Shooting Multi-Camera Exteriors
May 26, 2015 by George Avgerakis
When moving a production from the cool, safe, dry studio to the great outdoors - in other words - exterior production, a greater element of risk is introduced. Exterior shoots require extra planning, above and beyond that of the studio due to four major factors: Space, Public, Light and Weather. These factors present huge risk-reward considerations and the wise producer calculates each with meticulous precision.
**Space: *Space, involves *what you are shooting (including the audience), the space around what you are shooting in which you will place your cameras, cranes, dollies, cables and personnel.
Look hard at the venue when it’s empty, during a location scout one or more days before the shoot. Try to imagine what it will look like full of people (both sober and inebriated), look for safe spaces that are out of the way, yet convenient to your production and above all defensible from theft and traffic.
Acquaint yourself with necessary areas for “equipment storage,” “central control” and camera positions.
Consider exactly what you will be shooting. Exteriors can include a simple shot of the outside of a house that will be used as an establishing shot for interior scenes, or it can be as complex as a football stadium or rock concert.
Once you know what you’ll be shooting you have to be able to “cover” it. One camera will rarely suffice. Consider how many cameras you will need and how they will be “mounted.” Cameras can be hand-carried, body-mounted (on a Steadycam for instance) on tripods or monopods, and usually supervised by a cameraperson; or they can be remote.
Wherever cameras are, their audio-visual signals (and that of any attached or separated microphones) are most often connected to a central switcher, either by wires (which must also occupy space) or by wireless (Wi-Fi) transmission.
JVC produces five cameras that are capable of streaming direct from the camera and with a Wi-Fi dongle, up to two such cameras (GY-HM200, GY-LS300, GY-HM650, 850 and 890) can be directly connected to the two live streaming inputs of the TriCaster. You may need to delay the remaining wired cameras, using a TriCaster utility in order to synchronize the faster wired signals with the Wi-Fi, but this gives you tremendous (and in the case of the economical GY-HM200) operational flexibility.
Public: If a crowd event, imagine the venue filling with people as some preliminary action takes place - for instance the band’s mike check. Where are the cars parking? Where are the crowds walking? Where is the band storing its gear or the football players working out? All of these issues are traffic concerns.
Traffic can affect your logistics. What if you need to send an assistant to get some needed equipment? Will it be possible to get a truck in or out, once the event begins?
Light: For the most part, large exterior events are either lit by the sun or by the event owner’s own lighting. Small exteriors, such as an establishing shot, may require you to bring your own lighting, but for brevity, we will not cover this matter here.
Find out where the sun will be in the sky during your shoot, ideally, at your back, but this might not be possible for all your cameras. In such cases, provide lens snoots or stand-mounted shades for your cameras to avoid ugly glare.
Night shoots are easier, assuming the event owner has adequate lighting. To find out, have the event owner turn on the lights during a night location scout. Consider if and how you will light the audience.
Does the color match from picture to picture in your test photos? The camera matching procedure is simple if you have a switcher with color correction built in (such as any of the TriCasters!).
Once you have all your cameras connected into separate buses on your switcher and you have at least one program monitor, check that all your cameras are working by punching each up, sequentially to the monitor and do a match-wipe test between house bars and each camera’s internal color bars. Switching the cameras back to “live,” the flesh tones of a person’s face should match on all cameras.
Weather: Obviously, unless your script calls for rain, wind or snow, these three elements will be difficult matters to control. Plan ahead to provide remote cameras with appropriate protection and your control center with a waterproof roof and three walls. On the other hand, such elements make sporting events (except baseball) more interesting. I’m a great fan of NFL Films’ Ed and Steve Sabol, who’ve created legendary images of football players in slow motion, brutalizing through mud, snow and rain to a driving music track with a gritty narration by John Facenda. Check out this: Old School: vs. New School:
Having gathered all your exterior location parameters, conceive of your production and tpre-produce as many production values as you can. If you are going to live-stream your production, your production value will soar if you can include professional graphics, transitions, effects, virtual sets and animation. All of these are pre-built in the TriCaster, of course, but you should not let the device drive your production.
Obtain a list of the players and create title graphics. If you have the opportunity, obtain photographs or video of the players. Use Adobe Photoshop (www.adobe.com) to compose interesting full screen, and partial screen personality graphics that include a picture, statistics, and both moving and still background elements.
Partial screen graphics are designed to superimpose over live video. For a live event, you may need to cover some boring time. Do this by inserting interesting player graphics.
You can also create 3D animations with team or band logos, such as a model of the playing field with animated players demonstrating how a key strategy is executed. You can even make a mock-up of a video game and who knows, even sell the concept. And you can do all of this very easily with Lightwave 10. But not, unfortunately, the night before the event. So plan ahead. If you want inspiration, watch the opening of this “Inside the NFL: Super Bowl” highlights film:
Don’t forget that a live narrator is a key production value. A good online switcher will have the capability of fading in and out of a narration microphone - you can narrate yourself, even while switching the show! If so, don’t leave yourself without a script. Anyone operating the switcher can then read the script to provide some “color commentary.”
Make sure you have one camera with a wide lens that can cover the entire event. That camera should be on “Video Bus 1.” You may also want to capture a recording from that camera for the entire event, regardless how the switched version goes out to “air.” In that case, isolate (“iso”) that camera by making sure you have enough recording medium in the camera. The wide angle “master” camera will allow you to edit the show freely, without worrying if you have every action covered. If iso’ing a camera, keep it wide continuously, so it never misses anything.
All your other cameras and mikes can be placed wherever you anticipate needing to cover something special. If it’s a rock band, have at least one camera on the lead singer and one on the drummer. If it’s football, have one camera in each end zone and a roving camera along each sideline, using the scrimmage markers as a point of reference. Baseball? Behind the plate and a long, long lens that looks over the pitcher’s shoulder. Got the point? Catch the key action. Use your best zoom lenses here to grab the dramatic close-ups. Employ camera operators with bodies like gazelles, who can run-and-gun quickly, throwing themselves to the ground to get low angles, jumping up on fences to look down on action: athletes themselves.
Microphones without cameras can also be used by one or two crew people to grab the screaming coach or the grunting lineman. Never forget that each camera can also provide an isolated audio feed that the TriCaster can separate and allow for all filtering, gain and effecting.
Never forget to ask the event owner to provide you with a “line feed” from the event’s own sound system. This level may not match your microphone level or phantom power parameters, so be sure to read your NewTek manuals to be able to adapt the line feed to match your own equipment.
A Note on Post-Production
You may choose to specialize in one form of exterior entertainment, such a jazz or soccer. If so, you will eventually build an library of what may become valuable, archival material. If you retain the rights, you can monetize your footage by creating interesting compilations like this one by NFL Films of the “Road to Super Bowl XXX (1996).” I chose this because in those days, games were played with real snow and rain, which makes the game so much more exciting.
And that’s the key to any exterior shoot - excitement.
Check out our other articles by George Avergerakis: