Tis the graduation season, and about 4,200 University of Massachusetts undergraduates recieved their diplomas Saturday.
This entry was originally supposed to be about what happens behind the scenes and leading up to commencement day.
But, now, it’s about being prepared for the worst.
UVC-TV 19, UMass’ student-run TV station spends months preparing for the taping of the university’s undergraduate commencement.
The real meat of the operation begins a month or so before commencement when crew is finalized and the equipment is piled together and checked out for what is probably our most important shoot all year.
Preparation of the crew begins around two weeks before the ceremony when there are one or two meetings on what everyone should do. Someone has to remember the cash box for DVD sales. Someone has to set up equipment. Someone has to operate a camera. The list is never ending.
The commencement shoot begins the day before commencement when a small portion of the video crew goes to set up and spool out hundreds of feet of video cable.
We spool out cables, tape them down, stand around and wait for an audio test, set up and wire a portable monitor and editing-on-the-fly system, turn cameras on and off, talk with special headsets, sweat in the sun, and go to bed early.
The only technical difference about this year’s commencement compared to the last two years of commencement was that the university chose not to have a jumbotron and rather asked UVC-TV 19 to hook up a feed to the football stadium scoreboard. So we did. And it looked awesome.
The day of commencement began at 5 a.m. when all crew members telephoned each other a wake up call. We later met at the station at 6 a.m. By 6:10 a.m. we were at the stadium ready to go.
Everything was looking good. Everything was going smoothly. Everyone was happy. It was sunny. The sky was blue.
At 10 a.m. the graduating class and their professors and teachers were marching their way in. We hit record. The footage was up on the scoreboard.
Then the power went out.
Everyone in the press tent suddenly panicked and scurried to find a new source of power or back up or something while the band still played and the happy graduates marched in.
The power-outage killed the portable monitor in which I, as the director, could see our three camera operator’s footage.
What was also killed was power for our recording unit. The digital file recording unit was powerless. The SVHS tape backup unit was powerless.
But what still had power was our field cameras.
I told my guys on camera to keep rolling. I couldn’t see any of the shots they were getting but having worked commencement two previous years, I knew exactly what to expect and what shots were important.
Soon, audio power was restored from some sort of alternative source. Audio had another source set up and ready to go. Let me put it this way – they have enough money to afford to have a back up. UVC – well, we are always looking for donations, but that’s another story. Anyways, commencement wasn’t ruined.
A power source wasn’t restored for UVC.
But it’s a good thing for camera batteries!
And it was even better that our camera operators were recording on a third backup with tape. And a fourth backup on compact flash cards.
Our recording was saved.
My assistant director got me a chair so I would stop pacing like a mad woman outside the press tent.
I sat in the chair, watched commencement for the third year in row and directed my camera operators blindly.
I spoke into my headset, ‘Camera 1, slow zoom into the chancellor for a close-up. Camera 3 I need a wide shot of the stage, slow zoom out. Camera 2 we’re going to need some graduate reactions, they’re going to be clapping soon.’
We did this for an hour and a half, at times arguing over who had the best shot of the chancellor, even though no one could see what anyone had. But the beauty of having three cameras, is the alternative angles and shots, and the ability to change tapes and recording units at different times so not a moment of action was lost.
When the ceremony ended, it was a success. Everyone was thrilled we pulled it together despite losing power.
Our success was truly about having a backup – and several of those backups having backups because you never really know when the power will go out.