​LA Productions Explains The Post Work Behind BBC Drama Broken

Broken is a six-part TV drama series, created by screenwriter Jimmy McGovern that first broadcast on BBC One. In this special interview, Patrick Hall, Head of Post at Liverpool producer LA Productions explains the main post workflow.

The series focuses on Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean), the priest of a community parish in suburban Northern England, who despite suffering from his own troubles stemming from a traumatic childhood, tries to guide a group of his most vulnerable parishioners through the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What was it like to work with Sean Bean and Jimmy McGovern?

It was very inspirational. Jimmy actually first had the idea for the show many years ago, back in the 80s - initially as a 10-part drama with a catholic priest as the main character, with each episode being centered around one of the ten commandments.

He never got the permission to actually develop the idea though, especially as this was still relatively near the beginning of his career. Instead, he kept the idea of this catholic priest character quietly circling around in his mind and continued working on his other projects before finally coming back to this original idea, reworking it, and watching it finally become a reality today with Broken.

Sean was also incredible as the main character. He worked with the real priest who looks after the Liverpool based church where part of the show was filmed in, taking 14 weeks to learn what it was like to be a priest and how it really felt to help a community of people through the most difficult part of their lives.

Could you tell us more about the workflow involved at LA Productions in completing all the post production needed for the show?

There were six of us working on the post production of Broken, and as is always the case when it comes to TV shows, we had a pretty tight turnaround to contend with. We did everything from the full edit, conform, grade, and VFX all in-house at LA Productions.

It was all ProRes 4444, shot on the Panasonic VariCam, and all in 4K. For the BBC delivery we were still delivering 1920 by 1080 though, so we used Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve to do some real-time down conversions which was really impressive with the 4K footage.

Out of Resolve we then used the Fusion Connect plugin to easily select a section of the timeline and bring it into Fusion for all the VFX shots. We also used Mocha tracking as well and brought the tracking data into Fusion to do all the comps. Once we had picture lock we just sent the AFF straight to Resolve and put Resolve to the online files which were all 4K and everything relinked and we graded from there. The grade was completed for all the shots in Resolve and sent back as Avid files for playback and delivery after the Resolve online was complete.

We’re always trying to make things more efficient and increase the production values as much as possible.  What we’re capable of doing in house now even with the VFX is something we would have never imagined only just a few years ago. Even with the budget being considerably tighter we know we can deliver on time and on budget.

What were your overall objectives in post production for how the show would look?

It’s interesting as the overall brief we received for the look of the show involved it being based around the work of these American street photographers from the 1960s and 70s like Steven Shaw. These street photographers were people who travelled around the states, especially in the impoverished, very religious areas of the south. These are communities that have very little money but a lot of faith, and that faith would always push them in one direction or the other - much like the characters of Broken.

These photographers would also always make very interesting use of color and framing to tell their stories and the film crew definitely used that as a major inspiration throughout the work on the show. The DoP was really good and gave us some lovely stuff to work with. The camera, for instance, would always linger on characters for longer than you would expect, which allowed the characters to have as much space to breath as possible and really brought a strong sense of emotional storytelling to Jimmy’s script.

When it came to grading, it was our job to try and match some of those photographers’ looks. The references were pretty bold so from the start I think we all knew that this was something that was going to have a very unique look and feel to it. Ultimately, we had about four or five film emulation looks to try to emulate that style directly from the reference pictures of the photography as a starting point, and built up the grade from there.

How did you handle all the flashback sequences involved on the show detailing the main character’s rather traumatic childhood, far before becoming a priest?

We definitely didn’t want these to be your typical black and white fare. We wanted them to be as vibrant and colourful as everything else on the show, and really not like obvious flashbacks at all.

Instead, we aimed to use the flashbacks to really transmit the idea that the ordinary can be extraordinary. Sean Bean’s character is remembering these things as though they have only just happened to him, they shouldn’t be a faded memory but a vivid one and therefore we wanted the colour palette used to be vivid too. There’s a slight sepia tone that gives it a feel that it’s old but we’re not talking years and years old, we did want to ensure it looked as though it had only happened fairly recently in his mind.

We also spent time making sure we gave all the various locations of the show their own look and feel based on the reference pictures. The church for example we purposefully made quite a lot warmer, to make it look like it was a sanctuary when compared to his real living quarters which are much more uncomfortable and dark in terms of look. The idea was to try to bring out interesting colors and maybe not the most obvious sort of colors, ones that would normally pass you by, the world around was very colorful and vibrant and diverse.

Were there any specific tools or techniques that you found particularly powerful throughout your work?

The tracking in combination with the ability to do masks, definitely. Because we were grading such a bold look, what we tried to do was at the end of our node tree bring a few of our original skin tones back in to make things look a bit more natural. We also did that with the highlights to do things like bring back detail from outside windows for a much richer image, which allowed us to truly control both the interior and the exterior and make the most of the footage we were getting back.

Another interesting technique involved the vintage Panavision lenses the show was shot in. They shot using these vintage Panavision lenses which were lovely and we got lots of really nice flares off them, but what we found was during the grade there were set ups where we wanted to add additional flares in. We actually did this completely within post in Resolve. Probably about half the flares across the series were actually made digitally in post within Resolve and we could match the right aperture and all that because we knew which lenses we’d used, which was really very powerful.

A big challenge was when we came to deliver the international versions, which are a different duration to the UK version of the show. We just reconformed it and used the Color Trace functionality to copy all the grades across in seconds which was insanely handy as a time saver for us and a real difficult process was rendered really straightforward.

Can you describe your VFX workflow on the show?

We did a mixture of things - we did a lot of sky replacements for things like to match the right time of day and ensure a degree of continuity between all the shots. The sky represents his internal sense of wellbeing as a main character as we go through the series so we ensured it did that too.

We also did a fair bit of cleaning up, so paint work putting patches in to cover things up. There was also some quite difficult stuff within a funeral scene in one of the episodes where there’s a funeral procession and one of the cars couldn’t drive straight behind the car in front like it was supposed to, we ended up using both Mocha and Fusion to remove the second car entirely using a clean bit of the plate and rotoscoped it back in line with the first car, that was quite a complicated shot.

We also generated some 3D rain for a train window our main character was riding in in one of the scenes - we used the particle generator within Fusion to generate those. This is also a bit of a spoiler, but in episode 1 one of the characters dies and we had lots of problems with the actress not being able to stay entirely still for these long takes. We had to paint her eyes closed and keep her chest from moving under the bed and things like that.

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