Shooting Video at Yoshi’s Oakland

We recently had the opportunity to shoot a performance at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland’s Jack London Square, one of the oldest and most respected jazz venues in the Bay Area.  It’s a 330-seat jazz club with a state-of-the-art sound system.

I talked to the contact person there a few days before the show to just check in and see if there were any issues to be aware of.  He said the floor manager would help us find places to set up cameras and that we could get a stereo feed from the sound board.

The night of the show we loaded-in at 5:30pm at the side entrance and found street parking.  (There’s a large paid parking lot above the club too, but at sound-check time there’s plenty of street parking.)

The club has a semi-circular stage with small cafe tables and some circular upholstered seating. Stage lighting is all tungsten which makes color balancing easy.  The house manager cleared one table area next to the sound board for our stationary wide camera and audio recorder.  We were given another table spot on the left for a manned stationary camera.

I put the small Canon HF-G10 on a tripod without opening the legs and gaffer-taped it to one of the table dividers on the right.  Finally I had the Canon 5D mkII on a monopod with a 70-200 f2.8 lens that I could use to roam on the right.

The lighting operator agreed to keep the light levels constant through the performance, and she gave us a few minutes to meter the actual stage lighting after sound-check.  The Sony AX2000s were set at f3.2 @ 1/30th with 6db gain.  The Canon G10 needed about 15db gain at the same settings.  The 5DmkII was at f3.2 @ 1/30th at 1250 ISO.

The audio feed from the board was line-level through XLR cables.  My standard audio recording setup now is to run the line-level signal through a portable Shure FP-33 mixer and send mic-level signals split with Y-cables to the camera and to a Zoom H4n.  This solves the problem of the Zoom distorting from a hot feed, and also gives me automatic backups to the camera inputs.  I had plenty of time during sound-check to set levels and make some test recordings.

As performance time approached we started rolling sound and the stationary cameras.  Luckily the house was about 3/4 full so there was some room to roam on the right side, mostly in the back row and against the wall.  The distance from there was a little long for the 70-200mm.  I was getting some medium close-ups of the performer, but couldn’t get in to tight head shots.  Getting physically closer would have blocked some of the audience’s views, which we had promised we wouldn’t do, so I just shot what I could.  The manned Sony on the left could get in closer with a longer zoom, so we’d have some tight shots from that angle.

If the show was sold-out it would have been very difficult to shoot with any kind of mobility, and I probably would have manned a stationary camera on the right.

We didn’t eat dinner at Yoshi’s that night, but they have a pretty good Japanese restaurant attached, and a decent bar menu with sushi, chicken skewers, etc., and a full bar.  There are also a lot of other restaurants in the area like Scott’s Seafood, Miss Pearl’s, Bocanova, etc.

All in all it was an excellent shooting experience.  The management and technicians were very accommodating and helpful, and treated us like professionals.  They charge the performers a fee to allow video shooting, so that could be an issue for some people.  We’re looking forward to shooting there again, or at Yoshi’s other location in San Francisco.

Shooting Video at The JazzSchool, Berkeley

We’ve shot some great music at the JazzSchool in Berkeley, such as The Primavera Latin Jazz Band last year.

Our most recent shoot was at a recital of jazz vocalist and educator Maye Cavallaro‘s students.

The facility is located in the basement level of a large office building.  The performance space is small – maybe 100 seats max, mostly seated around cafe tables.

The stage at the JazzSchool, Berkeley

We set up a tripod next to the sound booth in the back and had one roving camera on a monopod.  When the audience fills up the place it’s very hard to move around, but you can usually squeeze into an aisle on the right or near the main desk on the left.

The audio engineer that night (Lou Judson) was kind enough to give us a good mic-level XLR feed to the camera.  Sound was good but dry, so I also captured audio through a Zoom H4n to get audience reaction and mix in a little room sound.

Unfortunately the lighting is mixed, with stage lighting mounted on the somewhat low ceiling, but also recessed compact-fluorescents overhead on the stage, and some daylight coming in from windows near the ceiling on the right.  The stage lighting was uneven that night, with a bright spot on the left front but falling off by about a full stop on the right side of the stage.  We didn’t have the time or authorization to mess with the lights so we shot it as-is with a tungsten white-balance.  It was evening so the outside light didn’t intrude much.

I was using the small Canon Vixia HF-G10 on a Manfrotto monopod because it’s less conspicuous and easier to maneuver than the 5DmkII with a big lens on a tripod.  It worked well and intercut nicely with the AVCHD footage from the Sony HDR-AX2000 in the back.  The only thing I missed with the G10 is a decent zoom control.  I was using both the zoom lever on the top and the remote control, but neither gives a very controllable zoom.    I might look into a simple external LANC zoom control.

The JazzCafe is adjacent to the performance space and serves beer, wine and light meals.  And of course downtown Berkeley has dozens of restaurants within walking distance.  There is ample garage parking nearby and street parking if you’re lucky.  Bring a good equipment cart.  There’s an elevator to the left of the main entrance.


Shooting Video at the DNA Lounge, San Francisco

We were hired to shoot a 3 hour event with multiple performers at this South of Market club.  The DNA Lounge is a cavernous former warehouse that has been built out with a large stage, impressive lighting and sound systems, and a mezzanine that runs around 3 sides.  It’s painted completely black inside.  They do a wide variety of shows there, from hip-hop dance to indie rock to burlesque reviews.  This night was a relatively tame benefit for a local charity and a going-away party for a well-known cabaret singer.

I made a site visit a couple of weeks before and shot some test footage.  I also talked to the audio tech so I thought I would be able to get a good feed from the board.

I brought 4 cameras — 2 Sony HDR-AX2000s, a Canon HF-G10 and a Canon 5DmkII.  I had planned to lock down one of the Sonys and the G10, have my second cameraperson run the other Sony on the mezzanine and I would shoot with the 5D on the dance floor.

The first problem was that the management wouldn’t let me shoot with a tripod on the dance floor.  I had to either stand on a 4×4 plywood box for the whole night or shoot from the mezzanine.  I decided to put the G10 on a tripod on the box, unattended because it has a long run time with its internal 32gb and two SD slots that will run consecutively.  That became my wide covering shot.  (Click on photos to see a larger image.)

Coverage shot, Canon HF G10

I mounted one of the Sony’s behind the stage pointing past the performers toward the audience.

DNA Lounge, Rear camera

The other Sony was on the mezzanine stage left and I was stage right with the 5D.  My 70-200 couldn’t get very close from that distance so I had the other camera shooting tight closeups while I covered two- and three-shots.

The audio was supposed to come from the board into my Tascam DR-40, but I had a write error and lost about an hour of audio.  My backup was that the DNA always captures the audio on an mp3 file that they post on their website for a week, but that turned out to be distorted.  So I had to make do with audio from the G10 which was the closest camera to the action.  It’s not great, but it’s usable.  Luckily I remembered to turn on the mic attenuator when I set it up.

The DNA is great for shooting from the mezzanine, especially that night when they had it blocked off so we had most of it to ourselves.  Unfortunately there’s no elevator so you have to lug your gear upstairs.

The lighting is mixed, with an LED color DMX system and a single quartz follow-spot operated by a guy on the mezzanine.  When the spot is on and lighting the main performer you get some nice backlight and hair-lighting from the LEDs that are constantly changing.

DNA Lounge, Front Spot Light On

I shot 1080p30 at 1/30 sec at around f4 (5DmkII at ISO 1250, Sony’s at +6 gain) with the white balance set for tungsten.  Sometimes the operator turned the spotlight off, and then you get some horrible blue, magenta or yellow color on people’s faces that’s impossible to fix in post.  I think those LEDs must be missing some part of the spectrum because it is really ugly by itself, plus they are probably “daylight” balanced so that doesn’t help.  If I shoot there again I’ll ask the light operator to keep that spot on all the time.

DNA Lounge, Spot Light Off

When we got there at 4:30 on a Tuesday there was plenty of street parking, but when I did my site visit on a Friday at 10pm parking was impossible, since it’s on the same block as Slim’s nightclub plus a couple of restaurants.

The DNA runs a pizza cafe that’s open 24/7 next door to the club, and there’s a full bar and snack bar in the club itself.


The Rrazz Room, San Francisco

We started shooting video at the Rrazz Room a few years ago, and we get great results there.  It’s one of the few clubs in SF that still books jazz, although their lineup is eclectic with a lot of cabaret, comedy and pop mixed in.  It’s in the lobby level of the Hotel Nikko on Ellis and Mason.  It seats about 150 but that would be a tight fit.  A YouTube search shows a lot of video is shot there, but the room is not really designed with shooting in mind.  We have to set up out of the way of the wait staff who are running in and out in the dark during the performance.

The stage is only about an 8 inch riser so audience heads and wait staff silhouettes are always an issue.  I usually put a stationary camera in back by the sound booth, another one stage left midway back in the room and sit in a raised section on the right with my 5DmkII on a small tripod, trying not to knock over customers’ drinks.

There is an excellent sound system, and decent theatrical lighting, both controlled by one person in the booth.  If we plan ahead we can usually get a stereo feed from the board (line level out, XLR connectors).  Lighting is dramatic but sometimes harsh, especially if they throw up a bright colored LED backlight which will make the bass player look like a tall purple smurf.  But the main talent is usually bathed in nice tungsten spots and separates well from the background.  They used to have a full black velvet curtain across the back which really made the talent pop out, but they replaced it with white which isn’t so striking.

Typical exposure on my Canon 5DmkII with 70-200L is 1/30sec at f3.5 @ ISO 1250, 1080p30.  On the Sony HDR-AX2000s it’s about 1/30sec at f3.5 with a plus 6 gain.

When we shoot there the client negotiates for video access with the RR management.  Their policy states:

Performer cost to videotape performance at
The Rrazz Room:

Effective March 17, 2008 – December 31, 2011:
Archival use: Up to $500.00
Commercial or Promotional Use: Up to $5,000.00

Once clearance to shoot is obtained we work closely with the sound/lighting person to lobby for a video-friendly environment.  If you get there early for sound check they appreciate it a lot more than last minute accommodations.

Parking: street.  We usually get there about 5pm for an evening show and street parking withing a block or so is almost always available.  If not there are several garages nearby (valet parking in the hotel is like $10 an hour so forget that).  A good equipment cart is a must.

Lots of restaurants within walking distance for the time between sound check and showtime.  We like the Old Siam Thai across the street on Ellis.