Anyone tuning into last night’s Inside No. 9 on BBC Two would have seen a change from the scheduled programme – or so it seemed.
The episode billed for that time, titled Hold on Tight, was supposed to be set on a bus. But before the episode began, viewers were told that a technical difficulty meant it couldn’t be shown and that a new quiz show pilot featuring comedian Lee Mack would air instead.
Mack then appeared on screen presenting what appeared to be a quiz show, however, all was not what it seemed. In fact, the project was so secret that windows in the dock10 gallery were covered up so that word wouldn’t get out, and the project was given a special code name.
Planning for the episode began months ago, with the production team needing to create a realistic-looking quiz show set in a studio. Instead of creating a physical set, the team chose to employ a virtual set instead, which led them to dock10.
“dock10 said they had a virtual prototype for a quiz show that we could look at and adapt for our own needs,” explained Eirwen Davies, from Inside No. 9 producer BBC Studios Productions. “That is what did. We adapted their virtual quiz show set.”
The shoot took place at dock10 over two days. Each of the contestants (who were in fact actors) had a physical buzzer in front of them that they could press. Apart from the buzzers, much of the set was digitally created – and was composited into the shots in real-time during production.
“If I looked at the studio, there was literally nothing there,” added Davies. “Then I’d look at the comped in shots [on the monitor] with the entire set in it. It blew my mind!”
“If you were filming a quiz show in a traditional multicamera studio, you’d run it as live from beginning to end to keep the momentum going, and then go back in for some pick up shots,” she explained. “Because this was virtual, and there was very little in the studio, we were able to do lots of different passes. It was almost a bit like a hybrid between a multicamera and a single camera set up.”
Most of the work on the set was carried out during the pre-production stage, with producer Kim Crowther and production designer Paul Rowan visiting dock10 for a demo, followed by regular meetings with dock10’s virtual studio specialists who helped to adapt the virtual quiz show prototype.
Asked if Inside No. 9 could return to a virtual set in the future, Davies says that will depend on what creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton write. “Every single episode is different,” she added.