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heath Cowartconference
by on Dec 28, 2010 at 8:14:53 pm


I was just asked to video a conference.

I have a 7d and these speakers may go on for hours. I think I need to rent a camera that records on tape. Any suggestions? Any warnings?

Also I need to have a audio plan. Should I look into hooking my H1 into the PA system? Same as above, advise warnings?


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grinner hesterRe: conference
by on Dec 30, 2010 at 6:16:24 pm

Your 7D's overheating issues make it not a match for this gig. You could rent some tape-based cameras but if renting, man, I'd go with nano recorders and tell em how long the event will be. This will compress accordingly and give you peace of mind, not having to schlock tape while the CEo wraps things up with an important keynote.

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Mark SuszkoRe: conference
by on Dec 30, 2010 at 10:18:36 pm

Heath, what's your budget for this? Giving you a useable answer depends on what's "affordable" to you. ANy problem can be solved if you can throw enough money at it, but not everyone has that much "ammo".

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heath CowartRe: conference
by on Dec 30, 2010 at 10:57:11 pm


Your right and the organizer is trying to push this through on a shoestring budget which is a terrible idea in my opinion. He says he can get the hotel to provide an AV guy for 500 dollars. I am going to suggest that he hire that AV guy but make sure the audio is done correctly, then bring me in to do a side project he wants (interviews) and to do the editing.
I'm not set up to do this kind of work and I have lots of other work
piling up that I am more suited for. The organizer is a friend so he I thought I would look into it.

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Mark SuszkoRe: conference
by on Dec 31, 2010 at 1:39:51 am

"When you pay peanuts, you get squirrels".

I don't mean to insult ALL hotel AV people: some of them are quite professional. However, on a percentage basis, those competent guys in my experience are few and far between. Unless you luck out and get a really good guy, the type of person that is on contract with the hotels is generally young and inexperienced and also is not at all invested in the success of the video as you are. If you pay the hotel $500 for that kid, the kid is getting maybe half of that. How dedicated can he be, working for minimum wage like that? His normal job is plugging in the TV cart and maybe bringing in a projector. I have seen such guys lock down a wide shot from the back of the room with only the on-camera shotgun audio, and walk away for the duration of the event, returning only to (maybe) put a fresh tape in. Do you really want to risk that scenario? Maybe, if it will convince your boss to pay you more to do it right the NEXT time. Like I said, not all hotel AV guys are this way. I'm just not a gambler.

Okay, so let's say the budget is $500. Depending on where you live, that's day rate for a shooter with one camera and moderate light and sound gear.

Normally I like to do these jobs with at least two cameras: one wide, one for close-ups and to turn around and get audience reactions and questions while the wide shot covers for the edit. I say the edit because while you could live-switch this, if you are a one-man band it is too much work for you, the switching-related stuff will blow your budget, and you'll likely still have to a touch-up edit in post anyhow.

If this is going to wind up on the web or on DVD's, my next question would be: does this *have* to be HD, or is SD "good enough"? Because this is a lot more do-able on less than $500 if you don't need it in HD. The gear's cheaper, and the recording time in DV is pretty long for very little cost. I remain unconvinced that every hotel room lecture is somehow magically improved by HD, I watch TED speeches in SD on my web browser in a tiny window, and the resolution is never the issue: the content and good audio is. HD only helps IMO if you have incredibly detailed graphics to show as part of this.

Back to the $500 budget. Less than that, really, because we haven't covered audio and lights yet. If you only have one podium and one speaker at a time, you can put your own mic on the podium separate from the room's public address speaker system. There are numerous good reasons to do this, even if they can provide you a feed from the house mixer. Consider if there is Q&A, what will you arrange for this? The simplest thing is to put a second hard-wired mic on a floor stand in an aisle, and order anybody who wants to ask questions to have to stand in that spot to do so. This makes lighting easier as well, as you don't need to light an entire audience, just the spot where the mic is. Most pro and semi pro cameras have at least two audio inputs and channels, often more, so a lectern mic and an audience mic take care of things at a basic level. It would be nicer if you could add a small 4-channel mixer to the setup, allowing you to add a general room mic for the inevitable jerks who forget to not be lazy, and try to speak from their seats without standing up or going to the assigned mic. Invariably such people come from the first row or the farthest back corner. Their tendency to ignore your request to come to the mic for remarks is directly proportional to how difficult it is for you to get a useable shot and decent shotgun audio out of them.

Your other audience audio options are a pass-around wireless mic, and someone hand-aiming a shotgun mic. Pass-arounds work best if an assigned "runner" carries and passes it and then takes it back from each speaker in the audience, asking them to stand as they speak. They can help control the dialog and keep things on track. With pass-arounds, you will always get some folks who keep passing the mic like a hotdog at a ball game, who hold the mic badly, too far away or too close, or they start to fumble with the power/mute switch, so tape that switch over so that they can't do that. Wireless also invariably runs low on battery during the worst possible moments of a long day.

Shotgun, aimed by a dedicated staff person, often works better in spontaneous situations, long as the operator doesn't fall asleep and long as you keep that channel separate. You get more room noise with the shotgun at a distance. Life is a series of trade-offs. Pick the audience mic setup that fits your budget and needs/audience best.

Lighting: for a lectern-based non-moving target, one or two 1-Kw lights, coming in from opposite 45-degree angles will help. You want them high enough not to blind the speaker, but not so high that they cast shadows on the eye sockets... softened with a bit of diffusion, and with barn door flaps to control where they hit and don't hit, so the background is darker and contrasts well versus the speaker. The speaker needs to stand out from the background. If you only get one light, put it near the close-up camera, to minimize off-axis shadows.

You will be sorely tempted for budget reasons and simplicity to use only existing room lighting. I have never been to a hotel or whatever where this alone gave good results. Usually hotel lighting is from an assortment of sources deliberately placed to be as useless as possible for good video. They will be behind the speaker, off to one side of the speaker, highlighting an ugly switch panel or fire extinguisher or exit sign in the background, or directly above his head like the searchlight of a helicopter (YOU! Yes, YOU! Stand STILL, LADDIE!!!"). They will be the wrong color balance and make your talent look wan or flushed. They will not be controllable in the way you specifically need. They will be too bright or pitifully dim, but in both cases will put horrible shadows on your talent.

Powerpoints are common for these things. Your best bet on a near-zero budget is to ignore them while shooting: if you can, instead stay with the speaker and the audience shots, then add the screens in during the edit stage. This means you have to get a copy of the slides from the speaker at some point. If you're not sure you can, come early or stay late to the event, and bring your camera up close to the screen and ask them to run each slide for one second while you roll tape. I tell you to do it this way because the lighting and iris situation for shooting the screen during the talk is very different from the lighting and lens setting for getting a good exposure on the talent. Specifically lighting the talent will help, but it is still a bear because of the high contrast ratio; your talent looks well-lit, then your screen will be so over-bright as to be blown-out white and illegible... If you expose for the powerpoint, your talent is just a black outline. It is nice to have one camera optimized just to shoot the screens, but as I said, you can also just do this in post. Even get fancy and composite the better quality screen over the original screen in the camera shot... if you want to go to that kind of trouble for much less than $500. remember you will spend at least as much time editing this as it took to shoot it, and probably more like 2.5 times as much time, by my experience. More, the more cameras you used.

You CAN shoot this with just one good camera, with a few tricks. The way I do this, and make it look like more than one camera, is to position myself more to one side of the room, instead of the exact rear center, and I ignore 90 percent of the screen projection stuff, and just concentrate on covering the speaker in a variety of shots. I rapidly, manually, zoom to re-frame a shot in less than a second, when the speaker gets to the next bullet point of his talk, finishes a paragraph, or takes a breath. In post, the wild split-second re-framing of the camera is covered by the slide graphic, or if the speaker pauses long enough, a straight cut can work.

I said I ignore 90 percent of the screen while shooting. The other 10 percent is important for my trick to work. What I will do, is, at the beginning of a section, I will frame my (lit) talent and at least a third of the powerpoint screen in a 2-shot, from off to one side of the room. I pick a camera spot where I can still see both eyes of the talent if they are looking straight ahead at their audience. I hold this shot of speaker and slide-screen off his shoulder, for only 4-5 seconds, snap in to a 2-second shot of the screen only, then snap back to the talent in a single-shot for the duration of everything he talks about until he changes the slide again. If the screen is readable in the shot, it helps orient the video audience as to what "chapter" of the talk we are in. If for some reason I can't get the slides on a thumb drive off the laptop after the meeting, or by email, I can grab that one second I shot of each screen, and freeze it in my editing system to make it as long as I need to be readable as well as to cover an edit transition. Even if I don't use it in the edit, during the edit it kelps me locate the right slides to substitute and cover over that shot. So I don't have to be an expert on the content of the talk to be able to follow along with proper slide page choices.

Another factor to consider is not to keep the powerpoint screens up any longer than absolutely necessary, because as dull as your speaker is, a talking human is always more visually interesting than a static graphic you've already read. Multiple times. While the guy is now talking about something else. That you're not paying attention to. Static graphics are not TV; they are radio.

I also try to shoot plenty of audience cut-away before the main talk starts, so their fake reactions can cover edit transitions or create visual variety where no graphic would apply. In this way, I make one camera look like two or more to an unaware audience

With those tricks, you will make this turkey look better than 500 bucks should legitimately be able to provide.

Final points:

Audiences will tolerate bad picture quality as long as the audio is very good and clear. But never the reverse. You can have Scarlet Johansen up there in HD, but with crummy audio, your audience will rapidly drift off.

Don't be afraid to collapse a long presentation in editing it for video. In live talks, the presenter often gives the same material to you three times/three ways, including review passages, and that is right for live groups but you can re-wind video if you don't understand something the first time: with creative and attentive cutting, you can reduce 2/3 of the length the typical, bloated live presentation and keep the essence of it. I get few complaints that the shows should be longer.

If doing this for web, break down the thing into easily digestible short chapters that the audience can navigate the way they like best.

As far as recording media for long presentations, Consumer DV at the long play speed will get you 60 to 90 minutes. Good used DV prosumer camcorders are reasonable to buy, or maybe you can rent one? If you get a DVD recorder, you can record 2 or 4-hour mpeg 2 files with that on $2 DVD-R media, then use mpeg streamclip (free) to convert the mpeg 2 into an editable format of your choice, at a speed much faster than real-time ingestion from the camcorder tape. I would probably do that DVD recorder thing, and run DV25 tape in the camera as back-up.

Best of luck to you: I've done probably 200 of these things over the years and haven't had a disappointed customer yet.

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heath CowartRe: conference
by on Dec 31, 2010 at 1:59:19 am


Wow, I might print this and save it for future reference.

Do you want a job in Las Vegas this spring? I don't have any business
doing this kind of gig and another job that I started just expanded into a 3 to 4 month commitment.

I am going to reread your post in the morning to make sure I digested it all.



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Chip ThomeRe: conference
by on Dec 31, 2010 at 7:06:14 am

For long duration use a SD cam and firewire it to a laptop. Run the feed out to an external hard disc and you are going for as long as you have power and disc space. I have used any number of programs to do this from Movie Maker up through Vegas and Premiere. All you are doing is capturing, same same as pulling it from the tape.

I did a project for a market research specialist, and he seriously thought I could use Windows Movie Maker to do the editing. He had done it before many times, although it was for "house video" supplied to him. He informed me these "house videos" cost about $250 each when supplied by the venues. Those he typically "editted" were just a few and cut apart for the "good stuff". This project was far more indepth, so he deferred to whatever software I wanted to use. A few days later he sent to me a "typical" house video to view for comparision.

Honest to the good Lord above, it looked like it came out of a surveillance camera !!! The camera was attached to the wall or ceiling and may have even been black and white. Discussion with my client was they would do 4-6 of these interviews a day, and get cracked $250 each !!!

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heath CowartRe: conference
by on Jan 5, 2011 at 2:42:51 pm

Funny stuff, ignorance can be costly. I photograph houses for brokers. After hundreds of houses I have gotten pretty fast and I can usually shoot a house for around 150-200 dollars.
One of my best broker clients was going to have me shoot some property but the owner went ahead and had it done by some one from out of town. A few days later he showed me some images just to get my opinion. I told him that I thought they were pretty good for a full time broker who rarely ever uses a camera but you could never charge anyone for that level of quality. I personally would have thrown them all out because I would not want my name on them. On one photo the photographer had attempted to brighten the house with the burn/dodge tool and it looked like a bright finger smudge in the middle of the image. The broker informed me to my surprise that the owner had paid 6,000.00 for the images.
For that price I could have shot for him for a month straight. I know we all try to deliver the best we can for a fair price and educate our clients so they can make smart decisions. That makes us all look good in the end but good intentions are not always interpreted as such.

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Joel ServetzRe: conference
by on Jan 7, 2011 at 2:25:12 am

All great advice, so I don't need to add anything technical, it's all familiar. The only thing I'll say is that your original instinct to let them hire the hotel av guy to let them see how crummy it comes out is probably right, because if you take the job and do it right for $500.00, you're stuck with that price forever.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl

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Brent DunnRe: conference
by on Jan 31, 2011 at 9:09:30 pm

What is the outcome or use of the final product? If he is expecting this to be used for a promotional web video or anything to represent the company, you have to explain what a good production looks like and how it COULD be if he had the budget.

You have to educate prospective clients. Explain what $500 gets; A boring one camera talking head. Ask him, how many times have you sit through 6 hours of someone talking and actually paid attention? Did you fall asleep? Now try watching that on a TV.

You need 2 cameras, wireless mic to clip on the speaker or podium. H-1 patch to the board is a good idea too, or another wireless patched. I always want to hear what audio is being recorded. If your Zoom battery dies in the middle, you won't know until it's too late.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
Video Marketing

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite

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