Socially distanced panelists filmed in studio for a virtual event feed – courtesy Interface Media Group 

As part of my continuing series on producing virtual events,  I caught up with Steven Yerman, Vice President of Operations, and Nick Mueller, Studio Manager at Interface Media Group in Washington, D.C. [Full transparency—I’ve hired IMG for their great studios, and they’ve hired me to produce virtual event content.]

Amy: What are some of the pitfalls of planning virtual events?

Steve: Even more planning goes into virtual events than live events.  Typically, a live awards event might take 6 months of planning, but the same group will only allot a few weeks to the same event happening virtually. And yet there are so many more technical components.

What takes the most time in pre-production to make sure the event succeeds?

Nick: Running technical tests takes time – you want that time with all of your “talent” to be sure their connections work right, video and audio look and sound good.

What are audiences expecting, now that we’ve had almost a year to develop virtual content?

Steve: The audience is expecting more than a Zoom meeting.

Nick: You don’t want to have a talking head for 60 minutes. People want dynamic content.

Steve:  You need to think of these events as television productions. The audience wants content that looks tight, like a real broadcast, with higher quality video and graphics.

So how are you taking the risk out of creating that kind of “broadcast look”, especially when most of the people speaking are not on-camera professionals?

Steve: Often we pre-record key segments. Let’s say it’s an awards event. We’ll mail the person the award in advance. We then record them saying their remarks. We’ll edit that nicely, with lower thirds and logo graphics, then bring it into the live event.

There are loads of different platforms for bringing an audience into a virtual event—Zoom, WebEx, Skype, Bizzabo, Hopin, Aventri, etc. (I will cover these in another post). What unique tools do you bring as a broadcast studio?

Nick: We can use Talk Show VS4000 which allows us to bring in four guests via Skype.

That’s 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.

Nick: Correct. So this is a great tool for a talk-show type format.  We also use the Tricaster.

You’re talking about the broadcast switcher?

Nick: Right. It 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 and can also ISO record audio and video. And it can handle mixed format inputs.

Just to clarify for our readers, ISO means “isolated” audio or video signal—meaning, a separate record that doesn’t mix in the other speakers and visuals.

Nick: Yes. So we have those “clean” sources if we need them to tweak a session after it has been recorded live.

That’s incredibly handy, because mistakes happen and we don’t want the permanent recording to contain any! So how do you bring the client into the picture, so to speak?

Steve: We’ve been using a conference bridge for the client and tech team, so we can communicate offline and not interfere with what is being recorded.

What’s the biggest challenge that gets overlooked when planning for a virtual event that is bringing different speakers and panels to the audience?

Steve: You need to think about the maximum number of feeds and what you will show during the transitions. Another one of the challenges to space out the show correctly to have the pauses to make those technical transitions.

That’s where a show writer like me comes in handy. Just like I do for a live event, I write what’s called a showflow that anticipates those transitions, so we have every segment timed out and also have video content ready to fill any gaps, like prep time for speakers.

Steve: Exactly. You need your speakers on the line 15 minutes to a half hour before they go live, and we keep the connection open while they get ready.

Nick: Because if you wait until 5 minutes before hand and you have technical issues with their connection, you have no time to fix it.

How are you mixing virtual and live, in-studio feeds?

Steve: We’ll often have an on-air “talent” hosting the event from one of our studios, and then we’ll have panelists in the other studio and also coming in remotely from multiple locations. Plus roll-in videos and Skypes from earlier in the day.

And does that work?

Nick: We make it work. The only problem we had once was a guy in his car in a parking lot. He really didn’t have the best connection so I had to go to a different guest.

Steve: But we plan for that. We have a photo of each guest and a name slate ready to go in case we need to switch to audio-only.

What you’re describing is a lot like television, but also it isn’t.

Steve: Yes, guests (panelists) need to understand that once you get going there is no stopping the train. We can’t drop out and go to commercial break.

It’s been an interesting ride so far. What’s next?

Nick: I really see [remote and in-studio production] staying even if we “get back to normal” because of significant cost savings like hotel and travel.

Steve: I think people will still want to get together and give awards in person and see each other face to face. But you’ll see more panel discussions with a remote interview added into the panel. And folks will still want to produce segments in the studio where you have a controlled environment, good branding, and a good looking set. But virtual opens a whole new world to engage people from anywhere in the world.

 

Covid has changed video production, possibly forever.  Elements of remote workflows will likely remain, even when we “return to normal.” Let’s take a look at some options with respect to post-production collaboration (editing, audio mixing, color grading and effects).

Realtime Collaboration

Ensuring that real-time collaboration happens has always been a challenge as teams have become dispersed, and often include a mix of staff and freelancers. For years, we’ve had a remote-team setup in my production company, but have always liked being “in the room” for final edits, audio mixes and color grading. One tool that brings creatives “into the room” remotely is Streambox . Check out colorist Robbie Carman’s article on remote set-up using Streambox software for synchronous color-grading sessions with his clients. Sound designer and mixer Cheryl Ottenritter, of Ott House Audio also uses Streambox when offering remote synchronous client-supervised audio mix sessions. Cinesync, Evercast, Source Live and Session Link Pro all offer low latency, high quality synchronous reviews of video productions. Evercast also includes pre-Vis options, such as streaming Maya or other animation platforms. A slightly different post-production tool for the work-from-home user is BeBop.  This system was designed to help avoid costly individual hardware and software purchases, and allows the user to remotely access a powerful virtual computer in order to create VFX projects, edit media files, animate, process images, or collaborate in real-time.

Photo: Matthew Kwong, Unsplash

Frame Accurate Reviews

Other collaboration tools for reviews and feedback that were once “nice to have” are now becoming essential. Frame.io, Vimeo and Wipster all provide frame-accurate client reviews and the ability to share comments back to the team. I’ve been a personal fan of Wipster—that’s my affiliate link in the previous sentence–because I think they’ve been especially responsive to the needs and interests of the post community. Project management software such as Basecamp, Slack, and Teams is even more vital to keep teams and projects organized across different time zones.  I’m also becoming a fan of Milanote for sharing storyboards, vision boards, deliverables lists and more at the early phases of a project. Rich Harrington recommends using these kinds of tools, but reserving a Slack channel for quick-turnaround internal discussions that need to happen outside the channels with clients.

Wipster side-by-side comparison feature

Fixing Flaws, Speeding Up Delivery

While we are capturing some less-than-ideal footage these days, there are some fabulous tools to solve problems. Three great tools from Digital Anarchy can really help. The first is Flicker Free which removes flicker and rolling bands out of footage. The second is Samurai Sharpen, a plug-in that does just what it says–helps to sharpen out of focus footage. The third tool is Transcriptive, which will rock your world if you haven’t used it before with interview-driven content. I have other posts on this topic, so won’t delve into it today, but this plug-in transcribes footage, makes it searchable by words, and makes your captioning workflow a breeze.

Editing with Transcriptive from Digital Anarchy

Tapping Your Archives

I started my career delivering archival content to feature films.  And while the internet has certainly made digging easier, the process of tracking down rights holders can remain elusive.  Just because you find an image on Google doesn’t mean you can get the sync rights. And even images you source from a well-known archive like Getty may still require tracking down certain rights holders. If you need to source outside content, consider buying a package plan with the highest level of usage clearance, so you can use the shots for multiple projects. Shutterstock is currently offering several specials. And don’t forget national treasures like the Smithsonian Digital Archives and the National Archives collection, which often contain federally-created content that is free to use, or historical content that is no longer under copyright (but you still need to check!).

Remote video production isn’t as fun, frankly, as collaborating together in a room. But it’s workable. And some tools and workflows are improving quality and efficiency along the way.

Amy DeLouise is a writer and digital creative director working from home.  She has authored a variety of LinkedIn Learning video courses and a new book on nonfiction audio from Routledge Press.

I’ll be spending the week with 100,000 colleagues from around the world in media/TV/content creation, producing my pop-up event #GALSNGEAR, and sharing some of my tips at these speaking sessions

If you’ll be out at the show, I have a few tips from years of navigating Las Vegas for business (which isn’t quite the same thing as going there for fun). One of the big challenges is food, since this is a big event. Luckily you can get discounts with your NAB Show badge . You can also try some of my top local food picks:

1. Lotus of Siam. Excellent, authentic, and seriously spicy–thai cuisine. Try the spicy prawns or the sea bass in any of the three sauces–I had the ginger sauce with mushrooms on Saturday night and it was divine. For folks who love spicy (me!), beware. The scale at Lotus is the real deal. If you ask for 10, you might need a tableside fire extinguisher.

2. Kaizon Fusion Roll. Asia fusion with interesting (and gigantic) sushi roll combinations in a low-key, hip bar atmosphere. Just across street from Hard Rock Hotel but not nearly as pricey as their famous sushi place.

3. Sen of Japan gets rave reviews and is more authentic Japanese, for purists.

4. Pamplemousse Locals go here for special occasion, reasonably authentic French fare. Haven’t tried it myself, so give me your feedback.

5. Lindo Michoacan A local Mexican 3-restaurant chain well regarded, including by my local friend whose wife hails from Mexico.

6. Echo and Rig Pick out your cut of steak, then have it grilled up at the restaurant next door. Talk about “on-demand” dining!

7. Piero’s A Las Vegas institution and close to the Convention Center where we’re all living for this conference. Dinner only.

8. Tamba Indian A family owned place with plenty of tables for big groups.

9. The only Vegas eatery on the strip that makes my list is Beijing Noodle No.9 at Caesar’s. Try the soup dumplings (they’re not IN the soup, the soup is IN the dumplings!) and a bowl of Lanzhou noodle soup.

10. Walgreens. No I’m not kidding you. The food truck lines at the Convention Center can be long, and I speak at multiple sessions with little turnaround time. So grabbing a yogurt or a freshly made sandwich in the morning at Walgreens (there are three on the strip) rather than waiting in line at lunchtime is my go-to solution. And that saves more eating fun and funds for dinnertime. There is one exception–the Indian carry out in South Hall, which is excellent. The only bummer is they have no seating.

I hope to see you soon at NABShow in Vegas!

Amy DeLouise is a writer-producer-author-speaker and foodie who operates out of Washington, DC but travels the world.

This week I produced and directed a fun shoot for an international education association. What might appear at first glance to be a simple studio shoot  was really a multi-tasking day that allowed us to gather multiple content streams at once, for later multi-purposing.  Here are some of the elements we shot in less than 8 hours:

-5 interviews with a Canon 300 Mark II camera

-Secondary/side angle of all interviews w/a Canon DSLR camera on a slider

-6 direct-to-camera reads of a brief :30 appeal

-BTS (behind the scenes) video and photos

-Samsung Gear VR footage of our setup

-Hyperlapse time lapse footage of our setup

-Smart phone photos and videos of our day on the set

And now here are all the outputs we can achieve for this client: 

-A short video about the association for their website combining the interviews,  BTS footage, and other existing content from the association

-Social media sharing content using the BTS photo and smart phone content

-A Facebook video campaign using the direct-to-camera content

-An Instagram video campaign using the direct-to-camera content

-Interview transcripts that can be mined for quotes for website and newsletter sharing

-VR and timelapse content that can boost social sharing

 

Planning For Multiple Content Streams

Of course, this all takes advanced planning. You can’t accomplish multiple outputs without having the right people on your production team. You need to have a designated BTS Photographer and ideally a separate BTS Videographer.  These roles are different, but can sometimes be combined as long as you are clear about what you need from each format. You will also need a DIT–Digital Information Tech–who can be offloading, ingesting and verifying your footage and photo media cards as you go, because you will need to keep using cards throughout the day.  That person will also be meta-tagging your shots so you can find what you need for quick turnarounds later. Again, this person could have another role such as production assistant, but you had better be darn sure they really know what they are doing when it comes to media management. On some shoots I rely on my director of photography (camera op) to do this job, but then you have to wait until the end of the day. This means you need to purchase more media cards up front, since you won’t want to “blow them away” until you have ingested, duplicated, and verified all your footage. For a multi-camera shoot like the one we did this week, I did not want to distract my camera guy with that task, so we had our BTS photographer do it because she is also quite experienced at this DIT role. She also pulled up all our footage in a laptop version of Premiere Pro, our NLE (nonlinear editing) platform, so that we could check our colors “in the real world”.

Designing Your Workflow for Spoken Word Content

You’ll also need a workflow plan for your Transcripts. I like to use a real, human transcriber for long interviews or anything involving speakers with accents.  The folks at Noble Transcription do a great job. If you live in a town with lawyers, you can find a transcription service! For quick interviews, Speechmatics is an AI platform that does a pretty nifty job. You might have to correct things like acronyms, which it isn’t good at recognizing. I then import my transcripts into PremierePro using Transcriptives, a new plug-in from Digital Anarchy. Transcriptives attaches speech elements to every clip from the interview, allowing you to build your script, output drafts that everyone can review on paper, and output your final captioning.

Archiving and Future-Proofing

Really, the future-proofing comes in the planning stage. I like to shoot everything in 4K these days. That gives me enough lattitude to compress content for small screen delivery without compromising quality. It also allows me to crop images to 2K, giving me the ability to add a second “angle” without moving my camera.   It also gives me enough color space and pixels to crop unusual specs like the awful Facebook vertical, while keeping high quality color and resolution for larger-screen delivery.  Future-proofing also means ensuring that you have permissions “in any and all media” from all your participants, so you don’t have to go back to them every time you change your output. You also will need to get the right licenses for any music or stock images you add into your final products.  As far as archiving goes, we really don’t know what the next digital medium will be, so the best policy is to save all your content in its highest quality form, without any added text or soundtracks. This will allow you to continue multi-purposing well into the future.

I’ll have a new LinkedIn Learning course on this subject soon, so watch this space for updates!