10.05.2020

Gearing up for an interesting series of video assignments. I know what I'll be doing every Saturday evening from Oct. 17th through Nov. 7th.


Once you've got a really big project under your belt all the restraints come off and the work flows in. At least that's the way it feels today. 

We've got a couple of photographic assignments to take care of this month but I'm spending more time figuring out and telling ad agencies how we're going to do stuff safely than I am at figuring out the nuts and bolts of the jobs. A group contacted me last week to see about shooting some products on location, and a bit of b-roll of their client's offices, and I was okay with that. But after I agreed and we were in the scheduling phase they came back and casually dropped an unwelcome wrinkle into the mix. They added a request to do "headshots" of five or six individuals, possibly in the office.

My immediate response was, "No." Followed by, "If this is a requirement of the job then I'll have to pass on this one." Now we're in the, "What if we photography them outdoors?" stage of the negotiation. I'm sure we'll work out something but I can guarantee that it won't include me setting up a temporary studio in a small, interior conference room and interfacing with five or six unmasked people about whom I know absolutely nothing. The subject seems especially poignant given the current situation with the president. The agency is generally very rationale and straight-shooting so I imagine we'll figure out something that works well for both all parties. 

Added note: All good here. The client's intention was always to do exterior portraits, it just wasn't conveyed in the bid process. The actual labs and manufacturing that we're shooting are huge and lightly populated by strictly masked workers. I saw footage of the facility just after lunch and there's ample space and high ceilings. Not what I originally feared! I guess I'm just being jumpy after all the recent news. 

I have several other photography projects booked for October but all of the others are planned for exterior locations so it should be smooth sailing. Two are with groups of physicians so I'm guessing they'll be especially careful when it comes to personal safety. 

But what I really want to write about here today is the upcoming series of videos I mentioned in the title. 

Following up on the success of Zach Theatre's fundraising livestream (Sept. 26) we're embarking on a series of outdoor concerts which will take place in the plaza, just in front of the theater building. Each week will feature a different theme and different performers. One week will be "Motown Goove" another will be "On Broadway" the following week will be "70's Female Rockstars" and the final week will feature "Superstar Chanel" (who sang the Tina Turner songs on the livestream video I posted last week). Each genre will run from Thursday through Sunday starting on the 17th of October. Each show will feature one or two singers and a small group of musicians.

The series is being called, "Songs Under the Stars.

The Theater has ample outside space on their plaza to host a little over one hundred socially distanced people (in various pods) and since it's all outdoors it should be a safe experience. The concerts will start each night at 7:30 and run for approximately one hour. Our collective goal, beyond making the revenue from the live performances, and keeping peoples' interest in live productions, will be to record the Saturday concert for each genre in the series with an eye to streaming the video of the concerts behind a paywall on Vimeo. 

And that's where I come in. 

I'll be at each Saturday performance with three cameras. I'll need to stay stationary during the show so I won't be able to do any fancy gimbal work of the performers (although I would love to...) but I'll be working with two "show" cameras to get a static wide shot with one camera and then do "follow" work with the second camera. By follow work I mean using a much longer lens and getting medium and close up shots of the performers. 

I'm planning to use the S1H as the main/follow camera; coupled with the 70-200mm S-Pro lens. I hope to be close enough to the stage to use the S1H in its full frame configuration but I'm not at all hesitant to switch the camera to the APS-C/Super35 mode in order to get 50% more magnification, if I have to. 

The second camera will likely be the GH5 fitted with the 12mm Meike cinema lens for the wide, stage shots. That camera will be stationary and we'll depend on deep depth of field to maintain sharp focus throughout the show. 

We'll be shooting 4K in both cameras with an eye to being able to crop in for tighter shots where it's needed. Since we'll be editing on a 1080p timeline we shouldn't lose any sharpness with the crop. 

I'll set up the GH5 with no microphone and the built-in mic/audio set to ALC. We need only to get a "scratch track" out of that camera and we'll leave the heavy-lifting for audio to the S1H. The scratch track from the wide will only be used to sync up the audio we record in the S1H to the video streams from both cameras. It's so easy now to sync audio to video in either Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro. 

Each camera will be on a tripod equipped with a fluid video head. It's critical for the primary/close up camera since I'll need to follow action, albeit in a limited range. It's better to do it smoothly. It makes the captured video much more watchable. 

I'm putting external monitors on each camera rig and the running cables from the output of the monitors to a monitor for the show director. With the two monitors in front of him he'll be able to call out directions like: "Can you zoom in closer to Bob?" or "Can you catch more of Chanel and less of the band?" Etc. 

If we had more budget it would be great to put wireless transmitters on both of the camera monitor HDMI outputs and then run the received signals into a single workstation so we don't have to run cable or come up with four total monitors. At the current time I own three of the Atomos monitor/recorders and I may just borrow a fourth from one of my fellow, local videographers. Either that or forgo the director monitor dedicated to the wide camera...

Since we're putting a monitor into the director's hands it just makes sense that we'll both be wearing communications gear. A headset for each with an attached microphone and wireless transmitters and receivers. This way we can be socially distanced and still be on the same directoral page. 

The stage area will be well lit with theatrical spots which is a good thing since the show's start time of 7:30 will be post-sunset by the show dates. With good lighting on the stage I don't think we'll need to go over ISO 800 for either camera. A cakewalk for the S1H and well within the range of "good" for the GH5. Added to the mix is the fact that all the footage will be downsampled in the final rendering to 1080p which should minimize any noise that does show up.

As far as audio goes the S1H is an obvious choice for recording it. The camera has a wide range of input sensitivity and, when using the audio interface accessory I am able to accept long XLR runs from the sound engineer's mixing board and match the camera to the line input. We'll monitor the audio carefully at the sound check and get a good sense for the loudest parts of the show. I don't expect to have to do much with the audio levels once we set a "show" level but I'll have a earphone plugged into one ear and I'll be spot checking the meters all the way through. I can send the signal to both channels and set one of them 6DB lower than the other as a means of having a lower level back-up channel in case we hit some unwanted clipping. I'll call that a safety channel. 

As a final safety we'll have the sound engineer record the feed off the mixing board onto a digital audio recorder. That way, if I totally screw up the sound we can replace it with a clean track. 

While it seems obvious why I would select the S1H as my primary camera you might wonder about my choice of the GH5 for the second, wide camera. 

Colorwise it matches up well with the S1H. It has, by far the longest battery life while running, and using it as the wide/close camera takes advantage of its deeper depth of field. With dual card slots it's able to run well past our one hour run time estimate even in 10 bit 4K, and it's rock solid. 

I also want to bring along a third camera, probably the G9 set up on a gimbal, so I can shoot a bunch of b-roll of the pre-show sound checks, the guest arrivals, some wide, establishing shots of the venue and maybe even some "footage" of people enjoying/applauding the shows. The G9 makes sense because I am comfortable with it as a gimbal superstar. And that would leave an extra S1 or two as back-ups for all the other cameras. 

Since this stuff won't be live-streamed it's a lot less anxiety provoking for me. I'm looking forward to four beautiful nights under the Texas stars, listening to live music and making little movies. 

Lots to look forward to and I'm sure I see many familiar faces in the audience and among the crew. It feels good to work on scheduled productions again. Every day I shoot video I get more practice and get more comfortable with it. I should mention that these concert videos are not pro bono. I will be paid.

The video projects are starting to stack up and that's just what I wanted for this Fall. 

More to come....