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  • Dan Guest

A Look Back on... "Persian Gogglebox" (2017 - 2022)

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Back in 2017, I was fortunate to start work on a new TV project called “BebinTV”, the Persian/Farsi language version of the popular British show “Gogglebox”. When I started, it was already 2 seasons in with a small crew shooting around the Manchester and Liverpool area. It went on to be my longest running project I’ve ever been a part of, mixing sound for 6 seasons over a 5 year period until it’s final season in 2022.

In this blog, I’m going to be taking a look back on my time on the show, discussing the format, how we shot and recorded each episode, the equipment used, challenges faced and how the show differed to the original British “Gogglebox”.

 

Inception & Format of “BebinTV”

bebintv cast 1

Over the years, whenever I tell people about how I worked on a “Persian version of Gogglebox”, it’s always met with surprise and raised eyebrows, usually followed by questions of “where is it shot?” “how does that work?”. Well…

The format and licence of the original “Gogglebox” was bought by Persian TV network, Manoto TV around 2016. Using what the industry calls a ‘show bible’, the network created their Persian version of the show, using the same techniques and similar equipment to achieve it.

bebintv cast 2

The network then scouted Persian and Farsi-speaking families and couples around the Manchester and Liverpool area as this area had communities of Farsi-speaking people living there that may be interested in taking part. Once the families and couples were chosen, the show was crewed up and shooting could be begin. Whilst the crew in Manchester got to work, a separate crew over in Toronto, Canada got to work on their shoots too. Footage of all the households involved would then be complied together to make an episode.

 

Crew

bebintv crew 1

The on-location crew was small in comparison to other TV factual entertainment shows, consisting of; a director, a camera operator, a sound mixer (me), production assistant/driver and Data Wrangler. However, by summer 2020, that number unfortunately had to reduce due to the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, which meant the director also became the camera operator.

Throughout my entire time working on the show, the whole crew were all so lovely to work with and it all quickly felt like a little family working together (big shout out to our crew; Reza, Nima, Alex, Adam, Farhad and all the people that came in to cover for us over the years, as well as our regular participants; Reza, Mehdi, Mansooreh, Hamid, Aram, Yashar, Delnaz, Negar, thank you all for the memories!).

 

How it Worked

As mentioned earlier, Manoto TV bought the licence of the British “Gogglebox”, so their format structure was used for the Persian version. They made some slight changes to accommodate for the Persian culture, but it was essentially the same format.

bebintv cast 3

The crew would arrive at a household, set up the cameras in the lounge in front of the TV then set up the monitoring and recording equipment in a separate room. We would then show the participants clips from various Persian shows that have recently aired in Iran as well as popular British or American shows (Persian subtitled or dubbed) that Manoto TV had permission to use. The clips would range from anywhere between 2 minutes to sometimes 15 minutes in length and we would show around 12 – 15 clips per household. Once they watched through all the clips and we got all the reaction and chatter we needed from the household, we would then move on to the next one. We would usually shoot 2 households in one shooting day (sometimes 3 but those were pretty rough going for the crew!), and then all that footage would get ingested and compiled by the Data Wrangler who would then forward on to the in-house editing team at Manoto TV who would immediately start editing the footage.

It was all a fairly quick turnaround, with the show airing every Wednesday for around 13 consecutive weeks per season. We would begin shooting on a Thursday and finish on a Monday, with the edit team then having a couple of days to prepare the show to air.

 

Equipment

The equipment we used for the majority of the show’s run was very similar to that used in the British version.

The cameras used were remote-controlled. There were 2 cameras; one as a wide shot and one as a roaming mid-shot/close-up. The cam op would operate them from our monitoring/recording setup in a room away from the lounge, establishing the settings, establishing the wide shot and then moving the 2nd camera around during recording to capture mid-shots and close-ups of the participants based on direction from the director.

bebintv equipment

For the sound equipment, we used a Sound Devices 633 as the main mixer, which then fed into a recording device called an Apollo which collated both the video and sound files together into one usable file for the edit, so no direct syncing of video and audio in post-production was required.The microphones used were primarily radio mics. These were Sennheiser G3 transmitters and receivers whilst the lavalier mics were DPA 4061s. We also used a ‘voice-of-god’ mic to allow the director to communicate directly with the participants from outside the lounge. This mic was routed to a speaker in the lounge which would play both the microphone (when activated) and playback of the video clips we showed them.

 

Challenges

My main duties as Sound Mixer on the show was to mix the levels of the participants correctly whilst also controlling the output level of the speaker in the lounge which was playing the sound of the video clips the participants were watching on TV. The challenge here was always to find a balance between the speaker not being too loud that it’s over-bearing on the radio mics, but also that the participants can clearly hear the audio of the clip they are watching. This was particularly challenging when the video clips were often at different volume levels, e.g. one clip may be very quiet and softly spoken so therefore I had to turn it up. On the next clip, it’s suddenly super loud but also has quiet parts too so I had to always be ready to change the volume as and when required during the recordings.


bebintv microphone

Other challenges also included getting good, consistent sound from the concealed radio mics on the participants. The challenge here was often one of 2 things or sometimes even both! Firstly, clothing choice. Sometimes a participant would choose to wear a very noisy fabric that constantly makes too much noise against the mic, the second thing was body hair. On male participants, this was often a big issue, especially when combined with a clothing fabric issue! The solution here was basically to keep trying different spots on the body until we found somewhere which was either noise-free or the least noisy. Check out the pic for this section of my favourite spot I found for a mic during one of these moments of trial and error. Glasses-Mic is fantastic by the way, it sounds awesome!  

The other big challenge of the show came when the Pandemic happened. Back in Feb 2020, we were in the middle of shooting with some participants in London when all of a sudden we were shut down, just like everyone else around the world. However, by summer 2020, Manoto TV had managed to devise a safe way for us to return to work, but it meant a reduced crew and lots of safety precautions. We had to all wear masks at all times, sanitise equipment constantly and monitor/record as far away from the participants as possible, often from a van parked outside the house. This was very challenging, but I was extremely grateful to be working in such tough times for the industry. Big shout out to my director and friend Reza for fighting for us to continue working during this time too, without his efforts with management we may not have gone on for as long as we did!

 

How it differs to the British “Gogglebox”

bebintv cast 4

The main difference between the Persian show and the British Gogglebox is mainly the content shown to the participants. The shows our participants watched was much more politically-led, i.e. LOADS of news-related content from Iran’s news networks relating to government issues, atrocities, etc. This was often quite upsetting to participants too which I think the network thought made good TV, but was often deemed frustrating TV to watch because audiences didn’t want to be reminded of real world problems. They wanted to watch every day people react to TV shows and films we all know and love and get their insight, thoughts and playful banter on them. It’s not to say BebinTV didn’t show more entertainment-based clips because they did, but the balance certainly felt more political than entertainment.

 

The End of the Show

In February 2022, we finished season 8 of BebinTV. The initial plan was to take a few weeks break then return for season 9, but that never happened. Political tension in Iran suddenly escalated, then the storage unit housing all of the show’s equipment also suddenly went up in flames in a fire! The rebuild of the equipment began (with myself liaising with staff in relation to the sound side of things), but unfortunately it was all in vain. The network was cautious to bring the show back due to the ongoing political tensions in Iran and then eventually, in November 2023, it was sadly announced that the Manoto TV network would actually be closing their satellite broadcasting channel, which consequently confirmed the end of BebinTV. In January 2024, Manoto TV aired content for the final time.

 

bebintv crew 2

Final Thoughts

It feels really sad to think that I’ll never return to working on this show, as I enjoyed working with the crew and all the participants so much. It feels like we never got to truly say goodbye to the show as no one finished season 8 thinking that was the end. However, it was such a great period of time in my career working with such lovely people and great memories that I will always cherish and who knows... maybe we’ll all meet again soon?


Dan Guest

Sound Recordist

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