Highly complex multi-media installations -- at least the successful ones -- are only possible through careful planning, intense cooperation, and a willingness to turn the picture on its side.
My boss came into my edit room to discuss the project I was about to begin for the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa Florida.
"The show is about the Seminole Indian Wars in the 1800's. About 15-20 minutes, four screens," he said. That's not unusual. I've cut many multi-screen projects, from two to my current record -- 16. He went on, "The two outside screens will be rotated 90 degrees and displayed vertically."
Now we're getting interesting.
"And there will be three large turntables, about 10 feet wide or so, with 2 or 3 life-size dioramas on each one that will spin into place at different parts of the show.
"The entire stage will be behind a scrim with a painting of Tampa Bay circa 1840. We will use the scrim to hide the movement of the turntables, but only sometimes. Other times I want the audience to see the turntables move.
One of the dioramas as seen in the finished production.
Plus, there will be show-controlled lighting, rotating gobo effects, strobes and fire effects "We'll figure all that out during the edit." Just another day at the office at Boston Productions. BPI has been producing highly interactive, highly complex, multi-disciplinary projects for museums, visitor centers, and theme parks for over 20 years. For the Tampa Bay History Center project, we worked closely with exhibit designer Christopher Chadbourne and Associates and Set Designer Jonathan Bean Design Ltd. to create a new and exciting way to tell the story of Coacoochee, a Seminole Chief who escaped prison and a death sentence to lead his people during the Second Seminole War.
All of the dialogue and narration was taken verbatim from a series of interviews that Coacoochee gave to US Army Lieutenant John T. Sprague in 1841, after Coacoochee had been imprisoned for the final time. He and Lt. Sprague would be the conduit of the tale, each telling their sides of the story, a back and forth narrative of the events that led to Coacoochee's capture, and the forced exodus of his people from their homes in Florida.
Production was divided into two parts: a studio shoot in Massachusetts and location shooting in Florida. The actors who were cast to play Coacoochee and Lt. Sprague came to the BPI studio in Norwood, Massachusetts for the shoot. We shot them against green, so that I could composite them in their various environments later. Most of these shots would be used on the two rotated screens, which, once rotated, would be about nine feet tall, by 4 feet wide.
Coacoochee on the greenscreen set.
In order to get a full resolution image for these screens the Director, Bob Noll, had a new mount designed and manufactured that allowed him to mount the Panasonic DVCPRO HD camera on its side. Coacoochee and Sprague would be the same scale as the visitor (actually a tiny bit bigger, you know, for the drama) that would give the show an extra bit of verisimilitude.
Custom Designed Mount allows the camera to shoot on its side, to create vertically oriented output.
After the studio shoot wrapped, it was off to Florida for a few days of battle, where re-enactors had been recruited to portray the Seminoles and the US Army Soldiers in two major battles taken from America's early history. The new vertical camera mount got quite a workout during the battle re-enactments.
I wish I could say that I took a trip to sunny Florida for the shoot myself, but alas, they don't let me out of my dark, windowless edit room very often. Anyway, they came back with hours of footage of Native Americans fighting the US Army in the woods and wetlands of 1830s Tampa: rifles, cannons, explosions, the dead and dying -- lots of great stuff, both vertical and horizontal.