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Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)

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Basspig
Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 15, 2007 at 8:08:24 am

I've booked a 3-camera shoot with a major unionized symphony orchestra for next month. We're going to be recording a surround mix and a 2-channel stereo mix.

The challenge is that I've talked to this stage manager about a year ago about recording there, and when I showed him a photo of the cluster of five mics, he indicated that that would be problematic from a visual/aesthetics perspective. He was expecting a pair of pencil-thin electret mics like the last radio station that recorded there used, not studio condenser mics.

This year, we're using a custom-built grid that supports our five surround mics in a phase-coherent array. It's rigid and everything is bolted with 3/8" bolts. The mics are on individual shock mounts. The rig is solid and works really well. It's painted flat black and about 32" wide, with the mics hanging from it upside-down. My concern is that the SM is going to have a real "cow" over this when he sees it.

Realistically, there's no other option. They won't allow mics on the stage floor. I usually use a cluster just left of the conductor's podium and most orchestras couldn't give a hoot that it's even there. But this particular venue is particularly nit-picky.

I intend to use the rig, since they said they will fly the mics above the stage, but if they give me any flack about the rig's appearance being "too distracting to the audience" flown 16' above the stage, I'm left with no other option but to walk off the job and tell them that I won't compromise my audio because of their unreasonable 'aesthetics' demands.

I really want to do this recording job, it's just dealing with that one manager that's likely to muck up the whole project. I'm wondering how many of you have been in a similar situation and have dealt with it. I was thinking of making the SM feel responsible in a manner that should he make unreasonable demands on the microphone configuration that he would be placing a recording contract in jeopardy and that we don't want to have the whole thing fall through because of him. OTOH, the orchestra chair look upon him as if he were holy diety and they don't want to do anything to piss him off. So I won't get any backing from the orchestra chair. It will be me alone, advocating my microphone setup and dealing with objections that the SM is most likely to raise. I have to politely convey is this setup or nothing and I send them the bill for my time to that point.

How do you folks deal with these finicky stage managers in situations where you can't compromise your recording setup for their aesthetic tastes? I think a relatively small grid of mics high off the stage floor is not going to bother anybody at all. People who come to the concert won't even be thinking about the microphones as they get engrossed in Beethoven. So I think the whole matter is rediculous. What do you folks think?

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


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Peter Perry
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 15, 2007 at 3:12:40 pm

Hi Mark,
On one hand, I don't think that the stage manager is being unreasonable at all. Any time we shoot an event that also includes paying customers, we have to balance our technical needs with the customers expectations of having a pleasing aesthetic experience.
Having said that, though, as long as your rig isn't directly in someones line of sight, it seems like the SM could be a little flexible.
Who booked you for this event? Can you schedule a meeting with whoever it is that booked you and the SM? Bring your rig, explain where you want to put it and why, and then leave it in their hands. This way you know what to expect when you walk in, and you won't have to deal with Mr. SM. If you can't come to an agreement in the meeting, you can decide then whether you want to do the shoot or not. If the powers that be know that you won't do the shoot if you can't get your technical needs met, they may be able to pressure the SM into giving you some leeway.
I don't think I would just show up, and if you don't get your way threaten to go home. That smacks of unprofessionalism to me.
Peter


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Basspig
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 15, 2007 at 3:39:37 pm

Hi Peter,

Tbank you for your perspective on this.

I can safely state that our rig will be flown from above, WAY out of line of site to the orchestra--even for the balcony, so that's why I think the SM is overboard. Last time we discussed recording, he balked at the size of our mics! He said they were too big. I asked what he had in there when the classical station recorded and he described some pencil-thin mics, flown from above. I gather there were just two thin capsules, hung at left and right over the stage.

My rig is a metal grid 14" x 32", with five large diaphragm condensers mounted under it, all precisly positioned and locked down. The rig is meant to be flown 16' above the stage floor and at the front edge of the stage. If this is just below the front row of curtains, it should be unnoticed by anyone but the audiophile who actually looks for microphones as a hobby. :)

Meetings are rather hard to arrange. I had been having discussions last year via e-mail and had sent a photo of our mics back then and that's when I got the first indication of how finicky they are over there. The mics are too big?! We're talking something the size of a U87 here. From 100' away, that's barely an eyesore.

We've already contracted with the orchestra and while I would not actually walk off the job, I may be inclined to tell them to find someone else to record if they are going to require such a compromise as to jeopardize the quality of the audio pickup. And the orchestra Chair did tell me the radio recording wasn't very good at all. I won't have that happen, as it's my reputation on the line here. It's to be done MY way, or not at all--not in my name. That is my dilemma.

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


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Peter Perry
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 15, 2007 at 5:09:04 pm

It seems odd to me that there isn't someone higher up the food chain that you could appeal to. I know that union SM's have a lot of power, but this person has to answer to somebody, and if the orchestra really wants this project done, then some allowance has to be made for technical needs to be met.

Whoever is paying you for this project needs to know that the audio portion of this production is going to be compromised if you aren't allowed to have your mics placed where you need them. Orchestral organizations usually are very sensitive to audio requirements. That is why this situation doesn't make any kind of sense to me.

The SM doesn't have a problem with 3 cameras in the house but he does with a mic array? Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Is it possible that this SM is looking for his palm to be greased? If this was in NYC, then that could definitely be the case. Try slipping him a $50 bill and see if his objections disappear.


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Basspig
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 15, 2007 at 5:29:41 pm

I suppose the SM answers to someone, but I need to tread somewhat lightly too, as this is an orchestra I have been wanting to work with for two years and have finally been hired to cover this concert this fall.

The cameras have to be completely out of sight and we have no problem doing that--we've done that at nearly all of our concerts, excepting an outdoor one we did in 2005. There's a trap door in the back of the stage backdrop which opens up for a camera to peer through at the conductor (camera 3). That opening is 12' up. I have rigged up a mini tripod to operate a smaller HD handycam style camera that just fits that space.
Stage left, by the percussion and behind the violin section is camera 2.
Up in the balcony is camera 1. They usually have me set up at the end of an aisle, off to one side. They are completely anal about compliance with fire marshall's regulations about blocking aisles and so forth, so I can't usually get a good center aisle location up against the railing--I'm always told to park off to the side. Not optimal, but works.

I'll have to discuss this new concert with the SM anew. We'll start fresh. I plan to be firm about the mic system and say "this is how it is". I do sense that the orchestra would cancel my contract in a heartbeat if the SM says 'no' to my microphone setup. They treat him like some kind of god.

The idea of paying a bribe doesn't sit well with me. I know it's done in some cases, but still, this is a professional situation and they are not government officials. :) The venue is not far from NYC, but I much doubt that NYC politics is involved.

I'm not getting paid a king's randsom to do this job, as Classical music is not a tremendously profitable industry in this part of the country, but I am getting some invaluable benefits plus advertising in their program guides, to say nothing of the tremendous value this concert will add to my portfolio/demo reel. Our audio recordings are already highly-acclaimed.

I'm composing an e-mail to the SM, with some questions and requirements to fill, and I will be including a photo of the mic grid, with it's flight requirements (elevation and distance to FoH).

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


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Basspig
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 28, 2007 at 7:19:20 am

The concert is about two weeks away and I've just gotten an e-mail from the stage manager. As expected, they have a problem with our proposed microphone setup.
What they offered us was totally unacceptable--a single microphone hung over the audience with 1/8" aircraft cable.

Kinda' hard to do 5-channel surround sound with one mic. ;)

The only other thing he offered was to put mics in the balconey. Just how flexible they will be with WHERE and HOW MANY mics, is yet to be determined.

I was thinking that, if they are flexible enough, it might be possible to still create a "reasonable" facscimile of surround from the balcony, with a spaced stereo pair of cardioides about 30' apart and aimed directly at the stage, plus a center mic in the middle, and a second pair, spaced similarly, but aiming up at the ceiling for the surround rear channels.

What would you folks do in this situation, based on the assumption that you won't compromise your recording? Would you work with the balconey mics, or would you bow out of the recording contract?

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


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Basspig
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Sep 28, 2007 at 7:19:43 am

The concert is about two weeks away and I've just gotten an e-mail from the stage manager. As expected, they have a problem with our proposed microphone setup.
What they offered us was totally unacceptable--a single microphone hung over the audience with 1/8" aircraft cable.

Kinda' hard to do 5-channel surround sound with one mic. ;)

The only other thing he offered was to put mics in the balconey. Just how flexible they will be with WHERE and HOW MANY mics, is yet to be determined.

I was thinking that, if they are flexible enough, it might be possible to still create a "reasonable" facscimile of surround from the balcony, with a spaced stereo pair of cardioides about 30' apart and aimed directly at the stage, plus a center mic in the middle, and a second pair, spaced similarly, but aiming up at the ceiling for the surround rear channels.

What would you folks do in this situation, based on the assumption that you won't compromise your recording? Would you work with the balconey mics, or would you bow out of the recording contract?

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


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basspig
Re: Dealing with Finicky Stage Manager (Classical concert)
on Oct 3, 2007 at 3:12:32 am

I finally got what I wanted. The SM, reluctantly (and referencing that it will be a pretty major rigging job for his crew) agreed to fly my grid over the audience in the optimum location for imaging from the stage and ambience from the hall.

I am very pleased with this development, as it means we are going to achieve sonic exellence in this recording, not to mention the whole thing being shot in HD.

My concession is that I'll supply them with aircraft cable, turnbuckles and Crosby clips to do the hanging. I already sent them drawings and dimensions with weight info. I ordered a longer set of cables to feed from the array. Hopefully all parts arrive before this coming Wednesday. Looks like I'll be making 3 trips to the hall to do pre-rigging, then hookup and audio testing, and finally to record the concert. This is me at my very best. :)

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss


http://www.basspig.com The Bass Pig's Lair - 15,000 Watts of Driving Stereo!
http://www.mwcomms.com
http://www.adventuresinanimemusic.com


Return to posts index

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