Two Weeks to Broadcast
Approximately two weeks ahead of the broadcast date, I receive an email detailing the satellite parameters to use in order to tune in the satellite to the required frequency in order to pick up the correct channel.
The system we use is not your standard domestic satellite service like Sky. We use a system called LANSAT which tunes into a different satellite called ‘Intelsat 10-02’ which broadcasts a huge amount of data over Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East.
I also receive the estimated running times for the performance which get forwarded to our Front of House teams so that they can prepare for any intermissions and answer any queries from our customers about the length of the production.
One Week to Broadcast
During the week leading up to the broadcast, the satellite teams at the New York Met or National Theatre will conduct a series of satellite tests to ensure that we are able to pick up a signal and to troubleshoot any technical issues well in advance of the performance date.
Day of Broadcast - Testing
Approximately an hour or so before curtain up the broadcast channel ‘goes live’ with test and sync footage, I tune in our system and lock onto the channel. The next hour will consist of ensuring that the sound is being outputted correctly from each speaker within the auditorium and behind the screen.
I also ensure that the picture is in sync with the sound, helped by a series of test clips provided to us by the broadcast team including a clapperboard man (yes, they are still used!).
I also use the test footage from previous operas to set gauge an appropriate level for the sound to be set to.
As soon as the test footage has stopped, usually around half an hour before curtain up (or ‘the half’), I give the FOH Duty Manager the clearance to open the house and let our audience start to take their seats.
A series of announcements are made at fifteen minutes to curtain up. This is repeated at 5 minutes, 3 minutes and 2 minutes, with a final call at one minute to curtain up.
I fade the house lights to half during any introductions on screen and will fade them out fully when the performance begins.
And we’re off... live!
During the Production
At the beginning of the production I go into the rear of the Auditorium to check that the sound levels are comfortable – more often than not the levels set during the ‘test periods’ need to be tweaked slightly depending on the type of performance being broadcasted.
While you’re enjoying the live broadcast, I’m in the Projection room using a vast number of tools to ensure that the satellite feed is kept stable and to troubleshoot any issues as soon as they pop up!
Firstly our satellite system provides me with a number of stats about how well the signal is performing and its strength. This screen is kept active during the entire performance as it also enables me to re-boot the signal connection should it drop out.
Signal dropouts usually occur due to adverse weather conditions and are outside of our control. You will know when the signal drops out when the image and audio on screen suddenly freezes. As soon this happens I jump onto the controls to re-boot the connection, which is why you may sometimes see the picture flick between a black and green screen.
Once I trigger the re-boot process it only takes around ten seconds to re-connect and stabilise the live feed … but, trust me, those ten seconds feels much longer to me! Once we are back online I report this dropout to the satellite teams in New York or London so that they can log the issue and investigate to see if it was a localised, nationwide or global issue.
I also use an online web-blog operated by the satellite teams which outlines any technical or performance related issues that impact all cinemas. The issues range from signal blips caused by a faulty connection at the Met Opera, someone not switching on their microphone or, which happened a few years ago, the start of an opera was delayed due to a small fire at the Met!
Finally I also keep a close eye on Twitter. The Met, National Theatre, RSC etc usually setup a hashtag for the performance which enables me to keep a look out for any potential issues other audiences are having, particularly weather related as it moves around the country. It will help me prepare for any signal problems.
It certainly keeps me on my toes! As the saying goes, "it’s live so anything can happen!".
See forthcoming live screenings here.