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Stage to Screen: Stage Manager
Posted May 30, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Assuming that you do have a business plan and for­mula for making a profit, the best way to succeed with stage productions is to provide a good product for the appropriate amount of money. Too many people are either not charging enough or providing too much product for what they charge. This tendency is a carry-over from the social event and wedding segment of the industry where you have a single client who is paying thousands of dollars for a top-notch product. 
    Stage production is based not just on the quality of your work, but also on the quantity of copies you sell. Production costs are spread over dozens, or even hundreds, of clients. The product is not used in the same way as a wedding or social event video, and should be created differently. If you produce the same type of product as a $2,000 wedding and sell it to 50 people for $30 per copy, you are losing $500 on the event, based on the work you invested.

So how do you produce a good product and make money without charging an arm and a leg? Cut costs. Here are some suggested areas for changing:

  • Minimize chapter stops and full-blown authoring on the DVDs. I use a standalone desktop DVD recorder, and set it to place automatic chapter stops every three or five minutes. Thus, DVD creation is real-time.
  • Cut back on packaging. Skip the standard Amaray DVD case. These are not only more costly but require an insert (with attendant costs for design, printing, and insertion), and if you are shipping your product, the full-size case costs more to mail. Instead, look at a polyvinyl jewel-style case. They are clear, so the art-work on the label shows through, and also virtually unbreakable.
  • Limit your editing. Proper recording techniques should leave you with only minor "clean-up" editing. Minimize your opening and ending graphics and text. People are paying you to see the recording of the show and not your expertise in creating opening graphics. When you watch a Hollywood movie, don't you fast-forward past the credits? Your customers will do the same. Reduce your credit-creation time by having your client provide you with an electronic version of the program or play-bill, then copy and paste that content into your NLE system for the credits. Saves hours in typing, as well as proofing for typos and accuracy.
  • Limit your backstage, rehearsal, and other pre- and post-production add-ons, unless you can add the expenses (recording and editing) to the selling price.

Another topic readers ask me about nearly as frequently is, where do I set up for this or that event? The simple answer: wher­ever you get the best shot. Seriously. If in question, attend a rehearsal with your camera (things always look different through a lens). Some suggestions for specific event types:

  • Most stage performances (plays, dance recitals, etc.) are designed to be viewed from dead center.
  • Concerts are not as critical but you still should choose a position from which you can see every performer.
  • Competitions, such as cheerleading, are best viewed from center and elevated (you have to "see" the people in the back row).

I love shooting from balconies. Not only do you have greater flexibility in choosing placement (in most cases), your view is unobstructed and you can get that "back row" shot very easily. And if you are lucky enough that you are the sole occupant of the balcony, you can save time by not having to tape your cabling!

Another common question has been how wide and close to shoot a given event. First, talk to the producers and find out what they are looking for and what is the final purpose of the recording. Is it archival, for the parents, instructional, or critique? This dictates some of the recording style.

Next, look at the way TV shows produce these types of events. They probably will use numerous cameras, but with a critical eye, you should be able to pick the best angle or angles. Scan your TV show guide at the beginning of the week to look for the type of show you intend to shoot. Record the show and take notes.

One issue that I see all too often is people jumping into this segment of the industry without a contract, then com­plaining that they lost their shirt. So many people start out doing stage events on "spec," hoping that they'll sell enough product to make a profit. This is not the way to conduct business. This usually happens when someone contacts you about recording their event, but they do not want the responsibility of hiring you, selling the copies, or (bottom line) paying your fee. If this happens to you, chances are those shoots will not produce a profit (as the producers probably know already). If you are practicing this method of business, stop now. If it means passing on some jobs, so be it.

Instead of shooting on spec or inviting similar risks, come up with a formula that takes into account the length of the shoot, the complexity of the setup, how many cameras, edit­ing, etc., then set a minimum number of copies to be sold. Then calculate either a total package price or a price per copy. Stick to that formula for all your productions. Consistency will make your life easier.

By setting your price level, you are showing profession­alism. You are running a business with overhead and expenses; you're not some freelancer shooting for beer money that probably will not be in business next year. Don't be afraid to pass on a few jobs. Enjoy the free time, instead of keeping busy working for free.

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