Midnight shoot for Fuji Rock's YouTube Music sessions

Behind the scenes at Japan’s largest rock music festival and an ambitious 9-camera production in stormy conditions.

Since 1997, Fuji Rock Festival has been the largest outdoor rock music festival in Japan. Over the course of three days, around 120,000 people gather at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture in Japan to see artists from across the world. To mark the event’s 20th anniversary, the organisers decided to stream to YouTube the famous ‘Rookie A Go-Go’ stage that’s proved a gateway to success for many new artists. Performances would start just before midnight and run through until 5am. To do the event justice, the production team used FS Series cameras which ran throughout the event without issues despite winds and rain.

For the full inside story of this challenging high profile production, we spoke to producer Kazuya Minari, director Daisuke Fujii, cinematographer Takashi Miyaburo and Norimaki Furuya who was in charge of photography.

To get that ‘being there’ feel we also aimed for close-ups and cuts that shift the focus onto the artists' gestures. The FS7 II’s shallow depth of field capability really helped us get these shots.

Producer Kazuya Minari, Nouvelle Medias

Director Daisuke Fujii

Cinematographer Takashi Miyaburo, Beaker Inc.

Norimaki Furuya, DoP, Alfa Foundation

20th anniversary festival in the midst of a typhoon

Minari: I was very excited for this festival as it was the 20th anniversary of Fuji Rock with special guests, special programmes and its very first YouTube live stream. We worked in close collaboration with the artists performing on Rookie A Go-Go and YouTube’s “YouTube Music Sessions,” a program that supports up-and-coming artists. Rookie A Go-Go performances started late at night, as soon as the main stage had finished, and lasted until the early hours.

It was on the second day that the typhoon arrived in Japan, bringing in plenty of rain and heavy winds. Obviously, we were a little worried about the equipment but didn’t stop. Despite the conditions, the performers and attendees were enjoying themselves, and I think that the equipment also performed well.

We’d chosen the Sony FS Series for this shoot as our director, cinematographer and director of photography all preferred them and had a lot of experience using them in the field. I think our faith in this kit was really rewarded by its performance on this shoot!

Capturing the festival's atmosphere

Fujii: We filmed using a multi-camera setup consisting of three FS7 II; four FS7 and two FS5 for a total of 9 cameras. The FS7 IIs and FS7s were used as the main or stage cameras and were primarily on tripods, with one of the cameras mounted to a crane to be used as a remote camera. The FS5s are very mobile, so we took them into the crowd to capture the atmosphere, mostly carrying them by hand or mounted on a monopod. We used Sony G lenses on all of the equipment, with a 100-400mm lens mounted to the rear FS7 II. On the stage we used 70-200mm lenses and 18-110mm lenses on the sides. For the still lens we used the FS7 II, which has a large sensor, as we wanted to use its unique look and superb ergonomics to create footage that had a sense of realism and atmosphere: we knew that it could deliver on that.

Of course, you want a camera that you can trust, and when you have a large number of cameramen, as we did this time, having cameras that everyone is familiar with becomes an important factor. The FS Series is the de facto standard for this category of camera.

Choice of formats for a long shoot

Fujii: We recorded in HD using XAVC L at 50Mbps and 23.98p. We originally wanted to film in 4K, but we chose this codec due to the length of the shoot, limited time to switch out media and the need to edit footage from so many cameras. We also took into consideration that we would be cutting to HD in post, and so only filmed in 4K on the wide camera.

Furthermore, we mostly avoided slow-motion as we were recording the artists’ performances in their entirety, however we did record parts in 59.94p. This allowed us to slow it down by 2.5 times in post-production and shot this footage S-Log3 to film this. It was really useful to simultaneously create an atmospheric look when editing, by simply fine tuning the applied 3D LUT provided by Sony in Premiere and being able to utilise the wide dynamic range of S-Log3. There is also a way to do this by filming in RAW, but to record 15 groups of artists with 9 cameras like we did, where the editing needs to be done quickly to avoid it losing its freshness, the combination of XAVC and S-Log was so much faster and simpler.

Working flexibly with the FS7 II

Miyaburo: The venue was set up on the day, so for this production we were really relying on the experience and intuition of the cameramen. Of course, I wasn’t really worried, as we had brought together cameramen who specialised in live performances and music videos. Although the artists’ performances changed considerably from what was discussed beforehand, the cameramen’s experience allowed them adapt as needed to get the footage we needed and this contributed to the sense of realism.

We had a lot of cameras for this shoot, in fact I was operating one as well, and the main reason for this was to capture the sense of actually being at the concert, of being in the crowd and feeling their excitement and enthusiasm. We also wanted to shoot in a way that could fully reflect the distinctive performances of each artist.

At the start, we planned to shoot relatively stable footage by mounting the FS7 IIs on tripods. However, once we saw the venue, we switched to shooting with the FS7 IIs by hand for a more dynamic feel. The FS7 II’s were perfect for this, really comfortable to shoot with, even when shooting from waist level.  I was also impressed by how easy it was to see the LCD monitor. It really helped us by being so easy to see at any angle, particularly on stage where we shoot from so many different angles.

Shooting FS7 by hand

Furuya: I was right in the middle of the crowd shooting with the FS7 II by hand. I wanted to capture footage with movement and a sense of atmosphere, I was conscious of using my camerawork to convey the heat of the crowd, even showing the artists with the silhouettes of audience members falling across them.

When moving through the crowd you usually have your light off and are moving in the dark, so I used the FS7 II monitor instead of attaching an external monitor. The monitor was just the right size and brightness. If you’re filming in the middle of a crowd with a special rig, you have to pay special attention to your surroundings. So the main advantage of FS7 II for me is how compact it is when carrying on my shoulder, without a rig.

Fujii: We thought about using external monitors and external recording, but it was outdoors and we didn’t know what the venue would be like until the day of the shoot. Factoring in the chance of rain, we chose to go for as simple a setup as possible. While we could use rain covers if necessary, one reason we chose the FS7 II was for its dust-proof and rain-proof performance. This meant when the typhoon weather arrived we knew that if some rain got through the covers, we could rely upon the cameras to operate without any issues.

Furuya: Even with the rain really coming down, I was still able to see clearly thanks to the FS7 II’s well-made eyepiece. Aside from the rain, there were clouds of dust and splatters of dirt flung up by the crowd, but the fact that I was able to shoot without any issues made me realise how dependable the FS7 II is.

Creative expression with S-Log

Fujii: As well as being robust and ergonomic, the FS Series cameras really delivered for image quality. We often had the performers highlighted against a dark stage backdrop while moving around rapidly, yet there were no issues with the quality of the images captured, no blockiness and such minimal noise in dark areas that there was no need to address in post production.

We also made use of S-Log and really enjoyed its benefits. For example, in a scene where a red spotlight is on the artist, the image would normally be flattened with red mixed all over. With S-Log, we had much more flexibility in post and by raising the green during grading, we could see the white light of the crowd reflecting off the white of the guitar to produce a striking image that feels real.

Furuya: The FS7 II captures cinematic footage that is clear yet doesn’t feel too much like a film, so I think it’s well-suited to shooting live performances. On this occasion, I think it would have ended up being counter to our aim if we had taken footage with a very cinematic-feeling camera.

Conveying a sense of the venue's atmosphere

Fujii: As it was a rock festival, there were parts where we kept the camerawork loose to allow us to bring across the intense motion during editing. To get that ‘being there’ feel we also aimed for close-ups and cuts that shift the focus onto the artists’ gestures. The FS7 II’s shallow depth of field capability really helped us get these shots.

Furuya: When shooting in relatively close quarters with the audience, I was aware of opening the aperture a bit to make the depth of field more shallow, producing an image with a defocused background. Being able to do things like that is just one of the features of the FS Series with its large sensor.

Miyaburo: I was in charge of both the stage and wide cameras and shot with both of their apertures open a little bit. Also, as cinematographer, I asked each cameraman to gets shots that are “meaningful” to each artist. In a situation where a group consisting of 6 or 7 people might line up, think about where to aim and what kind of atmosphere that would produce. With so many cameras, we feel we were able to produce various interpretations thanks to us all using FS Series cameras.

Looking back on the project

Minari: For this project, late at night, with strong wind and rain bearing down on us, I can’t say that the conditions were great. But I think a huge part of our success is down to the director, cinematographer and cameramen using their experience and talent to make good use of the FS Series’ strengths. The fact that all of us used the FS Series allowed us to record quickly and realise the director’s aim of creating footage that has a sense of realism and atmosphere. I think this is a production which manages to convey clear footage and the heat of the venue. This also further increased my confidence in the FS Series, and I may be getting ahead of myself, but I’m expecting the same from the next model as well…

View Fuji Rock 2018 Playlist on YouTube >

Additional information: Please always refer to operating manual for correct usage of Sony products. In inclement weather conditions, ensure camcorder is shielded from rain and all ports and covers are firmly closed.