In 2005 we tried something new, filming artists teaching live workshops. The Art & Soul Retreat was running a series of workshops at the Asilomar Retreat Center in Pacific Grove, California in February.
Normally, we only film in our own studio and for good reason. There we can control the quality of our audio and video content. Filming a live workshop is a very different animal. Among other things, we needed to be sensitive to the students who were paying for the workshops so that we did and not distract from the quality of their learning experience. This meant we needed to capture the content while staying in an “observer” role.
I found three mixed media artists/teachers interested in working with us. We contacted and gained permission from all of their students in the off chance their image might became part of the final video.
In preparation, I built a portable filming studio structure, using rigid pipe. I broke it down into pieces short enough to haul in our van and, if necessary, fit in an elevator at the site, but large and strong enough to hold all the cameras, lights and gear that were needed to film. In addition, the structure had to be simple enough to assemble and disassemble daily as we moved from class to class.
We rented a van and packed it with cameras, TV monitors, computers, lights, pipe, audio equipment, travel gear and what seemed like miles of wire and headed south 700 miles from Albany, Oregon to Pacific Grove, CA.
“We” included three of us – Kelly and Zach, our editors/filming crew and myself. We are a family business in every sense. Kelly is our daughter and Zach became our son-in-law a few years later. Lynn stayed home to run the business.
This project presented us with many quality challenges to overcome. Each workshop environment was different. Each room had different lighting conditions, different sound conditions, different traffic patterns, different teacher habits and set-ups and no retakes. Once the class started we were “in the flow” until it ended six hours later.
Some of the rooms had wall to wall exterior windows with light streaming through and changing throughout the day. Some rooms were dark auditoriums with echoing sound and flickering florescent lights. It was a constant challenge to avoid shots with moving light streaks and shadows across the teacher’s face or art work.
Some teachers worked from a painting easel in the front of the room. Some moved constantly around the room, taking their demonstration to the far reaches of the venue. Our job was to capture everything important, on video, in focus, not moving, with good light and sound. And we needed to devise a system that made it possible to synchronize the multiple cameras later for editing. Yikes*!#
Part of the challenge was in operating our equipment with only three operators instead of our usual four. We were running three digital cameras which recorded on cassette tapes that had to be changed out each 60 minutes. We had one remote control camera with a TV monitor and two cameras on tripods that we moved around the room as needed. Zach also ran a computer-sound recorder which was connected to a remote mic on the teacher. Everything was powered by cables to wall outlets or by batteries that needed periodic charging. We were in a constant dance.
I remember feeling panicked when students started switching on hair driers to dry their art work while the teacher continued her lesson from across the room. The teacher’s voice was blasted away by the sound. We scurried to move the driers further away and change the mic setup on the teacher.
It might surprise you to know that viewers are less forgiving of bad sound/audio than a bad shot. In addition, sound is much more difficult for editors to correct in production. Zach did everything he could to get it right while filming. He had to occasionally stop the teacher to adjust the remote mic if it started to rub on her shirt or if the batteries died.
Even with all that, we managed to stay as far in the background as we could in order to minimize our impact on the student experience.
These four days were an enormous challenge to our agile thinking and creativity. In the end we succeeded in producing three wonderful workshops - two with Ann Baldwin (Text & Texture in Mixed Media Collage and Telling Stories with Collage & Paint) and one with Tracy Bautista (Retro Rags: Funky Fabric Books). The fourth class we filmed was not produced. It was a metal book class and was defeated by the constant pounding and hammering which overpowered the audio quality.
We also spent some time enjoying the beautiful California coast.
We returned home, tired but pleased with the results.
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