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Video Makers In Action

The Watershed Arts video production unit in focus

Tripod camera, Mike Brennan operating recorder and monitor, with Gary Horton checking monitor.

Composing a VTR today has become a tougher project in some respects, due to the easy public access to the final product (from in-house training to musical promo tapes). Each video tape that is made, sold, and broadcast means a greater dictionary of terms to the viewer, in visual terms anyway. Is it an educated eye that savours the multiple super-impositions and the digitised effects or a merely 'entertained' eye of the masses?

There are management, production and engineering people in the world of straight television broadcasting who certainly place some distance between their product and the VTR. (Well, nearly anyone could hire or purchase a VHS camera and recorder then go out and shoot for a day, a gig, or a session, but to make a proper television broadcast one needs the resources and talents of at least six fully staffed departments: costume, graphics, make-up, scenic services, TV design and visual effects — just to DESIGN and PREPARE the thing).

There are obviously independent video production units who have the equipment that is up to broadcast specification: that is cameras, recorders, and editing equipment that are capable of producing a VTR that is 'good enough' to be broadcast on TV. For instance, the Watershed Arts and Communication Centre in Bristol houses the Watershed Arts Trust Video Workshop and production unit. These video makers have the equipment and human (ACTT members) capabilities and are aided by the British Film Institute (amongst other backers).

Mike Brennan is director of the video unit and Gary Horton is his production assistant. At the moment they use two cameras, a Hitachi SK 91 Hi band which is up to broadcast standard and a Sony XC 6000 which is something like £12,000 worth of camera. At the Watershed it is possible to study and use the video equipment in four day workshops at a cost of £175. More workshops are being planned for ethnic minorities and for women (presumably these fees will come aided or granted from somewhere!) There is no studio at the Watershed but Mike and Gary's equipment may be hired for a basic fee of £150 per day for location work. This would include the camera, recorder, monitor, tripod, leads, microphone (Sennheiser 416) and batteries.

The hire cost does not include the fees of a technician (camera operator, sound recordist, etc. whose payment could be from £48 to £80 per day) though Gary does give plenty of help when required. Also important to the hiring of their equipment is some demonstrated knowledge for the proper use of it. Gary says that VHS camera and recorder experience can be helpful to give just the basic idea of handling the camera, but these people do regard themselves as specialists and the equipment they use takes some skill to operate in a professional manner!

Three people with camera and mic, with Mike Brennan (hand on chin) directing.

Lighting for the VTR becomes as anything else a question of budget as well as aesthetics. The most simple lighting could be 800W 'redheads' with barn-doors and stands, and of course any video production could make use of dimmers, mixers and other stage lighting gear. Any lighting effect can be checked with the TV monitor and suitably readjusted or amended.

Work is being done at the Watershed right now to build a three-machine editing suite using JVC 8250s, plus an ABR 1 edit controller built by Paltex. There will be two IVC 8000 digital field stores and they will use a Crosspoint Latch 6112 vision switcher.

The techniques for recording a video tape can use pure electronic sources for the input or treat a camera recorded tape (or mix of several camera recorded tapes) with a large number of digital, computer effects. The list of effects and post production techniques is steadily growing but with the implementation of these effects it seems the importance of the basic, performance arts might become neglected or placed in a lesser position.

Mike Brennan as a director sees and indeed stresses the importance of pre-planning in any video production: "One should have an actual mental picture of the final tape before beginning to edit any of it. So, from the end product back to the initial inspiration each location, scene, set, lighting effect, face, or costume produces a myriad of detail. And then, if it's a song that is being produced, it is important to discover the narrative quality of the song, as well as writing a script and storyboard."

The number of cameras and camera operators available will be an obvious control on design limitations, but careful thought for the use, angle, filter, lens type of even a single camera position can be mapped out.

Ideas and planning cost no more than time and it might be helpful to fill notebooks with a lot of ideas and images, from colour scheme to character movement. The post production mixing and adding of effects should also be planned.

Film makers have long been concerned with attempting to translate dream into an audio visual public reality. Jean Cocteau's early film, "Blood of the Poet" may be the ideal as it seems to be able to synchronise imagination, and then design, into a complicated and technically manipulated reality. It doesn't matter if that reality lasts for three minutes or three hours of real time as long as the final mix is the one intended.

The Watershed Arts and Communication Centre is at (Contact Details).

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