Here’s me, taking some scouting footage and photos before a recent shoot

Location production is back! With vaccination rates rising and locations opening up, the need for ample preparation for your next on-location video is critical. As a producer, I spend much more of my time in pre-production than in production. And if I’ve done my job right, post-production (editing, music, graphics) will also go smoothly. Here are some of my go-to strategies to ensure a successful project before we step out onto location.

1. Location scout for audio, not just video
Often when we scout locations, we are looking. Looking for the best lighting, looking for a relevant background for an interview, looking for a great establishing shot to capture the story. These are essential. But we often forget to listen. How loud is the location? Will it be louder at a particular time of day? How will that affect any interview we conduct here? Google maps is helpful to us in many ways, even when scouting remotely for sound. By using satellite view and street view, for example, we can identify high traffic roadways, nearby firehouses, and other potential audio issues like RF interference which is common in tall, urban office buildings (and requires a wired rather than wireless lavalier setup for interviews).

2. Plan ahead to move fast
With more content creation than ever, we video producers need to move fast when on location. But we also need to be smart. Adding just a single person to the shoot—like a production assistant who can refill parking meters or a grip who can set up the lighting for the next shot while the previous one wraps—can allow your team to gather twice as much quality footage in a day. The added expense is more than offset by less frustration in post and less need to turn to stock images or do a reshoot to fill gaps.

3. Make an acquisition and distribution format plan
Decide before you shoot what metadata you want included on files. “Day 1” is not a great tag, FYI. You can also avoid problematic reworking of files if you know from the start what kind of distribution platform you will be using. This might be multiple platforms—like pushing a video to YouTube but also cropping parts of the video to a different aspect ratio for social shares on Instagram. Up-scaling always introduces quality issues, so if you’re not sure about delivery at the start, better to shoot at a higher resolution (aka 4K) and downscale afterwards. It’s also important to consider frame rate (24fps and 30fps are standard, but the latter creates more frames to compress). And, you’ll also want to consider whether to shoot in LOG or RAW and color grade afterwards in post, or to “bake in the look” with a setting like Rec 709. These are all important conversations to have well before the shoot, as they may affect equipment decisions for camera and lighting. And camera equipment dictates audio configurations in many cases.

4. Logistics
Logistical planning ahead of time is part of what allows the creative to happen on a video shoot. Everything from ensuring the crew has a location to park and load-in safely to organizing the lunch order ahead of time ensure your shoot goes smoothly. If you have a whole series of interviews scheduled, be sure to plan a little turn-around time in between so the crew can reset the shot, and stagger your schedule so each person has time for makeup and/or for you to review their wardrobe without a rush.

I’m thrilled to get back out “into the wild” for video creation. It’s going to be a great rest of the year!

 

Feel free to reach out to me about your next video production (see sidebar). 

In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (“Boy #1, Boy #2,” CBS, 1965) Rob casts their son and one of his friends in an episode of his TV show. The results aren’t as anticipated. He confesses to the two moms: “Those kids can’t act, they’re terrible…When they started out they were almost fair, but the more they rehearsed the worse they got!” When the moms remind him the kids aren’t professionals, he responds “Yeah, because professionals get better!” So true. One of the big differences between trained and untrained talent is that repetition and self-consciousness about being in front of cameras and crew often degrades rather than enhances their “performance.”  And each time you make your reality player self-conscious about the camera, chances are high they will be less natural—the very reason you wanted them in the first place. This, in turn, can radically affect your schedule and budget.  In other chapters, we address specific techniques for re-introducing a question during an interview, for blocking a re-enactment, or getting that scene from another angle for a documentary, all without making your subject feel awkward.  To keep your production schedule and budget on target, you need all the help you can get to minimize retakes and set-ups. Even if you are masterful at keeping your subject from feeling pressure during the shoot, every minute you spend in shoot planning will be paid back in decreased time and costs on the post-production side.  Since you never entirely know how a “real person” will react to being on camera, the following are some strategies you can use to minimize unpleasant surprises and budget-busting problems, while you maximize creative opportunities.

  1. Be sure you discuss options for on-camera clothing before the shoot. Bring extra ties on set. If green-screen, be sure your subject is not wearing any green!
  2. Have enough crew. A production assistant is worth their weight in gold to help move gear in place quickly, or handle the back-end of recording remotely. Non-actors are not used to the “hurry up and wait” pattern of production life.
  3. Give non-actors a break by shooting b-roll.  I often shoot a little bit of b-roll to warm them up to the crew, before sitting the person down for an interview.
  4. Use Locations Familiar to Subject to help them be more comfortable. If you need to move objects around for a better background, ask permission. (You may need to have the person themselves move things around for remote interviews.)

Excerpted from my book “The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera”.  I love directing “real people” on camera. Please sign up for my additional tips ——–> see sidebar!

 

Remote feeds during the #GALSNGEAR Tech Talks segment that I produced and hosted from my virtual office in DC, with switching and production took place from Broadcast Beat’s studios in Florida, during NAB Show Express online conference.

If you’re confused by all the many tools of virtual event and content video production, you’re not alone. Here, I will set out to briefly demystify some of the different components and tools for creating, encoding and distributing content remotely.

Virtual livestreaming and switching platforms

Zoom, WebEx, Skype are some of the livestreaming platforms we are all familiar with by now, so I won’t go into their features. Manycam is another dedicated streaming tool useful for those teaching remote classes, for example. ManyCam allows you to stream live videos on YouTube and Facebook simultaneously, and includes a mobile app for Android and iPhone. As this useful review explains:  “This program acts as a middleman between your webcam and whatever application you want to connect it to. It could be Facebook Live, Twitch Livestream, a Skype video call, and much more.” Streamyard is a newer player, recently acquired by Hopin, and a bit more sophisticated. It allows the user to add subtitles, put links on the screen live, and engage guests using a robust chat feature. And you can use it to stream your video content directly to Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other platforms.

Virtual event management platforms

Managing a virtual event requires much more than the live streaming/switching function. You need a way to track tickets and users, provide captioning and translations, build out spaces for sponsors and more. Some event organizers have cobbled together solutions by combining tools like Eventbrite for ticketing and tracking audiences with the services of Rev.com for live-captioning on Zoom.  Socio, Bizzabo, Hopin, and Aventri are some of the players who offer integrated event management elements with ticketing, tracking, metrics, translations, post-event content storage, and more.  For example, Socio provides a way to segment your audience for access to different sessions and push notifications, interactive mingling areas, and a sponsor hub.

Mootup has intrigued me for some time.  They’ve put the focus on creating a VR like experience without a need for headsets. The platform offers a gamified experience where each participant selects an avatar that can move through conference spaces such as an auditorium for presentations, breakout rooms like the firepit, virtual tradeshow floors and more. And it integrates with Zoom, so speakers can present from the traditional Zoom app directly to the 3D audience.

Pro tools for switching and encoding multi-source content for streaming

If your organization is building in-house production and streaming capabilities, or producing an event that requires a broadcast approach to multiple feeds, then you have many tools to choose from.

Blackmagic Design offers a great series of affordable professional production switchers, as well as the bargain-priced ATEM Mini and ATEM Mini Pro for smaller setups with fewer sources. (I use the ATEM mini when I present, so that I do not have to rely on the “screen share” functions of Zoom or other platforms.)

On the higher end, Talk Show VS4000 is a multi-channel video calling system designed to simultaneously connect you with up to 4 remote sources and give you full audio and video control over the signal and what happens next.

A Tricaster has long been the standard for in-studio switching, and can take a signal and push it to YouTube, Facebook, a website, or an external encoder. It will work with Zoom, WebEx, Teams or Skype. The Tricaster can also ISO record audio and video, and has the ability to handle mixed format inputs.

Video encoding systems such as Teradek can save you bandwidth if you are encoding a large amount of content for streaming to an online platform like Youtube, Twitch, or Facebook. A Teradek encoder can also be used on set so that a remote producer or interviewer can monitor the live video feed on an iOS device for confidence or directing local configuration.

This is just a brief overview of the tools we use as live and virtual event and content creators. I hope it’s helpful as you navigate our new world of virtual and hybrid event production. Please reach out to me if I can help you with any remote, live or hybrid content creation this year.

Amy DeLouise is a virtual and live multi-platform content producer. She’ll be speaking this week at the Remote Production Conference. Use this link for 10% off your registration!

 

Frederick Van Johnson’s POV while he records us on his podcast This Week in Photo

I’m so honored to have been interviewed on #podaster @frederickvan amazing series This Week in Photo, the world’s most popular photography podcast network! We had a great discussion about creativity, filmmaking, and what it takes to be a multihttps://thisweekinphoto.com/-platform content creative. #podcasts #ageofconversation #contentcreator #storyteller #videoproduction #GALSNGEAR

Like you, I’ve been recording more “selfie” mobile videos and participating in more recorded Zoom webinars than ever. What I know from my work as a professional video producer is that better audio leads to better online engagement. People may forgive some wobbly video, but if the content is good and they can hear you clearly, they’ll stick with you. Have poor audio? Forget it. So here are a few tips from my last 60 days of remote recording. Wired mics have always avoided interference best, and can come at a fairly low price point for the home user. Producer Nicki Sun recommends the Power DeWise wired lav mic which runs at about $40. iPhone video consultant Kim Foley recommends customized solutions to her clients, including the Mosotech Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Mic, which at the moment is priced under $20. (Remember you may need adapters for iPhones.) If you can go up a bit in price, you can get good quality for less than $80 with the Rode Smart Lav/Condenser . If you need distance from your mobile device or computer, then wireless is the way to go. I just bought the Saramonic Blink500, which works with mobile phones, computers and tablets and cost about $200. It comes with a transmitter you can clip on your belt, and a receiver that plugs directly into your phone (available for Android and iOS).  I’m also a fan of the Samson Go Mic Mobile package, which gives you a wireless direct-to-mobile signal for under $200. If you are more often seated in front of your computer and want a podcaster-style setup, consider the Rode NT-USB podcast mic, which runs about $250. For significantly less, the Blue Snowball gives a decent sound–I just used mine to give a series of webinars on Zoom.

Blue mic works well for podcasts

Other Pro Tips for Better Sound From Home

If you are recording audio that really matters–say for a podcast or to be the recorded on your computer for a video, avoid hard surfaces and noisy appliances. That includes your computer, which has a fan that can affect your sound. Some talent who record professional voiceovers will go as far as recording inside a closet or anywhere with dampened sound such as a carpeted hallway if they cannot be in a sound booth.  When using VOIP (Skype, Zoom, any Voice Over Internet Protocol system) to record an interview, my friend producer Walter Biscardi recommends using e-Camm recorder software with Skype, and then making a backup audio recording direct to a digital audio recorder, such as the Zoom h4n. If you don’t have access to these tools, that’s OK. You can at least increase the data rate of the recording you make inside the VOIP system. On Zoom, that means checking the box that says “Enable HD” and “Optimize for Third Party Editor” whenever you are planning to record your session.  This greatly improves the data rate, and therefore the quality of the recording. My colleague and tech guru Rich Harrington, CEO of RHED Pixel, recommends making a “double ender” recording–in other words, not just the cloud recording that Zoom will make for you, but asking someone else on the call to hit their record button and make a local recording. Note that these video files will oddly be auto-saved into a folder under Documents (but at least it’s labeled Zoom!).

More tips to come on making mobile video and Zoom recordings. In the meantime, if you want more audio tips for your professional video productions, check out my new book Sound and Story in Nonfiction Film and Video.