Elevating Park City’s Egyptian Theatre

by Thomas S. Friedman
in Installations
The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, UT is the original venue for the Sundance Film Festival.
The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, UT is the original venue for the Sundance Film Festival.

The Original Setting for the Sundance Film Festival Upgrades Video Setup

As the original setting for the Sundance Film Festival, the historic Egyptian Theatre is a unique and treasured venue located in the heart of Park City, Utah.

The theater still serves as a cinematic house for the festival, in addition to hosting many other live performances throughout the year, from live music to theatrical plays to comedy showcases. With seating for 350 people, it provides an intimate atmosphere and makes each show unique and memorable for the audience and artist alike.

According to Bob Melanson, who oversees video production at the Egyptian Theatre, there’s no other place you can go to see the level of talent the theater offers and to experience it so intimately. To enhance each performance and help tell stories through video, Melanson uses Blackmagic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel for live switching during theater and comedy performances and for I-Mag during music concerts.

L R Jenn Sylva Hyrum Summerhays Jenn Sylva Hyrum Summerhays

‡‡         Selecting a New Video System

Melanson has been working with audio and video for 25 years and began working at the theater in 2014.

“I started out with live sound at various sized venues, putting together my own producer rack and then moved into studio recording,” says Melanson. “I began to approach production sound for film as a full time venture which lead me back into the studio mixing dialog, sound effects and mastering audio for television and film. To keep things fresh, I started to incorporate camera operating, directing and editing into the mix. The combination of these experiences led me to the Egyptian Theatre and made me the perfect fit for the theater’s video production needs.”

At the Egyptian Theatre, Melanson is responsible for creating weekly video content for three to five playback devices in addition to gathering content for the theater’s live shows with help from Jenn Silva, who oversees images and video production for the theater. For example, they will compile footage for a musical act that might consist of the band’s collection of album covers, music videos and historic footage to help the artist’s storytelling or abstract background video loops to add to the show’s visual vibe.

Before Melanson joined the team, the Egyptian Theatre’s sound engineer, Hyrum Summerhays, chose Blackmagic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel for the theater’s A/V setup because it provided such powerful capabilities in a small and easy to set up package. Melanson had used Blackmagic Design’s ATEM switcher line at other venues for live shows, and was familiar with the simple setup and benefits of the product.

“You can’t find a better product at that price point. As a nonprofit, we need affordable solutions that deliver,” says Melanson. “I think that’s always been the most amazing thing about Blackmagic Design products. The company makes production-worthy gear that for decades has been out of the reach of the average consumer, available and affordable enough for the pro-sumer. This quake has been felt throughout the film industry for the past few years, and I feel it’s helped hold other manufacturers to meet the needs of their clientele or lose them to Blackmagic Design.”

Bob Melanson behind the switcher.

‡‡         Making Production-Worthy Video

According to Melanson, the theater’s workflow and gear has evolved quickly and dramatically over the past few years.

“For example, two years ago, you would find us using a handful of tiny, inexpensive, consumer cameras on stage in an attempt to give our audience a unique perspective,” he says. “The theater purchased them to make the performances more immersive, but they proved to be more problematic than helpful. They were not ideal as the mini HDMI connections from the cameras were not very production-worthy and ended up being more of a liability.”

“My advice for other theaters looking to upgrade is make sure you invest in cameras and gear designed for live production off the bat,” continued Melanson. “We were always worrying about the cameras failing during a live show, which is not a situation you want to be in. It’s worth investing in the right gear from the get-go so you save yourself some major headaches and heart attacks along the way.”

These days, Melanson uses more production-worthy cameras with HD-SDI outputs. Each show utilizes two Marshall Electronics CV500-M2 cameras and a Marshall Electronics CV343-CS with zoom for stage placement, two JVC production cameras in the crow’s nest, two image sources and two video sources. Everything is fed into the ATEM for live switching and I-Mag support. Melanson says this has increased the theater’s production value and made each show as worry free as possible.

Jenn Silva Hyrum Summerhays in front of the theater

“I feel that the input options on the ATEM have been the biggest benefit for us as that has addressed every video need we have come across. It’s the brain that everything else is run from,” says Melanson. “Also, the ease-of-use and setup makes it a dream, especially when having to strike everything for when Sundance Film Festival comes in and takes over for two weeks every January. We even do a few offsite shows, and we can easily rack up our switcher and replicate our video portion of the show in another venue. This is a very busy time of year with lots of moving parts, so it’s refreshing to not have to worry about gear as we’re busy thinking about everything else.

“Something new for 2017 is we are starting to experience growing pains, in a very good way,” Bob continues. “The theater celebrated its 90th birthday this past Christmas day. I believe our next step in evolving our live video would be to upgrade our switcher to add additional HD-SDI inputs to give our audience a bigger experience that what they have come to expect. As we expand our footprint, our focus is on future-proofing and making sure that we invest in the right technologies that will not only fill today’s needs but also tomorrow’s. Moving toward HD-SDI is a way to do that.

“We do a lot of different types of shows and the required gear scales up and down for all of them depending on what’s needed — for example, we have a formula we use for live music shows, whereas each theatrical play comes in with their own lighting and production needs and their own gear that we have to accommodate,” Melanson concludes. “We need to be versatile and scalable but also dependable. With Blackmagic Design’s ATEM as the backbone of our live production, we feel confident that we can take it all on and continue to grow as we look to the future.”

 

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