Multicamera shoots. Oh hell, multicamera shoots.

SciCast has a modest little collection of cameras, bought on the cheap from production chums in Scotland upgrading to better gear. So despite being old, our cameras are a distinct step up from even the latest domestic kit.

Trouble is, they’re also something of a hodge-podge. While three of them are identical Sony PD100s, each has different capabilities depending on which buttons have failed, are flaky, or have plain fallen off. They all, however, shoot DVCAM, a curious pseudo-pro Sony-only format that puts more-or-less standard DV format onto standard DV tapes… 30% faster than normal. Thus, one-hour tapes last 40 minutes.

This makes multicamera work interesting, because my master audio camera (a PD150) will shoot for an hour, and I usually clamp my old domestic camera somewhere for a funky wide-angle shot. That’s an hour runtime too.

Setting up four cameras on my own is a pretty full-on job, but actually shooting isn’t too bad. A couple of cameras will, of necessity, be lock-offs, and I’ll usually accost someone to run a PD100 as a loose mid-shot camera. They never resist the temptation to zoom in on detail, however much I admonish them to let me cover that, but I’ve mostly managed to pick people with enough visual sense to get the job done.

The problems come in post-production, when I have to resync the multiple cameras into a stacked multicam sequence in Final Cut. Get it right, and vision mixing is trivially simple. The challenge, of course, is finding adequate sync points.

In principle, all you need to do is get all the cameras running, line them all up on somebody’s hands, and — in a quiet room — have them clap those hands together, flat. That gives a nice sharp visual and audio signal. Do that after every tape change and resync becomes trivial.
The trouble is, nobody understands what the hell you’re tryng to do. Hence, they do it wrong: there’s too much background noise, or the clap is out of frame, or it’s too soft to hear, or there are multiple claps. And you can never get people to do another clap after you change tapes — they’ve already clapped for you, what are you playing at?

The solution is, I think, trivial: I need to buy a clapperboard.

Everyone understands clapperboards. They’re those things they use in the movies, they’re dead professional, and ooh look, we must be serious, we have a clapperboard. Never mind what it’s for, feel the production values.

The irony is that in a dozen or more years of broadcast TV, I’ve used a clapperboard on precisely one project (a multicamera location drama with independent audio and flaky timecode sync). On that occasion we had to repatriate Scottish TV’s only remaining clapperboard from the managing director’s mantlepiece — it hadn’t been used for that long.
But away from a world of kit that genuinely works, and without enough people to operate it properly anyway, importing a little bit of professional mystique could be just the ticket.

If only clapperboards weren’t so damned expensive…