(LONDON, UK) What does it take to light the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? Production meetings five months prior to the Big Day and backups for the backups. When an event is live and all eyes of the world are watching, there's only one chance to "get it right."
An estimated two billion people around the globe tuned in to the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton at London's Westminster Abbey. UK-based Elstree Light & Power (ELP) supplied lighting and power for the historic event, which was billed as the global media extravaganza of all time with the biggest audience in television history. That's not counting all the millions who watched in real-time on the Internet. No pressure there, right?
Production meetings began back in mid-November 2010 when Westminster Abbey was chosen as the wedding site. Right away, Lighting Director Bernie Davis knew ELP was the right crew for the job.
“Over the last eight years or so I've used ELP as the lighting supplier on so many high profile broadcasts from the Abbey that by now ELP riggers and electricians know every square inch of the building,” Davis explains. “They are trusted by the facilities staff at the Abbey and virtually on first name terms with the church officials, so when thinking about risk management, who else was I going to use?”
“As a broadcast this was another step up from all previous state occasions,” Davis continues. That's quite something, considering that Davis has lit many state occasions and high profile religious services along with ELP, such as Prince Edward's wedding and the Pope's recent visit.
Old-School Lighting for Old, Historic Abbey
Production set-up in the Abbey began two weeks prior to the April 29th ceremony. Despite so much cutting-edge digital technology on display from the world's broadcast media, high definition cameras and satellite communications, Davis ironically specified more than 300 Thomas PAR 64 long nose black cans from ELP as the main light fixtures within the Abbey. However, these low-tech, old-school lamps - reminiscent of rock and roll lighting rigs of the 1970s and 80s - were the perfect design solution, Davis says.
“Par Cans provide maximum light coverage for the weight of the lamp, which is a huge consideration in such an ancient building. And they look tidy with no intrusive barn doors to worry about,” Davis remarks. “I don't like to jeopardize a show by adding unnecessary technical complexity, so for important events like this, simple is best. You just have to make sure that it's perfect.”
The ELP crew, which consisted of Paul Tibbles (crew chief), Mark Gardiner, Greg Fitzgerald, Justin Denchfield, Colin Jones, Saul Harris and John Murray, carefully positioned these highly portable lamps exactly where the LD required without fear of overloading or damaging the Abbey's interior. The warm white light effect they produced gave a balanced illumination across every section of the Abbey, bringing to life the intricate architecture of the building and enhancing the freshness of all the trees and flowers brought in for the ceremony.
ELP also supplied an assortment of ARRI Junior Fresnels, Thomas Pixel Pars and Source Four profile spots to light “specials” such as the fanfare conductor or readings from the pulpit.
Davis' design made certain there wasn't a single important space within the Abbey where, if any light should fail, it would result in leaving a dark patch. Every light had its own purpose, he said. “My design allows for the occasional lamp failure while not needing to rig spares. But on the day nothing failed.”
Nigel Catmur assisted as the board operator, while Davis explains, “Nigel is so experienced that he could have stepped in as deputy lighting director should anything have happened to me. So much about this job involved risk management.”
Taking no chances with power to TV cameras and lights in the Abbey
With a recently condemned local power supply adding to the potential risk, ELP supplied a 200 KW Twinset Generator to power all lighting controls on the north side of the Abbey plus a 140 KW Twinset Generator for the south side.
Four of ELP's LitePower 150kva Super Silent Generators supplied the power feed for all the technical vehicles, broadcast scanners and vision trucks in the outside compound. These particular compact generators were first used for the Pope's recent visit and were a hit with the Outside Broadcast crew.
Says ELP production manager Tony Slee, “This highly portable generator has the performance of much larger systems and yet it's compact and light enough to be air freighted. The units have been customized with an IntelliGen operating system, which allows syncing across multiple units.”
Paul Helm and Colin Goodacre babysat the ELP generators during the set up week, and on the big day. “The Gennys behaved impeccably for the Royal Family,” Slee says.
â€˜Belt and suspenders' lighting in BBC commentary studios
BBC cameras provided the host feed from within Westminster Abbey for the world's media. There were also cameras along the route, down Horse Guards Parade from Buckingham Palace and several other key locations around the UK. The BBC broadcast their commentary from two on-site studios to locations across America, Asia, India, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.
Two identically designed BBC studios were positioned in prime locations: one opposite the Abbey and one opposite Buckingham Palace. Both featured a large viewing window framed with an LED border to make the most of the majestic backdrops.
The BBC Studio opposite the Abbey was situated on the roof of the Methodist Central Hall. Lighting Director Lee Allen was in charge, with ELP's T.C. Thomas as the gaffer. LD Dave Gibson lit the Canada Gate studio with ELP's Barry Dennison on gaffer duty.
Both BBC studios were similarly rigged with ELP's lighting, using Source Four profile spots as key lights and 1ks, 2ks and 650w ARRI Junior Fresnels as fills. Thomas Pixel Pars and Chromafloods also augmented the set with color changes as needed.
“Absolutely no chances were being taken and we tripled-up on every lighting position,” says ELP Gaffer T.C. Thomas, explaining their cautious “belt and suspenders” approach to the event. Should anything fail, there would be a backup even for the backup. “I've never seen so much kit crammed into such a small studio. It must have been the biggest use of cross key and back fill lighting ever.”
There were also untold amounts of lighting gear provided to numerous US media companies for their temporary roadside studios during the royal event.
Treating the world to a perfect royal wedding broadcast was a special day for ELP. And now it's back to business as usual... which, for the past 30 years, ranges from television, live events, theatre, concerts and major corporate events.
Managing Director Dave Keighley, an industry veteran who joined ELP in late 2010, is in charge of sales and production. “We are all proud to have been chosen to light the Royal Wedding, occasions like these are obviously high profile and demanding - exactly the kind of event we thrive on. It was a great day and we are so happy to work with Bernie on another one of his faultless designs. ELP has another company in our group called Millennium Studios, which is a full-size live concert production rehearsal facility. Journey and the Foo Fighters are rehearsing here this month. We've also got an ever-expanding media village here, which has become â€˜home' for a variety of international companies.”
Photos by Andrew Dec
ELP provide lighting and production support services for television, live events, theatre and major corporate shows. Throughout its 30 year 'evolution' they have been pioneering, inventing and reinventing production lighting, mobile facilities and structural design applications for events of all kinds. From its national distribution centre at the Alconbury Airfield in Cambridgeshire and with regional offices throughout the UK, ELP delivers a one-stop shop service to production managers, lighting designers and television lighting directors. In addition to accessing its vast range of dry hire stock, ELP clients benefit from an integrated and cost effective approach to project management. Learn more at www.elp.tv