Blackmagic Design Helps Theatres Capture the Magic

by Thomas H. Freeman
in Feature

Devon Armstrong, above, in a moment from Downtown Repertory Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
Devon Armstrong, above, in a moment from Downtown Repertory Theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet.

LA’s Downtown Repertory Theater delivered 4K recordings of Romeo and Juliet before the curtain finished dropping

The Downtown Repertory Theater is made up of both long-time veterans of the stage and recent graduates of acting conservatories across the country. The troupe performs in site-specific locations in downtown Los Angeles and in Sierra Madre’s Memorial Park, all thanks to support from the City of Los Angeles, private firms and the public. The theatre was founded by Devon Armstrong, a graduate of the acting program at the State University of New York at Purchase. Before that he attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), from which he graduated in 2006, and where he currently teaches. 

This summer, Armstrong directed Romeo and Juliet under the Sierra Madre night sky. The play was a perfect example of what the Downtown Rep prides itself on: giving the community live theatre and nurturing emerging artists. But the performance not only took advantage of Downtown Rep’s focus on live stage craft and audience involvement, but also its passion for filmmaking. If any theatre has the ability to capture the magic of a live play no matter where it is held, the Downtown Rep is it, thanks to their dual mission of creating theatre and film-making. To memorialize Romeo and Juliet, they captured an amazing performance in 4K video. 

The cast of Downtown Repertory Theater were able to receive a recording of their production of Romeo and Juliet immediately after the show was over thanks to the Blackmagic Duplicator 4K.
The cast of Downtown Repertory Theater were able to receive a recording of their production of Romeo and Juliet immediately after the show was over thanks to the Blackmagic Duplicator 4K.

As any theatre manager knows, one of the main problems with filming live performances is the inability to shoot and then get good quality copies in people’s hands quickly. No one wants to pay $70 for a copy of a play and then wait six months for an AV company to send a DVD in the mail. The actors, crew—and audience!—want to see what just happened, not what happened three plays ago. 

Armstrong used Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini 4K and a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5 to film the performance, and then relied on Blackmagic Design’s Duplicator 4K to create enough copies of the show to hand out to crew and audience members right after the final applause stopped. 

Stage Directions: How did you use the Duplicator 4K? 

Devon Armstrong: We used the Blackmagic Duplicator to record an in-the-park production of Romeo and Juliet in Sierra Madre, Calif. I filmed the show twice, each time using Blackmagic camera—an URSA Mini 4K and a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5. I shot once in a locked-off wide shot, and once to get multiple angles and close-ups on the actors. 

I was even in the show, so I set up the Duplicator and the cameras, and had a friend operate it all. I just asked him to hit record, instructed him over the phone during intermission how to cut, and then append to the recording so that the cameras wouldn’t be rolling through the entire intermission. In essence, there was a single camera operator, and a locked off camera, and that’s all it took. Simple and straightforward.

How did it look?

The footage looks great, as the 4K compression is fantastic. I was pleasantly surprised I could record an entire theatre production in 4K onto SD cards without running out of space. A 16-GB card lasted through the entire run of the show. It’s also fantastic for archiving, as my older camera—which shoots at a mere 1080p—produces files much larger than the 4K footage put out by the Duplicator.

Could this be used by a stage crew without filming experience? 

Not only was it easy to use, I think I could teach someone who was not tech-savvy how to use it in about 10 minutes. Everything is straightforward, and the Duplicator has fantastic and simple ways of letting you know if something is going wrong before and during recording. The color-coded LED lights let you know immediately if you’ve successfully formatted the cards, when they are recording properly, when they are running out of space and when the cards are full. The menus are also very simple, and the LCD screen gives you real-time monitoring for audio and video so you know everything is running properly. If you can plug in an SDI cable, you can use the Duplicator. It’s not at all intimidating. 

How did you distribute the copies of the performance?

I was able to hand out SD cards immediately. I decided to give SD cards with the show on them as a gift to my actors. I had a lot of confused questions at first—“The show we just did is on this card? The show we did just now”?—but that soon turned into excitement—“Sweet! I was on fire tonight!” In the future I could see selling the show directly to the audiences to raise funds. I think that the immediacy of enjoying a show, and then being able to buy a copy to take home on-site is very exciting. I think it might even heighten sales. We often have audiences who are very excited immediately after the show, and that excitement could be harnessed and turned into profit. Whereas the idea of having to wait for a DVD in the mail is off-putting, the idea of taking home the show you just enjoyed is very exciting.

What do you think is the potential for this? 

I definitely see the Duplicator 4K as ideal for recording school dances, theatre, battles of the bands and music performances, as well as sports events. This is the kind of device that is a rock-solid workhorse, easy to use and store. It could be combined with a live switcher like the Blackmagic ATEM Studio 4K, so that multi-cam switching and fade ins/outs can be incorporated. I could see one person locking off a master cam, and following the action with a second camera, while a second person does the switching. Or, someone who is great at multi-tasking could feasibly run the whole operation on their own. With the advent of devices like the Pixio, which automatically follows a subject wearing a small tracker, a single operator could create a dynamic, multicam professional recording of a sporting event while doing nothing more than operating a switcher.  

About Blackmagic Design

Blackmagic Design creates the world’s highest quality video editing products, digital film cameras, color correctors, video converters, video monitoring, routers, live production switchers, disk recorders, waveform monitors and real time film scanners for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries. Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink capture cards launched a revolution in quality and affordability in post production, while the company’s Emmy Award-winning DaVinci color correction products have dominated the television and film industry since 1984. Blackmagic Design continues ground breaking innovations including 6G-SDI and 12G-SDI products and stereoscopic 3D and Ultra HD workflows. Founded by world leading post production editors and engineers, Blackmagic Design has offices in the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia. 

The Blackmagic Duplicator 4K
The Blackmagic Duplicator 4K

About Blackmagic Duplicator 4K

The Blackmagic Duplicator 4K makes it easy to deliver multiple copies of content to customers the moment an event is finished! The Blackmagic Duplicator 4K is the best way to deliver Ultra HD content that customers can actually view on their 4K televisions today! The multi rate 12G-SDI connections let you record in all SD, HD and Ultra HD formats, up to 2160p60. The H.265 encoding gives you higher quality video in smaller files so you can use smaller and cheaper SD cards. You can even connect multiple duplicators together to make hundreds of recordings all at once! For more information on the Duplicator 4K, please visit www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicduplicator4K

The Blackmagic URSA Mini camera
The Blackmagic URSA Mini camera

About URSA Mini 4K

The compact URSA Mini camera with EF lens mount, 4K Super 35 image sensor and global shutter is lightweight and perfectly balanced for handheld use and comfortable enough for all day shooting. URSA Mini 4K EF features professional 12G-SDI connections, 5-inch fold out touchscreen monitor and side grip with camera control functions as well as dual CFast card recorders, built in stereo microphones and more.

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