Segue – Reset (Live at Big Day Out 2008 Two-up Edit) from Jaymis on Vimeo.

How do you make live performance documentation that doesn’t suck? You’ve been there: you’re trying to shoot footage, you’re trying to edit footage someone else shot, or you’re trying to tell someone shooting footage how to take material you can actually use. Jaymis from Create Digital Motion talks a bit about a recent experience working on footage of Segue – or skip to the end for some tips, either for you or to give that young, eager videographer you hope can make you look cool. Got more thoughts? We’d love to hear them. -Ed.

I’ve posted about this on CDMo, but the topic is applicable to musicians as much as visualists, so I think it’s worth repeating here.

I’m currently editing some video of a gig and interview, taken at an album launch party here in Brisbane. The promoter supplied me with a DVD containing about 10 minutes of interview, and about 45 minutes of “party” footage. If you’re in to documenting your work you’ve probably shot some just like it yourself: Crowd dancing. Shot of the artist. Over the shoulder of the artist tweaking his Lemur. Cute girls dancing. Repeat.

Of that 45 minutes of party action, I was able to extract only about 40 seconds of usable footage. It wasn’t badly shot, just homogenous. There was no shot variation, so it wasn’t interesting to watch, and there was no way to edit for continuity, to give an overall, consistent feel for what was going on.

The missing ingredient, which would allow me as an editor to glue it all together, was closeups.

Last year my collaborators Segue had a high profile gig at the Big Day Out. At the last minute the festival organizers said we couldn’t provide our own visuals, so I took my camera along instead, with a view to shooting footage which could be used for a live video. As there was just a single camera, I tried to cover as much ground as possible, shooting from the front and back of the stage, out in the audience, getting wide shots of the crowd and zooming up close on details of the rig and artists. I’m not a very good cameraman, but I knew that with enough details, enough cutaways, enough different shots, I’d be able to tie everything together at the end.

Getting the footage back to my studio, I took over 9 hours to edit that 45 minutes of footage into a single 7 minute live video. At the time the band were wondering why it was such an intensive job, so I exported a two-up edit of the video to show them how I was able to use closeups, crowd shots, and details to take that single-camera shoot and make it look like there had been a team of ninja cameramen swarming the stage.

The two-up edit shows the final mix on top, and the original continuous camera feed underneath.

This edit took so long because I was very careful with the continuity of shots. If I was cutting from a wide shot of an artist drinking, the following closeup should show him putting the bottle back down. If he had headphones on, then subsequent shots should have them as well. It didn’t matter if those clips were dragged in from 20 minutes earlier in the set, because close shots don’t show enough of the stage detail for the viewer’s brain to realise that things are happening out of order.

I’m sure many CDMu readers have been lumped with the task of capturing video of your own performances, or those of your peers. You may have edited the video yourself, or given it to a handy visualist to have a crack. Even if you have someone else shooting video of your show, it’s worth giving them some direction on what you’d like to to see. Hence:

Jaymis’ Tips for Great, Editor-Friendly Gig Shooting

Leave the camera(s) running constantly: Even if there’s only one, you won’t miss anything. If there’s more than one camera, continuous tape makes multi-camera editing exponentially easier.
Closeups are your friends: Close, detail shots allow you to tie disparate pieces of footage together and to cover camera moves. They also add variety, and show some intimate details of what’s happening on stage. Closeups of the crowd and venue are also great for adding context, without having the distraction of a full human body unrelated to the action.
Keep the camera moving: If you just want to document your set for posterity, having it up the back on a tripod is fine. But if you want to produce some thing visually interesting, then get that camera moving around the space. Remember to hold it still in between moves so you don’t get stabbed by your editor. Take your cues for the music. Move a couple of beats, hold focus for a phrase. Make your moves in between sections of music. Wide shots for builds, close shots in the middle of a section.
Don’t be scared of manual focus: Out of focus shots can be a great transition device. For fast, exciting music, hunting focus reinforces the frenetic nature of the action.

All of the other standard photography rules apply of course, so find someone to tell you about white balance, aperture, shutter speed, exposure etc. If you stuff those up though, there’s a lot which can be done in the edit, but we can’t make up interesting footage in post-production. That has to happen on the night.