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

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Old March 20th, 2006, 09:15 PM   #1
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Verdi's Requiem!

Last night I got to see and hear what for me is a great work of art: Verdi: Requiem: Claudio Abbado: Berlin Philharmonic DVD. For me, the experience was totally enthralling, magical, overwhelming. The performance of the soloists, chorus and orchestra, and Abbado of course; nothing short of breathtaking.

But I must say the performance of the video production crew was also far from shabby. The camera angles, mics all over the place, the transitions, the ‘connectedness’ with the emotion, all blew me away.

How on earth does one ‘shoot’ this kind of performance? How many cameras, mics, mixing boards…and how do you, as the DP on this shoot; how do you ‘orchestrate’?

I mean, there were moments where all we see is Abbado’s hand and his baton, a split second of elegance. And a super close-up of a bow vibrating on the strings of a violin. A slow pan, smooth as a baby’s bum, across the sea of voices…and wonderful lighting.

Superb photo work, wonderful framing, mesmerizing editing. A vidiographer’s delight not to mention the work itself; Romanticism pure and simple.

And I imagine it’s not very polite to stop Abbado and everyone mid-performance, audience included, and ask for another take because you need to adjust something; right! So you really need to get it sorted the first time I imagine. Event videography on a grand scale. Of course with a work like this, and if you know your stuff, every move, every nuance, the depths and heights of being, and every little tear that slips…evaporating…away; this is all in the sheet music and maybe after watching a rehearsal or two one knows when what should be what, or do you just have a huge number of cameras with artists at the helm, some kind of time code thing happening, and from there it happens in post?

Boyd Ostroff, if you are about, I imagine you know all about this stuff. Have you seen the DVD to which I’m referring, and is this what you get to do for a living? Time permitting of course, can you tell how this is done, or point me in a direction, and what lessons may we learn when doing our thing like this on an obviously smaller scale?


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Old March 20th, 2006, 10:36 PM   #2
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Moved here from Open Discussion... if this doesn't qualify as an Event, I don't know what does!

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Old March 21st, 2006, 06:09 AM   #3
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Was this a live, real-time event with the videotaping coincidental to it or was it produced expressly for video? In a performance done for video, stopping and restarting and multiple takes are not unusual. But the real key is planning, planning, planning .... oh, and did I mention planning? Just like the performance itself, the video production - cameras, moves, soundscape, the whole shebang - is a carefully choreographed, mapped out, and rehearsed ballet with very little left to chance or accident.
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Old March 21st, 2006, 08:05 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by John McCully
Boyd Ostroff, if you are about, I imagine you know all about this stuff. Have you seen the DVD to which I’m referring, and is this what you get to do for a living?
Sorry, I haven't seen that DVD. I do l opera for a living - I'm in charge of all the technical areas here at Opera Company of Philadelphia, and sometimes I design the lighting and sound. But our main concern is the experience of the audience in the theatre on the night of the show, not video. Now I also shoot our archival videos, but am very limited in how I can do this both in terms of union agreements and physical space for the camera. I shoot two performances from the back of the house, keeping a wide shot one night an closeups the next. Then I edit them together afterwards (just working on one right now in fact). But of course this is nothing like what you saw on a commercial DVD.

I've been involved with two PBS productions however, and can tell you that a LOT of time and money goes into these things. As Steve mentioned, a production only for video would be a lot different than shooting a live performance. We did a live broadcast of a show a few years back and the logistics were very involved. We had to setup additional lightings to cover the theatre itself, and we did a long cue session to adjust the theatrical lighting designer's levels to be more "video friendly." I think a total of 13 cameras were used all over the theatre and everything was wired out to a truck in the street. A director sat out there along with all the technicians and called the shots with a live mix getting sent down to the station across town for broadcast.

This was all funded by a special grant, and they grossly underestimated the crew costs setting up all the video equipment - it became very tense with lawyers getting involved arguing over who would pay these costs (the clear understanding from the start was that our company would not incur any additional costs as the result of the video shoot). So aside from any technical issues, it was a real contractual/legal nightmare to pull this thing off. Believe it or not, the contract wasn't signed until a half hour before the filming began! But the final product looked really great.

My other experience was PBS broadcast of a concert by Denyce Graves "Breaking the Rules" which was shot live (in HD) a few summers ago at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. It was shown extensively (probably still is) as a "pledge week" feature on PBS outlets. I designed the scenery for this production, and it was quite a trip. Again, a huge amount of money went into the crew costs. There were a lot of cameras involved with this production, maybe 18 or 19 including one on a huge jib that could swing over the audience. My main memories from this show weren't so much video-related as all the "drama" taking place behind the scenes with the various people who were involved, and I spent a lot of time talking with people and trying to keep them calm. Wish I could tell some of those stories, but....

Now that show was strange because it was advertised as a live concert and there was a big paying audience in an outdoor theatre. But in fact, it was a video shoot and they didn't hesitate to stop, start, do another take. There were also LONG delays while Denyce changed costumes. The people who organized this were all video people with very little experience in live theatre, so there were lots of management issues. It went on for about 4 hours, and they would have liked to continue longer but the audience just started to leave (and it began raining which didn't help).

They did a lot of planning for camera positions, lots of time was spent in light cue sessions, but there was only one rehearsal. So during the show it all came down to the director out in the truck who was constantly talking to the camera operators. But this wasn't a live broadcast, it was edited afterwards.

But the common thing in both of these experiences was.... this stuff costs a LOT of money. The equipment can all be rented, sometimes at bargain rates. But there's a lot of time involved with large union crews where every hour costs thousands of dollars. And you end up going into a lot of overtime since there's never enough time to get it all done. And beyond those costs, everybody wants a piece of the pie. So you have lots of negotiations with AGMA (singers union), AFM (orchestra union), IATSE (stagehands union), IBEW (electricians/video union) not to mention designers, composers, rental companies.

Personally, I'm not in a rush to do more of these but the two I've been involved with were certainly very interesting.
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Old March 21st, 2006, 09:56 AM   #5
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Steve, not sure what the background objective was but the auditorium was packed full of people for sure. In the opening shots we see the complete auditorium, the choir in place seated, as was the packed house. Long wide shots of that and not a camera in to be seen, anywhere. Then the soloists enter, then Abbado and we zoom in close from various angles. Clearly there is a camera in back somewhere as full frontals of Abbado, sometimes extremely up close as he does his magic. I mean, there must have been cameras everywhere with operators studiously avoiding shooting operators and equipment, and maybe in post it was finally put together. And yes, I understand your point: planning, planning, planning. That is clear.

Boyd, many thanks indeed for your detailed post. How interesting, all the drama and so on, and the unions you say! Maybe you should write a book! Hugely expensive, and it’s not just the talent on stage that costs. I can easily imagine in this Berlin Philharmonic production there could have been 18 or 19 camera rigs operating. What a logistic nightmare, kind of like making a movie, but what a stunning DVD.

I visited and note they have a forum. I joined, and might ask some questions there about this particular production. It would be soo cool to learn that the performance was shot in HD and that maybe some day soon we might get to purchase a HD DVD. I imagine that would be simply stunning.
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Old March 21st, 2006, 10:23 AM   #6
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I once shot a SMALL concert, where the Technical Director had a Musical Director sitting next to him in the truck. There were only five cameras, and we had cue sheets based on measures. The Musical Director was 'counting measures' to give us heads up on where to go... For instance, I knew that on the 15th measure, I should be on the brass, then on the 18th switch to the first violin.

It was a rough and ready way to be 'in position' for the right sequence, without getting a chance to practice with the symphony. Of course, your camera crew has to know where the 'first chair' is, and the difference between an oboe and a clarinet, a french horn and a coronet, and a violin and a viola!
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Old March 21st, 2006, 11:05 AM   #7
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Having done a live to tape shoot with 8 cameras involved and a director calling the shots in our headsets, I can tell you that it keeps you on your toes. However, that's the kind of videography I like to do. It challenges me to locate the 'money shots' that the director will want to see. You'll know when you've got one because you'll hear, "nice shot camera #...standby camera #...taking camera #" and then when the director goes to the next camera, you find something else that looks good. But other times, the director knows what's coming and will direct you to a shot that he/she wants, so you do it and make it look as nice as possible. When it's done right, you get the kind of results seen on your DVD.

We had the following camera angles in the theater.

1. Cam on track dolly in front of stage.
2. Cam handheld backstage.
3. Cam mounted on crane off to the left and just in front of stage.
4. Cam left side, lower level, midway back
5. Cam right side, lower level, midway back
6. Cam left side, mezzanine level
7. Cam center, mezzanine level (my position)
8. Cam right side, mezzanine level

With the 20X lens on my XL2, I could push in to just a head shot of the drummer.

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