Producing Live Content in the Age of Uncertainty

By Beryl Baker

Since San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 19, A.C.T. Digital Content Producer Beryl Baker has been keeping busy. In addition to turning live productions of Gloria and Toni Stone into streamed films and editing A.C.T.’s InterACT-at-Home videos, Baker also produced Spring Forward, the smash-hit virtual fundraiser that helped sustain our artistic and education and community programs. Baker shares tips on how to produce a successful, virtual, live event in a pandemic. 

Baker at work with her cat Lily. Photo by Beryl Baker. 

Find out what technology can do for you
Talk or reach out to video production experts and trust their advice. Dig deep into understanding what is and isn't possible. Most people don’t realize that technology isn't as ahead of its time as we’re told. While FaceTime and Google Hangouts exist, those are patented products produced by two top tech companies: having video be sent out and received live requires incredibly fast data processing. Comparing a phone call to a FaceTime call is like comparing a gif to a feature-length film. 

Hardwire your signal
We've never been so vulnerable to user error or poor signal. We’re almost entirely dependent on personal laptops, smart phones, and household wifi. Which brings me to my next point . . .

Pre-tape, pre-tape, pre-tape
Pre-tape as much as possible and limit exactly what you want live. You’ll want to test everything. You must be able to rehearse switching between the live and non-live segments over and over again.

No one does anything alone
If you can, anticipate that you don't just need someone with a laptop to play host—you need an entire crew of folks to make that person look good. This was our technical team for Spring Forward:
  • A live stream Board Operator
  • A Stage Manager
  • A Production Assistant (PA) dedicated to carrying messages between the host of the show and the production team
  • A PA dedicated to contacting outside guests
  • An events staff member keeping track of the night's programming
  • One or more people running social media feeds
  • A backup Board Operator with the show pre-loaded onto their computer, in case of technical failure
There was a moment in our live show when we couldn’t reach a donor to deliver a personal thank-you. With the help of our PAs, stage manager, and board operator, we were able to connect with an alternative donor and keep the show going. Theater people are smart and adaptable; we think of how everything could go wrong and then put redundancies in place. Through collaboration and flexibility, we were able to pull through some unexpected moments.

The live entertainment industries are facing an uncertain time, and we are being asked to make what were once strictly in-person affairs purely digital. And we have to do it all remotely! This transition is challenging, but with the appropriate tools and mindset, you can do it. Good luck!

Click here to watch a recording of Spring Forward, A.C.T.'s first-ever virtual fundraiser.

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