‘Charles Hazelwood: Beethoven & Me’ is a deeply personal programme made for Sky Arts by the eponymous British conductor, Artistic Director of the Paraorchestra, and now Sky Arts Ambassador for Music, Charles Hazelwood. In it, he uses Beethoven’s astonishing Fifth Symphony as a starting point to explore the work, genius, and various health conditions that both influenced — and disrupted — the great composer’s work.
Much of it centres around stellar performances of the Fifth given by a 38 musician-strong cohort of the Paraorchestra. All of these were shot at the Battersea Arts Centre with Hazelwood conducting and, to ensure that they were also shot in a Covid-secure manner, Cammotion was contracted and decided to use its AGITO modular dolly system.
“The music was done in short sections that ranged anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute and a half,” explains Matthew Gladstone, owner and operator at Cammotion. “We had several paths through the orchestra we could take, at the front, between the strings and the woodwinds, and between the violas and the chellos, and the director had mapped all these out for us. It was a case of ‘Go from A to B over 10 seconds for this shot’, ‘go from D to E over 30 seconds for this one’, he’d cue Charles to start conducting, and that was that. I reckon we did 90% of the shots in one take.”
After a day of careful prep and checking the social distancing measures and pathways between the orchestra’s sections, the sequences were captured over three two-hour sessions in the course of a single day using the AGITO Tower mounting a Sony F55. Some sequences were more complicated than others, the production mixing straightforward, wide panning shots with detailed sequences involving pulling out of a close up on a single musician — the fingers working on the strings of a violin, for instance — and then tracking away. The result was a shoot that used all of the AGITO’s capabilities to the max.
“We had to use four-wheel steering, crabbing, two-wheel steering…all the facilities it provides, because we had to get through some tight spaces, then spin around and hit our next mark,” says Gladstone. “I don’t think any other kit could have delivered that many shots in that timeframe.”
Gladstone was able to drive from a balcony overlooking the main area at the Arts Centre, with just a single assistant on the same level as the musicians working in a dedicated prep area for swapping cards and batteries etc. This not only helped keep the production Covid-secure, it also helped him move the AGITO from mark to mark swiftly and securely.
“I could get the AGITO from the front to the back of the orchestra much quicker than a cameraman could do it and reposition really fast,” he says. “The production was over the moon with how smoothly it went and the speed we could shoot at; they were quite bowled over by the whole process.”