Craig Johnston /
08.03.2005 12:00 AM
Live 8 Tests Limits of TV Production
PHILADELPHIA

Preparations for televised coverage of the Live 8 concerts on July 2 turned into a crash course in last minute logistics.

"This was put together very, very quickly on a worldwide scale," said Bob Muller, a freelancer hired as tech manager for Greg Sills Productions, a Los Angeles-based independent production company which produced the U.S. Live 8 venue in Philadelphia.

"As new people, new venues, new groups joined the effort, they had to be folded into the production."

STANDARDS GALORE

One group that felt the whipsaw of these changes was All Mobile Video, which handled the remote pickup and transmission of the Philadelphia venue and edited ABC's two-hour highlight show at the end of the evening.

"We had a very short time to do what was a very complicated production," said Lee Blanco, AMV's director of engineering. AMV had 12 cameras feeding its Resolution remote truck, plus two more dedicated to a BBC production.

Muller noted that the multitude of standards involved complicated the production. "We had to originate the concert footage in the 1080i format because we recorded the switched output plus four ISO cameras for the Live 8 DVD that will be coming out." But it was downconverted for transmission to London to be integrated into a world feed, and for ABC's recap program airing that evening.

"The reason for [working in SD] is that a lot of the broadcasters in foreign countries were 4:3 only, so the decision was made by the organizers in London that 4:3 would be the format for the world feed."

A number of other venues throughout the world were shot in 16:9 or 14:9 aspect ratio, but all directors agreed to protect a 4:3 center-cut for the world feed.

The charity nature of the event caused a number of headaches for the technical crew.

"On test-day they gave us only an hour and didn't give us any [performers] playing during that hour," said Lenny Laxer, AMV's vice president of operations. "Usually we'll get a four or five hour test, with performers rehearsing."

Among the challenges was maintaining audio/video sync. "Lip syncing issues were huge," said Blanco, "a lot of issues of how things were being routed and in what direction.

"One good thing about it is they were not a moving target. Once a path is a path, do the math. Once they're set, they're set."

Donated satellite time was an issue as well. "The satellite space they got was international space at a very low look angle, 30-degrees. For us to find 30-degrees anywhere is always tough with tree-lines and such," said Laxer. On their first site survey, they were unable to see the satellite at all.

"Then we had to switch the LNBs [low noise block] on the truck because of the frequency we got; the satellite space was in the extended frequency range. So we got up on the roof and changed the LNBs and installed new Tandberg encoders in the truck."

"You just learn to adapt, which is something we're pretty good at," said Blanco. "And our shop isn't all that far from Philly, so you could keep running equipment back and forth."

Scheduled long before the July 2 Live 8 concert at the Philadelphia Art Museum venue was an annual July 4th concert, featuring Elton John, (who performed at the Live 8 concert in London). "A lot of the facilities, the stage and so forth, were built and put in place and were to be reused for the 4th of July concert," said Muller. "One of the challenges was for all the groups to kind of integrate the facilities so they could, as much as possible, serve a dual purpose."

Big screens set up along the venue mall were one example of equipment serving both concerts. For Live 8, they were fed from a switcher at the back bench of Resolution's control room. During Philadelphia band changes, concert programming was shown from a separate feed from London.

Another unique request kept both video and IT engineers up nights: when viewers joined a petition and text-messaged their names in, Live 8 promoters wanted their names to scroll across a zipper screen over the Philadelphia stage.

"[We] pulled all the right people together talking on the phone, got them running tests, and they showed up in Philadelphia and put the thing together," said Muller.

LAST MINUTE SQUEEZE

A last minute snafu was averted by some quick footwork on a separate 16:9 feed from London that was anamorphically squeezed to 4:3 for transmission.

"We were told the show was coming in 4:3, and now it's showtime, and MTV is saying 'That's not what we were promised,'" said Blanco. "Thankfully they had the equipment [a Miranda ARC-101 card to decompress the anamorphic squeeze] on-site to install, because if they'd had to go back to Jersey to get it, it would have never made it."

Output of the Philadelphia concert mix, the four ISOs and the two feeds from London were captured on an EVS server and 17 Sony Digital Betacam VTRs in AMV's Cinetour mobile post production van.

"The content was spread out over such a long period of time, about 14 hours," said AMV Senior Editor Mike Shore. "Then the trick becomes managing. You've got all this stuff stored on disk and how do you find it? What went where?"

Though the finished material for ABC's 8 p.m. replay program was edited to tape, Shore credited AMV's two hybrid edit rooms in the van--using Grass Valley Editware controllers that can both access material on the EVS server at the same time--with allowing quick editing of the tight turnaround project.

There was a game plan put together by ABC's producers the night before, detailing which songs by which bands would be included in the show. But they had to be flexible. "The whole object is to capture those 'magic moments,' that the producers always are looking for," said Shore. Editor Bill Miller and Shore planned to edit alternating segments of ABC's show. "That was our original goal: you do the odds, I'll do the evens. It worked out that when certain acts came in and segments were complete on paper, we could begin them, so that fell by the wayside quickly.

"Audio sync was a moving target throughout the day," he said. "There was some latency inherent in [the London] feeds, and as they turned around feeds from other parts of the world there was some additional latency added. We did our best to wrestle it to the ground.

"Nothing came in that was so bad as to be unusable," Muller said. "Everything that came in was aspect ratio-converted and format- and standards-converted. Were there motion artifacts in long pan shots? Absolutely. Could I see the standards conversion? Absolutely. Was it unusable? Absolutely not."

Shore and Miller were editing ABC's show, set to air from 8-10 p.m. EDT. The final Philadelphia act, Stevie Wonder, was scheduled to end at 6 p.m.

"Come on, it's rock and roll," said Shore. "When they first told me they'd be done locally at six, I'm like, yeah, you're joking." Wonder finished his set at about 7:30 p.m.

Fortunately they were able to begin editing off the server as soon as Wonder began performing the song producers selected.

Late as it was then, there would be one more bump in the road. While they were cutting the Wonder song originally chosen for the show, producers were watching the performer give what they felt was a better performance of a later song. They now wanted that song instead.

At this point, the ABC program was already on the air. But the two the editors were able to accommodate the change.

GSP's Muller gave high marks to the professionalism of those involved in the Live 8 production. "It was like most big shows where it was just a huge challenge to pull it all together. On most shows you have a little more planning time on it. You learn to appreciate planning time, and how important it can be."


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