In early July 2017, we worked with repeat client eFly Productions on another medically-themed, conference-associated production. Our task: to stage and produce a talk-show style discussion of a new guideline published by KDIGO, a global kidney disease nonprofit organization.
The limitations: the production was in Denver vs. McBob’s usual Mid-Atlantic market, so production gear would have to be air-mobile. There would be four subjects, fully lit, three cameras, and a very, very tight budget.
Most small jobs break down into three “P’s”… personnel, place, and… um… ptransportation.
- Personnel – what roles need to be filled, vs. how many can I afford to pay?
- Place – where will this thing happen, and how much help or hinderance will the location(s) offer?
- Ptransportation – how are the people and gear getting to the place? Aside from budget, this also determines how much gear can actually be brought to bear.
First, personnel. While there was nowhere near the budget for the “ideal” 5-6 person crew, this clearly wasn’t a solo job. While I could execute the gymnastics necessary to op three cameras (done it before), trying to also mix four mics simultaneously would be treacherous (also done it before – not recommended). Hiring a veteran audio engineer to make that aspect of the production drop-dead simple required no second thought. After several days of searching, we sourced Denver-local soundie Drew Levinson of Type B Productions to effectively eliminate that variable. Being local, he also wasn’t nearly as restricted in the sensibility of equipment he supplied.
Next, place. Predictably, the hotel conference room we’d have to utilize as our stage was bland-to-sickening goldish-beige, and completely unadorned. Additionally, hotel restrictions meant we would not be able to move or commandeer furniture, or even redecorate the room – both time-honored hotel conference production staples – without incurring substantial fees to our already limited budget. With eFly, we elected to instead hire the hotel to erect some simple black draping, and source a quartet of simple modern white chairs. Our set would thus be similar to what might happen if Charlie Rose and Johnny Carson’s producers met and had a baby in an IKEA.
Third, ptransportation, was initially a very limiting factor. Again, very little budget, so flight restrictions would limit the full 3-camera lit shoot to what I could stuff into a few carry-on and checked bags. Now, camera gear is much more compact than it used to be, but it isn’t that compact. Fortunately, this calculus was modified by a completely beneficial curveball. Since we hadn’t done any sort of family vacation that summer, and the Rocky Mountains were mere moments away…. ROADTRIP! The entire McBob Clan piled into the Family Truckster and executed an entertaining, educational, and perhaps slightly insane two-day haul from Charlottesville to Denver (with attraction visits along the way). While the trip is its own story, this change in transportation meant I could expand my kit from what would fit in 2-3 checked bags (i.e., not much) to what could fit into one SUV-top cargo carrier (i.e., slightly more).
In the end, our setup on the camera-and-lighting side consisted of:
- 3 cameras – 1 GH4 static wide in 4K, 1 GH4 static host in 4K, 1 Sony FS5 as operated CU follow cam.
- 3 tripods of varying quality; static cameras don’t need much more than to be held in place, so smaller, cheaper travel photo tripods were used for the GH4’s.
- 6 lighting fixtures – 2 Lowel V-lights through a 4×4 silk, 1 Lowel RIFA55, 3 Lowel Pro-Lights
- 4 stands and 3 furniture clamps with grip spuds
- an ancient iPad (1st gen) to monitor and control the host camera via WiFi
I set up the V’s-through-silk and RIFA in a cross-key arrangement to provide key and fill… the 4×4 off the host’s left shoulder screen right, and the RIFA off screen left. The hotel had 360-degree VR tours available of its rooms, revealing a ‘reverse tray-style ceiling’ (if that’s even a thing). This meant I could utilize the overhead ceiling structure to mount three 250W Pro-lights from Matthews bar clamps, giving each of the guests somewhat of a back light.
The production went smoothly, with several runs-through in a little over half a day. Syncs were done through the super-advanced technology of a pair of hand claps at the head or tail of each take. Nothing overheated, no bulbs blew, no settings were flubbed. We collected multi-gigabytes of media and set to the task of editing over the next couple weeks (after the remainder of our trip).
While I don’t think I’ll be displacing the lovechild of Charlie Rose and Johnny Carson’s producers’ position any time soon, it shows some idea of what we can accomplish for clients with minimal personnel, equipment, and finances – it’s often more than they’d think.