Last night's last minute video assignment. 200 Gigabytes later.....

The camera and lens are the same ones I used last night, as are the headphones but
I used different tripods and also the new DMW-XLR1 audio adapter. Added for literal readers. 

I got an e-mail late Wednesday asking if I could help ZACH Theatre out with a video project the next day. We had stuff booked through the midday but the request was to make a two camera, video documentation of the current production of, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" on the main stage. The theatre needed archival footage to satisfy their usage contract. 

I got the message as I was walking into the house at 9:30 pm after shooting all afternoon and evening at a radiology clinic. I responded that I could do the project but would not have the bandwidth to also edit or do post production. "No Problem." was the response. They just needed the raw footage of the show from two different cameras; one for a wide, static shot of the stage and a second one to follow action on the stage. I started a quick job folder so I could make a list of the things I'd need to take along and what sort of pre-prep my gear might need. 

Usually I shoot things like this during the last rehearsals and I like to use external Atomos monitors so I can really see the frames clearly which helps me achieve better focus and is even more helpful with nailing exposure. We would be shooting this project with a sold out house and I would be on the cross through row in the middle of the middle of the house. This meant that there would be paying clients behind and in front of me. We had the house manager take out three seats so I could position two cameras on two tripods. The row behind me starts the upper half of the seating configuration so their floor is at about my shoulder level when I'm seated behind the cameras. Still, I knew the bright Atomos screens would be unacceptable for most of the audience behind me. Sadly, I had to leave them at home...

Pre-prep for something like this mostly means putting all the gear on the list onto a table in the studio and making sure it's work-worthy. Since we need to shoot with two cameras we'll need an extra set of batteries. All the batteries need refresher or full charges. I generally use a third set of batteries in the camera while setting up the menus for specific shooting so I don't start with a partially drained battery in camera. I pull the caps off both cameras, grab a loupe and inspect the sensor for dust. If there's any foreign material on the sensor I use a bulb blower to dislodge it. While I don't recommend doing it I have, on occasion, used canned air to blast something off a sensor but I'm very careful to hold the can level...

If we pack monitors I make sure there are ample batteries and two back-up HDMI cables. 

If I'm using tripods I make sure the quick release plates are attached and the correct tripod screws are resident on the plates. Can't tell you how depressing it is to pull out a tripod only to find that the last user (probably me) left the plate with a 3/8th inch connector attached instead of a needed 1/4 inch connector....

I finished by earlier photographic jobs and packed for the video job with my inventory list in hand. 

I arrived at the Theater two hours before the start of the show, just in case. I set up both GH5 cameras putting the (adored) 12-100mm f4.0 Pro Olympus lens on one and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Olympus lens on the other. Both cameras were set to MP4 at 100 mbs, 1080p, 10 bit, 422 color space. The cameras and their attendant V90 memory cards are capable of writing 400 mbs All-I files at 10 bit and 422 but since I wouldn't be editing the material I defaulted to a file size I knew would not be problematic for the editor. 

The camera with the wide zoom was my stationary camera and it was the one on which I put the Panasonic audio adapter. The sound engineers had dropped an XLR cable from the sound booth to my location so it plugged right into the adapter. Important to note that the sound coming off the main mixer (usually) is a higher line level signal. If you run that signal into an input that's looking for a microphone signal you'll almost certainly overload the input and the audio you end up with will sound distorted and crappy. Set you're switch to "line in" instead of "mic." 

The second camera, the one with the longer zoom, got its own microphone in the hotshoe. This provided a sound track that would make it easy to sync footage between the two cameras in editing.

Once the cameras were set the sound engineers played the loudest pre-recorded cue that they would send to me during the evening. I set levels for that and noted the dial position. We then had a quick dialogue rehearsal which showed me where I should set the average level. This is important because in a two camera set up I can't follow action with the longer lens on one camera and set sound levels on a second camera simultaneously. As a back-up the entire audio of the show was recorded from the main mixer in the sound booth by the engineers. 

I then asked to see the lighting cue that was used the most during the show. The lighting designer got a cue up for me and I had a crew member from the theater hold up a white card dead center in the stage. The lights, LEDs with filters, gave a reading of 4600K with a negligible hue shift. I also checked the follow spot and it was balanced within 100K of our average lighting cue as well. 

White balance set. Camera set to show green focus peaking outlines. Exposure and focus set to "M." 

The final step before the start of the show was to balance the fluid head with the "following" lens. Having a well balanced video head makes for smoother moves but if I was too ham-fisted in any one spot we could always cut to one of the wide shots as b-roll. 

Now my job was to start the cameras and then follow the main action with tight framing on the camera with the longer zoom. The first act is about 1:15:00 and the action moves continuously. That means the camera and the focus also move continuously (and as smoothly as I can possibly manage).

I was using 128 GB V90 cards which, based on the shooting codec, would give me about 2:45:00 of shooting time. The two acts combined were about 2:15:00. No worries there. The batteries were both still showing 2/3 full at the intermission but I had the luxury of just putting in fresh batteries and that also meant one less thing to worry about in the final act. 

After the early swim practice (Yay!!!!!!) this morning I got to work transferring the files to a small, milspec hard drive. Each camera card clocked in at about 100 Gigabytes for a total of just under 200. I'm happy I won't be the one editing this project. I think the render time will be agonizing....

I delivered the work on the hard drive to the Theatre offices this morning and sent out an invoice an hour later. Now comes the gear post production during which we pull everything out of cases and charge all the batteries. I don't want to take chances with gear as we have a full day of still photography shooting schedule at a location tomorrow for another client. I can finally say that it's a busy start to the year.

Go video. 

On a related front, the Stephanie Busing Video has been well received and tallied a little over 10,000 views during the first five days of life on Facebook and YouTube. The client is very, very happy and ready to enter into discussions about the next project. Fun with stuff that moves. See the video in a previous, recent blog. 


Fred said...

Good post that points out the need to get the sound and the light correctly dialed in.
Could the take home be that M43 equipment is good enough for professional work but where one really needs the benefit of "full frame" is for YouTube videos and Facebook photos.
Yep. I may have had too much coffee today.

r w said...

I got exhausted just reading about all your last minute preparation. You’re made of sterner stuff than me. I thoroughly enjoyed this write up. Thank you.

Michael Matthews said...

Love these day-in-the-life features. As long as I don’t have to do the work.