We asked our technician Rob Heath, to write a blog post letting you know about the process of our first Blakehay@Home film;

I’ve been asked to write a blog post about how we recorded the recent Blakehay @Home video. I don’t want to go into too much technical jargon and i will try to keep it in layman’s terms as much as possible.

My first challenge was trying to source and purchase the correct equipment. I didn’t really have a great deal of knowledge when it came to filming. Other than using the camera on my phone or using a camcorder on family holidays, I had very little knowledge of what equipment we needed to be able to film performances. Suffice to say, a fair amount of research was done. I spoke to various people who had done this before as well as watching other filmed performances. I eventually found a company in America who could supply what we needed. And we purchased three Panasonic HC-MDH3’s as well as tripods, lenses, filters and various other pieces of equipment.

It wasn’t just a case of buying cameras. We needed a pretty powerful computer with the relevant software for recording and editing video and audio. We settled on a MacBook Pro laptop which could run Final Cut Pro for video editing and Logic Pro for audio recording and editing as well as three six terabyte external hard drives to accommodate the large files sizes we would be working with. I also purchased a USB interface to be able to record audio to the computer.

Trying to purchase all this equipment in the middle of a worldwide pandemic was no easy feat. However, what surprised me the most was the cameras arriving from New Jersey in the United States in just three days!

With regards to asking Simon Newton to be our first performer for the Blakehay @Home recordings, I wanted to work with someone who I know and can work quickly and flexibly with. This being our first recording, I wasn’t exactly sure how we were going to do it or how it would even turn out. I had a rough idea in my head but ‘best laid plans’. You never quite know what issues may arise. I’ve known Simon for nearly thirty years. We’ve played in various bands together throughout that time. He knows how I work and vice-versa. We both have the confidence to say to each other if we think something is not very good or not working. I needed someone with that sort of trust for this first recording. Plus, he’s blooming great at what he does!

The camera set up for the recording, once you see the video, is pretty self explanatory. I decided on camera placements way before the day of recording. I didn’t want to have the three cameras ‘flat on’ in front of Simon. I used one of them for the front footage, put one to the side and one behind him. My reasoning for these placements was (without sounding pretentious) purely artistic. You need the front facing camera. It gives the audience the perspective they expect to see. Particularly if they go to the theatre. The side on camera gives you a better perspective of Simons playing. It also allowed me during editing to pan in and out of his hands on the piano. The camera placed behind him is the one I’m personally most pleased with. Although you can’t see him singing or playing, it gives a sense of depth. It also shows more of the auditorium and I think it’s a pretty powerful image that we can look back on in years to come; a performance in an empty auditorium.

The black and white ‘cutaway’ shots were filmed on my mobile phone. I wandered around the auditorium filming clips as and when I could. Again, I was very keen to incorporate views of the empty auditorium for prosperity. And I feel I got some very powerful imagery into the final edit. Particularly during ‘Iris’.

The audio for the recording was recorded via our sound desk onto the laptop. I was very keen to keep the audio as clean and as separated as possible. I didn’t want it to sound like it was recorded in an empty auditorium. Although the cameras did record the audio as well, none of that can be heard on the recording. I will talk further about how I removed that in a bit. To put the audio set up into laymen’s terms, Simon’s microphone and piano were two separate channels on our mixing desk. I then took two separate feeds out of the mixing desk and into the USB audio interface. I then set up two separate audio tracks on Logic Pro and recorded them ‘flat’ (without any EQ or effects) onto the laptop. EQ and effects were added in post production.

The recording session overall took about two and a half hours. Simon did multiple takes of the songs.

The editing and post production of the recording was the longest and hardest part of this process. I had all the equipment set up in the theatre for a few weeks before we recorded Simon and had done many test recordings throughout that time to see if what we wanted to accomplish was possible. I also used the test recordings to teach myself how to use the editing software. I was very familiar with Logic Pro, the audio software we had purchased. And I had used it in the past as well as GarageBand which is Logic’s ‘baby brother’. But when it came to Final Cut Pro, I had absolutely no idea how to use it. Suffice to say, many hours of watching Youtube tutorials and reading online blogs ensued to teach myself how to use it. Final cut is an excellent piece of software. Once you get used to it, it is incredibly quick and easy to put together an edit of what you’ve filmed.

The best feature in final Cut is the Multicam Clip function. As long as you have a sound or something that the software recognises at the start of recording (hence why film crews use clapper boards!), the software will automatically sync all your footage and audio together. You can then switch between camera angles with the push of a button.

The main issue with editing the recording was working through the camera footage. As I said earlier, we recorded about two and a half hours of footage. On three cameras. That’s seven and a half hours of footage to work through. Not only does that take time but the files sizes take up an awful lot of memory on the laptop. I found that the best way to work around this was to work through one camera angle first. I had to find out which take to use and because I had pressed record on each camera in relatively quick succession, it was then quite quick to find the correct takes on the other two cameras. These takes were saved and the spare footage was deleted. These made the file sizes much easier to work with.

Once the Multicam clips were put together it was then a simple task of removing the audio from the cameras themselves. The recorded audio from Logic was exported in and thankfully this can be synced to the Multicam clip as well.

Once I had made an edit of the performance I was happy with, it was then just a case of adding in fades and graphics. All relatively easy way and can be done with just the click of a button.

The twenty minutes that we ended up with is the culmination of not just the two and a half hours of recording. But weeks and weeks and hours and hours of me sat at a laptop either watching tutorials or working my way through the software. I can assure you on more than one occasion a few choice words were said.

I think what we ended up with is a recording that we can be proud of. It’s a starting point for better things. ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. If that isn’t an excellent analogy for the world today, I don’t know what is.

I hope you enjoy watching the video as much as I enjoyed making it.

Keep safe. And we hope to welcome you all back to the Blakehay Theatre as soon as it is safe to do so.

Rob

You can watch the film free of charge on our dedicated You Tube Channel until 8pm on Tuesday 16th February 2021.