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Thread: Recording a theatre production

  1. #1

    Question Recording a theatre production

    Hi

    I have a production of four plays at the Henley Fringe at the end of this month (July 2013) and on at least one night I'd like to film the show. I have at my disposal a 600D and a Sony DV, the Sony will be on a tripod at the back for the wide shot, the 600d will be doing close ups from the left on one night and the right on the next. The venue is a loft area over a pub, which is rather large I gather, not sure if the sound and lighting board will have any external mic inputs, I guess it will but I am assuming I won't be able to use it as Fringe staff often don't want to get involved in writers recording their plays by connecting up gadgets to their precious boards (and who can blame them).

    So what's my options here?

    Been thinking about getting a H1 and dangling it from a rafter in the centre of the stage at just over head hight. Although I could do this with a Omni directional mic and feed that into any kind of recorder, including I suppose a laptop. I also have a USB mic that I could in theory link to a 10 metre USB cable and plug that into a laptop, but not sure if 10 meters is still going to be enough distance to reach the back of the room.

    Thoughts?

    Paul

  2. #2

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    Can you really not immediately contact/visit/see the premises and meet do the necessary shaking hands with their techies? If they have already miced the stage, then they may already have a 'good' sound. And very likely already have a means to do audio recordings. They may actually be used to doing that, perhaps using their own recorders. Such things are best planned in advance, of course. Seems a shame to have to wait until you are there to figure out how to do the recording.

  3. #3

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    While I appreciate your question is more about recording the audio. I thought I should point out that you would be better using the 600D as the locked off camera at the back and use the Sony DV camera for the close ups.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Midnight Blue View Post
    While I appreciate your question is more about recording the audio. I thought I should point out that you would be better using the 600D as the locked off camera at the back and use the Sony DV camera for the close ups.
    I had a think about that too, but I'll need to drop down the quality of the recording to get around the 12 minute limitation. Even then, although each play lasts around 10 minutes the whole performance would last 1 hour with no intermission, which would require me to have an operator on the 600d and I am not sure I'll have anyone available.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by TimAndrews View Post
    Can you really not immediately contact/visit/see the premises and meet do the necessary shaking hands with their techies? If they have already miced the stage, then they may already have a 'good' sound. And very likely already have a means to do audio recordings. They may actually be used to doing that, perhaps using their own recorders. Such things are best planned in advance, of course. Seems a shame to have to wait until you are there to figure out how to do the recording.
    Fringe theatre is a little more run&gun than normal theatre simply because the venues are often only used specifically for Fringe activities and are something else entirely all year round. Far as I know the build for the weeks theatre in this particular location will take place on the Sunday, we have access to site on Monday morning for a tech rehearsal, but we are not the only company using that space during that week, so we may not have the full morning to just do the tech rehearsal of our stuff.

    So it will be Monday at the latest when I get to find out what they will be doing by way of sound. From experince I usually find that in these small locations they do very little, often no sound at all, save for having a DAT deck for pre-recorded Sound FX.

    Basically I was wondering if anyone else here had done something like this so that I could get an idea before hand of the sort of equipment that would be ideal to use, or that I could at a pinch get away with using.

    Paul

  6. #6

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    I have almost no experience of this. But, I have seen alot of poorly recorded (audio) stage productions. The main problems I have seen/heard are where the audio was recorded from a camera which was along way away, or that used its own automated volume control (compression). The 2nd annoyance is the awfulness of the low frequency (bass) noise which comes from actors moving across a stage (many of which are hollow below the stage floor).
    Threads in the past have spoken of the virtues of using external recorders, like the Zoom ones (although that means keeping them powered and with long enough recording time. I have no idea what they use in pro theatre. Is it better to hand mics from a lighting bar? Or to set them up discreetly (and vibration free) on the stage floor at the front? I also wonder whether two recorders may be better than one?
    I regret not being able to offer any sensible (or knowledgeable) solution; but I shall be interested to hear what option you eventually chose, and how pleased you were with the results.

  7. #7

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    I have, in the absence of an audio feed from theatre sound desk, used a radio mic/s, body wrapped and mic clipped to foam to kill the feet noise, they pick up probably better than many mic'd stages coming through the line.
    My opinions are just that . . . Mine. It's not personal, but is based on my emotional and professional reaction to requested critique. If you choose to ignore constructive comments, I'll just assume you're a vanity poster and not posting to improve your filming and editing skills.

    Ex A.P.V Videomaker of the year - Ex M.M. IOV Come join my EXclusive club

  8. #8
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    As I understand OP is the Author of the play?
    Surely he has some say in who/what is done in the execution of his work.

    Maybe make contact with the (Pub?) and then the production's Promotor/Organiser. (suggested earlier) . . .If OP has a Zoom recorder, then I suggest he tries it out with fresh battery and determine that it will work for the "10hrs claimed" - If the memory card is large enough, then this should produce a listenable audio track if suspended as OP suggested, from above . . . but the drop needs a safety-chain/rope which remains only slightly slack. Then the recorder should be suspended via some rubber-ring or suspension to attenuate unwanted vibration. The right place is likely to be determined by Access, and almost certainly you will fnd the audience (or fan-cooled lights) will wreck what might otherwise be a clean-ish recording.
    But "a recording" is better than "no recording" eh?
    The "rule" is that the best audio comes from close-micing. As the distance increases all the mess gets in . . . but at least it will make all the actors "about" the same recording level.
    It's a toss-up whether you risk the benefits of Manual level - or take the "easy" route of AGC - with the risk it may get noisy when there are silent parts - but almost any Audio Editor can fix that, afterwards.
    Yu might like to wire up a headphone monitoring lead, so you can access that during Rehearsal . . .on the Night, you may need to be elsewhere . . . but at least the cable gives you the possibility - if this is omitted then you cannot monitor what's being recorded. Use only closed-back headphones with large noise-excluding muffs. Some form of volume-control may be possible, but once it's set, you probably cannot change it. A light nylon cord/thread might be attached so you can apply twist, to align the pick-up sensitivity. Unfortunately, it will be almost impossible to attenuate the audience noise.
    To this add Bar TV's, Rowdy Customers and doors banging. Oh deary.

    Have you thought of asking a local Film-Making Club to do this recording as a promo for the pub? - that might be a win-win all round, if they can sell a few Edited DVD's to the Audience/actors/Pub owners. This may help promote their own activities.

    Has anyone suggested a long shotgun mic from the rear of the venue? I'm not used to this method, but it might give OP a second recording opportunity. Yes. DSLRs do have a short recording-time, but that might make it worthwhile getting a moderately-priced camcorder (with mic-in + headph-out). It's about 400 Sony CX410 with the necessary audio sockets . . . in theory it could struggle with low-light (but mine is amazingly good even outdoors at night ). It needs to be locked-off to maintain the viewing position, but it has an excellent stabaliser which might be used during rehearsal - face close-ups will help sell a DVD to the participants and action highlights should be similarly treated, if possible....

    Do let us know how it goes . . . . and how packed the house is!
    Good Luck.
    Last edited by vidmanners; 07-15-2013 at 11:39 PM.

  9. #9

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    Thanks for all the advice, sorry I didn't get back to you all sooner, the play and its staging absorbed by time like a sponge.

    So this is a photo of the venue:

    20130726_185838_resized.jpg



    and the stage:

    20130726_184029_resized.jpg


    We shared this venue with other theatre productions so the blacks (seen in the above photo to the left of the stage, with another to the right) needed to be taken down each night.

    So, here's what I did. I placed a USB mic on the beam in the above photo and attached it to a laptop via a USB extension lead. Audacity was used as the recording software and the recording was started just before the audience was let in, with the laptop shoved under the stage with the screen half folded shut. This allowed me to avoid buying a Zoom H1, although I will buy one in the future. The Mic was a Blue Snowball and the results were rather good.

    A sony SD camera was set up behind the audience (under the lights in fact) and to the left of the room, and set to manual so that it could just be turned on and recording armed before the audience came in. This camera uses a tape (still) and that was set to LP to record 90 mins, easily enough to capture the 55 minute show.

    A 600D was then placed in the opposite corner of the sony and set to its lowest res capture to up the filming time from 12 mins to 29, this allowed the camera to run without my intervention ( I was needed to oversee other things, like the braces of one actor getting caught around his nether regions during a quick costume change).

    The results are pretty good, with the sound quality being excellent. In fact I can hear more stuff on the playback of the audio (via the USB mic on the laptop) than I could standing just a few feet away. The 600D suffered from overexposure as it looks as though the light technician bumped the settings up slightly more than he did during the tech rehearsal. I've fixed this in post. The Sony I have yet to look at....

    More when I see more.

    Thanks again for everyone's advice, as you can see, I've used a little bit of everyones tips.


    Paul

  10. #10
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    Thanks for getting back, Paul. Boy that's a cozy little set-up, isn't it. I'd imagine all those people in there, together with the low ceiling and beams at all angles helped deaden the room noise to some extent. Delighted you got good results. I hope you'll post a snippet of the finished article here sometime.
    Tim

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