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Shooting CEO on stage telling the company history in a community theater with slideshow

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Kevin Collins
Shooting CEO on stage telling the company history in a community theater with slideshow
on Jun 17, 2009 at 6:06:40 am

In a few days, I will use a Canon XH A1 to shoot my company's CEO giving a 1-hour speech in a community theater and I could use your suggestions for lighting and sound.

He will tell a 180 employee audience the story of the company and present a visual history using lots of stills front projected on a massive screen next to him. This is a family owned and run extreme sports apparel company that got started in the 60's with Motocross so I expect it will be rich with nostalgia. (I don't know yet if they will have me or someone else edit this or if they just want me to shoot the whole thing and archive it.)

The theater has a sound and light board up in the control area behind and above the audience and some basic overhead stage lighting.

We will front project the slide show from the control area (about 75 feet back and above the audience, hopefully using a typical office projector and a laptop to be tested tomorrow. They have one we can rent if we need to. I will keep the projection size on the screen only as big as needed for the back row to see it and as far from the CEO as practical. CEO on the far left and the projection on the far right of the stage.

We'll use the theater's hand-held mics connected to XLR jacks right on stage near the CEO. These jacks route to the sound board and then out to the house speakers for plays and musicals. I've tested that part and house audio works great.

Recording the best audio into my camera in that circumstance is the question.
Do I dare record the combined live voice and overhead PA audio with my on-camera mic ?
Do I buy some kind of y-connector XLR cable to split the mic cable off to the stage connector and my camera's XLR input?
I don't own an external mic or field recorder.
Are there other options to consider?

All of the theater's available lighting is typical theater lighting, over head other than what ever spills from the projection when the slides are going.

I guess some form of lower, front fill light would be best for the CEO's face, as he's a senior gentleman and he'd otherwise only be lit with stage lights above and maybe slightly back and side lit from projection color spill.

- Should I use a second camera for audience reaction shots to keep it interesting or at least to have this footage as an option?
- Should I use a second camera just for a separate angle on the CEO to help the editor keep it interesting? I don't have another nice camera so it may be a pointless question... or maybe you guys think it's an absolute requirement and I have to find another camera.
- Should I shoot all of this zoomed in from the control area up and back behind the audience or somewhere closer, mid-theater or even closer. I assume close to the stage would be best.
- Whomever edits will have access to the slides being presented so these could possibly be inserted or even composited.I'm comfortable with AfterEffects.

Also, should I shoot this at HD 60i, 30F, or 24F (all 2:3 pulldown-converted) What would you do?

What else comes to mind?

All thoughts and advice will be greatly appreciated.


Kevin Collins
Campbell, CA

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Mark Suszko
Re: Shooting CEO on stage telling the company history in a community theater with slideshow
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:13:55 am

Why, if this is important enough to do, is it not important enough to do right? I know, what they are saying to you right now is: "there is no money for this, make do with what you have, and we're sure it will be "good enough". Do not believe this. If you do believe it, the poor results may inadvertently create a career decision for you. They are always going to have unreasonable expectations. This is a historic moment for the company. Darn tootin' it needs a superior effort.

In no particular order, then, some opinions.

Don't try to shoot this with just one camera, rent or beg or steal at least one more camera, preferably more. You can locate two of them them right next to each other and leave one on a wider shot while the better one gets the close-ups. The wide shot cam could be a full-body shot of the Boss and the screen, or just the boss. Always adjust the iris to favor the Boss. Not the screen, which likely will look blown-out a bit. Because you will have the slide show in digital form, you don't need a dedicated camera on the projector screen, just drop the slides into the edit later, both full-screen, and in cropped and positioned form over the real screen, and expose to favor the Boss, not the screen. Don't always frame the Boss dead-center: frame him to one side, with "look space", and in post you can mix in the digital versions of the proper slides behind him in a dramatic way, with wipes or half-dissolves, etc. This will work better if the Boss has only black or dark blue unlit curtains behind him, a limbo effect.

Your main camera will be too far back if you shoot from the booth, you need to stake out a spot in the first 25 rows somewhere. If I can get away with it, I'd stake out a spot even closer, like the first seven rows. The wider you can keep your lens, the more steady your shots look, and the better your focus control. BTW, all your iris and focus and audio level control will be in manual for this; don't trust auto.

DO NOT count on just your meager built-in shotgun for this audio, you need to tie you camera into the house audio and a mic that's close to the speaker. People can forgive bad picture as long as the sound is good, but if the sound is poor, nothing will save you.

I don't know your particular camera, but you are going to need enough cable to reach that sound board, or enough to hard wire your own mic to the podium on the stage. If the Boss will stand still, you job will be easier than if he wants to walk and talk. Then you need to rent or borrow a wireless mic. If you take the house feed, generally all they have for you is line-level; if your camera only takes mic level, you will need either an attenuator, your own mixer, or a line matching transformer to bring the line level down to mic level.

It may be cheaper to run your cable forward to a simple dynamic cardioid "stick" mic on the podium instead, considering the cost of adaptors or line matching transformers and mixers. Mic cable is cheap.

However. If there is music playing, you have a problem in where to get that with your own mic and still hear the Boss well. if you're sticking with the House feed, they are pre-mixing the music and his mic and you should generally be okay... but not always. See, the guy in that booth is shaping the sound to the room's acoustics, for the live audience, and his adjustments to optimize for that may not sound "right" to a direct input like your camcorder. If you're going with a podium mic, whatever music comes out of the nearby speakers may or may not blend harmoniously with what you are getting at the podium direct. The larger the room, the more danger of reverb. Best to test in advance.

If I was doing this gig, I would use a simple 3 or 4-channel mixer, with a Line level House Feed from the booth, my own hardwire at mic level on the podium, (or a wireless lav on the Boss' suit) and the camera shotgun. I would mix between the podium and house feeds and send that mix to channel 1 of my camcorder, and leave the shotgun feeding channel two as backup.

Assuming he's controlling his own slides from a podium, or standing at one at least, just light the podium area, using whatever you can get your hands on. Get the lighting guy for the theater to move and focus one of his Source Four Elliptical spots (or whatever they use) on the podium area from way back in one corner of the last row of seats, and flood it out a bit, but not so much that light spills onto the projector screen. If they don't have anything you can use, try renting a spotlight or two from the local musician's/guitar store, they are usually cheap on weekdays. White balance off a card lit by that white spotlight, on indoor filter, then leave the balance alone.

I would shoot it without dorky pulldown effects, you can always add them in post later if you decide you need them. If HD, I'd shoot 30P. But that's me. Also, since this will be graphics intensive, avoiding interlace is a good policy, I think.

That's all for now. Except to say that no matter how they gas on about this being low-key, it is not: it may be the most important gig of your future career, so treat it like that - be thrifty, of course, but don't skimp on the essentials.

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Philip Howells
Re: Shooting CEO on stage telling the company history in a community theater with slideshow
on Jul 15, 2009 at 11:01:08 am

Can't disagree with much of the advice you've been given. However, if your career does hang on this event I think you have bitten off a major task to start it. Tremendous good luck to you. If I may add a few thoughts, in order of priority,

1 get the images of the CEO right, if he doesn't look good, the rest of the shoot can go hang.

2 then get the sound as clean as you can.

3 everything else could be done in post assuming you have access to the slides. If you've only only one camera use the slides to break up the monotony.

4 finally, plan the edit in your mind as you shoot. Make changes to your framing of the CEO quick and clean and plan to hide them behind a slide. A clean change (hidden) is better than a slow zoom interrupted by an unexpected slide change. Be conservative, play safe. Better a good clean programme that's right rather than an attempt at sophistication that goes wrong. Our reputations rest on our recordings, not people's memory of us.

Good luck

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