A Look at Filming Concert Footage. How to Prepare to Capture a Concert on Video. Includes Step-by-Step Instruction and Checklist.
Your cell phone rings. Before you can even say "hello," Jeff, who sounds as if he's been shot out of a cannon, gets right to the point: "Dude - Awesome news! We got a gig down at the Legion next Saturday night! Can you bring your video camera and tape us? We'll get you free drinks and stuff." Knowing how important this is to the band, you quickly (and foolishly) accept the offer. After your buddy hangs up, the severity of your generous offer begins to dawn on you. You know that you can't make a second-rate video, because it's not only your budding career on the line, but the Cackling Hyenas also need some great concert footage for promotional purposes.
Could it really be much harder than your successful stint last summer at Uncle Charlie's wedding? You shot band footage there, right? Of course, you also learned there were several things that you should have done and wished you could do over, so here is your chance! The first thing you learned is that two cameras are better than one - and, when shooting concerts, a three-camera shoot is far superior to a two-camera shoot. It's time to start making other people's cell phones ring, preferably to friends who own cameras similar to yours, as this will save on the amount of time you spend color correcting in post (see sidebar 1).
As a videographer, you already know that you need to be prepared for everything - and you also know how difficult that can be. If you have any time at all between now and the night of the event, go over to the American Legion and take a good look at it with the houselights on. Call the manager and explain who you are and why you need to take a look at the venue. Be completely professional, because this person may be able to help you get gigs with more bands at the Legion (hopefully paying ones). Do your best to arrange a time to meet with the house's sound engineer. This person will be very important to the final output of the video; therefore, you should meet as soon as possible. If it is convenient to him to meet with you during the advance scouting session, then do so. Otherwise, arrange to meet before the big show. Make sure that you treat him well, as he is integral to the success of the video that you will be making.
When you arrive at the venue, you will need to have these items with you:
- Your video camera and tripod
- A still camera
- Every audio patch cord that you can find
- A tape measure
- A portable sound mixer, if you are fortunate enough to have one.
It would also be beneficial if you can get the other camera operators to come along with you, so that you can bounce ideas off each other. If they aren't available, bring Jeff or one of the other Cackling Hyenas. This gig is very important to them, so they will be more than happy to see the venue with you. With the sound engineer, take a look at the board and find out what outputs are available for you to record off the house board. It is best to work with a field mixer in this situation, as that will give you the best sound. However, if you're unable to procure one and are relegated to recording through a camera, you will need to use an attenuator to record the sound correctly and prevent damage to your camera. Run a sound check to be sure that you have everything properly hooked up. If you don't have the right equipment, make sure that you do before the night of the show.
You will also want to find locations to place ambient mics. These mics will benefit greatly, because the house's sound mixer will not be mixing the sound for you, but for the audience at the show. Adding in the crowd noise in post will make the recording sound more natural.
If you're fortunate enough to get three cameras, you can use one for long shots of the stage from a center position. The exact distance from the stage that you will need to mount this camera will be dependent on the width of the stage and the focal length that you will be using. If you need to record sound directly from the board into a camera, this would be the best camera with which to do that, particularly if you can mount it near the soundboard, which will minimize the number of cables that you will need to use. This camera should be mounted very securely and positioned in a very secure area, particularly if it's not going to be manned for long periods of time. The two most dangerous aspects of a concert, from the camera's point-of-view, are vibrations and drunks. Curious drunks with drinks in their hand are particularly dangerous; they can trip over your tripod or spill a drink on your camera while trying to check it out. If there is no safe place to mount this camera, you will have to have an operator watch it at all times.
Get a good overview of the venue and snap pictures. Double-check any distances that you may question later, although most venues have brochures available with that information already mapped out for you. Look for funky angles that will work, and look for anything that will add a unique quality to the video. They might not scream at you right away, so go over the photographs at a later date. Also make sure that you know where to shoot from during the band's signature songs. You will need to consider a combination of getting the best shot from the handheld and staying out of the long shot. Also, look for corners of the stage from which you will be able to shoot crowd shots.
Preparedness is a very important aspect of any shoot, whether you are shooting a talking head or the Talking Heads. Let's take a look through your accessories bag.
- Enough tape for five hours of footage per camera
- Fully charged batteries
- Lens cloths
- Gaffer tape
- Audio patch cords as determined during your scouting mission
- Rain gear for the camera (to protect it from liquid refreshments)
Unlike at Uncle Charlie's wedding, you won't need to bring your entire lighting kit to this gig, but if you have a particularly powerful on-camera light, you may want to bring it in order to create highlights in some shots using the handheld(s). However, you will almost exclusively be using the band's lighting system for this shoot. This will allow you to be less obtrusive and, by keeping the lighting used at the concert, will give that "concert feel" to those viewing the DVD.
If you have access to some walkie-talkies, then bring them. Make sure that the batteries are fully charged and on the correct frequency (in other words, treat them as if they're lavaliers). Conversely, the flashlight is not optional. Here's a fact about all concerts: they are dark (except on the stage). You will need flashlights, whether it is to check the level indicator on your tripod or to make sure you are loading the correct tape into the camera. Although the walkie-talkies will be rendered useless while the band is playing, the flashlights will be used quite often over the course of the event.
It's the night of the big show and everything is prepared; tapes have been labeled and distributed, batteries have been fully charged and small areas of the mosh pit have been cordoned off. After setting up the camera to record all of the onstage events, confirm that all camera operators understand their jobs. Go over everyone's duties, and be sure that all operators know their roles. If the mounted camera taking the wide shot is to go unattended, assign someone to change its tape every hour. Assure that all camera operators are aware of their side of the stage and the areas that they will need to cover. Use this time to ascertain that everyone is on the same settings. You don't want to find out later that one of the cameras shot in 4:3 while the others were in 16:9, or that someone shot in DV when it was supposed to be an HD shoot! You also need to check filters at this point.
It would also be a good idea to dress your cameras in their rain gear. Even though it can be cumbersome, it is a lot easier to operate a camera in its rain slicker than one that's had beer spilled in it. Once everything has been prepared, someone should hang out with the band and record their preparations. This makes for some good B roll... sometimes, or "bonus features" for the DVD. If the roadies do a light check with the sound check, you should shoot some of this and check the tape to make sure that you are properly lit.
Make sure to get a set list. Even if you or the other camera operators are unfamiliar with the music of the Cackling Hyenas, it will benefit everyone to know when there will be set breaks and when the show will end. You also have to get plenty of crowd shots for B roll. There will be times that you will need this in post. The best time to get crowd shots is when they are really into the song. Be aware of when the band's "hit" songs are coming and, before the band finishes the previous song, be in a good place from which to shoot the crowd (like the corner of the stage). If the band is performing in front of its fans, you will certainly get great footage during these songs. Keep in mind, too, that small crowds can look like bigger crowds if you keep the shots tight! Look around for areas where it looks the most crowded and get some B roll of those areas from different angles. Be sure that you get footage of the most enthusiastic fans, too, as often as possible. Make sure they know that you are shooting them, as they will play up to the camera, and the footage will be even better! Concert videos have always used this to their advantage. It makes the band look good if their guests look good and, let's face it, this has become a staple of the rock video ever since MTV began playing music videos in the early 1980s.
Of course, before you can get DVDs to the Hyenas, you will need to edit it. Editing will be very much like any other multi-camera shoot. Use the wide shots as your timeline and overdub footage from the handheld camera(s). If some of your crowd shots look good but have some empty spaces, resize them a little bit to fill out the empty spaces.
One of the biggest challenges that you will face in post production is aligning the audio. If you've been using DV tape, you've had to change the tape several times on each camera, so you will be aligning the video tracks quite often. Fortunately, there will be significant volume changes during a typical concert, so you should have little problem finding audio spikes on the audio track that you can use as alignment points.
Once you've set up your timelines, intersperse B roll of the crowd with closeups of the band members, the hot babes in the crowd and the crazy guys moshing in the... is that Uncle Charlie in the mosh pit?!?!
Camera Compatibility and Color Correction
Color correcting is rarely, if ever, anybody's favorite part of the editing process. It is a painstakingly tedious and time-consuming process, not to mention that it's a thankless job. Although very few people will notice how perfectly you timed your cuts to the music, absolutely nobody will ever notice just how perfectly you tweaked that tiny bit of color. But in some cases, it can be avoided.
Manufacturers of video cameras use different technologies to make their cameras and patent them to keep it that way. Although this keeps the technological advances flowing, it also creates a slight difference in the final product of similar cameras made using two different technologies. One of the most significant differences will be that the two cameras will process light a little bit differently and subsequently offset the output between the two cameras.
No two cameras are precisely the same, but using two cameras of the same type will mitigate the problems that you will encounter by using incompatible cameras. This is not to say you don't have to color correct if all your cameras match. However, if you make sure all the cameras on the shoot are matched as closely as possible and are using all the same settings - and nobody is using a filter that the other cameras aren't using - you will minimize the number of corrections that you have to make in post.
There are many instances where a camera by one company will output very similarly to another camera manufactured by that company. For instance, if you are using a Sony HVR-Z1U, your partner can use a Sony HDR-FX1 without having to compensate for the differences, since they are almost exactly the same in the video output category.
Getting the Gig
If you aren't friends with an up-and-coming band like The Cackling Hyenas, but would still like to shoot concert footage to add to your portfolio, there are ways to get the business; just don't expect to get paid well until you're established. Musicians who haven't made the big-time are notoriously poor, so feel lucky if you make enough to cover your expenses.
The most important thing before starting out is get insurance for your equipment. Concerts are dangerous places to take a video camera, especially if alcohol is served. A camera can be destroyed at any event, whether it's a wedding, a wrestling match or a child's birthday party, but barrooms and $5,000 cameras are a particularly bad combination. Next, try to get two like-minded aspiring videographers together and call yourself a team.
Now, to find those gigs. Most musicians are happy to let you film them. They are generally very outgoing and love to be in front of the camera, so most bands will say "yes" to filming them. Do the gig well, and they'll likely have you continue to work with them and recommend you to their friends.
Every major city has at least one "nightlife" paper - usually free. Look for bands you think would make good concert video and go to a show. If you like what you see, talk to the band's manager. It's best not to bother him at the show, but get contact information so you can call and discuss a mutually beneficial deal when things are quieter. Hopefully, there is a contact number listed in the ad you found and you won't have to bother anyone that night. You can also find ads on the internet - on Craigslist, Backpages, AOL City Guide and other sites that cater to local entertainment.
Another way to establish yourself (and possibly make a little money while doing so) is to talk to the owners, managers and promoters of local venues. They may want you to work their shows for their advertising purposes, and they can afford to pay more than most performers. Moreover, they can recommend you to some of the bands that play there, provided that you do a good job for them.
Knowing talented musicians is also a great way to acquire free-to-cheap music for your own videos. If you feel you may need their help in the near future, work the details into the agreement. Whether you are friends with one of the band members or it is just a business situation, you should always work out a written agreement before shooting any footage. It doesn't need to be a formal contract, but everyone's rights and responsibilities, along with payment information, should be spelled out.
Make sure you get model releases from all performers. You generally don't have to get them from people in the crowd, but it might be a good idea to post a sign saying the concert's being recorded, and by their presence, they accept that they may be on the video. However, if you use a reasonable amount of footage of the hottie who wants to show off for the camera, it would probably be best to get her to sign a release.
John McCabe runs a small production company as dedicated to giving hands-on experience to students as it is to creating video.