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Documenting Dance with Video: Findings

Pre-production

I would strongly recommend that people who are first starting out think of [video documentation] as a long-term investment and long-term plan.

Yasmen Sorab Mehta
Choreographer

The term pre-production refers to the universe of tasks that must be completed before shooting begins. Much more than mere preparation, pre-production lays the all-important foundation for production and post-production stages of video producing. Start pre-production as early as possible, ideally when the dance project itself is initiated. If pre-production tasks are well executed, the work will be evident in the final videotape. Good pre-production work cuts costs in post-production and creates more options in the decision-making process. It also ensures that the artistic directorís cultural and aesthetic intent is well represented in the resulting video and sets the stage for a smooth running and cost-efficient video shoot.

Budget/cost

California Contemporary Dancers Videographers, this is what [artistic directors] are looking for. At the top of the list is your willingness and availability to immerse yourself in their work. Your communication skills in articulating your vision. Your technical skills as a director, photographer, camera operator, sound technician and lighting director. Your own artistic temperament and shooting style. Your knowledge of dance music, art and design. Your knowledge of what it takes to create a finished piece from the first contract to the last dub. And then, your equipment and costs.

Linda Schaller
Producer/Director

  • Producing quality video is a long term investment that can produce many rewards, both monetary and non-monetary.
  • You get what you pay for. Use the best tape stock and camera equipment within your means in order to insure that the video you produce is of high quality. Poorly made video may be as valueless to you as no video at all.
  • Footage is the building block of any edited piece. Capturing the best video footage possible creates limitless opportunities for video applications in the future, be they archival, promotional or process-oriented.
  • The primary expenses of producing footage include buying tape stock, renting the equipment and paying the camerapersons.
  • Planning and good communication cuts the total expense of production and decreases risk in documenting dance work.
  • Thinking of the cost of video production as an investment which is paid for by future audiences, performance bookings and funding helps the budgeting process.

The question of rights1

The critique with Robert was positive. When he saw the higher quality of the closer shots from dress rehearsal, which gave a clearer representation of the choreography, he felt a renewed sense of hope about his work. In other words, weak documentation had negatively affected his perception of his own work to the point where he had given up on doing the piece again.

As a choreographer, I realize how often I have responded this way to weak documentation of my work when I perform in it (as Robert did in his). Because he had not seen his choreographed intentions come across in the performance footage, he was unclear on how effectively his message had been communicated to the audience. He now understood that video was a means of communicating his choreographic and dramatic intentions in another language.

Kate Foley, LADD Fellow,
on taping Robert Moses' Kin.

  • Copyright protects original expressions once they have become ìfixedî on tape or on paper. The copyright is ìownedî by the creator of the work it protects unless sold or otherwise assigned. Copyright protects artists by insuring that their creative work cannot be appropriated or sold without permission. In the documentation of dance, securing copyright to the finished video product is essential. If the artistic director does not secure the rights, he or she relinquishes control of eventual uses, distribution and revenue for the life of the tape. Additionally, if another partyís copyrighted work (such as a musical score) is included on the tape and permission to use that material has not been obtained, the person holding the right to the score can stop the tapeís distribution or make a claim to any revenue the tape generates.
  • The artistic director. In dance documentation, the artistic director generally assumes the role of producer. Typically, the producer owns video footage produced in a ìfor hireî video production. The artistic director, then, owns the rights to the video recording of the dance performance. Along with holding the rights to the video, he or she is responsible for clearing the rights to any copyrighted artistic input (music or visuals) featured in the video recording of the performance. Additionally, it is the artistic directorís role to obtain signed releases (see the section on production for a full discussion of releases) from performers who appear on the tape.
  • The performers. Performers are considered joint authors of a creative work in which they take part. Before a work is taped, unless an employer/employee relationship exists, performers are typically required to sign releases relinquishing any claim to rights and/or monetary compensation for capturing their individual performances on videotape (see the section on production for a full discussion of releases).
  • The composer. If copyrighted music is used in the performance, a permis-sion must be cleared with the author or owner of the copyright. It is the ìownerî of the footage, or the artistic director, that is responsible for obtaining written permission.
  • We were unfamiliar with a large group work to be premiered. It was difficult to view a full cast rehearsal of this work before and during tech week, and we faced the possibility of having to move the cameras to an undesirable location should the show sell out.

    I watched the spacing rehearsal, technical rehearsal and one studio rehearsal prior to the shoot. It was clear the new work was still being edited even after the dress rehearsal, so choices about shooting close could only be made in known, unchanged sections of the new work and in other repertoire on the program. I was glad I had invested the viewing time as the new work was quite dense, and I had to make clear choices on what I felt were the dominant events on-stage.

    I had to move the cameras due to a sold-out house. In retrospect I would have refused to shoot from these angles, and would have made a greater effort to display the value of good camera positions to the choreographer in advance of tech week. That way, he could weigh the trade of losing seats for good documentation before production stress set in, and could make necessary arrangements with the house.

    Kate Foley, LADD Fellow
    on taping Robert Moses' Kin.

    The videographer. In a ìfor hireî video production, the producer owns the footage produced. The videographer should communicate to the artistic director all relevant rights issues and to provide him or her with necessary releases and permission forms. The videographerís future use (if any) of the tape should be negotiated at the time a contract is made.
  • Contracts. Resolve the questions of rights and ownership in the beginning. If rights cannot be obtained to a particular choreography, piece of music, or performance, the video production may be scrapped. Create a written contract which may simply be a letter) between the videographer and artistic director outlining costs, time frame, commitment and ownership of the final product. Obtain all releases and permissions before production goes forward.

Selecting a videographer

  • Experience. Find a videographer who has experience shooting dance or other similar types of performance.
  • Past work. Request to see a ìresume reel.î
  • Commitment. Insure that the videographer is willing to devote the time required to create the videotape when you need it.
  • Compatibility. Choose someone with whom you feel comfortable working, someone with whom you can easily communicate, someone whom you believe understands or is willing to learn about your work.

Forming a creative partnership between videographer and artistic director

  • Speaking the same language. Make sure that you both understand the particular terminologies of each otherís discipline. Educate each other about dance and video languages. Discuss the cultural and artistic traditions the performance draws upon as well as the videoís specific aesthetic context.
  • Translating between disciplines. Dance takes place in three-dimensions while video lights up a two-dimensional screen. The video frame has a significantly greater vertical range than the horizontally-oriented stage. Discuss what is lost and gained when a performance is recorded. Review strategies for dealing with the different framing proportions dictated by the stage and the video screen. Arrive at realistic expectations of what the video will look like and how the performance will appear on video.
  • The piece was slow moving and not hard to follow. It was easy to memorize the pattern that the group would take as the dance was rather stationary spatially. The problems we faced were not with the dance itself but with the crowd, outdoor lighting and equipment security.

    There was a crowd already established in the best shooting position. We told the crowd of people we would need a bit of the area to set up the equipment. You can tell people expect tech crews to be men. One must be assertive in stating needs for space in a preexisting crowd of people. When we set up it was hard to see the monitor because of sunlight. The battery loaded in the camera was dead by the time we were ready to shoot. It would be good to carry extra batteries and a battery monitor to future outdoor shoots.

    Jocelyne, being short, had to stand on a crate to shoot over the heads of the crowd. The other option was to stand in the flower beds, but Jocelyne and Sally believed we'd hurt the flowers. I thought we should just be careful around the flowers and take the better shooting position which was level with the stage.

    Breakdown and reloading of the equipment presented a security dilemma because the car was not parked close by. It would have been helpful to have another person on the shoot for security of equipment purposes.

    Judith Sims, LADD Fellow, on Sri Susilowati
    performance in San Francisco's Union Square.

    Learn to see through each otherís eyes. The artistic director is the author of the work that the videographer makes visible on tape. The videographer becomes the eyes and the ears of the artistic director in the process of creating dance video documentation. To make this collaboration work, the artistic director must learn the strengths and limitations of the video medium and the videographer must become accustomed to the rhythm and movement of dance.
  • Decide together what to shoot. The videographer is the mediator between the live performance and the finished video. The greater the artistic directorís input, the better a vision can be captured on tape by the videographer. The artistic director should describe the piece visually and in chronological order to the videographer, mapping the structure and content of the work. Decide what the most important aspects of the performance are and discuss how these aspects can best be translated into video.
  • Viewing past work. Sitting down together to review available footage of the performance or past works of the company is a good way to discuss what the documentation should look like. Both videographer and artistic director can learn from what has worked and not worked in the past, and a clearer understanding of what the video should represent can be achieved.

Knowing the performance

  • Knowing the piece. The videographer must know the structure, content and pace of the performance in order to capture the action seamlessly on video. Additionally, the videographer should be familiar with the traditions that inform the artistic directorís work in order to translate the cultural and aesthetic sense of the performance into like video terms. If the videographer is well prepared for the live performance, the camera work will benefit, and the video recording will better represent the performance.
  • What the artistic director can do. There is no better preparation than practice, but the ability to practice shooting a piece requires commitment from the artistic director as well as the videographer. If there is no rehearsal structure, are there other opportunities to view the performance? If no straight run through is planned, might the artistic director schedule one in order to provide the videographer with pre-performance shooting experience?
  • What the videographer can do. The videographer should attend as many rehearsals as possible before shooting the live performance. Attending a straight run through of the entire performance is particularly valuable preparation as is appearing at a dress or tech rehearsal.
  • Contingency planning. Prepare for the piece to change, and prepare to be unprepared. Be flexible, and think on your feet. When shooting a perfor-mance, the action wonít stop when the videographer misses a shot or experi-ences technical difficulties.
  • Our preliminary meeting was well focused. Robert walked us through each scene of the choreography in elaborate enough detail for me to diagram entrances, exits and spatial patterns. He warned us in advance that the cameras would have to move from the project's designated positions at Theater Artaud (mid-house center) should there be demand for the seats. He requested a third close-up angle during the dress shoot, at house right several rows up from the front.

    The dress rehearsal was well prepared on our part, with plenty of set-up time. We had a good close-up position. Unfortunately, the production was behind schedule, the work still being edited, the lights being designed on the fly. Not everyone was in costume and some of the performers arrived late, causing the show to be run in reverse order. This was unknown to us until we started shooting. We had some great shots, but the scenes in which the performers were not in costume would prove difficult to use for cutting. The performance shoot went poorly, as we had to move the cameras as predicted to off-center angles very far back in the house. The lack of a center shot collapsed the stage space strangely, and the distance from the stage was too much for the lenses to handle without affecting resolution.

    Kate Foley, LADD Fellow
    on taping Robert Moses' Kin.

    The venue. The space in which a dance takes place is an element of the performance itself. Begin to familiarize yourself with the venue before production begins. Is it a large proscenium stage theater, a small theater in the round, an outdoor festival, a busy sidewalk? Contact technical staff at the venue in advance to insure a smooth relationship once production begins.

Production

In performing arts, the term production signifies the process of and all the elements involved in putting a creative work on stage. In video, production is used to connote the total process of producing (or rendering) a video program. Production, for video, also has a specific meaning, denoting all tasks related to shooting or taping. Simply put, video production is the actual process of creating footage.

Scouting the venue/location

  • Understanding the event. Before shooting, gain a basic understanding of what the event is, where it will take place and how it will proceed. Is the event a scheduled performance in a theater or a cultural function? Is the performance space outside or inside? Will there be assigned seating or a moving crowd? Are cameras allowed?
  • Initiate good relationships with the technical staff. Have the artistic director or the technical director introduce you to his or her contact at the venue. Discuss taping the event ahead of time. Find a secure space to stage or store equipment if necessary. Obtain a schedule of when the theater will be accessible to you and when it will go dark.
  • Scout the location. Go to the location at least once before the live shoot. Take note of camera placement possibilities. If the performance event is to take place in a theater, reserve 4 or 6 seats in the selected space before the house is sold. If the performance event takes place in a studio or outdoors, arrange to have a space blocked off for the camera equipment. In outdoor shooting venues, arrive early with a crew large enough to claim adequate space for the camera. Confirm camera placement with the appropriate staff member at the venue. If reserving space for the camera is not possible, be sure to arrange to show up on the performance date early enough to stake out a position for the equipment and crew. Investigate lighting and sound concerns, and power access. Assess equipment needs such as extra cables, batteries (for hand-held camera work), lights, etc.
  • The evening of the live shoot we arrived early. I'm glad we did because it gave us the opportunity to figure out how to deal with sound and to finalize iris settings. As often is the case, last minute problems and the need for adjustments came up. Duncan expressed concern that the mic stands we had placed near the stage would block the view of audience members sitting on the sides of the theater. While this didn't come up when we had them set up in the rehearsal he asked that they be removed before the audience filled in. This posed a challenge because we had brought nothing else to secure the mics, and we knew the mics needed to be close to the performers to record good sound.

    We knew our priority was to accommodate the artistic director. Sally found some lighting guides and then asked the House Manager if we could borrow them for the shoot. Again, good planning in pre-production pays off in production. Sally had taken the time to make good contacts with the lighting operator and the house manager. The go-ahead from the appropriate authority at the house allowed the mics to be discretely placed close to the stage without blocking anyone's view. We then asked Duncan if he was comfortable with our solution to the problem. He was pleased with the result. This situation and our response to it demonstrates the kind of quick and resourceful thinking needed to troubleshoot problems in production.

    With the last minute crisis solved, our team held a production meeting. We discussed iris settings, audio levels, framing and props. We reviewed how each piece would be shot and what the roles of each crew member were to be. 3x5 cards with the iris settings were placed on the tripods of both cameras for use as reference during the performance.

    We chose to shoot from midway up the risers in the theater. This provided the best possible camera angle, but entailed a move to the back of the theater in the event that the house was sold out. We set up the cameras and shooting monitors side-by-side, allowing both the videographers to view what the other one was shooting. It helps for one videographer to know what the other videographer is doing to avoid producing the same shot on both cameras. Luckily, the house did not sell out, and we were able to tape the performance from the optimal shooting position.

    For the first half of the performance I operated the close-up camera which demands greater attention and swifter camerawork than the wide camera. Needless to say I was nervous. I tried to calm myself by breathing and becoming still so that I could move into the piece. Good camerawork will mimic the energy of the subject's movement. For myself, I find that it is often the music that provides the most effective avenue into the work. By the third dance I started to get into the flow of the dance and I found that it was the music that took me there.

    Catherine Byers, LADD Fellow,
    on taping DanceArt Company's Powerful Science.

    Attend a technical rehearsal. Often last minute changes in lighting and sound are implemented during tech rehearsals. Attending the rehearsal also provides an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to the technical staff and initiate a positive working relationship with them. Learn light and sound cues, and obtain a tech script if available.
Releases
  • What is a release. A release is a written document which establishes the rights of individuals participating (physically or artistically) in the videotaped work. A release is typically a brief form assigning ownership of the individualís participation in a particular performance as captured on video to the owner of the video, in most cases the artistic director. The release will also include protections for the participants and producers of the work, and for the audio and visuals the work employs. A release insures that possible usages of the video product are laid out in writing ahead of time. Artists can then choose whether to agree to the reproduction of their work on videotape without the fear that their work will be stolen, misrepresented or otherwise misappropriated. Typically, by signing a release participants relinquish all rights of ownership or claims of monetary compensation for their participation in the production. If releases are not obtained from all on-screen participants in the video production, there is a possibility that a person can later claim ownership to the final product and perhaps prohibit its distribution or demand revenue from its sale or exhibition.
  • Who signs a release. All creative collaborators whose work appears and persons seen and/or heard on the videotape of the performance must sign a release before taping begins. There are no exceptions to this rule.
  • Who is responsible for getting releases signed. The artistic director, as owner of the final footage, is responsible for obtaining signed releases from all creative collaborators and on-screen participants in the taped performance. Additionally, by claiming ownership to the piece, the artistic director implies that all rights have been secured to the music and visuals as well as the performances. If the artistic director does not secure these rights, he or she relinquishes assured control of the videoís eventual use, distribution and revenue for the life of the tape.

Camera/Lighting

  • Camera work as the foundational building block. Getting good footage is essential to the creation of quality video. Think of video footage as the building blocks with which the final piece will be constructed. No amount of post-production magic can disguise poorly framed images, shaky camera work or glitches in the tape. Building a video out of bad footage will result in a final product which is disappointingly unprofessional and which will inevitably fail to represent adequately the live performance. Whether the final product envisioned is archival documentation, a promotional piece, an edited program for television, or an impressionistic art video, focusing on solid camera work using first-rate equipment and high quality tape stock will provide a strong foundation for the creation of a wide variety of video applications both in the present and in the future.
  • Choose the highest quality video format your budget allows. You get what you pay for. Tape is your canvas, but in video, the canvas deteriorates over time. Even the highest format, Betacam, will experience data loss over the course of a decade. Because of the fragility of video, it behooves the producer to fix his or her work in a medium that can be edited, that minimizes corruption over time, and that best preserves the images and action of the performance piece. Popular formats ranked from the highest quality and most expensive to the lowest quality and least expensive: Digital Betacam, Betacam SP, Betacam, S-VHS, Hi 8 and VHS.
  • Know what you are shooting. Knowing the content, structure and timing of the material you are shooting helps you to anticipate movement and to keep the correct composition within the frame. Learn the work you are to shoot by talking to the artistic director, attending rehearsals, and shooting a dress rehearsal if possible. Practice and preparation are invaluable to timely and effective panning and zooming.
  • Shot composition. Explore ways to compensate for videoís particular horizontal to vertical ratio which causes excessive overhead space to be recorded. The Rule of Thirds often makes for good shot composition. According to this method, the performers will occupy the lower third of the frame and the scenery or back drop will fill the upper two thirds. This provides the dancers with added ìgravityî within the video frame.
  • We discussed with Kirk [LADD Video Mentor] the white costumes and bright light. He said we were in luck because Enrico had not introduced any other color into the scenario and all we had to do was set for the white and it wouldn't be a problem. He said the problem comes when you have these light and dark contrasts to deal with.

    Judith Sims, LADD Fellow, on taping Enrico Labayen's Lab Projekt Performance Group.

    The energy of the camera movement should be appropriate to the energy of the dance. Additionally, timing and flow of the camera movement should mimic rather than contradict the music or the movement on stage. Anticipate movement with the camera, and be sure to leave room for the dancers to move within the frame. A general movement rule of thumb: if you stop the camera, remain stopped; if you are not happy with the shot, keep moving. Roll tape at all times during the performance.
  • Camera focus and depth of field. In low-light shooting environments such as the theater, itís best to focus when the lights are up before the performance begins. If there is not enough light to focus during the performance, a camera might have to zoom in to focus and then zoom back out to resume the wide shot. A helpful rule of thumb suggests dividing the stage into thirds. Focus on the dancers who stand 1/3 of the way from the front of the stage. This technique increases depth of field.
  • Something we had not tried before that was really quite beneficial was to set the monitors up so that each person had two monitors, one representative of what the videographer was shooting, and the other representative of what the other cameraperson was shooting. In this way we could avoid making similar shot choices and could have a larger pool of shots. I found this to be intriguing and quite fun.

    Jocelyne Danchick, LADD Fellow,
    on taping Contraband.

  • The two-camera shoot. Documenting dance with a single video camera is like looking at a landscape through a peep hole. The space is flattened. Depth is lost. Details cannot be drawn out. The eye tires quickly. Where the dancers/performers are situated in the space plays an important part in choreographic intention. When shooting performances with more than one camera, a variety of angles can be employed to draw out the space, discern detail and portray multiple points of view. The two-camera shoot offers the option of capturing performance detail as well as context without sacrificing an exhaustive documentary approach to the range of action taking place on stage.
  • Capturing the wide shot and the close-up. When shooting with two cam-eras dance videographers often assign a camera to the wide shot and a cam-era to the close-up. This strategy captures the pieceís entire range of move-ment as well as details of the dancersí individual performances. The close-up camera, unless specified otherwise by the artistic director, generally stays far enough back from its subject or subjects to capture the full body whenever possible.
  • I watched the dances with the camera view in mind. I actually looked through my coiled fist at all the pieces to give me an idea of how quickly the dancer or dancers come in and out of the frame and how much I can follow them in wide and close-up shots. Also, it keeps me focused on what is happening with the dance. I began to memorize pieces. Between the VHS tapes I watched and the rehearsals, I'm beginning to know the dance.

    Judith Sims, LADD Fellow, on taping The Lab Projekt Performance Group.

    Lighting concerns. Whether shooting inside or outside, using a camera with manual exposure or iris is essential. The wider the iris is open, the more light the camera absorbs. Video cameras absorb this available light onto one or three chips. The camera then electronically configures the light as color on a piece of tape. Three chip cameras are more expensive and produce higher quality images than one chip cameras. For performances in a theater, expect ìvideo-unfriendlyî low-light conditions. Use cameras specially designed for low-light shooting if possible and open up the iris. Unfortunately, opening the iris decreases the depth of field (range of focus). As a general rule, set the iris to the highest numerical value possible without sacrificing detail in the darker portions of the frame. When shooting outdoors, be prepared to deal with changing light conditions which may necessitate constant iris adjustment and repeated white balancing.
  • Basic camera set up and placement. Prioritize camera placement options with the artistic director prior to shooting, but be prepared to move because of a full house or other unanticipated circumstance. Cameras are typically setup in parallel positions for later editing purposes. Arrive at the venue as early as possible. Confirm your prearranged or chosen position with the appropriate person at the venue. Safely secure all cables run along the ground with gaffers tape. Set up the tripod in a space that allows the videographer to sit or stand comfortably. Set up the external monitor in a position that allows the videographer to see both the performance space and the cameraís view of it. Set up, calibrate and test all equipment well before the performance begins.
  • THE CHALLENGE: There were large numbers of dancers in several pieces and there would be difficulty making choices about what to shoot on the close-up shot, even with the choreographer's information and preferences.

    HOW THE CHALLENGE WAS HANDLED: Because of the length of the suites (usually 20-30 minutes) we decided to split up the suites and give directorial control of each suite to a specific person on the team. That person would be responsible for viewing the rehearsals of that suite and making the decision on the content of the close-up shots. That person would create a "shot sheet" that would guide the person on the close-up camera, as well as help the person on the wide camera to visualize a dance they may not have seen before.

    WHAT DID I LEARN: When working in teams, I think the idea of splitting a dance performance so that each videographer is a "director" is an effective way to document the dance thoroughly. It helps avoid the problem of being overwhelmed by the length or content of a piece.

    Sally Beck, LADD Fellow, on taping Barangay.

  • Camera troubleshooting. Always bring equipment manuals to a shoot. Also supply back up components when possible: extra cable, extension cords, batteries, tape, etc. If a problem with the camera arises, think on your feet and eliminate possible causes one by one, starting with the power source.
  • Helpful accessories. A good tripod, preferably with a fluid head, allows steady shots and smooth pans while deterring muscle fatigue. Likewise, shooting with an external monitor increases the videographerís range of vision and prevents muscle strain. A wide angle lens allows the videographer to capture a larger range of action without miniaturizing the subject. Extra cables and additional extension cords add flexibility to the set up. A battery belt makes shoulder-held shooting easier and increases intervals between necessary battery changes. A small flashlight is useful in dark shooting environments. A white card facilitates white balancing. A back focus chart is helpful in the event that the camera drifts out of alignment. An equipment checklist insures that you will have all necessary equipment on hand, and is a handy tool for keeping track of rented or borrowed gear.
  • Shooting multimedia performances. Be aware of strategies for shooting slides or projected video when integrated into a performance. Inquire about access to source tape or images for possible use in post-production. If computer monitors are used in a performance, a phase bar (a continuously descending horizontal line) will appear on the screen in the video because video cameras and computer monitors scan at different frequencies. Some cameras have a special effect or setting to minimize the phase bar effect.
  • Shooting outdoors. Shooting outdoors provides additional challenges for the videographer. In general, outdoor shoots require additional crew members for staging and securing equipment, staking out space in a crowd, and handling unanticipated tasks. Arrive early to stake out a space for the camera before the crowd fills in. Bring something to stand on if you anticipate requiring a vantage point slightly above the height of the audience. If you shoot without a tripod, be sure that your strength and endurance can match the length and pace of the performance. Bring a more than adequate supply of camera bat-teries even if you believe you have access to an electrical outlet.
  • Sound
  • Our experience was a good example of cold shooting. We met with the choreographer once, viewed a tape of his work, talked at length about the Mexican folk dance and the aspects of the form which had eluded previous videographers.

    The sound was challenging because of the wide dynamic range. Unmicrophoned sound sources included a narrator, three-piece and twelve-piece mariachi bands, and a short piece of prerecorded tape played through the house speakers. We tried a board-feed from a pre-cabled overhead mic, but there was too much hum and not enough time to trace the cable or hang a new one. We unexpectedly were shut out of the house before the show, so we ran out of time to try working with a placed mic. And there was no option for a floor mic or stand due to the configuration of the stage.

    We decided to loop the mics together to create master sound on Camera One which was fed to Camera Two to insure master sound quality between cameras. We had the necessary adapters and cable, but encountered signal loss on Camera Two due to the length of the cables. We had the third person in the crew ride the levels on Camera One, and eventually boosted Camera Two after sorting out adjustments during the first half of the program.

    Kate Foley, LADD Fellow, on taping Alegría de San José.

    Getting good audio. Capturing good audio is considered by many to be more important to the quality of the final product than capturing good video. While people tend to find poor visuals accompanied by good audio watchable, the reverse ógood visuals with poor audio- is less palatable to the viewing audience. As with video, no amount of post-production wrangling can transform poorly managed levels or badly recorded sound into an attractive and clean soundtrack.
  • Live and/or prerecorded music. If the performance uses live music, find out if the musicians will be micíed. Ascertain if you can access the audio feed through the house sound board; that is, borrow the mixed audio that the house amplifies for the audience and run it directly into the camera. If a feed to the house board is unavailable, try to mic the performanceís sound elements separately and obtain decent audio levels on all channels.
  • Audio sources. Record different audio sources on separate channels. If one source is corrupted, the other can be used as a back up.
  • Stage sounds. Set up microphones to capture desired stage sounds and incidental audio. Stage sounds can include footfalls, shouts and calls, breath sounds, and narration as well as dancersí instruments, costumes and claps. Incidental audio can also encompass audience reaction and ambient sound.
  • Mic selection and placement. The sound capabilities of even consumer level video cameras are excellent. At the very minimum, a cameraís on-board microphone can capture usable audio for your piece. When shooting with the camera mic, however, be aware that the videographerís conversation, breathing or hand movement may be recorded on the tape. Also, camera noise like the lens adjustments and automatic zoom are often picked up. If at all possible, avoid using the on-board microphone. Among the most popular types of microphones are hand-held mics, boom mics, lavalieres and radio mics. Hand-held and boom mics are held by stands or poles, lavalieres are clipped to the performerís person, and radio mics are cordless microphones attached to the body along with a transmitter.
  • Mic placement. In general, its best to use a good microphone and place it as close to the source as possible. Microphones placed low to the ground are less noticeable on video and less distracting to the performers.
  • Using headphones. In addition to monitoring sound levels with the cameraís or the mixerís visual indicators, use headphones to monitor recorded sound. Be aware that when using headphones, live sound can seep in, resulting in a mix of live and recorded sound. Keep headphone volume high to insure that what you hear is what you get.
  • SOUND CHALLENGES: 1) Footfall sounds were important in Latin Folkloric and African Queens dances. 2) A large audience expected to be moving around with the constant rotation in the auditions necessitated that the mics be well situated but out of the audience's way.

    HOW THE SOUND CHALLENGES WERE HANDLED: We placed microphones very close to the stage on the side of a wall. Cable was taped down across two aisles and down the edge of the wall. We used tape to mark where an extension began in case of line problems, so we would know where to locate the change in the cable for replacement purposes.

    Judith Sims, LADD Fellow, on taping

    Handling sound levels. Do an audio check before the performance begins to determine at what level the sound distorts. The human voice is easier to distort than music. Manual monitoring of sound levels is preferable to using the cameraís automatic setting. It insures consistent audio levels and allows the operator to adjust the levels higher or lower when the performance demands it. When using a mixer, a piece of gear that allows you to input several sound sources at once, it is helpful to have one person solely responsible for ìridingî (monitoring and adjusting) the levels.
  • Post-production

    Post-production encompasses all production-related tasks that occur after shooting is completed. Editing, titling and sound mixing are common post-production activities. The extent and expense of the video in post-production depends on the videoís eventual application. The process may simply end when the original tapes are dubbed and the raw footage is distributed to interested parties. Conversely, the process may take on a life of its own with extensive editing sessions and the crafting of a ready-for-broadcast video program.

    Dubbing and tape care

    • Videotape is a fragile medium. The thinner the format stock, the faster the tape will deteriorate. Even the highest quality videotape, Betacam, can experience data loss and deterioration over the course of a decade. In addition to time, copying videotapes also affects quality. The original videotaped material (or source tape) is referred to as the first generation. A copy of the source tape is called the second generation and so on. Quality diminishes with each generation. Special care must be taken of the source tape (also called the master tape). Source/master tapes should be stored standing up in a dry, cool, dust free environment. Completely rewind or fast forward the tapes before storing them.

    Editing options

      In response to the issue of THE EDIT, we identified and developed two distinct methods of shooting. To me this issue has not been fully developed and deserves further attention.

      One method was to follow the action on stage (with the close-up camera) almost as if it were a one-camera shoot. Camera transitions therefore are smoother and more fluid perhaps because the camera is more like the eyes of an individual audience participant, taking in the action as it unravels and dynamically fills the space.

      The other method, which appears more aggressive, is to "go for the shot" i.e. you see something that looks like a great shot and you (as the camera person), swiftly move the camera to the appropriate position. Because this action pertains more specifically to the desired edit, certain material is passed over. This feels too subjective, and therefore runs counter to the idea of "documentation."

      However, the distinction between these two practices is an important one, and I am glad that I had an opportunity to learn more about it.

      Kate Foley, LADD Fellow, on taping Contraband.

    • Bumping up to a higher format. "Bumping up" video involves transferring a program recorded on lower quality videotape to higher quality videotape (e.g., from S-VHS to Betacam). Often the first step a producer will take in the post-production process, moving to a higher format allows footage to be preserved on a more stable tape format and makes it possible to edit in a higher-end editing environment.
    • Time code. Time code is a standardized method for numbering every video frame with a sequential, time-based code recorded as an electronic signal on the videotape. Time code is useful for identification and editing, purposes. Using a tape's time code, an EDL (Edit Decision List) can be formed. This schedule of video edits, each defined by time code, specifies the form of the video program and can be used to reduce time and expense involved in on-line or off-line editing sessions.
    • Off-line edit. This preliminary post-production editing session is used to compile a rough approximation of scene sequence and action pacing. During the off-line edit, editing points are established and an edit decision list (EDL) is compiled. The EDL is a handwritten or computerized list of edits to be performed during on-line editing. The video program that results from the off-line edit is called a "rough cut" and can be used as a guide for the final or on-line edit. A tenth of the cost of on-line editing, the result of the off-line edit is the final video product in lower budget productions.
    • On-line edit. In this final editing session, the edited master tape is assembled from the original production footage, usually under the direction of EDL. The on-line editor will possess a mix of high-end technical proficiency and aesthetic skills to help the director and producer refine transitions and sound levels efficiently.
    • Linear vs. nonlinear editing. Linear editing is a form of analog editing in which sequential edits are laid out in a linear fashion from the start to the end of the tape. This style of editing precludes inserting footage without re-recording all following edits. Nonlinear editing is a form of digital editing which stores images on a hard drive rather than tape. This allows random access to images and "cut and paste" -style arrangement of footage. Individual edits can be changed without necessitating the alteration of following edits. Nonlinear editing systems are often employed for the off-line edit.
    1 The information concerning the application of copyright to dance performance works and video programs is intended as a general introduction to the subject. These general guidelines were not prepared by an attorney and should not be construed as "legal advice."