One more month of school and millions of children will be out of the classrooms and back at home. 

For the graduating class, some have only a couple of weeks until that special day: The Graduation Ceremony.  Filled with pomp and circumstance, we eagerly await the arrival of our sons or daughters to walk down the aisle, capped and gowned, ready to receive their hard earned diplomas.  This is a day that we don’t want to miss, and we don’t want to forget. What better way to remember the event than with a well directed and produced video of the event.

We recently had the opportunity to work with a local high school that wanted to do the schools awards dinner and graduation ceremony with their recently purchased NewTek TriCaster. In fact, the TriCaster wasn’t the only new piece of equipment: Chartered with creating a video production department for the district, they had purchased three Canon GL-1s, tripods/dollies, a teleprompter, camera monitors, a four station camera I/C system, studio lighting, an audio mixer, lots of cable AND the TriCaster all for under $25,000. The cameras and the TriCaster arrived one day before the awards dinner giving us just enough time to open the boxes and read the instructions! Ok, so we didn’t read the instructions. . . . .

In addition to making the two graduation events memorable, there were other motives for doing the production on short notice: a “proof statement” that a video department and associated equipment was feasible and that it could make some money. Using the TriCaster, DVDs were ready for delivery within days, without post production.

Doing an event of this magnitude requires lots of planning and staging.  The setting was the schools gym, replete with PA system, bleachers, on the floor folding seating and a medium sized stage/dais with podium.  Lighting was typical for a three year old gymnasium.  The graduating class occupied the first three rows of seats on either side of the center aisle.  Parents were seated behind the seniors and to either side and on the bleachers.  The band/orchestra was located at the back of the gym behind all the audience and there was a small senior choir located off to the right of the stage. All in all, an audio nightmare. 

We placed the control room with the NewTek TriCaster at the back of the gym, near the band.  Two of the GL-1s were placed about 100 feet from the stage on either side of the center, with the remaining camera station at the back, dead center.  All were tied together with the camera I/C system. Audio was fed from the school’s PA system with a jumper into one of the TriCaster’s two audio inputs.  The schools TV/Video production teacher called the shots and one of the students used the TriCaster graphics generator to create lower thirds. These were pre-loaded so they could easily be called up as the respective speakers took the mic.  In retrospect, there should have also been an audio engineer to operate an external mixer plugged into the TriCaster for all the mics that should have been used to supplement the existing PA system.

The crew was able to do a run-through when the senior class had their rehearsal.  This gave the camera operators the opportunity to get a feel for the new equipment and for the director to call the shots as he would in the live production. It was particularly important to create and order the lower thirds for the faculty and administration.

Needless to say, the production was a great success.  The crew learned as much in that two hour ceremony as they would in a semester of class/studio lecture.

Nothing can compare to the excitement of live TV production.  To top it off, they sold fifty copies of the Graduation DVDs for $20 each. 

Here are a few tips that will help you do your graduation ceremony:


Before taping begins go out to the site of the ceremony and take a look around. If you do this a few hours before the ceremony, everything like chairs, podiums and the public address system should be in place. This will give you the opportunity to find a place to set up your camera and tripod. If you are doing a live shoot with multiple cameras, consider risers to get the camera over the heads of the audience. If you have the chance to work the rehearsal. . .do it.

It will help to get a copy of the program to follow as you shoot. Let's face it, most of the ceremony's total time will be allotted to speeches. Members of the press routinely get copies of the commencement addresses in advance of the event and if you're nice to the principal, you could get a copy too. This will help you plan which highlights of the speeches you will want to record.

Shot-by-Shot Success

You've done your homework, but did you remember to get one of the invitations? A shot of the invitation is a nice place to start and helps set the tone for the video. Most high schools have a marquee to announce sporting events or celebrations. It will probably say "Congratulations Class of 2007" on graduation day, so get a shot of that too.

You'll want to get a few shots of the audience walking in. Hold the camera still and let the people walk by. Resist the urge to pan (move the camera from side to side) or zoom in and out.

Now go the spot you selected earlier to shoot the processional. Start with a wide view of the class marching in, then get a medium shot of a dozen faces or so to show the excitement they're feeling. Pause your camera while you're setting up the next shot. A great sequence is at the front, facing the processional as they walk in. Make sure there is a feed of Pomp and Circumstance on the audio track.

From here, you should be able to alternate between the crowd and the podium, where we'll hear all about the great things the students have learned during their years at John Doe High and all the wonderful things they're going to do to change the world.

Shoot the principal welcoming everyone then cut to a crowd shot that shows how many people are in the audience. Remember not to cut directly from one speaker to another. Keep the audio in mind and pause the camcorder at a natural break in a speaker's presentation.

Alternate the events of the ceremony with medium shots of the crowd, the graduating class and the attending dignitaries. Keep a close eye on the graduating class. If someone does something crazy, you'll want it on tape.

Helpful Hints

  • Try to keep shots 10- to 12-seconds long. Shoot highlights rather than the whole event unless you are doing it as a live production as we did. Your graduates will remember graduation as a very quick event so it's OK if the video moves quickly too.
  • The likely finale of your video will be that time-honored toss of caps into the air. Make sure you leave room in your shot not just for the toss but for the distance the caps are likely to travel upwards.
  • Remember to pause--never turn your camera off between shots. Turning off the camera may result in a nasty fuzz instead of a clean transition. If you must pan, do it only once or twice in this production and make sure each is carefully planned out. And a final caveat, resist with all your might the urge to zoom in or out. Just don't do it!
  • Take a small mixer, lots of cable, and many mics.  Remember our band at the back and the senior choir up front? We had to rely on ambient sound to pick these up.  Poor audio is very distracting to viewers.
  • Once captured, edit down to a one hour production that you can take to your local public broadcast facility. It is a once a year event that many residents in the community will want to view.




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