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Old July 16th, 2010, 01:52 PM   #1
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Advice for shooting theatre

Hey guys,
Tomorrow I'll be shooting a puppet show (with human actors also) with a lot of scene changes and lighting varying from total darkness to spotlight to the whole stage being lit. I've shot theatre and concerts with the XL1S (with zebras on and just manually riding the iris) but never to this extreme.
I'll be shooting this without seeing a dress rehearsal or anything and with cameras I'm still not very comfortable with (XHA1 I got a couple of weeks ago and an HV40 I got yesterday).
Should I forget about trying to shoot manual? If so what auto program would you use? I would think "spotlight" but how would that work when the stage is flooded?
Keep in mind I'll be doing this operating both cams to cut between (HV40 for the wide shot and XHA1 for close-ups).
Thanks very much,
Randy
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Old July 16th, 2010, 05:09 PM   #2
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I did the two camera approach ... once. It's hard. Exposure is really important to having good looking theater footage. Remember, they are lighting for the eyeballs not your A1 CCD. If you want good, closeup footage from your A1, I recommend riding the iris with zebras at 100% so you know when things are blown out. I would also use manual focus and keep a finger on the auto focus as needed. Remember the camera cannot autofocus and zoom simultaneously.

For the HV40 wide shot, I would use manual focus. Exposure is tough. Spotlight is nothing more than a forcing of the auto exposure to underexpose what the automatics "think" the exposure should be. It assumes your subject is brightly lit while there is also darkly lit regions in-frame that will throw the normal automatics off. The problem is that dark scenes as well as evenly lit scenes will probably be under exposed. All of this may be fine if you expect to mostly be using your A1 footage.

Alternatively, and this is the hard part, use manual exposure on the HV40 and note when the lighting changes, lockdown the A1 on a safe medium shot, adjust the HV, then resume on the A1. If you miss a lighting change, your HV footage may be no good but you are no worse than spotlight exposing improperly.

I can't do two cameras well. I would use spotlight or some other set and forget mode on the HV40 so I could concentrate on the A1.

You might consider reversing the cameras for the puppets. Lockdown your HV40 up close on the puppets with good exposure and focus (maybe even auto exposure). Then shoot medium and wide shots or whatever on the A1 riding the iris. This approach risks your closeups but assures a good WA.

Experience counts...your next one will be even better. :-)
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Old July 16th, 2010, 05:44 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
I did the two camera approach ... once. It's hard. Exposure is really important to having good looking theater footage. Remember, they are lighting for the eyeballs not your A1 CCD. If you want good, closeup footage from your A1, I recommend riding the iris with zebras at 100% so you know when things are blown out. I would also use manual focus and keep a finger on the auto focus as needed. Remember the camera cannot autofocus and zoom simultaneously.

For the HV40 wide shot, I would use manual focus. Exposure is tough. Spotlight is nothing more than a forcing of the auto exposure to underexpose what the automatics "think" the exposure should be. It assumes your subject is brightly lit while there is also darkly lit regions in-frame that will throw the normal automatics off. The problem is that dark scenes as well as evenly lit scenes will probably be under exposed. All of this may be fine if you expect to mostly be using your A1 footage.

Alternatively, and this is the hard part, use manual exposure on the HV40 and note when the lighting changes, lockdown the A1 on a safe medium shot, adjust the HV, then resume on the A1. If you miss a lighting change, your HV footage may be no good but you are no worse than spotlight exposing improperly.

I can't do two cameras well. I would use spotlight or some other set and forget mode on the HV40 so I could concentrate on the A1.

You might consider reversing the cameras for the puppets. Lockdown your HV40 up close on the puppets with good exposure and focus (maybe even auto exposure). Then shoot medium and wide shots or whatever on the A1 riding the iris. This approach risks your closeups but assures a good WA.

Experience counts...your next one will be even better. :-)
Okay no spotlight (I kinda didn't think so but was hoping someone would say it works great)
After reading your post I'm thinking I should lock down the HV with a manual focus wide on the whole stage and auto-exposure...it will basically just be there to have something to cut to when I screw up the close-ups...and like you suggested put all my attention on the XH...like you say ride the iris and af button...I usually use about 80% zebras but in this case I think you're right in that 100% would be better...no guessing and less adjusting...I can always bring it up a little in post.
Well thanks Les...I feel a little better now.
Anybody else want to add anything (or you Les)?

Randy
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Old July 16th, 2010, 06:10 PM   #4
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as the saying goes...no battle plan survives the first move of the enemy... you want to be ready to adapt.... Shoot a safe shot on your A1 and lock it down first time you can and see how your auto exposure is doing on the HV40....try spotlight or autoexposure and see how it does...so you know decide what's best...rinse and repeat throughout the show...experiment with autofocus at some point when you know you have a good cover shot going on the A1...review the footage when you get home...put some kind of audio or visual marker at the beginning and end of your "experiments so they are easy to find in post.

White balance is another problem....but if you've not shot a rehearsal it's tough...pink and yellow theatrical lights throw off AWB and your people will look like orange skinned martians or jaundiced kidney patients (see attached shot). I go early, ask for "show lighting" of some kind, and white balance my cameras.

Sorry if you know this tip but if you have a zoom controller try and avoid hard pans. Using the controller, hide your pans in a crawling pull or push...that is, gently push or pull as you pan and recompose.
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Last edited by Les Wilson; July 16th, 2010 at 10:00 PM.
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Old July 16th, 2010, 06:49 PM   #5
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GR what is the purpose of the video, will there be an audience?

The audio is going to take some thought to get the right perspectives.
You haven't said you have an audio mixer of any kind and puppet actors are usually out of sight below the stage ie: off mic.

Given that the voice actors are also running the puppets .. I'd suggest one mono or stereo mic sited on 'the stage' feeding the A1 for the close up shots.

Then another mic set further back feeding the HV40 for the wide shot perspective. If mics are in short supply just use the HV40 on board mic.

The dialogue in a puppet show can go from whispers to wild shouting, get some examples from the cast before they let the audience in and set your levels carefully or you'll get unusable distortion. Maybe suggest to the cast to remember to be careful with their diction .. this one time :)

Some prior set up would be helpful or even a chance at a second session then you could cut between the two. Getting the audio right will make the video.

Hope this helps.
Cheers.
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Old July 17th, 2010, 12:11 AM   #6
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I usually have 1 camera locked down on a wide shot while I man the other one for all of the close ups and medium wides. Before the show opens I get them to bring up a general wash and set my focus, WB, and exposure to that with both cameras (usually focus on person standing at Center Stage). I then get them to bring up the brightest and darkest scenes to see if it still looks good and fine tune them. In post I will try to stick entirely with the close up shots and only cut to the wide shots to cover awkward camera moves or when the whole cast is on stage.

I'm still short on mics, so I sometimes place 1 on a stand at down center stage (this causes a doppler effect though if theres a lot of moving from side to side while talking/singing), and I have also tried placing it on a stand further away and high over the audience's heads (a little better). On the wide shot camera, I just use the on board mic for syncing purposes. I hope to get another mic so can place them more to either side of the stage and get better coverage.

(I had 15 years as a theatre stage manager before turning to video, so I tend to use too much theatre slang)
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Old July 17th, 2010, 09:09 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
as the saying goes...no battle plan survives the first move of the enemy... you want to be ready to adapt.... Shoot a safe shot on your A1 and lock it down first time you can and see how your auto exposure is doing on the HV40....try spotlight or autoexposure and see how it does...so you know decide what's best...rinse and repeat throughout the show...experiment with autofocus at some point when you know you have a good cover shot going on the A1...review the footage when you get home...put some kind of audio or visual marker at the beginning and end of your "experiments so they are easy to find in post.

White balance is another problem....but if you've not shot a rehearsal it's tough...pink and yellow theatrical lights throw off AWB and your people will look like orange skinned martians or jaundiced kidney patients (see attached shot). I go early, ask for "show lighting" of some kind, and white balance my cameras.

Sorry if you know this tip but if you have a zoom controller try and avoid hard pans. Using the controller, hide your pans in a crawling pull or push...that is, gently push or pull as you pan and recompose.
I think I would be fine if I could figure out how to do a -1 or -2 shift on the auto exposure but I can't seem to find it in the manual...I could fix the orange cast in post but not if it's blown out...anyone know how to do an AE shift on an HV 40?
BTW, Les I can't go early to ask for show lighting because the same company is doing an all day seminar that will run all the way up to the performance.
Thanks very much Les,
Randy
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Old July 17th, 2010, 09:23 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Allan Black View Post
GR what is the purpose of the video, will there be an audience?

The audio is going to take some thought to get the right perspectives.
You haven't said you have an audio mixer of any kind and puppet actors are usually out of sight below the stage ie: off mic.

Given that the voice actors are also running the puppets .. I'd suggest one mono or stereo mic sited on 'the stage' feeding the A1 for the close up shots.

Then another mic set further back feeding the HV40 for the wide shot perspective. If mics are in short supply just use the HV40 on board mic.

The dialogue in a puppet show can go from whispers to wild shouting, get some examples from the cast before they let the audience in and set your levels carefully or you'll get unusable distortion. Maybe suggest to the cast to remember to be careful with their diction .. this one time :)

Some prior set up would be helpful or even a chance at a second session then you could cut between the two. Getting the audio right will make the video.

Hope this helps.
Cheers.
Yessir there will be an audience (I believe at the time of the actual show they allow the public to enter) and the purpose is to get some kind of grant later.
I'm pretty sure there will be a PA but I was thinking of running a stereo pair (AKG 1000 condensor mics) to the stage from the XH and put a wireless lav on the main talent...or maybe hang it from one of the PA speakers?
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Old July 17th, 2010, 09:32 AM   #9
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I just lucked out on the audio...they told me they will be recording the performance through the board and I can have a CD ....hopefully it will be good...I've had to totally scrap these "recordings" on some musical concerts I've done before.
Regardless I need to totally focus on the visual part at this point...anyone know how to do AE shift on an HV40?
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Old July 18th, 2010, 06:07 AM   #10
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So what worked and not worked for you?
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Old July 18th, 2010, 08:15 AM   #11
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I had planned to get there about an hour ahead of time but hit a bunch of traffic (overturned onion truck) so I was rushed ...and things tend to go wrong when I'm rushed...but I kept cool and I'm happy to report overall things went okay and the footage looks pretty good except the HV40 is a little grainy. I brought the AE shift down to -1.5 on the XH (decided not to ride the iris since I'm still fumbling around in the dark) but still couldn't find an adjustment in the HV so that's probably why it's a grainy.
I had the HV wb set to tungsten and the XH set to Kelvin at 3000 (the closest match I could get here at home using an Arri 650) and they are close enough that cc will fix the difference.
I think the XH did a better job than I could have manually under these conditions so I totally trust it...but next time I will go with -1 instead of -1.5.
I just wish I could find a way to adjust the AE shift in the HV.
Thanks for asking Les,
Randy
EDIT: Actually I take it back, I will ride the iris next time.... I just noticed a spot where there are several kids dancing in front of a white "cloud" causing the AE to pump up and down

Last edited by G. Randy Brown; July 18th, 2010 at 08:21 AM. Reason: add
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Old July 18th, 2010, 10:53 PM   #12
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GR yep those pesky onion trucks hope no one got hurt .. but what of the audio, did they supply a CD?

Cheers.
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Old July 19th, 2010, 10:54 AM   #13
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ah yes, the audio....I thought when they said they'd give me the CD it meant they were going to record the performance like at the local colleges (it was a really nice theatre with a great sound system and acoustics) but they meant the pre-recorded CD they used to pantomime to...which was very well recorded BUT they also did some live stuff ie monolgues and a pan pipe player.
Fortuantely I had set up a stereo pair BUT not easily....that was the only thing that I fretted due to being rushed and went into my "oh crap" frantic mode which in turn turns into Murphy's Law of course.
I couldn't get a signal from the mics into the XH and so calmly looked around the camera with a flashlight for a phantom power switch but no switch. I had tested them before so I knew it had phantom power so I looked through menus but still no luck. Starting to freak now I pulled out my old Beachtek and hooked it up to the HV 40 and all was well. I got home and immediately found the phantom power switches on the XH....I swear they weren't there at the theatre!!!!
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Old July 19th, 2010, 04:35 PM   #14
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The fumbling in the dark thing happens to everybody. The one that happened to me was being unable to get a well lit picture without a ton of gain. When I finally found my flashlight, I realized that I had visualized the ND switch incorrectly. All the way down on an XHA1 is max ND, not off like it is on the Sony cameras I also use. You can practice all you want but it seems that a lot of us only learn under the pressure of real shooting.
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Old July 19th, 2010, 04:52 PM   #15
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"You can practice all you want but it seems that a lot of us only learn under the pressure of real shooting."

Yessir, I use to be able to run my XL1S' with my eyes closed ...well okay...without looking at the camera though.
I still have a heck of a time finding the AF button on this thing.
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