Live music events are big business. Major artists can expect millions of pounds to be poured into full scale productions where the ticket prices are as high as audience expectations. As the artist takes to the stage the atmosphere is electric and for the poised camera operator the pressure is high. He needs to acquire the best shots, capture the imagination of the viewer and provide first-class footage for the client using reliable and flexible systems that deliver every time. As an established cameraman with over 30 years’ experience, I thrive in this demanding environment and I’m always on the lookout for technology that enables new and interesting ways of achieving those all important shots without breaking mine or the client’s budget.
I began filming music videos and live concerts about 12 years ago having spent several years as a camera operator and Director of Photography (DoP) in both the feature film and commercials markets. During my film career I used 35mm remote controlled camera systems attached to large remote heads. I started working with remote control pan and tilt cameras when I decided to replace movies with music. In the early days these systems consisted of very basic cameras with simple motors and were technically no replacement for the traditional remote systems that I was used to. The wizardry to replace the first basic models was becoming available but needed a lot of work to meet the requirements of a professional camera operator.
It wasn’t long before the first remote analogue pan & tilt heads became available offering a low-cost solution for broadcast applications. This was around the same time that reality TV began to make waves in mainstream TV. Having tried and tested a number of systems I came across Bradley Engineering a company that specialises in these systems and adopted one of its early models. I discussed future feature and functionality requirements with the company and it shortly introduced the Multi-Function Controller (MFC). This system ticked all the boxes on my wish list delivering a panel that controls up to eight cameras and heads using touch selection buttons, which can be expanded to control up to 64 cameras. The company then introduced the HD10 HD/SD camera, which can be mounted on a U3 head, matching camera responsiveness with image quality and behaving like any top-of-the range remote head. At this point I purchased my first system and now own four.
Last summer I used the HD10s to film a Massive Attack concert at Brixton Academy and following this spoke with Bradley Engineering about my desire to use tracking. The company had just launched the MC60low-profile, short camera tracking system at IBC 2009 and so the following month I took this on its inaugural outing to Berlin to film footage of a classical rock concert. It worked well and following a few minor adaptations I took it to the 02 Arena in November along with an HDC_100 remote HD camera to provide tracking for Beyonce’s massive 02 production. Arriving at the now famous arena in the morning, I spent the day setting up the HD10s and HDC_100 on the track ready for the evening’s performance. The HD10s can either be used remotely or attached to a remote head providing greater flexibility. The huge stage made of black Perspex housed a pair of motorised rolling rostrums on two tiers, which had the drum rises and keyboards positioned on one side and the horns section on the other. Both rostrums moved from the back to the front of the stage. I set the track up behind the horns section at stage left, which meant I could track Beyonce from all angles delivering a fantastic deep focus look. Traditionally tracks are placed in the pit at the front of the stage, or running along the sides. This track is the only system that I know that can go right across the stage behind the artist. The whole system blended completely with the black stage setting and mics. It’s important that the set up is invisible and doesn’t distract the viewer or the performers. Overall I’m impressed by the system, which enables you to get shots that you could never achieve with a manned camera. It also shrinks costs by reducing the number of cameras required.
Working in tandem with manufacturers not only builds strong relationships it also ensures solid, reliable and workable products that are based on trust and a high level of understanding, essential for camera operators. By using systems that are compact, fully integrated, simple to operate and easy to rig the operator is able to concentrate on pushing the creative boundaries that deliver the pictures that take the viewer right back to the arena every time they watch it.