Event Stream Team's Jimmy Reid Discusses Live Production with a Customized Blackmagic Kit
With the recent pivot back to in-person live events, how have video production companies readjusted their workflows and in what ways has rapidly evolving technology leveled the playing field for producers? We spoke with Jimmy Reid, Chief Technology Officer, Event Stream Team, a family-run company based in the Washington DC area, about their current approaches to live production and the use of their dynamic new live streaming kit featuring a Blackmagic Design workflow.
Asked about how the period of remote production impacted the way that Event Stream Team now approaches onsite productions, in terms of new equipment or new modifications to the ways that they previously worked on location, Reid replied, “I would say we used the virtual production time, not having to move gear…as a way to really optimize how we do stuff in person,” Reid says. “For example, before we would have a lot of road cases with individual gear and having to connect cables…during the pandemic break from in-person events we built this kit behind me that we can roll into any venue and be ready to go within 40 minutes. That saves a lot of time, and so we just really invested in technology to assist us with, one--minimizing setup time, and two--being able to deliver a higher-end service.”
Asked for details on their current kit--visible in the video that accompanies this article--Reid said, “This kit is a dream of mine that I've been having for like the last five years. Over the pandemic, I was able to partner with Z-Case and ProX cases and they built this design that we came up with collectively. And so it's a creation that was on a piece of paper that ended up becoming something in the real world, and it's based on Blackmagic. And so the original plan was to go with a smaller Blackmagic switcher, but the new Constellation line came out in perfect timing. And so we have an ATEM 2 M/E Constellation HD as the heart of this case.”
As for Blackmagic Design's role in building the custom kit, Reid explained, “Well, [we made] a lot of phone calls to them. My goal was to simplify cable management, and to just make sure that there are camera converters for the new studio cameras that will get the job done for me. You'd be a little leery with new technology, but we decided, after speaking with Blackmagic, to just really trust their word that the technology was dependable, and I have to say, utilizing the Studio Camera 4K Pros with their studio converters and having a single ethernet cable really simplified setup and cable management, because it's got to be neat at the same time.”
Event Stream Team has taken the kit out into the field in some unique and challenging projects recently, including a four-hour live streamed court hearing in Baltimore County, and the historic unveiling of William Arthur Smith’s painting, "Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker Surveying the Boundaries of Washington, DC," at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis. Reid described some of the challenges his crew faced on the Douglass-Banneker event in particular.
“The biggest challenge was in the physical space,” Reid said. “It was a hybrid event, so they did have some studio audience and so it wasn't a lot of space for us to set up, so we ended up having to have all the gear on the third floor and all the cameras and microphones on the second floor. So utilizing the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4K Pros with the studio converters, being able to only have to run three cables down for cameras, just made it so easy to tape them down and have it be safe and look neat. And also at the same time, utilizing the 2 M/E Constellation, I was able to feed a projector with a separate video feed for our slides and PowerPoints … essentially like having two switchers in one. It just made it much easier to execute.”
The "studio" configuration that integrates camera and switcher and allows a technical director to adjust camera settings through the ATEM switcher has proven valuable as well. “We actually invested in their camera controller unit as well," Reid said. "That allows us my camera operators to focus on getting a good shot. Then I have a live colorist. Their job is to make sure the shots look great as far as gain, ISO, just all the nerdy technical camera stuff. It makes it much easier, and we are able to turn around a quality product, as far as the live is concerned. Of course, in postproduction you could fix stuff, right? When it comes to live, you get one opportunity to get it right.”
Asked about Event Stream Team's recent switch to the DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 editing, grading, visual effect (VFX) and audio postproduction software and its overall postproduction process, Reid said, “Editing takes a lot of time. Before, you had to send hard drives or strictly depend on Dropbox, and there was no real way to collaborate using some of the other editing suites that we've used. But our goal is to use the Blackmagic cloud platform and that way I can partner with editors and colorists across the planet and form these relationships where we can turn around the end product almost as soon as we finish shooting and be able to upload it to the cloud and have an editor get started right away. With Blackmagic, this whole technology infrastructure is taken care of, especially since being able to synchronize the files and they can have proxy copies. I'm looking forward to it!”
Reid said that he has ordered the 20 TB unit but has yet to deploty it in Event Stream's edit suite. “Once we get that in place then capacity won't be an issue,” he said. “We have a lot of gigs on the books and so I fill up eight terabytes pretty quick! And so for being able to have 20 terabytes available, it's just gonna be set it and forget it!”
As for upcoming projects, Reid said, “We actually are live streaming a conference coming up in two weeks. And this conference is going to be one where we have to be able to really show off the technology a little bit because we are encouraging our clients to be more inclusive and really pay attention and try to incorporate ASL interpreters, make sure closed captioning is in there.” He highlighted that they will have a picture-in-picture with the ASL interpreter live. “Utilizing the Blackmagic cameras USB output to record in 4K to have ISO copies of all the cameras…[it’s] just really raising the bar."
Reid emphasized that improving accessibility for the visual or hearing-impaired is important to his company, and these new streamlined workflows are vast improvements on allowing for accessibility accuracy without having to overinvest time. He mentioned that many times his team has had to go back and update the closed captioning generated by YouTube because it is often inaccurate, which was a very time-consuming task. But this new technology, he said, separates his company from competitors, though he added with a laugh, “I don't have competitors, I have future people to partner with!”
As satisfied as Event Stream Team is with their current custom live production kit, they've still got their eyes on some upgrades as new gear rolls out. “Coming up first quarter 2023, we're going to be doing an additional investment in our Blackmagic infrastructure and we are going to be deploying Blackmagic URSA Broadcast G2 cameras," he said. "And so we're really excited to add those to the fold for some of our larger projects and opportunities that we are pursuing. And so that's going to be awesome tools to have in the kit.”
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