By James Bailey, Head of Marketing & Communications for NMSI.
Back in October 2011 renowned producer and composer, Craig Leon, approached us to partner on an audio visual project about space. His pedigree brought us great confidence in the project, he produced Blondie, discovered the Talking Heads and crossed over to classical with three number one albums with Izzy Cooper who was to star in this show.
Our only proviso was that whilst we wouldn’t interfere with the artistic elements of the show we would insist on scientific accuracy. Enter Doug Millard, our Space curator who consulted on the script to ensure its veracity and also to add the latest understandings of our solar system.
Whilst our partners sourced footage from NASA including imagery that had never been broadcast before we firmed up the commercial terms of the contract. Hannah Green, ‘our fixer’ then got to work as Project Manager to make sure that operationally we could deliver what we’d promised. This is no mean feat in a Museum the size of ours, things then get even more complicated when you add in a highly creative production team.
The ‘as live’ performance was on a Thursday night, but first the production had to move in, this was a very difficult logistical process given that we don’t allow any equipment to be moved through the Museum during opening hours. The first tranche of deliveries arrived on Monday night with plywood going down to protect the flooring from the heavy loads. The majority of equipment was in by 10am on the Tuesday morning, this included staging, TV cameras and trolleys, lighting, cabling, amps etc etc. Also, I shouldn’t forget, there was also a production team of 50.
By Wednesday morning the lighting, video, audio and two of the biggest projectors in Europe had been fine tuned and were ready for the first rehearsal. The orchestra, ‘The Ricciotti Ensemble of Amsterdam’ were very flexible and responded to Craig’s direction with superb results. The dancing of Vanessa Fenton of the Royal Ballet brought a touch of Bond to this space odyssey.
The whole production team, including all the performers totalled 100, we then brought an extra 130 people into the mix as the audience. On the night these spectators had a huge part to play as the ‘live TV’ audience, their involvement was integral to the end result. In the final dress rehearsal I sat at the TV mixing desk where it dawned on me that no matter how good tonight was everything had been done for one thing and one thing only, making a TV programme. Everything was timed to absolute perfection, with second by second commands directing the various cameras to focus, pan and zoom onto different sections of the orchestra, crowds and stage.
We brought the audience in, albeit 45 minutes late, this is ‘Live TV’ after all so not everything can go to plan. Avril introduced the night and reminded people that they were being filmed and if they were sat next to anybody they shouldn’t be then perhaps they should move. Nobody moved.
The performance went with no apparent hitches with only one unplanned re-take at the end and judging by the applause throughout everybody seemed to enjoy themselves.
I left with the audience at 21.45 but Hannah and Jon Kaddish stayed on through the night to ensure that the get out was as smooth as possible. I met them the next day along with Avril and the Assistant Producer, Sam. All were dead on their feet but very happy that only twelve hours ago there was a fully working TV studio geared up for a major orchestral recording and broadcast where we stood and now it had gone with the exception of two large make up mirrors. As we left ‘Temporary Exhibition Space Two’ the next event moved in.
Notes: ‘Beyond the stars’, in partnership with the Science Museum, London and NASA will be broadcast on PBS in June 2012 with an accompanying DVD, CD and theatre tour across the US and Europe.