Documenting Dance with Video: Findings
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
|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
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Catherine Byers, LADD Fellow,
on taping DanceArt Company's Powerful Science.
- 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
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.