Sunday, September 03, 2017

Casualty - one (tv series)

I've been watching the BBC TV series 'Casualty' since 2008; this programme is characterised as a 'medical drama', even though it borders on being a soap opera. The definition of the latter is 'a serial drama on television or radio that examines the lives of many characters, usually focusing on emotional relationships to the point of melodrama'; 'Casualty' seems to escape this definition by focusing as much on the patients arriving at the emergency room as the ER's staff. It is also a weekly drama whereas most 'soaps' are daily.

Over the years, the quality of the scripts and stories has naturally varied, although normally a high standard is maintained. Lately, the story arc has been somewhat uninteresting, or maybe drawn out too long, which has been disappointing, but every now and then there is a very good episode.

Yesterday we watched the closing episode of series 31, "One". The title of this episode has nothing to do with the stories contained within, but rather refers to the fact that the entire episode consists of one shot, with no editing. It took me a few minutes to pick up on this fact. As the trivia for this episode says, The whole of this episode was filmed as one single, unedited take on a single camera, following events around the Casualty department in real time as they happened. It placed great demands on the professionalism and skills of the cast and crew, since it was filmed as-live. During rehearsals it was found that, even using the lightest camera that gave acceptable picture quality, the camera operator became tired during the 48-minute single take, causing his hands (and therefore the shot) to begin to shudder. To avoid this, they perfected a technique of one camera operator handing the camera to another one while filming without this being noticeable.

I have often wondered how the episodes are filmed: do they film complete story-lines within each episode then edit them together? Are several episodes filmed continuously then edited? Multi-camera? However the episodes are filmed, I have to doff my hat at the technical excellence of this episode (the story lines were so-so). I also wonder about how they managed to record the dialogue so well: sometimes people could be heard talking when they were almost off-screen, then walked into the shot. Presumably this was handled in post-production. Assuming that everyone had a personal microphone, they were very well hidden. Some people's costumes (mainly scrubs) didn't leave much room for a microphone, however small it may be.

There's more details in this interview: To ensure filming went as smoothly as possible, the cast and crew had three weeks to rehearse, practicing scenes in blocks before piecing the episode together until it could be shot seamlessly ... The camera even goes within a moving ambulance, and at one point the cameraman was hooked up to a harness and thrown over a balcony to get the right shot.

Another interview with actress Amanda Mealing casts a little more light on the production process: "... I sit down with my scripts and read through my scenes for the week ahead. Sometimes we film four or five different episodes of Casualty in a week, so I need to know my lines".

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