CBS & # 39; "Survivor" was by no means immune to the unexpected changes that COVID-19 brought about in the television industry. This is an ironic twist for a show with rivals struggling to win immunity challenges that provide some level of security.
But just like the Survivor contestants, the show's producers used their ability to improvise and persevere in overcoming the production challenges posed by the pandemic for the season finale of Survivor: Winners at War in May.
Instead of a two-hour final in front of the studio audience, the show announced in mid-April that it would respect the norms of social detachment and produce the show where presenter Jeff Probst would remotely award his biggest $ 2 million prize to date. This protects the host, participants and crew from exposure to the virus.
"Because of the circumstances, this finale had to be held with the least number of people, all of whom work separately and safely from home," said John Heard, co-producer and post-production manager of the show. "Against this background, trust, teamwork and the ability to experiment and try new things were the cornerstones of the project."
THE PLAN & PREP
Knowing that personal production was going down, Survivor producers began to explore their options for remote production. It didn't take long to identify two issues that needed to be addressed, Heard says.
"First, how do we maintain the high image quality that our audience is used to for our show," he asked. "Secondly, how can we interact with the camera systems remotely?"
While there were various options for small cameras that could be sent to Probst's house and the finalists' houses, most could only be controlled from a special control room, he says.
"The XDCAM air from (Sony) has excelled here," says Heard. "It has a web-based interface that allows us to control certain functions of the camera and confirm that we have a working image."
The XDCAM flight service transports camera content to the cloud, where it can be logged and shared by production teams. In the case of CBS "Survivor," the team chose Sony's PXW-Z280 4K 3-CMOS camera – three were delivered to Probst to use on the improvised set he'd assembled in his garage, and each one to the three finalists of the show to use them there.
"The idea was to have the production team send preconfigured cameras to talents who don't necessarily know how to operate one of the cameras," said Martin Lindsay, media product manager at Sony Electronics, who worked with Sony Electronics on the producers of the project.
With Wi-Fi connectivity and an RJ45 socket, the Sony PXW-Z280 would be easy to control via XDCAM Air. "The production team was able to remotely control the cameras with some basic functions such as zoom, focus, and iris control, so they could set up the shots before production started," says Lindsay.
The cameras were positioned on tripods in the distant direction of the production team for the show. When planning the first show, PTZ cameras (pan-tilt-zoom) were briefly taken into account. "But as the subject evolved, we realized that the camera movement wasn't what we wanted or needed," Heard says. "Since the feedback was delayed slightly, the camera movement led to an uncertainty that we had not wished for."
The producers opted for the cloud-based video communication app Zoom for the interviews that Probst was to conduct with finalists during the show. However, both sides of the interviews were recorded separately from the cameras in local media, says Lindsay.
The team based its post-production workflow on Sony's Ci cloud platform. The footage from the cameras would be transported to Ci via the XDCAM flight service and prepared there for editing. Long before the shoot, however, the internet connections of Probst and the finalists had to be tested to determine whether they had sufficient bandwidth for the high-resolution file transfer from the PXW-Z280 cameras.
"We were lucky that our last three participants had either fiber or gigabit internet speeds, so the transmission speeds from home were sufficient," recalls Heard.
“There were some internet bandwidth issues for Jeff. But here the Sony XAVC codec has proven useful. For Jeff's cameras, we could use the lower bit rate of XAVC-L 35 to minimize the file size without sacrificing image quality. This has proven to be a huge time saver for us in the area of file transfer. "
LET IT HAPPEN
In preparation for the shoot, the team transferred metadata such as the location description to each camera via XDCAM Air, which was then used to record the show. This ensured that media files had “readable” descriptive file names when saved to Sony Ci, said Ali Amoli, Director Intelligent Media Services at Sony Electronics.
After all preparations had been completed and all precautions had been taken to enable the remote workflow, the recordings began. While the cameras were recording Probst and the finalists, the production team could view proxy media over the XDCAM air link to make sure they got what they needed.
"You could actually play media from the remote cameras and have the cameras transfer them to the cloud, where they can see production material before they actually do a high-definition broadcast," says Lindsay.
The setup gave the production team "a real mix of excellent visibility and functionality" that ensures the best use of content, says Michael Potts of Ci Media Cloud Service at Sony Electronics.
After filming was completed, Probst and the finalists were instructed to keep their cameras turned on and connected to their home networks in order to transfer high-resolution footage to Sony Ci. "Once everything has been received in Ci, multiple people across the country can access the content and begin trimming, logging, and incorporating (the content) into their editorial process," says Amoli.
Looking back at the finale, Heard believes the project has proven to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences the Survivor team has ever had.
"Everyone, both with and outside the camera, who was spread out in different locations and in different time zones across the country, had to wear a lot of different hats to contribute – something that is very much divided into teams in normal times" Heard says.
But mastering the challenges was ultimately worth it. "This camera system was not only easy to assemble for Jeff and the participants, but also gave us the feedback and aesthetics that we had in mind from a technical point of view," he says.
You can find more information about "Survivor" on the show website.