HD for Music: Pros and Pitfalls
In addition to single-camera projects such as films and dramatic television, many find that HD is a great format for performances shot with multiple cameras, such as music videos or music concerts. Jim Gable has been directing music videos and TV spots for more than 15 years and multicamera shoots for over 10. His first concerts included the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, and Lenny Kravitz. Gable started as a graphic artist, then became an editor. Along with partner Ann Kim, he started an editorial company, Graying and Balding, based in Santa Monica.
Lately, Gable has been shooting multicamera HD for his musical productions. Last year, he shot Sting’s concert, “Inside – The Songs of Sacred Love,” on HD.
His HD experiences began with a short film for JVC in Japan designed to show off the company’s HD gear. “It was the perfect project to start out on because it was only ever going to be seen in HD,” says Gable. The first concert he shot in HD was the rock band Korn, for which he used 14 cameras. “We used a rail cam, a techno crane, a jib, a steadicam, two dollies, handhelds everywhere, even HD micro cameras.”
Recently, Gable has shot other high-profile HD music projects with great success, including a Cyndi Lauper DVD and an AC/DC concert in Munich.
The biggest problem he runs into with his camera operators as they transition to HD is having to shoot in the 16×9 widescreen while also making sure what they shoot can be played in 4×3 without losing important visual information. This is called protecting for 4×3, or ‘center protect’ because 4×3 represents the center part of the frame.
“Nothing will make your camera operators’ day more than telling them they don’t have to protect for 4×3,” says Gable. “That means everyone can think in a more cinematic style—designing their shots to have this fantastic negative space, or compose two shots that would have been impossible in 4×3.” Sometimes a 16×9 image is placed inside a letterbox so the original aspect ratio can be preserved when viewed in 4×3. “I always fight to keep the image letterboxed when it goes to 4×3. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.”
Gable has run into some frustrations working with HD, especially when material originating on HD is not broadcast that way. “Sony made the decision to shoot HD on the Korn music video primarily for archival purposes. We were broadcasting live into 75 digital movie theaters around the country—and none of them in HD, so originating in HD only created problems for us.” Another frustration of working in HD, he says, is that HD looks great in the truck when you’re shooting or at an editing facility, but “when everyone finally does see it, they’re going to see it transferred to (standard definition) NTSC, and if you’re lucky it’s letterboxed. Otherwise, there’s no point to shooting it in HD.”
Today, Gable shoots about half his projects in HD but says the added cost of shooting HD means he has to sometimes sacrifice a camera operator or two. “Budgets are coming down on projects produced by record companies. So we are trying to do more with much less money these days. The post in HD is still astronomical, compared to NTSC. Hopefully that will change with Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing products, but it’s tough.”
To post his projects, Gable uses a combination of Avid and Final Cut Pro. “We have a couple of ancient Avid Media Composers that we use to offline. For the past six months, we’ve started onlining on a Final Cut Pro system. Our background in online editing gives me the confidence that we can turn out a great looking project, with good blanking, proper video levels, and great resolution. It’s been a little touch and go, but we feel like we’re getting there.”
When asked about where HD may be going, Gable offers this view. “We all hope that the demands for HD will be something more than for just archival purposes or for those 312 people who watch television in HD. Hopefully the Best Buys and Circuit Citys of the world will be able to sell enough units to force the broadcasters to make a commitment beyond the cursory sporting events.”
Diana Weynand is co-owner of Weynand Training and consulting. She can be reached at [email protected]