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by Martin French
Thus far in our series of articles to help you with video production for your dance company, et al, we've covered the kind of equipment you need to shoot and the equipment you need to edit.
So what about actually shooting some dance then? What have we got to say about that? Well dear readers here are some top tips for a number of shooting situations.
Framing Live Dancers
Dancers from Emio Greco | PC in 'La Commedia'
This is the easy one. Professional dancers and professional choreography need to be filmed using, what we call, "full frame".
If you look at the screenshot above taken from a recent show you can see the entire body of both dancers in the frame. If you look at any of the video features of live work on Article19 you will note that we do not film closeups.
Do not fall victim to the age old "tv people" problem of trying to "fill the frame". Dancers are tall and thin, relatively speaking, and a video frame is short and fat, they will never fit together, just get over it.
Also, you don't spend weeks crafting choreography just so you can film the upper half of it on your dancers.
In some circumstances the stage might be full of dancers scattered across the entire space. You can either pull back for a very wide angle shot or focus on just one or two of the dancers and as the work progresses, and very smoothly, move the focus of your shot to other dancers within the larger group.
Now, rehearsal is a slightly different room full of dancers. If you're filming rehearsals to provide a straight up preview of your creation then the same rules apply for shooting a live show.
On the other hand, if you're crafting a short documentary then you will need to mix things up a little and get in closer with your shots so you can pick out some details.
Berit Lundene of Panta Rei Danseteater during the Coda Ung Workshops
For the example, above, we needed to illustrate the younger dancers participating with the professional dancers. To do that required pushing in a little bit tighter to frame the professional (Berit on the right in the red T-Shirt) with the young boy to the left enthusiastically joining in.
In this instance the movement is not the important thing, the facial expressions of the kids alongside the professional dancers is.
For documentary purposes, rehearsals and workshops are about showing interactions between the participants as well as showing the work.
Framing an Interview
The third thing you really need to learn how to frame is an interview. Pointing a camera at somebody's face sounds simple but it's amazing the how many film makers do it badly.
Live Rosenvingue Jackson from Coda Oslo International Dance Festival
If you look at the screen grab above from a recent interview we did the setup is very simple.
The camera is placed to the right of the interviewee and the camera operator sits to the left of the camera. Framing wise the interviewee is situated to the right of the frame so they look across the frame to the left as they talk to the interviewer. Simple!
Safe to say if you place the interviewee to the left of the frame and have them looking to the left then it's just going to look weird.
Weird is also what you will get if you have your subject talking directly to the camera. Some say this gives the impression of the subject talking directly to the viewer which is nonsense because your viewers aren't that stupid.
You should also try and avoid using multiple cameras. Rapidly editing a single person interview is as annoying as it is pointless. Filmmakers and TV people (again) deploy this particular gimmick because they think it makes somebody boring appear more interesting. It doesn't
Our equipment tips, if you followed through with any of them, furnished you with an audio recording device and/or a microphone to record people during the interview you have perfectly framed after following the advice above.
If you read our piece 'The Media Paradox' from before Christmas then you will, of course, remember the section where we talked about "polar patterns" on microphones.
A polar pattern is nothing more complex than the area around a microphone that will pick up the sound. Directional microphones (like the ones we recommended for you) will pick up sound from a very specific polar pattern.
So, using a microphone stand (they are very cheap so there's no reason not to have one) position the microphone so that the tip is about 10-12 inches above your interviewees head and about 10-12 inches in front of their face. Make sure the tip is pointing toward your interviewees head, roughly in the direction of their mouth.
Keep an eye on the audio meters, all cameras and recording devices have them, and make sure the levels are not too loud (the meters will stick to the top level) or too quiet. They should hover around the -12DB area, it doesn't matter what that means just try to keep your sound levels around that kind of area.
Not all your shots have to be about movement - Kari Scotnes Vikjord - Panta Rei Danseteater
In our previous piece about purchasing equipment we recommended two different, high quality sets of "sticks" to put your camera on.
Both recommendations utilise so-called "fluid heads". This is important because it allows you, the operator, to adjust how stiff or loose the action is when you pan (left to right) or tilt (up and down) the camera.
For shooting with a tripod it's important to get the camera balanced correctly and to set the "drag" appropriately. Because individual cameras have different weights and physical sizes they will all balance differently.
However, in general, try to get the cameras weight positioned directly over the centre point of the tripod. The "drag" settings, adjusted using the control knobs on the tripod head, should be set so the tripod can pan and tilt without you having to hold onto the tripod with your other hand.
The settings should not be so loose though that when you tilt the camera forward and let go of the "pan bar" it keeps dropping on its own.
When you get the settings just right for your camera then it will make tracking moving dancers and people a lot easier and a lot more pleasant for those watching your creation.
The viewfinder is the thing at the back, don't use it, use the screen!
From our perspective, here in TheLab™, people who film looking through a viewfinder (except in very rare circumstances) should be slapped with a kipper.
The problem with looking through a viewfinder is that your other eye is usually closed, thus removing all your beautifully evolved peripheral vision capabilities.
Most cameras, even very expensive high-end devices, are fitted with flip out screens and, for dance, these are massively more effective.
If you're filming a live show or a busy rehearsal/workshop then it's important to keep yourself aware about what else is going on in the room around you or on the stage.
Your peripheral vision can see dancers entering stage left or right while you film a solo in the middle so you can get yourself ready to move the camera, nice and smoothly, over to where the action is.
Don't get tunnel vision, always keep an eye on what's going to happen and not just what's happening on the little screen in front of you.
Taking The Time
Perhaps the most important tip we can offer is this. Take the time.
You want to know why TV news crews are so monumentally bad at filming "arts packages" for television? They show up for 10 minutes, shoot some pre-set crap and then bugger off (but not before the talking head has asked you a bunch of inane questions though).
Our short documentary for Coda Oslo (Coda UNG) took twelve days to film and none of it was set up for the camera. If you want to film what's happening then you have to be there, you have to wait for it to happen, that's why it's called documenting.
Shooting a live show takes a different kind of patience. If you want to get good at it then you have to keep doing it. The more practice you have, the more you work with your gear, the more accomplished you will become.
If you want to develop some skills then you have to be prepared to learn them.