Live Read Aftermath!

Deary me! What a week it has been! Things have been non-stop for me personally – and today is the first day for a long while where I’ve actually been able to just sit down for five minutes and ponder things. From all reports the live stream and script read in general was extremely successful, and we received a lot of really helpful feedback that will help shape SHOTGUN! into a better movie. So at the end of the day, despite all the hard work and hair pulling – it was certainly worth it in the end. But rather than tell you how perfectly everything went – which isn’t really helpful if you’re trying to do something like this yourselves – I thought I’d tell you about some of the issue we had putting together this event, and how we go around them – and also list some things for you to think about if you’re trying to do a similar event.

As we didn’t really have any substantial money for this event basically everything was begged, borrowed or stolen. At the end of the day, we did actually end up spending a lot more money than we hoped to – and in retrospect, we probably could have saved a lot of that money if we had more time or planned it a bit better – but that’s what happens when you’re under the pump – you are forced to just throw money to fix problems!

We ended up spending about $140 at a supermarket just on last minute things such as blank DVDs, MiniDV tapes, lollies and water for the cast, plus batteries. We only really needed two blank DVDs – so we didn’t really need to buy a big pack of 50 – but better to be safe than sorry. We probably could have gotten the MiniDV tapes cheaper, if we bought them in bulk for a money video-focussed store – but we just didn’t think about them till the last minute. We ended up just buying to slabs of water bottles from Safeway for the cast – but in retrospect, it would have been a lot cheaper to just borrow a whole lot of glasses and jugs, and just use tap water for the cast. Seems logical now – but when you’re trying to organise a billion other things, the option of just racing down to Safeway versus trying to track down a whole heap of glasses and jugs seems like the easiest option. It’s that old time versus money equation! At least now we have a whole heap of left over water, DVDs and MiniDV tapes for our next adventure!

We also ended up spending $150 on alcohol and $150 on food – in addition to getting some of the alcohol given to us in the form of sponsorship, which was very nice (thank you Paradigm Hill!). This was to be expected – as we really wanted to keep our guest fed and happy! In fact, considering we only spent $300 on food and drinks – we did really, really well. There was more than enough snacks, beer and wine to go round – so everyone was happy!

We ended up spending $90 on a “Spotlight Run” – just to buy some fabric for table cloths and other various things. Just like the water bottles, this was another case of time versus money. If we had more time, and actually planned for this properly – we could have borrowed some really nice table cloths, or raided my collection of film blacks. The lesson here is to always plan, plan, plan – especially the minor things (like table cloths!) – because if you don’t, it will cost you money, and all these little things quickly add up!

We spent $135.50 on printing expenses – which seems like a lot – but isn’t really considering how many feature film scripts we needed to print, plus information for all of the guests, flyers, door labels, etc. We all have printers at home, so it might have been cheaper to just do it ourselves (as opposed to handing it over to Officeworks to do for us). Next time, I’ll think we’ll definitely just fire up the laser printer for the scripts, and the photo printer for everything else…

And finally, we spent about $380 on gear we needed to hire (Panasonic AG-MX70 video mixer and a few video monitors – a massive thanks to Hugh @ Videocraft for all his help!) and the USTREAM Producer Pro software. We probably could have avoided purchasing the USTREAM Producer Pro software, as in the end we only used a single video feed out of the MX70 and into the iMac – and we also probably could have used another solution other than USTREAM, such as Livestream, Justin.Tv or BlogStar – and avoided buying any 3rd party software. However, after much testing, we decided that the USTREAM platform was the most suitable, as the quality was great, it worked everytime, the advertising wasn’t too annoying, and after we played around with the Producer Pro software, we were all really impressed (even though we know it’s just a dumbed down and repackaged version of Wirecast Pro). Also, it was the only platform that we could get reliably working on the iPhone and iPad.

Everything else – all of the audio, video and streaming gear, the venue, and other bits and pieces were borrowed, donated or loaned. Frank at Madzin Productions supplied us with all of the audio gear, Jamie & Kim at 16th Street Acting Studios allowed us to take over their acting studio for use as a venue, and The Butchery also loaned us some technical bits and pieces. Finally, Jill & Dennis at Swinburne University were very kind to allow us to borrow three Sony V1Ps and tripods which we used for the live broadcast.

From a technical standpoint, the only tricky bit was joining everything together, as we didn’t really have all the bits to the puzzle – we had to make up a few things up as we went along!

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The Venue:

The venue for the event was perfect – an old theatre that has been converted into acting studios. One of the room has theatre style seating (that sits about 40 people – although we squished in about 50), and at the rear of the room is what used to be the actual stage – but is now a green room. The best thing about this room is that it had big windows into the main theatre, so it essentially acted like a bio box. Very handy! The only problem with the venue was that we only had access to it at certain hours. So we could set up everything and test it on Saturday, but on Sunday they had classes running at the acting school, so we had to clear out the main room until the class finished. The issue? Our event started at 6, but the class didn’t finish until 5:30! So we only had hour an hour to set up the cameras, microphones, speakers, projector, get all the trestle tables in, etc. Luckily we could run and leave all the cables in the room on Saturday night, so at least we had all the infrastructure in place – we just had to plug everything back in and hoped it worked!

The Vision Setup:

We had three Sony V1Ps and one Sony Z1p to record the live event. We ended up recording on all four cameras to MiniDV tapes in 1080i mode. We also had a composite video line coming out of each camera into the MX70 (view a preview monitor), which was in the makeshift “bio-box” at the venue. Each camera had an operator, with three cameras pointing at the cast, and one camera used for reverses pointing at the audience. Unfortunately we couldn’t end up borrowing a proper comms system – so we had to make do with what we had. We ended up just having a headset microphone backstage for Jacqui (who was our vision mixer), connected to one of the audio mixers, then using of two of the AUX buses (and two XLR Y-splits), we ran individual lines to each camera’s XLRs microphones inputs. We then had headphones on each of the cameras for the camera operators to listen to the camera calls. That way the vision mixer could talk to the camera operators. In theory this should have worked fine – and it did when we tested the system the night before the actual event, but for some reason minutes before the show, the volume to each camera was horrible. We have no idea why this was – but something must have come loose somewhere prior to the show, or somehow a strange earth loop was introduced. To try and fix the problem, we removed the Y-splits, and replaced them with a headphone amplifier (i.e. one in many out), and just used the one AUX bus. This fixed the problem slightly – but not perfectly, but at the end of the day it was enough. The camera operators could hear Jacqui – even if the line was a bit noisy, so that was the main thing. Lesson here? Things will always go wrong last minute, so make sure you have some backup plans in place (in our case, it was lucky we had a headphone amplifier lying around!).

So we had four cameras that went into four 9-inch monitors, then looped out into the MX70. This was our main vision. Then out of the MX70 we went into a 24-inch preview monitor (connected via composite video) so that we could see what was going to screen, a Sony HDV deck (to record the whole event – also connected via composite video) and a Canopus ADVC1000 SDI to DV transcoder. The ADVC1000 was connected to an iMac (running Producer Pro). Audio was also being supplied to Producer Pro via the ADVC1000 – using the digital feed out of the Yamaha O1V (more on that in the audio section!).

At the start of the show, we wanted to show off a video (that included a pre-recorded interview with Nick, Alistair and myself – plus a show reel, and the first section of the SHOTGUN! short film). We borrowed a small projector from 16th Street as the display method in the main room – and connected it up to a Analogue Way EasyFade. We had considered using a laptop and Quicktime movie for the intro video, but in the end decided that it would be more fail-safe to just use a DVD player. So we had two Professional Pioneer DVD players connected up to the EasyFade and audio mixer. Because the video footage needed to be displayed on the live stream as well, we connected the second composite output from the DVD player into a three way composite switcher, then into input four on the MX70. This meant that we could easily swap between camera 4, DVD 1 and DVD 2 on that input. It wasn’t ideal – but it worked fine! Lesson: always have a backup plan – we did, we had two DVD players that could be switched over with two button presses. Although this meant more cables, more monitors and more, well, just gear in general, it was the best option in terms of reliability. If we went with a computer solution, we would have to just hope that the computer wouldn’t crash (Mac’s never crash – right?), and also work out a reliable method of getting video off the computer and into the live stream. This could have been easily achieved with a scan converter and another VGA splitter, but we didn’t have one of those lying around unfortunately.

The Audio Setup:

Originally, we had planned to use one microphone for each speaker (and by speaker I mean actor speaking), but after advice from the amazing Cail Young, and also once we actually had a proper discussion with our audio guru Gab, we decided to just use 10 microphones evenly spaced out along the tables. This seemed to work fine. We used a mixture of Shure Beta 58s and 57s connected to a 24-channel stage box that went from under the tables of the read room, to backstage. We also had two PG81s as audience microphones also connected to the stage box. For FOH audio, we used two powered Mackie speakers – all running down the same stage box for easy cabling. Back stage, we used a Yamaha O1V96 for main control, and because we ran out of channels, we also used another Yamaha analogue desk as a submix. Channels 1 to 10 on the O1V were for cast microphones, 11+12 for audience microphones, 13+14 for iPod (walkin music), 15+16 for the submix. On the other desk we connected the two DVD players, a Voice Over microphone (just in case we needed to make announcements, etc.), another laptop audio feed (just in case the iPod failed or if we needed to play something else last minute). As explained previously, we also used this second desk for the camera comms. The digital out of the O1V went to the ADVC1000, the record out (stereo RCA connectors) of the O1V went to the Sony HDV deck, the stereo out (XLR) went to a dbx 1231 then directly into the two powered speakers, and looping out of the Sony HDV deck the stereo feed also went to a standalone audio hard drive recorder that Gab brought along with him (I’m not sure of the exact brand – but it was a great little unit – recorded 16-bit 48kHz Broadcast WAV files). As the O1V has all the effects and filters built in, that saved us a lot of hardware, but we also had 16 channels of dbx 266XL Compressor/Gate inserted over all the inputs of the 2nd audio desk, just in case! Hint: Compressors are your friend – especially for broadcast! Who knows when an actor might go crazy, and you’re just a little too slow on the faders!

Lighting:

We didn’t end up bringing any lighting in, as we basically just didn’t have enough time to set it up. Luckily the venue had two Red Heads already in the room, which added a bit of fill lighting for the cameras.

The Stream Itself:

The stream itself seemed to work pretty well, all things considered. The biggest issue was, that because we only had half an hour to get everything up-and-running in the main room, we were all under the pump, and unfortunately made one big mistake at the start of the event. Originally, we had planned to start streaming from 6pm and start with the opening video. However, in the heat of the moment, we thought it would be a good idea to show people coming in… Bad idea! Only minutes later, we realised that as Nick was introducing the live audience to the event, we didn’t have a microphone on him, so everyone watching at home was getting visuals but no sound. Suddenly my mobile phone started going crazy – everyone thought there was a major problem with the audio. We should have stuck to our guns, and started streaming from where we all agreed we would start from – oh well! There was also a minor glitch at the start of the stream where the Internet grinded to a halt at the start, but we soon worked out that was because the stream really needed all of the bandwidth, and yet, we were trying to watch the stream on the same Internet connection just to make sure it was working. Once we turned off all the Internet connections on all the other machines and laptops lying around, everything worked great! To get around this minor issue, I ended up tethering my iPhone to my laptop over Bluetooth, just so that I could monitor the chat room and stream on a different Internet connection. Luckily, even though I was downloading the stream via my iPhone for the duration of the show, I still didn’t go over my Telstra cap! I got close (80%) – but no extra charge, thankfully! The only issue we had was that after a while for some reason, our stream no longer appeared on the USTREAM iPhone app. I have no idea why this was! It was working at the start, but it just all of a sudden disappeared. I have tried contacting USTREAM to ask about this, but no response as of yet. I guess their iPhone service just isn’t as stable as their desktop platform for whatever reason.

Conclusion:

Overall, despite a few minor issues, everything went fairly smoothly. The live stream was a success, and everyone who attended the event in person really seemed to love it. The “after party” was a big hit as well, as we had plenty of food and drinks to go around! Unfortunately Anli and myself missed out on this, as we had to pack up all the gear. Lesson: always plan for the bump out! In the end, Anli and myself packed everything up and drove it all back to the various suppliers, so we didn’t get home into the early hours of the morning – and even then, I had to get up an hour later to return the rest of the gear… One hour’s sleep isn’t ideal – but it’s better than nothing, and it was so worth it!

I think we will definitely do more live streams in the future. They are a lot of fun – plus the audience at home really seemed to love the discussion! Although the chat room wasn’t going crazy – there were a lot of really positive comments, and we also generated quite a buzz on Facebook, which is always nice.

If you’re planning to do an event like this yourselves – to be perfectly honest, it’s not that hard. You can get away with just a laptop and a camera at the end of the day – hell all you really need is an iPhone 4 and the free USTREAM Broadcaster app! Things to remember: plan, plan, plan, if you use your brain and have time, you can save money at almost every turn, and finally, make sure you always have a backup in place! As always, if you have any questions about any of the above, please don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re always happy to help likeminded filmmakers!

Overall, a job well done! Bring on the next challenge!

Onwards & Upwards Everybody!

Best Regards, Chris!

2 Responses

  1. Nicholas Carlton
    Oct 24, 2010 - 01:21 AM

    Great to see you being so open about the process! I thought the reading went great. Kudos to you and all involved… Good luck with the development.

    Reply

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