In September, I visited CFCF to write a story for a magazine about their new studio.
That story just came out in Broadcast Dialogue, a controlled-circulation trade magazine for the radio and television industry in Canada. Fortunately for us without TV and radio stations, it’s posted online.
You can read the story, cryptically called “CTV Montreal’s new studio”, in PDF form. It’s part of the December/January issue, which is available in its complete form here as a PDF or here as a Flash-based digital version.
It marks what is technically my first foray into trade magazines (or freelancing for any magazine, for that matter). And I must say it was a pleasure to work for the Christensens, who run a mom-and-pop operation and wanted to treat freelancers well, a rarity these days. I even got a personal cheque in the mail with my fee just to make sure I got it as soon as possible.
The story is illustrated with photos taken by me during September before, during and after the launch. It starts with a little anecdote about different screens using the same feed of an animated CTV News logo, as illustrated above. It wasn’t a major problem, but required careful attention to camera movements to make sure the screens you see here with rotated graphics weren’t visible in the opening pan shot.
You can find more photos of the new studio sets below:
Designers of the studio had to work around a few constraints, mostly due to the fact that they were converting former office space. The ceilings were lower, requiring more lights (a lot more). There are four structural pillars in the middle of the set that needed to be dressed up and worked around in camera shots.
When I first saw the artist’s conception for the new studio, I thought it looked really spacious. It turns out those drawings are a bit of a distorted perspective, but not by much. Even though the new studio is smaller than the old one, because the camera control centre and the Antichambre set each took up about a quarter of the old studio, they have more space to work with here. And because it can be shot from almost 360 degrees, and some parts of the set are movable, there are even more options.
The anchor desk
The anchor desk you’re familiar with by now. Chairs are removed from the desk when not in use (which results in a lot of moving around as the weather presenter and sports anchor come on and off the anchor desk during a newscast).
Aside from the problem of glare (more on that in a bit), the anchor’s view also looks out onto René-Lévesque Blvd., which means people or vehicles who go by could attract their attention.
You can’t see it well above, but there are two computer screens at full brightness underneath the desk. The bright lights embedded in the desk, designed to light the anchors from beneath, create an enormous amount of glare.
Heavily overexposed, you can see the working monitor on the far side. Both of them sit on blocks of rigid foam. They’re used by the anchors to make last-minute changes to scripts.
Nothing particularly special behind the desk, except for a printer, a recycling bin, some steps and a bunch of cables. The platform has a raised edge to prevent the anchors from accidentally rolling off (this shot was taken before they had wheels on the chairs).
The skyline behind the anchors is obviously fake. There are two versions, one for daytime and one for night. There was also a bit of photo editing done, to remove corporate logos from buildings and to make Place Ville-Marie taller so it seems more prominent.
A third backdrop with the CTV News logo is used mainly for promo shots, and perhaps also for special occasions like election nights.
The rest of the set
The green chroma-key wall used for weather can be stored behind the set when not in use. Here we see Lori doing a weather segment. Notice she has the battery pack for her wireless mic strapped to her ankle. She says she used to have it at waist-level, but people would ask her if she was pregnant. Her left hand has the clicker she uses to cycle between weather graphics.
One of the biggest changes in the new studio is that it has windows. But because the sun can be a lot brighter than any studio could hope to be, it sometimes needs to be blocked out. Three neutral-density (read: colourless) filters of different degrees of shade can be lowered electronically into place to get the desired brightness.
The “cozy corner” set used for sit-down interviews with one to three guests. Two problems emerged on the first day of its use. First, that camera cables were visible in wide shots (the other two cameras are on the other side of the pillar to have close and wide shots of the guest). The second was that the green chroma wall is visible through the translucent window in the set. This can be solved by simply storing the green wall behind the set, but sometimes this is forgotten.
The second problem was solved by adding a backdrop to that translucent wall. Now it doesn’t matter whether the green screen is stored, it won’t be visible from this part of the set.
The “anti-cozy” is also a new feature of the new set, conceived for more formal interviews. It has a large screen at the back (concealing another one of those structural pillars) that can be used to show video during the two-shot. The camera on the right is right up against another pillar, which has another large screen. It’s so close that, two weeks in, it had already scratched that screen.
The pillows on the chairs aren’t just for comfort. They found that people were too low compared to the desk when they sat here, so pillows were added to make the anchor and guest higher.
While most of the action happens in the control room upstairs, the three studio cameras are controlled from here, as is the prompter.
Literally behind the scenes
One of the surprises when the set was constructed is that this 103-inch plasma screen (which was used during the Vancouver Olympics coverage) runs on 220V. That required some unforeseen electrical work.
Some people have noted that the map of Canada behind the weather desk tends to show the west coast more than the east. So here’s what the Quebec part of the map looks like.
Here we see the back of those TVs between the anchor desk backdrop and the weather desk. It actually looks pretty neat considering the large number of electrical and signal wires involved.
The old newsroom set
During the period from the beginning of July to the beginning of September when the old set was being torn down and the new one was being built, CTV News had to be done from a temporary set in the newsroom. To say it was cramped is putting it mildly. The anchor desk had room for only one chair behind it, so segments that required two people (like the handoff to sports) required one of those two to be standing.
Since the inauguration of the new studio, the desk has been slimmed down and has only one camera in front of it.
The situation wasn’t much better for weather. You can see the anchor set at the far left of this photo, and note that the weather presenter and anchor couldn’t see each other directly. The same was the case for noon-hour interviews, in which the interviewee was across the newsroom from the anchor, in front of another camera.