Austin Chronicle Keeping Austin Weird

When we read that the Austin Chronicle was hosting the Adult Spelling Bee (March 19, 2011) at Threadgill’s we were sure it was going to be a fun time and a cool event to document. As soon as we started filming we knew we would be able to make a brief documentary of the evening.

We’d like to thank the Austin Chronicle for allowing us to document and Threadgill’s for fulfilling our sound needs.

Watch the video at the chronolog.

Multi-camera 7D shoot: What we learned

In March, Compound was commissioned to produce a series of live concert videos for some prominent groups in the Texas music scene.  For various reasons,  I decided to shoot this event on the Canon 7D.  Actually, four 7D’s.  I come from a live television background, so the multi-camera shoot is not new territory for me.  The challenges were all incidental to the nature of shooting video on a DSLR.  The advantages, similarly, were all due to the nature of shooting video on a DSLR (see what I did there?).  It was a huge learning experience, and below I’ll attempt to lay out the issues and what we could have done in hindsight to prevent them.

The 7D, as we all know, produces beautiful images, and our 35mm lenses offered the tight depth of field that subtly suggests high production value.  Also, everybody has one.

I hired what I consider to be the best crew in Austin, for reasons I can’t really explain.  They are technically proficient, but they are also each very creative. So when I gave them some guidelines for what I needed, they came through and then some.  I guess I can explain it.  That being said, in a live music situation, you have solos, backup vocals, b-roll and a host of other things worth shooting at any time.  I could have given each camera operator an essay on what to shoot when, but it still wouldn’t have covered every situation that came up that night.  I would have done anything to be able to view all angles simultaneously and communicate to the guys what I needed from them.  Unfortunately, our budget couldn’t afford that.  I came to terms with that very early on in the planning phase.  The result of all this was the occasional double or triple-up of shots on a single member of the band.  Not a huge deal.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Man, would I have loved to park even a simple 25′ truck outside and run multicore cable to each unit to switch live.  Maybe next time.

Also, believe it or not, musicians do whatever they want, so setlists change.  Since we were limited by record times, battery and card storage capacity, we only rolled on certain songs. On a few occasions, I wasn’t able to signal the guys to start rolling in time for the top of a song if it changed positions, which limited my angles in post somewhat.

White Balance
This particular night was the grand opening of a brilliant venue in the city of San Marcos, the Texas Music Theater.  Before the night got going, I spoke with the lighting director for the night, and asked him how neutral he was planning on keeping the color temperature, with my fingers crossed.  He gave me the answer that I would have given him, had I been in that situation, which was that this was the first opportunity to test the lights in a real-world environment, so color temp would be changing approximately every second. And no, tungsten was not in the cards except to light up the crowd on occasion. We ran some tests during sound check and decided that our best option for white balance was ‘Daylight-Shade’. While I’m at it, our other shooting specs: 1080p24 at ISO1000.

CF Card Capacity
This is something we prepared for.  Knowing that a 32GB card could only hold about an hour of footage, we set up a dumping station at the venue, which Ben managed.  I also rented all the CF cards that were available from Precision Camera (as well as a sweet 70-200 f2.8 L series lens). No issues here.  With a fast CF reader, we were able to get cards turned around within minutes. Of course, they never got too full.  I didn’t want to tempt the dreaded buffer issue.

These were our major issues.  All in all, it was a fun night, but also a great experience to test the multi-camera waters in a real-world situation.  I welcome any thoughts or suggestions from people who have gone down this path before.  We’ll be releasing one video per week for the next ten weeks, so stay tuned.

SXSW in review from Mezz 2

For the second consecutive year, I’ve signed up to work with the New Media department at SXSW.  The position I take is that of a glorified volunteer.  The traits that glorify it are 1) insane hours before and during the fest, 2) staff lanyard (the act of being handed a staff lanyard is simultaneously thrilling and depressing) and 3) I get to recruit my own edit team.

Officially, my title is New Media Editor Crew Chief. It’s catchy, I know.  Even if it doesn’t appear that I get anything out of this at face value, I am always excited to take part in SXSW.  It offers the rush of short production deadlines that I came to love and now miss from my time working in live television at ESPN.  Additionally, SXSW is a great place to meet really smart and creative people.  When I was a SXSW intern in 2010, my supervisor was a New Yorker by the name of Joe Nicolosi.  I didn’t know it at the time, because the dude is so modest, but I was a huge fan of his work.  He was the brains behind Star Wars: Retold, a hilarious interpretation of episodes 4, 5 and 6 by someone who hasn’t seen it. Genius.

This year, in preparation for SXSW, Joe recruited me to help with five film festival bumpers he was commissioned to produce.  They were all amazing, but the one that has really caught the attention of the world is “Mario”.  It’s a mumblecore-style, hipster interpretation of the story of Nintendo’s Mario.  This short film takes the shape of a movie trailer where all the seemingly obscure features of the video game we grew up with are interpreted to make perfect sense.  Go watch it if you haven’t yet. There are some one-liners in there that are sure to live on forever.  Unfortunately, there are no plans to make this a feature length film, yet.

During the festival, I was more or less secluded on the south side of the huge Austin Convention Center, on the Mezzanine level, which most elevators and staircases bypass.  We got moved from the North side, which we called home last year.  This was an upgrade.  Our department got to spread out into two rooms.  Myself and the editors mostly stayed in one room where we had 13 Mac Pro’s and iMac’s set up.  We brought lamps in and turned off the florescent overhead lighting.  It was quiet and dark and a perfect environment for us, considering the circumstances.

I oversaw editors every day until 6pm, then either went to the IFC Crossroads House, the HP Airstream trailer park, or caught a show.  The only requirement was free beer.  It’s an easy requirement to fulfill, so almost anything goes.  All in all, a great time.  I can’t wait for next year.  We’re hoping and planning for a centralized storage system and the implementation of Final Cut Server. Does anyone want to sponsor the New Media department?  It would be awesome testing grounds for a medium sized server/ingest system. Help us say goodbye to sneaker-net.