Planning a conference or convention with a video production and webcast component is something that is increasingly requested of not only seasoned event planners but executive assistants as well. While it is absolutely true that webcasting has never been easier and the cost of having video cameras projected at your event has dropped substantially in recent years, the fact remains that corporate visual branding should never be an afterthought.
“I’ll put an ad up on Craigslist to see if I can get a film student to come shoot it for us”.
Be honest: how many times have you thought that when approached with having your conference recorded?
I live in a Film City. A movie-making city. A city with a LOT of creative people with cameras at their disposal.
But do they have the skill set, experience and equipment to get the job done right?
I’ve been working in this arena since 1999. I learned at the side of some very experienced industry professionals. I asked a lot of questions and made some mistakes along the way.
And I learned a lot.
Success in a live event situation where you can’t “go back and do it again” has significantly less to do with gear and eagerness than it does with knowledge gained from experience and comprehensive preparedness.
Over the instalments in this series, I hope to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained with a sincere hope that folks tasked with hiring visual production folks will get some helpful insight and that new visual producers may find some inspiration as well as information.
Shaun’s First Rule of Successful Event Planning:
Involve your technicians early.
This will be a recurring theme throughout the series. For this post, I thought I’d get territorial…
SPACE: The Final Frontier
We visual folks are nearly always the last consideration when it comes to space allocation at a conference. “We’ll try and squeeze you in over here…” is generally a nightmare for all involved. We block sight-lines of your attendees, can’t get the line-of-sight we need to produce the content you need and are often blocked in which can be a disaster if things do go wrong and we need quick access to the audio tech or to change batteries or frequencies in a malfunctioning wireless microphone transmitter.
- Have a clear and focused idea of where things will be happening in the physical space. Where will keynote speakers be presenting from? A podium? A stage riser? Are there presenters or performers that are physically separated from each other?
- The further things are apart, the more difficult and distracting it becomes (especially for a single camera) to provide coverage and adequately document what happened at the event.
- Allow space for your A/V team. A good audio technician usually likes to hear the audio mix from a “sweet spot” in the room. Mixing using exclusively headphones can be distracting, causing the technician to miss cues and may also create a situation where the volume and intelligibility in the room suffers as more people enter or ambient noise levels from something happening outside the hall changes. Why do I as your video person care so much about audio? The absolute best images in the world are ineffective if the auditory message is lost. The audio tech is my best friend in live event coverage.
- Save some space for camera placement. Cameras may have gotten smaller over the years but operators and quality tripods haven’t. We need good line-of-sight to get the images you expect. As I mentioned earlier, the sight-lines of folks BEHIND the camera positions should certainly be considered as well. This should be part of the initial consultation with your service provider. A site survey is a crucial part of any successful live event that involves visual productions.
- Lazy Electrons Won’t Jump will be a future topic in this series but let me touch briefly on the concept of signals and how they get places now. My humble professional opinion is that truly reliable (and affordable) wireless video transmission is still sometime in the future. Latency, reliability, cost and an increasingly crowded radio spectrum are still adversaries to effective wireless transmission of video signals. At the present time, I still insist that wired connection of video signals is not only preferable but required. We need to run cables. Sometimes several to each camera position. This affects (and is affected by) seating placement. As well, some venues insist on “flying” cables overhead. This takes time, increases labour costs and generally needs to take place before venue seating is installed. You can see how involving your visual production team lead early in the planning process is valuable here.
- As a technical director/switcher, I have directed shows from the middle of the show floor, the edge of the stage, back stage, from the back of the room, from balconies, from a remote truck and even from a “black hole” room physically removed from the venue floor. Each has its pluses and minuses, both to me and to the implications of the show,. I cannot stress enough PLEASE INVOLVE YOUR VISUAL PRODUCTION TEAM LEAD IN DISCUSSIONS AROUND PLACEMENT. As well, cable runs can be subject to maximum lengths due to engineering limitations. I know how long each of my runs can be safely. Please ask. I’m pretty proud of my geekiness.
- On multi day events, sometimes the venue is re-purposed at night for banquets, meetings and other uses that may or may not be part of your event. Knowledge is power here. We typically have a fair bit of equipment and cabling on the floor that takes time to set up and test. As well, some cable is fragile and cannot withstand being run over by scissor-lifts or heavy carts repeatedly. If teardown and setup is required, it is imperative that your visual services provider be aware of this well in advance. This greatly affects labour and may influence how we choose to wire a gig.
Well folks, that’s Part One. A lot of information to take in but this is just a small part of the service that I strive to provide to my clients. When you hire me, you get over a dozen years of experience in asking the questions and making the recommendations that contribute to a successful event.