Live vs. Staged Video Shoots
This week we had two different kinds of video shoots; One was a STAGED video shoot in the studio, complete with talent, set design, dramatic lighting, and so on – The other was a LIVE video shoot, capturing a speech at an event on-location. While both projects will end in a nicely polished video, the approach and production between staged and live shoots are quite different. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences, and tips to make your next live shoot run smooth.
When you think of a video shoot, from smaller projects to Hollywood TV and movie sets, you probably imagine a staged production – A bustling set with lots of equipment, lights, cables running everywhere, and the obligatory/stereotypical “Lights, Camera, Action” line. In a staged production each shot is meticulously planned and you can shoot it as many times as necessary until you get it just right. There’s room for error (or the friendlier sounding “bloopers”) and you can always reset and start again before moving on to the next shot on the list.
During our recent staged shoot in the studio, we had the entire day before to set up our lights and cameras. There was a call sheet for crew and talent, we were able to test some shots before hand, we used the clapper to help sync the two cameras and audio in post-production, and we could repeat lines and redo takes. You could also hear the director calling “Action” and “Cut,” see make-up jumping in for quick touch-ups, and get the occasional break for a coffee refill. Once we had all of our shots checked off the list, we called it a wrap and the project moved to post-production. A typical shooting day in the studio.
Live video shoots are much less forgiving, requiring constant focus and flexibility to adapt to unexpected changes or problems. They typically have a more “run-and-gun” feel with minimal equipment and a smaller margin for errors. In staged shoots the entire environment revolves around capturing the scene on camera, but in live shoots the event is environment, and the videographer must capture the scene as it unfolds – no redo’s or Take 2’s.
The live shoot we had this week involved capturing a speech that would kick-off an event for the attendees. The speech was only going to be given once and done live in front of the audience, so we had to get it right the first time. We were asked to be as invisible and unobtrusive as possible, which meant no elaborate lighting setups, using minimal amounts of equipment, and being discreet with our movements, breakdown, and exit.
We used our precious few minutes before the event to mic the speaker and test sound levels, make sure both cameras had matching settings that were optimal for the room we were in, and develop a game plan and exit strategy. Once the event began our focus turned to capturing the speech. Once the speech was over, we quickly and quietly grabbed our gear and snuck out a side door to pack everything up and head back to the studio for post-production.
Tips for Live Shoots:
Because of the unforgiving nature of live shoots, they have to be approached differently than staged shoots. While Pre-Production is key on any video production, live shoots require a different kind of planning. Not necessarily shot lists and storyboards, but rather making sure everyone involved is on the same page, knows the plan and schedule, and works together seamlessly during the course of the event to execute the plan. Remember, no redo’s!
- Have a Plan B… and Plan C, and Plan D
Contingency plans are crucial for live shoots. Unexpected issues tend to pop-up, and you have very little time to adjust for them. The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to have back up plans – plural, with an S, as in multiple options. If a camera monitor isn’t working, have an extra one you can switch out. Don’t know how long of an XLR cable you might need for audio? Bring every damn cable you have. It’s always better to bring some things and not need them than need them and not have them. And if possible, have multiple cameras and microphones running “just in case.”
- Be Ready to Adapt
There seems to always be something that doesn’t go according to plan, or wasn’t mentioned in planning. But that isn’t an excuse to not do your job. Rather, you need to make quick decisions that will get you back on course. For example, during our recent live shoot I had my camera and tripod staked out in a prime location to capture the speaker. As things happen, a taller gentleman took a seat in front of the camera that completely blocked my shot, so I had to react quickly. Luckily, it was a simple fix just moving the tripod over a few feet and reframing the shot a bit, but it’s the ability to adapt and think of your feet that prevents major mistakes and problems. That, and I knew we had a second camera running that would get coverage as I made my adjustments.
- Have Deep Pockets
You may not get a chance to run to your camera bag, or may not have the space or ability to keep everything you need within arm’s reach. So the best solution is to keep some of these essentials on your person. Extra batteries, memory cards, a roll of gaff tape… Anything that I might need and will physically fit in my pockets. This way, when your camera battery starts to die, switching out a new one can be done in seconds and doesn’t cause a scene, as opposed to leaving my post to find the camera bag, dig around for what I need, and then taking the time to switch out batteries. And who knows what you might miss when you take your eyes and hands off the camera.
- Take a Chill Pill
A final word of advice is to just breathe. Stressing out over a mistake is an easy way to lose focus which could lead to more mistakes. Stay relaxed but attentive and learn how to adjust or prevent that mistake in the future. You may not get a chance to re-shoot anything, but if you planned for the “just in case” scenarios, you should be just fine.