“I’d like to film a corporate event. There will be three speakers and it should only last an hour or two. How much will this cost?” I field calls like this all the time. Filming live events, no matter how (seemingly) simple or small requires a lot of detailed thinking. Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in this arena. In fact, I normally turn quite quickly to someone who IS an expert in this arena* to assist me when I am approached about jobs like these. Even though I quickly enlist help, I’ve talked through jobs like these with clients many times and in the process, I’ve developed a helpful list of questions for those who are planning to film live, small to mid-sized corporate events:
- When is the event and how long is it? What time of day is the event scheduled to take place?
- How large is the event? How big is the audience, how big is the venue?
- Will the video crew be able to tap into the venue's audio board? Will there be someone there to help access that audio board?
- Describe the room in which this event will take place. Is it a windowless conference room in a hotel? The lobby of an office building?
- Describe the event you're trying to capture...is it going to be one person speaking at a podium, or a panel discussion with multiple people speaking?
- Will there be a presentation as well as a speaker and will it be important for viewers of the resulting video be able to read/see the presentation?
- Will the person(s) speaking be moving around?
- Is there going to be a Q&A component of the event? If so, will you want to capture that and if you do, will you want to see and hear the people asking questions in addition to the people on stage answering the questions?
- Will you want any b-roll of the crowd in addition to what’s happening on stage?
- What is your goal for the footage? Do you want to give people who missed the event the ability to watch the whole thing after the fact? Are you planning to just use a snippet in a longer video or do you want to create a "highlight reel" of the best moments from the event?
- How soon after the event will you need the footage (or the entire event) available for viewing?
I realize this list of questions seems like overkill, but my number one goal is always to give good advice and produce the best video I can for my client’s audience. The answers to these questions won’t just affect the budget, they’ll greatly impact the “watchability” of the resulting video as well.
Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Logistics play a huge role in how best to film an event. Obviously, a lot of the questions above relate to the event and the venue in which it is to be held. If your venue is large, be prepared for questions about the room configuration and where the cameraman will be allowed to be. You may be asked if the camera operator can be put up on a riser so that the camera will be well above the level of the audience. In general, paint as complete a picture as you can of the event so that the crew will know what to expect.
The time of day your event takes place is important as well. If your event is solidly in the morning (8am to noon for instance) or solidly in the afternoon (1pm on) you may be able to save money by covering your event with a half-day crew. If you’ll be filming in a room with windows, the crew will be curious about how the light in the room will change as the event takes place.
Most importantly, be clear about your goals for the finished video footage. If all you’ll ultimately need or use of the event is a small clip and your event is a manageable size, then you might be able to get away with using a small one or two person crew. This is certainly a very cost-conscious way to gather footage. If, however, you will be making a longer video to highlight the event, you’ll likely be asked to consider using multiple cameras.
Cost vs. Watchability – The Great Debate
Not long ago, a company called me hoping to film an event they were having but they didn't want to spend a lot. They just wanted to "capture the moment." Initially, their request was to have a "one man band" come out to film and record audio. The event was a panel discussion with a number of speakers and a moderator.
While filming that kind of event with one camera is certainly do-able, all you're going to be able to film is a wide shot of the entire panel talking. You're not going to be able to zoom in on anyone speaking because you're not going to be sure who's speaking next or if two people at opposite ends of the panel are going to talk over each other at some point, etc. You’ll have to stay with a wide enough shot that you’ll lose the kinds of details that help make video engaging, such as speaker’s facial expressions. Generally, two hours of one wide shot of a panel speaking makes for a less-than-compelling viewing experience.
The only way to make sure you don't have the camera on one person and someone else speaking off camera at the same time is to film with multiple cameras. Obviously, that adds cost. If the plan, however, is to make an engaging video of the whole panel discussion that someone will watch from beginning to end, using multiple cameras is a must. No matter how interesting the content, very few people will watch a long video that's just a person or a collection of people speaking from one fixed angle...especially if there's nothing visually interesting happening to keep you engaged. Even if you're doing a "highlight" reel of one speaker’s presentation, having at least two camera angles to cut between can make a 3-5 minute highlight video a lot more interesting and engaging.
These questions don’t begin to cover all live event scenarios. If you want to livestream an event, make it available online really quickly, or make a finished video that cuts back and forth between a presentation deck and the speaker on camera, then the crews you’ll be working with will have different questions and different suggestions for each of those scenarios. In general, share as much information as you can about your event and your goals for the video and you’ll be on the right path.
*Many thanks to Jay Schlossberg of Media Central, the expert to whom I normally turn for projects like these. He graciously helped me with this blog post.