Punching above our weight
London Chessboxing approached us in Summer 2019 to produce the live-stream internet broadcasts for their consistently sold-out events, in order to open up their rather niche sport to a wider audience. And boy, has it been one hell of a ride.
The weird and wonderful sport has meanwhile been attracting media attention from the likes of the BBC, ITV, the Guardian, and a whole lot more to boot (or should that be glove?) so we figured we were in good company.
Checkmate or KO
Chessboxing does exactly what it says on the tin, but you still have to have it spelled out to you because you can’t quite believe it.
Touted as “the ultimate test of mind and body” by the Telegraph, Chessboxing’s core mechanic is summed up nicely by GQ: “A chessboard is dumped in the centre of a boxing ring, you play for three minutes, the chessboard is removed, you fight for three minutes. Either you checkmate or you knockout.”
The reason for our involvement was twofold: increase the production value of London Chessboxing’s live shows in order to (a) draw a larger online audience and grow their fanbase, and (b) entice sports broadcasters to invest in and televise the events.
To this end, we put together a crack team of live-stream specialists to work with Chessboxing to suss out how they wanted to run the show, and then translate these requirements into the necessary equipment and technical setup that would be needed to achieve this.
Filming an event with a live audience in a relatively small venue meant that our main challenge was in finding the best camera angles in the physical space. Each potential angle involved a compromise between three key factors:
• Would this be the best angle for the online audience?
• Would this obstruct the live audience’s view?
• Would this be a safe space for our camera operator?
Negotiating these challenges required a lot of planning and rehearsing, from site visits to Skype calls to sketched-out diagrams of the venue covered in lots of indecipherable squiggles. But in all this planning, we had to allow enough leeway for spontaneity on the night from the fighters and performers.
All the toys
Armed with three Sony FS7 cameras, a Canon C300 camera, an assortment of microphones, walkie-talkie headsets, mixing desks, stage scaffolding and a good old-fashioned tool kit, we custom-built a rig that could capture, and react to, the madness that is Chessboxing.
Our stream director Andrew called the shots, lining up what camera angle of the ring should be broadcast and directing the camera operators via headset; Hamish sat next to him, overlaying the relevant graphics such as the countdown timer and fighter cards, all of which we produced and tested pre-event; and George mixed between a dozen audio feeds to capture each blow as it landed, the ambient cheers of the crowd, and the commentator’s reactions.
Show Producer: Gavin Paterson
Show Director: Tim Woolgar
Floor Manager: Annabel Innes
Assistant Show Producer: Kate Gilbert
Stream Producer: Rory Yeung
Stream Director / Vision Mix Engineer: Andrew Foster
Graphics and Playout Operator: Hamish Mullen
Camera Operators: Jack Ayers and Andy Coulton
Sound Engineer: George Collins
Assistant Sound Engineer: Katie Earl
MC: Gem Carmella
Commentators: Chris Levy and Matt Lunn
Referee: Reinaldo Dominguez
Arbiter: Kanwal Bhatia
Chessboxers: Roger "Cannonball" Baxter, Shayan "Shah" Zarein Dolab, Dan "The Tax Man" Mayfield, Brian "No Slack" Mak, Gerard "Ripper" Reilly, Jon "The Brick" Wood, Cameron "Hurt Locker" Little, David "Northern Powerhouse" Jarmany
Twitch Jockey: Daniel Mayfield
Disc Jockey: Paul Lander
Social Media Exec: Ro Elfberg
Timekeeper: Peter Crowley
Chess Display: Nick Murphy
Stage Supervisor: Will Lyons
Stage Hands: Malvina Rigoni, Will Gray, Jamie Hulme
Venue Manager: Jen Van der Linde
Venue Technician: Dave Billings
Medics: Dave Sage and Katie Greveson
Stills Photographers: Pawel Gawronski and Nicola Irvine