2008 January 13th, 19:08
Filming a Play
I am considering filming a local play in a small theater. The theater is quite small (with the audience being about 3-4 feet away from the stage at the closest) and the stage is not raised. I am just contemplating the possibilities of getting good footage.
I realize that gathering the sound will be the hardest part, and all I have are the onboard mic and a cheap cheap audio technica atr-55. On the upside, I could be as close as probably 10 or 15 feet away, and it is not a musical.
I wanted to ask what you guys thought about filming several different showings of the play from different angles (with my one hv20) and cutting them together. I DO realize the amount of time it would take to edit this monster from 3 or 4 different shows, do you think it would be worth it? Would I possibly be able to match the audio enough to switch between the different nights without too much notice?
I'm just throwing this out there, and for context this wouldn't be like someone paying me to do this--it's community theater so there wouldn't be too much pressure to make things perfect. I would just like to have a good cut to distribute among the cast and crew a month or two later.
Thanks in advance for any input!
2008 January 13th, 23:34
Just so you know, this is a tough assignment: besides the difficulties of getting good audio, stage lighting which looks good to the dark-adjusted human eyes of the audience will be hopelessly under-lit for the camera.
If you have enough cable, hanging your mic directly over the stage can help some with the audio and if the lighting designer is amenable, you might be able to have them adjust the light cues brighter for the performance(s) you're shooting.
A variety of angles will definitely help keep things interesting when you're cutting; normally I'd try to shoot something like this with multiple cameras since sometimes the "energy level" of the audience and cast isn't consistent night-to-night. If that isn't an option, a big change in framing and camera position from one night to the next can help disguise the inconsistencies -- for instance, shoot from "house left" near the front and stay fairly wide one night, then shoot from "house right" and concentrate on closeups and MCUs the next. Being familiar with the play is a big help too, so you can anticipate where the important action is going to play out.
2008 January 13th, 23:46
Thanks for you input, I definitely know what you mean about switching up the framing. I thought I would try to use the first night to have a wide establishing shot so I can get a good feel for the play and then try to play to different characters in close on the other nights if possible. I tested the lighting while they were running rehearsals today and it was way beyond my expectations to be honest--doesn't seem to be a problem but I know you are talking in general.
The audio--a bit gruesome truth be told. The acoustics in the room were not pleasing to follow the vocals in, and were a bit echo-ish with the onboard mic from about 20ft. I don't have much to work with in the way of mic's as I mentioned, just my atr-55 and the onboard but it may be possible to lay a bit of cord to get the shotgun closer. I've heard though that long lines of the thin cable get a bit hissy.
Any more input from anyone would be much appreciated--I'm just trying to account for things that I might not have otherwise seen coming.
Thanks again, Erik
2008 January 14th, 06:52
I recorded a gig once with two cams, one for the establishing wide shot, and another roving close up. For audio, I plugged a minidisc right into the sound desk, and synced it up with the video in post. Maybe you can hide a minidisc recorder somewhere on stage to record the audio, or if they're mic'ed up, you can record the output from the desk?
2008 January 14th, 11:21
There are no stage mic's here, and I do have a minidisc recorder but I recently discovered that my model records only from line-level input....so no mic without a preamp (which i've recently discovered are outrageously priced). I thought it might work out well if I could get a zoom h2 and put it close to the stage and just let it run, but I'm not sure this shoot would merit spending the $200.
2008 January 14th, 11:35
The Zoom H2 is a good option but the mics are not very directional so you will pick up some audience noise. (OK for ambience) I have a H2 so I would buy a long(ish) 3.5mm plug to plug connector and use the Zoom to supply your camera sound.
I think it would be better to record the audio of one performance right to the end and use this as a sound track and lay the video clips on this. Syncing the voices would be difficult so have shots of the audience and wide angle of the stage to mask the adlibs and lack of sync in subsequent performances.
Ideal world scenario 3 cameras and a miked stage feeding to a mixer and recorder.
2008 January 14th, 12:33
Good idea about shots of the audience and stage to cover the sync issues!
I had another thought; I have a sanyo xacti hd1--the video quality is nothing I could ever try to cut with the hv20, but I may be able to sit it very near the stage in audio-recording only mode to get a backup soundtrack and maybe catch some of the lines better. Let me know what you think, the hd1 does have an external mic in, so would I be better off hooking up my mono but somewhat directional atr-55 instead of using the stereo onboard of the xacti?
2008 January 14th, 13:27
Can I just warn you that trying to sync up audio with the video of a different evenings performance is going to be near impossible. Let me rephrase that, it is possible, but it will look ridiculous. And mixing the footage of two evening's performances is any editor's nightmare. It's hard enough mixing footage between 2 cams of the same performance on the same night where the cams aren't electronically synchronized! Good luck with this project, and I'm very keen to see the final outcome.
2008 January 14th, 13:41
2008 January 14th, 14:05
ha ha, better cry now than put in all that work only to find out it doesn't quite work that way. Still, give it a shot, it's how we all learn. I'm just helping you to set your expectations accordingly.
Originally Posted by Jwymon
2008 January 15th, 11:59
As has been pointed out, trying to synch up sound from one night to another is a ridiculously tough thing to do. Don't do it.
Stage energy: A non-issue in my book. Sure, timing, pace, and energy can vary from one night to the next, but that will probably be unnoticeable when you cut the thing together.
Light: Your main issue is going to be setting exposure levels so that you can deal with different stage lighting levels as scenes change (unless it happens to be one of those plays done in a complete fresnel wash throughout). When the scenes go to very low light, you're likely to get gain and noise unless you adust for it. There really may be no option. Gain may be the only way to get certain shots. Shooting in 24p will improve the light sensitivity of the camera (so they say, I have yet to try it).
Another problem is that actors will move from one lighted area to another, and if your camera is trying to adjust for that, you'll get some odd and amateurish changes in exposure while they do. You'll probably want to lock exposure so this doesn't happen. If an actor moves from a brightly lit area to a dimly lit one, you're just out of luck. You'll have to adjust, but this is where shooting on multiple nights comes in handy.
If it were I, I would attend at least one dress rehearsal/tech performance and make a list of shots and manual exposures for those shots. Oh, heck, who am I kidding? You'll need more than one. I'd also make a list of shots I want as the actors move and speak.
Another lighting issue is color. Stage lights are almost always quartz-halogen globes focused by either a fresnel lens or in a Leiko-type spot. The problem is that they're usually gelled for color, so that a wash of fresnels will include both warm (Roscoe 03 or so) amber and cool blue light for the shadows. I'd do a manual white balance for the general look. The problem is when you go to a color wash. A bluish wash, for instance, is going to look very blue if you are WBed for something close to halogen and 3200k. If you are adjusted for something closer to daylight, then the warm amber stuff is going to look orange. So, during these tech/dress rehearsals, be sure to also note WB settings so you can move from cue to cue, and shoot test shots at various WBs and exposures to get a sense of how the footage will look on a screen.
Here's a tip. Tech rehearsals are often cue-to-cue, and a great deal of time is spent in getting light levels just right. When the techs have the levels where they want them, get the actor to hold up a gray card and zoom in on this from the distance you intend to take the shot. Get the exposure with your camera function and note the setting so that you can use TV priority to lock in exposure during the actual shoots on this scene. Alternatively, you can focus in on the flesh and then adjust your exposure with your zebras set at 70% until the highlights on the skin (forehead, upper cheekbones, etc.) show a zebra. That will be about right. Do the same with a white card (often the reverse side of the gray card) for WB.
Finally, stage lighting tends to give more contrast between shadows and light than video cameras like. But there's nothing you can do about that unless the cast is willing to do a special shoot with more light at a lower angle than usual.
Framing: As you watch rehearsals, give some thought to where it might be a good dramatic technique to shoot on main actor and drop another into the black background. Or even drop another shot of the main actor into the black background (though this is more common with musicals). Frame the shot to give yourself that blackness you can then use for a blend.
Sound: It sounds like a small theater with hard walls. Perhaps concrete. You're going to get echos unless you cover the walls with black fabric, which is expensive, time-consuming, and probably out of the question. A large audience will absorb some sound, so if you're hearing echos in rehearsal, they'll probably be toned down some during an actual performance.
The HV20's on board mic is just terrible with echos because there's way too much omnidirectional pick up. That's going to be a problem shooting, as well, because you're going to pick up audience whispering, chair noise, and the like which will be very distracting for the final product. Really, I'd rent a shotgun mic and see if you can get it covered by the company. It shouldn't be too expensive, and well worth the money.
There is a better and way-more-time-consuming solution. You can rent lavalier mics and wire the actors for sound, having their voices go to mp3 or wav recorders attached to them in some way. Lavaliers tend to screen out most ambient noise, which would mean you'd want to pick up audience applause and reaction with your HV20 mic and then cut it in in post. That's a ridiculously time and money intensive solution, and I mention only because it's an option some people might take. I'm not recommending it.
There is another option here. Just shoot the thing on automatic on various nights and let the chips fall where they may. If this is an amateur group, they probably don't expect much more than a record of the show.
2008 January 15th, 12:45
Wow what thoughtful insights, StuOS. It is encouraging to see the realistic drawbacks before I start this so I know what to expect. They are doing six shows, three this weekend and next. I'm going to go to at least one show this weekend and try to film at least two performances from next weekend (in hope that the performances will be even more polished by then).
I like the idea of charting the major shots and where I can get the best angles of the main actors. I'll know more about the lighting variation after I've seen a run through; but it's the Odd Couple, so I don't think there will be much change of scene/lighting.
Back to the sound...like I have stated, I have the low-end Audio Technica ATR-55, which is supposed to be pretty directional if not the best sounding. I"m not sure at all what kind of usable range I can get out of the mic though. If I am in the audience (15-20ft at the most) do you think it will be able to pick up the vocals reasonably? I would love to lav the major actors, but I believe even that would be pretty difficult. I could go the route of cheap lavs and mp3 voice recorders as you suggested, but it would be difficult to sync up 2 of those and the atr-55 I would think.
To that end, I think Taky suggested this type of recorder with a lav elsewhere:
I don't know if the actors would be up for being mic'd, but I suppose they probably wouldn't mind.
2008 January 16th, 12:00
First off, the fact that this is the Odd Couple simplifies things a lot. There is almost certainly a walled set, so there will be no black space that allows blending of various clips. No need to think about that. Secondly, I'm not so familiar with the script that I can be sure, but I think you're right that this thing is played almost entirely under a constant fresnel wash with constant light color. There may be a dark scene where someone walks in a room and turns on the lights. I don't know. But most of the play should be easy to shoot on a single exposure/shutter-speed combination.
The sound is just a bitch. 15 to 20 feet back means being even farther back from actors who are far upstage, near the set wall, or calling in from offstage (if that happens). Is this a thrust stage? Can you sit in the front row?
I just don't see any easy solution to the sound thing without shelling out major bucks and/or spending a lot of time in post synching up sound files. You may just have to live with what you get.
2008 January 16th, 16:39
Here is a 1-minute clip taken from an early rehearsal. Bear in mind that the front row chairs are in the frame because this was used for the actors to get a perspective of what the play will look like from the audience. Also, the lights were not totally finished at this point, so there shouldn't be dark areas as there are now.
This is the audio straight from the hv20's onboard mic, and quite frankly I'm not disappointed with it for what it is. I realize the audience will produce ambient noise which will not be conducive to good sound with the omnidirectional microphone.
Any thing worth mentioning?
2008 January 16th, 18:46
Any chanch you can get your Cam a bit higher to get over the heads of folks sitting in the front row - or is it OK to have their heads bobbing in the lower portion of your screen ?
Is there going to be any sound re-enforcement being used at all ? Or is it strictly acappella ?
If the players will be mostly congrated on that side of the stage, most of the time, would it be helpfull to shoot from the other side ?
Did you try out the Mic you said you have, to compare the sound ?
What the other's said about practice, sound, lighting, and editing.
Wish the last two variety shows I did, had been as simple as what you've got going there.
2008 January 16th, 19:16
I would definitely not have the audience in the shots at all. The chairs were only framed in the shot to give the rehearsing actors a point of reference of how close the audience really is when the reviewed the footage.
No stage/actor mics, strictly voice projection.
I am planning on shooting from 2 or 3 different locations throughout the run of the play so I can choose the optimal angles and framing for each scene individually.
Unfortunately, I haven't even tried the atr-55. I am hoping it will be able to get about the same level of sound quality while blocking out the audience much more effectively than the onboard.
Thanks for your thoughts as well.
2008 January 16th, 19:18
Also, I would like to get a couple people's opinions of the sound in that sample video. I know it's not perfect, but there are less echoes than I had expected--do you think I should go for better considering my application?
2008 January 16th, 21:12
Any time you can optimize your recorded sound, it's worth the try. IMHO
2008 January 17th, 11:37
Thanks for the video. That clarifies things.
Ask yourself this question: What do I really want out of this video? If what you want is simply a record of the play, then what you're doing there will do nicely. The sound is audible and clear. It's not high quality, but it will do. You will need to be in the front row, however, to avoid heads and the like, as stated by others.
If you want a slightly better record of the play, shoot from audience left and audience right on different nights and cut it together to give some different camera angles. If you want a slightly better record, shoot an additional night (or dress rehearsal) from dead center. If you want it even better, take some more nights and get close ups on people at appropriate times and cut those in.
I really don't see how you're going to improve the sound quality much without spending a fair amount of money and/or time in editing. Even if you were to go with the mp3 recorder technique, you're still going to get room tone issues that will require additional editing.
It seems to me that you want to turn out a quality product, but not spend weeks getting it just right, n'est pas? Go with the sound you have and hope there not too much coughing, muttering, chair sqeaking, audible whispering, and the like in the audience. If you want to minimize (but not eliminate) that sort of ambient sound, get a shotgun mic.