New Technology in the Old World

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One of the things I like most about the video and audio production industry is the chance to work in many different locations and environments. One day you may be in a corporate boardroom, the next in an art deco theater-I’ve even found myself shooting from a luxury yacht in the middle of the bay.  You never know where the work will take you, so I’ve found the best practice is to relax and enjoy the ride.

Such was the case when we got an email from AirBnB, one of our regular clients. They had opened up a satellite office in Dublin, Ireland and wanted to know if we could accommodate an international webcast with only a few weeks of lead-time.  Having produced hundreds of multi cam HD webcasts in locations all over the country, we know how much work goes into this type of event. The variables and details are numerous and each one must be attended to.  Fortunately Repertoire knows how to travel. We have produced events from Seattle to San Diego, Boston to New York and even produced an earlier event for AirBnB in Barcelona, Spain.

We quickly put together a stripped down version of our webcasting package to come in under the 70-pound international limit. The usual hard pelican case proved to be too heavy so we bubble wrapped everything, carefully packed it into a padded case and hoped for the best. Inside were all the items essential to pulling off a successful webcast: a Tricaster 460 (a four input HD switcher with streaming and recording capability) a Barco Image Pro II, (takes a graphic feed from the presentation laptop and converts it to SDI and HDMI broadcast standard video), an audio delay for making sure lip synch is perfect, a Black Magic H264 video encoder to use as a backup recording and finally various cables, power adaptors and connectors that we may or may not need but are always good to have.

Early Monday morning, I get dropped off at SFO, my bags stacked high on a rented cart (everywhere else in the world these carts are complimentary-stop nickel and dialing us US airports!) A steady drizzle falls from the sky, indeed the temperature and precipitation in San Francisco and Dublin in March are nearly identical. My progress from check in through security goes smoothly, and as I sit at my gate enjoying a cup of coffee, I notice that my flight has been delayed by 15 minutes.  An innocuous enough beginning to what would become a rapidly deteriorating chain of events.

As the rain continues to stream down, the departure to my connecting flight in Chicago is set back again, and yet again. By the time we board the plane, we are already 45 minutes past our departure. As we taxi to the runway, my hour and half layover in Chicago had turned into a mere 30 minutes. Finally in the air, I close my worried tired eyes and catch some much needed sleep. Finally landing in Chicago, I flip on my iphone-15 minutes till my Aer Lingus flight for Dublin departs. I deplane as quickly as possible, 5 minutes to go. I search frantically for my gate, only to realize it was in a completely separate terminal, at least a 20 minute tram ride away. At this point, I know all hope of making my connecting flight is gone. As I walk up to the United ticket counter I have one request-“please don’t send me to Heathrow.” “No problem” said the attendant, “I can send you to Newark, then Hamburg and finally to Dublin. You will arrive in two days.”

Heathrow, here I come.  I emphasize how important it was that my gear arrives at the same time as me-“Don’t worry” he assures me, “It will be there.”

Blurry eyed, I arrived at London Heathrow after an uncomfortable night trying to sleep in a seat so small my knees press against the seat in front of me. Run through customs; get my picture taken (only airport I know of where they take a photo of you on arrival) book through security where I have to dump out my bag for a secondary inspection, and this time arrive at my gate with a few minutes to spare. I stare out of the window, unsucesfully  trying to get a glimpse of the all-important gear being loaded into the cargo hold. I board the plane with my fingers crossed.

I land in Dublin and in stark contrast to Heathrow I am the only person going through immigration. I weave through a long maze and step right up to the immigration official. A couple cursory questions and I am on my way. The moment of truth has arrived. I head to the baggage claim, and wait-and wait-then I wait some more. After everyone else on my flight has already collected their bags and fled the airport, I am forced to face the fact that my luggage, containing all my gear which is so crucial to my entire reason for being in Ireland, has gone missing.

After an hour spent filling out claim forms and having the attendant call around, I leave with my carry-on and the assurance that my gear will be delivered to me on the morrow. I initiate a quick call to our contact to inform him that I had arrived but the gear had not.  After dropping my solitary bag off at my AirBnB listing I head out to recuperate at a local pub.

The next day I wake up early, hoping to see a voicemail or email from the airline letting me know that the gear is on the way. With no such assurance, I quickly began to initiate plan B. Several calls later, I talk to a bloke at that knows a guy who one time did a gig a gig with a Tricaster owner/operator.

I arrived at the AirBnB office at 8:30 AM and fill the client  in on the good and bad news.  We plan for the shoot while I hang on hold with the airlines, still hoping to track down the gear. As the day grows longer and our tech day slides by we have a crucial decision to make. Do we wait and hope that the gear shows up, or do we rent everything from the local vendor and take the hit on rental costs, baggage fees and the rest that we could no longer charge to the client?

In the end, it wasn’t really much of a decision. As in all things live, the show must go on. We rent the necessary gear and scrambled to set up everything in time.  The Tricaster 8000 universal (both PAL and NTSC) works like a dream. It’s my first time working on an 8000 and I like it so much that soon after getting back, we buy two of them. The scaler  they provide however has only SDI in-the Tricaster requires SDI out as well. With only about half an hour to go, we replace the scaler with a Barco Image Pro, the same piece of gear we use in the states and that was missing somewhere in Europe. It’s amazing how the right tool for the job makes everything work smoothly.

Some companies might have fought to use their gear till the bitter end, as gear rental is where AV companies make most of their money. At Repertoire, it’s all about the show. We do whatever it takes to make sure any show we work on is both technically perfect and  inspiring to attendees and online viewers. While we may have lost out on a large chunk of the budget, what the client remembers is that we selflessly did what needed to be done to produce a polished show.

With everything in place, the fun part begins. I have 2 HD cameras, slides and picture in picture of slides and live video that I can call up. I’m live streaming at 720p and the lighting, the projection and the audio are solid. As we begin the show, my mind shifts into technical director mode-I’m hyper focused, seeing two moves ahead. Familiarity with the client and their brand, the knowledge of how they want their show directed and delivered-these are the reasons we are flown halfway across the world to do an hour long webcast.

In the end, the gear is important but even more important is listening, understanding, and being flexible.  The work is it’s own reward, but the fresh Guinness is certainly a bonus!


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