When Minnow Films were commissioned by Channel 4 to film the brand new series Spies, The Complete Camera Company were delighted to be asked to facilitate the shoot. Having worked with Minnow previously on two series of SAS: Who Dares Wins there was no doubt it would be an exciting and challenging project. ‘Spies’ would explore the secretive world of espionage by filming 3 ex-spies (Control) putting 15 civilian men and women through some of their own training experiences.

CCC Director Paul O’Connor attended initial recce’s in Southampton, where Minnow had located a fantastic disused power station and wanted to establish whether or not it was a usable space. Although it would be a huge technical challenge Fawley Power Station was the perfect choice. Commissioned in 1971 and built on the western side of Southampton Water it had been used previously for films such as Rollerball and Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, as well as episodes of Green Wing and Red Dwarf, so the team were in good company.

Paul O’Connor then travelled down for the second recce in order to confirm all of the technical requirements, plan the rooms and spaces that would be used, the amount of cameras, cable runs and the gallery/sound/MCR location. Power is always a huge consideration especially as the lighting rig was so extensive to give the space the look that Minnow were after. Fortunately, being a partially operational power station there was plenty of mains power to make use of so it was just the distribution that was challenging.

Minnow needed 7 spaces rigged in total that would become the control room, the board room, the dorm, the bar, the waiting room, an interview space and a room for the three controllers to be able to listen into and watch the candidates wherever they were on site. These would be covered by 42 Panasonic HE60’s in 45 different positions, 35 atmospheric microphones and 25 personal microphones. The gallery was to be located downstairs in the offices with the MCR and sound in the adjoining rooms.

As with all of The CCC’s rigs they wanted to add something new in order to be able to use the technical equipment in the best way possible. The Board Room was a challenge because of the number of people in there for some of the debriefs, so they were determined to position the cameras in such a way that the eye lines matched as much as possible. They rigged the cameras above and below each other, as the photo shows in the gallery, which worked perfectly for this. Most fixed rig shows simply spread the cameras to cover a space, but when shooting sequences like this then it is often better to have cameras in the same position to give the editors even more options.

The other new aspect The Complete Camera Company introduced to the fixed rig was to supply Control with a ‘pre hear’ system that enabled them to listen in to any one of the 25 personal microphones on the contributors. Whilst this is not particularly new technology they added the element of being able to control the quad split, sent from the producer in the gallery, so if the team saw or heard any interesting conversations they could change the camera feeds on the quad split and the microphones they had faded up so they could then record their reaction to something as it happened. This gave production some fantastic actuality and reactions from Control.

One of the biggest challenges was the building itself; its unique shape posed some tricky problems for the fixed rig. Minnow Films wanted the location to look and feel completely authentic for candidates taking part, so that they could focus on their tasks without the feeling of ‘being watched’. This meant that all of the cables had to be routed so that they were completely hidden, camera mounts had to be attached so they were not on show and any cameras themselves had to be as discreet as possible. In a completely circular building, with fire doors that couldn’t be kept open, this was no mean feat! It was also vital to keep all of the architectural elements of the building intact and undamaged, so the rigging, construction and filming all had to be carried out with the utmost care.

The rig took The Complete Camera Company 5 days and 12 members of the crew to complete and the filming took place over nine days, 24 hours per day. During the shoot it became vital to find a balance between the drama elements and documentary elements of the show. It required a great deal of communication between the production team and The CCC in order to achieve the right look and feel of the show, whilst still making the fixed-rig element effective. It needed to look good, without looking like a film set. This was only possible with the hard work and determination of both sides, along with constant discussion and flexibility throughout.

The outcome was 4 x 60 minute episodes of ground-breaking footage of the true world of espionage. The candidates were whittled down over the 4-week series and the ex-spies revealed many of the techniques the Intelligence Officer New Entry Course (IONEC) uses to train secret agents. The content was tense, exciting and had viewers begging to spies themselves!

Facts & Figures

Facts & Figures
Filmed: July/August 2016
Aired: Winter 2016
Channel: Channel 4
Location: Southampton
Viewers: 1.6 Million
Cameras: 42

Critical Acclaim

"The team behind SAS: Who Dares Wins present another thrilling series. Spies is entertainingly put together - and a top watch for anyone who’s dreamed of being a slick and unflappable agent. "

The Evening Standard

"It seems like Spies is committed to keeping things real while it searches for the ideal secret agent."

Radio Times