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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old November 21st, 2009, 06:18 PM   #1
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Shooting plays - what is the norm?

For those of you that regularly shoot plays. What do you find the clients are looking for? Basic wide angle of the play as if you were in the audience? Multicam edited with close ups, MWS, etc like a TV show?

Trying to move into this market and am wondering what is the norm?
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Old November 21st, 2009, 07:03 PM   #2
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I have always done multicam. If they wanted a wide static shot, they could just set up a camera on a tripod themselves. I don't know anyone else who shoots plays, but I have always done it with 3 cameras. One center rear house on a static wide shot (cover shot,) then one on each house right and left, manned, getting medium to close up shots and following the action. I recently did one with four cameras, the fourth being a manned center rear of house that got mediums as well. Of course that's a lot more video to worry about.
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Old November 21st, 2009, 08:11 PM   #3
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I don't know what the norm is.
I recently did a job that involved shooting a 15 minute play.
I shot it in three takes.
The first, wide from a tripod.
The second, close-ups from a tripod.
The third with a Fig Rig. This allowed me to shoot it like a film ie different shots and angles and to direct the actors to some extent. They enjoyed the process too and this shows in the outcome.
The Fig Rig footage got used for 90% of the end result.
The client loves it.
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Old November 21st, 2009, 11:11 PM   #4
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if you can get along to a dress rehearsal you'll get better close up and you can move anywhere. Sometimes they'll run the play twice in a session and all you have to do is shoot the wide shot with audience laughter etc.

What's the market? - who's going to be buying a copy of a stage play? if it's community theatre and you're expecting the actors to line up for a copy you're in for a long wait.
Cheers - Paul M. :
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 04:06 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Denny Lajeunesse View Post
For those of you that regularly shoot plays. What do you find the clients are looking for? snipped
Danny, I think you've got the answer in your question - first, find out what your clients want. Mind, I think Paul's got it right - if you or someone else is planning to make money to justify a multi-camera/multi-take shoot, then this could be a "first".

Secondly - this is a personal but valid I think. Video/film is one medium, the stage another. Back in the mists of memory the films of two musicals, West Side Story and Porgy and Bess, were released at about the same time. The overture to P&B was played against closed proscenium arch curtains and when they did open the action all took place on the stage except when it moved briefly to the levee.

In contrast West Side Story the camera moved from the start, it was a musical made into a film.

Everyone remembers the film of WSS despite most of the cast being relative unknowns; nobody recalls the film of P&B despite Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey and Sammy Davis Jnr. There were other factors not least that WSS was based on Shakespeare and P&B dealt with race and drugs but nuff said.

Unless it's just for a record when a single camera will do, I think we should aspire to make film/video and leave the stage to the stage people.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 05:15 AM   #6
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IMHO two cameras will be enough for 90% of productions. 3 just add's more editing time and possibly won't add a lot to the final product.

I shoot a wide for coverage and man another for mid shots/close ups. Try and get an audio feed from the desk as on camera or even shotgun mics for sound don't cut it.

Bear in mind that this is live stuff with real people so if you shoot differnet nights you may get different stuff which will be a *$@*# to cut together. So if possible shoot all on one performance.

2 cameras is an easier cut, gives a decent record of performance and you can turn over a DVD fast which the cast will appreciate also.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 07:51 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Denny Lajeunesse View Post
Trying to move into this market and am wondering what is the norm?
I always use 2 cameras because one will be too wide or you will miss stuff.

About filming plays etc.. as a business, just want to check that you know about copyrights and "book" shows. This is an area you do not want to mess with. Playhouses, theaters etc... rent the right to put the play on and the folks who publish the rights watch for any misbehavior. The rights allow one copy for archive use only.

So selling these things is tough it is other than a local original production or a no-name new work.

Disregard if you already know this, but I thought it would be good to get into the open.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 02:46 PM   #8
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Lots of discussions on this from both the technical and legal standpoint, so a search (including the sticky at the top) will net you a lot of info. Full Disclosure: while doing this sort of stuff occupies virtually all of my time, I'm retired from the Network TV business and really do this on a pro-bono basis, so I'm not much qualified to discuss how you can run a profitable business doing this. I teach this at couple of schools and do community productions.

But a couple of points worth reiterating:

The biggest hurdle is legal, as Tim correctly points out above. The publishers of plays and musicals, from who you'll have to acquire rights if the people putting on the show didn't write it themselves, have policies ranging from "No video, ever, under any circumstances" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) to "Sure, shoot and sell as many as you want and we'll even help you market them" (some shows from MTI) and everything in-between.

But if you don't have the rights, you cannot shoot. Period. Just because you might be able to get away with it without getting caught doesn't make it any less illegal. By the way, this also includes not only orchestra, band and choir concerts but also dance recitals where they play CDs of popular music for the students to dance to: if you don't have the sync rights you can't legally shoot.

The other biggest hurdle we face is convincing clients of the benefits of a four-camera shoot. Most of them are used to paying some guy $1500 to set up his PD-150 with Firestore in the back of the theater, push the red button, and take a nap for two hours. This is what passes for show videos and I think it's a disgrace, but it's common.

Theatre people think that it's impossible to recreate the energy of a true theatrical experience on tape, so you shouldn't even try, and just use one static cam at the back. This is only partially true. While to you can't duplicate the experience, using multiple cams from multiple angles can make for a very compelling, emotionally involving video, one that is much, much better than a single cam. There's a reason Hollywood uses four cams to do any sort of audience show.

We shoot with four cams exactly the way Edward describes, and four is actually the easiest to shoot with. Any less and we don't get enough coverage, and it's a breeze to edit in Premiere. Fewer cams actually make it harder.

Some things we've learned:

--Shoot multiple performances if you can, but do not expect to do any intercutting between performances. You're not dealing with Broadway level talent, so they will never hit the same marks at the same time and you'll never, ever be able to cut different performances together. The most I've ever been able to do is drop in a quick cutaway to cover someone dropping a prop or a word or two of dialogue to cover a blown line. You shoot multiple performances so you can pick the best one.

--Forget about using the house feed for good sound. Their objectives are different from yours and they will only be irritated when you ask them if you can borrow their feed, and by the way can they leave all the mics open all the time. Record separate sound if you can and then sync it in post. I use a Zoom.

--Don't even ask them if they can just "up the lighting a little bit" so you can get a good picture. Get a cam that can handle low-light and high-contrast. Stage lighting is not like video lighting so you need to roll with the punches.

Once people see how we do it, they wonder how they ever did it any other way. But the bad news is even if they love it, many clients just aren't willing to pay what it takes to do this well and profitably.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 07:13 PM   #9
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Thanks for the input Adam,

I shoot concerts (bands with original music) so I understand how the stage lighting etc., will not be set up for cameras. The legal end I was wondering about as pretty much everything has a copyright.

I was asking about single vs multi-cam because I have heard that some actors/theatre companies believe it should just be a shot of the play and the acting should shine through. Personally I would think a 4-cam shoot would work best.

So basically it's a mixed bag depending on who you are shooting for? I'll have to enquire about their legal rights. Proof will be nice since a "yeah, were covered" won't help when someone's legal team comes knocking!

At this point I am just seeing if this is a market I wish to enter. My video partner (well more like a co-venture partner as we are separate businesses but work together a lot) is in a play, which they do have the rights for video. From the sounds of things though, some of the people involved don't think multi-cam shows the "true" play. Maybe I need a bigger market.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 08:28 PM   #10
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I would say this is an area when you need to let your video experience override the opinions of non-video people.

One camera wide for the entire show is boring and anybody watching would lose interest because they are sitting in their living room, not the theatre!

People don't realize how much we focus on areas when we watch a live event. We don't just glaze over and take in every detail on a stage.

Multi-cameras shoots try to recreate human vision and "focus" on more detailed areas.

So don't make the mistake of letting somebody talk you into shooting with one wide shot. Its your product and you will be judged when it looks like you were one of those "slackers" that just put up a camera and went to sleep.

I wouldn't try for a four camera shoot because you need to pay at least three camera operators and there goes any possible profits. (Unless you can negotiate a decent rate).

I often shoot by myself with two cameras right next to each other. I set up two preview monitors and watch the wide shot for lighting changes but man the closer shots. Tough but I can more often make it work finacially.
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Old November 22nd, 2009, 11:13 PM   #11
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Tim's right on the money and said everything better than I could.

But "theatre folk" often don't understand how our minds work as an audience member and how multi-cam does a better job of re-creating this than the static wide shot. They want you to admire their sets and staging and choreography the whole time. They don't understand that all of that is meaningless without the context of the story, which you can get your audience involved in by using cinematic techniques.

Just as our eyes and brains adjust white balance without us thinking about it, our minds do the cutting and zooms and close-ups when we sit in the audience. We even change angles mentally. But we can't do this watching a static shot of a play on a screen. We need to physically do these moves for the viewer... which is why these techniques exist.

So even when they say they just want a simple documentation or record of the play, this is way better. You just gotta convince them to pay for it... and for the amount of work required, the cost should be in line with a high-end wedding. But they only have $250 by the time the play opens...
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Old November 23rd, 2009, 01:37 AM   #12
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I concur on the 4 cam minimum if you're talking more than a "one man show" (that you might be able to pull off with 2...)

You need a wide "safety", but that "angle" gets really boring really fast, looking at all the little blobs bobbing about on stage... You need the wide for cutaway and anything where the cast takes up much of the stage, but it's about as exciting as watching grass grow, and it's going to have a lot of "headroom" and audience in the shot, no matter what you do. Imagine a football game shot entirely from the blimp... ZZZZZZZZZ!

From there, having a cam for each side of the stage (even shooting from the same spot as the "wide", but zoomed in on 1/2 or 1/3 of the stage) usually helps when the action is in one zone or the other, and the fourth cam serves to give you a final "roaming" viewpoint, again zoomed in to get expressions and faces in a usable context.

I'm used to shooting multicam and presetting the framing, so really only concentrate on the one cam for closeups, and I can get workable footage to edit from, though multiple experienced operators would sure be handy...

I can only speak from shooting a bunch of kids plays so my little ones have something to show the grandparents and their friends at school... but it would apply to any similar situation IMO. I can't see it being a big money maker even if you get the clearances, but that doesn't mean it's impossible... just not terribly likely in this economy.

I'm not doing it for the money, and I've only had a couple requests for copies of the finished product, which were quickly forgotten... for me it's just doing it for family and doing it "right", rather than shaky low quality footage!
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Old November 23rd, 2009, 02:32 AM   #13
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I mic the stage with four small form condenser microphones. Typically I would use three cameras with two operators. One stationary for wide, one full length and one close. Depending on the complexity of the play an extra camera might be hired in to cover more angles.
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Old November 24th, 2009, 12:30 AM   #14
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OK. Yeah. Having done a lot of concert footage (often in theatres) I was in the mind for doing multicam. I just heard that a good percentage of theatre people seem to think it "ruins the feel", while I would argue that a spectator moves his head and eyes to watch the action so a static wide shot, really, in essence, ruins the "feel" of the show more than a multicam shoot would.

I'm in a smaller (well in Canada we would call it "medium") sized city so I might hold off on this market for a while. Seems a PITA for the size of market it is here.

Up to recently I been shooting as a freelancer butI am starting my own company so I need to move into more lucrative markets (for now anyways).

Thank you all for your input. May your lenses be streak free and your audio run clear.

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