Planning a Studio

Story-telling skills and many production skills can be taught with a bare minimum of equipment. With today’s technology becoming more available at the consumer and prosumer level, it is possible to offer students new digital technology without huge investments.

In order to interest and encourage this generation of students in a field which is highly technical, a school system must make every effort to make modern technology available. However, the terms “modern technology” and “school budgets” rarely can be used in the same sentence.

Technology changes so rapidly that this document would be instantly obsolete if it listed specific brands and model numbers of equipment recommendations when it comes to the equipment outfitting needs for your studio. Some generic suggestions of equipment you might consider are offered below. There will be some explanation of options available on the equipment. As much as possible, the equipment will generally be presented in the order it might be purchased as funds become available.

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a SINGLE RIGHT WAY to build your equipment inventory. You must stay within your prescribed budget – that is a given. Your approach should be to pay homage to two separate philosophies:

(1) Get as many pieces of gear as you can afford in order to occupy as many students as possible at the same time

(2) Try to get the best quality gear possible while remembering #1 above.

In other words: Get the most bang(s) you can for every buck you have to spend.

A Systems Designer/Engineer-Don’t Try to Go It Alone!!!

Don’t think you have to know everything about all the video equipment before you can start! Do you know everything about human physiology? Of course not, but you do know how to find a good doctor. The mark of an intelligent person is not what they know but whether or not they know what they don’t know and when and who to ask for help.

If you have limited knowledge of the technology (don’t feel badly, nearly all of us fall into this category), search for a vendor who can offer you the services of a systems engineer to configure the whole system making sure all pieces are compatible. Piecemeal purchasing from many vendors from all over town and the Internet might save money initially, but how much can you save if your gear is not compatible with what you already own?

First, let’s begin with an analogy: Assume for a moment that you do not know anything about maintenance and repair of an automobile. Your knowledge consists of looking at the little sticker on your windshield that tells you to take the car in for an oil change at xxxx mileage. Now assume you need to a buy a new car. Would we all agree that it would be outrageous for you to go to the local auto parts store and start buying parts to bring home and build your own car?

How likely is it that you would be successful in completing the vehicle and, even if you completed it, would it actually work? Of course, we would go to a single reputable dealer and buy the entire car at once. Many of us would continue to go to that dealer for any service necessary and very likely would  return to the dealer when it is time to purchase another new car.

When you purchase equipment for your studio, usually you must pinch every hard-earned penny and any mistake you make will be one you will live with for many years.

Finding a reliable vendor is probably the most important equipment-oriented decision you will ever make. You may want to include your district’s technology director in this process. If your district’s technology director is not well-versed in knowledge of the technical aspects of video gear, you may want to contact and make friends with someone on the engineering staff of your local television station or a nearby television production house. You need to contact several vendors, hopefully, in your geographic area. Your technology person may have access to such vendors.

A reliable vendor should be up-to-date with the latest and greatest equipment and trends, but should also know your current setup and be willing to work with you within your budget. The only way for a vendor to know your current setup, if you have something currently, is for the vendor to visit with you in your facility. Explain your class and its purpose clearly and completely. Be honest with the vendor regarding your knowledge of television production equipment. If you, yourself are new to this area, you do not want to end up with equipment that is so far above your head you may be unable to operate it.

Using the information you give them as well as observing your space, they will do a site analysis with you. Don’t be timid about interviewing several different vendors and receiving several different site analyses.

Try every way possible to locate an equipment vendor who is also a systems designer/engineer or has one available who is employed for just this purpose. This person can steer a teacher through treacherous waters of technology. You may ask,“What’s in it for them?” The answer is, “A repeat satisfied customer.” The last thing you want to do is spend a great deal of money and end up with equipment that will not communicate with the equipment you already have. The systems designer/engineer can also prevent you from purchasing unnecessary or inappropriate equipment.

For example, it is far better to purchase many less expensive cameras than to purchase one very expensive broadcast quality camera. If all goes well, your systems designer/engineer/vendor will become a colleague who will stand with you throughout your career. Oftentimes, extremely involved vendors will come in and actually offer workshops with your students on gear. You need to cultivate a professional relationship and friendship with the person you select.

After collecting several site analyses, decide with your technology director and/or advisor on what recommendations for a system or combination of systems you are interested in. Now that you know what you want, formalize it and put your project out to bid with several vendors.

It is entirely possible that vendors will want a second meeting with you, especially if you took pieces from more than one site analysis. It is highly recommended that your initial purchase be made entirely from ONE SINGLE vendor. Bid the proposal as a complete “system” and do not bid each part individually. It is extremely important that you build into the bid proposal “installation and training.” You want a vendor who is there for you before and after the sale. Make certain that the vendor also provides service and repair and determine the procedure for getting equipment repaired and that the procedure is acceptable to your situation both logistically as well as financially.

Be careful of price shopping—often the lowest price may be “smoke and mirrors” and contain hidden charges or incomplete packaging of needed accessories.

Sometimes, the lowest price is from an internet “box-mover” with little or no service or product advice. The less you know about the video gear technically, the further you should stay away from low-cost box movers hundreds of miles away from you. Paying a little more for reliable service may well be worth it in the long run. Remember, you are seeking a professional to provide you with advice and service for years.

How carefully should you make your selection of vendor? Think about a relationship that is somewhere between doctor/patient and husband/wife.

Part Two continues next month with Level 1 Equipment for “Morning Announcements” type of program with occasional short packages or VOs; Event videography such as archival recordings of athletic events, programs, graduation; and Production services (instructional tapes, highlight tapes, etc.) for in house use only.