So – You Want To Do Video

 

Performance video is something that I readily place in the category of Very Good Things™. Why try to describe the experience of your show to someone when you can just show them? In HD. Over the Internet.

Seriously, it’s a no-brainer.

The argument for it, I mean.

What IS a “brainer” is the process of actually filming a performance. Especially if you’re trying to do it at a professional level, interfacing video production with the normal production of the show is not necessarily a trivial thing. To be brutally frank, shooting video (really shooting it, I mean) is a disruptive addition to the performance. Even if there’s only one video craftsperson involved, what has suddenly happened is that there is a whole new layer of crew at the show. These people have their own needs for space, power, audio, and lighting, and those needs don’t always line up neatly with everything else.

This is not a bad thing. It does NOT mean that video is evil. It does mean, though, that trying to do a serious job with video at your show requires a lot more than just having a person with a good camera on hand.

Advanced Notice, Advanced Arrival

One thing that really grinds my gears as an audio human is the sudden appearance of a “pro” camera operator with the show only minutes away from downbeat.

What grinds my gears even more is the sudden appearance of video after the show has already started.

It’s not because they have a camera, or are taking up space. That’s just life. What bugs me, though, is that they have a knack for needing things from me, in a hurry, during a “pressure situation.”

“Is there any extra power, dude?”

“Where’s an okay place to put my tripod, dude?”

“Can I get a board-feed, dude? I have adapters for [literally everything except what would actually make it easy].”

What I want to say in reply is, “There was a convenient time for all of this to get sorted out. That time was roughly two hours ago. Other things are currently demanding my attention. Why did nobody tell me you were coming, and why could you not manage to be on time?”

I don’t say that of course, but the desire is very strong.

Anyway.

The point is that knowing about video’s arrival in advance is more than just courtesy – it’s extremely helpful in making it possible for me to be useful to the video crew. If I know that video is coming, and have some general idea of what they need, then I can “do some homework” and be ready to interface smoothly with both them and you. If I don’t know that video humans are on their way, and I have no specific clues about what they might need, then assisting with any issues will very likely require me to interrupt some other production task so that I can “babysit.”

Ask yourself: When the pressure’s on, do you want me to paying full attention to your show and your needs on deck, or do you want me to be splitting my focus between you and an unprepared video dude with non-trivial issues?

Further, the video crew being able to show up with lots of time to spare has a VERY large bearing on how much can be done to accommodate their needs. I have no problem finding extra power, discussing camera placement, changing stage layouts, tweaking light-cue choices, and digging around for appropriate audio I/O…if it’s all being done with lots of time (say, one or two hours) before the doors open. If the show is minutes away from happening – or in the process of actually happening – I’m going to do the minimum possible to get video out of my hair. It’s not that I don’t want to do more, it’s that I CAN’T do more when other things are at the top of the priorities list.

To be blunt, shooting video for later presentation is not on the critical path for making a show happen. If getting video squared away threatens the execution of tasks on the critical path, video is going to get ignored until such time as the critical path is completed.

It’s A Personnel Problem

So, what’s the overarching principle here? In my mind, it’s pretty simple: When finding someone to shoot high-quality video of your show, the key thing to look for is professional people, as opposed to professional gear.

Now, I’m not saying that decent cameras and “pro-level” ancillaries aren’t necessary. They are. But what has to be realized is that the only thing required to get one’s hands on a good video camera is money. There are lots of folks with the money for very nice cameras, but who have no clue about how to be a functional part of the chaotic vortex that is live music. It’s much the same as a high-performance car. There are plenty of people driving around in Lamborghinis who simply could not handle themselves competently in a real race.

If you want to do pro-level video at your show, look for videographers who will do some real homework with you about what you want and need, ask technical questions of you and the venue, and arrive at an appropriately early time in order to get everything sorted out in practice. Sometimes, people like this will have the very latest and greatest gear, and sometimes they won’t.

It doesn’t matter if a person has a cinema-grade 4K camera. Understanding how to function as a professional at a live show is make-or-break factor. Everything else is gravy. If you want to make a killer video of your show, my advice is to find professional attitudes first. You can always fork over some extra cash to have those truly varsity-level-attitude video humans equipped with high-end gear.

But professional poise is not something that I’ve ever seen on a list of rental stock.

  • Sheryl Diane

    Danny one nightmare of mine has been guys with great cameras willing to work for me at the friend price but then they don’t have either the up to date computer or right speed of internet access to actually edit and upload in a timely fashion. What seemed to be a great idea by a friend can create months of frustration. YES kids save your pennies and hire a professional which is someone capable of already showing you their work online (proving they can deliver). That someone has done it before successfully. Ask the right questions of them. Can you arrive 2 hours before the gig? Do you know this venue – is the lighting adequate? How much time will it take (roughly) to edit the footage and deliver x number of songs? et cetera

  • Shay Leonia

    Great points! I hired someone who was definitely a pro, but because I paid him on a fraction of what he usually charges, he insisted on showing up just a half hour prior to my set. I was also the only act performing with a live band, so the disappearing sound engineer combined with a video guy who hadn’t given himself enough time to adjust to the sound resulted in a waste of time & money and a video that you can only hear drums and bass on, not the three other vocalists present. Lesson learned!

  • Cool, thanks for sharing this perspective!

  • Stani Steinbock

    Very good points! Thanks for bringing these up!