Recording on the Road

You don't want your shows to look like this.

You don’t want your shows to look like this.

Festival shows are always exciting times; great audiences, geat venues, and the excitement of sharing what you love with someone new. We love festival shows and we often want to record them. Recording festival shows can make for great submissions and also great memories. The reality of it though, is that this isn’t your theatre and you don’t have the same control over your environment. Recoding festival shows can vary in quality from not quite as good as normal to B-roll footage from Cloverfield. We want to be as close to the former as possible. And we also want to do so while respecting the festival and the people putting it on.

There are three ways people usually record shows on the road. Here are a few tips that might make for the best quality recordings and the best etiquette on the road.

General tips

Respect the tech
This overrides everything else in the article. The producers and the tech controllers at any festival have a lot on their plate. They don’t need to worry about your plate too. If you want to record your show. Don’t ask them to do the work for you. Sometimes, they volunteer to help. And that’s awesome, but never assume. On the other side, don’t ingnore them. This is their house. Try to talk to them well before your show; earlier that day or before you even arrive in town if possible. Ask permission to record your show. Ask what will be non-intrusive to their work. Almost every time, they’re willing to find a way to get you taken care of without interfering with their work. They may even request that you do not record. Respect that too. They’re the boss.

Set the lighting conditions
The lighting conditions of this space aren’t the same as yours. The contrast between the lit stage and the dark theatre can make a big difference in recording. And the lighting conditions when an audience is arriving is different than during showtime. If you get a chance. Go to a prior show at the festial, or politely ask during your tech time to go to the actual lighting conditions of the performance. That way you won’t have to adjust during the show.

Power
Don’t assume there will be a power outlet. In fact, unless there is a super-convenient power outlet. Don’t use them. Make sure you have battery power for your show and then some. It just saves a lot of panic and hassle

We’ve got a camera guy who will set up in the corner

Get out of the way
There are paying audience members. And many of them are getting their first exposure to improv. They get right of way 100% of the time. Don’t take a good seat away from them. Don’t be blocking their view. Don’t be blocking the way to the bathroom. They win. Always

Speaking of the bathroom
There are areas where people are likely to be walking during the show, most frequently these areas are the walkway to the bathroom and the exit. If possible don’t have that walkway between you and the stage or your going to get a lot of heads. Is that a big deal? No, not really. But something that can sometimes be avoided for a slightly better experience.

Buy a ticket
If your camera guy is taking a seat. Buy them a ticket. Support the fest.

We’re just going to put this camera on this ledge here

Don’t get robbed
It’s not a common problem, but use common sense. Don’t leave a camera in an exposed place where no one will see it get ganked.

Record early
Don’t get stressed about hitting record and then running backstage. Just make sure you have plenty of space and start recording really early.

Our friend is going to hand-hold a camera during a show

Make that display non-intrusive
The Person behind your friend doesn’t need to see to versions of the show

Turn off the noise
So help me, turn off those beeps and dings.

Train them to use a camera
Most of the time when you ask a friend to record a show, they don’t have experience recording shows. Let them know to get a good wide shot of the stage and to not zoom in and out and move all over the place unless they really have to. If someone’s head ends up in front of them, move slowly out of the way instead of jerking the camera around.

Elbows on armrests
It’s a simple trick to minimize shudder and arm fatigue. Have them find a comfortable place to rest their elbows, either on armrests or their lap. This provides a makeshift tripod that won’t be shaky. But it will also allow them to hold the camera up for a while without arm fatigue. They can also put one arm down for a moment here and there while the other arm holds in position.

Camera Phones

Consider a phone
Smartphone cameras are getting to be pretty good these days. They might not be quite as good as a good handicam, but it’s one less thing to bring to the theatre and worry about. Not to plug, but I personally use a Sony Xperia Z and it works fantastically. 1080p, 24fps. They’re pretty nice and they don’t require lugging extra equipment.

Turn off time limits
Many camera phones have a not-well known feature that they will stop recording after 30 minutes to prevent accidentally wasting space and battery life. It’s a good idea, but turn it off for shows that might be longer than that. If you have a camera person, let them pay attention to start recording again if this happens

Mini-tripods
There are phone tripods now. They’re cheap and they fit in your pocket

Battery Chargers
Same as above. Cheap and portable.

Horizontal for the love of all good things
Don’t hold that camera vertical. It’s just… the worst. That’s true of pretty much everything in life, but especially a show on a stage that is longer than it is tall.

Recording on the road is tricky. But with a little thought and a lot of respect for the tech crew, it can work out.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

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