We’ve all been there. Someone’s found out that you have the video tools and the talent, and you get volunteered to record something, shall we say, less than exciting. Perhaps it’s a school play, or a kid’s sporting event or a musical recital. Your first, gut reaction is to refuse, back out or pass the opportunity along to someone else “more qualified.” Let us encourage you, however, to take the gig. Don’t freak out. Just make sure you go into it with the right attitude and preparation and ask good questions.

Everything counts

First, every time you take your camera out of the case, you gain something. Every production is a learning experience and, any time kids are involved, you can expect the unexpected. This will be a great opportunity to learn the art of flexibility, one of the most valuable assets in video production.

For example, school plays and concerts generally take place in a unique lighting environment. Many organization are changing over to more energy effective LED fixtures but mixing them with older, existing units. This can be a huge problem. This can also be a great time to learn how your camera reacts to different types of lighting. What’s the best way to white balance? Do I need to zoom in to avoid a certain hot spot?

Speaking of environments, how about the sound? Schools and community centers don’t normally have stellar audio systems. Add to that, children who may not have particularity strong voices, and you may find yourself exercising your audio boosting skills. This too may be a great time to test out your audio tool kit. Where are the primary sound sources in this event? Do they move and change? Will my shotgun microphone pic up from where my camera is or should I locate it somewhere else?

The play’s the thing

Of course, you’re there to capture the action, whatever that may be. Expect that the action may not be the only thing you’ll want to film. There may be other things happening that will bring a laugh or a surprise. A student may jump off stage and go running into the audience to find a parent. The teacher may plan to have students go into the audience and present something to the principal. The school might surprise the crowd by bringing the marching band in from the back. (We’ve seen all these things happen.) How are you going to get a shot if things suddenly shift into a dark spot in the audience? Can I get my camera off the tripod and move to another location? Is my zoom lens strong enough to catch a closeup?

If it’s possible, you may want to attend a dress rehearsal.

The best way to answer these questions is to get as much information as you can before the event starts. If it’s possible, you may want to attend a dress rehearsal. Encourage the leaders to show you everything just as it will look during the event. Look around and try to assess everything you can. On the day of the event, arrive early and prepare to overcome and adapt.

Crowd considerations

Another serious consideration for your shoot is the audience. You’ll need to be keenly aware of where you position yourself. You don’t want to block anyone’s view of the event or be in a position where someone stands up and blocks your shot. You can be certain that dozens of other family members, armed with their own cameras, will want to cover the action as well. They’ll stand up, rush the front row, or position themselves to get the optimum shot, and not really worry about your sightlines.

You can actually use this to your advantage. If you plan to edit the finished product at all, you suddenly have access to a multi-camera production. Look for another parent who has a good camera or phone and explain what you’re doing. See if they will share their video with you. This gives you the leverage to say something like, “Why don’t you stand on that side of the room and get the other angle.” You may also consider mounting an action camera somewhere to get an “emergency cutaway.”

Finally, another reason to say yes to this activity is the crowd. You never know who you’re going to meet at any public event. You never know who might see you working hard and want to use you for something. Maybe there’s a corporate exec who has been looking for someone to help make their next video. Just being there shows that you’re a team player and not afraid of a challenge. Make sure to pack some extra business cards so you can say yes to the next challenge.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Many good points. What are the copyright considerations for these types of school programs? What about school music performances like band, chorus, and strings?

  2. A great article! All true and useful information. I worked for an urban school district and recorded HUNDREDS of these exact sorts of shows. One tip for audio that may help is to wirelessly mic the speakers (if they have any kind of audio set up at all!) that way you can mix your on camera sound with what you pick up from their system. Sometimes you can get a feed from their audio board…bring lots of adaptors. You may also be able to hide a wireless lav up close to the stage…that can be a huge advantage!! Thanks for your post! I am retired, but still get asked to do these shoots (and sports events/commencements) all the time.

  3. If the school has purchased the rights to perform the play, be sure the school has copyright clearance to record. Some publishers will allow video copies for the cast. Most if not all publishers will forbid showing the video on cable, online or broadcast.

  4. Great article! I actually just took such a gig–the school play–and now I am faced with the next level of questions. Burn to DVD, or send link to my vimeo page. The latter is less work, I’ve found, though some people (of my generation) prefer to have a disc in hand. Pro’s / Cons of either?

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