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Doing the Video Production Thing

White Rabbit's specialty is making interviewees look great. Painting them with the right lights, placing them in visually appealing settings, and creating a film-like look using videotape—normally a harsh and all-too-realistic-looking medium.

Other production houses have other specialties. One focus for Cinemagic Studios in Portland is on-location, multicamera videotaping. Corporate roundtable discussions, live musical performances, and sporting events all fall into this realm. It takes a team of pros who have worked together for years to pull off something this fraught with complexities and possible snafus.

Joe Walsh's Event Shooting Tips

Joe Walsh and his team at Cinemagic Studios were my go-to guys when I worked as an independent video producer in Portland. I knew I could count on Cinemagic Studios to tackle whatever I threw at them. Walsh founded Cinemagic in 1980. His truly dedicated team, several of whom have worked for him for many years, has gained the confidence of a broad range of clients by meeting their unique needs and solving their communication problems.

Cinemagic offers a full range of film, video, animation, and multimedia services for commercials, documentation, promotion, training, instruction, seminars, business meetings, and corporate backgrounders. Their work has garnered 30 Telly Awards (http://www.cinemagicstudios.com).

One of Cinemagic's fortes is shooting events using multiple cameras and switching them live. Here's Walsh's checklist:

  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of your client's expectations and budget. Crew prices vary depending on the market. In Cinemagic's case, we charge $1,500 per day for a standard DVCAM or Beta SP camera package with a cameraman and an audio person.

  • Do a site check and rehearsal to determine the best camera locations. For two-camera remotes, it's best to have a back and front position. Place the cameras on risers so that you can shoot over people's heads. Position the cameras so that you don't "cross the plane" and shoot toward each other. Use the rehearsal to iron out details with the people in charge of the location.

  • Use multiple cameras and switch the event live to minimize editing afterward. Later, if the budget allows it, you can improve the product by tossing in some post-production editing and graphics. Cinemagic's remote multicamera setup includes a digital switcher, intercom system, audio mixer, studio recorder, and monitors for each camera crew, plus preview and program feed monitors. Budding producers take note: To buy the equivalent gear that we use for your own two-camera remote setup would cost about $75,000.

  • Always have the cameras record separate tapes. Even though we switch events live, if the technical director makes a bad switch or a cameraman makes an awkward move, we can fix it in post.

  • "Jam sync" all recorders before starting to record. Setting the timecode to match all recorders makes it much easier to find footage that you need if you have to fix something in editing (see Hour 21, "Real-World Applications and Third-Party Products," for a review of Multicam, a product that enables you to "live edit" multiple-camera shoots).

  • Have a pre-production meeting with your crew to discuss the project and assign their responsibilities. Onsite setup usually takes one hour for a single camera and two hours for multiple cameras. Make sure that all the cables are tucked away or taped down. After the setup, do a test record and playback check. During the event, we always monitor the audio and video signals.

  • Ensure that your location is well lit. For a lot of our events, the house handles the lighting, which makes our job a lot easier. If not, we typically turn to our basic light kit: a Lowel light system with two broad throw Tota lights and one wide-focus-range Omni to use as a key- or backlight (see Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1FIGURE 3.1 Lowel Tota light (left) and Lowel Omni light. (Images courtesy Lowel-Light Manufacturing, Inc.)

  • Audio is crucial. When events handle their own audio, we take a line feed from their soundboard and use shotgun mics for backup and ambient audio. Otherwise, we rely on our standard mic kit: camera mic, shotgun, lavaliere, handheld, and PZM (pressure zone microphone, useful for a conference table with several speakers).

  • When using wireless mics, select UHF instead of VHF to avoid frequency conflicts. All sorts of fun stuff can go wrong with wireless mics. Your receiver can pick up other sources on your channel, such as radio stations (I always get country music), pizza delivery guys, or other wireless mics from local commercial TV stations. The UHF wireless mics have multiple channels at the higher MHz frequency range, so there is less chance of interference. Always keep fresh batteries on hand. As the batteries grow weak, reception problems occur.

    Our favorite wireless mic story happened when we were taking an audio line feed from the house. The house audio man placed a wireless mic on the presenter. Just moments before he was to go on, the presenter went to the bathroom. Not only did we pick up the very graphic audio, so did the 500 people in the auditorium.

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