Ramping up to shoot more video. Three projects for the Theatre and one potential project for U.T.

Oh Boy! We're going to shoot a video on Sunday and I know how much my VSL readers love to read about video production!!! Ah well, the paucity of comments probably can't get much worse so full speed ahead. 

I like to plan. I met with the producer from the theater to discuss the overall creative strategy last week and we ended the meeting with the following consensus: We'd be videographing (sounds more accurate than videotaping...) an actor and a director together. They would be interviewing each other. We'd use the main stage at the Topfer Theatre because the show decor would already be installed and it would make a great background. So....I'd be lighting for two people, doing a seated interview. Good! I know how to do that pretty much in my sleep; in fact, that's easily the majority of the kinds of video projects I've been doing over the years. 

We were going to get fancy and use three identical cameras. One for a fairly tight shot on each of the two people and a third camera to get a wide shot of both. We'd have an "establishing" shot camera and each interviewee would be covered by their own camera. Since the wide camera would be static I only needed to coerce one person to join my crew. As it turned out Ben had the day free and agreed to help out. I have two Sennheiser wireless lavaliere microphone sets that are getting long in the tooth but I figured I could press them into service on this job. And lights? We've got plenty of lights and I'll be immodest and say I'm pretty qualified to use them. 

And that's how we left it at the meeting but by Monday morning the changes started rolling in.... First off, the stage crew at the main theatre didn't think they could spare the downtime (11-4 pm on a Sunday) and denied our request to use the space for the interviews. It was decided that we'd be moved over to the older rehearsal space which is a huge, poorly lit box with some uncontrolled daylight coming in on one end, a long wall of mirrors on one side and absolutely nothing attractive on the only wall we could use as a background. That engendered the first question from the client: "Do you happen to have a background that's wide enough for two three people in an interview setting that requires a wide shot?" Um, no. "But there is a rental house that will have one." No budget for that. 

The day proceeded as did the e-mails. "Hey! High excitement over here. The producer of the show (famous actor) will be in town and the powers that be want to incorporate her into the interview set-up with the director and the actor (one person play). Will that be an issue?"

And then I got the next e-mail. "The executive team would like to add an interview just with the producer, after the main interview video session. That won't be a problem will it?"

I don't know what to say because I'm still grappling with the very first issue; what to use as a background. I'm thinking we'll position the three people about 20-25 feet in front of the back wall and spray the back wall with a colored light wash. I make a note to bring there more lighting fixtures, gel filter holders, and barn doors to hold the filter holders. 

Two people and three cameras is good math but three people and three cameras is bad math. Sure, you can give each person a camera framed for their own position but you lose the wide shot which establishes the interviewees' geography in relation to the house, to each other, etc. I'm still working on that as adding a forth camera would also entail bringing in a third operator (one for each camera dedicated to an actor, director or producer....) but I'm pretty sure there's not a budget for that...

But even if we go with three cameras and figure out how to make it work (one camera being an active close up camera, probably) we also have the issue of how to do the audio. And this is the most vexing of all my considerations. I'd like to isolate each speaker to their own audio channel. If I mike each one with a lavaliere microphone I can use a dual channel, wireless receiver and two lavalieres but that's only two people, not three, and my "A" camera (all my cameras...) only has a two channel input. How do I mike and control the audio of the third person? 

I could call "sound guy" but... there's no budget. I worked on this issue for a couple of days and decided that I'll use my (brand new) dual channel receiver/transmitter set for the two original talents and run their audio into the two channels of camera "A". Then I'll use one of the Sennheiser wireless rigs to record audio from the newly added, third person and run that mic into whichever camera we designate for the added person. That means my second camera operator (Ben) will have to have headphones on and deal with any audio levels changes on the third mic; and whoever ends up editing this stuff will have to be informed about where to look for person three's best audio tracks and then incorporate that audio into the final edits.

I toyed with the idea of using two cardioid mics suspended over the set instead but the room is bright and bouncy and it'll be 100 degrees (f) on the shoot day and no one will allow the (noisy, industrial) air conditioning to be silenced. Not even for Art. This is Texas after all. 

Really Old School. Yes, Nikon used to make movie cameras. Really good ones. 

Part of planning is making sure you have all the stuff you need to do the job at hand. The fifth or sixth thing I thought of was: "What are we going to have the interviewees sit on?" I figured we'd use high/tall director's chairs and asked if the theater had any. That's now become a bureaucratic task/question so I imagine that at some point on Sunday someone will show up with three old, metal folding chairs and will ask me, sincerely, "Will these do?" At which point we'll call someone and send them out to find the right chairs and deliver them. Except that there's no budget for that...

Tomorrow (shoot date minus three) we'll have an extended e-mail conversation about "craft service" and after four or five back and forths I'm pretty sure I'll convince them that hot coffee and something edible is the bare minimum. If we can't get that then I'll invoke the "deal killer" clause. 

So, in my usual impractical and spendy fashion I've picked up a few things to make the shoot go more smoothly for me. I bought a  Saramonic UWMIC9 RX9 + TX9 + TX9, 96-Channel Digital UHF Wireless Dual Lavalier Microphone System. It's a system that is comprised of a dual channel receiver and two wireless transmitters plus two lavaliere microphones. This assemblage will go on my "A" camera. I set it up and practiced with it today and I'm happy to report that it sounds good, works well with my Fuji X-H1, and is very easy to handle. That's two people taken care of. The kit cost me $399 at Precision Camera, here in Austin. I looked at Rode and Sennheiser rigs that offer automatic channel switching if there is interference but I was daunted and ultimately rejected them because they have a very long latency. They can up up to a frame off (the sync between visual and audio) depending on the frame rate in use. The higher the frame rate the bigger the discrepancy. 

At this point I'm going to mic the third person with one of our Sennheiser EW100 G3 units and run that feed into the "B" camera. We'll keep the second set of Sennheiser gear handy as a backup. 

Then it dawned on me that on the "A" camera rig, in order to change levels between the two microphones I'd have to go into the wireless receiver menu and change the output level of one channel in relation to the other channel. This is hardly something I can do on the fly and I started to panic a bit since one interviewee could have a loud voice and the other quite soft. The levels need to be matched at the outset and worked with over the duration of the recording. 

I have a Tascam 60Dii digital audio recorder that I could run the audio from the two microphones into and then use the recorder as a mixer to ride levels but it's a battery hog and it's got complex and sometimes confusing menus. I decided to buy something different and decided on the Beachtek DXA-MICRO PRO Audio Adapter which is basically a microphone pre-amplifier which provides phantom power to one XLR input and also has a 3.5mm stereo input or can accept two mono 3.5mm channels (L/R). Since it's a powered box it can provide some amplification so I don't need to push the preamplifiers in the camera too hard (less noise that way). And the main reason for the unit's existence in my camera bag will be the added ability to use physical knobs to control the output levels of the wireless microphones going into the camera. 

If this all sounds confusing to you then count me in because it's confusing for me as well. In the best of all possible worlds I'd have a sound guy there with a four or eight channel mixer/pre-amplifier and he or she would mic everyone, ride levels, signal me if we had an audio issue, and then present me with a nice file; with perfect sound. But we don't have the budget for that. 

I may yet default to the two cardioid mics but if I do that then I'll also have to lug in a rolling case full of sound blankets to kill some of the sound reflection around the shooting area. Sound is truly the nemesis for lightweight video professionals. Best left to the real audio pros. But...there's no budget for that. 

Five years ago with a Nikon D810.

I do have three good tripods; two with nice, fluid heads. We'll be using three identically set Fuji XH-1 cameras but since all this effort will end up in social media and nowhere near broadcast TV the producer and I have elected to shoot in 1080p and I'll set the cameras to a very ample 100 mb/s data rate. I want to shoot at 29.97 fps but I'm flexible, I'd be happy to shoot at 24 as well. Since there won't be much big movement it doesn't seem to make sense to shoot at 60 fps; that would just make lighting one stop harder... I'll use a 23mm f1.4 Fuji lens on the wide camera and depend on two zooms (the 18-55mm and the 16-55mm) for the tighter shots. We'll do a "walk through" tomorrow and I'll see if there's enough room to use something longer. If there is I'll use the 90mm f2.8 and a new lens I'm trying out; the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 AF for Fuji as my two tight lenses. V60 cards in all cameras; just for a bit of overkill. 
As far as lighting goes I think I'll light each person with their own Godox SL60W LED light modified with 32 inch by 32 inch soft boxes. I'll add a hair light for each person with a few Aputure Lightstorm LS-1/2's and then pump up the entire set with fill light from Lightstorm LS-1 lights bounced into big flats. Anything to overpower the eerie, ceiling mounted florescent tube lighting, circa 1985...
A good fluid head needs it's own cowboy hat to protect it from the elements. 
This one is a genuine Stetson I've had for nearly 30 years. 

 There is one other thing I just bought in the service of this shoot and that's a new supply of batteries. I ordered 48 double "A's" for the wireless gear and a box of 12 nine volt batteries for the new Beachtek. I'd hate to run out of juice halfway through my project. 

A lot could change between now and Sunday. We could be moved into an even weirder shooting environment. The theater execs could decide to add a few more people to the mix. They will almost certainly come back to me on Friday or Saturday to radically shrink the schedule but we'll handle it. Because we're prepared and also because we're a bit crazy. And yes....that's the royal "we." 

Saratoga Springs. 

We've got two cheap monitors and one really good one. We'll use the good one to set color and levels. We'd buy two more really good ones but there's no budget on this job. We'll pick them up next time.

This is not a bowl of pasta. This is a shotgun microphone and camouflage cabling. 
Notice the little red wind shields.

The outflow area from the Barton Springs Pool. It's a 1/8th mile, spring fed pool that's open year round and absolutely worshipped in the Summer. The water is usually around 70 degrees. 
We'll try to end up here after the shoot.

At Least We're Not Doing This Production Outdoors!!!!

Portrait included solely for fun.


Hey. We might need this guy on Sunday.

Actual. Not a painted background.

Wouldn't it be nice if these Lectrosonics belonged in my gear bag?
Along with some Sanken microphones and a Sound Devices audio mixer....?
However.....they don't.

Wouldn't it be nice if I had this guy off to one side switching between cameras and editing on the fly?
I won't. Not even close.

But I can pretty much guarantee that doing this video project will be a hell of a lot more fun than 99% of routine office work. 

Would it be too OCD to put lavalieres on everyone and then run a second sound system of two 
carioid microphones just overhead running into a recorder?
Just for back up?

Many good swims this week but I think you've endured enough by having to wade through this article about video. Go Fuji.