August, 1987

 

TO:     Chapter Presidents and Video Producers

            Texas Music Association

 

From:  Pleas McNeel

            Executive Producer

            TMA Video Project

 

 

LIVE STYLE MULTICAMERA CONCERT PRODUCTION

The San Antonio Experience

     

      Here, at last, is the production info I have been promising about how and why the San Antonio Chapter took the lead in the production of video showcases, together with a brief description of the process we used and an explanation of how we were able to get the use of sufficient production gear to produce high quality television shows and get them on the air.

 

       The purpose of the showcases and the video project that evolved out of them is as follows:

 

       1.  To create, in each chapter, an independent and self-sufficient video production crew with the resources and experience to produce live style multi-camera concert videos.

 

      2.  To develop an audience and create a structure for the intrastate, national and international distribution of Texan musical product through the Texas Music Association.

 

     3.   To increase awareness of the artistic quality and technical excellence of Texan musical product.

 

4.                To enhance the credibility and visibility of the Texas Music Association and the Texas music and entertainment industry.

 

 

HOW WE GOT STARTED

 

      I came to the Texas Music Association with a credible track record in developing and producing community television. and a good working relationship with the production department of the local cable company.   Before Mike Tolleson talked me into helping to establish the San Antonio Chapter, I helped to write the local cable franchise, founded the San Antonio Media Center and subsequently co-produced a dozen or so location multicam videos, (featuring classical music, dance, and drama), using the Rogers Cable TV video van.    

 

So, when we formed our first board and found that it contained experts in all phases of concert production, it was only natural that the cable company would be supportive when we joined forces to produce live concert videos as a chapter project.

 

     After deciding to proceed, the San Antonio Chapter formed a Special Events Committee chaired by Steve Cureton, chief engineer of Goingdeafforaliving, to produce the video showcases.

 

     The committee’s function was to select the bands and venues for the shoots.  All chapter members were invited to participate, to insure that everyone felt included in this phase of decision-making and that there would be little reason for charges of insider favoritism.   We selected bands that had, for the most part, high visibility in the community and did not require that the bands be members of the chapter.  The Committee assigned non-technical responsibilities. such as promotion, box office and security and became a prime source of non-technical volunteers.

 

     I produced, directed and edited the initial four showcases.  R.B. Blackstone, producer and arranger, Sound Madness Productions, served as Director of Audio and as Associate Producer with Steve Cureton.  Gary Henley was our Lighting Director.  John Hogan coordinated the sound and David Martin, chief engineer and manager IXtland Recording Studio, served as Stage Manager. Bob Herrick provided technical assistance and equipment.   Terry Caven served as coordinator from the cable company and as Technical Director for Video.

 

      Over two hundred volunteers were involved in the productions.  The large number of personnel involved was due to the fact that we were pioneering live concert video in San Antonio and many wished to gain experience in this exciting new field.  It is advisable to overcrew when you are dealing with volunteers, as many will drop out or get paying work the night of the shoot.  

 

      Each showcase featured a specific type of music, such as Rock, Country, and Tejano.  We selected a different large venue for each showcase.  A venue that was well known for the type of music to be featured.  Our best results came from working with a country nightclub (The Midnight Rodeo) that had a large built in audience and was willing to provide advertising support and other services.  We charged a nominal cover and occasionally broke even when the door proceeds covered our production expenses.

 

     All talent and labor were provided by highly skilled volunteers and the equipment (sound, lights and video) was provided free or for a nominal charge.  The spirit of cooperation generated by the Association made it possible for us to produce the showcases for very little money.  Since we were waiting for an understanding between the TMA and the AF of M, we did not seek advertising support.  We ran the shows on the local origination channel of the local cable system as a public service to promote local music.

 

     During our first year or so of operation, we produced four showcases, generating twenty-two 1/2 hour shows.  We were asked to select four to make up a special Christmas Showcase, which was shown on the Texas Cable Network during the holidays in l985.  (Established networks such as TCN offer us an opportunity to begin our intrastate distribution.)

 

     This year, as you may know, I have spent most of my time putting together a pilot showcase involving a live satellite interconnect with Adelaide, South Australia.  Our pilot is now tentatively scheduled for sometime in the spring of 1987.  I am also exploring the possibility of linking us up with either Mexico City or a major European capital.  As the various chapters get up to speed we will begin to experiment with intrastate interconnects.  Our final goal is the connection of the Texas Music Association with other states and any or all foreign countries.

 

     First, however, each chapter must demonstrate its ability to produce broadcast quality live style multicamera concert videotapes.  The following is a description of a typical production the way we did it.  It worked for us but may not work for you.  Experiment and share your experiences will all of us.  Together, we will come up with the final plan of action for the TMA's involvement in electronic media.

 

 

STARTING THE PRODUCTION

 

      At a general membership meeting we would announce that we were going to produce a showcase and that a meeting of the special events committee would be held at a certain place and time.  All members were invited to attend.  At the special events committee meeting we decided upon the number of bands to be featured, (a minimum of four bands per showcase) and picked the bands and the venues.

 

      Committee members volunteered or were assigned tasks such as security, promotion, box office.   We set a tentative date and contacted the venue and the bands to see if they were available and willing to participate. 

 

      The Bands were offered a copy of the videotape for their participation as well as the opportunity to participate in the editing process.  All the bands signed a release allowing us local non-commercial usage of the tapes.  Everything was somewhat informal. We were experimenting with community television as a promotional tool for the bands and the TMA and everyone was very understanding.  Since then the Houston chapter has come up with a very interesting deferred payback plan for the musicians.  It will be made available to you as soon as the bugs are worked out.

 

      The venues were a different story.  Some wanted rent while others were willing to help for promotional consideration.  The best venue is a successful and popular club that always has a large built in crowd.  A club that wants to work with the TMA and understands the promotional value of being involved in your project.  If the club has adequate lights and sound in house, you're home free.   This is seldom the case, however, especially if you want to use a variety of locations to add interest to your series.

 

      Once the bands and venues were locked in we chose one or more radio stations to co-sponsor the event.  The station would supply on-air promotion, MC's for the concerts and VJ's for the videos.

 

 

PREPRODUCTION MEETING AND SITE SURVEY

 

      At least one week before the concert we would hold a meeting of the bands and technical crew at the venue to discuss the production.  Each band was asked to perform one forty-five minute set as their part  of the concert and supply stage diagrams, mike assignment charts and a song list with each song broken down into segments, such as:

 

"I Love Live Local Music"

 

0 to 1:23 Lead guitar

 

1:23 to 3:13 Vocal

 

3:13 to 3:33 Keyboards

 

      These lists are invaluable to the director and technical director.  They help them to anticipate shots and get proper coverage of the featured musician.  Ideally, all these documents should be turned at the pre-production meeting.

 

      At the pre-production meeting we would decide on camera placement, where to park the van, length of cable runs, power supply, location of available telephones and make a list of any additional equipment, etc. needed for the shoot.   Since we chose to shoot up to six bands at each showcase, top-notch stage management was essential. The stage manager would use this time to discuss any special requirements with the bands and work out a plan to move the bands on and off stage as quickly as possible.  When possible the isocam operators would attend the pre-production meeting to get the feel of the  venue and the event.  They were also an excellent source of practical advice on video aesthetics.

       

      The night before the concert, we would try to hang lights and set up the audio system.  That allowed us the luxury of being well rested during the shoot.  In real life however you'll probably have to start early the morning of the shoot.  This makes for a very long day so it is a good idea to have two separate stage crews so you have fresh people for tear down and load out.  Also be sure to have plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks for the crew.  Hospitality for the musicians is nice, but don't forget to feed your crew.

 

 

THE SHOOT

 

      The day of the concert we would park the van next to the venue, set up the video system, refine our camera blocking, turn everything on, rehearse the systems and do all our last minute trouble shooting.

 

      The concerts were taped before a live audience using three cameras on dollies switched live and one or two hand held isolated cameras with separate VTRs to shoot cut-aways.  The isocams usually roamed the stage getting the reverse angles and other interesting stuff.  (It is important that once the set begins all cameras continue to roll until the end, no matter where the camera is pointed.  The built in or attached mike on the isocam records a reference track that aids in locating shots during editing.)

 

      If your pre-production has been successful, if everyone knows his or her job and does it, and if there are no unforeseen bugs in the system, then  you roll tape and try not to make mistakes.  Basically there are only a limited number of possible shots to choose from the van cameras.  After having done a few of these concerts you or your director should be able to feel completely comfortable at the controls.  Any mistake in the switching should be covered by the isocam(s).

 

 

THE VJ's

 

     Shortly after the concert, we went to the sponsoring radio station to shoot the VJ intros.  The station selected air personalities to introduce the videos.  They were shot in the control or production room with station logo in background.  We taped an introduction, intros and outros for commercial breaks (we inserted promos for the TMA) and a close in which the VJ usually plugged band products such as records and tapes).  The VJ's were asked to write their own scripts.  If not, we supplied them one a couple of days before the taping.

 

      We shot these using 3/4 inch ENG equipment (Camera, recorder and light kit) supplied by the cable company using a volunteer crew from the local chapter.  (Be sure to   survey the site before the taping, to locate plugs, check power and camera angles, and to rap with the VJ's and station personnel about the taping and the TMA.) 

 

 

THE EDIT

 

      As soon as possible after the shoot, the bands, or a representative of each band, were called in to preview the rough tapes and select the numbers for the final show.  They were asked to rate their performance on each song on a scale of one to four, with one being "no good - don't use" and four "Great - we love it."  At this time we would schedule the edit sessions with band if possible.)

 

      Editing of a 1/2 hour show usually took between four and eight hours.   This depended on how many isocams were used and whether or not the bandleader or representative sat in on the session.  The band representative would select approximately 24 minutes from the recorded 45-minute set and help in selecting the most flattering cut-aways from the isocam footage.  A band representative can be useful but sessions generally take twice as long when they are present.

 

      Rogers Cable supplied the use of a 3/4 inch editing system.  The show was assembled according to the following formula, with the isocam footage cut into the van footage to cover mistakes in switching and to emphasize lyric and rhythm.

 

         

THE SHOW

 

      Each 1/2 hour show consisted of:

 

     1.   An opening electronic graphic (TMA logo spinning out of                     frame), and the words "The San Antonio Chapter of the Texas Music Association presents THE TEXAS MUSIC SHOWCASE, Recorded Live at (Club Logo or slide of exterior).

 

     2.   Fade to VJ introducing band.

 

     3.   Three or so songs.

 

     4.   VJ - Short outro to commercial or TMA promo.

 

     5.   Promo.

 

     6.   VJ - Short intro "And now back to..."

 

     7.   Three or so songs.

 

     8.   VJ-Closing comments and band plugs.

 

     9.   Credits (rolled over TMA logo) - fade to black.

 

  We selected a thirty or so second sound bite from each band to run under opening graphic and closing credits.

 

PROMOTING THE SHOW

 

      It is important that you make a master schedule of when each show will air.  This will aid in the promotion and audience development of the series.  Your local cable system or broadcaster should be so happy to have your series as an addition to their schedule that they'll promote the hell out of your show.  If they don't, you'll have to do independent promotion using print ads, mailing lists, etc.

 

       If you have a radio station as co-sponsor they will promote your show (at least the ones that feature their air talent.)  A thirty second video spot should get a lot of play on the cable system or station that is carrying your show.  Try to get listed in the TV guide or take out ads in it publicizing your show.  Get your local music reviewer to mention the show.  Publish your own guide in your local newsletter and print and distribute posters to clubs, music and record stores.  Remember, if no one is watching your show, all your work is wasted.

 

 

DEALING WITH THE BULL SHIT

 

      We all know about artistic temperament...arrogant cable operators or broadcasters.  Expect to put up with the standard amount of small town prima donnas or primo dons and insensitive money-grubbing media bureaucrats.  In addition, once you have proved that this type of project is possible, you will find yourself up to your ears in imitators.  People who laughed at you when you started will now become experts and begin to produce their own shows.  Pat your self on the back, no one else will and concentrate on the bigger picture.  We are after a larger market.

 

     Your involvement with the TMA video project is meant to stimulate local production.  We are after national and international markets.  If, for any reason, you wish to exploit your local market and drop out of the project - Please - leave behind you a capable core.  Don't just take what you have learned and start your own show.  The best you can hope for is a small-time hassle filled job.  If we can take this project all the way, the final rewards will be much more than we can imagine at this time.

 

      A word about money.  In San Antonio we did everything for the fun of it and for the experience, but the thrill wears off and people need to be motivated.  It is a good idea to get a sponsor or sponsors as soon as you are able and pay everyone their "good guy" day rate or local union scale.  A paycheck at the end of the gig will insure continuity.

 

 

THE FUTURE

 

      Once we have approximately twenty five shows from each city, we will meet in a central location and decide how to combine them into a TMA series which we can distribute as a promotional device (with or without advertising.)   This series will serve to demonstrate our ability to pull off the international satellite networking project as well as raise the visibility of the TMA.  Most importantly we will know that we are able to assemble the necessary elements to produce live concert video.  This will give us the confidence as well as the track record to attempt more ambitious projects.

 

      The following is a description of the various technical elements of the San Antonio production.  They form the basic minimum requirements for  commercially viable and high quality  television.  Each chapter is encouraged to improve upon these minimums.

 

 

THE ELEMENTS OF PRODUCTION

 

      1.  The Video Van - In San Antonio we used the small production van owned and operated by Rogers Cable TV.  The van had three bottom end Ikegami broadcast cameras, a simple Grass Valley switcher, and two 3/4 inch Sony VTRs.  The cable company supplied a basic crew, consisting of a technical director, an engineer, three camerapersons, and several production assistants.

 

      We used 3/4-inch format for our pilot shows because that was what was available to us.  I recommend that either one inch or broadcast beta (or equivalent) be used.  This will increase our ability to achieve as broad as possible distribution.

 

      The Deal  - Since Rogers Cable wanted the program on its system, they gave us the use of the van and crew for free with the understanding that if we sold advertising or profited in any way, they would be compensated according to a rate determined by crew hours and tube life amortization.  We supplied the tape and paid any crew time over a nine hour day.

 

      Rogers also supplied simple editing facilities, gratis, with a similar understanding.  If we made any money, they would be compensated at a rate comparable to commercial cuts-only off- line editing.

 

      2.  Audio for Video and The Sound System - High quality audio is absolutely essential!  Audiences will accept less than brilliant visuals but mediocre audio is an instant tune out.

 

      We used a standard concert sound system with sufficient gear to create excellent sound quality in the venue we were using.  Everything was close miked in a location-recording configuration.  The mike snake had a three way split, 1) Hall sound, 2) Stage Monitors and 3) Video van.  Since the van did not have adequate room or mixing facilities, we set up a separate mixing area (away from the hall noise).  This area was equipped with a video monitor so the mixing crew could see what was being done in the video van.  We used a 24-channel mixer and high and low quality audio monitors and sent a mono feed to the master 3/4 tape deck in the van.  In the future we will produce in stereo.

 

      We used first class audio engineers at each station, but if you have to make the hard decision, place your best audio engineer at the audio for video mixer.  (The tapes will always be with you.)  When possible the soundman for the band either mixed or was present during the recording.  Word of caution: do not leave the band engineer unattended no matter how well you know him, he may not be familiar with your particular equipment and there are no retakes, unless you have the budget to go multitrack.

 

      The Deal - The use the audio equipment was donated by John Hogan.  We paid for any special equipment that he could not scrounge, for rental of a truck and for other miscellaneous expenses.  The total seldom exceeded a couple of hundred dollars per shoot.  John is a first rate scrounge.

 

      3. The lights - In our neck of the woods you seldom find a nightclub with sufficient lights for a television shoot.  Some clubs that book the large road shows will have the pipes and power necessary, but you'll usually have to bring at least some of your own fixtures.  Sometimes you'll have to get real ingenious to figure out how to hang the lamps.  And power. Many clubs will not have sufficient  breakers.  Be prepared to beef up the power supply, or go to a mains source.

 

      For front lighting we used at least 12 1,000 watt Par 64's (white).  For back lighting at least 8 Par 64's with assorted gels (red, blue, amber, rose).  We did not use green gels.  If you can, use assorted colored side lights.  Lots of lights can give your production a big show look, but you can do fine with a lot less than you think.  Our major reason for using ungeled front lighting was that the cameras we were using were giving us muddied green in our blacks.  White seemed to add sharpness and definition, and made our black a lot more pure.

 

      The Deal - thanks to our lighting director Gary Henley, who was with Texas Scenic at the time, and  Bob Herrick, owner of Production Consultants, we were able to obtain the use of the necessary lighting equipment for free or at a greatly reduced rate.

 

      4.   The IsoCams - These are hand held broadcast quality cameras connected to separate VCR's.  Each should be miked to get a reference track.  At each shoot we had one or two of these on stage or roaming the audience.  In our case the cameras, recorders and operators were supplied by local independent production houses who worked with us for the experience or for the fun.  We supplied the tape, they supplied the rest.  We were very fortunate in having some of the top local professionals donate their time.  Among them were Kim Bunch of Oh Brother! Productions, Ron Zimmerman and Karl Gerber.

 

     5.  Communications - It is vitally important that the camera operators hear the instructions from the video van over the sound in the venue.  We used a seven or eight station "clear-com" system with double cups for all personnel working in the hall.  (2 at the switcher, 3 for the van cameras, 1 at dimmer/TV audio station,  1 set for each isocam operator connected to a monitor in the van and 1 set for each follow spot operator.)

 

      Finally, a note about creativity.  THE ONLY GENIUS IN OUR SHOWS IS ON STAGE, we are craftpersons.  I know it gets boring sitting at the switcher cutting and fading, but stay away from the special effects.  They can always be added in post.

 

      We discouraged special staging by the bands, unless they could be set up in ten minutes without interfering with the stage crew.  We also discouraged pyrotechnics because of the fear that they would burn the tubes.

 

      Well that covers some of the basics. The first few showcases that you do will be exciting and a little scary, but after that it gets to be just another gig.  Call me anytime, with any questions - no matter how silly they seem to you.

 

 

                                        Good luck and stay in touch,

 

 

 

                                        Pleas McNeel

                                       

 

pleas@salsa.net