! team introduced another layer of protocol to ensure to entire project was COVID-19 safe.
“We had our safety officer monitoring our crew all day and we kept our team in its own unit,” Paveley explained. “As Director, I had to make sure those drones were in the air constantly and satisfying the need for those wides and closer overheads without stopping. We only had one shot at capturing this spectacle – and those pyros… There was no re-record!”
The Director described the GoPros as his “ace card”.
He elaborated: “They worked beautifully in amongst it all and gave us an edge that just having drones wouldn’t have delivered. This left the rest of the crew free to capture the guys on stage.”
The last challenge was the super-quick turnaround of a 60-minute set for a broadcast date. Speed was of the essence and Paveley and the Pendulum team worked for several nights to get the perfect film and audio mix.
The Director was quick to compliment the work of the other visual departments responsible for creating the epic aesthetic.
“The lighting, lasers and pyro design was spectacular. It transformed the fort into a spaceship in a black sea,” he enthused. “It was curated with the finished film at the forefront of the design. Andy and team involved us from the first recce of the fort, which was very important in planning our angles and approach. He added: “Following that, we were supplied detailed production plans on lighting and pyro setups so we could plan around it. On the day we were given a full pre-gig passes with lighting to get our hero close ups… We all worked as one team.”
‘READY TO DO IT ALL AGAIN’
“I think I speak for everyone on site when I say the chance to do this show really helped us appreciate the opportunity to put on a show like this,” concluded Evans. “Before COVID-19, during any normal year when you’d be travelling through 20 countries in a matter of months, you sometimes don’t have time to appreciate the work and what we get to do for a living. I know once we were done with the shoot, each one of the crew were ready to do it all again – which obviously can’t happen. But we knew we had captured something really quite special and seeing the stream in full, it’s evident we succeeded.”
This article originally appeared in issue #255 of TPi, which you can read here.