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Last-Minute Pivot

In 2021, are you ready to pivot? This is a BTS still of our recent live stream fundraiser for Children Read more...

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Editing Video With LumaFusion 3.0

Depending on how experienced and entrenched you are in video editing, you may or may not have heard of or Read more...

The post Editing Video With LumaFusion 3.0 appeared first on HD Video Pro.

A Look At Blackmagic Design’s July 2021 Product Update

Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design, hosted a product update this week, introducing two new cameras, four new HyperDeck Recorders Read more...

The post A Look At Blackmagic Design’s July 2021 Product Update appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Should You Shoot RAW Video In 2021?

New camera and recorder combinations like the Sony A7 SIII paired with the Atomos Ninja V allow for low-cost RAW Read more...

The post Should You Shoot RAW Video In 2021? appeared first on HD Video Pro.

A Location Sound Primer for Camera Ops, Videographers And DPs

Location Sound Primer

With the increasing contraction of budgets and increased expectations of clients for high-quality sound, are you being asked to include Read more...

The post A Location Sound Primer for Camera Ops, Videographers And DPs appeared first on HD Video Pro.

2021’s Top Three Hybrid/Digital Cinema Cameras Under $6,000

2021 has been a beehive of activity by camera makers in a race to offer the most innovation and features Read more...

The post 2021’s Top Three Hybrid/Digital Cinema Cameras Under $6,000 appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Mini Review—Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro 12K

The URSA Mini Pro 12K is a truly groundbreaking camera that counts several unique features that set it apart from Read more...

The post Mini Review—Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro 12K appeared first on HD Video Pro.

BirdDog Eyes P200 + PTZ Keyboard Camera Package

BirdDog Eyes P200

The BirdDog Eyes P200 is a state-of-the-art NDI-enabled PTZ camera that’s perfect for live stream and other PTZ work. I Read more...

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Planning Versus Reacting—A Video Producer Primer

A view of the main interface of one of our VMix Live systems switching a graduation ceremony. While I’ve been Read more...

The post Planning Versus Reacting—A Video Producer Primer appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Fringer EF-FX Pro II Lens Mount Adapter—A Mini Review

The Fringer EF-FX Pro II Lens Adapter allows you to easily and quickly mount Canon EF and EF-S mount lenses Read more...

The post Fringer EF-FX Pro II Lens Mount Adapter—A Mini Review appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Production Design Makes It

A BTS still from a recent live Internet Broadcast I produced that utilized some sophisticated production design. Have you delved Read more...

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The New Hybrid Event

A shot of the 10,000 square foot stage that we utilized recently to produce a new type of event, a Read more...

The post The New Hybrid Event appeared first on HD Video Pro.

The Aputure C300D MKII COB Light In Use

The Aputure C300D MKII is the second-generation refined version of the light that kicked off the COB LED revolution, the Read more...

The post The Aputure C300D MKII COB Light In Use appeared first on HD Video Pro.

On Being A Good Interviewer

A BTS still from a live interview in front of a studio audience. Being an effective interviewer means that you Read more...

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Lighting With Big Sources

Lighting with big sources can give your images a quality that simply isn’t possible with smaller sources. A BTS photo of a reality show set I lit with large sources. Recently, I had a chance to do something in production that I haven’t had a chance to do since quarantine began. I was able to Read more...

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Mirrorless Cameras For The Pro Video Shooter

Sony’s new flagship mirrorless camera is the Alpha 1. The a1 has a 50.1-megapixel full-frame stacked Exmor CMOS. Its image processing is 8 times as powerful as other Alpha cameras thanks to the latest BIONZ XR processor. It’s capable of shooting 8K 30p 10-bit 4:2:0 XAVC HS video with 8.6K oversampling. It can also shoot Read more...

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Have You Ever Fired A Client?

Production is more than just shooting or post production, it’s also about the relationships you have with your clients. BTS on a shoot at a popular department store for a charity client. Instead of writing another blog entry about technology, it felt like this entry was a good time to talk about the ugly truth Read more...

The post Have You Ever Fired A Client? appeared first on HD Video Pro.

The Great Camera Divide Is Growing

New cameras like the Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 12K that boast innovative new sensor technology as well as the highest resolution available for less than $10,000? It must be the Great Camera Divide of 2021! Have you noticed it yet? The great camera divide. What exactly do I mean by the term, “the great Read more...

The post The Great Camera Divide Is Growing appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Is Crew In A Box Coming For Your Job?

In our work, we’ve used cameras like Panasonic’s AW-UE150K PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) for the past couple of years. Have we even used them in place of a live camera operator? In 2021 and forward though, does this even matter? What about a box that replaces the entire video location crew? The problem has been Read more...

The post Is Crew In A Box Coming For Your Job? appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Pro Video Gear

2020 was an unprecedented year for video professionals both in terms of the disruption to our industry and the technology available to us. The new production tools introduced this year have been unexpectedly groundbreaking, and we’re excited to highlight what we think are the most interesting and helpful tools for video and filmmakers. We’re going Read more...

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Staying Afloat And Pivoting In 2020

I’ve managed to stay afloat in 2020 by shooting and livestreaming a variety of new types of work that I’ve never produced. This is a still from a live stream for WE Spark, A Children’s Cancer Charity hosted by comic Alonzo Bodden. When you hear the phrase “Staying afloat,” what does that mean to you Read more...

The post Staying Afloat And Pivoting In 2020 appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Using Texture In Your Backgrounds

Are you on the lookout for interesting texture to build into your backgrounds? For some of you, this will be old news. For others though, the thought of using texture in your backgrounds is a new one. Let’s talk about the challenges introduced by creating interesting backgrounds for your interviews and narrative scenes—really any kind Read more...

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Understanding The Four Levels Of Professional Livestreaming

I recently wrote a post on HDVideoPro’s blog in which I divided professional livestreaming into four tiers. For me, this exercise is an effective way to examine not only what livestreaming is but also who the clients are for this service and what kind of gear, skills and creativity you need to succeed at that Read more...

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Wireless Sucks

Is wireless transmission an obstacle or an effective tool for video and sound professionals? Why the Rant On Wireless Transmission? While I’m not going to say that this blog entry is an attack on wireless, though it may seem so from the title of it, I’ll state that in my experience, especially over the past Read more...

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Review: Audio Design Desk

Audio Design Desk is a groundbreaking, sophisticated tool that changes the paradigm about how to perform sound design quickly. As many filmmakers and content creators know, sound design is a very significant aspect of how engaging your content is to your audience. But right now, in 2020, the pandemic and its negative effects on the Read more...

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Lighting For Beauty And Fashion Video

I lit actress Lauren Graham using clamshell lighting for this Netflix promo spot. While it wasn’t exactly a beauty spot, I utilized beauty lighting to make Lauren look her best, since this was for a big announcement about her new series. Interviews are one of the most common threads that unite video shooters and cinematographers, Read more...

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Building A Travel Audio Recording Toolkit

When you travel and need to shoot on location, it’s helpful if you’ve assembled a capable yet streamlined travel audio recording toolkit.

For those outside the filmmaking business, video is often regarded as purely a visual medium, for obvious reasons. But those of us who actually create films understand the importance of audio in a project and how it can be as essential as the visual components of a production.

It’s why this Audio Assist column focuses on creating your own audio recording toolkit. And not just any audio toolkit, but one small enough and lightweight enough to take on the road with you.

It’s important to note that building any on-location travel audio recording toolkit will depend on the types of shoots you support. So, for instance, some of you might need to choose additional or different gear. I’ve attempted to make this toolkit compact, lightweight, affordable, capable and, most importantly, flexible, so that it might be used to record sound for a variety of projects, including narrative, documentary, corporate, event or reality television. Additionally, I wanted the kit to be able to work on its own or when it’s combined with other components. 

But Do You Actually Need A Travel Audio Recording Toolkit?

Before we begin, some projects might not need an audio kit at all. In some cases, the audio features of your camera may be good enough. But you need to research which camera you’ll be using, since on-camera audio recording wildly varies when it comes to recording sound. Some are decent and usable, but many record audio with terrible sound quality.

For example, an inexpensive mirrorless hybrid, DSLR or prosumer type of video camcorder won’t generally produce great quality audio. Often, even if the camera has a mic input, it’s going to be a plastic, 3.5mm stereo input.

It’s also typical for these cameras to feature low-cost, low sound quality microphone pre-amps and, in many cases, especially in the sub-$1,000 range, the overall audio chain may be substandard, producing audio with tinny, limited dynamic range and a poor signal-to-noise ratio. The plastic inputs themselves often become loose or break with repeated use. Many low-cost cameras don’t even have a headphone jack to allow you to monitor what the camera is recording.

Interestingly, many higher-end cameras also have substandard audio but for different reasons: In high-end cameras, it’s assumed that every sound shoot will have a sound mixer, recording high-quality sound into an external recorder. Most high-end cameras have audio inputs simply for recording scratch audio, nothing more, so the audio circuitry typically isn’t great, either.

Ironically, I’ve found that mid-level cameras like the Sony PXW-FX7 Mark II, the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, Canon EOS C200 or Panasonic EVA1 often have better sound quality than more expensive, higher-end cameras (models that cost over $50,000).

It’s why even the most inexpensive audio recorders have superior sound to even the best-sounding camera. And the good news is that there are a lot of choices for audio recorders for location sound. Almost all of them have at least good sound, and the majority of them sound great, especially when compared to camera audio.  

Travel Audio Recording Toolkit
For some projects, recording in-camera sound will suffice, provided the camera has high-quality microphone pre-amps and good-quality sound recording capabilities. The Sony PXW-FX9 is an example of such a camera that offers such high-quality in-camera audio recording.

Recorders And Recorder/Mixers

Since we are assembling a travel audio recording toolkit, we’re going to keep the priority on size and weight. No matter how you travel, the smaller the size and lighter the weight, the better.

We are also going to prioritize for just a small amount of microphone inputs; usually, three or four microphone inputs are adequate for a travel recorder, but not always. There are plenty of recorder/mixers on the market with 10 or more channel/inputs, but most of these units are physically larger and heavier than the smallest units on the market.

I’ve tested both of the recorder/mixers featured below. They’re both excellent choices for assembling a small, lightweight location sound recording toolkit, although each has its advantages and disadvantages. Research which features matter most to you: You get more channels and inputs on the Zoom, but the Sound Devices unit has 32-bit floating point audio recording, which allows you to dramatically recover or change audio levels after recording.

Travel Audio Recording Toolkit

Travel Audio Recording Toolkit
The Zoom F4 features four TRS/XLR line/microphone inputs.
  • Zoom F4 ($549): The Zoom F4 is a sound-bag-friendly, multi-track field recorder with look-ahead limiters for distortion-free 24-bit audio and up to 6-input/8-track recording for filmmaking and video content creation. It also has headphone and balanced-line outputs, precision time code and sync features, versatile multi-track modes and Ambisonics support for VR/AR/360 audio.

The Sound Devices MixPre-3 II features 32-bit floating point audio recording and offers two XLR inputs on one side and a single XLR input on the opposite side of the unit.
  • Sound Devices MixPre-3 II ($680): The MixPre-3 II is a three-channel/five-track multi-track field recorder that can record up to three tracks of external sources, plus a stereo mix at up to 32-bit/192 kHz while monitoring your audio headphones. It records at 32-bit floating point audio to an internal SD card and can serve as an audio interface capable of 32-bit floating point streaming over USB to a Mac computer. It also comes with Kashmir analog mic pre-amps, Bluetooth for wireless control via the Wingman mobile app, a built-in time code generator and Bluetooth control.

Boom Microphone

Your primary microphone in your kit will usually be one of two types of boom microphones: A shotgun microphone or a cardioid microphone.

For recording exteriors and outdoors, you’ll obtain the best results with a shotgun microphone, since it rejects more off-axis noise than most other microphone types. For reflective interior environments, a cardioid, hyper-cardioid or super-cardioid microphone will work best, since it will pick up fewer room reflections.

The Røde NTG5 is an excellent value since it not only sounds very good but also includes a full accessory kit.
  • Shotgun Microphone: Røde NTG5 Moisture-Resistant Short Shotgun ($499): Røde’s NTG5 moisture-resistant shotgun microphone lets you capture natural, uncolored sound indoors or outside for your next indie film, TV shoot or documentary project without weighing down your kit. It sounds very good and ships as a kit with a microphone mounting system and wind protection, elevating it from just a great mic to a great mic kit for under $500.
The Audix SCX1-HC has similar sound characteristics to the industry standard, but considerably more expensive Schoeps CMC-641 mic.
  • Cardioid Microphone: Audix SCX1-HC Studio Condenser Microphone—Hypercardioid Polar Pattern ($499): If you will mostly be shooting interiors, the Audix SCX1-HC is an outstanding value. Its hypercardioid polar pattern will record fewer standing room reflections than a shotgun would. It’s also fairly neutral, rendering sounds as your ears hear them for a natural, open sound. The package includes an external foam windscreen for reducing wind, sibilance and pop noise, a nylon molded snap-on clip and a foam-lined wooden case. You can also buy an accessory shock mount for an additional $39.

Boompole

For travel, you’ll have a better experience using a shorter, smaller and lighter travel boompole, unless you specifically need to boom talent in a wider shot, which requires a longer boompole.

The K-Tek KE79CCR Traveler is a small and lightweight travel boompole that fits into most check-in baggage and extends to almost 7 feet long.
  • K-Tek KE79CCR Traveler Aluminum Boompole With Internal Coiled Cable ($266): I purchased the KE79CCR boompole for a documentary shoot in Brazil. I was traveling alone and needed a small and lightweight pole for simple sit-down interviews. The K-Tek has performed very well over the past two years. Fully extended, it reaches nearly 7 feet and is long enough for most sit-down interviews. When collapsed, it’s small enough to fit into my suitcase, so I eliminate the need to bring a separate boompole case.

XLR Cables 

I recommend traveling with four to six 25-foot XLR cables, depending on how many microphones you plug into your recorder. Even if you are only using a boom and a lavalier for interviews, it’s smart to bring a couple of spare cables.

I’ve found buying shorter 10-foot to 15-foot cables can save a bit of weight in your travel kit, but the times I have traveled with only shorter cables, I have regretted not bringing longer cables. I also like to have four different colors so that you can assign one color to a boom and one to lavs, and you can easily tell them apart.

The Kopul Performance 3000 XLR cables come in several colors and are heavy duty and not too heavy.
  • Kopul Premium Performance 3000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable ($16)

Lavalier Microphones

It’s always a good idea to have a subject double miked in case one microphone has a technical problem. In such cases, you have a backup. And lavalier mics are great for recording a second channel on talent.

One question you’ll need to ask yourself—do you need to bring wireless lavaliers? One thing to consider for your travel kit is this: If you can avoid wireless lavaliers, you will typically end up with better-quality sound if you can avoid using any wireless microphone systems.

If you are only shooting sit-down interviews or seated stationary talent in other shooting styles, use a hard-wired lavalier, not a wireless system.

But many types of shoots really require a wireless lavalier system. Walk and talks, talent moving through a scene, gimbal work with dialogue, and, of course, there are dozens of other scenarios where wireless lavaliers are necessary.

Wired Lavalier Systems: If you mostly shoot sit-down interviews with your travel kit, skip using a wireless lavalier system. You’ll save money, batteries, weight and bulk, too.

The Sanken COS-11D is an industry-standard lavalier microphone that cuts well with most popular shotgun microphones.
  • Sanken COS-11D Miniature Omnidirectional Lavalier Mic with XLR Output ($469): This omnidirectional lavalier mic is intended for professional speech capturing in sound reinforcement, presentation, theatrical, broadcast and recording applications. Its miniature capsule yields a wide frequency response, omnidirectional polar pattern.

Wireless Lavalier Systems

Here are three wireless options for lavalier microphones:

The Lectrosonics L Series ZS-LRLMb Camera Mount Wireless Omni Lavalier System is a top-of-the-line professional wireless lavalier system.
  • Lectrosonics L Series ZS-LRLMb Camera Mount Wireless Omni Lavalier System Microphone System ($2,399): This model is a camera-mounted wireless microphone system that offers filmmakers, journalists and videographers a set of advanced features designed to deliver flexibility and broadcast-quality sound for professional ENG and video productions. If you speak with professional sound mixers, Lectrosonics is considered the industry-standard wireless lavalier, and for good reason. It offers the longest range (UHF) and greatest consistency. The products are pricey. However, if you have the budget for it, you won’t regret buying a Lectrosonics system.
The Sennheiser EW 512P is a popular UHF wireless lavalier system that offers greater range than other Sennheiser lavalier systems.
  • Sennheiser EW 512P G4 Camera Mount Wireless Omni Lavalier Microphone System ($899): The rugged EW 512P G4 combines a wide 88 MHz bandwidth with 3,520 frequencies and an RF output level up to 50 mW for a clean transmission and broadcast-quality sound. The Sennheisers are regarded as good-quality, mid-range (UHF) lavalier systems. The EW 512P G4 won’t have the same range or features as the Lectrosonics system, but it is much more affordable.
The Deity Connect is a two-channel 2.4GHz diversity wireless lavalier system with a lot of pro features at a very reasonable cost.
  • Deity Microphones Deity Connect Dual-Channel True Diversity Wireless System ($669): Unlike the Lectrosonics or Sennheiser systems, both of which are UHF, the Connect operates in the 2.4GHz frequency. The other big difference is, the Connect offers two channels, with two transmitters and a two-channel receiver for less than $700. The 2.4GHz system has slightly more latency than the UHF systems and not as long range but may offer perfectly acceptable results in many line-of-site situations.

Audio Bag

You’ll generally need an audio bag to use with your travel kit. It’s great to keep your mixer/recorder safe and secure while traveling or shooting. You’ll also keep your options for powering your recorder mixer and possibly powering wireless microphone receivers in the bag as well. Here are two bags to consider:  

The Porta Brace AR-F4 Case is custom-designed to hold not only the Zoom F4 Recorder but also wireless receivers and other accessories.
  • Porta Brace AR-F4 Custom-Fit Cordura Case for the Zoom F4 Recorder ($189): The Porta-Brace AR-F4 is a portable case made specifically for the Zoom F4 recorder, giving you an abrasion-resistant 1000-denier Cordura nylon construction, as well as two rigid frame panels to ensure protection.
The K-Tek Stingray MixPro is designed to hold the smaller MixPre-3 II and MixPre-6 II recorders.
  • The K-Tek Stingray MixPro Audio Bag for MixPre-3 II ($190): The K-Tek Stingray MixPro Audio Bag is designed for Sound Devices’ MixPre-3 and MixPre-6 recorders as well as a couple of wireless systems, NP-1 batteries and various accessories.

Miscellaneous Accessories

There are many audio accessories to fine-tune your travel audio recording toolkit to your specific needs.

One to consider is power options: If you have a location sound audio bag, either solution provided here gives you enough room to include an optional add-on battery or BDS (Battery Distribution System) to power every accessory and recorder in your bag.

Another accessory you might need is a Bluetooth or WiFi solution for wirelessly distributing your time code if you can’t run a BNC cable from the recorder to camera.

The components and options we’ve assembled here will result in a high-quality, pro-level travel audio toolkit that can be modified in countless ways to support larger shoots with more cameras, more microphones and more accessories. For example, you might introduce IFB systems to send your sound to the director wirelessly if the director isn’t you or you need to have clients or other crew monitor the sound as well.

What’s convenient is that the components I suggest for your kit are small and lightweight enough to fit into a camera bag or backpack, too, and offer you audio capabilities that just a few years ago would not have been available in such a small size and economical price.

The post Building A Travel Audio Recording Toolkit appeared first on HD Video Pro.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be felt for years. It has especially hit the production and entertainment industries hard as most traditional production has been at a standstill since March 2020. 

The Economic Impact Of The Pandemic On Us

I’m a video production person. I’ve been involved in digital cinema and before that traditional video production for quite a while. Since the great Pandemic of 2020, many of us have been looking at what we can utilize our skill set for to keep our heads above water during these trying times. Traditional television and film production began shutting down here in Hollywood beginning in March of 2020. So far, it hasn’t returned to any level of critical mass as of this summer. I have a few colleagues and fellow crew who have been lucky enough to get back to work, at least at some level, but I’d estimate at least 60 percent or more of my colleagues in my circle haven’t worked at all in production since March. They’ve been surviving on savings, PUA and UI money and possibly taking the odd side gig like driving an Uber or Lyft or working at an Amazon warehouse facility. Times are tough and they don’t look to be significantly improving for the remainder of the year and well into next year.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
A small shoot my production company did with Olympic Snowboarding Gold Medalist Chloe Kim at Milk Studios in Hollywood, California.

My Story

I’ve owned a small production company for about 20 years. We’ve seen all of the huge changes that have rocked our industry over the past few years. We’ve survived, but it hasn’t been easy—at all. Even with hard work, intelligent and logical strategy, the occasional far reach and taking chances to be a market disruptor in our small niche of entertainment marketing, documentary and corporate films, each year it has become more and more difficult to just survive, much less to thrive.

It’s a strange paradox that as video and digital cinema grows in popularity, streaming services compete with the traditional studios and then dominate them in the market and corporate media grows and more clients look at video as a necessary part of their business strategy, it’s become continually more difficult to make a living in this business. Part of it is simply the inevitable march toward the tools needed to create high-quality video or digital cinema are close to free. Either directly or indirectly, this phenomenon has affected all of us in production for the past 10 or so years at an increasing level each year.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
A colleague and me producing a live stream multi-camera event utilizing Live Stream Studio at Vanguard University in Cost Mesa, California, earlier this year.

Wait, I’ll Just Start Selling Live Streaming… 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I have a lot of different friends and colleagues in production. It just happened that in January, right before the pandemic really hit the U.S. and kicked into high gear, a friend of mine who I‘ve worked with here and there for about 15 years owns a live streaming company. He’s been in the business for the past decade so he’s the “old hand” at live streaming. Even though I haven’t worked in live television for such a long time, it was enjoyable to TD (technical direct) a live multi-camera event for my friend’s company in January. As the Pandemic loomed over us in February and then into March, my friend and I were in touch every few days. I had a sizeable chunk of shoots that were scheduled in March outright cancel as quarantine came in. I lost about $15,000 worth of booked projects in March and another $10,000 in April from clients who hung on with their bookings convinced that the quarantine would just last a few weeks.

Speaking with my friend, he too had a lot of high school and college graduations on his schedule to live stream. All canceled. We spoke and decided that as a hedge against losing all of our business for the next few months, we’d band together and try marketing live streaming services to larger and higher-budget clients than he had been landing as his low-dollar, high-volume, bread-and-butter projects that were paying his bills. His company has a ton of live stream experience and demo reel material, and my company has higher-end production names, celebs and clients.

Strategy In Place, Searching For A Niche In The Market

Both of us have a lot of years in the media business. We broke down the live streaming market, at least the sectors we want to pursue, in the following way:

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
With quarantine, almost everyone has become a Tier 1 live streaming user. Tier 1 is the most used live streaming and, generally for a production professional, has the lowest chances of earning any money. Tier 1 is mostly DIY use of existing live streaming/web collaboration software.

Tier 1

Small business, institutional users. This sector is already using live streaming to conduct meetings, round tables and discussions. There are also teachers now utilizing live stream teaching for their students online. This market is already saturated, well served by all of the free or low-cost live streaming commodity services like Skype, Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams. We also lump in social media content creators into this category. This is the DIY sector; few people on this level have the budget or are spending much money to live stream. They mostly sit at their computers and talk to others in groups online. Production values are low to nonexistent, although there are exceptions to the rule, of course. Many people at this level are using low grade, built-in webcams on their laptops, iPhones or low-cost external webcams. In our opinion, there’s very little business opportunity here for a production company or freelancer.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
The newly released Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ISO is a perfect tool for most Tier 2 live streaming. It offers an upgrade over the existing ATEM Mini Pro in that it can record each of five streams as separate files, allowing for editing and finessing during post-production for repurposing live stream content.

Tier 2

Basic, low end, logistically simple live multi-camera production. This level of clients may want to hire someone to live stream their event. It could be a wedding, funeral, graduation, a band’s performance, school presentations and events or low-end corporate live events. This level of production can be accomplished with small one- or two-person crews using some simple camcorders or even PTZ remote cameras, running into a laptop or a small, inexpensive switcher like the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro. There’s definitely business here and with volume operation, shooting a lot of these low-end projects, one might expect to at least survive with these sorts of live streaming projects. Generally, this level of production doesn’t center on boring talking heads sitting at computers with webcams, it’s typically driven more by documenting live events that would be happening with a live audience during pre-pandemic times. Many of these events are still happening, just without a live audience, and the entire audience moves to watch the live event online.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
My producing partner, Gregg Hall, at the Technical Director (TD) helm of our custom-built vMix Call system during a recent worldwide live stream to YouTube Live for a challenging Tier 3 live stream.

Tier 3

Mid-level corporate/institutional live streams. In this tier, we have transitioned from what most people think of and know about as “live streaming” and we’re simply producing live television over the internet. The clients have higher budgets but exponentially higher technical capability requirements. Rather than a simple Tier 2 project with two to three cameras with a PowerPoint live stream, for instance, this level of client and production may ask for much more involved scenarios and requirements.

For instance, one of our Tier 3 clients is a production company that produced a high-end feature-length documentary film. They wanted us to help them live stream the film to YouTube Live in 4K resolution. The film was also produced in a Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Once the film has finished, we transition to a live five- to six-person discussion panel with remote streams from India, the UK, Canada, NYC, Los Angeles and Australia. Each of the panelists in the 4K-moderated discussion is placed in their own box on-screen with animated lower third titles. As each person takes turns speaking, we’re using DVE moves to move the boxes around like tiles and the titles animate and follow each panelist. This production is unique because it’s entirely remote.

Each panelist “signs in” to our system using their own laptop or tablet. Each panelist is using headphones with a lavaliere microphone. We have “trained” each talent, since we can’t be there to shoot their live stream, to carefully frame themselves and their shot. We work with them to find soft, large lighting sources in their home or office and tweak blinds or shades to utilize the window light in their location. The end result doesn’t look as refined as we’d make it if we were there in person shooting it, but it looks and sounds better than the average Zoom or Skype call.

Each project has different requirements. We’ve produced live stream fundraising auctions that have raised over $1.2 million dollars in less than two hours. We recently produced a virtual lunch gala event for a Major League Baseball team and their fans. To execute at this level, we use a crew of at least three to six people and sometimes more if we have remote video crews on location. We have a complex, customized live streaming studio with a virtual green room where remote callers can gather in standby and speak with and receive direction from us and the producers of the live stream. We have sophisticated audio mixing capability and can support up to eight remote call-ins at once, combined with up to 10 live cameras if we’re streaming from a live shoot event.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
Entertainment Services LA, Inc. live streams large, logistically challenging events like the Beach Life Festival. This is a Tier 4 live stream that requires a sizeable team and budget to execute.

Tier 4

This tier is sort of an amorphous catch-all for sophisticated, multi-camera production for high-profile clients, the studios and TV networks. Work at this level is indistinguishable from high-end broadcast TV. Often, a mobile truck with potentially up to 30 to 40 cameras may be utilized. This level of production would often utilize crews of anywhere from 10 to 100 to execute. This would include events like music festivals; huge, lavish stage productions; big sporting events and the like.

Tier 4 projects will often have budgets that are in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Often, the live streaming part of the equation is brought in as an adjunct to the live broadcast or simply receives their input from the broadcast’s master output. But, occasionally, the live streaming team operates independently from the broadcast, such as when our team was hired to produce the Facebook Live stream at the NAACP Image Awards Red Carpet in Hollywood. BET broadcasted the awards ceremony, but we live streamed the Facebook Live stream from the Red Carpet.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
If you decide to delve into live streaming, you’d better become very familiar with dealing with CAT 5E Ethernet as well CAT 6, 6A, 7 and 8. What’s the difference? You have to study and read up to understand the differences and how they apply to your application.

If You’re Contemplating Live Streaming…

The one unifying factor about live streaming that we should talk about is this: Live streaming is very difficult to do well. No matter the level of production you’re live streaming, there are technical and strategic limitations in live streaming that you probably aren’t aware of if you haven’t done it before.

Everything is dependent on the internet from where you streaming from. This sounds obvious, but think about it. If a location has slow, unreliable or temperamental internet, this will directly affect what you and your client are trying to accomplish. If you add in a remote live stream system like we use, for each “caller” we have sign in, we now have an additional incoming internet stream to be concerned about. Our outgoing service from our remote studio can be fast and rock solid, but if a remote coming in to us from anywhere in the world is flaky, there’s zero we can do about it from our end.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
SlingStudio is touted as a wireless live streaming studio in a backpack. Just how reliable is the output though? Reliable enough for paying clients?

Reliable and Wireless?

You may have seen ads or reviews for various wireless internet live streaming solutions, some fairly expensive and fully-featured “Internet In A Backpack” solutions. We own our own expensive top-of-the-line wireless router, utilizing three different 4G-cell providers. Even with this device, wireless internet for live streaming is, at best, spotty and at its worst, an unreliable disaster. Wireless, even when it’s delivering faster-promised speeds, is all over the map with constant throughput. That’s the problem, the way wireless internet works, there are constantly new obstacles for signals to pass through and there are also constantly changing interference challenges too. Live streaming with wireless is really a no go in 2020. The full rollout of 5G wireless might change this in the near future, but if you’re contemplating streaming in 2020, forget about any solution that relies on wireless internet; it’s just not going to work well.

Live Streaming Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart
A screen capture of our vMix Call green room. Our webcast engineer figured out a way to make a green room for live streaming and its accompanying audio actually work. The tools and components were all there, but we had to customize it to work in our own scenarios. Who does this? A webcast engineer, that’s who, and I wouldn’t live stream without one because I don’t know enough about the underlying technologies to just cross my fingers and hope that the live stream works. You need expertise and troubleshooting ability when live streaming.

Expertise

I’m lucky. My business partner is an audio and webcast engineer. He’s trained and has decades of experience with internet, sound, picture, computing and troubleshooting. I will leave you with this thought: If you don’t have access to a true webcast engineer, trying to do anything above Tier 2 live streaming is going to be a disaster. Doing Tier 2 live streaming may turn into a disaster for you. If it does, how do you fix it? How do you interface with your client’s IT professionals to make sure that your system integrates with their heavily Firewall-protected network? Do you know how to set up and administer a bonded router system? Do you know how to interface and place orders with content distribution networks?

In Tier 2, you might plug into your client’s Ethernet and it might work. But if it does, how knowledgeable are you about IT and internet troubleshooting? What redundancies have you built into you’re A/V and live streaming gear? You’ll need a plan B and, often, a plan C. If your plan A stops working, you go to plan B. But if plan B doesn’t work, you must have a viable plan C. Realistically, if you’re professionally live streaming for clients for money, you need at least two of everything in your kit. Things break, malfunction, are lost, short out and stop working. Live streaming is live (mostly), so if the show is to go on, you have to have redundancies and you need a webcast engineer. Without these, it’s not a matter of if you will crash and burn for your client, but when. Even with all of these in place, you can still crash and burn; it has happened to us and it’s painful. But that’s the nature of live streaming; it’s not for the faint of heart.

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To Green Screen Or Not To Green Screen?

Green screen can be handy for situations where you’re not able to shoot talent in a particular location.

Have you ever shot green screen? I have. A lot. Hundreds of different projects over the years. First of all, let’s get this out of the way, “green screen” has become a catch-all term that describes a process of shooting a subject against a colored backdrop that will electronically be replaced, usually through a postproduction process called compositing or keying, with another background. I’ve shot blue screen, red screen and white screen for luminance keying, but the color green is the most commonly used, so the process has come to be known as such. However, that term is a bit like Kleenex being used in place of tissue or “Coke or Pepsi” being used in place of soft drink.

This is my Westcott foldable 4×6-foot green screen set up for a shoot at the Fox lot with the showrunner of “The Simpsons.”

The Colors Of The Compositing Rainbow

Why would you want to use green or blue or red or any other color to key a subject over? Green screen is the most popular because it tends to work well with people’s skin tones since most people aren’t green unless they’re seasick or nauseated. Blue screen is more commonly used for scenes where there may be foliage or green wardrobe. Back in the days of film, blue screen tended to work better when film composites were brought into the compositing workflow pipeline. Why would you ever shoot red screen? I’ve shot red screen when shooting tropical plants that had a ton of green and blue in their natural coloring, but they had little to no red, so using a red backdrop allowed for easier keying.

There are also camera-related technical reasons why one might choose a particular color to key over. In RGB color space with most cameras, blue tends to have more noise than the green or red channels, so in that process, amplifying the blue channel can result in an increase in noise in the image. In the end, choosing the right color backdrop should be a collaboration between the cinematographer and the compositor based on what’s being shot and where, what’s being keyed, the colors of all of the objects in the scene that are shot live and several other factors.

Green screen of the rapper/actor Common
Green screen of the rapper/actor Common. We shot Common’s sequences with green screen because he couldn’t appear at the location where we were shooting the remainder of this section of the film. With higher-profile talent, if you want them to appear in your production, you have to often be flexible and come to them.

Green Screen Gets A Bad Rap

If we go back 10 or 20 years in production, shooting green/blue screen used to be much more difficult than it is in 2020. You had to really light any green or blue screen perfectly, making sure the lighting was even all of the way across the screen and at the right contrast ratio on the talent and subject versus the green/blue screen. You also had to make sure that there were no wrinkles or bunching on the physical screen itself. Fifteen years ago, keying software was good, but it wasn’t nearly as good as it is today, so generally, you just had to be much more careful about all of the details.

Your screen had to be lit nearly perfectly, and you had to mitigate the green or blue spill onto your talent from the green or blue screen itself, which required enough room on your set to physically separate the talent from the backdrop to cut down on the spill or eliminate it. Shooting and keying things like eyeglasses, where you could see the background through the edges and corners of the glasses, keying wispy blonde hair, cigarette smoke or fog effects were very difficult to pull off well. For these reasons, a good amount of shooters would end up with lousy keys with ragged edges, green edges, aliasing and other artifacts.

Cameras were often 8-bit recording in 4:2:0 color space, which meant that it was difficult to push a key or clean up a key because the bit space and color space were truncated compared to 10-bit 4:2:2. At the time, there was a huge price gap between low dollar SLRs and high dollar broadcast or digital cinema cameras that had 10-bit 4:2:2 recording capability. Today, there are fewer 8-bit 4:2:0 cameras on the market, and even low dollar cameras can record 10-bit 4:2:2 footage or even 10 or 12-bit RAW, making the recording much more robust for keying. Also, shooting at a higher resolution like 4K UHD for a 1080 project allows for more detail and increases the perceived color and detail resolution when downsampling a higher resolution image. There are so many factors in today’s cameras that allow for easier and better quality keys.

Bruce Miller
Bruce Miller is the showrunner for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which shoots in Canada. We weren’t able to shoot Bruce’s interview on set, so we used green screen to shoot him in his LA production office, then composited him into background plates that were shot on set in Canada.

Why Shoot Green Screen?

The decision to shoot or not shoot green screen is an important one. I’ve shot a lot of green interviews where when speaking with the producer or director, the logical question is, “What will the background be?” Most of the time, the answer is, “We don’t know yet.” Not knowing what the background will be presents several challenges. What colors should the talent wear so they work with the color palette in the background? Which angle should they be shot from? Straight to camera or at an angle? What size should they be in the frame? How should they be lit?

That last point, in particular, has stung me in the past. If I’m lighting and shooting a green screen interview or host segment and I’m not told what the background will be and what the overall scene will look like, how can I know how to light the scene? The default is soft, frontal, flat light. If the background that the person will be composited into is lit in the same way, great—it should match. But what if the scene is high contrast with highly directional late afternoon light? In that case, the person that we shot with the flat, soft, even lighting will always look artificial and pasted into the scene because the lighting between the foreground and background doesn’t match in the least. The exception to this rule is when shooting talent that will be composited against graphics. Then, at least the graphics can be created to match the lighting of the person.   

Some reasons I’ve been told why producers want to shoot green screen:

  • Placing talent into an environment that doesn’t exist in reality (virtual sets, outer space story, etc.).
  • Placing talent into an environment that isn’t accessible because of travel costs.
  • When shooting talent in multiple locations that look and feel diverse, green screen can allow a unified and repeatable setting.
  • We want to place graphics, animation or stylized elements into a virtual background.
  • Bad weather in a location we want to shoot in, we can shoot clean plates later.
  • Political strife/war/factors where it would be too risky to bring crew and talent.
  • We want to place talent into archival footage shot in the past.
Actor Lauren Graham
I was going for photorealism with this shot of actor Lauren Graham on the set of her show “Gilmore Girls.” She was photographed in a loft in Hollywood, while the shot of the set was from 15 years ago at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank.

Photorealism

One of the best uses of green screen is for photorealistic composites. This is where great care is taken by the production to insert the green screen talent into a background in a way that’s seamless, realistic and carefully planned and executed. The results when this approach is taken can be breathtakingly realistic; you’d swear that the talent is in the location in real life. This can be accomplished with interviews, presentations, narrative, music videos—really in any format. In my experience, this is the most difficult green screen to pull off, but when you do, it’s the most gratifying too because the shot doesn’t scream “Green screen composite!” when viewed by the audience. It looks natural and doesn’t call attention to itself.

The reason why few productions try to tackle photorealistic compositing is that it takes a lot more planning, technique, skill and resources. You work backward in this process, shooting or gathering the background plates before shooting the talent. Then when you shoot the talent on set, you live composite the talent in front the of background so that the director, DP, gaffer, props, wardrobe and every other department can see the finished composite—at least a rough version of it. This way, all of the parameters—camera to subject distance, angles used, lens selection, focal length, exposure—can all be tweaked to perfection to make sure that the green screenshot matches the background perfectly.

This is even more important in shots where the background plate shot moves and the shot of the talent has to move accordingly. If you can sync the movement between the two elements perfectly as you shoot the talent shots, it really helps to sell the illusion. You are then getting into shot perspective matching, parallax correction and ensuring that the angles are in perfect sync. In my work, photorealism is always the goal when shooting green screen. It’s rarely realized because most of the projects I shoot on simply lack the budget and resources to do so. But on those rare occasions when I get to do this, it’s always a lot of fun and very gratifying when you nail it.

Comic Lisa Alvarado
This is comic Lisa Alvarado from a documentary that I shot. Does the shot feel different than other shots you’ve seen that are composites? Look at her hair, the wisps on the edge of her frame. Those can be difficult to get a perfect key on in composites, but not impossible. This shot is NOT a green screen composite—can you tell the difference?

The Alternatives

To me, as a DP, the alternative to green screen is always real locations or high-quality sets. Shooting the real-deal talent in real physical locations, well lit and nicely composed is always the ultimate. As DPs, directors and videographers, I’d always encourage you to push your clients and projects toward shooting talent in real locations whenever possible. Green screen can be an incredibly useful tool, but it can also be a compromise and a logistical and post-production challenge.

If you do have to shoot green screen, your best practice should also always be to push for pre-production time to shoot tests and, whenever possible, if the background plates are real locations, push to shoot those plates well before you shoot talent. Record your camera used, raster size, codec, frame rate, camera to subject distance, lens used, focal length, ƒ-stop and exactly where your lighting sources were positioned in frame. The more data you have from your background plate shoot, the more you can apply that data to replicate the exact same lighting and perspective on your talent so that whoever does the composites finds that they have two perfectly matching puzzle pieces.

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