The Sony 355 XDCAM and I at the House of Blues

I was hired by Torey Champagne Productions to Direct the Photography and shoot the Dropkick Murphy’s concert held this past week at the House of Blues Boston. We shot the entire project on XDCAM using Sony 350s and 355s, and XDCAM EX using the Sony EX1 and EX3. We shot the show in HD at 1080 35mbps 4:2:0 24p drop frame. I had the pleasure of working with TJ Powers (Director of Production) and Torey Champagne (Director/Producer/Editor) along with some talented Boston area freelance camera operators. I also must thank Ashley and Jonathan for their production assistance. This was a hand-picked crew.

Our little production office

The House of Blues provided us with a little slice of heaven; a ten foot by six foot space to work, log/capture, hide from the thumping madness of the opening bands, meet with our camera crew and store all our gear at the end of the night. Look closely, see if you can find the EX1 with the Letus Extreme and the Nikon 50mm f1.4 prime lens. This place was tight and at one point early in the day, a tripod landed on an ancient fire extinguisher and set it off. To make a long story short, this entire room filled with yellow dry chemical dust and set off the House of Blues fire alarms. A near disaster with Boston Fire arriving, but it could have been much worst had it happened during the actual show!

Our rental gear
Tons of power

We rented most of our equipment from RULE Broadcast and Boston Camera. You can see their yellow stickers on EVERYTHING! We all discussed using only small profile cameras like the EX3 for coverage during the six days the band would play, but I was insistent that we supply camera operators with proper shoulder-mounted cameras. I wanted the guys to have full control and real lenses to maintain the professional look. We seemed to have enough Anton Bauer Hytron 140’s to power a small city. One of these batteries lasted the entire show on each 355!

Dual Layer XDCAM disk

TJ and I also wanted to have as much footage shot to dual layer XDCAM pro-disk media as possible. TJ and Torey purchased 60 disks and about half of them were dual layer 50GB. We were able to keep the cameras rolling all the way through the show so that it will be easier to edit the long clip later in multi-cam.

SxS cards from Rule

If we chose the EX1 and EX3 as our primary acquisition, we would be dumping the multiple SxS cards to external hard disk with no hard backup. This is scary when working with multiple cameras and hours of HD footage. TJ Powers was responsible for writing up the budget and with my help, choosing the appropriate gear. We rented a total of five 350/355s and had two wide angle 4.7mm zoom lenses for on stage coverage. We also used an old timecode generator to jam sync all cameras to 24p drop frame time of day.

workstation wide

We used Torey’s brand new Mac Book Pro, an array of firewire800 external hard drives, and my Sony PDW-U1 XDCAM reader/writer drive to import proxies and HD footage into the hard drives. We mostly used the external drives to capture the SxS cards from the EX1/EX3 cameras. As the DP on this project, I viewed proxy clips with the band to give them an idea of what we were doing. I also sat with the camera operators at the computer and showed them clips from the full sized XDCAMs to discuss coverage and style.

Sony U1

The Sony PDW-U1 proved to be an invaluable tool during the production. In addition to capturing proxies and ingesting HD footage, we could use the U1 as a player to watch footage directly off the XDCAM disks through the Mac Book Pro. We will also use this deck during the post production stage to read and write back to the Pro-disks.

The house of blues before show

The House of Blues in Boston was just constructed and opened a few months ago. It holds about 3500 people and the photo above shows you the place just before the show. The venue has a main floor and two other levels of balcony standing and seating. The fenced in area you see above is where we placed our “wide” EX3 camera and our “tight” 355 XDCAM studio config setup.

The House of Blues Wide

The floors are all concrete and by the end of the night, you can find some nasty stuff splattered all over the place!

Tight camera

This is a shot of our tight coverage camera in the front of house. We added a studio config to the 355 with remote focus and servo zoom to help the camera operator out. This camera was mounted on a Sachtler 18 tripod with carbon fiber legs. We powered this camera with an A/C power supply.

Spiderpod

We needed to get the tripod and camera up over the crowd only about a foot and a half. TJ found a great solution in place of traditional platforms. We rented “Spiderpods” from Rule and this gave us the support for the camera operator and the tripod/camera to shoot over the crazy crowd surfing Dropkick Murphy fans.

18 foot jib

As the DP, I was adamant from the start to get a jib into the House of Blues. Torey and TJ both agreed and we had to press hard to get it. The management at the venue did not easily allow the idea of swinging a crane arm around with the punk-rock playing and people going nuts. I knew that having the jib would greatly open up the place on video and I really wanted to make this place look big with crowd.

18 foot jimmy jib
flying the 355 with a wide angle lens

We hired a guy named Chris Simmons and he brought in his Jimmy Jib from Rhode Island and we were all happy he did. We asked him to come back the last night so we could set it up on the other side of the venue on the second floor balcony. He flew the Sony 355 with a Canon 4.7 wide angle lens just over the mosh pit and glided into the stage. Beautiful stuff.

Full House

Every night was a full house. This picture was taken from one of the windows that looks at the stage and into the crowd. I did not get to fire off too many pictures while the show was going on because I was working with my EX1 and Letus Extreme, but I did manage to take a few production stills.

Moe's Board

In the small fenced in area at the front of house with our two cameras was a guy named, “Moe”. He worked with the DKMs and he operated this sound board controlling what the people in the venue would hear as the band played live. A guy named Dara, ran a lighting control board to Moe’s left. Another guy was back stage with a lager sound board recording the live CD that will be released later this year.

Wide EX3 camera

For one of the nights, I was in this fenced in area operating the “Wide” EX3 camera. I snapped this picture during the show. You can see the LCD viewfinder on the camera in the upper right. The EX3 worked very well with the crazy LED lighting, red washes and high contrast values. The CMOS chips seemed better at capturing the bright stage than the CCDs in the XDCAMs. We did not have any trouble with the “rolling shutter” since this show did not use any strobes. It would have been nice to have rented the Sony 700 XDCAM and record at 50mbps at 4:2:2 color space for more control with color grading in post, but the budget did not allow and we would have never found five 700s to rent in Boston!

Tight Stage

I spoke to Dara before the show and he told me that he mainly set his lights to 5600k. TJ and I decided to preset all the cameras to a white balance of 4000k to find a happy medium and aid in color grading during post.

TJ at his post

TJ wore many hats during this production. One of his most important jobs was to “manage the media”. Since we were reformatting the SxS cards after each show, we had to be sure that all the footage was getting ingested into the computer and saved on the external hard drives. TJ was very mindful of this and made sure that the files and sub folders got labeled properly to make post production more organized.

stack o disks

Show stock

Torey Champagne is the lead editor for this project. I have worked with him in the past and he is excellent. He has vision and passion and for a job like this, he lives and breaths music and the “rock star” life. The pictures above show you just how much footage we had shot and how much footage Torey has to wade thought. That is all show stock! It is the actual XDCAM Pro-disks we shot over the six days. We protected that stuff like gold bars in the government mint.

crowd lights

I plan on being active during the edit. We have so much footage, shot from so many different angles, with many different lenses (including a fisheye) that the variety of shots is massive. We shot tons of great stuff and after watching the DVD, people are going to think the House of Blues Boston is enormous and we used 20 cameras to cover the band on St. Patrick’s Day 2009.

Wipe the Cards!

One thing to remember when returning the rental gear, wipe the SxS cards! I had to leave a note to myself to make sure that I reformat the cards so that our footage does not end up posted to YouTube by someone who rented the equipment after us!

Expect the Dropkick Murphy’s concert from St. Patrick’s Day 2009 to be released on DVD early Summer 2009. You might also see this concert air in HD on cable and satellite television. Keep an eye on my website, I will post DVD and HD airing info here in the future.