Stage to Screen: Summer School
Posted Jun 17, 2005

Here it is the end of the school year, and I hope everyone got to do a play, recital, or graduation over the last nine or ten months. If not, now is the time to start planning for the fall. In the meantime, let's make sure we're all up to date by answering the variety of questions I've been asked in response to the last several months' columns.

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently concerns copyright issues for stage event videography. Many of the scripts and scores of plays are rented and the rental terms often prohibit recording the production. This could range from an all-encompassing "no recording of any type" with more limited restrictions. The best advice is to look at the contract and discuss the terms with the renters of the manuscripts. You should have language in your contract that protects you from liability in any disputes that may arise from unclear or undisclosed restrictions on script rental. Some contracts do allow for actors to record their performance for self-assessmen; others will mention terms for limited distribution of a video. Some will have provisions for limited distribution, especially with younger students. Read their contract and make your own decision. The loophole here is that there are no restrictions for parents' videotaping their children. Because of copyright restrictions, many schools are resorting to variety shows, original plays, and other performances that are in the public domain. This means no restrictions on recording.

Another question that I've been asked more times than I can count is how to set up for audio. Audio is not a simple subject. What works in one venue may not work in another. The use of a particular microphone for a specific event may not work if a single variable is different during the next event. You'll usually do well following the tried and true practices of audio, such as mic'ing as close as possible, using room acoustics effectively, and always having a backup plan if, say, the house system fails. There are dozens of combinations of equipment that can produce good results. How do you find this "magic" combination? Experiment. Work with your clients. Attend rehearsals and use different types of microphones and vary the placement. This way you will learn the capabilities and limitations of your equipment, something that few videographers actually know.

Yet another common question is, "Where do I shoot from and with how many cameras?" The best I can do is to tell you how to analyze your situation to provide the best visuals. Position yourself dead center when possible. But not all events allow you to claim that ideal location or; in some there is no center, as in a fashion show. If the center doesn't hold, think of where you'd want to be to watch a program. Study TV, movies, etc. Watch them technically, look at the angles, lighting, anything that will instruct you as to how to the visuals were produced. Things that you may want to take into account are the amount of panning, focusing, light-level changes you'll be doing If you use a too sharp of an angle, you run the risk of dropping the focus when panning from one end of the stage to the other. Pans and zooms are usually discouraged, but with a single-camera event, they are mandatory if you want to mix closeups with wide establishing shots. Moderation is key and slower is better; mix them up whenever possible. Shooting live television, I've been taught that if you could see the pan, it was too fast. How many cameras depends on your budget. Remember, each camera requires an operator and adds that much more footage to edit, all eating away at the bottom line. So if you are selling 20 videos at $25 each, you shouldn't be thinking multicamera, live-switched.

There is no rule or guide to determine how much you should charge; there are just too many variables. Things like length of event, venue restrictions (setup, etc.), how many total videos you expect to sell (or contracted to sell), number of cameras/crew, regional/competition pricing, all factor in. No matter what you charge, you should look at your expenses, both direct and indirect, and charge accordingly. Most importantly, make sure that you are making a profit (after paying yourself, of course). After all, that is why we are in business. We've all taken on jobs for the sake of having that job, even if we merely broke even. This is one of the main reasons that so many videographers are going out of business or taking on supplemental jobs. They put more into their business than they are getting paid for. But, you say, if you give up a job just because it doesn't pay a ton of money, isn't that like shooting yourself in the foot? No, but it's better than working yourself to death. If this is the story of your business, you should be looking at the reason why you can only get low-paying shoots and correct that problem. If you're not making a profit and growing your business, then you aren't really in business. It's called a hobby.