Last-Minute Pivot

In 2021, are you ready to pivot? This is a BTS still of our recent live stream fundraiser for Children of Armenia Fund. Event cohost and Fox’s Good Day LA host Araksya Karapetyan delivering lines to our remote camera, streaming back to our studio.

How do you handle it when all of your careful planning for a production is waylaid at the last moment? As the pandemic continues, Covid variants like the Delta variety we’re all facing right now are posing new challenges for my company and our live streaming clients. Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) is committed to providing children, youth and their families with opportunities to realize their potential by empowering people living throughout rural Armenia. COAF has brought about dramatic results by helping individuals define their own futures by becoming active participants in a New Armenia after the country has endured many setbacks throughout its history. The Children of Armenia Fund’s Annual Summer Soiree is a live fundraising event that in pre-pandemic times was held in a hotel ballroom with a live audience to raise funds for COAF projects on the ground in Armenia.

Behind the scenes at the 2020 Summer Soiree, right at the height of the first Covid outbreak. Cohosts Haig Boyadjian and Araksya Karepetyan at work. We streamed this as a live in-person production with no in-person audience, but all crew and talent were assembled in a donor’s high-end backyard overlooking the Los Angeles skyline.

Back In 2020…

Late in the summer of 2020, with the pandemic still in full effect and large in-person gatherings not permitted, we worked closely with COAF to produce their first-ever virtual Soiree. Broadcast live from a donor’s home, the 2020 virtual Summer Soiree was a major financial success, raising over half a million dollars for the people of rural Armenia. Cohosted by Fox Good Day LA’s Araksya Karapetyan and COAF’s own Senior Director Haig Boyadjian, the event featured auctioneer Gabriel Butu as well as a live DJ.

In 2021, COAF planned on another virtual Summer Soiree hosted at another donor’s home. The event, location, talent and crew were booked in August. We received word just days before the scheduled broadcast that one of the cohosts and the auctioneer had been exposed to the Covid Delta Variant and were locked down in quarantine. Butu had been visiting family in Europe and found out he had been exposed to the Delta Variant right before boarding his flight back home to Los Angeles, requiring him to be quarantined for 10 days in Portugal. Boyadjian was also exposed to the variant on a flight home from the east coast, requiring him to be quarantined at home in LA.

Event cohost Araksya Karapetyan produced a story about the Summer Soiree a few days after the event wrapped up.

Is There Anyone Who Hasn’t Been Exposed To Delta?

With a cohost and the auctioneer in quarantine, the COAF event team in Armenia, New York and Los Angeles, along with our company, Webcast and Beyond and our partners, the Virtual Gala Collaborative, quickly met virtually and decided that it wouldn’t make sense to hold a “Soiree” (an evening party in French) with only one host live. In an instant, we were able to utilize our extensive expertise with remote virtual live streams to evolve the 2021 Summer Soiree to a fully virtual production in a single day.

The Marantz Professional Turret is a remote live streaming tool that we have found very useful. Its integrated camera and ring light look better than any laptop camera and the integrated large-diaphragm podcasting mic sounds excellent. All that’s needed is to add a laptop and walk our clients through how to set it all up and hook it all up to their internet router, which we’ve been doing via Facetime on phones.

Concierge Service For Live Streaming?

Butu, fortunately, had his camera and laptop with him while traveling in Portugal. With Boyadjian in quarantine in Los Angeles, Webcast and Beyond dropped off our Marantz Remote Turret package, a self-contained, integrated live streaming studio with a studio-quality microphone, camera and ring light all in one unit. We worked with Boyadjian to unbox and configure the system remotely. We provided a concierge remote camera and crew with grip, lighting and sound gear to a secure location in Palos Verdes, California, for cohost Karapetyan’s portion of the live stream.

DP Damian Christie traveled to Palos Verdes to live stream Araksya Karepetyan’s cohost segment back to us in our studio. The room’s ambient light and light wood paneling looked decent, so he added some fill and key light via two Kino Flo Diva 400 lights.

DP Damian Christie utilized one of our Sony PXW-X70 camcorders along with our newly developed, proprietary remote teleprompter technology being displayed on our MCI laptop that was set up on set at the remote location. The set was lit with two Kino Flo Diva 400s with 5600K tubes as the key and fill sources and the Kino Flo Flozier diffusion cloth. The DP ran an output from the laptop to Karapetyan’s Atomos Sumo confidence monitor so she could quickly and easily read her lines. We utilized one of our normal teleprompter operators, Jesse Hall, who used a laptop with the prompting program on it back at our studio in Los Angeles for all three talent.

Our webcast engineer, Gregg Hall, managed to “invent” a remote teleprompting system a day before the event happened. His solution involved running our normal teleprompting software into our vMix Live System, allowing us to superimpose the script over the return feed for each talent’s confidence monitor. It took lots of development with varying the superimposition and font color and size, but it worked better than we could have hoped.

Success Through Experience

The 2021 COAF Summer Soiree went live on Sunday, August 22, 2021. We received broadcast-quality feeds from all three hosts from three different geographic locations around the world, live. Utilizing our vMix Call Remote Live Streaming solution, we provided a seamless, professional live internet broadcast, alternating live host and fundraising segments with pre-recorded music and dance performances as well as updates on COAF projects and facilities from Armenia.

Our entire production team gathered in our virtual green room that we also conceived. The virtual green room is invaluable for allowing clients, producers, talent, Master Control members and even remote directors to interact with talent off the air during pre-recorded roll in segments from anywhere in the world.

The entire production team was able to gather in our custom virtual green room during pre-recorded segments, allowing the show’s producers and fundraisers to update talent for the next segment of the show in real-time from several locations all around the world. We normally provide teleprompters for live shoots, but since this project had quickly become a virtual shoot, webcast engineer Gregg Hall quickly “invented” a remote teleprompter package that could be superimposed over talent’s return feed confidence monitor, allowing them to perform a tight and precise show, effectively utilizing a virtual teleprompter in the same way that our regular teleprompters are used for a live shoot.

The COAF 2021 Summer Soiree was an unmitigated hit and far surpassed our client’s goal of raising $350,000. The final donation total was nearly $540,000. The show went smoothly and seamlessly for all involved thanks to a skilled production team paired with the right technology and innovation.

Streaming for nearly two hours, the 2021 COAF Summer Soiree was an engaging, effective fundraising program for the people and villages of rural Armenia. With a tight script and well-rehearsed talent, along with an experienced and innovative support crew, the COAF 2021 Summer Soiree proved that virtual events can be every bit as effective and engaging for audiences as live in-person or hybrid events.

Our two cohosts and auctioneer Gabriel Butu, who had to remote in from Portugal where the local time was 1 a.m. Gabriel had been exposed to the Delta variant and wasn’t able to catch his flight back to the U.S., so we improvised to get him into the broadcast, and it worked!
Yes, we included some sound effects and digital confetti over the proceedings to celebrate the project’s success.

Remote Production Is Taking Off

This project was a great learning experience for everyone involved and a great proving ground for two proprietary custom technologies that we developed in-house—our virtual green room and our remote teleprompting system.

Much like high-end visual effects companies and animation houses that often develop or refine their own software solutions, we’ve been busy engineering solutions that address some of the problems and challenges that are cropping up with remote internet broadcasting. It has been an interesting ride so far.