Editor’s Note: Cinematographer, Steadicam and Camera Operator Massimo Bordonaro is back, this time to talk about how he used the JVC HM600 during his work at “Politicon 2018” with streaming company Varvid to produce live streams for “The Daily Wire”. Bordonaro discusses his use of not only the JVC HM600 (along with the Blackmagic Camera Assist recorder) but the trial and tribulations of working a job at the LA Convention Center, the importance of maintaining some political neutrality on the job and more.
Project: “The Daily Wire” live sessions at “Politicon 2018.”
Cameras: JVC HM600
Resolution: Cameras @ 1080 59.94i, .mp4 recording @ 1080 30p”
Switcher: Roland VR50-HD
Lower Thirds, graphics and MP4’s: Wirecast
Capture: Blackmagic Design 7″ Video Assist to get a Pro Res 4:2:2 program mix
Director: James Lane
Massimo’s Role On The Project: Cinematographer and C Camera Operator
The madness that is “Politicon” hit Downtown Los Angeles this past weekend. Baby Trump flying high, President Nixon’s limo rollin’ deep on whitewall tires, Abe Lincoln and Ben Franklin in da house, AND Michael Knowles dressed as a Handmaid? What the heck? Yes! No cows were injured or harmed during the show, I assure you. But a lot of heated topics were definitely milked.
What A Show
I have to say, I’ve never been to one of these things before. It’s crazy! The whole point of the show is to bring people together so that they can have a conversation. There are people all over the place from every part of the political spectrum, right, center, left and everything in between. The beauty of it all is that you get a live audience when two people from opposite ends of the spectrum are having a go at a topic. It ain’t too bad either when I can cut to the reaction shot of an old friend, Mindy Robinson, sitting in the front row. She was voted “Most Gorgeous Audience Member” at the Show by the way.
Look, no matter what your beliefs, political agenda, or morals may be, sometimes you just have to stay neutral, professional, and work objectively. You do this for the love of the craft, the great footage you’ll get for your reel, and because you really, really, really need the work. How about that rough, mostly unemployed, summer we had? But it’s even better when you can get a good story for INDIE Shooter out of the experience. Clint and Jake know I give them the goods, so they haven’t asked security to throw me out of the building yet.
Ah, behold the West Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Parking is right underneath, the loading dock is in the back, and it’s all smooth concrete for miles. Varvid’s Creative Director, Richard McLean, worked tirelessly for weeks getting on-site contact numbers, client contact info, and logistics planned. Prep, and prep; and then you know what you do after that? You prep again. That’s more prepping than a preppy, college freshman on orientation day.
Varvid Has Landed
There are a few livestream companies I’ve worked for, and Varvid is definitely one of the better ones. James Lane, our Technical Director for the day, has been with Varvid the last 5 years. He knows a thing or two about doing events like this. Especially when you have a half hour to load out, at the same time that another production team is trying to load in. No matter how much pre-planning and prep work there is, if you’ve done an event at the LA Convention Center, you know that anything you need is about five football fields away.
Dealing with a time crunch, different vendors and security tighter than the pants on an Emo band’s lead singer, James was able to finagle the production vehicle right up to the door, just off stage, and unload an entire day’s gear in just under 15 minutes. “Running interference,” James was also able to keep the vehicle close by for a quick getaway. He’s the kind of brotastic, broviathan of a bro I want on a bank heist. Give this man an award please, or a pay raise Aaron Booker (Varvid Founder & CEO).
Welcome To The Jungle
Car parked, I hit the ground running, probably because it took 20 minutes to get from my car to the stage. With the butterfly effect, the price of tea in China, traffic on the 110, and one bad Google Maps turn, there I was, in “The Jungle.” Yep, 4132 Palmwood Drive, made famous in “Training Day” (2001). I knew I should have made a left turn at Albuquerque. Whoops. Now I knew I had to turn back. Honestly, security blocked off EVERYTHING after I pulled into my parking spot. Perfect timing. And round and round the entire Convention Center I went.
So after walking out the parking garage door, down a hallway the length of two football fields, then through another door, then another hallway, crossed the Mojave desert, then up 2 flights of stairs, I think I finally made it into the wrong building. Oops. Oh, I’m still about five football fields away from the actual stage. LA Convention Center, if you’re taking notes, can you build some kind of people mover outside and/or in the hallways to get people from one side of the complex to the other? Hello? Thank you Stephen Passey, our V1, for getting me into the correct building 8 days later. Ok, it was like an hour later.
After all of our Varvid crew finally got to the rendezvous point, just in front of the stage, a bit of organized chaos ensued. It was a ballet of separate vendors working in concert with each other. While one Convention Center crew removed about 500 unnecessary chairs, another CC crew came in right behind to build risers for our cameras. At the same time, Varvid is unpacking crates, boxes, backpacks and camera equipment, trying to stay out of the way.
One thing I need to mention is that we were at “Politicon” on the second day of events. Meaning that an entirely different production company was there before us, setting the lights to their own specifications. So I pretty much walked into somebody else’s set, and had to think on the fly to make it work for our project needs. To give you an idea of what was happening, there were about a dozen ellipsoidal, Lekolites on an overhead truss system, about 35 feet up in the air, lighting the stage. The vibe we were getting was that we wouldn’t be able to adjust the lights in time given the logistics involved.
From a cinematographer standpoint, my goal here was to get up over the audience and be at eye level with the panelists who were about to take the stage 2 hours later. I built the JVC 600’s with the help of David Passey, our freelance camera op for the day. After going top stick on the tripods, it was now time to dial in the camera settings and adjust for exposure.
Why The JVC’s
Quoting Aaron Booker, “The JVC HM600 series has excellent low light performance. We never really know if the lighting will be usable in any given location, so we really like the flexibility of those cameras, especially combined with its 23x optical zoom.” There’s a lot of things I agree with Aaron on. A couple of those would be using the JVCs for this project, and a 14-hour smoked brisket for lunch. So on the day, I opted for f/2.3, and set the gain on the wide and follow cam to +6 db. Since most of the audience, in darkness, was catching ambient light off the stage, the audience reaction camera was set to +12 db gain.
We knew that there wouldn’t be too much movement on stage. All of the panelists would be sitting, except for the Keynote Speech, where Talent would be standing at a podium. I played around with the white balance a little, but 3500 K seemed to be the best. I wanted the overall look to be a little warm and inviting.
Stephen and James worked on the workflow of SDI inputs, a couple of laptops, the Roland VR 50, and the Blackmagic Video Assist recorder. Only thing missing was a Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator and Marvin the Martian. The goal of our client, “The Daily Wire,” was to get a nice, clean Prores 4:2:2 final program mix. And Varvid delivered. Woo hoo!
Why Use Wirecast
James and Stephen were able to get graphics and the panelists’ names into the Wirecast system courtesy of Richard McLean’s hard, producing work. Set to an automatic 30 second revolving ticker, selected lower thirds popped up for a few seconds, then came down. Love the Wirecast software to say the least! It’s amazing what you can program it to do ahead of time. Also, Wirecast gives us the ability to record MP4s to give to the client as well.
Stay Within Your Budget
In this specific case, the JVC 600’s were an option that would marry well with the Blackmagic Design’s Video Assist. Be flexible, and be willing to work within your budget. For this project, we adjusted the gear for it, and still got the results we wanted. Varvid was able to deliver our client a Pro Res 4:2:2 Program mix and MP4’s. With an open mind, anything is possible.
Hold For Sound
Or maybe it’s your Gaff tape you need to hold on to. Why is everybody trying to use everyone else’s Gaff tape? Because it’s about $22 per roll! I mean we all go through the stuff like spreading cream cheese on a bagel. One thing that had to be taken into account was trying to get an audio feed from the backstage sound mixer. In that feed is a mix of all the panelists lavaliers, as well as the audience microphone.
Let The Shenanigans Begin
In a bit of “friendly crew pranks” back and forth, I was forced to run an XLR cable from backstage, under the stage, across an aisle, under 25 rows of audience seats (with people sitting in them), to our “Mission Control,” as I like to call it. So down goes 3 rolls of gaff, taping the XLR cable to the concrete floor. This is the audio feed option that the sound guys “gave” us, versus getting a much easier wireless signal. So we made their “gracious gift” to us work. Insert smirk here.
So What Happens At A Panel Show
You bring in the audience, have a group of people talking about heated topics, and we’re there to capture the sparks fly. First up, editor-in-chief of “The Daily Wire,” Ben Shapiro, delivered a 15 minute Key Note speech, followed by 45 minutes of audience questions. And we were ready for it! There were some beautiful exchanges between Ben and the audience members asking questions. The challenge here for James was switching cameras for the program feed at the right time to capture all the action.
Why I Get Paid The Big Bucks
The challenge for me that came up during this first session was that a leko light designated for the audience microphone was on the same overhead truss as the lekos for the panelists on stage. Somehow, gee, the microphone for the audience member to ask a question was moved to directly below the truss (more “friendly crew pranks”). Basically, whoever was asking a question looked like they were Marlon Brando in “The Godfather, Part 1” (1972). The source was too overhead and toppy, causing dark shadows in the eyes.
As is the case with many of these big event shows, once it’s set, you can’t move a thing. Cameras were rolling, and we were in the middle of a live event. You can’t just roll out a scissor lift to readjust anything. I had to think on the fly, and fast! So I hopped off the riser in mid take, and moved the microphone stand back two feet. That way the leko light would bounce off the gray, concrete floor up into the microphone area, giving whoever was asking a question a perfect fill light. Problem solved, and I ripped my pants. Battle scars!
Move Talent Over
The next session moderated by Steven Olikara, titled “How the #$&@ are we going to get along,” included speakers Kyle Kulinski, The Roaming Millennial, Bakari Sellers, Michael Knowles and Charlie Kirk. It was kind of a given that Charlie Kirk and Bakari Sellers would be going at it during the session. The chairs on stage were set up in a sort of half circle formation. Bakari Sellers was on stage right, while Charlie Kirk was stage left.
I had several challenges during this session. On the one hand, I was primarily the audience reaction camera, as well as the camera covering the microphone set up for audience members to ask their questions. On the other hand, because I was put on a riser next to Stage right, I had to be able to pan left to cover Charlie Kirk. Now add in the variable that the audience is underexposed, or Charlie is overexposed depending on the iris setting. Using quick thinking, I exposed for the audience, then would iris down when I panned over to Charlie.
Another challenge I had was an issue with one of the leko lights focused on stage right. Apparently the day before, the lighting vendor had set up illumination coverage for a tighter space on stage. You think we had time to do a full run-through of all three sessions, and figure out where the panelists would be sitting before we started rolling? Heck no! Taping down the XLR cable for sound took forever. An adjustment was made to put Bakari in better light, in the second seat from the end, instead of in the last chair, where the leko wasn’t quite reaching. Given Bakari’s dark complexion, it was best to put him into the brightest light possible. Take note, yes, I know how to light people with dark complexions.
Talk about stage presence, legendary game show host Wink Martindale set the tone for our last session. He announced panelists Jeremy Boreing, Andrew Klavan, Ben Shapiro, Elisha Krauss and Michael Knowles for the “Daily Wire Town Hall.” One of the most beautiful, happy accidents was that Elisha sat on the outermost chair, stage left, in perfect angelic light. She looked amazing, intelligent, confident, and perfectly poised to deliver a tear jerking comment on the issue of abortion.
I gotta say, working for “The Daily Wire” was definitely a pleasure. The Producers were accommodating, cheerful and gracious hosts. I did grab a photo with panelists Jeremy Boreing, Andrew Klavan, Elisha Krauss and Michael Knowles. It’s important to do this after everything is said and done, when the show is over. Be respectful. You have to remember that Talent is always dealing with 50 million things prior to a show, and running through their game plan.
Get The #$&@ Out Of There
We had a few urgent issues that needed to be addressed, after Talent was now off the stage. One was that the next production crew was there to load in, while we were supposed to load out. Everybody knows that you can’t just throw everything in a box, and take off. All the production equipment needs to be packed correctly in order to prevent damage, and also to be ready for the next gig. Let’s just say that in a mad dash for the door, like having to go to the bathroom after driving straight from Orange County to the San Fernando Valley, we hustled!
The British Are Coming
With such a crazy day, the best reward happened purely by accident. After getting everything into our production vehicle, I decided to go back into the venue to use the restroom. Out of random luck, I caught the tail end of a fight between a hardcore Democrat and a hardcore Republican in the hallway. Capturing the fight was a very good friend of mine and DP, Chuck Pappas. He just happened to be working with Tom Walker, in character as Jonathan Pie, for a BBC documentary.
A Round Of Libations
I managed to get a few BTS photos for Chuck and his crew on my cell phone. In return, they invited me to a round of drinks at their table in the VIP Lounge. No stranger to a free handout, of course I joined them! One thing I encourage a lot is to always be nice to everybody. Years ago, Chuck and I worked together a couple times on probably the worst $#!t shows you could imagine. It’s like going through battle together, having only your camaraderie to both support, and strengthen you. It was like the universe was rewarding my good karma.
A Good Laugh
Of course after every show or project, the crew usually gets together to talk about the highlights of the day, take a load off their feet, and tell some funny stories. Chuck had me dying laughing with a story about working in a third world country with a gaffer who shall remain nameless. Basically, a scene called for a flicker effect, with no flicker box around for miles. That nameless gaffer pulled some wires out of the back of a light, and tapped the unit with the exposed wires to create the flicker. Please, do not try this at home! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!
At the table was Ian Cawley, a DP in his own right. He added to the story, because at this point that nameless gaffer went from a mystery, to a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma, to a legend about a man. Ian said the gaffer would light a piece of Gaff tape on fire, and use the carbon smoke to darken the outside of the globe of the light, to dim it down. Highly toxic. Again, please do not try this at home!
So now we get the attention of the entire table, and the BBC show producers are throwing in the towel from laughing so hard. Of course I had to snap a selfie with Tom Walker. He comes over to my side of the table, and leans in for the photo. In character as Jonathan Pie, he says, “Can the bloody gaffer work in peace? I mean leave the man alone.” I’m dying laughing, in tears, and having a really hard time trying to keep a straight face for the photo. And just like that, the crew that had come over from Britain bid me adieu.
Remember that pesky Sound Mixer? When we left, I wanted to return the favor. Insert diabolical, devilish grin here. After I pulled up all that used gaff from the XLR cable, I wrapped the sound mixer’s car keys inside an enormous tape wad, the size of a soccer ball, and stuck a thank you note on it. Perfect, since I didn’t get him anything for Christmas. Hey, that counts as your birthday present too! 😉
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!