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Producing a Live-Streamed 'Interthon' for COVID Hunger Relief

Patrick Heaphy of Pearl River, NY-based studio LCM247 explains how his social-distanced skeleton crew delivered a 5-hour live-streamed "Interthon" featuring multiple live feeds and performances by 15 area musicians that raised over $110,000 for a local food bank in hard-hit Rockland County, NY.

On April 11, 2020, Pearl River, NY-based production studio LCM247 teamed up with People to People, a Rockland County hunger relief organization to put together ROCKland Helping Rockland, a telethon and benefit concert to help those hurt the most by COVID-19 pandemic in Rockland County. The "interthon," broadcast live via YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo, featured more than 15 area artists performing from their homes, and raised more than $110,000 for hunger relief in Rockland County, an area hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Working with a reduced in-studio crew as mandated by current social-distancing guidelines, LCM247 creative director Patrick Heaphy concedes that he heightened the challenges of delivering a successful show by insisting to the event's organizers that they produce it live. When he originally discussed the project with People to People, Heaphy recalls, "They came to me and said, 'We want to produce this thing. How do we do it? We're thinking about having artists send stuff in, we'll record little intros, and we'll just post it to Facebook and YouTube.'" Heaphy says he loved the concept, but immediately started pushing them to do it live. "It was their idea for the whole event," he recalls. "But it was my need for making things difficult on myself to make it live."

The show proceeded with a combination of live and recorded elements, including live in-studio hosts, two live remote speakers, and pre-recorded contributions from the artists who participated in the show. Heaphy initially lobbied to have the musicians perform live, although timing issues with headlining acts ultimately prevented that. So Heaphy told the organizers, "We'll assemble it. We'll string it out into different segments, and then weave in our breaks, kind of like the way you would see any PBS fundraising effort."

One of the biggest challenges, Heaphy says, was assembling the recorded components of the show. "We reached out to all the artists," he says, "and they submitted all their videos in all these crazy different codecs, upways and sideways, and YouTube links for us to rip. It took a lot of time to herd all those kittens."

They sent out LiveU-based kits to capture the two remote speakers, co-organizers Joe Allen of Active International and Diana Serratore, executive director of People to People. "There's something special about live," he says. "We found that the live component, especially with Diane, really allowed the emotion of the evening carry through to the viewers. Everybody told me that that moment when Diane was speaking was really touching for a lot of people. I think everybody was kind of moved by the fact that this was all happening, and that it was a grassroots efforts that everybody had their little part in making it happen." 

In-studio, the LCM247 skeleton crew assembled the show with the LiveU feeds from the field and in-studio production featuring an array of Blackmagic Design gear. The all-4K five-camera shoot included two Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast Cameras and two Micro Studio Camera 4Ks, fed into an ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K switcher driving the show. LCM247 also used HyperDeck Studio Minis and a HyperDeck Studio 12G for ISO records of the in-studio cameras and the LiveU feeds from out in the field. Heaphy says a second Blackmagic Design switcher, the ATEM Production Studio 4K, was used to feed content to an on-set video monitor positioned between the in-studio hosts.

The integration of LCM247's 4K Blackmagic Design cameras with the switcher via the ATEM Hardware CCU panel enabled Heaphy's crew to control and modify camera settings via the switcher. Thanks to the remote camera controls, "One person is actually doing everything." Heaphy found this particularly advantageous on the ROCKland show for two reasons: first, because it freed him up to co-host the show; and second, because it allowed LCM247 to produce the show with a smaller crew maintaining proper social distance. "We're just structuring our working habits now around what is the new normal for the next six, eight, 12 months."

Despite the demands of live production under current conditions, Heaphy contends that the benefits of developing new workflows to produce live events outweight the challenges. "From a technical standpoint," he says, "we learned a lot from that first time" producing ROCKland Helping Rockland. L

CM247 will apply those lessons June 6 when they produce People to People's next "interthon" benefit, Where the Bands Are, which will feature more high-profile performers including Liam Gallagher, Jack Johnson, and Sheryl Crow. "We'll see if we can catch lightning in bottle twice," Heaphy says. "Hopefully we do."