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The Accidental Videographer Does Facebook Live

If you're an accidental (or last-minute sub) videographer charged with a live production, have a seat, bring a notepad, and live and learn.

Lesson 5: If You’re Streaming Live, Bring a Tablet or Notebook to Monitor

Our original plans involved attempting to mix the cameras onsite and stream live using a video mixer on a notebook, but the lack of space in the booth led to the wise conclusion to try that another day. So I didn’t bring a notebook the first day to check the online stream.

The problem with that approach is twofold. First, if you’re streaming live, the proof of the pudding is the online video, preferably with audio. So unless you absolutely know that’s happening, you’re flying blind. Second, when you’re relying upon your camera’s LCD for framing and exposure control, you’re going to miss things like that pesky white balance issue. Don’t count on anyone else monitoring for you; bring a computer or tablet with a headphones so you can monitor both audio and video.

Lesson 6: Have an Operational Checklist

Starting each segment involved the following steps.

  1. Mic’ing participants and turning on the mics
  2. Checking audio on the lavs
  3. Checking that Facebook Live is working
  4. Positioning camera 2
  5. Checking audio in camera 2
  6. Starting record in camera 2
  7. Checking positioning in camera 1
  8. Final audio check in camera 1
  9. Starting record in camera 1
  10. Prompting the handclap for sync

During each segment, I had to:

  1. Monitor audio and video on primary camera.
  2. Check Facebook Live for video, audio, and comments.

Stopping each segment involved:

  1. Turning down audio on the mixer.
  2. Stopping record camera 1
  3. Stopping record camera 2
  4. Retrieving microphone from guest
  5. Setting up “Be Right Back” sign (we didn’t stop Facebook Live between interviews that were proximate in time).
  6. Pointing camera on sign (Figure 4, below).
  7. For long brakes, powering down all mics.

Figure 4. Our fancy Be Back Soon sign (blue tinge and all)

I think I got the entire sequence right most of the time, but forgot to start recording at least once on the main camera, and forgot to stop multiple times. I know I missed audio on camera 2 for at least one or two segments.

Not in any way to compare what we do with surgeons, but my wife was a surgeon, and I remember a headline in one of her journals detailing the benefits of a checklist. One study found that a simple checklist with questions like “is the site marked,” reduced post-surgical deaths by 22%. Certainly commercial pilots would never take off without one.

The bottom line is that if you’ll be performing a structured, multiple-step activity many times, a checklist gives you the best chance to get it right, time after time.

Lesson 7: Buy Audio Gear (and Batteries) with Power Indicator (or Buy One)

Sure, you can insert new batteries each day, or before each interview, but as time goes on, you’ll start worrying about battery life (or battery waste or battery cost if you’re switching pre-emptively). When buying (or renting) audio gear, make sure the transmitters and receivers have easy-to-find-and-use battery indicators. When you buy batteries, do the same, or buy or bring a battery tester.

The little guy shown in Figure 5 (below) costs a whopping $5.99 on Amazon. If you’ll be working with standard batteries in your audio gear, it’s a total no-brainer.

Figure 5. A $5.99 battery tester at Amazon.

Lesson 8: Have a Checklist for Microphone Placement

The biggest problem we had with audio was not battery outages, but cracks and pops caused by the speaker stressing the microphone connector on the lav transmitter when they bent forwards and backwards while speaking animatedly. This evolved into the following mental checklist applied before and during the soundcheck.

1. Be sure microphone cable is securely screwed into transmitter.
2. Attach transmitter to speaker so that forward bending doesn’t stress the connector.
3. Ask the speaker to move during sound checks to detect the problem before you go live.

Lesson 9: All Errors are a Learning Experience

I’m sure there are some video shooters and producers who flat out nail their productions every day, every time. But I’m equally sure that they’re not accidental shooters attempting to balance multiple priorities in a demanding environment. If you’re going to do this stuff part time, on an accidental basis, use as many tools as possible to ensure your success.

After each event, make a list of things that went wrong or that could be performed better. This article is the start, to which I’ll add figuring out a better strategy for inter-interview pauses (I think we can do better than Figure 4).

Whenever I shoot a live event, a vague memory of Arachnida from fifth-grade Greek Mythology comes to mind. As I recall, Arachnida challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest, and won, and got turned into a spider for her efforts. Since then, Greek women always include at least one mistake in their blankets to avoid the same fate. I’m still here in fully human form, so I haven’t had a perfect shoot yet. But I keep trying and learning, and doing the best I can to get it right the next time.

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