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Stage to Screen: Event Prep
Posted Jul 28, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Wading through the middle of my busy season of graduations and dance recitals, I realized much of my preparation for each event is second nature, and so I take it for granted. I've recently come to realize the problems this can create.
     One event that I regularly record was handed off to another shooter because of a scheduling conflict. It seemed like no big deal at first to pass off the job, until it took 20 minutes of instructions and two hand-drawn maps to prep him for the simple, one-camera shoot of a couple of high school choral groups.

While many of you are one-man (or woman) shows, eventually you will have to have someone else fill in for you because of a double-book, illness, or other unforeseen event. To prep for the inevitable, log your regular shoots, note things like camera placement, location of electrical outlets, entry location, parking, contact names and phone numbers, etc. Keep these lists on individual sheets or files for each event so when the time arises, you can make a quick copy or printout to hand off to your shooter, saving time and headaches.

I've also added to these lists peculiarities and specifics of the venues and events so less-seasoned shooters won't be caught off guard. Noting things like cast entry/exits, announcements (if any are to be made and if they need be recorded), and approximate length of the event will make things easier for your stand-in and make it more likely that the work will meet your expectations. Being mindful of how much preparation you've done to master a particular event and venue will help you recognize the things your stand-in will need to know to prepare adequately, as well.

Event prep is important for all of us. It will often set the mood for how a shoot will proceed. Take nothing for granted. Always bring backups for everything (at least what you will be using for that particular shoot). Formulate "Plan B" so you can implement an alternative method of taping if everything doesn't go your way. Some of you are able to do this on the fly, but many camera operators struggle with technical issues, especially under pressure. If you are recording a particular event for the first time and are hoping for repeat bookings, start taking notes.

So how do you prep for an event? Depending on your level of technical competence, it could mean attending the rehearsal, talking to the house manager, doing a walk-through of the event or a site survey, contacting the producers of the event for schedules, etc., talking to the lighting designer or light board operator (especially if you are doing theater) and the sound tech/engineer. Of course, the number of people you're dealing with will vary with the level of the production (amateur or professional) but could possibly include most of these people. Make friends with these people. They can help you make tweaks in lighting or audio, or even allow you access to areas not normally open to the general public.

Another key issue in event prep is how much time to allow. How early do you show up to set up and shoot an event? I usually find out when the house opens and calculate how long it takes me to set up and then add a small buffer for unanticipated problems. That way you are all set up when the audience starts arriving. Not only does it look more professional, it gives you "unwind" time. There's nothing worse than trying to shoot with fluid movements when you're trying to catch your breath after carrying in all your equipment and rushing around to get everything set up on time.

I also use this time to read the program or playbill. This is especially true for ballet, in that there is usually a synopsis of the program in plain English. It makes it easier for the uninitiated to understand the movements of the performance. One other thing that may slow you down is parking. Many venues, especially those in larger cities, have very restrictive parking and limited pick-up/drop-off areas. If you have a truck or pull a trailer, you may have problems. Be prepared.

Regardless of where they let you park, depending on the facility that you will be shooting in, getting your equipment in and out can prove difficult as well. If the only entrance available to you is the same as the one the general public use, you'll want to cart your gear in well before the audience arrives. Side/back doors eliminate this issue. If you are shooting in a commercial theater or convention/civic center, be aware that entry through "stage entrances" may require you to pay a portage fee to have union members bring your equipment into the building. Always find out if this fee comes into play before you enter into a contract with the producers of the show. If not, you may end up paying several hundred dollars (depending on the amount of equipment and their contract). Some facilities with union contracts will allow you to bring in your own equipment through the front door or public entrance.

Many venues require liability insurance for all vendors and may insist that you produce a certificate of coverage before granting you permission to enter and set up. If you have insurance, a simple call to your insurer can get you that certificate. Typical requirements are $1-2 million of liability coverage, depending on geographical locations and/or local regulations. If you don't have insurance, put down this magazine right now and get some. Without it, one unfortunate accident could cost you your business and more.

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