Binneland Sub Judice, the new hour-long version of pay-TV broadcaster M-Net’s popular and long running daily soapie, Binnelanders, is being shot in sets atypical to that of traditional soapies.
Producers Friedrich and Elsje Stark designed their recently completed, high definition-equipped studio complex, Stark Studios in Fontainbleau, Johannesburg, in such a way that scenes for the soap can be shot at 360 degrees. Usually, soap sets have only three walls which means scenes can only be shot from one direction.
Many of the sets in both studios (one 750 square metres and the other 500 square metres) at the complex have four walls, which means the camera can be placed anywhere. In addition, there are corridors between some of the sets to allow the cameras to follow characters as they walk down the passage.
The media got to see the new home of Binneland Sub Judice on 11 March. Elsje Stark noted that the state of the art studio was a far cry from the one-roomed operation she and husband Friedrich had started decades ago. “To build this studio was a mission but it needed to be done as previously Binnelanders was shot in a much smaller studio (only 40% the size of the new studio) in the city centre and we had to transport crew and cast to and from town and deal with safety concerns, as well as rent the studio space. It was very inconvenient.
“Now, at Stark Studios everything is under one roof – production offices, studios and post-production facilities. It just makes it easier for us to focus on producing work of a good standard. We have to deliver five, one-hour episodes a week which is a really tough call but very exciting. Crew and cast have to work from 7am to 7pm, five days a week and it takes blood, sweat, tears and guts to meet the schedule.’
Friedrich Stark described the new studio as a dream come true. “Stark Studios is not only the best equipped studio in the southern hemisphere but probably in Europe as well. I’ve travelled extensively to studios in Europe to make sure this one is state of the art. The complex took about 20 months to build. Apart from being able to shoot scenes from 360 degrees, which gives depth to the production and makes it more realistic, the floor, sound-proofing and acoustics are amazing. We shoot in full HD.
“Every night we swing sets. Because of the size of the sets we are able to track the cameras around them. Apart from the camera cables, all other connections are wireless. We have about 150 people working on the soap, many of whom are from another M-Net soapie, Egoli, which recently came to an end. We have 11 directors in our roster and have had to train lots of new people. Every day we record half an hour of programming in each of the two studios, to make up the hour. A studio is important but a support system around it is equally important, like storage, parking, etc.’
Although Binneland Sub Judice will only start broadcasting on 5 April from 6pm to 7pm, the crew and cast have been shooting in the new studio since 24 January. The first episode of the one-hour Binneland Sub Judice will be delivered to M-Net next week.
To accommodate the two main interlocking story strands of Binneland Sub Judice, the main sets are the hospital (Binneland Clinic) and a law firm (RPK Incorporated). Art director Megan Havenga even built a shopping arcade around the law firm, just like an actual arcade in Pretoria city centre where many law firms are situated.
Said Havenga: “We use 55 extras a day on this production as we have lots of background action to make scenes look more believable. The idea was to create a location shoot environment. We even have two lifts in the law office set. One of the properties on which Stark Studios was built housed an actual law firm so we kept the windows and doors from to use on our set.’
Elsje Stark noted that the challenging logistics of the production were able to be met because of the crew and cast “They are fantastic and everyone has whole-heartedly come to the party.’