The A&E music series Live By Request takes an old idea-live television-andgives it a modern, multimedia shine. A recent installment, featuring JohnnyMathis, allowed fans to phone in or e-mail requests and receive video andreal-time audio over the Web. Tony Bennett, who was the first featuredperformer on Valentine’s Day, 1996, created the series with his son Danny.
“Everything is so overthought these days,” says the younger Bennett, alsoone of the executive producers. “Why are people afraid of live TV? We don’tgive the audience enough credit; they’re very intelligent.”
The series is shot at Sony Music Studios in New York City. “Live TV neversounded good, so artists were reticent to do it,” says Andy Kadison, Sony’ssenior VP, studio operations and programming. “But this is the samebuilding where we do number-one records. Plus, we have full video postcapabilities under the same roof-it’s like an old-time studio.”
Marc Scarpa’s operation is anything but an old-time studio. His NewYork-based company, JumpCut, orchestrated the Webcast for the Mathis show,as well as past shows by Kenny Loggins and Michael Bolton.
During the show, JumpCut worked with three feeds from the six-camera setup:The main program feed, one crane shot, and what Scarpa calls the “Johnnycam,” a dolly rig that maintained a tight closeup on Mathis.
“Wide shots are a problem because of the aspect ratio on computermonitors,” says Scarpa. “Darkness doesn’t translate well, either. It’s likethe early days of filmmaking-you either need a buttload of light or reallytight shots.” Scarpa listened to a feed from director Larry Jordan.Whenever Jordan called for something that would prove problematic for theWebcast (quick edits, dissolves, sweeping crane shots), Scarpa returned tothe “Johnny cam.”
Scarpa says it is a fallacy that Webcasts cannot be broadcast quality.”There’s just a limited market of people with enough bandwidth. We’reencoding video at 20 or 50 kilobits for 28.8 through 56.6 connections;they’re getting between 5 and 15 fps.” As an alternative to the live feed,Scarpa and company furnished Web surfers with another option: Two”iso-cameras” provided the site with still shots that were updated every 10seconds. Anyone with a 14.4 connection or better got real-time, digitalaudio. During commercial breaks, Sony aired spots specifically made for theWeb that promoted Sony equipment and musical artists.
“A Webcast is completely different from a live TV broadcast,” contendsScarpa. “We use a lot of the same tools, and we approach it from aproduction perspective, but this is a new medium. A lot of the problem withWebcasts is that people will have the computer background but not the TVbackground, so they don’t grasp the aesthetics. The ideal Webcast produceris somebody with computer and TV experience.”
A&E has further installments planned with Phil Collins and Gloria Estefan.JumpCut can be reached on the Web at: www.jumpcut.com.