All right all you insatiable DIYers out there, I’m about to hit you with the ULTIMATE in DIY projects for your band. No, not a mechanical fire-breathing dragon. No, not an automatic autotune machine for your singer. I am, of course, talking about the ultimate in luxury items for your merch booth – the LIVE DVD.
Why should you make a live DVD? Other than the obvious reason of capturing an incredible live performance for the ages (and the other obvious reason of having something else to sell at your merch booth besides your t-shirts and demos), professionally shot and edited live performance footage is an AMAZING selling tool to book your band. Every time I hear a great recording of a band, I wonder to myself, “Can they pull this off at a live show?” With professional live footage, you have proof of your prowess!
Undoable, you say? Unobtainable, you say? Extremely expensive, you say? Not so! Not at all! I will take you step by step through all the logistics needed to film, edit, and produce a live DVD that will hold its own against your favorite band’s live DVDs. And the best part – you’ll be able to sell it to your fans without an ounce of shame.
Since there are so many parts to think about, we will expand on this topic over a number of articles. But don’t worry, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and “Live at Rome” won’t be built in a day either.
Part 1 – Capturing the event
First things first – remind yourself that this is going to be recorded for all of time, so this needs to be your tightest, rowdiest, craziest, most expensive, and most packed show you’ve ever played. Practice, practice, practice. And bring out the big guns. Ever wanted to play your songs with a live symphony behind you? Book ‘em! Gregorian chant choir? Do it! Live martial arts demonstrations on stage while you play your hit song “karate love”? THIS IS THE TIME. This is going to take some planning. You can’t expect to put together a live DVD show in a month. I would recommend waiting for an event where you can expect a huge crowd anyway – say, for instance, a CD release show. But the absolute worst thing you can do is film a live DVD with a less than stellar crowd. Trust me, I’ve done it before. It looks terrible.
Ok, so you’ve got a date, you’ve got a venue, and you’ve promoted the ever-living hell out of it. You can expect a packed house. Now what?
Logistics Part 1 – Cameras
In order to capture an amazing live event, you need cameras! I know this seems basic, but many people forget about this crucial step until days before the event, and then it’s too late. You will need at a bare minimum two identical cameras. I’d recommend three, but two is your minimum. Why two? You need to have at least two perspectives. No one wants to watch a two hour performance of one static shot. Three cameras or more are preferable, so that you can film (and choose from) close-up shots of solos, drums, the crowd, etc.
Why identical cameras? Because you want to make sure the lenses are the same, they shoot at the same rate, they use the same file formats, etc. etc. It will just make your life a heck of a lot easier. Trust me.
You may say to yourself, “Jeeze Fang, this already sounds expensive!” Not necessarily. A little bit of google searching should reveal companies in your area that will rent you a number of cameras for relatively cheap. Many city or county libraries also rent out cameras as well. You may also want to check with your local public access cable TV channel. For a low membership fee, you can rent out a number of nice cameras AND have the availability of playing your live performance on the air!
So, because this is the most basic and critical step, you should make sure you have this completed before you continue.
Part 1.1 – Camera settings to think about
…but you don’t want just ANY cameras. Three of your dad’s old betamax cameras that have been sitting in the closet for 20 years won’t get the job done. There are a few things to think about here:
1. How long will your performance be? You need to make sure that your cameras have enough room to capture your entire performance. Are you planning on making a 45 minute DVD? Or a 3 hour extravaganza? How long do you normally play? Make sure you have the right camera and right media for the length of your performance. Speaking of media…
2. What kind of media are you capturing to? Does your camera take tapes, or does it store digital files to memory cards? Is your tape long enough? Is your memory card big enough? If you choose (or are forced) to use tape, remember that you will need to convert this tape to digital files before you edit the DVD, which can add at least 3-10 hours to the process. I recommend trying to find cameras that record directly to memory cards.
3. What size video are you recording? Does your camera shoot full HD (often referred to as “1080i” or “1080p”), almost-full HD (“720i” or “720p”), or just standard video (“480i” or “480p”)? Bear in mind that DVDs display standard video definition (480) and cannot display full HD video. This is a limitation of DVD technology, not a limitation of your files. Also, this doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot in HD – If you shoot in HD, your DVD authoring program should automatically convert your beautiful high definition (HD) video to standard definition (SD) video. However, if you choose to make a BluRay version to sell in the future, you will absolutely need to shoot in HD, and having these beautiful, fully edited HD files will allow you to make a BluRay version in a matter of hours rather than days. Also remember that HD video takes up A LOT more space than SD. If you shoot a two hour plus performance in HD, make sure you have at least a 32 gigabyte memory card in your camera.
4. How do you want your DVD to “look”? Let’s talk about camera frame rate here. Should your performance look “cinematic”, or “raw”? Do your members flail around a lot, or stay relatively still? Depending on what you choose, you’ll want to select a frame rate for your cameras that fits your style. 24fps (frames per second) is the frame rate of movies in a cinema, and what I’d recommend. While it technically captures less crisp motion (because it captures less frames), it makes your performance look “cinematic” because we’re all conditioned to think that 24fps is the frame rate of “big budget films”. 30fps is the standard frame rate of most cameras, and shooting at this frame rate will give your video a more “raw”, “home movie”-type look. This also captures quick movement better, so you’ll get less frame blurring while your guitarist spins in circles during his guitar solo. Personally, I would recommend going with 24fps, since it will make your video look “professional”. If you’re in a terrible black metal band, make sure you pay someone a lot of money to shoot your video in 30fps. You want to make your video look bad.
5. Does your camera have a shot time/size limit? During filming, you absolutely need to start your camera once and stop your camera once. You need to make sure that your camera can shoot uninterrupted for the entire length of your performance. High end point and shoot cameras like the Canon EOS have a maximum HD video file length of something like 7 or 8 minutes (at least on the ones I’ve used). That won’t do.
Got all that together? Feeling overwhelmed yet? Brother, we haven’t even STARTED!
Part 1.2 – Shots
No, not the fun, drunky type. I’m talking about the shots your cameras will capture during the night. There are three types of basic shots to think about – static, handheld, and tripod shots.
You should have one or two static shots. Static shots are set up once, and don’t move. Usually these are shots of the entire stage. The best way to capture these shots are to set up a tripod near the sound guy, or perhaps at the very back of the room. Bear in mind that you’ll need to have a good shot of the entire stage, and you’ll need the camera to see over people’s heads, so you’ll need an elevated platform, or a large tripod.
Static shots are nice because they can be your fallback shots. They’re boring, that’s for sure, but if your other two cameras are transitioning between positions, or shooting the wrong guitarist, or shooting crap, you can switch back to your nice, clean, boring static shot until your camera operators get their act together. These shots can also act as transition shots between two handheld shots to make the switchover less jarring. And static shots are GREAT for getting video of the crowd jumping up and down, clapping in unison, or going crazy.
Handheld shots are just that – the camera operator has the camera in their hands and freely manipulates the image and the distance from their subjects. These shots are usually awesome, and full of action. These are the shots where the camera can push up right into the face of the singer, or right on the guitarist as they rip their solo, or into the drumkit, and it appears to be from the perspective of the crowd. This pulls the viewer in, and makes them feel like they’re “actually there”. I highly recommend using at least one handheld camera in your production.
The biggest problem with handheld shots? They can be shaky as all hell. Have you ever tried to take a clear, stable video in a crowd full of metalheads? Without the proper tools, it can be impossible. That’s why I highly recommend you build yourself a steadycam. It’s easier and cheaper than you think! Follow this link to build the exact same steadycam I’ve used in my DVD (and my music videos) for $15: http://littlegreatideas.com/stabilizer/diy/
Finally, tripod shots are a cross between static and handheld. You set up the camera on a tripod somewhere with a good view of the stage, but you have someone operating the camera during the filming. That way, the image stays steady (because it’s on a tripod and not moving around), but the camera operator can zoom in and out, pan across the crowd, and move the shot to follow the action. Like static shots, these shots are also very reliable, and can be used if your handheld shots are terrible, and your static shots are too boring.
So, to sum up this part of the walkthrough, you will need to acquire:
- 2-5 identical cameras
- 2-3 tripods
- 1-2 steadycams
- Enough tapes/memory cards to last your performance
- Enough camera operators to man your tripod and handheld shots
If you can get this together, you have the video portion of this walkthrough planned. Next article, I’ll be taking you through the steps needed to capture the audio portion of your recording! Finally, we’ll look at editing, DVD authoring, and finally, production.