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Wedding / Event Videography Techniques
Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old October 31st, 2010, 03:16 AM   #1
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Location: Christchurch New Zealand
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Dance Concert Cameras

I have filmed a couple of dance concerts in the past, archival with a single camera. This year the dance school has asked me to do the full filming, producing DVDís ect. I have the sound under control, so that is not an issue. As for cameras, I will be filming in a 700 seat theater with three levels of seating. For cameras I was thinking that I would run a three camera system, with a safe camera in the center of the first balcony doing a wide shot of the stage, a second camera on the ground floor off to the left, this would be manned. And a third camera in the orchestra pit (I have heard that some people have had great results with this method) this would be manned a well. I have two top of the line Sony HD Camcorders that I intend to use, I have used them before and they work great even in the low light. I am looking to get another camera so I am looking for recommendations, I have between around $1500 to $2000 New Zealand Dollars to spend, and have been looking at a second hand Cannon XL1. Has anyone had experience shooting dance concerts and have any advice? The dance school does mainly jazz and hip-hop. any help would be much appreciated.
David Blackler is offline   Reply With Quote
Old October 31st, 2010, 04:28 AM   #2
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David, a couple of years back we did a demo programme of a street dance group of about 30 teenage girls for their entry into Britain's Got Talent (something of a conflict in terms methinks). However it was done in a studio and shot five times from different angles with three cameras, thus 15 shot multicam edit. Thus the comparison with your project is slight.

However, it is more comparable with concerts we've recorded so my advice would be as follows:

Put two cameras front centre first balcony, one wide, the other very tight.

A third camera I'd put on a dolly track across the front of the stage at floor level or, if you can't have the dolly, place it to one side or hand hold it on some sort of stabiliser.

However, I wouldn't buy any gear, merely rent it for the occasion. That way you ought to be able to rent three cameras identical or very similar to your own which, even if fixed but ideally manned, would give you much better cutting options. Visual boredom is your enemy.

Just my 2c - good luck.
Philip Howells is offline   Reply With Quote
Old October 31st, 2010, 05:04 AM   #3
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I've got a fair bit of experience filming dance of various types so can add my 2 cents as well.

Firstly I wouldn't want to trying to cut in a standard def camera with the two HD's. In the lower light conditions you'll have a difficult time trying to match and there'll be a noticeable difference whenever you cut to the XL1. I've even had tough times trying to colour match between an EX1 and a Z1 and that's an easier scenario than cutting HD to SD (this was for a filmed Dance piece in a theatre actually).

I usually go with a centre position wide to give an overall shot and provide coverage. Most dance is choreographed to the front so you need to be close to centre. You also need to have the wide to show off the spacing and moves if they cover a lot of the stage.

With my second camera if I only have one shot at it (i.e. performance night) I go a bit closer and a bit offset to the left or right and use this camera to pick off mid shots and closeups. You can be pretty free with reframing this one as long as you've got reliable coverage with the wide. Dancers like to see all of the moves: hands and feet so even my mid shot is pretty wide by normal standards as I've heard a lot of complaints from dancers, choreographers and people who'd watch dance, that they hate when the camera is too tight because they miss the things the dancers do with their arms, hands, feet, etc.

I understand what the previous poster said about a dolly track as I've seen this setup many times in TV production filming of events. They generally have a Director switching to this dolly camera at various times to show off a good angle or a rolling move across the front of the stage. This is a personal preference if you like this kind of shot.

If there's no pressing need to use a third camera I'd advise not even doing it. You will make the edit harder (lots more footage to wade through) and possibly only use a few seconds of the third cam because you already have a nice shot from the mid shot camera. You'll need another operator therefore increasing costs, extra equipment etc. I just don't think it'll add enough value to justify it. With the two camera setup you'll get good coverage and some nice closer in shots to cut to when required and I've never had any negative feedback from a two camera production.

If you can shoot some timelapse of the audience coming in and sitting down: it makes for a cool motion background for the DVD menu.
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Old October 31st, 2010, 02:44 PM   #4
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Since you already have two Sony HD cams, I agree with Damian about not buying an SD camera. Besides the better imaging, the extra resolution in shooting HD for use in a DVD allows you to do some digital reframing/zoom-in while editing.

Instead of looking at an XL1 (of even an XLH1), I suggest you look at Sony's CX550 for your full stage cam. These little tapeless units have 64 gb of flash memory which means you can let them the run for far longer than any performance will last. I do not know what they cost in NZ, but here in the US, B&H is selling them for $1100 (US$). B&H includes the relatively massive NPFV100 battery. I recommend the NPFV100 because it will run the cam for five or six hours, which is about as much internal recording memory as the camera has. (They are more typically sold with the NPFV50 which I believe is only good for an hour and half.) What I like about the CX550 is that:

(a) they match very well to other Sony HD cams;

(b) they have a sensor slightly larger than 1/3" so they deal very well with a wide range of lighting conditions including very low light;

(c) the wide angle of the zoom is equivalent to 30 mm, which gives you a very wide angle (comparable to the FX1000/AX2000/Z5/N5 cams) that I find useful when placing the cams down in front of a stage); and

(d) they are so small that you can stash a center-cam in the middle of the loge or the front of a first balcony without obstructing audience sight-lines very much.

Ron Evans has a number of posts about multi-cam tapings of dance recitals using somewhat older versions of these cams (XR500 and SR11) and pairing them with his NX5. I believe Ron recommended setting the AE to -4 or -3, depending on the brightness of the lighting. I've had better luck using the "spotlight" program because, for most of the recitals that I shoot, the lighting changes pretty radically from dance to dance and sometimes varies during a dance.

The trade-off for the small size and wide angle of the CX550 is that optical zoom is limited to 10x. That can make be a problem if "house rules" require you to have your cam against the back walls or sides and the venue is a large one Easing up into the digital zoom (say to 12x or 14x) isn't bad, but might not be enough and you might have to place it to one side or the other of the room.

As for camera placement, the complicated words here are "dance school" and "dance concert." That might mean a local school with children ranging from 4 to 17 years of age where you are shooting the annual (or semi-annual) recitals for an audience of parents, friends and relatives for whom you make 50 to 100 DVDs.Or, it can mean the kind of school preparing young dancers for professional careers where you video pro or semi-pro performance staged for paying customers (many of whom might be unrelated to the dancers, and where the DVDs are a memento of the performance. Or, it could be a performance staged mainly for video where the performers want DVDs for auditions or further programs or schooling.

If it is a performance for video, Philip has given good advice. A dolly track can be very nice, particularly if the performance venue is a flat floored space like a studio.

For other kinds of performances, particularly those on an elevated stage, I do things differently.

Where I set the cameras depends on the venue's stage layout and the seating arrangements and the dimensions of the room. Depending on the size and shape of the room, I've used as few as three cams and as many as six. It really helps to have multi-cam capability in your NLE so you aren't separately "wading through" a lot of footage you won't use.

With proscenium stages (i.e., a raised "picture-framed" platform in the front of the house), I've had good luck with with putting two fixed cams "full wide" shooting across the stage towards the opposite wing with the tripod set so the camera is just above the stage floor. This gives you good sightlines for cross-stage moves and is close enough for good facial recognition. (That's important when selling to parents.) The angles are different enough that it is fairly easy to avoid jump-cut juxtapositions in editing. In smaller theaters, where the seating layout may not provide a convenient place to put a center cam and where there may be people standing in the back occupying the space where you would want to put a camera), I've had good luck with putting cameras along the sides of the room and far enough back that being off-center is not distracting.

When I can, I like to put my main cams at the front of the first balcony if I'm not obstructing audience views. (This is typically when the audience fills the first floor of the 2000 seat theater but nobody is seated in the balconies). If I'm up there with two cameras, l'll have one cam more or less full stage except that I'll zoom in a bit to frame a smaller dance group. The other cam is the one I use for the closer-close-ups (bearing in mind that we are talking about dance and the close-up is still likely to be a full body shot.) As I recall, Ron Evans uses a similar method.

When I have help to run another camera, I typically have the help manning a camera on one side of the house with instructions for medium zooms across to the opposite stage and wing. I'll be on the other side (at floor or balcony level, depending on the room) handling zooms to the opposite wing and any "close" close-ups. I also have a fixed camera down front say, a CX550 in the middle rows. I'll have the view finder closed so as to avoid that annoying light it throws for everybody behind it) and somebody sitting with it to keep it from getting knocked over.

If you are using only three cameras, I would not recommend having somebody sitting down front for hand-held shooting unless the person doing that is both very steady with the camera and familiar enough with each dances to avoid too many whip pans and zap zooms.

Also, when I deliver the DVDs, I also make a separate DVD for the dance school. This consists entirely of full stage view from one single camera and it gives them their archival footage. This tends to limit (if not foreclose) complaints about not being able to see the choreography.
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