Creating a Web Video Studio

How We Did It at Advertising Age

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Earlier this year, Crain Communications decided to set up an Internet video production studio in the New York offices of its Advertising Age publication. I was assigned to organize the new facility to support Ad Age's new online video news operations as well as the video projects of other New York Crain publications.

Luckily, I wasn't a complete novice at this. For nearly four years in the 1980s, I worked as an editor at a publishing company that produced reference and training books about industrial environmental hazards. One of my first assignments there was to research how the company could set up its own video studio to produce video training programs as partner products to its books. After I turned in my proposed plan, I was assigned to build and run the thing I had outlined.

Editing equipment back then involved tape decks that were damned near as big as Volkswagens, "portable" cameras that were three feet long and weighed 40 pounds, and equipment prices that were over the moon.

The publishers and journalists who are today joining the migration to online video content can thank their stars for the digital revolution that has so reduced the size, complexity and price of creating and running a basic video studio.

Lights
The first step in my Crain/Ad Age project was to find a suitable room within the two floors the company occupies in a midtown skyscraper. No windows and high ceilings were a basic requirement. Precise control of the amount, intensity, direction and color of light is a crucial consideration in studio video shoots and sun-blasted windows are like a hand grenade in that equation. High ceilings are relatively easy to create in most modern office building spaces by simply ripping down the drop ceilings.

Generous ceiling space is also related to lighting requirements - video shoots are best illuminated with special light fixtures that use reflective umbrellas and large translucent fabric "soft boxes," both of which are gawky units mounted atop tall light stands.

The room's size is another consideration - space is critical to precisely controlling light and achieving certain studio lighting effects. The light separation distance required between the subject and the backdrop can often eat up 6 feet of our studio length.

Overall, the distance from the wall against which our main backdrops are pressed to the video camera is 18 feet. That corridor of space, which is roughly 10 feet wide in our room, has to be kept free of objects, so everything else you want to have in a studio needs additional space.

Sound
Noise is another issue in office-space studios. That overhead hum you never really notice when you're just writing at your computer can be a whole different thing when you're trying to adjust sensitive microphones to record clean, clear sound. In our case, it cost nearly $10,000 to have a small section of our floor's air conditioning system sound proofed.

Once we had the room done, our goal for studio equipment purchases was simple: We wanted to acquire the minimum amount of gear required to produce professional looking news programs that would ultimately be streamed to an online audience in a low res 72 dpi format.

Here are the core items that we bought and currently use to produce many of the studio videos you see at AdAgeVideo.com.

Gear
For a cameras, we went with the Sony DSR-PD170 DVCAM. It's a rugged, small and easy-to-operate unit that records to Mini DVCAM tape. It currently sells for about $2,600.

For recording sound into the camera, we use Sony Electret Condenser ECM-44B microphones that cost about $100. These are tiny lavaliere mics that clip on your subject's clothing and produce very high quality sound.
It's important that the camera be solidly positioned for studio shooting and for that we use a Bogen/Manfrotto 515MVB Lightweight Professional Video Tripod with a 516 Pro Video Fluid Head. This costs about $1,100.

For lighting, we turned to Lowell, purchasing Lowel T1-10 Tota Light units that included light head, 8-foot stand and white reflective umbrellas. The Lowel Trans-Kit contains three Tota light units with stands and umbrellas for about $1,100. These are the lights you use to illuminate the background. For the front lighting used to illuminate the subject, we bought two Lowel Rifa-Lite 88 Tungsten Light Kits which sell for about $800 each. These are soft light boxes that provide even and pleasant lighting for faces.

While you can use an existing wall or partition for a background, it is helpful to have more control of the look and color of the background and for this we use seamless backdrops hung on a large stand made for this purpose. Denny Manufacturing Company's Background Stand Kit BS-1012, for instance, sells for about $200 and comes with two heavy duty 10-foot stands, a crossbar that expands to 12 feet and a bag for carrying the stuff around. Denny, as well as all major photo houses, carry a wide variety of paper ($60) or fabric ($150+) seamless backgrounds that hang on this unit.

With just one camera and tripod, a mic, lights and a background, you can begin shooting one-person video business interviews. Even without a official "studio" room, you can set up the camera in a quiet place, sit someone down in front of the backdrop, wire them with a mic, light them and turn on the camera to begin recording what they say.

There are, of course, a number of ways to expand and improve on these basics, but that's another story for another day.

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Hoag Levins has been a senior editor at Advertising Age since 2001. Previously the editor of AdAge.com, he was recently named executive producer of Ad Age's video news department.