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Exclusive: Clive Arnold (Director, 'EastEnders Live') - Part 1

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Clive Arnold (Director, 'EastEnders Live') - Part 1
Ahead of EastEnders' first ever live episode, Digital Spy recently caught up with Clive Arnold, the man responsible for directing this week's anniversary editions of BBC One's flagship serial drama. After two solid weeks of read-throughs, rehearsals, technical testing and full runs of the ep, EastEnders goes live to the nation come rain or shine at 8pm tomorrow evening. But what really goes into the preparations for a live episode? What are the limitations of the live format? What will Clive as director be doing on the night? We gave him a call to find out the answer to all these questions and more.

How did you become involved in the live ep?
"When EastEnders came to me and said they were going to do a live episode for the 25th anniversary, I was initially very sceptical. But then they explained that the reason for doing it was motivated by story - the identity of Archie Mitchell's killer would remain secret and therefore become a fantastic whodunit. We pre-record TV drama for lots of very good reasons and doing a live episode can sometimes come across a little gimmicky, so for me, story is the one and only reason a drama should go live."

How different do you think directing a live episode will be compared to a normal one?
"It’s going to be very different. Normally on EastEnders, the cast arrive on the studio floor and quickly run the lines and talk through any issues with the director. We then quickly block the scene, have a look on camera and start shooting with the director on the studio floor close to the actors. This is an incredibly fast way to make drama and shooting 12 to 15 minutes a day is fairly standard. On this live occasion, we've been allowed a two-week run-up to Friday, February 19 for just the one 30-minute episode. Starting with a read-through, we've rehearsed and blocked and sometimes talked at length about characters' journeys. We've looked at individual scenes, then put them together, before running the entire episode. We then went into technical rehearsals, slowly adding the camera positions, sound cues and lighting setups. Once cameras joined I, as the director, disappeared into a huge scanner truck - the type of outside broadcast vehicle normally seen at football matches and other big events.

"When we cut from one scene to another, we may be cutting from one studio to another - one somewhere else on site. All cameras will be cabled to the truck, so being inside is the only way I can see everything. I'm afraid I'm not fit enough to keep running between studios every time we go to another scene! I've approached the whole scenario as if we're a theatre company - many of the actors would be familiar with this type of structure leading up to an opening night at a theatre. We can work on performance and blocking early on, discussing issues and discovering the text as we go. Actors know to save their energy when technical rehearsals are taking place and then it's quite magical when all elements are combined close to the first performance. Of course, our theatre company will have it's opening and closing night on Friday, February 19!"

What will you be doing on the night?
"Hopefully not very much as all my work will be done! I jest. With all our rehearsals, hopefully everything will have been nailed down - but it is live TV, so anything can happen. If an actor forgets a line or gets one wrong, I hope it won't be much of a problem, simply because the actors will know where the scene needs to go in order to tell the story and therefore will improvise, as they do in theatre. If something more serious happens - perhaps we need to go to a scene but the studio have a problem and aren't ready for us, or a camera fails that has a shot coming up - then I'll need to work very fast! I'll be on an open microphone, so everyone except the actors will be able to hear me at all times. Like the actors, I'll know the script inside out and will be able to adapt at speed if needed. It is live, but whatever happens, the show must go on."

What are the limitations of a live episode?
"Making the live ep look like any other episode of EastEnders is difficult. For example, if someone's phone rang, the viewer would normally see a shot of the phone to see who's calling. This is usually filmed one shot at a time, otherwise the cameras would see each other, which wouldn't be good. Where we have that type of situation in the live episode, it'll be visually or audibly obvious who's calling. The biggest limitation is the weather - we have absolutely no control over it whatsoever. The Thursday finishes with a set of characters outside in the Square and the Friday begins with the same set of characters in the same location - what we call a direct pickup between the two episodes. We're all praying it will be a dry night!"

How will the sound be dealt with?
"Sound is a big problem for a live drama, usually, the sound is picked up by a boom rod but on the live episode, it would be a shame if a boom dipped into shot - this often happens during filming because we work so fast but we can always record another take. The sound quality is much better on a boom than it is on radio mics but we'll be giving everybody who has dialogue a radio mic as a backup and try to use booms where we can."

Check back tomorrow morning at 9am for the second part of our exclusive interview with Clive Arnold.

EastEnders goes live on Friday evening at 8pm on BBC One. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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