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Live music; directing, shooting

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Samuel Smith
Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 21, 2010 at 8:41:31 am

I hope this thread can meander a bit and allow us to talk about techniques and theories for shooting live concerts. I believe it's a special genre of film and there are many different ways to pull it off.

Firstly, does anyone know any useful forums for this topic?

I want to show a song that I feel was shot extremely well:

It's Built to Spill on the HBO concert series Reverb, which has amazingly produced shows.

This production makes the most of its limited crew of camera operators. All of their shots are deliberate and calculated. Personally, I appreciate the longer shots that may transition from one subject to another, as opposed to the static, cold cuts from one to another. They have a great balance of that here, as well as their black and white cam to add some unpredictability that goes well with a rock show.

What stood out most to me was the camera operator by the drummer. I love his use of motion and sometimes I find too much motion to be obnoxious, but it really fit here and added a lot of depth to what can sometimes be a difficult shot to make interesting.

I'm curious what live concerts are your favorites. I tend to dislike the ascetic, wide shot concerts; meaning not as many operators close to stage. It just adds a quality of closeness and allows much more interesting angles and transitions.

Maybe that's a good place to stop for now. I know this isn't the common, single-pointed thread on here, but I hope it can be useful for those trying to work in this field.

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Samuel Smith
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:40:27 am

I have a couple concepts I could use help with: directing your crew, and any miscellaneous tips for improving your camera positions.

I don't have the ability to speak through headphones to direct the camera operators, so I have to give them general instructions before the show and hope their instincts are solid.

How would you express this to them? I would tell someone what position they're going to be in; what their primary subject is, secondary, etc. I would probably demonstrate a transition I might like, i.e. from tight shot of drummer, zoomed out to singer.

The problem I have is how to direct HOW OFTEN to do this. I like movement and transitions, but you also need conservative shots where you do very little, just for security and options in editing. So I would just say keep a tight shot 50% of the time, a medium shot 30% of the time, and a wide shot 20% of the time and hope it gives them an idea. And take calculated risks when they arise, with any transitions and deviations like panning/zooming--maybe 25% of the time. Any suggestions on how to direct a camera operator beforehand?

Also, I'm always interested in different ways to improve shooting conditions. It's tough when there's no barricade, as it forces you to get close to the stage and makes for an "up the nose" shot that can be unflattering and strange. In the spirit of being discrete and allowing others to see, it's a tough shot to negotiate. I've found taking just one step back can greatly alleviate that warped perspective. Having a short person in front of you still allows you to shoot above their head, but it's crowded. I'm just curious if anyone has any helpful tips, like standing on a box to the very side of stage, or maybe surrounding yourself with an object to give yourself some elbow room when you're up front like that.

Any and all suggestions about shooting live are appreciated.

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Chuck Pullen
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 21, 2010 at 2:45:02 pm

Hey Sam, I actually wanted to start a similar post as I am producing a live concert next week, and I am really stuck as to camera placement. The problem is that this is being shot in a "Theater in the round" type place, with a 20 foot by 20 foot stage in the center and the audience on all four sides. The room has no "front" and other than having to position the piano and other musicians slightly off to one side because the piano cannot go on top of a trap door, the sides of the room are identical.

I want to use one 24' jib in one corner, one camera on a dolly track on the opposite side of the stage, one hard camera on a "Catwalk" box seating area above the seating area, and maybe one more hard camera off stage, as well as one handheld camera. No obviously I am going to be trampling all over the "180 degree" rule, so at this point my goal is just to reduce the instances of other cameras appearing as much as possible. It's a small room, and being shot in HD so seeing the other cameras will be painfully obvious.

Any advice on this production we be greatly appreciated.

As for your situation Sam, I would say that COMMUNICATION IS KEY. Do whatever you can to get even the most basic of radio communication established with your crew. You need to go over framing in your meetings to make sure that one camera is never being waster be matching another's shot. The other tip I have is to tell your handheld operators to pretend they are taking a picture, and that they should frame up a shot, hold for fifteen to thirty seconds, then switch. Other then that without communications, its always going to be hit or miss unless you go over all of the songs in advance and make sure everyone knows about solos and how the starts start and finish.

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Richard Crowley
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 21, 2010 at 11:02:20 pm

Perhaps out of place here, but I do mostly what would be considered "classical" music productions. Because classical music is "scripted", the big-time productions have a PA in the booth on the intercom following the score and calling bar numbers so that the camera operators can set up pre-determined shots for the director to take.

For example, each camera has a different cue sheet and Camera 3 may have instructions to get a close-up of the trumpets at bar 34. So, by listening to the bar numbers being called by the PA, they can get the shots lined up and ready. Of course, the performers have several rehearsals, and the production crew takes advantage of this by shooting a few rehearsals in advance of the performance so that they can perfect the shot lists and get all the visually interesting stuff covered.

As is apparently the case in live sports coverage, it is also not unusual for several (or all) of the cameras to also roll "iso" recordings of each camera feed so that if some shots were missed (or something better comes along), the live-switched program can be edited in post to take advantage of hind-sight. Of course for those of us on much smaller budgets, we can accomplish something similar when using camcorders by rolling a tape in each camcorder to use as "iso tapes".

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Chuck Pullen
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 26, 2010 at 1:25:59 pm

Richard, can you go a little more in depth about the shot sheets? I know in sports the operators get a rundown of the stories the producers want to follow as well as a "cheat sheet" with the players faces, numbers, and anything they should be looking for. How does this work in music, and how much information does each camera operator get, and how do they manage it? (a sheet of paper taped to the camera?)

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Richard Crowley
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 27, 2010 at 2:28:02 am

The ones I have seen are simple text lists in rather large font and double-spaced (so they can be read by the camera operators in dim light). They simply have the music bar number, followed by the target and kind of shot. For example:








There is a production assistant (who reads music!) calling the bar numbers into the intercom system so the camera operators know when their next cue is coming (and how long they have to set it up.)

These shots are just for that camera, of course the other cameras have their own (different) shot lists. The shots are created initially by the video director and the music director based on what is going on with the music at each point. Clearly there are places where an instrument or section has a solo or prominent (or visually interesting) passage and they try to get all those musical/visual cues covered.

The list changes between each rehearsal and performance and the camera operators get a revised list for the next "take".

Even for more modern, less formal music that isn't played from a 200-year old score, you could make up cue points for each song. Then the camera operators would know when they need a particular shot to be ready for the director.

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Chuck Pullen
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 27, 2010 at 5:34:41 pm

Thanks Richard, I truly appreciate your response. I am balancing a situation where due to time constraints as well as staffing limitations, I will not be able to direct my upcoming concert as you have described, but I do have enough time to work a few preplanned shots during rehearsal. Since my time with the operators is limited, my plan was to create a series of movements for each camera and assign them a letter.

i.e. Bravo would be a left to right pan of the Orchestra

"Camera 1 give me a Bravo" or "Give me a Bravo of the strings"

We should have enough time during rehearsal to work that out, but I also like giving my operators more freedom and take their shots as I see fit.

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Bill Davis
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 22, 2010 at 1:46:58 am

What there IS is just fine.

What is MISSING is a bit of a problem.

For example.

I really enjoyed your opening. The crowd shots were interesting. But if I were to miss the first 10 seconds of the video I'd have NO context of any crowd as the rest of the video totally abandons crowd reaction in favor of the band. Watch great concert film and notice that they make the crowd a part of the experience. Your video largely fails to do any of that. Watching your video without the opening, I can't tell if the band is playing in a dive bar, or a small auditorium. I also never saw how the CROWD was reacting to the band.

And some unanticipated switch problems also showed up. The singer starts, and the shot lingers on the guitarist for so that we have no idea who's singing. Not a big deal. And it's a defensible artistic choice if the singer would be surprising or somehow not what I expected. But he was EXACTLY what I expected. So the effect diminishes his "entrance" a bit by not allowing me to watch him get ready to sing and establish momentary curiosity as to what this particular dude will sound like.

The stage left wide shot of the band as "ducks in a row" shot was OK for one viewing, maybe 2. But I would have traded all the other cuts to that for the crowd stuff.

But the big no-no for me is that you showed me something VERY intersting- , the singers nearly spastic right leg "going to town" - but NEVER paid it off with a shot of the attached foot!!!

That's a sin, dude.

First rule of great camera work: Gotta WATCH for the unusual and bring that stuff to your viewing public. They'll LOVE you for it.

Overall nice job. But not world class.

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Andy Stinton
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Apr 27, 2010 at 3:17:11 am

Sorry to be the one not to like the video but I really don’t.

To me this is all about the director not about the viewer. No mixture of shots heads cut off, cheesy black and white effects, little basic understanding of music . E.G at 3.39 the singers starts singing and we get a wide shot . The subject is the singer at this point thats who the viewer wants to see. I did not connect with any of the band because the close ups where few and far between.

Its an up tempo song and we have long lazy pans and zooms. I could go on but this video is a litany of “ How Not To”

A well directed video Is the Final Farewell DVD of Phil Collins it a work of art.

Your mileage may vary

Andy Stinton
Corporate Video
Live & Stage Events
Business Practices

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Scott Sheriff
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on May 4, 2010 at 8:26:03 am

Over the years, I have done a live music show or two. Here is my 2 cents.

The idea of telling the ops what you want ahead of time, and not having any communication during the show is a deal breaker/show killer. If you can't talk to the cameras during the show, your not really directing.
Even if you do a 'no live cut'/all iso recording, it is still key to make sure at least one camera has a usable shot at all times.
Scorsese shot 'The Last Waltz' on film, and it was heavily storyboarded/scripted, and he still used intercoms to direct the cameras during the show.

Typical set up for live music on a stage
2 HH on stage
1 High center with a nice 2x lens, usually placed on a balcony.
This is your safety camera, and with a 2x can get nice cut-aways.
1 Low on a dolly, stage front, or 2 fixed left and right.
Good for solo close ups, and audience cut-aways.
If you can have another camera or two, one in the wings on sticks to get OTS and house shots, and another mid-floor on a riser, usually next to the sound/lighting board.

Its always nice to get a recording from a show on the tour a couple of weeks before, so you can become familiar. Don't 'overplan', it kills energy and spontaneity. Being familiar is good, but don't be rigid. You have to get you, the cams and the band in the same groove. There is no formula for how much wide/CU/Zoom. You have to know the material well enough to 'be there' in time to react, but yet not be 'stiff'. Be unpredictable, but not distracting. Cutting on the beat gets old fast.

Avoid doing pyro at all costs. If there is any pyro, there absolutely has to be a blocking/safety meeting and lots of rehearsal time. Just avoid is better.

Iso as many of the cams as you can, if you intend to touch up the live cut in post. If you can't get them all, get the high center, and one HH, then a stage low.

When in doubt, cut to a shot a little early, instead of a little late. Leading looks better than lagging. Lagging looks sloppy, and is distracting to the viewer. Leading has a more natural feel.

The wide shot on the high center cam (usually cam 3) is your friend. Never let that camera go close unless you have your next two shots lined up. Also 30 seconds before the end of each song this cam should go to the stage cover shot.

HH cams should always shoot wide, and get close. Using the glass HH is too shaky, and too hard for the op to hold for any length of time. Let the cams on the sticks use the glass to get the CU shots, and give the HH a break.

I always TD my own show on live music. Since its usually just cuts and dissolves, you don't really need a TD. It is a lot easier to get in the groove cutting your own show. A good AD is nice to have to let you know where your at on the set list, and deal with problems.

Never watch the line monitor, or you will fall behind and miss catching lucky shots. Learn to cut your show while looking at the cam wall.

If your bad about calling cameras, or letting them know who is on, etc, get better before you do music. Live shows are a zoo, and music can be doubly so. There has got to be solid communication from the director to get a good looking show.

Usually one guy doing shading is fine, but for live music if you can get two shaders on the crew it will help make sure you always have a couple of usable cameras to go to.

If your show is going out live, the band lighting person has to avoid full blackouts between sets, which they will hate. It's good to have the band lighting and sound on the comms, but let the AD deal with them.

As far as the posted clip. I was underwhelmed. I thought it was late in several spots. The cutting didn't have the same feel/pace as the music. Lack of energy, no 'groove'. Cameras didn't really "get in there and work it". Not enough variety, or CU. Not enough audience. The FX didn't help. I would prefer a better live cut sans FX.

A good(big name)live show that was cut well?
How about "Rush in Rio".

Scott Sheriff
SST Digital Media

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Trig Simon
Re: Live music; directing, shooting
on Aug 26, 2010 at 3:35:23 am

I wasn't impressed with the video at all. It wasn't joined, or even sequential. The lingering shot from behind the drummer was really bad timing. The drummer wasn't putting down any thing more than the base and a little stick action. But what I noticed most was that it seemed to be during a break. One member of the band was squatting, setting the amp, the guitarist was walking around, another was drinking water.

I am surprised that this video was even presented as a sample music video. lots of work to do for you, I'm sorry.


Trig Simon
Video Images by Trig
832 Main
Toledo OH 43605

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