FOR BBC STUDIOS
The COVID Pandemic of 2020 caused havoc for most industries and the television industry was no different. When filming halted on almost every production in March, it seemed impossible to plan for any eventuality. In a fortunate twist of fate though, the BBC felt that they could safely film Gardeners’ World using a remote rig, rather than the usual camera crew and handheld cameras. It meant that The Complete Camera Company could offer a socially distanced option for producing new weekly content whilst keeping the presenter, his family and the production team safe at all times.
The CCC did a single recce with the BBC team at the end of March, where they collectively decided on the most efficient way to rig the garden. In order to ensure coverage of the vast space at Longmeadow, 12 cameras would be mounted on tripods with 12 active antennas, allowing Monty’s radio microphone to be heard throughout the garden. This was followed by the installation of a fibre hub in the copse. The fibre hub would allow us to have all the cables running back to a central point so we could reach the whole of Monty’s garden and all the various corners depending on the month and season. Longmeadow changes hugely throughout the year so we needed to be able to visit every section easily as the seasons progressed.
The full rig took 3 days to complete and turned out to be one of the most straightforward, pleasant rigs The CCC have ever completed. 3 days at Longmeadow is not a hardship! The main challenge during this process was that we needed to be as careful as possible, so as not to disturb anything that Monty was growing. It is such a beautiful place and we were desperate not to have any effect on the natural form of the garden.
For series 54 the 12 remote cameras and 12 antennas were split across 4 areas on any one shoot day, which was decided in advance by Monty and the creative team. This moved to another 4 sections the following day depending on factors such as content or weather, so we needed to make sure we moved from section to section efficiently on every shoot day. For series 55 we were able to improve on this by refining the layout. We had enough coverage on the original areas, so we took one camera from 3 of the zones and relocated them into a new zone. This meant we could build a new tripod with two cameras which could cover the whole garden using the fibre we had installed and have a spare to use for a variety of new shots capable of covering the whole garden.
During filming, Monty’s audio was picked up on a personal radio mic and transmitted back to the gallery whilst he communicated with the creative team via a zoom call that had a direct feed of the recorded cameras and audio provided by The CCC. We also rigged a variety of fixed/wired mics to pick up the extraordinary atmospheric sounds of the garden. This was a much more important part of the show than we originally would have anticipated, so we were delighted to record such high quality background sounds of birdsong, fresh water and plants in the breeze.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was the fact that the entire shoot was socially distanced. It was our first experience of such filming and it was vital that we kept everybody safe. Ensuring all surfaces were cleaned regularly, especially mics and walkie talkies, was our highest priority during shoot days. Monty’s mic was disinfected every morning and left in a sealed container outside his back door and we adhered to strict cleaning protocols. We had 3 technical crew on site for filming days, the Hothead Operator, Sound Supervisor and Ingest Operator. During the first series we filmed, they shared a giant portacabin and communicated back and forth to the Director via talkback in a separate cabin. This was a safe, socially distanced way to shoot but we were able to improve on this for the second series by installing individual portacabins onto Monty’s driveway. This meant that everyone had an individual entrance and exit and that much less space was taken up by the galleries.
The BBC set up regular deliveries of lateral flow tests to the crew in order to prevent the spread of any infection and each member of the team completed COVID declaration forms every day.
The Complete Camera Company filmed Gardeners’ World 2 days a week, each week produced a one-hour long episode which was then aired the following Friday. We could not have worked in the way we did without the effort Monty Don put into the production - his professionalism and care were second to none. It was far from his ideal way of filming as he loves to be out in the garden with his camera crew, on a much more personal level. He had to make many sacrifices in order to create the show in this way and we are incredibly grateful to him for his patience and tolerance throughout an unusual time.
The result was a hugely happy viewership that were delighted to still have Gardeners’ World in lockdown. We received so much thanks and gratitude from fans of the show for being a part of the solution to continuing filming during lockdown. The Gardeners’ World viewing figures soared during a time where people had to stay at home and could be in their garden more, and the feedback about its positive effect on the audience’s mental health was a pleasure to read. The CCC were so proud to be a part of the shoot and we will look back on lockdown very fondly because of it.
Filmed: Spring/Summer 2020 & 2021
Aired: Summer 2020 & 2021
Viewers: 3.8 Million
“Gardeners' World enjoys its highest viewing figures in a decade.” – The Daily Mail
“With ratings soaring as people took to their outside spaces not only for something to do, but for their mental wellbeing, too.” – The Express
“Britain’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ is the pandemic escape we didn’t know we needed.” – The Washington Post