Shooting Group Discussion with Multiple Cameras

Here is one way of getting complete coverage of two or more presenters and also get audience cutaways. With two cameras one operator can cover one or more presenters all the time and use a second camera to get audience cutaways and wider shots of presenters, but this is not very interesting and things always happen that make good coverage impossible.

With two operators and 3 or 4 cameras, always on tripods, you can make an interesting edit. Cameras A, B and D roll tape continuously for later repair of a live edit or for an edit later. Keep the cameras on the same side with presenters partly facing one another and the two cameras. Carefully adjust the table and chairs so the right relationship to each camera is established before and as they sit down. Explain to them that the chairs are arranged for the benefit of both cameras and the audience. Adjust chairs back if they change things before the event gets going. Some presenters always adjust their chair and the microphone for better or worse.

Putting all cameras on the same side avoids screen direction problems. The audience should be packed close, have a darker background, and be positioned so that people don't cover one another from camera. In an auditorium, set up less chairs than expected up front and have people prepared to set up more chairs to keep a "packed house" look. Line up chairs in line with camera C. In a home, low beach chairs helps pack people on the floor and keeps them from blocking others behind. Large chairs and sofas waste space and make a group look smaller (and people can fall asleep). Get the host to help pack your shot as people arrive. Of course they must agree to participate. If they decline to be seen, put them somewhere out of camera. Consider seating smaller people in front.

Operator #1 is closer up front and covers the further presenter with camera A and leaves camera A on that person most of the time. Wider when people are gesturing with their arms and tighter for intense moments. Operator #1 also covers audience cutaway reactions, wide shots and questions from the audience with camera C. Camera C for the audience may need to be higher to see people in the rear over the heads of people in the front. If the presenter is some distance away, a higher than normal camera can look OK. Camera C should get shots to use anywhere in the edit; reactions, wide shots and questions from the group.

Operator #2 is farther back and covers the presenter closer to camera A with camera B. Operator #2 also covers a both presenters at the same time with camera D. Camera D might also be movable to also get wide shots from behind the audience or people with questions who are not visible by camera C.

Director/Mixer Option: If a live partial edit is possible with a video mixer, a director (a third person) can switch cameras A, B and maybe D live on to a separate recorder. For questions, cameras C might be edited in live, but reaction shots are usually edited in later as needed. Rolling tape continuously in all cameras except C makes it possibility to repair any mistakes made during the live edit. An intercom is helpful to avoid duplication of shots by the operators. A monitor showing what is "edit out" (what is being recorded on the separate recorder) can also show the operators when they can and cannot move a camera. If the edit out monitor shows the operator the same shot a camera is shooting, the operator should not make corrections with that camera.

Without a mixer, it is helpful for each operator to see on a monitor what the other operator is getting to avoid duplication of shots.

With questions from the audience it gets tricky.

Sound: It is helpful to have a director or person to mix sound, as the operators are busy. If not an auto mixer can be operated by one of the operators. The sound feed is sent to camera's A, B, and maybe C and D. Camera C and maybe D can use mics. on the cameras. Sound is not switched in edit or mixing for constant quality only the images are switched or edited.

The Videonics Video Mixer Pro DV has 2 DV inputs. You can use Y/C inputs from the other cameras, but the best quality would be from the original DV camera tape at a later edit from cameras C and D.

If you record a live edit on a deck with 180-min capability you have a continous edited tape.

Another option is to record on 4 S-VHS decks with industrial strength or better cameras. I have found DV cameras recorded on S-VHS don't look very good.

Color balancing different cameras is a problem. For close ups there is more leeway. Wide shots is where different color balances are noticeable.

Using the Videonics Mixer Pro DV, I hooked the output of a Shure 410 Automixer to Beach Adapters on the cameras and fire wire from cameras to the mixer. I keep the sound input to the cameras low to prevent clipping in the cameras. Digital sound can be at a lower level than analog.

To prevent problems with ground loops, hook all the cameras, monitors and recorders into the same noise protected 110 volt circuit. Keep power and sound cables separate. Keep sound equipment away from video monitors. They create noise. Use a mic splitter to the cameras from the audio mixer output to the cameras.

Comfort for Operators: Long shoots are hard on operators. Video monitors, zoom controls on the pan handle, a rest for the pan handle elbow, and a comfortable seat are all helpful.

Changing Tape: If you have to change tape, here is a procedure. Before you get to an hour on DV tape (they are 64 minutes long), have camera A stay on the person doing the most talking or a two shot. Cam B changes tape and once rolling again, does what camera A did while camera A changes tape. A two shot is the best protection. If you are also recording on a separate recorder out of the video mixer, the mixer person can keep what ever image he wants, but will not have a protection tape from the cameras while they are reloading.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.