Manchester International Festival Streamed Live With Blackmagic Technology

Since 2007, the biennial Manchester International Festival (MIF) has introduced a wide variety of new works across theater, music, art and dance. In addition to events hosted across the city of Manchester, festival organizers also make that content available globally, through live streams and broadcast TV.

For this year’s festival in July, production companies oXyFire Media and This World Productions acted as MIF’s official streaming and broadcast partners. Together they designed a series of flexible production hubs around the city to provide professional video coverage across the packed three-week schedule.

“MIF is definitely one of the more demanding projects we work on,” said Jay Rozanski of oXyFire Media. “We have to deal with a wide variety of venues, from car parks to art galleries and even warehouse space. Each has its own set of technical challenges, and if that wasn’t enough, all of the pieces are premieres, so you have to be prepared for the unexpected at all times!”

Built around live production technology from Blackmagic Design, all of the video systems were designed to be portable and scalable, which helps minimize setup time (and breakdown).

“All of the mixes, either for live streams, for example at David Lynch’s live video Q&A or for in-show feeds, such as Yoko Ono’s “Bells for Peace” in Manchester’s Cathedral Square, have been cut on our Atem switchers and the 1 M/E hardware panel,” Rozanski said. “Then we’ve produced edited feeds for broadcast transmission using the camera ISOs that we capture to SD cards via a series of HyperDeck Mini recorders.”

Content is available both via the festival’s own YouTube and Facebook channels as well as MIF Live, powered by the BBC Live platform. For some of the events, a live feed was sent to BT Tower where other news outlets could pick it up and embed the video on their sites.

All of the events were mixed on Blackmagic Atem switchers then edited for broadcast transmission using the camera ISOs that were captured to SD cards via a series of HyperDeck Mini recorders.

All of the events were mixed on Blackmagic Atem switchers then edited for broadcast transmission using the camera ISOs that were captured to SD cards via a series of HyperDeck Mini recorders.

Rozanski said that the production team integrated students from the University of Salford throughout the festival, particularly for installations that ran for the festival's duration, including the School of Integration at Manchester Art Gallery.

“The project splits a gallery into three classrooms, where more than 70 lessons are taught on a wide range of topics,” he said. “Each lesson is filmed with a series of PTZ cameras, suspended from the gallery ceiling, and recorded. After each session, we then transfer our presents from the Atem across to the next room using bespoke switching software, which makes the whole system incredibly intuitive and the students got to grips with it immediately.”

The students also assisted with the filming of "Alphabus," a dynamic performance combining poetry and flex dance styles, choreographed by Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Grey.

“Again, it was a new piece, and this one was very energetic, with an unusual staging area in the center of the room,” Rozanski said. “There were performers on ladders, leaping across two sloping ramps which formed the stage, and at points they were even jumping into the audience! It was definitely a challenge to track the action around the room and make sure we captured everything.”

The team also set up several PTZ cameras around the room and had two camera operators shooting from a mezzanine level, which also housed an Atem PPU.

“We filmed two of the performances, to make sure we had enough content to capture all of the atmosphere,” Rozanski said. “I got one of the students to mix the final one, and she did an amazing job on what would be a challenging event for most seasoned live production professionals. What was even nicer was that she even captured the dancers freestyling and the whole audience learning a couple of flex moves from Reggie once the show had ended.”

Elizabeth Simmons, a student at the University of Salford studying Media and Performance, said the hands-on work experience was like nothing she ever had before.

“Everyone made sure I was a member of the team and allowed me to work both practically and observe their work as well,” she said. “I enjoyed every second and learnt so much from them both and can only thank MIF for the experience.

Lucy Ockenden of This World Productions said training and empowering the next generation of AV professionals is something she and oXyFire Media’s Rozanski are both passionate about.

“As well as giving them real-world experience of live production, it also means we have access to a much larger pool of creative and technical talent,” Ockenden said. “I can’t think of a better way to introduce students to the world of video production; it’s thrilling and frustrating all at the same time, but it’s the only way you can experience the rush of a live event.”

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