Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to shoot different kinds of concert video on a budget

(Above: A sample of a test file of Iona during my edit of their Cornerstone video, in Quicktime. Notice the compression rate is so low this file is really large, almost 60 gigs in size. Clearly a quicktime file that will choke most nonlinear editing systems.)

There is an old saying, which is they won't miss the video they never saw to begin with. This is a true saying basically something I heard from a wedding videographer. He figured if the video cut wasn't good enough, you might as well cut it from the final product, because the bride and groom won't know it was missing, because they never saw the shot to begin with.

For a commercial production for a client this is true. And if you shoot something and think it has some value, even with bad camera work as the guy running the camera, you may feel the temptation to leave that shot in. Even if it's badly framed, or a bit out of focus. This may make the end product a little less professional looking and show the flaws of your shooting technique. When your shooting history and want to preserve it and perhaps some aspect of the event, you may make the decision to purposely weaken the end product a little and make it a little worse. It will show flaws in your camera performance for the sake of showing a shot you took of the event. This becomes a great temptation. And it's a temptation toward showing a little bit more or erring on the side of showing to many camera angles. This is the approach I took with the Iona Video edit, or at least the early versions and the one I just mailed out to them.

I took a "more camera angles" is better approach and tried to put in a few more handheld shots than I would if I was trying to show only the best and most steady and in focus shots. From a classical editing perspective this is a mistake and shows a weaker video. I took this path anyway, to show more of the band, even if a few shots were out of focus. I cut more to the music and tried to show all the band members. This made the overall video a little weaker. And I might make another edit a more final edit and remove some of these shots and also remove some of the camera shake from some of the shots that are in the current released DVD that was mailed to Iona's booking agent.

With that disclaimer stated on the blog. I'm going to continue a bit and talk about ways people shoot or approach video.

Ideally you'll have camera operators on each camera. I didn't have that luxury at Cornerstone 2012. I was shooting alone, so I had a lot of fixed camcorders on tripods.

From a classical perspective and approach, a director will have people that will follow commands from a director. And the director will have expensive communication equipment and headsets for the camera operators who act almost like slaves to the will of the director. They listen for a shot that is called and try to provide that. The director will also tell a switcher operator what camera they should cut to for a live video mix or live switched video.

Another approach is one I would take. I wanted camera operators who could think independently and operate without any direction at all. They would know their main targets ahead of time. And keep the target and task that they are responsible for.

The classical cable studio approach requires more equipment and communication equipment. It often has substandard operators and they don't need to know much about music, they just listen and respond to commands on a headset.
The "cable access" approach a crew of somewhat untrained operators will try to use some cable access equipment. They may have limited skills and you'll end up with a very standard shoot.

Also a well planned video event for commercial release will have a lot of expert camera operators and expensive equipment. I don't have that setup and never did for Christian music video stuff that I did. So this more expert approach was not something we attempted.

My goal of course was to shoot bands (in the past) with limited quality equipment that was affordable. This was a compromise on equipment quality and made the gathering of video difficult. I used a very standard way and very boring way of taping most bands at first and I'm more drawn to a standard and safe way to shoot video, for example having many cameras with "safe shots all the time" so I have something to cut to and something that is a backup to cut to. I don't like close ups from operators that pan all over and have a lot of dead video on the screen so I have nothing to cut to. If you have more cameras then you can take more wild footage that has a lot less usable footage. The more cameras you use, the more junk you may acquire at times.

It's more important to have people who can think for themselves and understand music and can follow the band, that to have an operator who thinks he's a great camera operator and creative, but knows nothing about music and won't listen to the band. This is my opinion.

The creative and perhaps ADD like shooter who is focusing on taking little creative snippets for the really unusual odd stuff can be the forth or fifth camera operator. That camera operator is shooting for their own enjoyment most of the time and most of their footage is unusable. They may have an almost photographic quality to the approach, they are looking for the perfect shot, and may move like they are taking a photograph. I'm not saying there is no room for that kind of independent approach, but it's way down on the pecking order for what I was looking for.

Perhaps at times I was too conservative. Sometimes young camera operators who were in a band would get creative shots of the band and this would seem far from safe, but these shots gave a new fresh perspective and they were cut into the "live video feed" creatively. And these made the video seem like a live music video, something more than a normal Palacevision kind of live feed. We had people tell us our video was better than Palacevision in giant venues, because of creative and strobe affects we had in our live video at times. The video became an integral part of the show and provided added value.

There are a few ways you can approach video.

If you are shooting it as a documentary of the event, you will want more wide shots from the back. Something to give establishing shots of the band. This to show the viewers the overall look of the event and document the event. At least that is what I feel. But for a live event feed. The audience in the back isn't interested in the wide long shot, because most of them are already far away from the stage. They want to see close ups and more of the up front action. You are providing a binocular or telescope to the audience. So when you're doing live video you want to use a video mixer and mix in more up front shots and unusual perspectives and perhaps use more effects than you would for a finished documentary like video.

With "ISO CAMERA" recording, meaning recording with tapes in each camera, not just a recording of the video mix, you can go back and edit the event and get a more general edit of the event to show others as the "memory video" or documentary video of the event.

With a crew that works together and gets used to shooting video, here is the secret we used, not really much of a secret, but it worked out that way. . . to shoot bands without any communication at all to the camera operators.

We assigned targets and priorities for each camera operator. One camera operator would have the goal of getting the lead video clip. This meant the lead part of most important part of the musical event at that time. Close your eyes and listen to a part of a song. What is going on? What is the lead at this moment as you listen to that sample selection? Whatever that is, that is the lead video shot and what most people are interested in most of the time. The lead camera operator must get that shot and stay safe. It's a boring job, but someone has to do it. So that is their assigned task. If they can do that well you have lead coverage and can always go to it most of the time.

Then there is the secondary musical event. This is the target of the second camera operator. The lead operator often has to focus on the lead singer, as most songs involve singing and that may be where they are. What is the secondary part that is most important. At times it's another perspective shot of the lead, a second view, but most of the time it's focusing on the second most important thing that is happening musically. It might be a hot guitarist or a hot bass lick or some other instrument. Maybe a saxophone lead. Whatever that is, that is the job of the secondary camera operator. And both of course have to be positioned well in order to get those shots. They may have to be aware of where the other operator is and if they can get their shot. If the other operator can't get that shot, the two might make creative decisions to switch targets. This can result in a difficult mix or edit, but if they play it safe and make sure there is some kind of target in the viewfinder all the time, at least the switcher operator can select the best target at that time.

Then there is the third most important shot. Which in a three camera shoot conservatively - is often the back camera establishing shot. If you have the luxury of a camera operator on that back camera shot, then that will be at times zoomed in and maybe show a two shot or three shot of the band, a little closer but perhaps with less than the entire stage. If you have a more powerful and advanced camera it might even zoom in to the lead singer and show a shot of them from the back of the auditorium, but that is rare and really rare for budget shooting and budget prosumer or industrial camera equipment.

Then there is the fourth or fifth camera or a roving camera. That person may be on stage and behind the drummer or focusing on unusual cutaways and shots from behind the band. Hopefully showing the audience as well. This becomes the forth most important part. Then of course there are times when perhaps the number one and two camera operators are dealing with a dualing part between a couple of instruments that are playing together. This becomes another challenge, but if you have the back cutaway to the entire band you can recover from any mistake the others make and cut to the back camera at any time. So the goal is to have at least two safe cameras and perhaps have one or two camera operators take risks.

If you have an inexperienced crew, or someone with attention deficit disorder, in the way they work, they will not have the patience to stay on their assigned target and the video will suffer.

It's better to have two really good camera operators at an event that four or five people who are completely clueless and not following the music at all. I've had video with a lot of volunteers and many of them were very poor in their quality of shooting skills and those five cameras will an absolute nightmare to mix or edit. With virtually no usable video. And I've had two camera shoots where both camera operators knew what they were doing and that video looked much better, even if the back establishing camera was missing.

It becomes less of a "directing role" for the director of these kinds of events, and more of a "selecting role". In other words the director is looking at the feeds that the camera operators are providing and saying to himself, "what is the best shot and most musical shot, that the audience wants to see at this time?" So the camera operators become more of an independent operator who can think for themselves, not a servant listening for the next command from the "director". There is less control over the camera operators and more trust. Sometimes you get a little more chaos, but sometimes more creative shots that way.

AVOID ROOKIE SWITCHER OPERATORS. As a director of a live shoot using my budget technique, you have to beware and avoid pretenders who don't know much about video but think they do. They may want to run the video mixer, but not have a good sense of video production or film. I told one "concert photographer" volunteer. he could run a video mixer and that he should have fun with it and "just select the best shot". I said, "it's kind of like a video game" remarking about the mixer and how easy it was to select video. I meant this for an ease of use perspective, not as a creative user perspective. I promptly went out and took one of the cameras to provide video to the event and left him at the switcher. I couldn't see the switched video from my location on a giant screen. I didn't realize what he was doing and he was inexperienced. Later I saw the video mix and it made me sick, meaning it was dizzying. It had way to many cuts that made no sense, constantly cutting from one camera to another and using buss effects that made no sense at all. It was horrible. The expert photographer thought he did a great job and said he had a lot of fun switching and it really was like a video game. I felt sorry for the audience who had to endure looking at that dizzying display of a mess. Needless to say I was very careful on who I would allow on a switcher again. I'd have to make sure they knew a little something about video and weren't playing a "video game" for their own enjoyment. This doesn't mean they cannot learn how to switch, just don't let them switch and learn on a live event without direction and some training. I want to moderate this remark a little and also say that band members or some can bring new interesting perspectives at times by accident and create something new and different for the live mix. We had a band member do a switch from camera 1 to camera 1, yes the same camera. He did this by accident switching from the same buss to the same selected source and had one of the busses strobed. This with a slow half dissolve created a strobe effect that followed the live video feed of the same angle. It was a very interesting special effect and we used this at times in our live events. It was something done by accident and discovery in a house when we were playing with the switcher and a band in the living room somewhere. So rookie mistakes or creativity can lead to some interesting effects that might be usable.

It's more important to know and follow the music on a concert video shoot than pretend to be an expert camera operator. That's my humble opinion.

Also, this advice is for low budget documentary like shooting and some live shooting. It doesn't cover very high level or quality shooting that is planned scripted or has very high level professional talent. That would be the subject of a different topic and since I rarely shoot those kinds of videos, I will leave that to other writers.

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