LIVE PRODUCTION WITH STEVEN LESTER
Elevation is a church in North Carolina with several campuses. One thing that Elevation is known for is their worship band, Elevation Worship. Every year, they release a new album in which they put on a live recording. With the album release tomorrow, we wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look at what all went into the filming of this live event. Here is Steven Lester, the Broadcast Director at Elevation Church.
KU: Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Myrtle Beach, SC and I’ve always been tinkerer of sorts. I’m a tech dork, music lover, and an avid coffee drinker. I Graduated film school in 2009 from Middle Tennessee State University, and moved to Charlotte shortly after graduating. I have a beautiful wife, Erin, and we’re in the process of adopting our first child.
KU: What does a normal day working at Elevation look like for you?
My “normal” day looks different from season to season. Most of the time it consist of us connecting as a team first thing in the morning and hitting what our priorities our for that day, then executing. We’re very project oriented, therefore, the needs and size of the project determines our schedule, within reason. It’s great because I feel like my day to day has structure but enough flexibility and uncertainty to allow our team to stay fresh and energized.
KU: Describe the live recording project and where you come into the picture.
“Wake Up the Wonder” is one of the biggest projects we’ve taken on as a church. Earlier this year, our pastor and worship department told our teams that we would be recording our next live recording at Time Warner Cable Arena, which is Charlotte’s basketball arena. As a team, we were super excited and nervous. Even though we’ve done 3 live recordings prior, we knew that shooting in a 13,000 seat arena versus a 1,300 seat auditorium were two completely different beasts. The goal of “Wake Up the Wonder” was to create a live album and dvd that would be a great representation of our sound and what God is doing in our church. My job was to director the Live DVD portion of the project with the help of an amazing team.
KU: What’s pre-production like for something of this caliber?
Honestly, even though we’ve done live recordings before we haven’t done anything of this caliber, and we didn’t know where to start or exactly what to do. The team began connecting with a ton of different churches and professionals, some that we knew and others we didn’t to learn from their experiences and mistakes. We went “back to school” to ask questions and establish processes and personnel needs.
I know this might sound like a cliche, but the successful execution of an event like this is formed in preproduction and communication. Our teams first goal in preproduction was to establishing good communication with each department: Lighting, Audio, Video, and Worship.
Then we established a look, feel, and coverage. Most people creating a live DVD capture a rehearsal and the actual event to ensure that they have enough coverage in post production. For us, we knew that it would be a tight timeline from arrival and setup to event. We had to be confident in placementof cameras and amount of coverage to capture just the event alone. So that meant diagraming the room. We reached out to other churches and professionals that we had relationship with to ask if they’d be willing to help us pull this event off. Altogether, our team arranged for around 23 camera operators, 8 grips, 5 AC, and 5 Techs to arrive in Charlotte from across the country and help us execute the event.
KU: How much creativity goes into a live recording? Or is it something that is more technical than creative?
I think its a mixture of both. When organizing 30 cameras and ensuring that timecode is correctly sent to multiple brands of cameras, it’s very technical. But when trying to capture a two and a half hour live event that’s engaging and must maintain a cohesive look and feel, you have to be creative.
KU: How many people are on the video team? How are they directed?
We had a video team around 37 people, which included 23 camera operators. During the event, we had direct communication with 9 of our operators that were focused on the band and worship leaders, mainly to communicate what instruments were the focus and who was leading each song. We would have liked to have more comms, but had some issues. Fortunately, we felt equipped to handle this because our approach as a team was to get great camera operators that we trust and allowed them the freedom to execute. We cast the vision and style and let them run with it.
During set up and our preproduction meetings, we made sure that everyone knew they’re focus. We had two focuses that night. First, capture what happened on stage, and secondly capture crowd engagement. We were close to 50/50, 12 camera operators focused on the stage and 10 cameras focused on the crowd. Insuring we had great crowd coverage was a must.
KU: Let’s talk tech. Walk us through cameras, stage lighting, storage, backup, etc.
We decided to use the Canon C300 with a mix of glass for all of our operated camera. The three main reasons why we choose the C300 is its ability to shoot clean images in low light, its ability to dual record creating an instant back up, and the ease of jamming timecode. All the C300 had canon glass. We used L series glass for the guys who ran handheld and were focused on the stage. This allowed them to get a good variety and be flexible through out the experience. We used Canon Cinema primes and zooms for the rest. Most of the cameras focused in the crowd where cinema primes because of their speed and size. The ability to shoot at 1.4 in the crowd saved us.
We also used Black Magic Pocket cams with a variety of micro fourths glass on Manfrotto Magic Arms as static instrument shots. We used them because of there size and ease.
Stage lighting was handled by our lighting director, Andy Bentley. He created the stage layout and worked with our motion graphics team to insure that we had great visual content on the LED screen. To light the band and vocalist we mainly used source 4 lincos and spot lights operated by the venue.
From a storage stand point, we set up a DIT room with 4 iMacs, that connected to the following drives, one Promise Pegasus Raid and a Areca Thunderbolt Array as back up. As soon as the footage was dumped on site, we created a back up on our local san at the offices. Also, we kept copy stored on cards as a dooms day plan.
Most of our editing was actually done on the Promise Raid because of the speed and mobility that we need to work on this project. In the past we’ve used Final Cut Pro 7 to edit our live recordings because the power of their multicam. In the last few years, Premiere Pro has done a great job improving their multicam system. So, it was a no brainer for us to use Premiere this go around. It’s already a natural extension of our day to day workflow and with Mercury Playback Engine it made multicam useable.
KU: How long did you have to setup?
We had a day and a half to set up all that was needed for live recording. We had about 2 months for post production.
KU: What have you learned from live recordings that may help someone who is new to them?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the importance of being willing to ask for help. There are so many resources for filmmakers on the internet to learn how to technically pull of a production, and sometimes for me it creates this false since of understanding. Every situation is different, and working with people is as much an art form as filmmaking. Don’t under estimate how much a phone call or a lunch with someone who has gone before you could help your production go to the next level.
Don’t be afraid to go back to school.