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Setting the Stage Return to Bruce Hornsby:
Students Produce Concert DVD
and DIRECTV Programs
Preproduction planning for the shoot at Villa Montalvo began this spring, when SFSU MSP Director of Intensive Programs Craig Abaya assembled a team of mentors to shepherd his student workforce through production and post on the Hornsby project. The group included concert videographer Jarid Johnson, video producer Mark DeVito, multimedia producer Thomas Luehrsen and audio maven Kim Foscato.

"We planned this over a two-month period, which is amazing given the number of 'firsts' in this project," says Abaya. "This is the first time that a student project is being supported by major companies and readied for a major commercial release. It's the first major concert that's being shot on miniDV. There isn't a control room where the director can watch all of the cameras during the shoot. All of the paradigms for production have gone out the window."

Abaya and concert videographer Johnson took the lead on production planning, with Johnson concentrating on technical aspects of camera operation and lighting design, while Abaya brainstormed the camera placement and developed crew assignments that would showcase the strengths of his students.

Craig Abaya planning on his PowerBook G4.
Pre-production. See highlights of the planning process.

For audio, video and multimedia, the Mac is the logical way to go ...

Camera Mandate
Production called for 11 Canon video cameras, with six cameras on-stage during the concert to shoot musician close-ups, three cameras in the audience, one backstage camera, and a roving camera and crew that could move throughout the extensive grounds of Villa Montalvo. Before and after the concerts, each camera and its crew would also be assigned to gathering interviews or b-roll footage, which would be used in a 'making of' documentary for the DVD.

Abaya and Johnson chose the XL1S because its readily available controls made it ideal for the demands of live production. "A lot of digital cameras are menu-driven, and dialing through menus is tough in a live environment," says Abaya. "The Canon cameras are much more ergonomic. There's an iris dial right at your fingertips, which makes a difference. The XL1S has all of the buttons where and when you need them."

Videographer Jarid Johnson and Canon XL1S

See Jarid's concert shooting tips
Students and Canon XL1SDuring a series of meetings, Johnson briefed his camera operators on the Canon XL1S and provided real-world pointers on music video production, like the importance of wearing earplugs and kneepads. Johnson also wrote up detailed project notes and shooting tips, which he posted on a password-protected Website for the Hornsby project. Designed and maintained by Abaya, the extensive site includes creative, technical, production and contact details for the production and its participants, from crew lists and camera diagrams to QuickTime video clips of rehearsals and meetings.

To increase their expertise in music-video camerawork, the students reviewed long-form concert programming from artists ranging from Nine Inch Nails and U2 to Neil Young, Woodstock, and The Who. To familiarize themselves with the venue for their upcoming gig, the student crew convened at Villa Montalvo in early June, to shoot a concert by the jazz group Guitars and Saxes. And to expand their insight into Hornsby's music and musicianship, the MSP students had the chance to listen to an advance copy of "Big Swing Face."

Sound Designs
Pristine audio quality was a top priority for the project, which was slated to be mixed down for both stereo and 5.1 channel Surround Sound. The production team also established an ambitious technical mandate for the concert: to capture the event audio directly into a CPU, rather than relying on audiotape as its primary recording medium. All audio would be recorded to a Power Mac G4 as well as TASCAM DA-88 digital audio tapes.

At the back of the venue, a Power Mac G4 running E-MU/ENSONIQ PARIS Pro would be set up to accept 24 to 48 audio inputs directly from the stage box, which takes microphone and line inputs from vocalists and instruments and feeds those signals to the 'front of house' and monitor mixing consoles. The G4 would be fitted with two Apple Cinema Displays, so that 48 audio tracks could be monitored simultaneously.

To edit the footage for the DIRECTV and DVD releases, the finished audio mix would be imported into Final Cut Pro 3, which would be used to edit concert, interview and documentary sequences. For the DVD release, the edited video sequences would be combined with interactive menus in DVD Studio Pro.

On The Fly
Shooting Bruce and the Band during rehearsal.Despite their meticulous planning, Abaya and his students would face some real uncertainties when Hornsby and his band took the stage at Villa Montalvo. A renowned improvisational musician, Hornsby invariably performs without a set-list, so the students would be working without the blueprint for most concert productions.

"Bruce plays off the feel of the audience, the band and the mood of the evening," says Abaya. "It's a jam-band mentality that's very daring and exciting. We wanted the students to be able to feel what was happening and go with it because even when you have a set list, you have to be prepared to improvise."

In addition to the artistic challenge, Hornsby's performance style also presented a logistical problem for the crew. On every camera, videotapes and camera batteries would need to be swapped out on a regular basis throughout the shoot though there were no planned breaks during Hornsby's performance. Assistant director Shelley Blockhus would take responsibility for managing an inventory of some 60 batteries and more than 200 tapes, and for keeping operators stocked with fresh batteries and tape stock throughout both nights.

"It's a little daunting, but we understand the way Bruce performs, and we respect his artistic process," says project producer Lana Posner of Poskat Enterprises, Inc. "We may run into some snags and wind up missing something one night, but with two nights, our hope is that we'll be able to capture the essence of the performance. It's definitely going to keep the students on their toes."

Return to Bruce Hornsby:
Students Produce Concert DVD and DIRECTV Programs

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