Experience: Live Directing a Concert (Part 2/4)

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Catch up with Part 1.

The concert was underway, a raucous blues band did a thundering cover of Led Zeppelin. In the control tent, I kept my eyes glued to the monitors showing the live feeds from all cameras in the field. My unmanned camera, “Deadcam,” was set as my wide shot. I planned to cut to Graybead on Camera 2 but noticed he had zoomed out, without my instructions, and was duplicating the wide shot. This struck me as odd.

“Camera 2, give me a medium shot. Like you had before,” I said.

He corrected a bit reluctantly and I switched his feed to “live.” My mind was already three steps ahead. Over the microphone, I told Rocketboy to get his shot ready. Stationed in the wings, he had a perfect angle for a two-shot of both the lead singer and guitarist. Moving fast, I blended Graybeard’s shot with Rocketboy’s close up. Meanwhile, I scanned the monitors to see if Newbie had a usable shot. He was opposite the stage from Rocketboy. Without my realizing, he had been surrounded by a backstage crowd. They had forced him behind a pillar. His every shot was blocked by the pillar and the pedestrians.

“Camera Four, get out of there,” I told him. “Don’t let them push you around.”

The monitor showed his camera swinging from side to side. Technical trouble? I glanced at my assistant director Waldo. Together we looked out over the sea of people to where Newbie was corralled in the wings. He looked at us and gestured helplessly, his plump sweaty face registered his rising panic. They were standing on his camera cable.

“Get those baboons off your cable, Camera Four,” I told him calmly.

Whenever a crowd realizes it can intimidate a cameraman, they usually continue to do so. It’s a warped bit of primate behavior I call “baboon interference.” Newbie had let the baboons get the upper hand. He was forced to plead with each individual to kindly not stand on his camera cable. It was painful to watch.

Once he was free, I ordered him to the rear of the stage, positioned behind the drummer. It was an awkward placement but I didn’t have another option. The baboons would block him if he stayed in the wings. But it put the other camera angles at risk because Newbie would be visible in them. Instinctively the other camera men adjusted their shots to avoid filming Newbie.

“Get closer on the drums, Camera Four,” I advised him.

In his haste to get a usable shot, he zoomed in too fast and got an extreme close up of the drummer’s hands. It was just in time for the drum solo. And it was perfect!

“Hold steady, Camera Four. Steady Camera Three — you are both live.

In a long dissolve I blended Rocketboy’s close up of the singer with the drummer’s hands. It was a small moment of cinematic brilliance in time with the drum solo. Finally, I could play. Matched to the beat, I created a live music video — cutting and dissolving, moving fast and furious among the camera angles. All the while, I anticipated the next shot and the next. It was brilliant for the moment but I realized my variety of shots was fast diminishing. Graybeard and Rocketboy had limited range with Newbie on stage.

I ordered Newbie back in position, in the wings and in front of the pillar.

Valiantly he strolled up to the pedestrians surrounding the pillar but hesitated. They closed ranks against Newbie’s approach. It was a stare down. Once people realize they can get away with interfering with camera crew, they will continue to interfere until somebody very large, intimidating (and preferably hairy) comes along and tells them to stop. Newbie was none of those things.

Out of options, I decided to use him to get a reverse angle crowd shot: a “band’s eye view” of the audience. It was risky because he would catch Graybeard’s camera in the audience. But if he slow panned to the right, then the motion would distract the viewer’s eye away from the cameraman. I gave the order. Newbie held steady and panned over the audience. In his eagerness, he kept panning right. Right into the wings. Right into the baboons. I cut away from his feed just as a dozen faces stared into Newbie’s camera. The pedestrians glanced at Newbie, glanced at each other. Then a miracle happened. The baboons scattered, retreating from the pillar, from the wings, taking cover from Newbie’s camera.

“Good job, Camera Four!” I congratulated him. “Those baboons are camera shy. Now put your back to that pillar. And stay there!”

Newbie scurried over, never so happy to be standing in front of a pillar. Meanwhile, the band launched into a thundering crescendo. I hung on the other three cameras, neglecting Newbie in favor of more dynamic shots from Rocketboy. Inspired by his earlier success, Newbie zoomed in on the guitarist’s hands right on cue for the solo. It was a perfect shot and I loved it!

“Great close up of his hands, Camera Four,” I exclaimed. “Coming to you…Now.”

In my head I was already composing my shot progression among the other angles. It would be a glorious finale, a work of art. But just as I planned to cut to Rocketboy, the monitor showed him fast zooming in on the guitarist’s hands. It duplicated Newbie’s shot and I couldn’t use it. There was no time to correct him. I cut to Graybeard’s medium shot. To my horror, he also frantically zoomed in on the guitarist’s hands. I quick cut to Deadcam’s wide shot, my last resort. All the other monitors showed identical shots of hands. Hands everywhere! My plan was in ruins. The seconds were ticking. I was stuck on a boring-as-a-doorknob wide shot and all my cameramen had gone insane!

(to be continued)

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Hanna Nielson

About Hanna Nielson

Hanna Nielson is a professional writer-director-editor. She holds a Master's in Screenwriting from the University of Leeds, and BA in Cinema and Comparative Literature from the University of Iowa. Her talents also extend into acting, photography, art, and entrepreneurship. She has previously lived in England, Ireland, and India and now resides in Southern California. After several years at a post-production studio, she gained versatile skills in all areas of production and post-production. She has worked with clients in the music industry, entertainment industry, private and public sector, as well as non-profit organizations. She routinely acts as a "one-woman show" in writing, filming, directing, and editing projects including trailers, webisodes, music videos, short films, and feature documentaries. Currently she works freelance and maintains a network of devoted clients.