Cameramen and TV transmitted classical concert

I’ve long wondered about this.
How does the man behind the camera know exactly when to zoom on a soloist, cellos or any group when they get to their passage ? A cameraman may be a well-learned guy, but I doubt he knows every passage from every piece played during a two-hour concert. Is he assisted by a musician specialist ? If so, how do they communicate ?

I’ve done recordings where the cameramen have had copies of the score, presumably to help them work out when to zoom in on specific soloists.

They’re all on radio links from the producers, being given instructions in advance along the lines of “focus on principle viola”. All the camera shots are planned in advance, and there’s someone in the control room following a score marked up with all these instructions for the cameramen. The cameramen just need to know the difference between a bassoon and a contra.

(And no, I never do spell ‘principal’ correctly.)

The cameraman doesn’t decide: it’s the director who tells him where to point the camera. If the director has done classical concerts before, he has some idea as to who’s going to be playing.

Also, the director has a great view of the orchestra. If the bassoon starts a solo, he tells the nearest cameraman, “Focus on the basoon, camera 3. That’s it. Go to camera 3.” It can be done so that the instrument gets picked up after only a couple of measures have been played.

Hi. Professional camera operator with over 200 live broadcasts to his credit checking in.

RealityChuck more or less got it right. There are quite a few ways to lay out your basic live performance.

  1. If it’s classical music, there is very little movement that is spontaneous. A Director can play out shot sheets and count off measures as the show progresses, so that every shot is ready and can be taken at the right moment. This is rarely how things are done, however. It does take a lot of planning. Frequently for large ensemble or classical performances, you have enough cameras covering zones of the orchestra/group that you know you are, as was mentioned, able to cover quickly. This frees the camera ops up from using dozens of shot cards, when the Director can worry about the flow of shots and the camera operators can offer up good work.

  2. Little planning is done, and the zone method is still used. While you may not be aware of it, frequently the wide shot or slowly craning jib shot is used to transition while say, Camera 4 is yanking around, zooming in, focussing, and framing up. This is rapid work and in the time it takes the crane or wide shot to slowly creep in or around for 3-5 seconds, Camera 4 has framed up nicely and is taken.

  3. Shoot in Iso. The Director may or may not see our shots, but we are recording in isolation, not having our cameras cut as we shoot. The program will be cut together after the event. This is rare for large events, but does sometimes happen. Usually for smaller shows this is done. I’m shooting a tour in July in Canada and we are recording in camera, but feeding shots wirelessly to the Director, so he can tell us what to do and where to go next. We will have 5 camera operators, all very seasoned in shooting live events. Even so, if all 5 of us start to “sell” a neat shot at the same time, the Director will have no place to cut to because we’re all zooming or adjusting. One Director, many servants to her/his vision. :slight_smile:

  4. GorillaMan that’s not always true. ( See above ). There is no score in the truck, trust me. Nobody drags in a score. They make shot sheets up, if any are to be made, based solely on the counted beats in the score. The music means nothing to the Production people. No offense to musicians, but the planning must be based around counts- nothing else is universally accurate.

  5. Cunctator, I would love to meet the camera operator who can operate either hand-held, Steadicam, jib or pedestal camera live WHILE reading music. Very likely, any Operator who could read music was encouraged to get the score so they could have a good familiarity with it as it unfolded. That I would believe. You cannot read a sheet of music and watch your viewfinder at the same time.

When I shot the Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta of the 1996 Olympics, I had over 300 shots in one evening. All live. Each “scene” had a card, not each shot within a scene. There were… twenty “scenes” in Atlanta? More? I cannot remember.

I wrote out shot cards on 4x6 index cards, held horizontall. The card for one sequence, say… walking out President Clinton, would have measure counts for the timing because for every single “scene” there was music playing wall to wall. A typical card would read as such:

What that means in English is:

Get into the Tunnel early. The Secret Service know who I am, what I look like and are expecting me and my assistant to be close to the President. I am not permitted to frame him up until thirty seconds prior to my Tally Light going on. That’s the red light that tells the talent, camera operator and anyone else watching that that camera is " on the air" at the moment. I frame up, let the truck see him in his light ( which was abysmal till I got out of the tunnel… ). Then I move walking backwards, leading him out and across to where Billy Payne and Juan Samaranch were waiting for him. Finish walking when he joins them in a loose three-shot. Lock off my shot. My light will go off, and I can wait for the next shot. In this case, I stand still, and am ready because the next shot is mere seconds away.

The way this was accomplished is that the director, a talented and lovely man named Don Mischer, is calling the shots out and directing us. In our ears as well is the Assistant Director, whose name sadly escapes me. He is literally talking through every single beat and count, in every single scene. When I say talking through, I mean that this is what this man said in our ears:

Exhausting work, but he is watching the clock as the seconds tick by, and listening to a click track created JUST for his ears. He is speaking into a microphone, so in my headset, I hear the director’s voice say, at a 7 volume level and the count is being spoken at about a 4 volume level. It is a nonstop count provided to us.

Why not generate that by machine? Because bad things happen sometimes in live t.v., and what good would it do anyone to listen to an automatically generated click track, when the start of one scene is held up for a few moments for one reason or another ? it had to be done in real time, live.

I made two sets of the shot cards and every time we made adjustments, I wrote two new ones. It worked very nicely. I taped a vinyl clear pouch made to hold such things to the side of my camera body, and as I walked around with the Steadicam, I had my notes inches from my eyes. When one scene ended, I took that card and tucked it in the back of the pile. When we wrapped rehearsals for the night, I was looking at Scene 1 again. ( assuming we rehearsed in sequence, which wasn’t always the case.

There were 24 cameras and two blimps on that show.

Now to the more creative end of things. It is frequently the case that when you have enough good camera operators, and you are covering the zones of your average orchestra, plus a crane and wide angle cover shot, you have camera ops who are “selling” shots. That is, offering up shots nonstop in the hopes that the Director will like what you are showing, and take you. It’s an aquired skill. If I pan left to right very delicately, racking focus down a line of violists as a string passage is happening, that may be a beautiful shot. However, I’m not on air- but am selling knowing the Director is watching not only the Line monitor, but a separate monitor fore very single camera feeding a signal.

If she/he likes my shot, they’ll say quickly, " Nice on 4, reset and ready on 4. Ready 2, take 2. Ready 1, take 1. Ready on that pan 4, and take 4. "

It’s a visual medium. The camera operator who opens their microphone in their headset to say, " ooooh, I gotta GREAT shot on 4 !! " probably won’t be asked back again. :slight_smile: The exception is the Do Or Die moment that I may see that nobody else can see, I point it out visually so the Director or someone else in the truck sees it, and can take it before the moment goes by. Example? You’re at the Kentucky Derby and see Bruce Willis talking in a civil manner to Demi Moore. Yeah, in that case, I’d pipe up ONCE, hoping the truck would see it and grab a few seconds of the star shot. The Director gets to choose from the always-changing pallette put before her/him. I adore live t. v., it is relentlessly high pressure ( no do-overs !! ) and you wind up in very high energy situations. There are really times when I feel like a kid, all excited and thrilled to be making it happen. That’s the payoff, for all of those dreary drudge jobs that pay the mortgage. :smiley:

Sometimes politics comes heavily into play. The last job I shot on a high-profile t.v. show after I broke my back ( another thread, another story ) was on the Rosie O’Donnell show. She had in Ben Vereen and two dances from “Fosse”. He was to dance a number, then sit and talk.

The Choreographer is a woman who I have admired madly since I saw her in " All That Jazz"- Anne Reinking. There she was. Tres Cool. Okay, so we shoot the rehearsal and block it all out. We all pile into the control room, where the oh-so-very powerful Director played back the taped rehearsal. Anne, bless her heart, said in a very polite but firm way, " I think…it would be…great if we used that dancing moving camera more ( that’s me !! ), and…overall, you know, you want to cut from one camera to the next on the beat, when it feels right, when the moment happens, just so fast. Perhaps can we block it so we move the camera more with that one guy, and just… don’t cut as often ?

The room…was…very quiet. Heh heh. To his credit, the Director sucked up the creatiive critique and we re-blocked it. I mean, this guy directs that show day in and day out, or did, and has Emmy’s on the shelf for his work, and thought he knew how to cut a musical number. What resulted from that little discussion was a sequence that I show every time I teach a workshop. It’s the textbook example of how to cut. Well-planned moves, cut from camera to camera when you OUGHT to, and let a moment happen within the frame when you ought to. In that case, all cameras were not given shot cards. We simply had to memories our shots and in my case, my moves with the dancers and with Mr. Vereen.

At the other end of the well-planned spectrum are the ABC Good Morning America concerts every Friday morning in Bryant Park all summer long. They are covered by two long lens cameras, one jib crane, one Steadicam and either one or two hand-held cameras. Nothing is blocked. The cameras are sent to various areas to cover, they move well, the Director cuts and takes what is offered and things happen very nicely. Rare, to have a bad cut or slashing frame when on air, because the long lens is always on a medium shot of the star of the group, and the jib is always moving on a wide shot. As I said, cover shots save the day on live events.

And at the very very hairy end of that spectrum are music video shoots where you are covering a song live in front of a crowd. Amongst other videos, I shot Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie”.( I know… :rolleyes: ). I was on stage or in the crowd for every take. We basically shot the hell out of the song, over and over again, knowing they’d have bits to cut in and around with. It was shot on film, and there were no headsets or trucks or control rooms. I did use a wireless transmitter so the Director could see my shot, but I had no instruction as I worked as to what to shoot. I just made up as many cool moves as I could, and shot a lot of footage. It all worked out. Apparently I’m all over that video, as while I was on stage, the hand-held guy was in the crowd shooting the stage. I’ve never seen it… but I hear I looked faaaabulous. :smiley:

I have to say this, about RealityChuck’s post: While it is true that nobody in the truck has to be able to read music, it is ALSO true that certain camera ops become known for specialties. Some folks shoot a ton of live music, others shoot sports, and so on. It helps to understand what an event is, and what may happen, and how, and where. I shot ice skating for ABC Sports the year that Tonya Harding did dirty to Nancy Kerrigan. I was in Dallas, and in fact at that event, Tonya stopped during her routine, whining about a loose blade. Foreshadowing of things to come.

The crew was almost all comprised of seasoned ice skating camera ops. They shot the Olympics, World Events, Nationals, and so on. It does mean a lot to know what a triple axel is, how high someone may be tossed by their partner and so on.

I don’t know if this is still true, but back in the 1970’s when NFL Films only shot football movies, there was a test to get hired there. It had nothing to do witl film cameras or stocks or lenses. It had everything to do with FOOTBALL. If you were addicted to the game, understood how THIS team might play against THIS team with THIS quarterback and THAT score in the 3rd quarter, you were hired. Why? Because it allowed you to see the game as a pro, to anticipate potential areas where plays might run and get yourself there. When the movie Diner came out and the girlfriend had to pass that test to get married, I thought of that NFL Films test. I would have failed miserably. :slight_smile:

Hope some of this helps to answer the OP, and fill in some blanks as to how this all works.


Fair enough, I bow to significantly-superior knowledge. However, in my defence, I have seen footage of a score being used in the way I described, perhaps alongside a separate plan - this was in a behind-the-scenes documentary about the BBC Proms, a series which perhaps has a greater level of specialism than more typical televised concerts.

I just noticed where RealityChuck is located. My bad. From what I hear, that is how they shoot live music in Schenectady.

Over in Niskayuna, they do things a bit diferently.

Ahhh. I misunderstood you, my apologies. I thought you meant while they were actually shooting a live event. During rehearsals and planning? I cannot see a camera operator- even one who can read music- juggling that much paper, but it could happen. I completely agree that folks would have scores out and open, and be marking as they went to start to build a shot list or plan of attack.

During rehearsals, one would want musicians around to guide the Production folks through what is coming next, how much time till that nice transition or solo, etc. :slight_smile:

Oh! thanks everyone! I feel better educated.
Cartooniverse, that’s many more details I asked for, but I enjoyed every line of it.

WRGB? :slight_smile:

I actually was in TV production at Cable Channel 12 back in the early 70s.

Great piece of info, Cartooniverse! Loved the differences between the various kinds of events.

One line stopped me, though:

After? That must be one hell of a story!

Meh. Everything is a continuum, right? I fell from a ladder in Sept. of 2000, broke my L-3 wide open. Since that moment, I’m in nonstop pain. Tons of Dopers, tons of folks out there have it much worse.

I did have to stop shooting almost all of the larger jobs, with larger cameras ( and larger paychecks and egos, they all go together !! ).

I shot for about another year, but stopped for good in about… hmmm. March of 2002. That Rosie job happened to be the very last bigger-profile gig I shot.

That’s ok. I am still shooting, teaching, adoring the biz, and sneaking my way back into bigger gigs.

End of tale :slight_smile: