Photos: Chris Lobina
Procam has proudly supported Portrait Artist of the Year since its inception in 2013. Now in its seventh series, the Sky Arts art competition show produced by Storyvault seeks to find outstanding talent amongst Portrait painters. Across 8 heats, 72 artists paint 24 celebrities in 4 hours for the chance to win a £10,000 commission to paint the portrait of Carlos Acosta, the world-renowned dancer and Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. This year’s series is presented by Stephen Mangan, joined by judges Kathleen Soriano, Kate Bryan, and Tai Shan Schierenberg.
Filming for the series commenced just after lockdown restrictions were lifted in the UK, with strict safety measures put in place to protect both the crew and contributors. For the first time this year, the heats, semi-finals, and final all took place at Battersea Arts Centre. While filming would ordinarily have taken place over two months, the challenges presented by the pandemic meant that this was reduced to just three weeks.
As Portrait Artist of the Year’s Unit Manager, Alison Brodie, explains, “The key thing was to ensure that we had sufficient space available for everyone to maintain social distancing of 2m, which was the Government requirement in place when we planned the series. Our Event Manager, Lisa Shenton of Papilo, drew grid lines across the floor plans of all the areas that were to be used for filming, access, and catering to estimate the maximum number of people who could safely be accommodated in these areas.”
To ensure social distancing measures could be met, the series was filmed without an audience present and with a reduced crew. An additional day was added to the load-in and load-out schedule to allow enough time for the skeleton teams to work individually.
Storyvault employed a health and safety officer from First Option Safety, Brett Sargent, for the duration of the shoot, to give daily briefings to all crew and give on-site reminders about hygiene and social distancing measures. Every member of the crew, along with all artists and sitters, completed a pre-site briefing document including a health declaration to state that they were fit to be on location, which was reconfirmed in person each day.
To minimise contact, a one-way system was implemented around the building, with security and temperature checks at the entrance, and prominent signage throughout as a reminder of social distancing guidelines. Production supplied everyone on-site with PPE including masks, sanitiser, and disposable nitrile gloves. This presented a challenge for the director, who had to ensure that the cameras avoided anyone wearing masks in shot, as the series is filmed around 360 degrees.
Seven Canon C500 Mkii camera packages were hired from Procam London for the filming, selected by DOP Jeremy Hewson to replace the Sony F55 that had been used on previous series. The cameras were paired with Canon CN7 lenses for the useful zoom range offered, alongside a Fujinon Cabrio 85-300mm for close-ups, and a set of Zeiss CP2 Superspeed primes.
“We chose Canon C500 MKII cameras with V70 viewfinders because they offered a natural and pleasing look, with relatively low data usage compared to other cameras we tested for shooting to Sky’s 4K UHD specs. The returning camera ops wanted a better viewfinder than the F55, and the V70 was a big step up,” explained Jeremy. “I also wanted a rig that was as ergonomic as possible, which is difficult with all the additional sound, timecode and video feeds needed for this shoot.”
For the time-lapse sequences, a combination of ten Canon 5D MK3 and MK4 bodies were used with Canon L series 16-35, 24-70, and 70-200 lenses.
On working with Procam, Jeremy added, “Procam helped us identify and test all the camera options suitable to replace the F55s. Because they have so many cameras and accessories available, we were able to easily test multiple rigging options for each camera as well as testing the look of the cameras. When we chose the relatively new at the time C500 MKII - right at the beginning of lockdown – they still managed to get in the 7 camera kits and rigs we needed ready to go as soon as lockdown ended.”
John Brennan, CEO of Procam Group, commented, “Procam has proudly supplied filming equipment and crew to Storyvault for Portrait Artist of The Year since day one. Having worked closely with the production team of this fantastic show for many years, I was pleased to hear that this was one of the first series to begin filming again after a very challenging and uncertain time for film and television production. Producing a large-scale series during a pandemic is no easy feat but the fact that no Covid cases were reported for the entirety of the filming is a testament to all of the hard work everyone involved has put in behind the scenes and an inspiring example for everyone in our industry.”
Portrait Artist of the Year series 7 airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on Sky Arts, beginning on 14th October 2020.