Casualty - A One Shot Wonder?
30 Years of Casualty Celebrated with One Shot Wonder
If it wasn’t enough to make television history by being the longest running continuous award winning drama series (as opposed to a soap) on British TV, the BBC produces another first. After 30 years on our screens, Casualty’s birthday was commemorated by filming a 60 minute prime time drama in one single continuous take, with no editing. This is the first time on British television that this has been attempted.
You may say that this is not entirely new, as in the opening scene of the movie ‘La La Land’, features a very impressive continuous shot of a song and dance routine over and between traffic on the LA freeway. In fact, this was not achieved in a single shot, there are three almost invisible edits in the sequence which occur during a clever whip pan by the camera, also this was a 13 minute sequence as opposed to a 60 minute continuous shot. Both are nonetheless technically impressive of course.
The premise for this episode is that we witness a dramatic house fire rescue carried out by a paramedic and follow the fortunes of both the paramedic and the patient as they arrive at the Emergency Department at Holby City Hospital. As the ambulance arrives, we are greeted by Nurse Lisa Duffin ‘Duffy’ (Catherine Shipton) who apart from dealing with the day to day trauma of being a senior nurse in a busy ED, also has to deal with two precocious teenaged students allocated to her for work experience.
The script was written by Paul Unwin who co-created Casualty. The pressure was on the actors to deliver their lines perfectly and without fluffs whist remembering where they needed to stand precisely on their marks so that the cameraman could obtain the shots, without actors obscuring the view, this included pulling focus as each character wandered through the shot. It took eight weeks of rehearsing highly choreographed moves for both the actors and the technical crew, directed by Jon Sen. Over 40 hidden microphones and five boom operators were hidden within the set to capture the continuous sound and dialogue.
During the rehearsals it was found that the cameraman was unable to hold the camera steady for more than 20 minutes, so a way had to be devised to change camera operators whilst maintaining the continuous take. This was done by attaching a flying harness to the first cameraman and lowering him over a balcony whilst he tracked the actors walking down stairs. A second cameraman was waiting at the bottom to take over the camerawork. This was a seamless transition, and an impressive piece of camerawork.
Ultimately six takes of the entire episode were made before the seventh was deemed good enough to transmit to our screens.
Technically it was quite a feat to perform and all credit to everyone involved in this episode. However here’s the ‘buts’: sadly, the script I feel was simplified presumably to help the actors, with much of the dialogue being kept to one liners so that actors were not required to hold the screen for any length of time. The sound was poor at times with actors moving off mic and the background noise occasionally at such a level that it made the dialogue difficult to hear.
The camerawork, although brilliant, was marred by the over choreographed moves, which kept the camera following extras crossing the set enabling the camera to follow from one scenario to the next. This resulted in many viewers complaining of feeling ‘motion sickness’. The overarching use of Duffy’s character, and the annoying teenagers as a device to link scenes, became irritating and added nothing to the storyline.
I can only feel for the actor’s and technical crew’s nerve wrecking tension as they got close to the end of the final sixty minute shoot; not wishing to make a mistake necessitating another complete take to be undertaken – the tension on set must have been palpable.
Quick nurse 50 milligrams of ibuprofen – stat!