Countryfile: Production

Countryfile is one of the most watched and best loved factual documentary TV series in the UK, with an audience between six and nine million viewers on BBC One every Sunday evening. But as a weekly show filmed and edited close to transmission, it takes a dedicated team to get the show on the road.

This film is the second in our series looking at the programme's production lifecycle. Now you can find out how Countryfile is put together, from start to finish, including a director’s role during a location shoot. Part two also includes useful tips from the crew and presenter, Matt Baker. Part three of the series, focuses on post-production.

Countryfile director Andrew Painten and his crew share techniques for getting the most out of a location shoot.

"Put your presenters in ridiculous outfits and they won't question it." – Matt Baker

At the beginning of any location shoot there is a lot to prepare. It is often the first time you have met up with your presenter and freelance crew, so it is important to get together for a briefing, outlining the film and plan for the day.

Covering interviews
Following interviews, it is important to film close-ups and cutaways of anything relevant or that was discussed. Many programmes like to do a big non-sync wide shot. All these shots can then be used by the editor to help us smooth over the joins in the edit when the interview is cut down.

Directing contributors
Contributors on location might not be used to filming and it is important to look after them. Explaining what you are doing helps. A good tip is to tell them to ignore the camera. Many contributors will look at or talk to the camera in the middle of an interview and this can be very off-putting when watching it back as a viewer.

Time keeping
It’s vital to keep track of time. Know when you are going to arrive at a location, think about exactly how long you have got, bearing in mind what you still have to do later. It’s important to prioritise and not overshoot.

Sometimes, especially with an action sequence and with time at a premium, you just have to get on with filming. It is very easy to keep setting up for that perfect shot, without getting the main event started.

Factual TV productions can change a lot on location as there are so many variables outside of your control, from weather to inexperienced contributors. But by being flexible and creative you can make the best of these changes and try to turn them into a positive.

Health and safety
Directing isn’t just about calling the shots and deciding what people say and where they stand. It also brings with it responsibility for health and safety on location. It’s important to think about all health and safety issues before you go out filming so you are not just winging it on the day, because that could end in disaster.

Media management
Make sure it is clear from the outset who has responsibility for the rushes. This is even more important as more productions are shot on cards that are small and hard to label. Often the material is invaluable and hard to re-create or very expensive to re-shoot, so you need to have a good system in place to ensure the footage is safe.