Covid, How To's, Live Event, Lockdown, Post Production

Creating our first virtual awards ceremony – How to do it in a lockdown world

Jayne Constantinis
Jayne, our presenter being directed through Zoom

The Challenge

When Fiona Murchie from Relocate Magazine, a regular client of ours, contacted me in April about their annual awards ceremony, it was an interesting challenge she had.

“Can we still have the ceremony and still have the excitement and shared experience of the live event but without breaking any social distancing rules?”

Being an engineer at heart, I quite enjoyed the challenge and after about 40 minutes on the phone, I pitched the idea of using the existing format of the awards ceremony but to do it completely online. In an ideal world the whole thing would be live with presenters and winners doing their respective bits as it happened on the day, but I knew we didn’t have the resources and didn’t want to impose too much on the winners and judges to be available and connected at exactly the right time. So we came up with a plan which made things a bit easier. The idea was to brief the participants throughly on how to produce their bit of the ceremony themselves using technology they already had – normally a mobile phone! Then get them to upload it to us.

POV Farnham Suite
Me overseeing the live webcast

Briefing the Contributors

I put together some specific written instructions on what we needed along with some tips on how to get the best out of their devices and a little video I had produced when lockdown started. An added challenge was this conversation happened mid April and the ceremony date had already been set for the 12th May. We had less than a month to put the whole thing together!

Having worked on other ceremonies with user generated content, I knew we could do this and knew it was achievable in the time. So the requests went out along with a deadline to send us the material back to us, which was a week before the ceremony.

Our Master of Ceremonies

Jayne Constantinis
Jayne presenting from her house.

I knew the other key ingredient to the success of this venture was the MC or presenter. I strongly recommended a friend and colleague Jayne Constantinis and luckily Fiona agreed. I knew Jayne would be excellent at presenting but also knew she, more than anyone else, needed to look and sound great.

Fortunately we had just completed another lockdown project where we needed to film a presentation in Belgium for a major consumer electronics manufacturer. We had achieved this by sending the client a shooting kit containing two high quality, but small cameras, a professional microphone, a panel light and a box that allowed us to monitor the camera through Google Hangouts. That had been very successful and the kit had just arrived back to us so it went straight out again to Jayne’s house.

Jayne set up the kit using an instructional video I had recorded for the Belgium job and on the Sunday before the ceremony – just two days before,  I directed her through Zoom whist she recorded all the links in her office. We deliberately left Jayne’s recording until the last minute so we could accommodate any last minute changes or additions. Once we finished recording, Jayne uploaded the camera footage using Aspera and the Sony CI website.

The Band

Band Bamboozle performed from their home in Margate

One other ingredient to this ceremony was the live band, Bamboozle. They had played the traditional ceremony in 2019 and had been so successful that Fiona was keen to involve them again this year. With some head scratching and discussion with the band themselves, we settled on the two members of the band who live together, recording in their bits in their own house and then uploading the sound and pictures to me.

On the day

Once all the elements had been received, the project became more of a jigsaw puzzle than a live event. I assembled all the components together ready for the live playout on Tuesday. On playout day I had our usual 450 Mbps fibre internet connection ready for streaming but in addition we had a backup BT line should anything fail on our primary connection.

Despite some last minute changes on playout day which left us very close to the wire waiting for my Mac to render out the final file, the ceremony went out on time and was very well received. I think we’ve created something new here. As far as I know, no one has done this before – partly because, before lockdown, no one needed to. Relocate Magazine have already written a lovely piece on the ceremony. I hope this will be the first of many but at the same time, I do look forward to when we don’t need this solution anymore.