1. Choose Great Camera Operators
This is the most important and thats why it’s at the top. They are the front line of your live show and will be your eyes and ears for the entire event. They will provide the shots you need when you need them. This boils down to the time-tested adage of “garbage in, garbage out.” If your camera operators are on top of their game, it will be hard to deliver a bad show. But if your camera operators are unskilled, unmotivated, or otherwise not on their game, a good show will be difficult to produce.
When we look for camera operators we like to find people that are good communicators, know the equipment, and possess the situational awareness to frame action on the fly. When shooting concerts and sports events, there are seldom scripted moments. There is very little time to react to events happening on or off stage. Therefore, we like to have people on our team that are quick on their toes. Punch Drunk hires it’s camera operators from some of the most seasoned and personable professionals in the Seattle area (and abroad when we’re traveling with a skeleton crew). This is an essential element in how we produce extraordinary visual content.
Regardless of the experience of your crew, it’s always a good idea to have your operators show up early and familiarize themselves with the equipment and location. This can come in especially handy if you have overzealous security or lack parking near the venue. Whether you are working with volunteers or seasoned professionals, it is a good idea to make sure everybody knows what kind of shot you are looking for and the lingo that will be used during the show. Give your operators a default shot to resort to during times when they don’t have specific direction. Most importantly, you need to get to know and trust your crew. Your camera operators are there to help you make a great show. They should be your best friends. Buy them a drink sometime, they love that. Treating your crew right is one of the fastest ways to make your job as a director easier and fun. Plus, fun shows usually mean happy clients. =)
2. Good Communication
This doesn’t just mean getting good headsets (which is paramount). It means be a good communicator. Learn to listen and respond to the things going on around you. Too often, directors micromanage their crew and miss nuanced events happening in the audience or on stage. This will grind down on your camera ops as they nervously try not to upset “herr director.” Learn to listen to not only your crew, but what is going on around you and off the screen. If you see or feel something about to happen, alert your cameras, and try to catch whatever it is. There are no do-overs for live events.
At Punch Drunk we like to have as many avenues as possible for our directors to know whats going on during a show. This usually means setting up a clean, loud audio feed from the sound department, and setting up a wide angle camera that views the entire venue if your mix position is backstage or in a truck. This gives our directors the ability to see what’s happening anywhere on or off stage while hearing any impromptu audible cues given by hosts and emcees. Remember that you and your crew are a part of the show. You are integral. You sit in-between the performance on stage and the consumption of that performance by the audience, whether they are at the venue or at home online. Be in the moment, and be able to translate whatever is happening around you into the program feed. The majority of the audience is watching your screens and relying on you to immerse them in the event. Tell the story unfolding on stage with your shot choice and cuts.
3. Get The Jib
A camera jib is often the first to get axed from a show budget. It’s almost always possible to do a show without a jib crane, but having that jib crane shot available is often key. A good jib operator takes your show to the next level. The variety of shots, the steadiness and all of those sexy, sexy camera moves a talented jib operator can provide are worth any extra dollar signs in the budget. There is something magical about the flying camera that gives your audience a unique prospective. Anybody can stand on the ground and watch a show, or even on the stage, but nobody gets to see what its like to fly over the audience and up to the performer unless you have that jib. You will be a happier director when you can cut to fly-by vision.
Working with a good jib team is as important as having good camera ops on the ground. You want people that are great at letting you know whats going on around the jib and the ability to react quickly to any shots you want to call. It’s a good idea to have certain moves planned out with your jib operators before hand. For example, I like to have mine ready to fly over the crowd during the bass drop on EDM shows. Giving them a heads-up plenty of time into the build-up to set up such a move. Having a camera on the end of a long pole can be cumbersome and it’s always a good idea to give the jib crew as much lead time as possible on complicated maneuvers.
Of course not all venues and events call for or can handle a the awesomeness of a robotic camera head mounted on the end of a long stick, but when possible, add the jib. Check out our friends at Jensen Jibs if you want to take your live shows to the next level.