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BBC Widescreen Digital Test Transmission - 1998

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Published on Mar 4, 2012

In 1998 I was asked to direct the BBC's Widescreen Digital Test Transmission. For anyone who remembers it and who is interested, here's a bit more about the project and how it came about.

The opportunity arose when I was working for a company called Qureshi and Associates and we were doing a lot of work for the BBC. I'd been doing quite a bit of production and some direction around events and communications relating to the launch of the new digital services. I was asked (by a chap called Martin Bell, if I recall correctly, who was looking after the introduction of Widescreen) if I could create a 'test tranmission' in preparation for the launch of the new services. The brief, specifically, was that I had to provide material that would be challenging for the new encoding hardware, as the BBC were gearing up for the first time to digitise all of their broadcast streams and were thinking about bitrates, compression, quality, etc. etc.

That's why the film is actually entirely based on stuff that's traditionally difficult to digitise and compress: slow crossfades; slow pull focus shots; constantly changing fine detail like the sun reflecting on water; helicopter tracking shots over trees with small birds flying in front, etc. etc.

Other than the brief to feature lots of fast moving fine detail, I was given a completely free rein. I had a) recently got really into Cornwall, particularly around the Lizard area, and b) really liked Aphex Twin. So the location was obvious: myself, the producer (and my friend and colleague) Shaun, a crew of three or four and I got in the van, headed to Cornwall, and spent a few fun days simply driving around and looking for beautiful stuff (with lots of fine moving detail!) to film.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, giving us several days of brilliant light and bright vivid colours.

The sunrise at the beginning was filmed at Kennack Sands (still one of my favourite spots), and the brilliant white satellite dishes against the deep blue skies are at Goonhilly. Most of the shots on the beach are at St. Ives, although I think we also shot some stuff at Newquay (the beach huts are definitely Newquay). The fishing boats were at Padstow. The windfarm was at Carland Cross. Goodness only knows where the church was - some place we discovered driving around.

Perhaps one of the best things about the project was being able to do the aerial photography. We worked with Castle Air - http://www.castleair.co.uk/ - and to be completely honest we had a fantastic few hours flying over the coast with the crew, the DOP and the camera mounted in some awesome gyroscopic mount that gave us brilliantly stable pictures.

And in terms of the Aphex Twin: I was using it during the initial edit because as I said, I loved it (and still do). The producer, Shaun, liked it too, and so simply looked up Warp's phone number, gave them a call, and asked if we could use it. A few minutes later Shaun's mobile rang and the man himself, Mr. Twin was on the phone. Shaun told him what we were doing, said it was a public service thing so we didn't really have budget for expensive licensing, but said we'd love to use it. He said we could use it for free, that was fine, although he asked if we could send him a digital box; sadly we didn't have any :)

There was a period around 1998 of about six months when you could walk into any high street electrical shop and every television in the place was showing this, which was quite fun. Sadly I didn't get paid per broadcast!

Shortly after that my career took me away from production and direction, which was a shame, as I loved it. Maybe it's time to get back there...

  • Category

  • License

    • Standard YouTube License
  • Song

  • Artist

    • Aphex Twin
  • Album

    • Selected Ambient Works Volume II
  • Writers

    • Richard David James
  • Licensed by

    • [Merlin] Warp Records (on behalf of Warp Records); BMG Rights Management, and 9 Music Rights Societies
  • Song

  • Artist

    • Aphex Twin
  • Album

    • Selected Ambient Works 85-92
  • Writers

    • Richard David James
  • Licensed by

    • Believe Music (on behalf of R&S Records); CMRRA, ARESA, BMG Rights Management, and 5 Music Rights Societies
  • Song

  • Artist

    • Aphex Twin
  • Album

    • Selected Ambient Works Volume II
  • Licensed by

    • [Merlin] Warp Records (on behalf of Warp Records); ARESA, BMG Rights Management, and 3 Music Rights Societies

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