As the countdown to the end of the school year gets closer to single digits (for me), I know that I have a ton of work to do to shut down the program for the summer….
And I have to prepare for one of the biggest events in a group of student’s lives.
Funerals, weddings, and graduations are three things that most in video production do not look forward to. There is nothing worse than getting the call asking to either create a video for or of a funeral. Only once in my career did that not come back to bite me. The one time it didn’t - All I was doing was duplicating a dvd created by someone with powerpoint. There has only been one wedding that I looked forward to and that was 15 years ago and I played a pretty large portion in that one. I immediately start stressing and second guessing myself when it comes to weddings so I have passed on doing anything with weddings for years. Unfortunately, graduation is not something that most of us can pass on - our role as the guru of video technology in our school community means the entire school is leaning on our expertise to capture the ceremony in the best light and sound.
In the last 6 years, I have done 12 graduations. I have been blessed that, due to a colleague in my department, it hasn’t been 18! We serve three schools and until this year the schedule was 2 graduations on Friday (6pm and 8pm) and 1 on Saturday morning (8am) so we got really good at streamlining the process and getting the best out of what we had.
The first year we went live with all three graduations, the stress level was extremely high. That year, we had one computer capable of streaming. The first graduation was at 6pm on the south side of the county and the second on the north. At the completion of the first ceremony, we shut down the broadcast as quickly as possible and packed the laptop in the bag and sent a student with the sheriff's deputy who was the escort for the school board. The student rode with the deputy to the other graduation and sprinted across the football field so we could get the laptop up and running before the ceremony started. We had only 3 minutes to spare before Pomp and Circumstance began. (Disclaimer: Rockdale County is the 2nd smallest county in terms of square miles in the state but with traffic and expected delays, we were more than a little stressed.)
As technology has changed, the process has gotten a lot easier and cheaper. We no longer have to run the one laptop we have in the department across the county. We no longer have to “ration” cameras between the events. We also no longer have a ton of stress as we feel like we have solved the problem and now just have to implement it.
Our solution is simple. Three cameras, three tripods, three 200 foot sdi cables, one switcher, one microphone cable, and an encoder. That’s it. We used to literally pack a van full of equipment for each event and even then have to decide what we don’t need.
All of the graduations in our school system are on the football field. We have three high schools that each graduation between 200 - 300 students. We set up a traditional 3 camera shot with one in the center and one on each “wing.”
The audio, we get from the sound guys who are producing the show for the school. If the school hires a professional sound crew, they can certainly get you a clean audio signal. Just ask - nicely. This just makes life extremely simple it also prevents you from having to run an extra long cable for an additional microphone.
Prior to the start of the ceremony, preferably before the gates open, you should test your cameras for focus, placement, and movement. The first two things are basic but being able to move the camera is essential because the role of each camera changes as the ceremony proceeds. Also before the ceremony starts, you should get a program and make notes on what and how you plan to cover with the ceremony.
As the graduates enter the area, your center camera should be focused on the processional heading your way. This builds anticipation for the event as the growns flow and the school colors are vibrant. As the students get closer to the camera, let them walk through the shot. My suggestion is that you set up your shot far enough away that the student’s don’t know they are on camera. This helps to prevent students from doing things that will have you in a meeting the next week. As the processional comes to an end, one of the side cameras, should shoot the crowd in the stands.
Once the processional has walked past your center camera, you should cut to the crowd camera so your center camera can reset for the speakers on the stage. Another great thing to do during this 10 to 15 seconds is to pan across the graduates. Once the speakers have started, focus the center camera on the podium and lock it down. There is no need to change it other than to maybe zoom in or out as some of the speakers come to the podium.
During the speeches, your wing cameras are to cover crowd reaction and different angles on the speaker at the podium. The key to a great graduation is to make it as entertaining as possible while maintaining the integrity of the event. Don’t switch too often. Only switch after it gets uncomfortable to watch and even then don’t switch just randomly - wait until a pause or movement.
You have to plan on how you may cover the band or choral performances during the event. If the graduate are seated, you may be able to shoot over their head from the off side or center camera. The key is to just make sure the video matches what the viewers are hearing.
The most important part of the entire ceremony is when the person who is likely to complain doesn’t see their child walk across the stage and get their diploma. Make sure that in your preparations when you arrive, you ask which direction the students will be walking and make certain you have a camera to cover that. In all seriousness, make sure you have that one thing covered. Nothing else matters!
We have done graduations where people have complained that the angle on our camera did not “get a good shot of their child.” This 2 seconds of the video totally negated the entire viewing experience for that aunt who lived 3 states away. Why do I remember it so vividly? Because it made me angry and question why I give my time and effort. Remember as you head into graduation, someone will complain. Someone will suggest 10 things you could have done better. Someone will call an administrator to question why you did something in the show that they think you shouldn’t have. Remember for every 1 person that questions what you do, there are hundreds who appreciate what you do but they are less likely to tell you they appreciate your efforts. On behalf of all of those people, I appreciate what each of you do more than you will ever know.