The success of fixed rig shows
With the recent news that the One Born Every Minute format by Dragonfly heads to Israel and Twofour’s Educating Yorkshire and Educating Essex is being translated to Educating Amsterdam, KFTV thought it was a good time to look at the way these shows are being made.
Broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK, Educating Yorkshire became one of the most tweeted about shows of the day and the series trended across every episode.
To the untrained eye, fixed rig shows might appear to be a ‘lazy’ format but nothing is further from the truth as we hear from Twofour’s head of docs, David Clews, and The Garden’s chief execs Nick Curwin and Magnus Temple (who produce 24 Hours in A&E and exec produced One Born Every Minute for Dragonfly).
Huge teams, lots of forms and even more cameras
David Clews: "Consent is obviously a major issue, especially in schools and hospitals. But we normally have a team of researchers go down there at a very early stage, well ahead of filming, to see to the who, where and what.
Hundreds of school visits are made to all the kids who are earmarked as likely to be filmed. A child psychologist meets children and parents beforehand and everybody gets to see the work before it goes out on air."
The scale of the role of consent forms becomes apparent when you look at One Born Every Minute. The show employs no fewer than 20 people solely for consent forms - this out of a team of roughly 140.
Temple: "Fixed rig filmmaking is different from normal documentary production - for starters the team is huge. You need to be 100% focused and engulfed in the project otherwise you slip up.
Curwin agrees: “With One Born I found that fixed rig is very much about running an operation and managing a team. You can't be there with your subjects all the time, it works very differently. We use around 70 cameras and you generally film with three or four, making choices in the gallery.
"There is so much going on, you need to decide what's important, which seems obvious but isn't. Only along the way do you find your storylines."
Clews: "With Educating Yorkshire it's very much about the detail; the quieter moments resonate the most. Schools are generally very boring. French lessons were dull when I went to school and it's still the same."
Fixed rig or traditional documentary filmmaking?
With fixed rig shows it seems that it's not just the moments in which something happens that are the key to their success but more the reflections thereof that seem to bring the importance to the audience. It has become a new way of filmmaking, often an outcome to the question: “How can we best film this?”
"Rig shows want to move people so it functions more like a drama,” Curwin says, “which is probably why they can sustain a longer term. They behave differently from documentaries, which traditionally want to just 'document' something.
"You can't just set up a rig and film one or two programmes because it is so expensive, it needs to be for a long running series. You need the technology, the staff, the galleries, those things cost a lot. People also tend to forget the post: nine weeks for one episode of 24 hours in A&E for example. Fourteen weeks for an episode of Educating Yorkshire."
As said, the shows mentioned here - and many others - have proven a success with the television audience over the past few years, but their costs are still something the broadcasters are trying to get around. Whether the results will remain of the same standard, time will tell. Educating Amsterdam is now being made for a fraction of the costs – they only have four weeks for editing.
And there is more to consider even. It’s not just during the filming process that the show is labour intensive. It’s all about managing and anticipating outcomes as well, the Twitter reactions, how young the kids are, if they could be subjected to bullying. The research teams from the Educating format are still in place now at the schools they have filmed at, even after production. There is a clear case for these procedures to become best practice and let’s hope producers don’t forget this.