Drama on BBC HD
I've been absent for a little while. But I've been thinking about the next stages for the BBC and HD, and particularly about drama - how the way that we are working in that area provides a direction for what we need to do across all the programming that the BBC is making in HD.
Drama has moved faster than any other area of programming in the UK to working in HD. If you leave out the soaps, the BBC probably makes a higher proportion of drama programmes in HD than we do any other type of programming. Over the last couple of months alone, we've shown Silent Witness, Cranford, Larkrise, Wallander, Rock and Chips, and Hustle from BBC One, Churchill: Into the Storm, Heroes and Nurse Jackie from BBC Two, Being Human from BBC Three, and the biopics on Margot Fonteyn, Enid Blyton and Gracie Fields from BBC Four, to name but a few.
The drama production community has taken to HD fast and wholeheartedly for a couple of reasons: HD can offer producers a closer approximation to film than any other format, and therefore help production teams to produce work which looks like cinema on television drama budgets. But HD has also proved popular because those working in drama have recognised that they can use it creatively. Technology is only transformational once we really start to bend it to what we want to achieve regardlesss of it.
Let me take just a couple of examples to illustrate the point. Wallander represents truly masterful HD, this year even more so than last. We could say that was because the visual quality alone is stunning - the framing of shots, the light, the colours, the grading and post-production effort. All true of course. But for me one of the key things that Wallander demonstrates is the way that it has used what HD can add to television drama to change the way it tells the story.
We're used in film to lingering close ups. In SD television we have tended to do that less, because of the loss of detailing. Battered and bruised emotionally by his own investigations, it is Kenneth Branagh's interior monologue which powers the narrative, to a much greater extent than the action itself. It is HD's capacity to bring people as well as objects to full emotional life on the small screen which supports and encourages the approach that has been taken, the camera held repeatedly on Branagh, allowing the story of the crime and our response to it to be encapsulated by him.
Margot takes a very different approach - particularly during the stage performances, the combination of lighting and filters and camera set up manages to create a sense of theatric distance from the ballerina, while the detail which HD can provide is used simultaneously to show (at least to those viewing in HD), the hairs of her arms, and the lines of concentration in her face.
In Hustle, the HD look absolutely reflects the rhythm of the story-telling - it is crisp, and precise, a slighly heightened reality but not lavish and glossy. Whilst in Being Human, I have a sense that there has been a bit of a journey in relation to the use of HD. The pilot made for the series was extremely theatric in style. Last year, when the programme was first broadcast on BBC Three and on BBC HD the supernatural and the ordinary were quite evenly balanced, and HD used to build a more cinematic look in parts. This year, as the balance of emphasis seems to have shifted further on the normalisation of lives that are somewhat less than everyday, I'm seeing that HD is being used more extensively to enhance reality, to show the regular backdrop to a vampire attack, the greyness of real days rather than the glittering darkness of fantasy nights.
Across what we are doing in the BBC, I intend that we shall focus this year on mastering HD. There will be new programmes making the move to HD - even in drama - but I think that we are now at a stage at which across the full range of programmes we make, we can start to do what drama is already doing and develop what we can achieve creatively with the HD tool set. I'm hopeful too that we will find ways to address the barriers to moving to HD for many of those programmes - including the continuing dramas - which have remained outside the HD universe so far. And I can reassure you that there is lots to come.
This trail (see below) - for new drama from the BBC - is currently playing on a number of our channels: I can reassure you that it is all in HD, and will all be appearing on BBC HD in the course of the year.
Danielle Nagler is the Head of BBC HD.
Ed's note: Comments about drama on HD and the areas that Danielle writes about should go on this post. Comments about picture quality on HD should be made on this post of Andy Quested's: The Hitchhiker's Guide to Encoding: The Salmon of Style (Or how programmes styles can change your view). (PM)