Dom James, head of post-production at Bumblebee Post Production, part of Zinc Media Group, reveals how they documented the last five years of Dame Deborah James’ life

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A moving and intimate film of the last extraordinary five years of Dame Deborah James’ life. This archive-based documentary features never before seen mobile phone footage, Deborah’s collection of Tik Tok videos, Instagram posts, podcast recordings, family videos and Deborah’s voice notes. It is a compelling, moving and beautiful film that we were proud and privileged to have been involved in the creation of.

With the UGC-led structure of the programme, sources of content were to come from multiple different locations, contributors and platforms, and we needed to create a robust workflow that could deal with everything from the receiving and acquisition of content (whether that was TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, VHS etc), having the media on an easily viewable platform for editorial but also quickly being ingested into the edit. We devised a model that employed multiple software and cloud solutions to obtain the multitude of different formats of UGC and to meet the requirements for an efficient workflow.

For contributor-led content, we wanted to make the system as accessible as possible via either a phone or a physical computer and so MASV with their portal technology and Sony Ci with their file request aspera upload system were key to us receiving footage. We generated multiple portal links for different sets of contributors that was fed to production who oversaw the logging of incoming footage and then request ingest via our post production job systems. Footage was also stored on the Sony Ci platform for streaming review links for the editorial team, where clips could be marked up or metadata entered that could be transferred to the edit, directly into the avid timelines.

The footage was then analysed to see if codec conversion was needed to enable ingest into Avid using Telestream’s Content Agent. We built a special workflow within Content Agent to do this transcoding and also built it to make sure that transcoded media maintained its aspect ratios and were consistent across the project as we wanted to maintain the true format of the media and not crop or zoom to bring it to fill a 16:9 picture frame. At various points, we also used other conversion software before bringing the media to Content Agent to smooth the workflow where an intermediate codec was needed for transcoding or used other software such as Adobe Lightroom to make sure still images were in the correct format for the edit.

During the online and grading process, because most footage was self-shot or came from lower quality sources, a denoise pass was performed using Neat Video plugin to make sure footage could meet QC standards, and a light grade or archive material using Baselight Editions was performed to smooth the colour differences between sources.

As the documentary highlights the honest and direct way Deborah communicated, as if she were talking to a friend or confidante, sound was a highly delicate and important part of the final post process. Bumblebee’s head of audio, Rowan Jennings, told me: “Central to its sonic narrative was a strong, consistent and cohesive dialogue building block, creating an intimate and warm tonal feel as if Deborah was right there connecting with her audience. With no narration or interview, the film’s soundtrack comprised a multitude of audio sources (TikTok videos, Instagram posts, podcast recordings, family videos and Deborah’s voice notes) with extremely varying audio qualities.

“Covid also provided its challenges: A portion of the podcast recordings were recorded via Zoom and needed matching back to the original podcast audio quality as much as possible. The consistency of this dialogue track was achieved using a variation of meticulous technical processes and sound restoration techniques to restore the audio to the best it could be. Removing extensive background noise, unwanted interference, distortion, crackles and clicks and spectrally analysing every clip to enhance its audible qualities to the maximum and designing bespoke dialogue isolation algorithms to improve speech intelligibility to help its clarity. Once this extensive processing was complete, I embarked on equalising, multiband compressing, mastering, tonally rebalancing and processing the dialogue to enhance that intermate feel. I tried to give this film as much of a theatrical filmic feel as I could, using perspectives and, in some instances, realistic room reverbs to match certain elements together tonally.

“Miguel D’Oliveira’s outstanding specially composed music was compelling and beautifully delicate at the same time. Mixing this score against the robust and consistent dialogue building block I had created was key. It enabled me to mix the music to its full potential, hearing its every note and carefully crafted nuances, thus allowing me to give it as much emotional and powerful energy as possible.”

Dom James Bumblebee Post

Dom James is head of post-production at Bumblebee Post Production, which is part of Zinc Media Group