Balancing studios and locations for the perfect shoot

We had a great time at this year’s Media Production & Technology Show! It was another fantastic lineup of speakers across the two-day event, with a special focus on sustainability with our friends from BAFTA albert.

On the first day, we took the Keynote Theatre with a few industry powerhouses to discuss the early decision-making process in production, do you shoot at a studio or on location?

Here at 3 Mills, we have an incredibly versatile offering, 9 sound stages which can be packaged together or hired individually, all the ancillary and unit space a production could require, alongside a private road of cobbles lined with beautiful heritage buildings and a multitude of spaces full of character which are regularly used for location shooting. So you can understand why we took a special interest in the topic of conversation.

We are delighted to share some of the insights from the talk below with those of you who could not attend on the day.

The Media Production and Technology show background screen for the 3 Mills Studios Keynote. The panel title is Balancing Studios and Locations for the Perfect Shoot. The Speakers are: Caro Lakos, Client and Sales Manager 3 Mills Studios, Dan Turner, Productions Manager, Steve Newton, Producer, James Jordan, Visual Effects Supervisor, Georgette Turner, Production Manager.
Our Keynote Panel took place on 15th May 2024 at The Media Production & Technology Show
  • Host – Caro Lakos, Client and Sales Manager of 3 Mills Studios.
  • Unit Production Manager Dan Turner, who has worked on ‘The Great’, ‘Damsel’, and ‘A Quiet Place: Day 1’.
  • Steve Newton, Producer and Assistant director who has recently worked on ‘The Kitchen’, ‘The Thief, His Wife, and the Canoe’.
  • James Jordan, VFX Producer who’s recent work includes ‘The Gentlemen’,’Three Little Birds’ and ‘Gangs of London’.
  • Production Manager Georgette Turner, who has recently worked on ‘Boys in the Boat’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’.

Caro Lakos – We have identified 3 main choices within your productions Toolkit, that being LOCATION, STUDIO, and VIRTUAL PRODUCTION – a combination of all three usually being the right answer.

How do you as producers and production managers start making these decisions?

Steve Newton – You must consider what makes sense for the project’s schedule, taking into account things like the overall structure and the energy levels of the cast and crew. If possible, I would shoot entirely on location as it gives the cast and creative the most authentic experience of a space, but this isn’t always possible or cost-effective.

Georgette Turner – You start by looking at the overall budget and the mileage. Sometimes you need a very specific location, like the large body of water we needed for Boys in the Boat, we ended up needing to go to a place like the Cotswolds.

Dan Turner – Sometimes it just isn’t possible to shoot entirely on location, The Great for example had the interior of Hatfield House for it’s entire 3 series run, we couldn’t spend weeks inside the real place, so we built a replica inside a stage at 3 Mills Studios that we could continue to return to.

James Jordan –  Understanding the opportunities and limitations of each tool is important. Looking at Virtual Production (VP) early on in your process can help identify ways you can stack different locations into one shoot day.

Elle Fanning is screaming and throwing a cake on the floor in a bright pink period costume dress on the set of The Great. Elaborate period furnishing for a bedroom is in the background.
The Great, courtesy of Hulu

CL – From a budgeting perspective, is one option always inclined to be the most cost-effective?

JJ – VP has a reputation for being expensive, but it can actually be a cost-effective solution. We were able to do pick-ups in a VP studio for Gangs of London as many of the production locations were scanned and turned into plates, allowing us to do multiple pickups at different locations in a VP space. But you need to be able to understand in advance what creatively you are trying to achieve from a scene, which camera angles you need to get and exactly what’s going to be shown in the background, or it may not be the best tool for the job.

GT – VP is still relatively new and so far I’ve only ever used it as a get-out-of-jail card if all else falls through, which hasn’t made it the cheaper option. When we start considering it from the planning phase as another tool to use then the expense wouldn’t be as great. Bringing the line producer on earlier helps to make effective decision making.

SN – In some circumstances, you are bringing your post-production budget forward, but you have to be able to make key creative decisions from the very beginning to achieve this.

A photo from the panel, 5 people sat in chairs talking on stage.  Behind them on a screen is the panel card, showing their names and photos as well as the panel title 'Balancing Studios and Locations for the Perfect Shoot'.
Deep in discussion, our host Caro Lakos with industry expert panellists
A photo from the panel. To the left is the screen that was displaying close-ups of the panelists as they spoke, Caro Lakos is show speaking. Below the screen is the list of sponsors, 3 Mills Studios, AVID, BAFTA and BAFTA albert. To the right you can see Caro and Dan talking from a different angle.
3 Mills Studios is a Gold Sponsor of MPTS

CL – Authenticity can be a massive pro for Location shooting, but do you think that a sense of Authenticity can be achieve through the use of Virtual Production?

SN – I don’t think VP is ‘the perfect solution’, but it can be used as an effective tool alongside location and stage shooting. One sequence in can be stitched together from stage, location and VP without the audience being aware.

JJ – On Gangs of London, we explored shooting some scenes that would have been shot in Malta in VP, it meant that we didn’t have to fly everyone overseas, which can be tricky with talent and multiple schedules, it was effective however we didn’t end up using that particular scene in the series.

GT – Speaking of travel, for a long time sustainability has cost productions more money, but with new technologies like this and increased studio support, you can now plan better and reduce both the cost and the waste of your production.

A black sound stage with lighting installed. There is an upright, empty large black screen attached to a floor with black tarp.
Lotus advert filmed at 3 Mills Studios, courtesy of RAW Production
This photo shows the previously black screen now lit up with an image of a orange, blue and purple sunset on a large body of water. The tarp flooring now has water on it which is reflecting the colours from the screen.
Lotus advert filmed at 3 Mills Studios, courtesy of RAW Production

CL – Do you think AI and SORA pose a real threat to how we currently make films and TV?

DT – Every production I have worked on in the past has been based on an individual’s creative voice, and there’s no replacing that. It may be used as a tool for lower budget or shorter productions.

JJ – In a similar way a few years ago, people were afraid VP would replace jobs, but from what I’ve seen it creates more jobs, my job now didn’t exist when I started out in the industry 40 years ago.

DT – Yes, it tends to go the opposite direction than people expect when a new advancement ‘threatens’ jobs, departments often need to expand and more experts hired in order to accommodate the new tool.

SN – AI could also be a valuable tour for pre-vis and help us communicate creative ideas and the feeling of a project!

Another shot of the panel on stage in discussion. 5 people are sat in chairs on stage talking. Behind them on a screen is the panel card, showing their names and photos as well as the panel title 'Balancing Studios and Locations for the Perfect Shoot'.
*please note that answers are based on notes from the panel and are not a full transcript of the talk.

A big thank you to our amazing panellists for their valuable industry insights, as well as the MPTS team for organising another fabulous event. We’ll see you next year!

  • on May 28, 2024