Sitting in the Director’s Seat

Now I’m in no way an expert at directing or have a fool proof formula for working with Volunteers but I have done ok in my time as a director.  I have discovered a few things that have helped me along the way; but ultimately I direct differently from the next guy.  It may not be drastically different but every director has their own style, their own way of working with camera operators, shaders, and tape ops.  Anyone that has done any directing knows that there is a specific Jargon that goes along with directing, but how do you work with volunteers, how can you use your Jargon in a way that they understand?  How can you direct in a way that easily communicates with your operators?  I’ll share what has worked for me.

The Jargon:

No matter who I’m directing, I try to keep all directing calm, short, and consistent.  When working with volunteers, you have to stay calm, if you get over aggressive it tends to affect their operation, they get more jerky, agitated, and overall make more errors.  Keep all direction short.  You get too wordy and they don’t understand what you want or it takes too long to respond.  And keep what you say consistent.  Don’t change up your command words or terminology. For example if you start by telling all of your cameras to Standby, then switch to ready it will only confuse them, stay consistent.  They tend to listen only for certain words.  And if you say it once, be ready to say it 1000 more times. Be ready to get annoyed by your own voice.  (Maybe I’m the only one on that one)

I try to keep all terminology basic.  Push, Pull, Tight, Wide, Focus, Frame Right/left, Pan, tilt, reset, hold, Ready, Live, ect.  The more you can minimize special terms the easier it will be on them.

When directing I say the camera number, followed by a command word (Push, pull, focus, frame, ect.) and once in awhile put in the subject.  For example, “1, Push” or “3, Guitar, Tight.”  By saying the camera number first gets there attention, then what you say needs to be quick as they have a task to do and their attention span is short.

Now there is a difference between directing and cutting (choosing) cameras.  Directing is telling them where to go/ what to do, cutting is actually sending them live.  I have found the more cameras I have the more I just cut, and the less cams I have the more I tend to direct (Skill of cameras also determines this).

When cutting cameras I will say, “Ready 3” or “1 is up” “Take 2” or “camera 3 is live.” But I will never take a camera live before giving them a ready, I even try to give it a breathe before taking them live so they will get set.  If I give them a lot of time I will say ready again just so they know it is coming up.  On slower songs with long dissolves I give 3 points of transition. Ready- Going to- Live. Example: Ready 4, going to 4 (this is where I dissolve), 4 is live (after dissolve is completed).  This way the current camera that is live knows when they are clear as well.

When directing a shader I will always lead with “Iris” or “Shade”, that way the camera operator knows they are off the hook and it grabs the attention of the Shader.

Again, the key is to keep it short, and consistent.  You will feel like a broken record, repeating yourself and saying the same things over and over.  This is ok.  It is part of directing.

Setting your standards:

When working with volunteers or crews of any kind, set your standards.  This will help limit what you have to say.

Examples of my standards:

  • Shooting IMAG, no shots should be wider than a Head to toe.
  • All shots should have some sort of movement.
  • Cameras that are set up at an angle should be framed either left or right to allow for proper lead room.
  • Music medium/mid shot= guitar to head
  • Speaker shot for IMAG= elbows to head
  • Long shot= all the way out
  • Tight guitar= tight but with both hands still in shot
  • Frame 1 subject in the shot (push towards or away from)

By putting down certain expectations will help you to do less directing.  And to be clear, I don’t give my volunteers a list of expectations.  When they are learning I direct them to do these things and will say stuff like. “Cam 1 give me a pull. Try to always give me movement.”  I capitalize on opportunities like rehearsals to teach them these things, and they begin to learn what I like, what I’m looking for.  When they get one of my standard shots I tell them “Great Shot,” or “that’s what I’m looking for.”  Let them learn you.

Most of these standards / expectations in place are in place by all our directors, sure we all have our own flavor, but we all expect movement in our shots, we all like an elbows to head speaker shot, during IMAG we don’t take shots wider than a head to toe.  Once a camera operator learns these things they can work with any of our directors and be successful.  They just have to learn a few of the personal things associated with each director.

I also empower my operators to find me shots (feed me shots).  So rather than being specific all the time I will say stuff like, “new shot” to get them to change up their subject or “Switch it up” for them to stay with the same subject but to change it from a wide to a tight or visa versa. Now when I need something specific, I direct a camera to get a particular shot.  And sometimes I need to do more directing than others, but this system has worked pretty well for me.

Because I have built in consistency into my directing it is very easy for new people to come in and to learn what I mean when I use these terms.  And because it isn’t my style to direct every move, I give my operators a lot of freedom to come up with their own shots, usually in which stay within my standards.  If I change a standard, I communicate it before starting a service.

Difficult operators:

Let’s face it, sometimes we get a difficult operator or two, sometimes our entire crew can be difficult.  These operators take a long time to get a shot, have difficulty focusing, and movement is shaky and inconsistent.  How do we deal with these types of operators?

If you have ever read any of my posts before you know that I believe it is on the director to have a good show.  We don’t get to blame the camera operators, we can only train them better or direct them differently.  So with operators like this, first of all I don’t put them on my most important camera (Important and favorite are different).  Then I find a way to teach them 2 -3 shots, usually tighter shots (mid to tight shots still add energy without adding movement).  Then when directing them, I give them plenty of time to set up on a shot and I take the shot 3-4 times before asking them to do a drastic change.  In turn the show ends up being a little less creative, maybe cut a little slower, but, it meets our standards and the end product is still quality.  Changing up your directing style is the only way to hang on to a quality show when dealing with difficult camera volunteers.

Directing is an art, knowing the music/ content is only half the battle.  You are essentially leading an entire team down a road, it is important to be confident, but humble in your directing.  Leaders only lead when they are worth following, as a director you need to be worth following, so give clear direction in a short, consistent manor.  And in your training set expectations so they automatically get what you want rather than you having to direct their every move. I find if I’m going too fast I will get a lot of bad on air movements or camera jumps.  If I’m not consistent my operators get confused and don’t get me the good shots I want.  But every week I have to direct a little different depending on the crew, skill, and content in which I’m directing.  The sooner you accept this responsibility the sooner you will see your productions improve.

Here is an example of me directing a concert,  We did a full rehearsal so for the most part I got to just cut cameras rather than direct them.

Josh Dekker Behind the Scenes- Louder Still from Brandon Rhoda on Vimeo.

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About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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One Response to Sitting in the Director’s Seat

  1. Robert Ansley says:

    I enjoy reading your posts and learning new techniques. As a volunteer, I direct services for a “mega-church” in Austin with a 5,000 seat sanctuary. I agree with the “no shot wider than head to toe”, but we have to make compromises. We are recording for the television service, as well as simulcasting on the Internet, which gets a thousand viewers world wide each service, and to two other satellite churches in Austin. Several times throughout the service we take a sanctuary wide shot to set the stage for the viewers, and an occasional stage-wide shot. The church just installed the latest Ross switcher with 2 full MLEs. One sends the shots to the digital recorders for the television show, and the other sends different shots out for the sanctuary and internet. I give the best show I can to the sanctuary by selecting the sanctuary wide shots between songs and when speakers are coming and going from the stage. Lots of closeups and motion during worship. Boy, talk about the need for crisp, short commands to the camera ops that are consistent across directors and services!

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