Shooting a Live Red Carpet at the iHeartRadio Music Awards: Here's How it's Done

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

As any good DP already knows, it’s important to be able to step outside your comfort zone. If you trust your instincts and have flexible gear that you can rely on to support new workflows, these challenges can quickly become opportunities to expand your horizons. It’s just what DP Vance Burberry did at the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Awards, which took place on March 5th at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Vance and his team were tasked with shooting live pre-show and red carpet footage for promos, which aired in near real-time. 

To start, Vance captured set details and beauty shots of a featured automobile on the red carpet during the pre-carpet opening with a Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K digital film camera. That footage immediately went to an on-site edit room where graphics were added and the final five second package was approved by the client. He answered a few questions about the process. 

ProductionHUB: How do you prepare for a show like the iHeartRadio Music Awards?

Vance Burberry: Unlike a conventional film shoot, we are interfacing with broadcast protocol, so I bring in a tech manager. I work with a guy named Michael Fellner, and he has great knowledge of both sides, film and broadcast, and is able to merge the two. We speak different languages, and you really need someone like Mike to bridge the gap. After that, we bring all the players together and find out specific needs.

PH: What's the pre-production process before stepping out on the carpet?

Burberry: There were several elements involved, which added layers of complexity in what is fairly simple in capture process. It was more logistics and scheduling, which needed to be addressed and coordinated. We had to light and shoot the Subaru Impreza on the red carpet, which could be used as a button for each spot. There was a combination of interviews, red carpet general shots and shots of their interactive area. During programming before the iHeart event, they would uplink these spots to air.

We had to capture footage and send cards every 15 minutes to a DIT and then they would edit and air. This happened five times over a two hour period. The prep involved was really coordinating the three cameras and getting the media delivered and prepped for edit. There was no color correct time, so we recorded in the URSA Mini 4.6K’s Video out as opposed to Film out. We had many conversations with our client regarding creative and workflow. There was zero room for error, so primarily the prep was working on coordination and organizing personnel so there were no mistakes.

PH: Why was the URSA Mini 4.6K your go to equipment?

Burberry: The URSA Mini 4.6K was fantastic for this project. It looks amazing in my opinion, equal to the best cinema cameras in the world. The 15 stop dynamic range was also a huge plus because the lighting was set for broadcast and photographers. It worked from the key direction for them, but we were shooting other angles, much of the time with no fill. The URSA Mini 4.6K was able to dig into the shadow side and give a very pleasing image. Another thing was a limited budget, as an Alexa package for this job would be almost double the cost, and the URSA Mini 4.6K holds up image wise, so it was a no brainer.

PH: What are your favorite features of the URSA Mini 4.6K?

Burberry: The sensor, the sensor, the sensor. It’s incredibly good the way it renders color. Skin tones are fantastic, and the roll off into overexposure is so film like. What Blackmagic has done with this camera for the price is beyond incredible. It’s also very light, and the 4.2 firmware’s menus and the touch screen access from the shooting screen make it really easy to change things up when you are under the gun.

Also, it doesn’t have a bunch of stuff in there I never use. I shot film for 30 years, and sometimes I think digital cameras pack in too many variables. This camera has all you need, and at the end of the day for me, image is everything. As a cinematographer, that’s what I care about most. This camera delivers incredible images job after job. 

PH: What was your favorite part about shooting this show?

Burberry: Very simple, no take two. You have to get it right the first time, and I love that kind of pressure!!!

PH: What's your pre-production strategy before arriving at the show?

Burberry: Just being really organized and prepared. Think about the what ifs and have solutions in place. A show is made in the prep, and you must pay attention to detail. It’s not really complicated, but if you don’t prepare properly, things can get away from you fast.

PH: What's a key piece of advice for working a show like this? 

Burberry: Gather as much information as possible, hire a team of collaborative and talented people, use the right equipment for the job and pay attention to detail. Be sure and clear of what you intend to do creatively and technically; don’t wing it. As I said earlier, the show is made in the prep.

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