Gig Blog: Shooting a wedding service…in widescreen!

This is the post-gig analysis on a 3 camera shoot of a wedding service that we filmed recently. What did we learn Mainly…that we still have stuff to learn! but also widescreen is great, but needs some thinking through. Read more for the details…

I guess you could argue whether shooting a wedding video for a friend counts as a VLOBLIVE gig or not, but in this case, since the shoot was a three camera shoot, with only two crew, it certainly counts in my book. I am aware that wedding videos is a whole other subculture within the video eco-system, and there are better places to discuss them, but since a lot of the points raised are relevant to VLOBLIVE gigs, it seems sensible to discuss them here.

What was the gig?

A ‘normal’ wedding service in a nice old, but non-traditional church building. Big wide platform at front, wide sweeping U shaped balcony above, pews, etc. Music was contemporary with a band/piano, and the ‘action’ took place up on the platform at the front. Light was fantastic, thanks to big roof windows and plenty of floodlights on the very high roof.

Brief from the ‘commissioners’ was ‘film the wedding’. No particular expectations or requests.

What equipment was used

We shot with three cameras:

  • Sony HDR-HC1 HDV widescreen camcorder recording HDV to tape and via firewire to Serious Magic DV Rack (trial copy). This camera was placed at the front corner of the balcony to get side shots of the couple and the minister and shots of the congregation.
  • JVC KY-27D Studio camera recording to miniDV on Sony GD-V900 walkman. OK this was a bit overkill, but it is a good camera and we didn’t have access to another miniDV camcorder. I recorded 4:3 to the Sony walkman, but taped up the big viewfinder on the JVC to let me frame for 16:9
  • Panasonic NV-GD250 3-CCD miniDV camcorder recording to miniDV in 16:9 mode. This was borrowed from a friend who had only had it for a week, so we had to be extra careful.
  • Sony minidisk recorder connected to PA mixing desk to record audio of service. This was to backup the audio recorded by the cameras.

What were the challenges

  • It was our first 16:9 shoot – this was the first time that we had filmed in widescreen 16:9 at a live event, so we were aware that framing might be different from what we were used to, Also we weren’t sure how well it would suit the camera positions we ended up using.
  • New gear – both the Sony HDR-HC1 (replacement for our trusty, but now dead TRV890) and the Panasonic NV-GD250 (borrowed from a friend) were new to us, and had not been used by use at a real VLOBLIVE gig before. This was a worry, since it takes a while usually to work out the pros and cons of a new camera – what shots it will cope with and which it won’t
  • Staying out of the way – we fully respect the need to be incredibly unobtrusive at weddings. It’s not really all about the wedding video, after all. But we still need to get good shots. Choosing camera positions is THE big challenge for wedding videos.
  • Lack of preparation time – all the gear had been out on another gig immediately prior to this one, and I hadn’t had a chance to sort it all out. (more on that one later).
  • Only two crew for 3 cameras. Not at all ideal. I took a remote pan tilt head, but in the end I didn’t set it up due to lack of time.

Things that went well

  • We were able to attend the rehersal. This is really really key to doing a good job. Preparation is everything for a ‘one-off’ live event like this.
  • The venue had great natural and artificial lighting. This really helped, especially shooting against the dark wood panelling at the back of the platform..
  • We set up a wee LCD TV as a monitor to let me see what the other operated camera was doing. This really helped as we had no other means of communication. It allowed me to see when my fellow camop was going for a close-up or a reaction shot, so I could match that with my own shot. Since we only had one LCD TV we didn’t do the same for the other camop, which, with hindsight would have been very useful, though it still doesn’t resolve the ‘who moves first’ dilema.
  • We used DVRack to record via firewire directly to a laptop PC – this worked very well both as a preview monitor but also it allowed us to record lots of pre-service footage without having to start the tape, and then start the tape rolling only when the bride arrived. this meant we could fit the entire service onto one 60 min tape. The added bonus was that the footage was all available as a Quicktime file for editing without having to digitise.
  • Performance of the HDR-HC1 seemed excellent. I had to shift the AE down a few stops to protect the highlights due to direct sunlight streaming in and hitting some of the people on the platform, but the colours seemed good and the resolution seemed very smooth compared to other DV footage.
  • We got a good strong audio recording to minidisk which allowed us to fill any gaps in the on-camera audio recorded from the PA.
  • Framing in 16:9 worked very well in this context. As a LOT of wedding shots are two shots of the bride + groom, FOB + bride, MOB + FOB etc etc. you can do really nice tight two shots in a 16:9 frame while still keeping tight in.
  • No gotchas, dropouts, shudders, buzzes or wheezes to spoil the footage that we took.
  • Recording onto HDV worked well. Most of the tapes we downconverted to DV for editing, but there was one shot of the bride arriving which had the edge of the balcony in shot too much, and we were able to capture it in HDV, re-crop it to DV res and end up with a better shot. You wouldn’t want to do that a lot though, as it adds a lot to the render times.

Things that went wrong

  • The biggest issue really was not having a 3rd camera operator. We set up the third camera as static shot, and there were definitely times when we could have done with it being re-framed or adjusted in position. In hindsight I could have locked off my own camera and gone and adjusted it, but that meant going down a set of stairs from the balcony which seemed a big risk.
  • Camera positions weren’t ideal. We ended up ‘crossing the line’ on the shots of the vows, which wasn’t great, and since two out of the thee cams was up above the ‘action’ it sometimes felt like you were peering down on it, a little detached.
  • Some framing mistakes – despite taping off the viewfinder, I ended up cutting people off at the joints when framing (a big NO NO). Fortunately most of these were on the camera recording in 4:3 and we could nudge the shot up or down after cropping to 16:9.
  • Despite the monitor, both camops still ocassionally moved at same time. Without a director calling the shots this was hard to avoid, and is why you need a third ‘wide’ shot to cover and simultaneous moves.
  • I forgot to turn off the steadyshot on the HC1, which produced some slightly strange results when panning and tracking. Most of these were coverable by other shots. The HC1 uses electronic image stabilisation rather than optical, and is agruably slightly less smooth. The moral is to turn it off whenever you are on a tripod.
  • We forgot to check the stage for ugly wires etc. in shot. As a result one of the key shots of the couple has a large black mains reel appearing in between their heads – oops!
  • We forgot to use a clapper or a flashgun for providing a sync point between the 3 cameras. It was still possible to sync them by listening to the audio, but would have been much easier if we had used a clapper (or just a clap in view) or a flashgun flash.
  • I ended up having to re-solder some leads at last minute (literally) to get it all working, since I hadn’t actually laid out all the cables beforehand to check I had the right things. This stress could have been avoided by a cable ‘walkthrough’ prior to turning up at the church.

Final thoughts

So, in the end we were able to make a nice DVD of the service and the reception, but it was all a bit stressful and I admire folk who do this every weekend as a full time occupation. We certainly learned stuff for VLOBLIVE gigs, but whether we will be brave enough to ever do a wedding video again remains to be seen!!

Dave

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