Tech Check Checklist for Remote Production
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Anthony Burokas: Regardless of what camera you use, it's all about location. This is one of my typical in-studio shots. Why does this look good? First of all, there's no bright window behind me, like in this other video I made. The camera is positioned at eye level. I have an interesting and relevant background.
Take time to work with your guests and do what I call a tech check several days ahead of the actual live event, and have them walk around their house or office and pick the best-looking spot. These two images are literally two feet from each other. I just rotated the laptop and sat in a different seat, and you can see the difference in the lighting. Maybe you need to have them adjust blinds or drapes, rotate a table, declutter the shelves behind them.
We're making TV here, and we're doing this not to be a bother, but to make our guests look awesome almost all the time. They understand this and are thankful for your help. Tell them "We want to make you look awesome for this event. If you could just take those stack of papers off the back shelf and put them on the floor for one day, that would help so much." And they really do appreciate this.
When you do the tech check, pay particular attention to the lighting, especially if the sun comes in the room, try to do the tech check at the same time of day that the guests will be live in your show, so you can see what the room really looks like. And be aware of cloudy days versus sunny days. Many times the sun can come right in and hit the guest from the side. And unless you know that ahead of time, you have a real problem trying to deal with it on show day.
We had two guests with this problem, and one ended up putting a sheet on a pole over the upper part of the window that didn't have any blind. The other moved around in the room so the sun did not hit them, and that worked out fine as well.
Aside from that, make sure that there's light in front of the guests. That makes all the difference. It could be a desk lamp reflected off the wall in front of them, or it could be a big table lamp with a big lampshade. (In essence, a softbox.) You may even have to turn off other lights in the room, especially if there's a mixture of colors like blue coming from outside, but warm incandescent light coming from the lamp. This confuses the white balance in the webcams, and sometimes they'll swing back and forth in color temperature while you're doing things. Don't laugh--I've actually had it happen. So, making the color temperature as uniform as possible in front of the camera is important.
Remote audio is the next and perhaps even more important aspect to doing a remote. We can get hung up on making sure the picture looks pretty, but if the audio is noisy or hard to hear it doesn't matter how good the picture is. Conversely, I've had guests who had great audio, usually from a headset with a boom mic. And it didn't matter if the audio glitch or the connection was a rough one long as we can hear them cleanly through the glitch.
What mic am I using with this webcast? I actually have a little boom mic just to the side of the webcam, coming in via USB audio. And if you hear a little bit of background noise, that's the laptop currently working at 51%. The fans are under the laptop.
The audience is very willing to overlook video issues if you've got clean audio. A USB headset for audio is a great way to make sure the remote guests sound awesome and they can hear the show. Maybe people don't like over-the-head headsets, despite the great sound they deliver to both the user and the show. So if they don't wear any, that always results in the most choppy audio.
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