Basic studio setup…

I will admit I’m blessed with a pretty sweet setup at my high school. The TV studio was actually (somewhat) planned and built for a purpose – to be used to teach broadcasting/multimedia and to produce a daily program.

So the configuration works. There’s the studio floor and the control room. We have more gear than necessary for a basic show (ignore my occasional whining…).

But what if you’re just getting started and you have to work in a space not designed for studio production?

I’ve seen “studios” that were almost as low-end as you can get and still get a show out. Sheets hung from the wall in a long narrow room with one camera shooting directly to tape using the built-in camera mike. And yes, that works. Skills learned include teamwork, directing, script reading, eye contact. I would never scoff at those with less than me if they do the best with what they’ve got.

But let’s assume you want to move up in the world a little. Play with two cameras and real clip-on or desktop mikes. You can make this work without a switcher or audio board…I did for a few weeks when our switcher went down.

Just work with your camerafolk so they know who is shooting what at what point in the script. You could start with camera one on a two shot, then go to camera two on one anchor…while that anchor is reading, have camera one go in for a one-shot on the other anchor. Edit the two tapes together, add in titles, FX, etc.

Want to add more? Again, I am lucky to have a studio com (communications) system so that the director in the control room can communicate with the floor director and floor camerafolks.

A cheap alternative might be some two-way radios with headsets so that the “director” (who may just be in the back of the room with a script) can “talk” to the floor crew.

Moving up the scale again. Lights. (Thank you LUSD for my light grid.) Room lights are okay…but with a fairly low cash outlay you can add some light for a more professional look.

Here’s three ideas, in order of cost. Go to your local feed store or hardware store and find one of those cheap scoop tin lights – we use them in the shop or for heat for baby chicks. You can put up to a 100 watt bulb in them and they clamp on to anything. Around $9-$15.

Next up – shop lights on stands (or clamps)…probably around $35-45 or so. They’re nice for the younger set cause they come with a screen to keep hands away from the hot area…you can cut the screens out with wirecutters if you don’t want the pattern they make. Low and high level settings and pretty balanced light. Only problem is they can’t go much higher than three feet.

Finally…getting into pro lights. If I were to go buy a kit, I’d avoid the scoop light kits altogether (why not just buy from the feed store for a lot less) and go straight to lights with focus (spot to broad) and more light (250-1,000 watt).

Gotta run for now…but back later with the rest of how to get your studio set up…

Okay…went through the relatively simple stuff. Hopefully for the rest you have cameras that will work.
Audio – right up there with video as part of studio needs. Don’t make your audience struggle to hear information. So your cameras must have mike inputs OR you need a way to feed audio from the studio floor into your “control room” (or equivalent) mixer or switcher.

Mixer – takes two or more audio sources and allows you to set levels for each so that they are matched.
Switcher – generally refers to a video (or audio/video) switcher that allows you to choose from a variety of sources…cameras, tape decks, DVD players. When you switcher video, the matched audio follows.

At this point in the game you should start looking at what you’ve got and what you need for a very basic control room. This includes:

A switcher
Two (or more) cameras
Record/playback deck
Audio mixer
Necessary cables (XLR, RCA, S-VHS, coaxial, etc)

And now you need to be prepared to spend some money. If you get a box setup (like Tricaster) you’ll still need your cameras, mikes, playback decks. If you piece your control room together, you’ll need monitors to track each visual input and a preview/program monitor.

Preview shows you what you’re doing/about to do.
Program shows what you are actually recording.

Choosing a switcher can be a bear. There’s a relatively new toy in the gamebox called “Tricaster.” Broadcast studio in a box – you feed your audio and video cables in and it contains the monitors, switcher, mixer. Costs begin around $3,000 and up. These little boxes are gaining popularity in the broadcast industry too for their simplicity and ease of setup and use.

The other alternative is a separate switcher – my studio boasts a Focus Enhancement MX-4. Now that it’s working properly, it is a dream. We can preview all effects…got the greenscreen up and tested today. Audio feeds through a mixer (mixer takes in two wired mikes, a wireless, DVD player, tape playback) which feeds the audio into the switcher.

Switchers can run the gamut…from $1,000 to the sky.

If you’re new to this, find a reputable company to walk you through the gear, what does what, what connects to what, how they mesh. Ask for a barebones system and then ask for a list of upgrades to get you to your final goal. You don’t have to start with a complete system.

Even though I have most of the goodies I need, my students are currently working only with switching two cameras – for a reason. I’m still working on getting the bugs out. We have on again/off again impedance problems with one of the mike lines. We’re trying to standardize our scripts and instructions for the floor crew. Each week brings new anchors and new crew who need to be trained.

The goal is to start simple and add on challenges every week or month as students gain experience.

Next post: How to format a show that keeps the audience looking forward to more.

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