Monday, 4 July 2011

Stage direction tips for a corporate style live event video production

I recently worked on a 3 camera live event shoot and throughout the shoot we kept coming up against a couple of problems that Id imagine are all too common when doing live corporate style events and dealing with speakers who aren't necessarily used to being on camera.

The event itself was a three day self help/how to chat up women seminar and was a very interesting event with some very charismatic speakers, so in that respect, was easier to film than other events I've done in the past, mainly because I didn't feel like I was fighting to stay awake throughout the event.

The first problem, was fairly minor and easy to fix, but it was difficult to spot in camera. The problem was that the backdrops used on the 2 sides of the stage were done in a blueprint style, so had a lot of white vertical lines against a dark blue background.

Vertical lines of contrast are exactly what are needed to help the cameras - in this case 2 Panasonic HVX 201s and an HPX - autofocus. So as the speakers walked to and fro on the stage, the camera would occasionally grab focus from the backdrop instead of the speaker.

Luckily we were dumping and reviewing the footage at the end of each session so this was noticed early on. A simple fix for this was to turn on the focus display (I like the display to be in the Panasonic numbers, the other 2 cameramen preferred the distance numbers) and note what the focus should be for when a speaker was sitting, standing or passing by the backdrops.

Then when a speaker was in a problem position, it was simply a case of keeping an eye on the focus figures and then dialling it back if the autofocus decided to grab the backdrop. Note; manual focus was not an option because of the high energy, high movement of most of the speakers.

The second problem was a little trickier to deal with and I imagine is a problem that a lot of live event videographers come up against in their productions; energetic speakers who move around way too much!

This was a problem not because of tracking the speakers, although it did rule out certain shots with certain speakers, but more the problem was that when a speaker moved to far to the left or right of the stage, the 2 side cameras were getting all the messy stuff behind the stage, fire exits, light fittings and so on.

The speakers were all briefed about where they could and couldn't walk or stand on stage, but of course, once they were in full flow, they'd forget their stage direction and wander into the forbidden areas, the upshot of this was that the 2 side cameras would have to go to unacceptably tight angles.

Day 2 of the 3 day event saw us putting a diagonal strip of black tape on the most problematic side of the stage, the left, with strict instructions not to breach that line. This worked for the main speaker and organiser of the event, but not so well for the guest speakers.

The final day saw us combining talking to the speakers beforehand, using the tape and most effectively the director, who was also the main camera operator to either signal to the speaker to move back into the shooting zone of the stage, or simply to interrupt the speaker and get them to move away from the forbidden zones.

The last of these methods wasn't ideal, but it was definitely the most effective, stopping someone when they are in full flow can be disruptive and upset the flow of the whole event, but as long as it's not too often and the speaker is good at picking straight back up, then it's not too bad and it's a better option than upsetting your editor.

So in summary the key stage direction tips for a corporate style live event video production are:

  • Be aware of any graphics or backdrops used on stage, which might grab focus away from your subject.
  • Make sure that the speakers are aware of the limitations of the stage, where possible show them what the stage looks like on camera with someone moving about. Then during a break in filming or at the end of the day show them footage of themselves on stage as it'll help them understand how their movement can effect the shot.
  • Use tape to mark the areas of the stage, but be aware that a speaker at a seminar might be speaking on camera for the first time ever, so patience is required as they will probably overstep their marks quite a lot, to minimise this use red tape as it'll be easier to spot.
  • If their movement is getting to a point whereby you know, that you or your editor are going to have serious problems in the edit, then stop them, make them aware and continue from there, it's much, much easier to edit out a pause than to cover a fire exit sign at the side of the stage.
  • The chances are that the speaker or speakers are used to speaking on stage to lots of people, but aren't used to speaking on camera, so all your above direction may be ignored. In this case, make sure you have a wide enough shot on your main camera that you can cut back to.
I'm sure there are (in fact I know there are) many more types of problems one could have in this type of scenario, but hopefully this gives food for thought for when you as a director or an organiser are planning a corporate style live event.