Archive for September, 2013

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Shooting at Ongaku Studios

September 11, 2013

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The weekend just gone I shot a promo for local music recording venue Ongaku Studios (run by musician TJ Buchanan) and at the same time film a studio-style music video for The Papers who’ve been mastering their mixtape album there. A two birds, one bird-table, one stone kind of deal.

It’s been a while since I did any music-centric work- music videos, gig filming, promos etc- and it was great to actually get back into it. There were a ton of things I learnt from doing these sort of jobs back in the day, most of which I did at college when some friends and I called ourselves PurpleShakerMaker Productions. I learnt the hard way that multi-camera is the ideal strategy with bands and that there needed to be a systematic approach to shooting multi-camera and getting good material. I also learnt that clean audio is necessary to sync properly with the master audio track and that synching itself is a mighty pain in the gonads. We shot a number of music videos and multi-camera gig recordings in that time, but I more or less stopped shooting music-related work after college. In the main because I didn’t know much about music, bands, artists, genres or other videos (if it was made after ’97 I’ll likely just nod vacantly if you name drop) and also because it was usually Jim or Becki who got us those gigs. Instead I focused on shooting drama.

But I’ve been keen to get back into the music video saddle and the Ongaku Studios project is hopefully the first of many.

Ongaku Studios is a small, home-based recording studio with a fully digital control room, vocal booth and a flexible live recording space and it was the latter area that the majority of the shoot would be located. The band, The Papers, are a four-piece group- vocals, guitar, bass and drums- so getting them in the space with all their gear and Ongaku’s acoustic panels, mics and drum kit was going to be simple enough. Getting decent angles to film from and how to light the space was going to be trickier.

One of the nice things about doing a studio-style music video is that the space itself is part of things. This means that if we see cables or shadows of stands, that’s both acceptable and part of the texture of the video. With that in mind, I decided to side light Lou the guitarist and Yoshi the lead vocalist from opposite sides with my LED panel lights, creating their key lights on their side and a fill light of sorts from the panel on the other side. By tweaking the angles, I could also get some key and fill effect onto the bassist, Massyl since he was behind them and to one side. As always with these things, the drummer was the trickiest to light. Being at the back meant there was limited fill getting to him, but by putting a kicker to one side and slightly behind him, he too would get a bit of edge. Because of the nature of the space, this light panel would be visible in some shots- particularly wides- but I wasn’t overly bothered by this since, again as a studio video, seeing kit like this is part of the mise-en-scene.

I also decided to mix up the colours of each panel so as to add interest and shape things nicely. The larger LED panels at the front were balanced to tungsten, with the one edge-lighting the vocalist being slightly warmer and more diffused. For the kicker on Malaya the drummer, I decided to use a midnight blue gel. A little bold perhaps, but I’m a big fan of the blue backlight technique- the contrast between a warm key and cool rim light creates a simple but effective look. Granted, I didn’t have quite the right conditions for that and the blue light was probably more key than usual, but the effect was nice and it highlighted the drummer nicely and sent a bit of a blue tint towards Lou as well. Ideally, I’d have liked to get at least one more light in there, maybe a magenta coloured edge on the bassist… something funky. But we didn’t really have the space and I didn’t have the extra panel so I digress…

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For the camera side of things I decided to get out the B-Hague pipe dolly. I bought this a couple of years ago when shooting The Collector’s Room because I was fed up of wanting a dolly shot and not being able to have one… but if I’m honest, it hasn’t had as much use as I’d have liked- although every time I’ve bought it out, I’ve been glad to have it.

Due to space constraints, we set up the tracks on a diagonal towards and off to one side of the performing space. This meant that from various points on the track I could get clean shots of everyone as well as some great two shots and a wide group shot. In effect, this would not only be for creating a move during a shot but also for repositioning the camera. I figured this would be both a creative and practical approach to a lot of the filming. I also had my trusty Gorillapod Pro with me- or as I call it, my makeshift shoulder rig!- so I could get some interesting handheld shots.

Tripod. Shoulder mount. Bizarre sex toy. All these things and more.

Tripod. Shoulder mount. Bizarre sex toy. All these things and more.

The band came up with an idea where in the video they would be recording the track to an old dual tape deck, adding to the home studio vibe. And TJ, being the audiophile he is, had one to hand. So we dusted it off (literally- it had been in storage for a while) and perched it on a flight case. I decided that this would make a great dolly shot for the opening of the video- start on the tape deck as a tape is put in and record is pressed, then pull back and tilt up to a wide shot of the band in situ. The move required a pull back, an acute tilt and pan and a focus pull. Not an easy task for one person, which is where the old Sony shot transition function came into its own- set your focal distance for point A and point B, set the transition time to match your move and presto- focus pull. I’ve never really used it much, preferring manual controls to anything automatic, but it made things a damn sight easier here and I was glad to have it.

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Usually on a music video, the track is already mastered and finalised so the band just have to mime or perform in such a way that it matches, but one of the challenges here was that the band were going to be recording a live track for future mixing and mastering at the same time as we were shooting the video. Obviously, this presents a problem because the audio is being recorded at the same time and the edits aren’t always going to match if the band lose time or improvise. We weren’t able to reschedule the shoot til after the recording was done so I suppose it’s one of those things where you deal with the situation you have and try to make the best of it. Potential sync issues aside, it did mean that takes were frequently aborted for musical reasons- a fluffed line or a missed note etc- something that wouldn’t normally matter for the video because you would just cut to something else in the edit at that point. Fortunately, we had the time, the track was short and the band were pretty solid for the most part, but it was something I had to accommodate in my shooting plan.

Ideally for a shoot like this, you’d have multiple cameras and sync them all with time code or genlock, but since this was a single camera shoot, it meant multiple angles on multiple takes. My shot list included mid shots of the guitarist and the bassist, close-ups of their faces and hands playing, close ups and BCUs of the vocalist, mid and close shots of the drummer and a range of moving/reframing shots with the dolly. Knowing that there will likely be continuity and synching issues, the close ups of the two guitarists would be great as cutaways for when things don’t match. Another plus is the way Yoshi holds the mic very close to his mouth, obscuring his lip movements- meaning I can probably use his close up even if the audio doesn’t sync perfectly.

When shooting obs-doc style- as I did on the promo part of the shoot- my approach is to shoot mini stories of sorts. A small selection of shots that can be easily and flexibly edited into a sequence so as to tell or reveal some kind of narrative. And I have an acronym for the approach, for anyone who’s interested: ARES. Action, Reaction, Establishing, Specific. So, for example, if I was filming someone at the mac using Logic Pro, I would have a shot of the screen (Action), a shot of the person looking at it in close-up (Reaction), a wide shot of what’s going on (Establishing) and shots of their hands on the keyboard or mouse etc (Specific). The benefits of doing it this way are that you could edit the shots in almost any order and subtly change the nature of the “story” based on what you reveal and when. It’s essentially narrative editing and that’s a whole post all of it’s own, but say we saw our guy first, then saw the screen he was looking at. That would have a subtly different narrative effect to showing the screen then the guy’s face. The reveal of the second shot in relation to the first is what gives a story its inflection. Fairly standard stuff really, but I’m always surprised by filmmakers who don’t do things this way.

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For the studio promo, TJ wanted to highlight the studio’s features and areas and what that means for the musician. So shots of the control room, the Logic suite, the speakers, the band listening to their recording and mixing it, the vocal booth, the portable soundproofing panels, the live recording space, the fully digital connections, the drum kit etc all edited into a 60-90 sec promo video and cut to music (supplied by The Papers and a between-take jam session). This will likely be a much simpler edit than the music video, although there may be some key framing and graphics work to do. And since I need to wait for the mastered version of the live track before I can start the long slog of synching the multiple takes to the audio, this will be the first to be edited.

Time to fire up FCPX again…

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