to Bruce Hornsby:
Students Produce Concert DVD
and DIRECTV Programs
stamina is a prerequisite for location production, and the Hornsby shoot
at Villa Montalvo was no exception in its demands. Crew call for the students
was set for 10 a.m. on the last Sunday in June, with Hornsby and his band
slated to take the stage that night at 7:30 p.m. and play for several hours.
With a 12-hour day already behind them, SFSU MSP Director of Intensive Programs Craig Abaya and his team would then sit down and evaluate the footage from the shoot. Abaya and director of photography Jarid Johnson would meet with the student crew the next day, to provide feedback and direction for the second night's shoot. "During the shows, I got five hours of sleep in three days," says Abaya. "Our motto was 'sleep is over-rated.'"
On Sunday, the first few hours on-site were devoted to set-up and testing of equipment, including the Clear-Com communications system that would enable the camera operators to stay in touch with Abaya and Johnson, who were serving as co-directors of the shoot. Abaya would be stationed at stage right to provide input and ready assistance if needed, while Johnson would keep an eye on the big picture and use the Clear-Com system to direct the camera operators from the back of the outdoor venue.
At the rear of the house, a Canon XL1S camera on a tripod was set up to record time-lapse footage of the day's activities, which would provide a dramatic high-speed look at the shoot preparations for a "making of" documentary on the concert DVD. Shooter Tai Nguyen would operate the camera during the concert. Its wide shot of the stage would provide a reference point for Johnson, who could view its output on a video monitor set up at the back of the house. The camera would also capture a time-lapse sequence of Monday night's teardown for the DVD.
The Galpin Cutter truck also provided the PARIS audio workstation that would record the pristine 24-bit concert audio directly to a pair of IBM DeskStart 120 GB hard drives. The Power Mac G4 system was outfitted with two 22-inch Apple Cinema Displays and PARIS Pro 3.0 with QuickTime. Engineers David Goldwag and Kevin Monahan set up the PARIS system near the 'front of house' mixing console, to take a direct feed from the console.
Shooting got underway during the late afternoon, with the crew capturing footage of the sound check and the tuning of Hornsby's signature grand piano. By then, sound technicians and band members were already wrestling with an issue that would persist throughout the evening: an elusive and distracting hum in the audio monitoring, which made it difficult for the musicians to hear each other.
During the sound check, Johnson visited each camera position and conferred with the camera operator, to establish the camera angles and shots they would be providing. "Typically, in a multi-camera shoot you have feeds from all the cameras running back to a control room, where you can see the cameras' output on video monitors," says Johnson. "This was more like a film shoot, since I couldn't see what the camera operators were shooting. I'd shown each operator the angle that I wanted him or her to cover, and shown them three or four shots to concentrate on, and they'd make the decisions about which shots to use."
As the doors opened at 6 p.m., assistant director Shelley Blockhus began a seemingly endless pilgrimage from camera to camera, to supply the shooters with fresh batteries and Sony Excellence videotapes. As Blockhus assisted the camera operators with re-slating at the head of each 60-minute tape, Johnson used the Clear-Com system to instruct other shooters to provide covering shots for the cameras that were temporarily out of commission.
With The Show
Downstage left in the pit, camera operator Matt Abaya captured keyboard player John "J.T." Thomas, along with Collier and Derryberry. From the audience, shooters Janene Case and Amy Spadacini also focused their cameras on Hornsby. Camera operator Marta Martinez captured the action backstage, while shooters Dave Hurley and John Gilmore gathered fan interviews and b-roll.
From a position at the back of the house, Johnson analyzed the action on-stage, using the Clear-Com system to alert camera operators to upcoming solos or changes in the music. With 13 years of experience shooting concerts at Shoreline Amphitheatre in the Bay Area, Johnson was well-versed in predicting the direction a song might take, by observing changes in lighting and the performers' movements.
"If you've shot a lot of music, you can tell when a guitarist is winding up a solo and when the song is moving into the next phase," says Johnson. "When a spotlight goes up on the sax player, you know there's going to be a sax solo. You can also look at body language and the way the band members interact. When a singer who's been standing in the background starts moving toward the mic, you know he's going to start singing soon."
"When we looked at the footage, we saw we needed to bump up the base light level, so that when the spotlights dimmed there would be a raised minimum light level," says Abaya. "We also didn't want high reds or blues in the spotlights, because we were seeing some haloing and loss of detail in the subjects with red or blue spots on them. And we decided to light the banners behind the stage, which would provide a more interesting background for shots."
Abaya and Johnson also wanted to see some changes in the camera-work on the second night. After evaluating the footage, Johnson pared down the camera operators' shot lists, encouraging each shooter to focus on two or three successful shots. At a production meeting early Monday afternoon, Johnson also instructed the camera operators to hold their shots longer, so that viewers could focus on Hornsby and his band, rather than the moving cameras.
"We needed to just let the shots roll without moving the camera much-to let the performers in the shots do their thing," says Johnson. "The camera operators needed to let the artists work and concentrate on showing the artists, by relying on a few good shots and holding those shots longer."
There were also several changes to the camera assignments. Camera operator Frank Sanchez was assigned to a new position downstage left, where he could set-up a tripod and shoot Hornsby full-on. Shooter Amy Spadacini, who had operated a roving audience camera, was assigned to shoot from a tripod-mounted position about halfway back in the house, providing audience P.O.V. shots of Hornsby and his band.
"We added a camera on-stage that was directly facing Bruce, which would give us another perspective and provide more options in editing," says camera operator Jenkins, who shot Hornsby from stage right in the pit on both nights. "With Frank's camera providing a straight shot of Bruce on the second night, I could do more close-ups-and I could concentrate more on showing the interplay between Bruce and the band members."
"In every way you can consider, Monday night was dramatically better -- the audio, the lighting, the camera-work," says Abaya. "The lighting on night two was beautiful, and everyone was shooting in more of a classic narrative style that was much better suited to the band. Bruce is a storyteller, so the cameras just needed to reveal the story being told, without a lot of dramatic camera movement."
When the performance drew to a close, the mentors and their students again crowded into the Galpin Cutter production truck, to capture footage from the shoot into the Final Cut Pro system and review their night's work.
"We picked one tape from each camera to load into the system, and everyone had gotten really great footage," says Jenkins. "The band was really 'on' that night, and the first night had given us the experience we needed to shoot them well. We were all exhausted, but it was great to see that the shoot had been a success and our work had come to fruition. It was a ton of work, but it was completely worth it."
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