Fellow video producers and budding filmmakers, this post is a simple, easy-to-follow reminder of what you need when covering live events.
They could be corporate, wedding, birthday, or other celebratory events – it doesn’t matter. You need to treat each live event with utmost attention to detail. Here are several items on the ole checklist you can’t afford to forget, from both a business and a practical standpoint.
Stick around, after the show, for a free performance by Limozeen (aka a bonus). Actually, for those of you who are in need of additional resources, I’ve got a less complicated, more intuitive work agreement you can download and use in your media productions. It’s a scaled back version of my earlier one on this site (and referenced in the next section), and it’s very disarming when pushing for a signature. Use it with legalese-weary clients and land more business in the process!
1. Have a written agreement
To this day, my post on contracts remains one of the most visited pages on this site. If you have no idea where to start with a solid video production contract, try visiting this article here. Don’t like reading? Well, if you made it this far and are tiring out, there’s a video at the same post. Bon Appétit.
At the very least, if you’re going to invoice a client for live coverage and the amount of time is unknown at the start, make sure you have clear terms before you go into battle.
E.g. I’ll cover the event at a rate of $400 per 10-hour day. If work extends beyond 10 hours, I bill at time and a half, and if work extends beyond 12 hours, I bill double time. Half days are billed at $0.25.
That last part’s a joke.
This could be an open-ended clause if the event lasts at least two days but might need you onsite three or more days and the event itself will dictate your coverage needs.
Go paper-based where possible, and if not possible (e.g. distance and time preclude it), use a service like Sign Now to send your invoice and simply ask for them to agree to the rates in writing before the work begins.
If you don’t FOR WHATEVER REASON, don’t panic -
2. Keep the footage until the agreement is signed
I get it; sometimes you lack the backbone to drive the hard bargain up front. I’ve been that guy too but every day I’m still in business, I gain more confidence, and the more I pray for wisdom and read a Proverb or too, the wiser I get.
Suppose you don’t have the work properly signed off just yet. At the very least, the benefit of covering a live event is you have the footage firmly in your grasp. Include this clause in your invoice (that’s to be signed):
Footage will be delivered when the agreement is signed.
It’s simple, non-legalese that anyone can digest without losing their marbles.
Even if the job prevents you from keeping the footage for your reels, you don’t need to fork over the media until - at the very least - the agreement is signed. If you want, you can require a deposit or the full bill before the media is handed over. Either way, the footage is your bargaining power. Your showing up onsite is great and it’s needed until the day a bot can fly around and take shots, but the final delivery is what the client wants. Don’t just let it loose until your terms are met, and this kind of playing-the-cards-close-to-your-chest scenario can really only happen in a rush job.
For example, “I’ve got an event tomorrow at Bob’s Hotel. I need coverage from 9a to 7p.”
You: Great. I’ll be there; here are my terms…
The client goes dark, but you know from earlier homework, they are an established, reputable business in town, and your gut says to take the job. You take the job but they don’t agree to your terms beyond an email that says “Yeah, that looks good.”
Push for the signature. Better yet, push to get paid. Hold onto that footage like it’s your dog pulling on the leash when he sees the neighborhood cat giving him the stink eye.
With the bare-bones business essentials are out of the way, let’s talk what you need to do in the way of hardware.
First, get in the habit of asking your client or point-of-contact from the get-go for a safe, private staging area where you can securely leave your belongings, eat, and check footage without prying eyes. Worse-case scenario, it’s your car, but you won’t have wall power in your car so push for a secluded area.
1. Camera: rent or bring your low-light-sensitive camera. A solid Sony DSLR from recent years works here. If you’re going to a place with little or no experience in the rooms and environments you’ll be shooting in, you need a camera that can shoot a clean image in dark or dimly-lit rooms. ALWAYS EXPECT dimly lit rooms. This isn’t cinema – real life is often dimly lit and unflattering on video. A large sensor goes a long way here as does a clean image at ISO 2500, so come packing.
2. Eyepiece or viewfinder: you need something you can block sunlight with if your event involves any shots outdoors.
3. A great zoom lens: have at least one that’s somewhat fast, sharp enough, and able to go somewhere between wide and zoomed in. It’ll be your work horse lens on these kinds of shoots.
4. Tripod: should be self-explanatory if it’s an easy-to-use tripod. If it involves lots of setup and tear-down from surface to surface, you’ll lose precious time. Pick a tripod in your inventory which allows for quick deployment and leveling.
5. Memory cards: yeah – plural. Don’t get goosed here with one or two cards. What if a card craps out? What if you fill the cards up faster than a fly on a ham sammich? Get your ducks in a row here mates.
6. Slider: don’t leave home without it. If you can bring a gimbal, fantastic, but your slider should mount on your tripod and be ready at the drop of a hat to spruce up your footage.
7. Should rig: you may not use it, but handheld footage looks awful when your camera weighs more than two pounds. It’s better to have it than not.
8. A phantom mic: audio purists, I know it’s a “phantom power(ed) mic,” but I always just call it a phantom mic. You need one on your camera or rig that can wire right into the camera and record spur-the-moment interviews. Just about anything is better than a camera’s built-in-mic, so I won’t list examples here, but I do like and recommend the Rode Videomic Go (affiliate link). To the best of my knowledge, Rode manufactures their mics in Australia and not some shady sweat shop, so that’s a plus too.
9. Cans/earbuds: something to listen in on your audio for those spur-the-moment shout-outs or interviews – don’t forget them.
10. Loads of batteries: don’t settle for a handful. Bring as many as you can in case you lose one, one gets destroyed or fails to maintain a charge mid-shoot. Or worse, you don’t have enough time to recharge your exhausted batteries. Even worse, you have no way to charge your batteries. See that? Several horrible scenarios you don’t want to live out, so pack the batteries and more batteries before you head out.
11. A power strip (and power bank while you're at it): what if your staging area only has one serviceable outlet? Nightmare scenario yes, so bring a solid power strip.
12. Adapters: make sure you have every power adapter and converter you could possibly need. Bring your phone’s USB to wall power adapter. Bring two of those. Bring your phone charging cable!
13. Your laptop: you need to be able to make sure you’re hitting critical focus, and you must be able to backup footage onsite frequently. Again, don’t let a corrupt memory card ruin your job and reputation. If it’s a corporate event, grab coverage, head to your staging area and back up the footage and assess your shots. A long hard look in the mirror will do you boatloads of good. I once had an event where I was out-of-focus on more than a few shots the first day. It was a full-frame camera, and I biffed a number of shots, but I learned really quick to check my shots throughout the day on my 15” laptop to see where I was failing. Iteration is a good thing amigo; use it.
14. An SSD drive to backup footage: again, don’t let a bad memory card-to-be or a laptop crash be the end of your work onsite. Bring an SSD drive to also backup your footage.
15. Food: yes, this isn’t exactly “hardware” but it might as well be. Don’t assume the client has food for you. Low blood sugar will destroy you in a live event where you work continuously with little to no breaks. Keep food in your staging area that won’t spoil, and your food needs to pack calories like an Ivan Drago punch.
This list could go on several more rounds – if I missed something, leave it as a comment below in the comments section for the benefit of your fellow filmmakers and video producers.
4. Personal care
Long events are tiring on your body and mind, so make sure you’re hydrated, fueled, and rested every day. Don’t sacrifice sleep; don’t eat Cheetos all day. Pack quality calories for the days and eat a balanced meal before and after. Don’t neglect water during the day. Honestly, you need at minimum an oz. of water per pound of body weight during a normal day, and on a shoot day, you need even more than the minimum. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul here.
Don’t show up looking like a bum. Shave or cut your hair beforehand. Don’t wear jeans with holes. Even consider wearing a button-down shirt, and as with any A/V work, all black is the way to go where possible.
Bring gum. Brush your teeth in the morning after breakfast. Don’t schmooze with people at the event if you have Dragon’s breath (ergo, the need for gum).
Keep your phone charged.
Wear shoes you can stand in comfortably for 14 hours if need be.
Don’t lock your knees out when standing in one spot – ever. I had a kid in my Air Force training at Port Hueneme back in ’08 pass out during a muster because we were standing at attention for a while and sure enough, he locked out his knees. To add insult to injury, we were mustering on asphalt. Egad. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a no bueno.
Every live event, you need to have your business cards on hand. People will stare at you with bewilderment, others with excitement, but most people are indifferent when you stick a camera in their area to get your shots. If you look the part and it’s a packed event, your presence is expected.
You’ll talk to people. You will, even if you’re introverted. Onlookers and weary guests alike will want to know what you’re doing, where the footage is going, etc. I’ve had militant people give me the 20-questions routine, and they were not decision makers or my client’s agent in any way, shape, or form. They were just vendors or other attendees. This post-9/11 and online culture has made people fearful of the unknown and certainly cameras in some instances. Smile, and remember we’re called to love one another. Answer questions, show enthusiasm, and don’t forget if you leave a sour taste in one guest’s mouth or one visitor’s mouth, it will surely get back to your client.
The folks you meet who are chummy – ask for their card and then connect with them on LinkedIn later. I talked about this in the post/video on networking and why you need a killer 8-second-or-less hook when you engage new people. Treat each live event as a job and to a lesser extent, a networking event. Of course, you’re there to cover the event, but willfully ignoring the people who are trying to engage you is rude and prevents you from further opportunities to serve people down the road. Smile, engage, shake hands, and get back to rolling the camera.
6. Cloud storage
When the job is done, back up all footage in the cloud. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it ties up your machine and it’s a data hog. Grow up! It’s a time-saver in the long run, I promise.
I started using pCloud (affiliate link) for my client footage because you can allow clients to upload footage to folders as well as download. It’s the underdog in this war for cloud storage solutions, and that’s part of their charm. Give them a whirl – ONE MONTH of 500GB - 100% FREE TRIAL – using the link above.
This is something you should be doing on a regular basis anyways in your routine client care when the job is over. Inevitably, your client will want to pull some random shot down the road, and this new era has made postal delivery of physical media time and cost-prohibitive. Factor cloud storage into your costs, and if you’re struggling with pricing your services to cover the overhead of running your video production business, I recommend a refresher at this post.
As promised, I’ve got a solid bonus for you in today’s post. If you’re in need of a simple, easy-on-the-eyes work agreement, I’ve got a newer, much different template for you to adjust and use as needed. I made it from scratch, so you have my blessing to tear it up.
To access it right now, just join the newsletter below. Your email is safe – no farming out data here. I send emails about once a week with news and the occasional offer to help you grow as a video producer.
Download the work agreement here: