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Videotaping Performances 



Hints on Video Taping a Live Theatre Performance

First of all, make sure you are legally allowed to video tape the show.   Usually, you are NOT.  95% of the major play publishers prohibit recording of any kind, except in some cases an archive (read: unmoving, static shot) recording only for use by the theatre for grant writing purposes.  The penalties can be stiff for those caught breaking the rules.  If the theatre employs members of a union, such as Actors Equity, chances are even worse that you can tape the performance.  This page assumes you are videotaping a KMR Scripts show:

[NOTE:  This page is based on my personal experience and may be completely wrong.  These tips are assuming you are NOT a professional videographer and not using pro equipment.]

What Type of Tape to Use

Whether your camera is Hi-8, MiniDV, MiniDisk or MediaCards, use the BEST media you can find/afford.  Remember that the camera master will most likely be used to dub off copies and you want that master to be of exceptional quality.   You can't go wrong with professional grade media (you can't generally find them at a Target).  You will regret skimping on the quality of the camera master.  Likewise, for the copies that are dubbed from the camera master, using a good, quality tape will be a blessing in the long run.  Don't complain if the cheap tape you bought at your local grocery store for 99 cents gets eaten by the tape player!

What Type of Camera to Use

VHS:  If you're using a VHS camera, always use a HI-FI, Metal, professional quality tape.  Unless you have a professional camera, you probably won't have the best copies from your master.  VHS is low on the resolution scale, but again, it depends on your camera and the quality of tape.

S-VHS or VHS-C:  I have no experience with either of these formats.  As far as resolution/quality, I understand that they are somewhere between that of VHS and 8 mm.

8 mm:  8 mm is capable of higher resolution than VHS.  Hi-8 is by far the better of the 8mm cameras, especially if you're planning on making copies of the master.   Hi-8 resolution is near Broadcast-quality and is almost double that of Regular 8mm.

Digital/Hi-Def:  You've got the best!


Try to set the camera up at least 5 feet away from any audience member.  If you're using the microphone on the camera, it's probably got an automatic leveling control on it that adjusts the sound.  If your recording something on the stage 50 feet away and then someone who is 5 feet away sneezes, it will mess up your sound levels and you'll miss some sound from the stage until the camera re-adjusts.  In this case, try to have the camera above the heads of the audience (level with the heads of the actors)

Should you use microphones?  Should you patch into the theatre sound system?  Ideally, yes.  I've had best luck using a shotgun (boom) microphone patched into the camera.  It   If you patch into the theatre's sound system, realize that you are at the mercy of the sound operator's skills.  Long story short-- whatever equipment you use, make sure you practice everything (set-up, use, tear-down) in the environment you'll be taping in.

Setting up Your Equipment

ALWAYS make sure you have permission from the performance facility and have made all the appropriate arrangements before you arrive to set up your equipment.

If you have any wires or cords leading to your camera/equipment, be sure to tape them down or lay down rugs or other coverings so nobody trips over the stuff.  This seems obvious, but it's sad how many recordings are ruined by someone tripping over an extension cord on their way to the rest room.   Also, it may prevent someone from getting hurt.  Remember: YOU are who who will be sued if anyone is hurt by your equipment.

Get there early.  Leave yourself plenty of time to get your stuff set up and to let the facility know what you will need from them.  Be sure to arrive and completely set up before the house is open (usually 30 minutes before the performance is scheduled to begin) in case you need to block off some seats or run a cable under the seats.  Allow for the unexpected.

If at all possible, use your camera battery to film instead of using an AC outlet.   All it takes is a fuse to blow or someone kicking your cord out of the outlet to ruin your video.  Reduce the potential for problems.

Set your camera so that when you pan back for a wide-angle shot you have the whole stage or playing area in your viewfinder with plenty of room to spare.  You should also be able to zoom in to have an actor's head and upper torso fill the screen.  Be sure you have a clear shot for any other things you need to record (audience, musicians, entrances in the house, etc.)

Try not to set your camera up directly in front of centerstage so your actors and set don't appear flat.  Try to be just off-center a little (10 feet or so from center, depending on your house size).

Protect your camera from shaking.  If the floor is bouncy (moves when someone walks by) you may need to set up on a platform or find another way to stabilize the tripod.   Likewise, if you set up on a platform, make sure the tripod is not sitting on bare wood.  Place carpet pieces or other cushioning underneath to reduce the chance of shakes or bumps while you're recording.  Also, be aware of others sitting or walking on the platform.  They might shake the camera or make noise.

Be aware of where the speakers are placed for the stage.  Don't set up right next to a speaker because that's all you'll hear.

Place a short length of leader (blank tape) at the beginning of the tape.  I usually put on about 5 seconds.  This will assure that you get all of the recording.   If you want to place titles or a shot of the poster/program on the tape later, you may want to leave even more leader (or you can place the titles AFTER the recording).

Wide-angle Shots vs Close-ups

What's the purpose of your recording?  If it's for archive purposes, you'll want to use primarily wide-angle shots so you can catch all the blocking entrances and exits and audience reaction (if that's important to your show).  If you know the show very well and know when to pull back to wide angle shots, you can periodically shoot a close-up here and there to show costumes and make-up.

When I shoot my own shows, I shoot 3 or 4 different performances.  One time I concentrate on close-ups.  I'll move around the house, getting the best vantage point for each close-up shot.  These shots I'll convert into computer graphics and use on the web site.  Another time I'll use wide-angle shots so I can get the most audience in the shot.  The other times, I'll concentrate on the archive recording, making sure I get all the entrances and exits and everyone's blocking.  I never limit myself to only one performance to get a good recording.  You never know when one of the actors will have an off night or the battery in your camera may die unexpectedly-- and you'd be stuck with that recording as your only one.  Shudder! 

Careful how much you zoom in and zoom out.  Once per minute is plenty.  Also remember that on some lower-quality cameras you can hear the camera's motor when it is zooming in and out when you play the tape. 


You are at the mercy of the lighting director.  If you're working with a quality camera, you'll be able to make some adjustment for low light.

If you're lucky, you can arrange to video tape a dress rehearsal or a brush-up rehearsal and have the lights bumped up brighter than they usually are for a performance.


If your camera has a fade-in/out function, use it sparingly-- or not at all and put any desired fades in using your editing softwareUsually, I only fade in at the beginning and fade out after the bows.

If your show has any kind of a pre-show, be sure to catch all of that, too.

Know the show.  Sit through a rehearsal or catch a performance before you attempt to shoot.  The more familiar you are with the entrances/exits and special filming needs you may have, the more successful your recording will be.

Use a tripod!  Don't assume that you can keep the camera steady for that long of a time.  Don't go for the shakey-camera effect that is so popular in TV shows. 

If a small group of actors are onstage and you are confident in your knowledge of the script, you can go in for a close-up of the group.  Make sure you anticipate any entrances and exits that may come up.

In your viewfinder, always keep a "picture frame of space" around whatever or whomever you're filming.  Don't let your subject  touch the edge of your viewfinder.  Many times, what you see on a TV screen is not cropped the same way it is in your viewfinder.  If you reduce your picture frame about 5% all the way around, you should have no problem.

Archive Recordings

The purpose of an "archive recording" is to have a reference record of the show for the theatre's use in applying for grants/funding (they often submit a video to demonstrate production values) and/or to have a record of the production's props, sets, costumes, blocking, choreography, etc.

With this in mind, I suggest setting up your camera for a wide, static (unmoving, if possible) shot.  Frame the shot to cover the entire stage, allowing for a 5% safety area on all sides.  This will ensure that you don't miss any entrances/exits of the actors.  There's nothing worse for a director than to watch an archive of a show s/he directed 5 years ago and wondering "now where did THAT actor come from?"

If you can get a costume parade before of after the show to allow you to get close-ups of all the costumes, that would be ideal.  That would alleviate any need to get close-ups during the show.

Video Taping a KMR Scripts Production

So, you're planning to video tape one of our shows?  We DO allow theatres to make archive video tape recordings of our shows.  We'll assume that you've been authorized by the theatre to video tape.  Some special instructions apply to you:

1.  According to the contract your theatre signed with KMR Scripts, you (as an authorized representative of the theatre) may record the show on video tape and you may make copies for the cast/crew/staff (in other words, anybody who was involved in the production of the show) but you may NOT make a profit from the sales of the copies.  You may only charge the cost of the blank tape.  You may charge a fee to the theatre for your video taping services, but you may not make a profit off the individual tape sales.

2.  You may not make copies of the video you record available to the general public.  That is a severe violation of the playwright's copyright and any such violation will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

3.  You may not place any copyright notices on the video other than that of KMR Scripts and Kevin M Reese, however, you may certainly place your company logo on the recording

To Be Continued . . . .

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