How ABC's "Back in Time For Dinner" Gave Monitoring to its Entire Crew on Set

Everyone on set wants to see the monitor to be better at their roles, but as all set life crew know too well, trying to see the monitor in video village is like searching for your friend at a music festival. And if you’re not the Director or AC on set, chances are you’ll have to share a monitor with the rest of your crew and accommodate their needs as well. We all know how annoying that can be.

But this production wasn’t going to have those issues. ABC’s Back in Time for Dinner is Australia’s newest primetime TV show - adapted from the incredibly successful British TV show of the same name - where a family is placed sometime in the 20th century and have to behave according that time period, all while chuckling at the ridiculousness of it all. From fashion to cookware to gender roles, this half comedy, half lifestyle show isn’t only historical, but also a poignant look at the contrasts between now and back then.

“This was going to be the show’s big debut in Australia, so our goal was to make it even better than the BBC did for the UK version. The show was highly-anticipated by Australian viewers who’ve watched the British version since 2015. It’s so popular even Canada is producing one now,” says Tim Hawkins, DP for the show.

Time to Monitor

“One of the biggest obstacles on major sets is how many people want to see the shot. We work in an age of cinematography where because you have tools like monitors, more people want to see it to make their jobs easier. But on top of that, since this show had major network backing, we had clients from Warner Bros, BBC, and even media outlets come to check out the production. So instead of taking our monitors, we used the Serv Pro instead.”

The setup:

  • 3x Sony F5 cameras (handheld/Easy Rig)
  • 3x Teradek Serv Pro
  • 1x Teradek Link router
  • Multiple iPads and iPhones on set

DP Tim Hawkins with Serv Pro on FS5 Easy Rig.

The Serv Pro is an iOS/Android monitoring device that allows anyone within range to monitor the shot from the convenience of their own mobile devices, all by connecting to the same WiFi network. This gives every contributing member on set a personal monitor to play with, and the companion app VUER comes loaded with professional monitoring features like focus assist, frame grab and waveform.

Most of the production used a 3-camera setup, each with a Teradek Serv Pro connected. The Serv Pros then broadcast the video wirelessly to the Link’s WiFi network, where Tim’s crew and clients used their personal devices to pull a feed. Since the VUER app can display up to 4 different screens side-by-side, they could monitor every camera simultaneously.

Crew members monitored every camera feed on tablets and phones with the VUER app.

Most of the primary crew members used it for their roles, including the Director, Series Producer, Executive Producer, 1st AC and clients. At times the crew managed to reach the maximum 10 mobile devices supported.

Something for Everybody

“A large portion of the show is shot in front of the dining table with the talent working around it and sitting down for dinner. For these shots, I want to have eyes on every single camera, and obviously looking at each camera’s viewfinder won’t work. So instead I used either an iPhone or an iPad from the video village. This way I was able to see all cameras at the same time, and see exactly what other members on set were seeing too.”

Serv Pro supports up to 10 iOS/Android devices.

With sets that were often jam-packed, it was essential that crewmembers and clients could monitor without crowding around a single monitor. That’s why Hawkins chose to incorporate the Serv Pros into this production. Each member on set could tune in from their own personal devices, which meant more freedom to move around set and see the shot.

This also helped each member perform their individual tasks better. The series producer & executive producers needed to have photos from the production each night, so instead of taking photos on set, they used VUER’s frame grab to get the images straight to their iOS camera roll. Similarly, when Hawkins had to adjust lights & background, instead of moving back & forth between viewfinder and the set, all he needed was his phone to make quick adjustments.

With the Link and Serv Pro, crews could monitor the shot on personal devices from up to 1000 ft. away.

“For demanding projects like this, it’s critical that we operate as efficiently as possible to get the job done. The solution I found for achieving that is by getting as many of my crew access to the shot as possible. When I could look at my phone and see how the other camera guys were framing, it completely changed the way I operated and directed on set. In my world, the Serv Pro is here to stay and firmly locked into my essentials kit.”

Tim Hawkins is a Director of Photography based in Australia. His work includes other popular TV series such as My Kitchen Rules, Real Housewives of Sydney, Hell’s Kitchen Australia, and much more. Instagram - LinkedIn


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