Sync-ing the Snowman

Kim Rooker is the Bay Area’s go-to expert in productions featuring movies with the soundtrack played by a live orchestra for over a decade. We go behind the scenes with Kim to learn how the orchestral, live movie magic comes together—so the images you see on screen stay in time with the music.

Walking in the Air: The conductor’s version of the movie includes a running clock to help him stay on track with the video.

California Symphony Orchestra: How long have you been doing live orchestra video production?

Kim Rooker: Since 2006, when we installed a film projection system at Davies Hall for a San Francisco Symphony performance of Charlie Chaplin’s score, set to the movie City Lights. Until that point, there was no way for the conductor to sync the music to the film other than visual reference to the movie.

Before then, I was doing audio and video production for big corporate events for companies like Apple and Pepsi. Then an associate brought me in to supervise a projection install at San Francisco Symphony’s Davies Hall for Bugs Bunny on Broadway, a clip show of Looney Tunes cartoons which featured classical music including Puccini’s Barber of Seville and Wagner (Elmer Fudd’s Magic Helmet). The Symphony staff asked me if I could help them with opera supertitles and other projects requiring video support, and one thing led to another. The early film-with-orchestra projects were older films like The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, and many Hitchcock films.

CSO: How do you make sure the orchestra and the video stay in sync?

KR: For The Snowman, I use a video recorder/playback device called a KiPro. The KiPro sends video to the screen and also the same video with time-code to the conductor. The conductor’s score has notes as to how the time-code relates to the movie. The audience sees the same program material, but not the time-code reference.

The Snowman system is a little different from most of the movie-for-orchestra systems. Often I see a single laptop computer sending different video files to the screen and conductor simultaneously. The conductor’s video will have cueing information that is authored with a program called Streamers. This more complex system helps when running a movie that can often be over two and half hours.

CSO: There is no dialog in the Snowman. Does this make it easier or harder for Donato and the orchestra to stay on track?

KR: The Snowman does have a few difficult tempo changes, but a film’s dialog usually is not used for reference. Often there is no music during scenes with dialog and the music tends to be used for action sequences or scene transitions.

CSO: What is the trickiest part of your work?

KR: Because for the actual performance I just start the video playback, the real work is setting up the system and the rehearsal. I am also responsible for the projection and make sure there is a quality image on the screen.

CSO: Do you actually get to enjoy the movie?

KR: I get to see the rehearsals and the final rehearsal is great because I can sit in the best seat in the house.

CSO: Do you have a favorite movie you’ve worked on? And is there any movie that you’re just completely over because you’ve spent so much time on it?

KR: Many of the movies with orchestra have music composed by John Williams: Raiders of the Lost Arc, Jurassic Park and Star Wars are all very enjoyable. Amadeus was wonderful and a hard ticket to get. Many of the Pixar movies are popular and the “clip show” (segments of many films) is great fun.

The Harry Potter series of eight movies has John Williams’ music on the first four. With rehearsals and several show days, seeing each movie many times makes for a lot of the Harry Potter story!

Kim Rooker will be behind the scenes for The Snowman, which will play on the big screen while the orchestra and Pacific Boy Choir Academy perform the score at the Tis the Symphony holiday concerts, Saturday, Dec. 22 at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.

Tickets start at $42 / $20 for kids and students under 25 with valid student I.D. at or call the Lesher Center Box Office at 925.943.SHOW.


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