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Spectre casts no shadow in the Royal Albert Hall Auditorium

Spectre casts no shadow in the Royal Albert Hall Auditorium
Spectre casts no shadow in the Royal Albert Hall Auditorium

‘Spectre’, a film that really needs no introduction, received a sumptuous World Premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall (RAH) in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on Monday 26th October.

What would Prince Albert have made of that? It’s a defining question. The Lumiere brothers produced the world’s first movie 25 years after the RAH hosted its first concert. But the world moves on. It’s engagement with the most daring and challenging technologies of the modern era is part of what makes the whole Bond franchise so endurable. It was a comparable willingness to engage with the latest and best that enabled the venerable RAH to be transformed into a state-of-the-art cinema using the latest digital projection and audio systems.

Sony Pictures Releasing (UK), the films distributors hired event specialists Andy Peat Associates to manage the Auditorium transformation and Nibbs Events to produce the ‘Red Carpet’, press and VIP arrivals on the South Steps. These two companies, who worked together successfully on the previous Bond films ‘Die Another Day’ and ‘Skyfall’ (that also had their World and Royal premieres at the Royal Albert Hall) had a very tight time frame in which to work, given the fact that Bob Dylan performed in the Hall the night before. How they pulled it off is another story!

Technical director Andy Peat explained: “The films’ producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Brocolli are very clear and precise in what they want so we all know exactly what’s expected of us.”

Inevitably this was more than just installing projectors and a screen. “The screen was 20m wide by 8.9m high, a 2:39 'scope ratio. A high gain Perlux 140 perforated screen was commissioned and custom built by Harkness at its factory in France especially for the Premiere. An air-conditioned booth in Grand Tier Boxes 21, 22 and 23 was built to house the projection and playback systems. Primary projection was from a pair of Sony SRX-R320 projectors with a DoReMi IMB and Showvault to run the film in 4K. “The picture quality was simply stunning,” concluded Peat.

“It’s not until you get into the realms of sound reproduction that thing become a little trickier. Britannia Row Productions provided the audio infrastructure for us and there is history here. We’ve worked together on all the premieres I’ve done at the Hall and all with the sadly missed Derrick Zieba. It was he and Britannia Row’s Bryan Grant that came up with the audio designs for the ideal 5:1 and 7:1 systems for this Auditorium and refined them over the years. Bryan Grant suggested Colin Pink as the ideal man to fill Derrick’s shoes and so it proved; he and Richard Sharratt, who he brought in to engineer the system, did a really great job.”

Pink addressed the audio issues head on. “The first thing to say is staging this in the RAH and being in-the-round, presents its own set of problems: timing being the main one. So we spent a lot of time and attention setting that to retain clarity. The thing is the distances involved are so much greater than most typical cinemas.” The fundamentals of the system was L-Acoustics K1 and K2 hung L/C/R upstage of the screen, with a large contingent of L-Acoustics coaxial MTD 108P for surround sound distributed throughout the auditorium.

“Of course the film is not recorded in 7:1,” continued Pink. “That sound track is created by, in this instance, sound director Scott Millan. He and the film’s sound editor Per Hallberg (seven Oscars between them) came down to the RAH mid-morning to check how we had the system set-up and how it sounded. With my background in the theatre (Pink worked at the National for ten years) I always set up in rehearsal not to make it sound good, rather I try and anticipate what will happen with a full auditorium. Scott understood that absolutely. The first thing he did upon arrival was to say, ‘I just want to sit and acclimatise for ten minutes’. Scott and Per were both very pleased, their only notes were to soften a bit of EQ on one part of the system, and reduce the level slightly in one element of the surround.”

It would be trite for Andy Peat to say ‘nobody does it better than Britrow’, but he was very pleased. “One week prior to the event Colin and Richard went to see a technical screening so they could have some experience of what the sound would be, the explosions, the music, the drama and dynamic of the sound track; the intimacy and stillness of Bond. Colin had that in his head and between him, Richard Sharratt and the Britrow team they then took the Zieba template, updated it accordingly and produced outstanding results. The team at Britannia Row are simply in a different league.”

photos: Sam Peat

12th November 2015

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