Shooting Concerts as a Lone Shooter

(Published originally on the Run and Gun Videography Blog)

World Leaders and Power Seekers still 6

To best understand how to shoot a concert as a lone shooter, let’s consider how a concert would normally be shot.

Typical Multi-Camera Concert Shoot

A live concert is generally shot is with 6-18 cameras and a live cut director. (those numbers are arbitrary, but representative of most of the concerts and live performances I have shot).

Typically one frontal camera is dedicated to close shots of the main performer. Next to it is another frontal camera whose job is to cover anything from long shots of the stage plus audience all the way into medium shots of the performer. With this set-up you’re never without a close shot of the main performer even though other cameras will be shooting close-ups from different angles from time to time.

Then off to the left and right will be another couple of cameras also dedicated to side or 3/4 angles onthe main performer, but can also be assigned to other performers and solos based on the shooting plan.

There will be one or two, even three long shot cameras covering the whole stage and will be variously framed on the stage or stage plus audience and may be zooming in or out at the beginning and end of numbers.

Either additionally, or as part of the long shot camera set-up, there will be a couple cameras (or more) on cranes.

Near the stage there may be a camera set up on a dolly for lateral dolly shots.

And finally there will be 2 or 3 (or more) hand-held cameras on stage or at stage front assigned to dynamic angles, instrument close-ups etc.

That’s a pretty standard set-up and can even be tricked out with steadicam operators, wire cameras (cameras flying on wires), etc.

Ideally there is a full rehearsal with the band at which point the director determines the various camera cues. For example, when there are solos, he’ll know when they are and that he must have a camera on it and ready to go.

If no rehearsal, there will still be a cue sheet used for the same purpose.

All the cameramen will be in communication with the director (mainly for listening) via a comm system. During the show the cameramen, with their various assignments, will generally know what to do throughout the show based on their assignments (so you don’t wind up with 18 cameras all shooting close-ups of the singer), but will be assisted by the director calling out cues in advance of the live cut. For example; “Ready Camera 2 on a close shot push”, then, “Take”.  The “ready’ means you’re about to go live pushing into a close shot.  “Take” means you’re live. This doesn’t mean he’ll cue every single cut. He’ll be looking at all the cameras on his monitors. If he sees a nice shot on camera 6, he may say “ready 6….take”. When he says ‘ready’ that means he’s going to you, so that’s not the time to zoom into a cute girl or pick your nose.

And so it goes.

From the multitude of cameras of varying image sizes and angles makes editing easy, even on a live edit. Any mistakes are easily fixed in post.

Ok, so that’s NOT the scene we’re talking about for a lone shooter.

The Lone Shooter ‘Multi-Cam Shoot’

Why do lone shooters even try to shoot a concert?

Most likely it’s for a friend. And most likely it’s for little money if any at all.  And such is the case with the video samples you will see below.

When it’s a managed band with a budget, even if you are to do the shoot, you’ll be hiring extra crew and equipment–minimum two operators and 3 or 4 cameras for a small budget production and on upwards to the big budget ‘sky is the limit’ productions.

But some shooters will want to do it for a friend, do it for fun, or break into the music video business by offering some ‘starving artists’ an opportunity for better promotion with a music video for little or no money.

So how do you do it?

First of all, let’s be clear: Shooting alone is not the best way to go about it.

Shooting with only one camera is definitely the worst way to go about it.

Having at least three cameras, one of which is ambulatory (your hand-held), can make it appear to be a multi-camera shoot and will be fairly easy to edit.

More than three is even better.

Better still is having a second operator for one of the cameras…

And so on.

Ok, let’s start with a lone shooter and three cameras.

Camera Setup

Where do you set them up?

First of all, your main camera will be your hand-held and that’s the one that’s going to be getting all the close shots of the main performer. You must realise that if there is any fan-base at all, they’ll be wanting to see close shots and close-ups of their idol. They really don’t care much about cool shots of guitar strings and all that kind of fluff. Give them what they want, not what you think might be ‘artistic’.

Your locked off cameras must be necessarily on the wide side because you can not control the various changes that happen on stage while you’re running around with the hand-held, so you minimally have to cover all the performers on stage with your frontal locked off cameras.

One of the locked off cameras should be a tight shot of the main performing area of the stage.  If the stage is full, then it’s the whole stage and all the performers. If the performers occupy a portion of the stage, then it’s a loose shot of the whole grouping of performers, rather than the whole stage.

The other is on a medium shot of the main performing area from a different angle.

Balconies are a good place for these two cameras (one on either side).

I think the side angles are more interesting than a dead-on center shot, but if you have another camera, you can put it next to the sound booth or whatever center position you can occupy.

If you have a fourth camera, put it backstage shooting past the performers at the audience. It will give you nice relief shots with some nice flare off the spotlights.

Setting Exposure

You must set your static cameras to manual exposure using the highest light level of the key spot light on the main performer. (Just ask the lighting guy to give you that level and set it on someone standing in the performers position). If you don’t do that, your cameras will try to give you an exposure to the overall long or medium shot of the stage (which, on an interior stage is usually mostly black) and that will result in the main performers face being blown-out most of the time.

If you use a GoPro, just let it do it’s automatic thing. It’s pretty good about auto-exposure.

On your hand-held camera my advice–if your camera is intelligent in its auto modes like the Sony cameras I use–keep it on full intelligent auto. You’ll be all over the stage at different angles, but your shots are mainly going to be closer shots. Your camera (especially if it has facial recognition) will be able to give you good auto exposures most of the time–or at least close enough to fix in post. You just won’t have time to be fiddling with settings as you’ve got too much work to do keeping that camera’s shot useful as much as you can.

The Hand-Held Camera

The hand-held camera is the one that does all the hard work.

Because you’re ambulatory, you can get all kinds of different angles: frontal, side frontal, from the wings of the stage, and even from backstage.

Add all these angles to your static cameras and you’ll wind up with something a bit closer to a multi-camera shoot and W A Y better than a single camera zooming in and out all night long.

Be Quick But Be Patient

The trick to the hand-held camera is to hold a shot up to and slightly past what you know will be an edit point. For example, let them finish a line of lyrics or chorus and add a beat or two before changing frame. If you don’t, you’ll find out the hard way that the cut to another camera may seem awkward if you suddenly decide to reframe your hand-held camera at the wrong moment—and you’ll have no choice but to cut to another camera, because your hand-held is useless as you’re moving position and re-framing.

Once you’ve reached an edit point, you move and re-frame as fast as you can. Ideally start with a different image size. While you’re moving and re-framing, you’re covered by any one of your other cameras. But the interesting shots will be the hand-held ones, so you move as fast as lightning. All your static cameras will be shooting the same thing all night, so they’ll start to appear rather repetitive. Use them as relief, or as openers and end shots and the rest of the time run your butt off getting as many different shots as you can from different angles with your hand-held.

I mentioned above having a second operator on one of your cameras. Even if you assign him to a fixed position on a tripod, at least now he can be zooming in or out, changing static image sizes, covering a solo, etc., so now of your 3 or 4 cameras, only 1 or two are completely static. You use them lightly and give the main work to your hand-held and your other manned camera. Now it can really start looking like a professional concert shoot—even with only two cameramen.

“But I only have one camera…”

Well–borrow one or two. By hook or by crook, get at least two or three additional cameras. Fortunately most video cameras these days are HD quality. Even iPhones and iPads and the Android equivalents shoot HD.

In the samples below I had 4 completely different cameras. A Canon DSLR, a Canon XHA1, a GoPro and a Sony HXR NX30.  To say they didn’t match up would be an understatement.

I now have another Sony camera (X70), so next time I’ll be better off.

The particular show in the samples below was 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I knew it would happen eventually, and sure enough, toward the end of the show the GoPro and DSLR batteries died (even though I changed them during intermission) leaving me with only two live cameras. (That gives me the opportunity to show you what can be done with two cameras in a pinch).

Take Advantage of Breaks and Intermissions

Between songs the performers sometimes (not always) chat with the audience. There’s your chance to grab some water or make your way to an interesting new angle from the wings of the stage or wherever.

Obviously it’s best to have your static cameras on AC power, but you may need to change cards (or tape) and that you can do during an intermission or break. You can even re-frame your static cameras during a long break or intermission.

If no intermission, you’ll have no choice but to do it during one of those chats with the audience between songs. You may risk not being ready by the time they start up again, but it’s better to have that camera up and running as soon as possible than to have it dead. You’ll simply have to rely on one of your other fixed cameras while you’re tending to all that.

Of course I’m really talking about the L O N E shooter to the nth degree here. If you can get an assistant to deal with those things, all the better.

You take your sound off the house mix board. That could be run by cable to one of your static cameras, but if the cameras are too far away from the mixboard, you can simply use a digital recorder to take the audio and sync it up later. I use the Zoom H2 which I’ve had for years and which never lets me down.

Matching Disparate Cameras

Since I had 4 completely different cameras that handled color and light differently, in order to smooth it out a bit I added a ‘look’ after manually balancing the color and exposure as best I could. In this case the looks were from a Pixel Film Studios plug-in. Now I have Color Finale which, like Divinci Resolve, allows me to create any look I want.  Since this was a concert with weird concert lighting anyway, the addition of a ‘look’ just added to the whole concert thing. But mainly it served to smooth out the differences between all the cameras to some degree.

The singer sat beside me and I scrolled through the various looks I have from Pixel Film Studios. By clicking on each filter it would give me an instant live preview in the preview window. We picked one she liked and put it on the whole song. (I used a couple different looks for various of the songs). Since the stage lighting was so crappy, one good thing the looks did was crush the blacks which also served to hide the different grain levels of the different cameras.

The GoPro isn’t good at low light levels, so on the darker scenes the grain was as big as golf balls. For those few Go Pro shots that I had to employ in the edit, I used Neat Video, a pretty good piece of software for removing grain. When the grain is extreme, the result is rather severe, but, in this case it was worse with the grain. For light grain, Neat Video is brilliant at removing it rather seamlessly.

All this is unnecessary, of course, if you have closely matching cameras. That’s not to say you couldn’t add a look anyway.

Concert Video Samples

In this case, I saw no rehearsals. I was seeing it for the first time live and had no choice but to think on my feet and do the best I could under the circumstances. If nothing else, it’s a good exercise even if it doesn’t all come out the way you hoped it would. The next good exercise in that case, is figuring out how to fix it all in post. And that can be fun and rewarding too—but only if you have multiple cameras to work with—or, as I had near the end of the show, only two.

Also, in this case, I was alone. I had no assistant. So the samples below are meant to give an idea of what a lone shooter can accomplish. I don’t offer it as anywhere near ideal–or indeed what I would want if it was my band, but still, for the money, it was a pretty good promo for this particular band. And it was fun and a good exercise for me. Next one will be better, for after all, it’s from things like this that we learn.

Let’s start with one when all 4 cameras were working. (after that are samples with 2 and 3 cameras)

As the show went on, and since I didn’t have an assistant, I would start losing cameras to either dead batteries or cards filling up. I dealt with that as best I could between songs, and of course, during intermission. Nevertheless, toward the end of the show I lost one camera permanently and later lost the GoPro as well when it’s short-lived battery died.

I know all this is rather stupid–even amateur, but at least it gives me the opportunity to show what you can do with 3 cameras and 2 cameras.

The following video is comprised of 3 different excerpts from the end of the concert starting with a 3 camera shoot and ending with two different samples of 2 camera shoots.

Post Lip Sync

And finally there’s the matter of syncing a performance to a studio recording.

This is fairly doable if the performer has performed the song many times after having done a studio recording. It’s surprising how close they can be in sync to a studio version while performing a live gig.

The samples you saw above were all multi-track recordings which were subsequently mixed by the band and forwarded on to me. That’s why the sound is so good.

This was their final performance after a year on the road.

I also filmed the first performance, a year earlier, which was not multi-tracked and was so bad a live mix that the singer asked if I could sync their live performance to the studio recording.

Turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be.

When lining up the studio recording with the live performance we found that there were only three parts of the song that drifted out of sync a few frames. So we synced up the live performance to the three sections that were in sync, and in the three sections where the sync had drifted off a few frames we used a reverse angle to cover the cheat.

That was only a 3 camera shoot: Here’s the result:

YouTube & SEO

How to Make a Search Engine Happy

The true story of how one of my videos changed everything.

 Warning: This video is 35 minutes long.  That said, if you are a video producer or business owner with a website, you’ll find the information here informative and useful. And you’ll probably find stuff you never even heard about.

It’s free to watch. There will be no, “but wait, there’s more”, or any other of the usual clues that you’re being lead down a garden path to buy something.

You can google anything I’ve said here (like “Google has been ignoring meta tag key words for years”) or any of the statistics and trends.

This is the story of how one video dramatically increased my Google profile, subscribers to my blog, YouTube channel and Facebook page in the space of one year. And how all that resulted in a dramatic increase in business video commissions on my regular business website.

I didn’t set out to do this deliberately.  Actually it was all sort of a fluke.

But since it did happen, I went back to evaluate the component parts of this success and I’m sharing it with you here.

Nothing mysterious. No assistance from Adwords, or any of the dozens of schemes out there that promise you the moon with their exclusive software.

In fact all I did was please the search engines. And the search engines were pleased because they saw that those searching for the topic of my video were pleased. And the more people that were pleased, the happier the search engines got.

How the search engines achieved this happiness in the midst of the dull drudgery of their daily, often thankless, often disparaged work, is the subject of this talk–which could have been alternatively titled, “How to Make a Search Engine Happy”.

For those businessmen and women who are going to ask, “But how is this going to help me sell widgets?”, the section after the video answers that question and covers a few points not covered in the video. But it won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the video first.

As a note, I more recently did a review of the Sony PXW X70. It was uploaded 3 months after a raft of initial reviews on the camera. It started off on page 26 of Google and in less than 2 1/2 months it reached the number 1 position–despite the fact that it was considerably longer than any other review. Why? Well, the content was considered good as measured by the engagement metrics. If you were to compare it to the other top reviews on that camera, you will see that it got far more comments and likes. Furthermore, the comments were all relevant. None of them were drivel.

 

“So how is this going to help me sell my widgets?”

Fair question.

The Sony video talked about above made it’s way quickly to the top in a very competitive market. That is, there are a lot of sites that review photographic, video, computer equipment and so forth. And generally speaking, it’s a pretty gung-ho and internet switched-on market that they are reaching.

I’ve done many videos for large industrial companies, also in a niche market. They are hoping to close multi-million pound contracts with their products or services.

So who looks at their videos?

Two kinds of people do: 1) Businessmen looking for that specific product or service, and 2) the competition.

In either case, these are not likely going to be the type of people who “share”, “like”, “comment”, etc.  They might share it via email to a colleague or boss, but that’s about it in terms of engagement.

Then how does engagement apply here?

Creating a viral video is one way and many multi-national well-known corporations can actually create a viral video with confidence. Old Spice, BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo, Redbull and many others have done this. But these cost a fortune. A group of some very clever people come up with some very clever ideas and no expense is spared on pulling off each unique concept.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that kind of approach and budget is out of the question.

So what counts?

The Audience Retention Analytic

There are more metrics at play then mentioned in the video, but one of the more important ones is called “Audience Retention”. You can actually go into the backend of your video on your YouTube analytics page and see exactly minute by minute what percentage of people watched the video. In other words, it starts off at 100%. Maybe 20 seconds in it drops to 60%. You can see the percentages for every minute of the video and the overall average.

It might be disappointing to see that some people don’t watch the whole video.

For example, in that Sony video, the audience retention was 30% for the whole 14 minute video. That means, as of now, about 10,000 people watched the entire video–and that’s pretty good considering its length. Interestingly, the graph pretty much drops to the 30% mark in the first minute or two and then stays consistent right to the end. That’s very unusual. But it does tell me the audience I was actually looking for locked onto it and found it interesting and informative enough to watch all the way through.

There can be a number of reasons people don’t watch it all the way through. The primary one is it wasn’t what they were looking for. They realised early on it wasn’t relevant.  Or perhaps they realised this was about a BMW and they were looking for a Aston Marton.  And finally, here’s the real killer. If it’s a bad video (low quality production, hard to hear, amateur-looking, etc.) most people will turn it off right there–unless they perceive the content to be extremely relevant and important in which case they will grab a scotch, squint up their eyes and persevere the torture of watching the video. But that would be a rare exception.

But here’s the good news.  It isn’t the number of VIEWS that the search engines consider important any more. (they used to, but like in Blackhat SEO, people found ways to “game the system” and inflate their view counts.) Instead what the search engines consider important is the audience retention analytic. And that tells them what percentage of people found the content relevant.

So, if you think about it, your competition is in the same boat in trying to sell their widgets. Their market is not the type of market that is going to do anything more than watch the video to see if it suits their company, their needs, etc. in order to put forward a purchase order or arrange further meetings to obtain the service or product.

So if you both have videos on your respective widgets, who has the advantage?  The advantage goes to the company whose video (or other web page content) appears to be most relevant to the search and that is determined by how long people watch the video or otherwise engage on your site. If, in the case of video, it sees the percentage is 5% or lower (bad video), that’s struck off the list by the search engine. Bad or amateur video not only doesn’t pay, it’s destructive because it gives a poor impression of your company no matter how good your products and services really are.

Occasionally I used to check the views of my clients videos on their sites (not my Youtube channel where they are tagged and titled for my purposes more than theirs). One client had over 6000 views of three different videos featuring multi-million pound industrial installations in the first year of their upload, and one of the three videos at the time had been uploaded only a few months earlier. I’m not able to look further into their analytics for audience retention, etc., but that was an impressive view count for that particular product. Even a small percentage of those 6000 views leading to further contact would have meant a LOT of money for that business.

So the moral is, in terms of video, do everything I said above anyway. And make sure it’s a good, professional video that’s pure relevant content for what it is you’re trying to sell.  And that is what will rank you higher than the competition.

It still stands true that video is the best engagement object out there.

Used correctly, the return on investment will make it one of the most cost effective advertising methods you have ever employed.

 

 

Sony HXR NX30 Production Report

I’ve now used the NX30 in several productions including music and corporate.

Last week I completed an 8 minute fund-raising video in Los Angeles which I thought would be a good video to elaborate on the NX30s capabilities in “run and gun” production.

Rather than go into the subject of what I mean by “run and gun” at any great length here, I’ve decided to take that up separately in a later blog. But to be clear, it’s in this type of shooting that the camera shines. It’s a rather competent “wing man”.

This production “The Locke High School Project” was definitely run and gun. Despite requests for various things to be lined up in advance of my arrival, very little was planned. Some things that were planned were faulty in terms of permissions, and some things planned simply fell through. It was up to me to pull it all together in a relatively short period of time to accomplish the objective of a video capable of appealing to a particular prospective donor of parting with $2,550,000.

If you can, watch the video in Full HD in order to evaluate the performance of the NX30.

You can watch the video now if you’d like and then read the comments below, or visa versa (or watch it twice).

1) It starts off with a sunset beach scene. That wasn’t planned. That was an off-the-cuff solution to a celebrity endorser to introduce the video who wasn’t able to be scheduled due to other commitments.  I didn’t want to have Sidney (the client making the appeal) to be bragging about his own accomplishments in order to position himself in the beginning of the video, but when the celebrity fell through and time had run out on my stay, I told him to grab his french horn and race down to the beach with me for sunset as a back-up to the original plan.

We got there in the last minute, and, as you can image, with no time for dilly-dallying, I just parked him on the sand and told him to start playing while I shot the footage.

If you’ve read my earlier blogs or seen any of the videos, you’ll know that I’m not a tripod or camera support system fan. In the old days working with crews, I’d have an assistant who took care of all that stuff giving me the time to plan angles and so forth.  When you’re solo, and in a rush, there’s little time for all that. Plus it’s a pain in the backside to clean out all the sand off your equipment after a beach shoot.

That’s why I love the NX30. Those shots are all hand-held. Not a speck of sand on any of my equipment.  But more than that, I could just turn the camera on in full intelligent auto mode and start shooting. It locked focus on the face and set its own exposure and colour balance.  What you see there isn’t even altered in post.

2) The sit-down interview with Sidney was shot on a tripod (as were the later interview scenes) because even I’m not masochistic or stupid enough to hold the camera for a 30 minute interview.

But here again, look at the beautiful clarity of the image. No, it’s not that shallow depth-of-field DSLR look. But with nice lighting, composition and tonal separation, what difference does it make for the purpose?  That’s a serious question. If it was shallow depth of field would it make it any better in terms of communication value?

I like shallow depth of field too. But that immediately taxes your attention that much more in terms of setting and maintaining focus. In this type of shooting, I’d much rather have more of my attention available for other things and not worrying about focus. Once I start that camera rolling, I’m no longer looking at the camera or the monitor. I’m chatting with the person. Nice to know the camera isn’t going to let that face go out-of-focus if he happens to shift or move.

3)  Shooting in the school.

This video was almost a disaster. I knew it was vitally important to get permission to shoot and interview in the school which was on the list of things I required to have set up in advance of my arrival.  When we got to the school we luckily got the athletic director to take us around. Here again, the little NX30 did not get a lot of attention due to its size. Could have been a different story with a larger “professional-looking” camera.

So what I did was tag along during the tour and just kept the camera running constantly. I had a radio mic on the athletic director and wore headphones so I could hear what they were talking about, but my main objective was to grab as much footage as I could.

Later we did the sit-down interview after which we stole over to the music department for about 40 minutes and obtained what the footage there on a similar basis.

Our time was up and we had to leave even though I wanted more. Interviews with sports students for example. But when it came time to go back to the school for that with fingers crossed, we ran head-on into the full bureaucracy of requiring written permissions based on submitting script, list of shots, video distribution plans, etc.

And since the marketing arm of the school would not be keen to show what needs to be shown in a FUND-RAISING video for the school’s inadequacies, I knew that road was closed. And we were out of time anyway.

So how did the NX30 perform?  I had it in Active Mode, Full intelligent auto. None of those “steadicam shots” were processed in post. Even though one shoots that sort of shots in wide angle for obvious reasons, there’s still the chance that the camera will decide to focus on something stupid. But the NX30 was set to keep track of faces and I could see it boxing in the faces as I moved, so my confidence was high (and not let down) in terms of focus. Or exposure, for that matter.

Short anecdote:  After we left the school for the second time without permission to shoot inside, I walked around outside to try to get a shot that showed a lot of students. Unfortunately the school was fenced like a prison. Nowhere in the entire circumference of the school was I able to see inside. Then, as I completed my walk around I noted an electric driveway gate opening. I stood ready, and as soon as the vehicle left and the gate started to close, I planted myself in the opening and grabbed a slow panning shot that showed a large group of students changing classes. I had one chance and only a few seconds. One shot.  And the NX30 backed me up by taking care of all the technical details.

3)  As I was leaving we got our hands on an old year book. I needed some historical shots. I used my Canon 600 to take stills of most of the shots I wanted out of the book (animating them in editing), but there are a couple of panning shots in there I did with the NX30 in Active Mode. That’s kind of difficult to do smoothly so close up, so in this case I further stabilised the shots in post to a very nice result.

AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY ABOUT THE NX30

In some of my earlier corporate productions (and on this one too), I would come home to find to my horror that some of my interview shots were soft on focus. It was both unnerving and baffling.

Then it happened on this production on the interviews with both the original music teacher and the current one. As I watched these interviews I could see the camera slowly drifting from foreground to background over and over. I had NO IDEA what caused this and thought I might have a camera fault to be fixed.  (this is why the interview with the current music teacher starts with an unusually long amount of B roll before we actually see him talking. Likewise, near the end of the video the original music teacher is coming out of a dissolve which hides the moment when the shot is coming into focus and cuts to B roll just before it rolled out-of-focus)

The next day when I was setting up to do the interview with Sidney, I put the camera on the tripod and did what I usually do: shut off the stabilisation. As I did that I noticed something flash on the viewfinder screen. And a little notice came up that said something like “turn off intelligent auto”.  I looked closer and saw that what had flashed on the screen was the little intelligent auto icon turning off (greying out; going inactive).

Ah ha!  Intelligent auto only works in Active Mode! Makes sense too. That’s when you really need it.

So the lesson learned is: When shooting on a tripod with stabilisation turned off, you MUST set focus manually. You can either turn off auto-focus once it’s focused on the subject you want, or just turn it off and manually focus it on the subject.

Ok, that will be my last word on the NX30. Hope it helps any of you who are looking to buy a camera.

And thanks to the 50,000 of you who, at this writing, watched the 2 Part Sony HXR NX30 review making it the most watched and highly rated video review of the NX30 on the internet.

Yeah, I heard some of your complaints about it too and agree with you, so I’ll  incorporate those points next time.

(hey, what do you know–this is my 50th blog post!)

Best FCPX Tutorials | Izzy Video

For more than a year now I’ve been telling people on forums, etc. about izzy video.com.

When I first starting using FCPX it was obvious that it wasn’t just a “sit-down-and-figure-it-out” program. And I’m not very good at studying thick manuals.

But some people are and we count on them to put together tutorials that show us the fundamental basics in action.

There are many out there, as you all know.

I tried all the usual ones at the time and wasn’t very happy with any of them. Some were too long and drawn out, but most seemed to have an annoying aspect of the presenter trying to sell his own “brand”. By that I mean a bit too much time spend on being an interesting personality rather than just telling you what it is you want to know.

Then someone told me to check out izzy video.

I had a feeling that FCPX was simple and intuitive, but it was obvious that there were a few principles I’d have to grasp before I could run with it. My feeling was that this should be accomplishable in one day.

It was.

Izzy had quite a series of short tutorials on the basics of FCPX. More than a dozen I think. And they were free. But more importantly, he had me up and running and having fun in the very first day.

He didn’t pile it all on.

He took it step by step.

He wasn’t long and laborious. He was concise and to-the-point, easy to follow and listen to.

Then, for a ridiculously low fee, he had an “Advanced FCPX” course, also with tons of short videos, step by step.

With all that I happily edited for more than a year.

Then came FCPX 10.1.

It took Izzy a couple of weeks, but as soon as he announced the new FCPX 10.1 basic tutorials (he’s still got the original ones on his site if you haven’t upgraded), I sat down and watched them all straight through.

Boy am I glad I did!

Because I didn’t just learn about the new cool stuff that I wanted to grasp correctly from the outset, I learned a TON of stuff I didn’t know that’s been there all along. Easy stuff.  Wonderful tools and short cuts. Great advice on work flows.

Hey, maybe everyone else already knew all this (but I doubt it).

FCPX had already doubled my speed and enjoyment of the FCPX editing process right from the start. But I’m sure some of you are familiar with the nagging feeling that you’re being a lunkhead about certain things, but just don’t know another way of doing it so you just carry on being a lunkhead. (I’m not the only one, am I?)

But now Izzy has just inadvertently helped me get some of the “lunks” out of my head.

www.izzyvideo.com

And, no, this is not an affiliate announcement. I get nothing from this except the satisfaction of helping people which is the purpose of this blog.

Don’t Try This At Home

How to Shoot a Live Concert with One Cameraman

First off, I’m not bragging about this piece as it’s flawed. That said, for the one-man-band and small production companies, there are some things worth sharing.

The video above was a live concert. It was, in fact, an album release event and this was the first time these songs were performed live in front of an audience.

And as I shot it, it was the first time for me too.

The trick was to shoot a live concert with only one manned camera and have it appear as a multi-camera shoot. This can be achieved pretty effectively with two cameramen and two or three unmanned cameras, but budget didn’t allow, so I had to pull it off the best I could with me, myself and I (one manned camera hand-held, two un-manned).

The Cameras

I used three disparate cameras: The Canon XHA1 (tape driven), the GoPro III Black Edition and the Sony HXR NX30. The Sony saved my bacon, despite the fact that I made a fundamental error with it. But more on that later on the “Things Not To Do” list. I could have (and should have) added a fourth–my Canon 600D, but that was assigned to still photographs.

In order to edit, it is necessary to cut between angles which are significantly different either in image size or angle or both. Preferably both. So the first task was to find camera locations where the locked off cameras would be safe and out-of-the-way. So the Canon was relegated to a balcony rail. Framing it was a “best guess” and I only had one shot. Turned out ok. Due to the extreme low frontal lighting level and due to the fact that the Canon is not particularly good at low light levels (unlike the Sony), at the editing stage I pretty much had to leave the image size alone. Zooming it in digitally would have betrayed a lot of grain.

The GoPro was placed at the back of the stage for two main reasons: 1) it is a completely different angle and so easy to cut to (and also dramatic due to the stage lights appearing in frame) and, 2) that rear angle can often be used to cover faults that would be revealed by frontal cameras (which can be anything including the performer having to swat a fly, scratch a nose–or, as happened in this case, sync manipulation). And when shooting a live event that hasn’t be rehearsed, it’s good to have a built-in fall back. As it turned out, it became a vital camera because we didn’t wind up using the live mix. Instead I synced the studio recording to the live event and that required some sliding of picture track here and there which then created gaps in the live camera edit that couldn’t be used. So the rear shots covered those momentary lapses of sync.

The Sony was the hand-held camera and here the task was to not only get the close-up camera coverage, but to run around like mad and obtain as many different angles as possible (to give some variation to the edit). You can imagine that 3 static cameras would give a very repetitive and boring edit. So the hand-held had to do the work of two or 3 other nonexistent cameras.

Sound was taken off the house mix board to a Zoom H2 recorder. Unfortunately it was not a good live mix and it was not a multi-track recording (so couldn’t be mixed in post) which is why it was decided to try to sync the studio recording to the live show.

I mentioned that the Sony saved my bacon. If you haven’t watched it, see the review I did on the Sony HXR NX30. It was the image stabilization and intelligent auto that did most of the work. As far as the “What Not To Do List” is concerned, I should have set it on “spotlight mode” since that camera was mainly shooting close shots of the singer in a spotlight against a dark or black background. That would have given me better exposure control in editing (if even needed). Not having done so gave me over-exposure to the degree that highlights were completely lost and unrecoverable. I could only mitigate it to some degree in editing. Nothing you can do when there’s no picture information there to adjust.

The Game Plan

With the two un-manned cameras and Zoom H2 set, through hard experience I knew that I’d have to start them all well before the show started. Shows rarely start on time, so don’t count on that. The trick is to start soon enough before the actual show start to give you a chance to get ready with the hand-held camera without your heart pounding from running all over the auditorium, but not so soon that batteries or tape will run out before the first act is over. (thank god for card-based cameras)

Also, through hard experience, I knew the value of closer reverse shots on the main performer (remember, the Go Pro is super wide). So I had to plan my route onto stage in order to get there and back as quick as possible. I knew that a reverse shot of the singer (playing guitar, for example) could be used to cover an edit ANY song where she was playing guitar. And sure enough, I needed it for this one–as little did I know at the time that I would be syncing the live performance to a studio recording! I only wish I had done at least one more different reverse with that hand-held.

Finally (also learned the hard way), when shooting hand-held close shots of the performer, you have to resist the temptation to dive out to another angle until an appropriate edit point. If she’s singing a note, let her finish it! Then dive. Re-framing as fast as possible and from as different an angle as possible, is the trick, but not so often that you wind up with only short usable bits. Its the main singer people want to see. Nothing wrong with holding on a close shot for a little while. It will usually be evident when a good point comes to be able to change to a new angle, knowing that while you’re doing that you’ll be cutting to the main frontal wide camera or the reverse.

Syncing Live Performance to Studio Recording

This is how I did it in FCPX:

1) laid down the main frontal camera on the time line
2) added the studio recording track
3) manually found a sync point. Played until it went out of sync and then cut the picture track. Then nudged the picture track left or right until the next portion was in sync. And so on. In this particular case there were about 4 points of sync correction, each of which gave me a 2-6 frame gap in the picture track.
4) Added the next camera track and found a starting sync point.
5) Then went to the exact edit points in the main picture track and made the same cut and shift in the next camera track–essentially creating an identical gap.
6) repeat 4 and 5 for the last camera.
7) If any of the above left a gap at the beginning (by reason of shifting any track to the right) I added slugging to the beginning so that all tracks have the exact same starting sync point.
8) Now I made each of the 4 tracks into a New Compound Clip, naming each one.
9) Then selected each of the new Compound Clips in the browser and created a multi-cam clip.
10) Edited the multi-cam clip in the usual way producing a rough cut of the show.
11) This, of course, left me with about 4 or 5 black flashes where the gaps were which I was forced to cover using my generic reverse angle of the singer or by cheating the GoPro reverse shot. (if the drummer showed enough to betray the sync, I cropped the GoPro shot to exclude the drummer).
12) Added a beginning and end title sequence.
13) Colour balanced.

That’s it.

This next song was a bit more complicated in that there were 8 different points of sync correction. Once it was all fixed up as in points 10-13 above we reviewed the whole thing and determined there were just too many reverse shots for “no apparent reason”. Of course we knew the reason and it was a mechanical one, not an artistic one. Fortunately there was some studio footage taken during the album recording, so we sucked that in and strung it out from a natural break in the song for about a minute.That took care of most of the sync correction edits seamlessly.

Now, the reason for the title “Don’t Try This At Home”, is that to really make it come across as professional (besides not making stupid errors like I did), is simply to have at least one more cameraman doing hand-held work. Better still, add a third static camera at a different angle (and so on). Now you can really start making it look like a large multi-cam shoot. I’m talking low budget high value here.

(I’ve done 14 camera live shoots too, but that’s a whole different ball game and price range!)

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Sony HXR NX30 Image Stabilization in Perspective

Overall I’m pleased that so many have found the review I’ve done on the Sony HXR NX30 helpful and informative.

I wanted to address a valid issue brought up by several people by giving a little more perspective to the image stabilization (“stabilisation” for you Brits).

When I first started watching video reviews of this camera I was somewhat disappointed in the short shrift given to it’s performance. A lot of talk, a lot of description, but very few actual shots, and some poorly done at that. Not really enough to get a feel for what the camera could do. So I decided to give it a go myself.

My shots were, on the other hand, perhaps somewhat exaggerated in that they were overly long.  But I did that for a reason:  It’s easy to put up a 3-5 second shot of the best bits which really doesn’t give you much time or opportunity to evaluate what you’re looking at. What I would want to see as a cameraman would be lots of footage under varying lighting conditions, varying focal lengths, and, in the case of stabilization, lots of examples of a long enough duration that I could get a feel for the camera’s potential.

So that’s what I did. And I didn’t edit out the bad bits. I showed you the whole thing, warts and all.  And because the FCPX stabilization feature is so fast and easy (unlike FCP7), in many cases I plugged that in too.

That, of course, showed up some of the combined faults of both camerawork and the bad side-effects of trying to stabilize footage that’s a bit too shakey to begin with.

I had to assume most people interested in this camera were already familiar with the stabilization characteristics (or lack of) of their own cameras past or present.

So here was an “orders of magnitude” comparison–meaning, “here’s what I could knock off with little to no effort under the same conditions you might have tried doing the same thing with your current camera”.

In reality, NONE of those shots would ever be used as-is.  Take the flat-out running shot behind the young girl. Such a shot would be part of an ACTION SEQUENCE and action sequences are generally fast cut with few shots on screen for any duration. Actions scenes are intercut from several cameras whether real-time or from subsequent re-takes of the same scene.

Consider those long walking shots. BORING. You’d never use any of those in their entirety in any production. You might use 2-5 seconds bits of any of them, but that’s about it.

So in APPLICATION (in the case of these hand held tracking, dolly or boom shots) one would hardly ever bother using any of the bad bits.  It’s easy to say that one could get it perfect with a Steadicam, but the truth is, even Steadicam or Glidecam shots get blown and have to be re-taken. For that matter I’ve had my share of dolly and crane shots I wasn’t happy with and had to re-take.

It’s not easy to walk a camera hand-held in the first place. It takes some practice to minimize the natural tendency to bob up and down as you walk.

This camera doesn’t eliminate that. It minimizes it.  So if you practice good technique in minimizing it and add to that a camera that minimizes it further toward something approaching the fluidity of a good steadicam shot, then you should start getting interested.

And if the result of your technique and the camera’s technology give you a result that is pretty steady and without any bobbles, then you have to option to stabilize it even more with your editing program–and with all these things at near optimum, you probably won’t get any bad side-effects such as jello.  –That comes when the editing program stabilization (or indeed the camera’s built-in stabilization) are trying to handle too much at once.  On the other hand, you could do it so well that you don’t even need to further stabilize it–realizing that in application you’re only going to see a few seconds of that shot in juxtaposition with many others. SURELY you can get it good enough that you don’t jolt the audience’s attention out of the arena with bad technique.

So remember there’s an editorial aspect to everything you shoot in terms of what will be actually used and how. Don’t expect perfection from the camera. Don’t expect perfection from your own technique. Just get them, through practice, to the highest standard you can achieve.

I, for one, prefer less equipment, not more.

The spirit of this review was that this camera allows you that freedom like few other camera’s or systems I have ever used. And at a truly inexpensive price.

The one thing that doesn’t come in the box with the camera, I assure you, is technique and judgment.

To be honest, I’ve used this camera in paid productions and made some embarrassing mistakes in each one. But that was my own fault, not the camera’s.

Live and learn.

Pure Frickin’ Magic–Sony HXR-NX30

Urban Legend has it that buried deep in the guts of the Boeing 747 somewhere is a little black box.

A young engineer once noted that in the schematics, the box was given the cryptic designation “PFM”. It seemed no one knew what the letters stood for.

Years later he tracked down one of the original engineers and asked him.

“Pure F..ing Magic” is what the old man told him.

Sony HXR-NX30, A Cameraman’s Practical Review

(Note: For the complete review, there are SEVERAL videos as well as written notes to be found below)

Related post: Unshackled Camerawork

Some Notes

1:  Shoots in full HD 1920 X 1080 at 50p, 50i, 25p, 25i and 1280 X 720 50p.  All the test shots in this video were shot at 720/50p .

2: There’s a multi-function knob at the front which you can press to assign a key function from a drop down list in the screen (color temp, focus, exposure, etc.) which then allows you to manually control that function from the knob. Using it to manually control color temperature is pretty cool as it is an infinitely variable control. You can just roll it until the facial tones or whatever look the way you want them to.

3:  There is also a feature called “My Button” whereby on the touch screen you can assign specific functions to 3 shortcut keys.  For example, I set mine to Focus, Exposure and  Color Temperature. By touching any of those, it brings up the options on that feature directly so you can turn them on or off or make them automatic or manual.

4: It has 96gb built-in flash memory and one card slot for an SD card.

5. File format is AVCHD and is totally compatible with FCPX

6. If your NLE does not support AVCHD native files, you’ll find solutions in your user group forums. For example, “Clipwrap” does a brilliant job of transcoding to .mov (Quicktime) and other formats with amazing speed and no quality loss. From the Clipwrapper site: “Support for all the popular editing formats (ProRes, DNxHD, etc) and non-linear editors (Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple iMovie)”

7. With the audio block removed, the camera fits easily in the palm of your hand. I found that, unlike other cameras I’ve had, this one is very practical for still photographs as well (21 megapixel). Switching modes back and forth is done simply by pushing a logically placed button (unlike my last camera which required finding a slider switch which was close to another slider switch with a different function–easy to mix up when not specifically looking for it)

For full technical specs, go to Sony’s site. For best UK price and fantastic service, go here: http://www.jigsaw24.com, and mention me and ask for a deal. Hey, I asked and they knocked another £15 off what was already the lowest price for that camera–and it was on my doorstep the next morning!

PRODUCTION SHOOT: LIVE GIG

I just did a one-man-band shoot of a live performance in a Music Bar/Steak House and this bears further comment on the Face Recognition and focus tracking capability of the HXR NX30…

I did the shoot with 4 cameras: 1) the GroPro Hero 3 Black Edition (from behind band), 2) Canon 600 DSLR locked on a side angle, 3) Canon XHA1 locked on frontal angle, 4) Sony HXR NX30 hand-held.

Here we have the worst combination of factors for a cameraman shooting close-ups on a live shoot: Low light level, coloured lights, moving targets.

I simply could not have done this with with either the DSLR or the XHA1–or probably many similar cameras or larger ones.

The Sony HXR NX30, however, was a dream.

By using the auto-focus feature and Face Recognition, there was little to no lag on locking onto focus of the singer, even when she was moving forward and backwards. And certainly when there was a brief lag in the worst conditions of low red or blue light, the camera got it a hell of a lot faster than I could have manually. And when it got it, it held on. The truth is, I just didn’t worry about focus and was able to put my attention on the shot to hand or thinking ahead to where I was going to go next. This was the first I was ever seeing this performance–as I was shooting it, so I was glad I wasn’t introverted into a follow-focus nightmare at the same time because these hand-held shots were the only hope of close-ups. The other three unmanned cameras had to be framed loose to account for any movement that might occur within the frame.

I’ll link to one of the three songs I edited for the singer which will illustrate my point.

Here’s the NX30 in my first actual production situation, a short promo done for a local First Aid Service.

The opening scene utilizes the Active Mode stabilization for a steadicam look.

I ran in behind the actress, then moved laterally to the side and down, then stopped–not something you can do with any camera.

Finally, after a few months of using the camera in various productions, here’s a final report which contains some valuable information:

HXR NX30 Production Report

Related Post: HXR NX30 Image Stabilisation in Perspective

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