6 Tips for Filming Live Events

Last week saw the release of two episodes where we covered live events: A Night of Local Horror and Soktoberfest.  This was the first time we'd covered an event and I learned a few lessons at each that I thought I'd share.

Pre-production is key for any project, but it's especially important at a live event where you can't stop the action and make everyone do another take.  It's almost a given that you'll have to react to spur-of-the-moment changes, so the more you know ahead of time the better you'll be able to deal with the twists you encounter.

Everything listed below is a result of either good or poor planning, so make sure to do your homework ahead of time and you'll avoid a lot of the hassles I encountered.

Knowing where you're shooting is also very helpful, though not always possible.  I met with Matt and Tracey of The Lowdown Show the week before A Night of Local Horror and we planned out where we'd setup, what equipment we'd bring, etc.  I didn't have that luxury with Soktoberfest and I had to make the best of some less than ideal conditions because of it.  That's not to say you've failed if you don't scout a location first (reporters often don't have that opportunity when covering breaking news), but you should always try to do it whenever possible.

We had a pair of 1Ks for A Night of Local Horror and the result is clean, consistent picture quality even after the sun goes down.

Soktoberfest was held in a parking lot at dusk and the tents blocked the street lights.  As a result I had to shoot at a very high ISO, so the footage is pretty grainy.  In cases like that you suck it up and do what you have to because it's more important to get great content than get nothing because you're not satisfied with the picture quality.  Remember: at a live event you only get one chance to capture a great moment.

Traditionally you try to capture the cleanest audio possible, but at a live event there will be background noise and there's nothing you can do about it.  Just consider it something that adds to the atmosphere.  Hopefully your recording equipment can pick up your subject over the din.

Sometimes you want to hide your recording equipment.  At A Night of Local Horror I put lav mics on Matt and Tracey, but it turned out Tracey's dress didn't have pockets to put the recorder in.  We eventually found a solution, but it was a lesson we'll remember for next time.

At Soktoberfest on the other hand, I just had people hold the recorder like a microphone and it worked great.  Who cares if you can see what they're talking into?  Again, the most important thing is to do your best to capture great content.

Wind was also an issue at Soktoberfest.  It wreaks havoc on you're audio.  Whenever possible find some sort of barrier or shelter to get behind/under to keep the wind from blowing into the microphone.

I arrived at Soktoberfest right as the festivities were beginning and found it was very difficult to talk to people while they were trying to serve beer to the guests.  In hindsight I should have gotten there early and interviewed the hombrewers ahead of time.

Subsequently by the time I finished talking to the brewers and started looking for attendees to talk to, most of them had had too much to drink.  I realized you're better off talking to people at the beginning of an event while they're still fresh and vibrant and have their wits about them.

People often get nervous when someone with a camera and a microphone approaches them.  The first step in getting a good interview is making the person comfortable.  At both events I found that if I approached people and started a regular conversation they would eventually ask what the camera was for.  Then I could casually explain what I was doing and ask if they'd like to say a few words, which they were more likely to do since we'd already established a relationship.  Sure you don't always have the luxury of chatting people up first, but anything you can do to make them comfortable before shoving a mic in their face will help you get a better, more candid interview.

And don't be afraid to ask for something.  The RailHawks announced the winner of the homebrew competition during the soccer game.  Hoping to use it in the episode, I was in the press box waiting for the announcement.  But I didn't get a heads up before they did it and I missed it.

Rather than hang my head in defeat, I waited for a break in the action and asked the announcer if he'd take a moment re-read the announcement into my digital recorder.  He obliged me and I was able to add some filters during editing to make it sound live.

You have to read a situation and determine what's appropriate, but over the past year or so that I've been doing this I've repeatedly been amazed at how many times the answer to my question is "yes."

I hope these tips help you out in your coverage of live events.  feel free to share you're own knowledge and experiences in the comments below.