Running a video rig
Before the conference starts, play a little bit with the camera. You'll notice that the camera is mounted at a 90 degree angle to make it film in Portrait mode. This is, of course, intentional. There are no buttons to push or things to alter on the camera to get it to start/stop recording. The PC is taking care of that. Get a feel for the zoom in/zoom out button which is the ribbed one situated to the right of the camera - the further you push it up/down the faster it will zoom, so you can do this quite subtly which makes for a nicer video but, of course, if you gotta zoom, you gotta zoom.
In the text below a number of "tell Cooper" moments are described. Cooper will be roaming the venue during the day and you should normally run into him once for every talk. He's also equipped with a walkie talkie so you can at any time use that to call him over. He might not arrive on time to fix the situation at hand. What to do in this case has been described where it matters, but what it usually boils down to is that if the track has to start, it starts. No discussion, no pleading, no nothing.
There are 2 phases during which you have distinct jobs.
The "ACTIVE TALK" phase
One or more speakers are doing their thing and everything is working so your place is behind the camera. Your job during this phase is to keep the speaker within view of the camera. There's no need to mentally project a frame or anything that the speaker should stay in - what you see on the camera screen is what gets used. Aim the camera such that the head of the presenter is roughly at the same level as the 2 green bars on the screen (it's the pause icon, but we're repurposing it). The only thing you're focused on is the speaker. We don't need to have the presentation in view as that's being recorded straight from the laptop. We also don't want footage of the crew member that introduces the speaker. Start zoomed in to the speaker such that if they stay stationary behind the lectern they can point in the direction of the screen and their hand remains within view. When the talk starts you'll quickly discover if the speaker will in fact remain stationary, or start walking around the stage. Track the speaker as they move but if you find you're constantly moving back and forth within a limited space, zoom out so that the speaker can move without you needing to move the camera. It makes for a much calmer image which is a lot more pleasant to watch. If there are multiple speakers, start zoomed out such that you have all of them in frame. If they go quickly back-and-forth between one another in their talk, keep it like this. If instead they take turns (which is far more common) then slowly zoom in on the one that's doing the talking and pan to the next person when they switch.
After the talk, if there's time, there will be a Q&A session. This changes nothing for you: The only thing that should be within view of the camera is the speaker. You *NEVER* film the audience (but if somebody manages to move themselves in between the camera and the speaker, well, that's on them).
Sometimes a speaker will tell you they don't want their talk recorded. Tell the speaker that it's not a problem, but offer up alternatives. We have 3:
- We can film the talk and either have them review the talk privately. This is for speakers who worry they'll disclose something they shouldn't. They can ask for changes to be made (cutting out bits, obscuring slide elements, bleeping audio, etc) at which point they can again review to see if things are fine. This continues until they're happy or it's a definite no.
- We can film the talk and release after a certain period has passed. This is for speakers who will present the same talk elsewhere and feel releasing the video would diminish their appeal at the other event.
- We can film the talk and give the recording of the video directly to the speaker. This is for speakers who can't say things publicly because of work rules but still want to see what their talk was like from a viewer perspective so they can perhaps improve on their delivery.
If any of these options are acceptable to the speaker, record as normally, but next time you see him tell Cooper about the speaker's wishes so he knows there's something he needs to keep an eye on.
If the speaker insists no recording is to be made, turn the camera away and tell Cooper this happened so he knows this was intentional and he should keep an eye on this during editing. You do NOT turn off recording on the PC (see CHANGEOVER TIME, further down).
When the talk and optional Q&A is over the audience normally applauds the speaker. During this time you still keep filming the speaker. Only when the applause has died down should you walk away from the camera / allow the speaker to go out of frame. And again, you don't need to do anything to the camera to end the recording or to get ready for the next one.
If you find you need to move away from the camera (urgent toilet break or whatever) during this phase, make sure someone else takes over your job until you return. Cooper should be running around as a backup for these and other situations where a helping hand is needed.
The "CHANGEOVER TIME" phase
Between talks, or in the 5-10 minutes before the first talk after a break, you should go to the PC and select the next talk from the list in the top-left window. Be vigilant here - time slots may have been swapped or the schedule may have changed in other ways. But double click the next expected talk or select and press enter via the keyboard to select the next talk from the schedule. When you do you'll see the new talk's title and speaker name appear at the bottom of the image in OBS. This can take up to 30 seconds so don't be alarmed when the schedule disappears from the screen but nothing else seems to happen - this is normal.
Next you click the "Stop recording" button in OBS. The text on the button changes to "Start recording". Press this button again to start a fresh video file. Note that if you're pressed for time you can skip this stop recording/start recording bit. The goal of it is to get Cooper smaller files to work with, which is slightly easier during editing, but *NOT* required. Storage-wise we can record non-stop for 5 days without any issue so if you forget or simply don't have the time, no worries, just keep going.
Now that the PC is ready to accept the next talk, rotate the screen such that you can see it from the stage (normally you turn it away so you don't distract the speaker or the audience).
It helps to memorize the name of the speaker(s) so when you talk to them you know who you're expecting and if it's someone else you'll know there's either been a schedule change, or that a speaker is at the wrong stage. Yes, that happens – they, too, are only human and probably quite nervous at this point.
Hooking up the laptop
This section is only relevant when we are responsible for connecting the laptop to the projection system of the venue. This is often, but not always. When it's not your responsibility, Cooper should've let you know before-hand and you can skip this section.
Climb onto the stage and calmly wait for the next speaker. Chances are that speaker will already be nearby when the previous speaker is done. Introduce yourself and explain that you'll be filming them (personal favourite: I'm here to make you look GOOD). It's quite likely that the speaker is nervous so it's important that you ooze calmness. It's your job to, if necessary, *politely* ask the previous speaker to make room for the next one. When there was a previous speaker (as opposed to a break) there's a fair chance people from the audience have approached them on stage to ask additional questions about the subject. It's important to allow these conversations to continue - for a speaker this is the reward after the talk and they decidedly deserve it. Let them have their discussion until there's about 5-10 minutes before the next talk should start. If at this point they're still there, you'll want to usher them away from the lectern. A good line is a modest "Sorry folks but can we please move this discussion off the stage so the next speaker can set up?". Allow the previous speaker some time to pack up while talking to the people asking questions. You should spend this time having some chit-chat with the next speaker. Make sure it's in fact the correct one. It's not unusual for there to be 2 speakers listed on the schedule, but only one will be there to give the talk. If there are more speakers than in the schedule, call Cooper over to update the schedule on the rig so the extra person is listed. Since you should have seen the talk title on the PC when you changed the text, you can use that as a starting point for the smalltalk. If you're completely unfamiliar with their subject you can tell them this, and ask for a quick description of that it's about (you won't be the first person today that didn't read the abstract) or simply ask if it was difficult for them to get to the venue.
Now that the previous speaker has left the next speaker will place their laptop on the lectern. Look around the edges for the digital video outputs of the thing. The first question a speaker will ask is what type of video we want, the answer to which is HDMI. It's quite common for modern laptops to have native HDMI. Those that don't should have something digital that you can convert to HDMI using one of the dongles that are provided with the rig and 9 times out of 10 the speaker will also have some dongles to convert whatever they have to HDMI too. It's normal for presenters to prefer to use their own dongles, which is of course fine. If they ask for VGA, start by asking if their laptop can't do something else because VGA is quite literally the worst quality we can still support and I've yet to encounter my first laptop where VGA truly is the only output option (though I did encounter a couple where VGA was the only still working
option). Should you need this, there's a VGA to HDMI converter taped under the lectern - plug the HDMI cable in there, the VGA cable into the laptop, and you're good to go.
So now the presenter plugs in their laptop which can take a while. Again, *OOZE* calmness. Even if we're running late or whatever, just tell the speaker we've got plenty of time. Your speaker is probably getting quite stressed / nervous by now and you want to do everything you can to keep them calm. They'll activate their second screen (the image that goes to the projector) and look at the screen. While they do this, you keep an eye on the screen of the PC. The area that shows the laptop output in OBS should show the image too, and often before the projector displays it. Normally you either get their image, vertical colored bars with the text "No signal" across it, or just solid black. When there is an image displayed by the projector, but the rig shows either "No signal" or solid black, it means that the signal produced by the presenter's laptop isn't 1920x1080 resolution, so ask them to change it. Every laptop has a display settings dialog of sorts that allows this. The speaker might not be familiar with setting the resolution but they should know where that dialog is hidden on their system. You should (calmly!) help them find the resolution in this dialog and make sure it's set to that. It's quite common to see "1080" optionally with an "i" or a "p" after it. If you have both, go for the 'p' one first. If this doesn't solve the problem, try a resolution of 1280x720 ("720" / "720i" / "720p"). Note that with VGA the box will also scale the image, thus more resolutions than these are supported, but if at all possible we want to use 1920x1080 here too. Lower it if things don't seem to work for some reason. Once you have a nice image on both the PC and the projector tell the presenter and any other crew on stage that you're good to go. See TROUBLESHOOTING if you can't get the image to appear on the PC.
Ask the speaker if they have any questions. You might not be able to answer them but you can relay if needed and it, again, helps calm the speaker down. Common questions are "can I get some water" (there should be plenty in the room. Go fetch them a drink) "do you have a clicker?" (yes, it's where we keep the dongles. Fetch it, show how it works and test that it does) "I don't want this talk to be recorded" (is fine, but see the previous section about the alternatives). If there's no more questions, tell the announcer, if present, that you're good to go but they should wait for you to get behind the camera. Move to the PC and turn the screen around so that it doesn't face either the speaker or the audience, then move to the camera. Adjust the zoom, pan to the speaker, give a thumbs-up to the announcer and wait for the talk to start.
- Multiple speakers.
When there's more than 1 speaker, use your small talk time during changeover to ask if they will be speaking simultaneously, or if they will take turns. If they talk simultaneously, ask if they can stand not too far apart because you want the speaking person to be in view of the camera and due to us filming in portrait it's a somewhat narrow field of view. You should in this case also start with the camera zoomed out to the point where all speakers are visible or at least those that will be speaking the most.
- Schedule problem.
The current speaker isn't the correct one. Ask the crew member running the track if this speaker should go on now. If yes, we have a schedule change (relative to when Cooper configured the PC) and you should ask the crew member running the track to call Cooper in so he can update the schedule. If the current speaker is on the schedule at a different time slot, activate that one and continue as normal. If they aren't in the schedule, just leave it be. If Cooper doesn't arrive in time to update the schedule, that's his problem. This situation is very easy to fix in post-production and the track running on schedule is significantly more important. Do tell Cooper next time you see him that this situation has occurred though.
- No signal on the PC
This in 95% of instances is the video resolution, so make sure it's set to "1920x1080", "1080", "1080p" or "1080i". Something like that. If you still get no signal, ask any crew member with a walkie talkie to call Cooper over to help troubleshoot. In the mean time, try any of the 720's (1280x720, 720, 720p, 720i). If you still can't get an image, ask if we can try switching to VGA - it might mean the presenter needs a [something] to VGA dongle which we'll likely not have. If this also doesn't work, Cooper isn't showing up and time's running out, ask the speaker if they're going to demo anything, or if it's a slides-only talk. If it's slides only, ignore the capturing of the laptop output by the PC and start the talk normally. Tell Cooper this happened for this talk. Cooper will contact the speaker directly to get a copy of the slide deck and manually insert the slides from that during editing. It's not a big deal, just means he needs to spend more time editing this talk, which serves him right for having such shitty hardware.
If there IS a demo section in there, ask someone to more urgently find Cooper. The crew member running the track needs to make the judgement call on starting later (only possible if the speaker can condense his/her talk a bit - it's fine in this situation to ask how long they expect their talk to last). If the track has to start before the issue is resolved, just record normally knowing that the capturing isn't happening. It will likely mean that any demo will need to be cut out from the talk, and at worst we won't be able to publish this video at all but so be it. So far, this situation has never happened, but the main point to remember is that keeping to the track's schedule is more important than having a good recording. And even in this case don't bother trying to film the projector during the demo or anything. We won't be able to use this footage and it might actually make it harder to cut out the demo bits in post-production.
- The PC shows the laptop output with the "No signal" image blinking through it every so often (but often)
This usually means the refresh rate is higher than 60, or not a round number (like 59.1). Some old Macs do this and it's decidedly rare that this happens. If you cannot remedy this by changing display settings, try switching to VGA (if the laptop doesn't natively supports this, the speaker needs to provide the dongle for this). If VGA also doesn't work (or no dongle can be found), find the best resolution that still does this blinking and just begin the talk normally, but when you can, tell Cooper this happened. This is easy to remedy in post production, it just takes a little time.