Out of Thin Air

Belvoir Castle, on which estate I live, has been the subject of a 2 year project to bring into being the recently found 200 year old plans of Capability Brown, probably the most famous landscape architect in England. In the last year a TV program has been in the making which airs its first of 3 parts tonight.

Quite aside from all that, Belvoir Castle has become a world-class shooting estate with people coming the world over to shoot here during the season. It has been being run by Phill Burtt, the David Beckham of the shooting world.

It was decided just a few days ago that a Belvoir Shoot video should be done and gotten onto the Guns and Pegs website, the largest shooting related website in the world for both those seeking venues and those looking for them. This was to coincide with the airing of the Capability Brown program.

Luckily I had some footage shot last year to add to the mix.

It turns out now that this is my favorite marketing video to date– shot completely off-the-cuff, mainly with the Sony PXW X70 and some NX30 footage.

It’s a long and interesting story that I may detail in an update of Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide, but for now, just a couple of notes.

  1. I probably take the ‘don’t use tripods much’ to an extreme. The only tripod shot in the video was the Phil Burtt interview. But look closely at the opening and ending shots of Belvoir Castle with the titles. I amazed even myself, because, believe it or not, that was hand-held standing a mile away from the castle.
  2. Notice the echo in the Duchess interview. I actually recorded it with two mics, one lapel (rather sloppily attached I note) and one rifle. It is a real echoey room to begin with. The rifle picked up too much echo so I didn’t use it. The lapel picked up none. So I mixed the lapel and then added echo from the FCPX audio effects–ironic, because I’m usually trying to get rid of it. In this case, it sounded really dumb without echo.

Anyway, I’ll leave it at that for now.

You Americans might not understand what you’re looking at. It’s just the time-honored tradition of English shooting, right on down to wearing the right outfit, with breaks for champagne and sloe gin, bacon or sausage sandwiches, ending up with drinks and a dinner.

 

 

Shooting Concerts as a Lone Shooter

 

World Leaders and Power Seekers still 6

To best understand how to shoot a concert as a lone shooter, let’s consider how a concert would normally be shot.

Typical Multi-Camera Concert Shoot

A live concert is generally shot is with 6-18 cameras and a live cut director. (those numbers are arbitrary, but representative of most of the concerts and live performances I have shot).

Typically one frontal camera is dedicated to close shots of the main performer. Next to it is another frontal camera whose job is to cover anything from long shots of the stage plus audience all the way into medium shots of the performer. With this set-up you’re never without a close shot of the main performer even though other cameras will be shooting close-ups from different angles from time to time.

Then off to the left and right will be another couple of cameras also dedicated to side or 3/4 angles onthe main performer, but can also be assigned to other performers and solos based on the shooting plan.

There will be one or two, even three long shot cameras covering the whole stage and will be variously framed on the stage or stage plus audience and may be zooming in or out at the beginning and end of numbers.

Either additionally, or as part of the long shot camera set-up, there will be a couple cameras (or more) on cranes.

Near the stage there may be a camera set up on a dolly for lateral dolly shots.

And finally there will be 2 or 3 (or more) hand-held cameras on stage or at stage front assigned to dynamic angles, instrument close-ups etc.

That’s a pretty standard set-up and can even be tricked out with steadicam operators, wire cameras (cameras flying on wires), etc.

Ideally there is a full rehearsal with the band at which point the director determines the various camera cues. For example, when there are solos, he’ll know when they are and that he must have a camera on it and ready to go.

If no rehearsal, there will still be a cue sheet used for the same purpose.

All the cameramen will be in communication with the director (mainly for listening) via a comm system. During the show the cameramen, with their various assignments, will generally know what to do throughout the show based on their assignments (so you don’t wind up with 18 cameras all shooting close-ups of the singer), but will be assisted by the director calling out cues in advance of the live cut. For example; “Ready Camera 2 on a close shot push”, then, “Take”.  The “ready’ means you’re about to go live pushing into a close shot.  “Take” means you’re live. This doesn’t mean he’ll cue every single cut. He’ll be looking at all the cameras on his monitors. If he sees a nice shot on camera 6, he may say “ready 6….take”. When he says ‘ready’ that means he’s going to you, so that’s not the time to zoom into a cute girl or pick your nose.

And so it goes.

From the multitude of cameras of varying image sizes and angles makes editing easy, even on a live edit. Any mistakes are easily fixed in post.

Ok, so that’s NOT the scene we’re talking about for a lone shooter.

The Lone Shooter ‘Multi-Cam Shoot’

Why do lone shooters even try to shoot a concert?

Most likely it’s for a friend. And most likely it’s for little money if any at all.  And such is the case with the video samples you will see below.

When it’s a managed band with a budget, even if you are to do the shoot, you’ll be hiring extra crew and equipment–minimum two operators and 3 or 4 cameras for a small budget production and on upwards to the big budget ‘sky is the limit’ productions.

But some shooters will want to do it for a friend, do it for fun, or break into the music video business by offering some ‘starving artists’ an opportunity for better promotion with a music video for little or no money.

So how do you do it?

First of all, let’s be clear: Shooting alone is not the best way to go about it.

Shooting with only one camera is definitely the worst way to go about it.

Having at least three cameras, one of which is ambulatory (your hand-held), can make it appear to be a multi-camera shoot and will be fairly easy to edit.

More than three is even better.

Better still is having a second operator for one of the cameras…

And so on.

Ok, let’s start with a lone shooter and three cameras.

Camera Setup

Where do you set them up?

First of all, your main camera will be your hand-held and that’s the one that’s going to be getting all the close shots of the main performer. You must realise that if there is any fan-base at all, they’ll be wanting to see close shots and close-ups of their idol. They really don’t care much about cool shots of guitar strings and all that kind of fluff. Give them what they want, not what you think might be ‘artistic’.

Your locked off cameras must be necessarily on the wide side because you can not control the various changes that happen on stage while you’re running around with the hand-held, so you minimally have to cover all the performers on stage with your frontal locked off cameras.

One of the locked off cameras should be a tight shot of the main performing area of the stage.  If the stage is full, then it’s the whole stage and all the performers. If the performers occupy a portion of the stage, then it’s a loose shot of the whole grouping of performers, rather than the whole stage.

The other is on a medium shot of the main performing area from a different angle.

Balconies are a good place for these two cameras (one on either side).

I think the side angles are more interesting than a dead-on center shot, but if you have another camera, you can put it next to the sound booth or whatever center position you can occupy.

If you have a fourth camera, put it backstage shooting past the performers at the audience. It will give you nice relief shots with some nice flare off the spotlights.

Setting Exposure

You must set your static cameras to manual exposure using the highest light level of the key spot light on the main performer. (Just ask the lighting guy to give you that level and set it on someone standing in the performers position). If you don’t do that, your cameras will try to give you an exposure to the overall long or medium shot of the stage (which, on an interior stage is usually mostly black) and that will result in the main performers face being blown-out most of the time.

If you use a GoPro, just let it do it’s automatic thing. It’s pretty good about auto-exposure.

On your hand-held camera my advice–if your camera is intelligent in its auto modes like the Sony cameras I use–keep it on full intelligent auto. You’ll be all over the stage at different angles, but your shots are mainly going to be closer shots. Your camera (especially if it has facial recognition) will be able to give you good auto exposures most of the time–or at least close enough to fix in post. You just won’t have time to be fiddling with settings as you’ve got too much work to do keeping that camera’s shot useful as much as you can.

The Hand-Held Camera

The hand-held camera is the one that does all the hard work.

Because you’re ambulatory, you can get all kinds of different angles: frontal, side frontal, from the wings of the stage, and even from backstage.

Add all these angles to your static cameras and you’ll wind up with something a bit closer to a multi-camera shoot and W A Y better than a single camera zooming in and out all night long.

Be Quick But Be Patient

The trick to the hand-held camera is to hold a shot up to and slightly past what you know will be an edit point. For example, let them finish a line of lyrics or chorus and add a beat or two before changing frame. If you don’t, you’ll find out the hard way that the cut to another camera may seem awkward if you suddenly decide to reframe your hand-held camera at the wrong moment—and you’ll have no choice but to cut to another camera, because your hand-held is useless as you’re moving position and re-framing.

Once you’ve reached an edit point, you move and re-frame as fast as you can. Ideally start with a different image size. While you’re moving and re-framing, you’re covered by any one of your other cameras. But the interesting shots will be the hand-held ones, so you move as fast as lightning. All your static cameras will be shooting the same thing all night, so they’ll start to appear rather repetitive. Use them as relief, or as openers and end shots and the rest of the time run your butt off getting as many different shots as you can from different angles with your hand-held.

I mentioned above having a second operator on one of your cameras. Even if you assign him to a fixed position on a tripod, at least now he can be zooming in or out, changing static image sizes, covering a solo, etc., so now of your 3 or 4 cameras, only 1 or two are completely static. You use them lightly and give the main work to your hand-held and your other manned camera. Now it can really start looking like a professional concert shoot—even with only two cameramen.

“But I only have one camera…”

Well–borrow one or two. By hook or by crook, get at least two or three additional cameras. Fortunately most video cameras these days are HD quality. Even iPhones and iPads and the Android equivalents shoot HD.

In the samples below I had 4 completely different cameras. A Canon DSLR, a Canon XHA1, a GoPro and a Sony HXR NX30.  To say they didn’t match up would be an understatement.

I now have another Sony camera (X70), so next time I’ll be better off.

The particular show in the samples below was 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I knew it would happen eventually, and sure enough, toward the end of the show the GoPro and DSLR batteries died (even though I changed them during intermission) leaving me with only two live cameras. (That gives me the opportunity to show you what can be done with two cameras in a pinch).

Take Advantage of Breaks and Intermissions

Between songs the performers sometimes (not always) chat with the audience. There’s your chance to grab some water or make your way to an interesting new angle from the wings of the stage or wherever.

Obviously it’s best to have your static cameras on AC power, but you may need to change cards (or tape) and that you can do during an intermission or break. You can even re-frame your static cameras during a long break or intermission.

If no intermission, you’ll have no choice but to do it during one of those chats with the audience between songs. You may risk not being ready by the time they start up again, but it’s better to have that camera up and running as soon as possible than to have it dead. You’ll simply have to rely on one of your other fixed cameras while you’re tending to all that.

Of course I’m really talking about the L O N E shooter to the nth degree here. If you can get an assistant to deal with those things, all the better.

You take your sound off the house mix board. That could be run by cable to one of your static cameras, but if the cameras are too far away from the mixboard, you can simply use a digital recorder to take the audio and sync it up later. I use the Zoom H2 which I’ve had for years and which never lets me down.

Matching Disparate Cameras

Since I had 4 completely different cameras that handled color and light differently, in order to smooth it out a bit I added a ‘look’ after manually balancing the color and exposure as best I could. In this case the looks were from a Pixel Film Studios plug-in. Now I have Color Finale which, like Divinci Resolve, allows me to create any look I want.  Since this was a concert with weird concert lighting anyway, the addition of a ‘look’ just added to the whole concert thing. But mainly it served to smooth out the differences between all the cameras to some degree.

The singer sat beside me and I scrolled through the various looks I have from Pixel Film Studios. By clicking on each filter it would give me an instant live preview in the preview window. We picked one she liked and put it on the whole song. (I used a couple different looks for various of the songs). Since the stage lighting was so crappy, one good thing the looks did was crush the blacks which also served to hide the different grain levels of the different cameras.

The GoPro isn’t good at low light levels, so on the darker scenes the grain was as big as golf balls. For those few Go Pro shots that I had to employ in the edit, I used Neat Video, a pretty good piece of software for removing grain. When the grain is extreme, the result is rather severe, but, in this case it was worse with the grain. For light grain, Neat Video is brilliant at removing it rather seamlessly.

All this is unnecessary, of course, if you have closely matching cameras. That’s not to say you couldn’t add a look anyway.

Concert Video Samples

In this case, I saw no rehearsals. I was seeing it for the first time live and had no choice but to think on my feet and do the best I could under the circumstances. If nothing else, it’s a good exercise even if it doesn’t all come out the way you hoped it would. The next good exercise in that case, is figuring out how to fix it all in post. And that can be fun and rewarding too—but only if you have multiple cameras to work with—or, as I had near the end of the show, only two.

Also, in this case, I was alone. I had no assistant. So the samples below are meant to give an idea of what a lone shooter can accomplish. I don’t offer it as anywhere near ideal–or indeed what I would want if it was my band, but still, for the money, it was a pretty good promo for this particular band. And it was fun and a good exercise for me. Next one will be better, for after all, it’s from things like this that we learn.

Let’s start with one when all 4 cameras were working.

As the show went on, and since I didn’t have an assistant, I would start losing cameras to either dead batteries or cards filling up. I dealt with that as best I could between songs, and of course, during intermission. Nevertheless, toward the end of the show I lost one camera permanently and later lost the GoPro as well when it’s short-lived battery died.

I know all this is rather stupid–even amateur, but at least it gives me the opportunity to show what you can do with 3 cameras and 2 cameras.

The following video is comprised of 3 different excerpts from the end of the concert starting with a 3 camera shoot and ending with two different samples of 2 camera shoots.

Post Lip Sync

And finally there’s the matter of syncing a performance to a studio recording.

This is fairly doable if the performer has performed the song many times after having done a studio recording. It’s surprising how close they can be in sync to a studio version while performing a live gig.

The samples you saw above were all multi-track recordings which were subsequently mixed by the band and forwarded on to me. That’s why the sound is so good.

This was their final performance after a year on the road.

I also filmed the first performance, a year earlier, which was not multi-tracked and was so bad a live mix that the singer asked if I could sync their live performance to the studio recording.

Turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be.

When lining up the studio recording with the live performance we found that there were only three parts of the song that drifted out of sync a few frames. So we synced up the live performance to the three sections that were in sync, and in the three sections where the sync had drifted off a few frames we used a reverse angle to cover the cheat.

That was only a 3 camera shoot: Here’s the result:

Chapter 16, Notes on Music–Supplement

This chapter in the book discusses how to choose and edit stock music so that it seems to have been scored for your video as opposed to just tacked on. The result can be a massive improvement in the overall quality of the production.

While I have been using the formula covered in this chapter for several years, it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve been generally pleased with the results. Below you’ll find several different samples of the result with some notes on each.

As a note, one of the attributing factors to improved results came as a result of using the Audio Jungle website.  The reason for that is the ability to go to the portfolio of someone whose music you like. I might have found a piece that was a great piece, and the sort of thing I was looking for, but disappointingly it didn’t quite fit. So I’d go to the person’s portfolio on Audio Jungle and see what else he or she had. Not only would I find several more pieces that were generally suitable for the types of videos I do (and could ‘favourite’ them for future reference), I’d very often find the exact piece I needed. There might be several artists I generally like and I’ll check each one’s portfolio until I find what I’m looking for.

As I write this, the latest improvement on the Audio Jungle site is the ability to very specifically narrow down your search to the length you’re looking for (in addition to genre, instrumentation and tempo). So if my video was looking to come out at about 3:15, I’d set the parameters to 3:10-3:25 or something like that. This really speeds up the process of finding a suitable piece of music for what you’re working on.

Now let’s get to some finished examples. If you’re here to study the stock music model outlined in the book, do watch each video all the way through. Listen for the different cues of music (distinct phrases or melodies within the song), shifts in tempo, how certain edits align with the beat and even how often something the person is saying is complemented by the music.

Example 1:  PTA UK Case Study, Leyland Saint Mary’s High School

This is, so far, my favorite match of music to video.

It is also the first time I used two different pieces of music in a video, mainly due to it’s length.

The video is about how a PTA was formed in the aftermath of an arson fire that destroyed most of a school. The natural story-telling method is “Problem/Solution”. We start off with documenting the incidence of a devastating fire and it’s consequences, then end with how the formation of the PTA contributed to the successful continuance and improvement of the school. That required two different moods of music for each respective part of the video.

In the chapter I talked about how you can mark certain significant music cues to align with certain significant narrative or pictures. It happened several times in this video, but the most important one for me came near the end. The head teacher has just finished off her points about the past to the present and then shifts to what she hopes it will mean for the future. There was a point near the end of the music piece where there was a break and shift of mood to the final cue. This is a point I made sure to align to the narrative.  Other less important timings were accomplished simply by where and how I edited the B roll to the music. There were also some ‘happy accidents’ where the music seemed to echo the narrative without me doing a damn thing.

Example 2:  PTA UK, Annual Gold Star Awards

Another PTA UK video, this one much simpler. It’s essentially an assembly edit of an event driven by interview narrative. This was one of those cases where I found the music piece I knew it was perfect. It didn’t take me long to find it and I didn’t waste any time looking for anything else or anything ‘better’.

Confession: I just noticed in reviewing this that the volume shift of the music at the end was a bit too sudden. Whoops. That’s a mistake.

Example 3: Belvoir Castle Cricket Trust

This was a pure assembly edit with no narrative. Therefore I had total freedom to edit to the music without getting too robotic or crazy about it. There are perhaps a few dozen edits that are very specific to the music which will be very evident.

Again, for some reason, it didn’t take me very long to find this piece, but when I did I knew it was perfect. This video had different ‘chapters’ to it in a way. There was a section on working with special needs kids, and even a subdivision of dealing with wheelchair-bound kids, as well as a special needs tournament, but there was also a section on able-bodied kids as well as a subsection having to do with country activities outside cricket.

The piece of music I found had built-in ‘chapters’ to it and was of the right mood and tempo, so I knew it would work.

The video itself, was an unplanned one. The footage was part of a broader commission, but when I found out there was going to be a Marleybone Cricket Club fundraising dinner at Belvoir Castle with the Duchess of Rutland and various celebrities in attendance, I  offered to create a promo that could be shown at the dinner.

I took the best B roll that I had at that time (which totaled 8 minutes), then laid it all down on the editing timeline organized in blocks of shots that represented the various ‘chapters’ mentioned above.

I then put the music underneath, leaving room for the title sequence.

I put markers on the various significant ‘chapters’ in the music and then, block by block, whittled each chapter down to my best shots, and then edited them into the timeline to the music.

It was a very fast edit.

Example 4: Why Choose Redstones

This is a more typical example of fitting music to an edit. In this case because I was editing multiple interviews to construct the narrative, the narrative took more priority in the editing process. So in this case I completed the entire edit first and then selected a piece of music I felt would fit. This was also a case where, after finding the music, it was necessary to extend the music to fit the length of the edit. In some cases I timed certain action in the B roll to fit beats of the music, and in one or two cases I adjusted things so that the narrative would hit a certain music phrase or beat, but for the most part, this was a case of narrative determining the edit, finding music that would be suitable and then making a few adjustments to the edit in regards to the music.

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