While She Sleeps at Brixton Academy

As alot of people reading my blog know/have gathered by now, I do lots of work for the band While She Sleeps, producing almost all their documentary, tour & music videos since day 1. Infact this was one of the first videos I ever shot, with a Nikon D5000 and some old prime lenses on an adapter. Arguably it sparked both mine and their careers and it’s been a great journey since, to the point where they signed to Sony last year and are now touring the world.

This past weekend I was commisioned to produce a short film of their experience playing Brixton Academy, in a main support slot to Asking Alexandria on a month long UK & European tour. The exact capacity of the Academy is 4,291 – pretty much the largest indoor venue a band can play until moving up to the arena tier, so it was to be their largest indoor show by far.

I wanted to concentrate on the heritage of the venue, the band’s experience as fans and their feelings & anticipation about standing on that stage themselves. We chatted early on about the possible stigma of producing something like this when they were not headlining, but judged recent crowd reactions and their rewarded position of main support justified it.

Generally speaking, London shows are more frantic schedule-wise than any other on a tour, with press assignments, meetings and the attendance of management, agents and affiliated enterprises, London is never the easiest location to shoot anything pre-show. To take the pressure off I attended their show in Glasgow a couple of days prior to shoot some interviews and some CU/ECU, which I could cut into Brixton Academy footage without obvious distinction.

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Frames from Glasgow show. FS700 w/50mm f2 & 135mm f2.8

I arrived early in London – one of the main things I envisaged for the film were lots of empty venue shots of Brixton, emphasising the scale and intimidation of the venue. These, cut with individual interviews with all of the band would form the first part of the videos, setting the scene for the live multicam in the 2nd part.

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Setting up my shot as soundcheck comes to an end.

For most of these establishing shots I used the FS700 w/ 11-16mm f2.8 on either sticks, slider or (slow motion) steadicam, concentrating on travelling through the venue space.

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One of my favourite features of the FS700 is Slow & Quick mode, where the camera records anything from 1 > 50fps. This allows basic timelapse functionality, and combined with the motorized slider on it’s slowest setting, a very basic motion control system. In addition, slowing down the shutter speed to 1 sec enables me to capture some nice trails in low light, such as these shots over the road of the venue at night.

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It’s a simple tool, but much much quicker than setting up a DSLR and intervalometer especially on a rushed shoot. Post production is also simplified as the the file written by the camera is at a native 25fps, so no post is needed to speed it up, in contrast to recording it real time.

I cut with some tighter 50mm, particularly some free-lensing shots of the band members composing themselves in the dressing room prior to performance.

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For the interviews, I shot them too on the 50mm f2, which is a bit tighter than I often do. I distanced the camera unusually far back, around 3 metres – to give a flatter perspective through the shots. Audio-wise I used the Rode Lavalier which I’ve found to work extremely well lately, especially at such a distance away where an on-camera mic would be useless. I shot a couple of end sections on the 135mm f2.8 in an ECU shot to give a really intimate feel, which I cut to later in the interview section.

I wanted to steer away from the typical PTC from band members in this short film, to differ it from usual tour episodes and place emphasis on a higher production value & more cinematic, standalone peice. I pushed the band to talk much wider about their feelings and anticipations, rather than a runthrough of the day’s activities or where they were at that specific moment.

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The natural choice for the transition shot from interviews & cutaways would be the band walking on stage. In the edit I opted for a shot I’d taken of their singer Loz walking from the dressing room to stage, rather than out into the crowd. There’s something about that shot I particularly like – it feels like a boxer making their way to the ring, and cutting right from when the light hits his face and he makes eye contact with the camera to a wide stage shot with live audio.

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For the live shoot of the show, we shot on:

STAGE R: Sony FS700 w/ 11-16mm f2.8 + Glidecam
STAGE L: Sony FS100 w/ 35mm f1.8
PHOTOPIT L: Sony FS700 w/ 24-70mm f2.8
PHOTOPIT R: Canon 7D w/ 11-16mm f2.8
F.O.H.: Canon EX3 w/ Fujinon 14x Zoom

Everything was shot natively at 1920×1080 25fps. Sound was via a live Zoom H2N. I had a desk mix going straight into the EX3 via XLR, but the desk distorted it too much and was unusable. Bit of a shame, but always a challenge when sharing an engineer with another band and not getting adequate time to test. The live audio isn’t perfect I will admit, but live audio rarely is, especially in such an acoustically challenging environment.

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My favourite position on stage is often stage right/left, if there’s enough room to get a bit of space to operate the Glidecam, which I certainly had at Brixton. I’m not much of a fan of static camera angles, especially in multicam edits, so try to induce as much subtle motion through the Glidecam, and encourage the other camera op’s to do the same.

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After shooting so much live While She Sleeps in the past year, we only shot 2x songs multicam as many of the rest had already been shot & published online, some numerous times. After recent radio & TV play their last single ‘Our Courage, Our Cancer’ gets a great reaction live and proved a solid cut for the edit.

I shot some slow motion whilst at other points through the rest of the set, as even though the Brixton video focused mainly on the live multicam, it would be great to have the option for the edit, and the band especially would be keen on it.

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Checking the slow-motion clip as it writes the buffer to the card.

Work wasn’t done after the set though, I immediately swapped out cards, batteries & spares and took my position for Asking Alexandria working as a camera op for Ambitious Films, shooting a live DVD. It was really great to work with the German guys – as it turns out we’ve both been fans of each others work for a while, and as it often is with camera-minded folk we discussed gear & shooting techniques at length poist-show.

After a 22hr day I got a few hours sleep before catching a train out of London, before this snow we’ve been experiencing set in completely. I spent much of my time Sunday and Monday working on the edit, transferring the Premiere project from my Macbook, to my edit PC as soon as I returned to the office. OSX>Windows compatability in CS6 is completely seamless, so it was just the waiting time to transfer the files, and relinking a few clips.

It was really nice in the edit to be cutting mostly Sony stuff. I was a little aprehensive about the EX3, and whilst the image isn’t as great as the Sony, the whip-zoom’s work very well, and give it a little more of a broadcast style, whilst retaining a cinematic edge from the others.

The cut for approval was uploaded at 6PM on Monday. It went live just after 7PM, less than 48hrs after the show itself. It’s timescales like this that I pride myself on and the reaction from the band’s fans is evident – being able to watch the video whilst the subject & memories of the show is still so fresh in their mind.

One of the plus points about this tour is I finally got to meet US photographer Adam Elmakias, who was shooting the headline band. I’ve been a fan of Adam’s work for a while – he’s very much top of his game at live shooting, and has the clients & travel to prove it. Check out some of his crazy live off-camera speedlights and GoPro POV videos. Here’s Adam creeping into frame at the end of WSS’s set…

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Notice his all-black stage atire? If there’s ever any advice I would give if you’re starting out shooting shows, is wear all black clothing – try to keep your presence as minimal as possible. I watched a guy wearing a neon yellow vest film a band. Suffice to say all I watched was him move around the stage the entire set.

BTS Photos: Jordan Green / Adam Elmakias

Thanks for reading & if this is helpful/interesting or there’s anything you want to know about my process please let me know in the comments.