In August 2002, UK media giant Granada plc chose an Australian rainforest at Tully in northern Queensland as the setting for its reality TV production I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! To produce a series of I'm a Celebrity for America's ABC network, followed a few weeks later by a second series for its home UK market, Granada set up a rainforest production facility to service both of these productions, with the potential for others in the future.
Granada has taken a one-plus year license over a privately-owned area of rainforest near Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales. In November 2002, construction began on access roads for what would temporarily be one of the largest television production facilities in Australia. With 42 cameras, 13 Avid edit suites, and a staff of around 390, operating on a round-the-clock basis for the duration of each series, the facility was certainly one of the busiest in the country.
Lighting director on the two productions was Sydney-based David “Dizzy” Scandol. Originally hired to assist UK lighting designer Tom Kinnane on the first series of I'm a Celebrity, Scandol was hired for his knowledge of infrared lighting techniques, acquired as LD on Australia's Big Brother series. When Kinnane was unable to get to Australia for the next two series of I'm a Celebrity, Scandol was approached. “It's quite rare for an Australian LD to be given the opportunity to light productions for both US and UK prime-time television,” he says.
One of Scandol's primary concerns was the producers' requirement that the pictures have a gritty, live documentary look. One serious planning constraint was that, once contestants were in residence in the “Jungle Camp” set, there was essentially no crew access for adjustments or regular maintenance during the two weeks the production was continuously on air. This necessitated contingency plans for the coverage of a wide range of possible shooting areas and camera angles. Scandol also had senior technician Robbie Burr and the crew prepare stand-by replacement luminaires for the camp area, as on-set repairs were not practicable.
The main apparent light sources in the camp area were 20 practical “Tilley lamps” (equivalent to a Coleman lamp). These were re-engineered by Fleet Lighting to use a 500W CP82 (T/18/FRH) lamp and a reflector, instead of the original pressurized kerosene source. In the first series, only ten 200W Tilley lamps were used, requiring the cameras to operate at wide-open aperture, with 12dB of gain added, to achieve a working exposure. The use of more and brighter practicals in the later series enabled camera gain to be reduced to +9dB, despite the camp area being approximately four times larger. Exterior weatherproof PAR cans, custom-colored in jungle green, provided additional light over the camp area until lights-out.
Once the contestants were left in “darkness,” a half-dozen infrared floodlights were employed to supplement the infrared LEDs on the heads of the 13 Sony CVX-V18NS night shoot cameras, to enable full coverage of after-dark activities in the camp area. TechArt dimmers, selected especially for their low acoustic noise, controlled all fittings in the campsite area.
In addition to the campsite and the Challenge Area, where each day the contestants underwent all manner of bizarre “Bush Tucker Trials” (the producers' euphemism for tortures), there was a 10m by 10m (33'×33') roofed “studio,” situated some 8m (26.4') up in the trees.
This open-sided studio, with a 270° panorama of rainforest behind it, had a full truss lighting grid; the rig consisted of 12 daylight-corrected 12kW UltraLight Dinettes (Dutch Dinos), 16 DeSisti 2.5/4kW HMI PARs with DMX-controlled ballasts, two 1.2kW DeSisti HMI PARs with DMX-controlled ballasts, and a further eight assorted 1.2kW HMI PARs.
Having the dimmable tungsten Dinettes together with a majority of controllable HMI heads allowed Scandol to balance his pictures from the main control facility some 700m (2,300') away. At all times, three of the 10 lighting crew were involved with production activities. One looked after HMIs, another watched the weather and acted as the LD's eyes on the set, while the third, equipped with a 200W HMI sungun, was charged with watching the action and responding to the production's needs before they arose.
Beneath the floor of the studio was an equipment storage level which served to keep much of the equipment out of the tropical rain and the mud, providing a dry home for the HMI ballasts and the studio's 72 channels of dimmers.
Murwillumbah is the wettest place in New South Wales, with an average February rainfall of 227mm (9"). However, during the three weeks of rehearsal and shooting for the US series, the district received 550mm (22"). Earth leakage protection, in the form of residual current detectors (the equivalent of ground fault circuit interrupters) was, of course, absolutely essential. Surprisingly enough, despite all the rain on a site using around 1.3MVA of power, there were only a couple of minor circuit interruptions due to rain getting into the practical Tilley lamps.
Fleet Lighting supplied the Dinettes, Tilley lamps, and some 1.2kW HMI PARs. All rigging and grip equipment and the balance of the lighting systems was supplied, customized, and maintained by Schuster's Lighting Supplies. Power for every requirement, including lighting, technical, safety, and accommodation was generated and reticulated right up to the power socket or the dimmer rack by Aggreko Event Services.