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Producing Conference Video Pt. 1: Setting Up

Whether you're shooting a conference, a convention, or an AGM, the setup of the shoot is one of the most important parts of the production process. It's the step where you select the equipment, establish your camera positions, lay your cables, and check and recheck your audio and lighting.

Despite recent recession-induced slowdowns in the number of conventions held and in convention attendance—most notably in Las Vegas, which is trending to report that 2009 numbers were down 15% and 25%—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is still predicting, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010–11 edition, that employment for meeting and convention planners is expected to grow 16% between 2008 (before the bottom really dropped out) and 2018. This is significant for those of us looking for business opportunities in the conference space because that growth rate is faster than the 10% average rate predicted for all occupations. The bureau reasons that with businesses and associations growing in geographic scope and the growth of online forums, blogs, email, and videoconference connection opportunities, the demand for face-to-face interaction is actually increasing, which in turn leads to a higher demand for conferences.

Couple this with an increased demand for video at meetings and a growing list of ways to distribute video live with webcasting and online using one of several YouTube-style services, it’s fair to say that the conference video production market has a bright future as a niche on its own or as an add-on for an event videography outfit looking to balance its portfolio work outside its traditional customer base.

In this first installment of a four-part series on conference video, I’m going to explore the preproduction setup that is required to produce professional results and to look the part. While setups will vary depending on the location, the amount of equipment required, and the end use of the video, whether you are called on to videotape a meeting, a conference, a convention, or an annual general meeting (AGM), the setup is one of the most important parts in the process. It’s the step where you select your equipment, establish your camera position(s), lay your cables, and check and recheck your audio and lighting. We’ll cover audio and lighting in depth in Part 2, as they merit their own article; the actual production in Part 3; and postproduction (even if you’re delivering nearly live) in Part 4.

I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks in the past 8 years since I started my first video production company, and I have had the good fortune to have been hired in a variety of different environments, ranging from venues with U.N.-style circular seating, which requires multiple cameras and live switching, to webcasts with six broadcast locations and multiple receiving locations across 10 provinces; I’ve done industry conferences with live translation on a separate audio track; an AGM in Disney World where I preproduced several videos to be shown at the conference, while videotaping the weeklong events and speeches in a convention center, at dinners, and at the theme park; and even a smaller boutique conference in a private chalet in Whistler, British Columbia, for a group of internet black-hat spammers turned good.

Related Articles
Award-winning producer Shawn Lam looks at the art and science of stage lighting and the challenges of making lighting designed for performance work for video. He also discusses the meat-and-potatoes things you need to know for microphone selection and successful live-recorded conference audio.
Award-winning producer Shawn Lam looks at two key elements of the process: capturing multimedia presentations effectively for both live-switched productions and post-produced edits, and how to become a successful technical director of a live-switched shoot, whether for IMAG delivery or providing a live feed for broadcast or webcast.
What happens when you deliver your event live? This is nothing new for live TV broadcasters, but more and more event video producers are being asked to perform their postproduction activities in real-time—that is, live as the event is occurring.