Prior to teaching, I worked in radio and was the point of contact for a lot of bands for interviews.
The recent passing of Vinnie Paul reminded me of a time where his tour manager was upset about a scheduling issue and let’s say he told me things about myself that I didn’t know and some that would be categorized as physically impossible. I tell you this because in my career dealing with those personalities, listeners, and other things I was never as nervous as I was when I received the text that said “Jennifer needs your equipment list.”
I started working on my equipment list about 3 months prior. I don’t know how many different spreadsheets I created but I do know it was over a dozen. I wrestled with balancing fiscal responsibility with what I can teach students to operate and what will stand the test of time in terms of durability and technology.
I started with the idea of a centralized control room leveraging NDI technology. I spoke with several people about their system worked and how I could do it with my situation. The idea revolves around having a solid infrastructure for internet connection. You would create a control room and the cameras, mics, etc would be the only thing deployed into the field. Using IP connections, you would pull the signal back to the control room where you would have a switcher, graphics, etc. I love this idea because for sports and news broadcasts this is professional level. I liked the possibility of being able to do a live shot with the spanish club opposed to having a student read from a prompter about what they are doing. For sports, this would be great: imagine a live feed from a football game with cut ins from the softball field! This would have been a game changer but… I could not justify using 20% of my budget just for the switcher! I built no less than 10 setups for this idea but could not come to grips with the budget balance.
After a ton of back and forth, I settled on a list that balanced live and studio production along with the needs for an animation class (more on that later). For both live and studio productions, I leaned heavily on BlackMagic Design products. As I have shared before, I don’t think you can get a better quality product for the price.
For our studio shows, I decided on a ATEM 1M/E switcher with the new 1M/E control panel. I wrestled with this a long time. I admit I was looking at the 4M/E a long time. I really considered it but went with the 1 M/E at this point because I have to keep in mind that I am starting a program and need to keep it simple as we build the foundation with the students. (I also thought about the difference in price and what I could purchase that will make an immediate impact opposed to buying something to stroke my ego!) I was not going to get a studio setup without a tactile switcher - that was not an option. This isn’t an option for a lot of reasons but the most important was marketing! When people (including admin) come to a video production classroom, they expect to see something. I love software switching solutions but seeing a student sitting at a computer with a mouse and keyboard is the same thing they can see in hundreds of other classrooms throughout your building! Showing people things they don’t know how to work being operated by a “kid” always impresses!
The 1M/E Advanced Panel will allow me to do a lot of things that will help the students really understand what they are doing with the switcher. Instead of being locked into a certain layout for the inputs on the preview/program busses, I can change the button map to a specific order. In the past, I have had to use a mix of HDMI and SDI inputs so there would be buttons on the switcher that were not used. I had to make sure the students knew which those where and avoided those during a live show. Now, I will be able to group the inputs as I need - as well as give them a specific color if I want (for example, Cameras 1 through 3 point to the news desk and are red while 4 and 5 point to the weather desk and are green). This is going to help tremendously as the students learn to switch and learn a “show flow.”
The two things that kept me up at night were sound and lights. When it came to sound, I wasn’t concerned with the microphones or the number/placement/etc of them. Instead I was worried about the room sound. This new studio is rectangular with the news desk at the end surrounded by glass and cinder block walls. I made certain to carve a fair portion of money out for sound panels. I also knew that in my new facility, I won’t have a dedicated studio for voiceover work so I stole an idea from Chris Buechner at Centennial High School in Atlanta. Chris’s wife is an amazing voiceover artist and uses the ISOVOX portable isolation booth. I am excited for the students to be able to simply pop their head in the booth and start recording great sounding VOs.
As for lights, I asked for a TON! Almost 10 lines of my request were for lights of some sort. Again, I am working with a deep dark rectangle for my studio and we all know the potential lighting nightmares we can encounter working in the field so I went big on lights. For the studio, I asked for a mix of LED panels as well as several china balls. My idea is to obviously layer the light between the backgrounds and the talent but I HATE seeing lighting that is not balanced across the space. I think adding the china balls to the studio setup are going to help break the “levels” of light so that there is some depth to the shot but not a wall of light for each level. The china balls will be used as hair light for the talent and will hopefully balance the layers. The LED panels range from small portable panels to large studio panels that will light the world at noon. (Side note: Always plan to diffuse your light - you can always have too much and take it away but there is nothing worse than having a hard light when you want a soft one!)
Now that I have made relative peace with my equipment choices, I am moving on to planning the school year. This year will be different in a lot of ways for me. I will no longer have the Sports Broadcast Institute nor will I have 3 of everything to cover. The biggest change for me is going to be related to the classes and schedule I will teach those classes. Previously, I was on a “modified A/B schedule” which meant I taught the same schedule on Monday and Wednesday and the same on Tuesday and Thursday with Friday alternating between the M/W schedule and the T/TH schedule. Now, I will be teaching on a 4x4 block which means I will not only see the students everyday for 90 minutes (YAY) but I will teach what I know as a year’s content in a semester. Those changes excite me. I love the fact that I can teach something on Monday and the students do it on Tuesday - opposed to my old schedule where I would teach on Monday and then reinforce on Wednesday so they could do it then. (don’t even get me started on the Fridays…)
During 1st semester, I am teaching two classes of video production and one class of Introduction to Digital Media (Think: Introduction to Animation). I am SUPER excited about this. I have not taught this before so it’s going to be a challenge. I am one of the weird ones that learned to edit videos on After Effects before I ever opened Premiere Pro or any other editor so I know the basics extremely well but I have to admit, I am going to be doing a ton of research and visiting with professionals before 2nd semester when the schedule flips and I have 2 animation classes and one advanced video class. I certainly know how to animate but to keep the students engaged and mesmerized, I have to up my game a bit! More on that next month!