Welcome to the May issue!
This month, I pass along some thoughts about what to do when one camera just isn’t enough to record a legacy video interview.
I hope you enjoy this issue of the Family Legacy Video® Producer’s e-Newsletter. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone toll-free (888.662.1294) with any questions or comments you have.
Cheers! – – Steve Pender
Tips for multi-cam legacy video shoots.
The majority of the video biography interviews I’ve conducted over the years have been of the “one-on-one” variety; basically me having a conversation with a single storyteller. Before the advent of less expensive cameras like DSLRs, I shot these interviews with a single camera, changing focal length from close-up, to medium shot, to wide shot, from question to question in order to provide some visual variety. Lately, I’ve been using two cameras for these single interviews, with one camera set for a wider shot and the other focused in for a close-up. Doing so gives me more options in the editing room, especially when I don’t have many visuals to work with.
I’ve found a minimum of two cameras to be a must when I’m interviewing two people, like a married couple. But once in a while, like with a recent video biography shoot in California, I need more than two cameras to do the job. In this instance, the storytellers were three family elders. I’d already interviewed each of them separately on preceding days, but on the final day of our shoot, they gathered in a group to answer questions posed by their family. So we turned their living room into a four-camera video studio, with one camera set for a wide “master shot” showing the entire group, and the remaining three cameras assigned to one storyteller apiece.
As you can imagine, the more cameras you add, the more complex the shoot and postproduction become. Here are some things to think about if you decide to dip your toes into multi-cam waters.
MATCH YOUR CAMERAS
Differing brands and types of cameras have different looks. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time color correcting and matching cameras in post, do your best to make sure the cameras you use are all the same make and model. At the very least, use the same kinds of cameras for all your single storyteller shots. Using a different camera for the wide shot will still require some matching in editing, but less so than having to match a greater variety of cameras.
CHECK YOUR ANGLES
Pick an initial spot for each camera, and a spot where you’d like the interviewer to sit. (I try to place myself as close to the center of the camera array as possible.) Then, have folks sit in each of the chairs and see how they look when they turn their attention to each of the other storytellers’ positions, toward their own cameras, and then to look toward the interviewer’s chair. Adjust the positions of chairs and cameras until the angles are as pleasing and natural-looking as possible. Then turn your attention to lighting. I won’t go into lighting here, except to say that lighting a group like this presents technical and creative challenges above and beyond those posed by lighting a single storyteller. So you and your clients will be best served by hiring someone with lighting expertise, as well as the proper gear.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE BACKGROUNDS
Arrange the items in the room to create a pleasing background behind your storytellers. Keep in mind that, because of the differing camera angles, the backgrounds in each of the single shots will vary. So make sure the backgrounds in each angle compliment the storytellers. Before you start recording, take a final and very critical “housekeeping” look at the shots. You don’t want to get the footage back to your studio only to find that an equipment case, light stand, electric cable, or other gear is visible within the frame.
SEPARATE MICROPHONES, PLEASE
Do not rely on the microphones on your cameras to pick up quality sound. Camera mics are notoriously poor, and your cameras will be too far away from your storytellers to give you the presence you need. When you’re shooting multiple subjects, each should have a lavalier (lapel) microphone. You’ll need to connect the microphones to a digital audio recorder, or run them through a mixer that will then feed the audio into at least one of your cameras. I prefer recording the storytellers to separate audio tracks and then mixing the tracks during postproduction. This gives me the greatest control over the sound. I mainly use the camera microphones for recording reference audio I can use to synchronize the audio files from the digital recorder to the picture.
Of course, the greater the number of storytellers, plus the more cameras you use, equals generating many more video and audio files than you would with a single storyteller interview. That, of course, presents greater challenges in post, which is a subject for another day!
– Steve Pender
“The Legacy Video Lounge” podcast update.
In April, the podcast focused on the benefits of video biographies for both storytellers and their families. May podcast episodes will talk about audio biographies and will feature “on the road” interviews with Family Legacy Video’s ace cameraman and soundman, who will talk about the do’s and don’ts of legacy video production!
You’ll find the podcasts here.
Be sure to subscribe!