Archive for the ‘ Video ’ Category

Why You Need to Be Good at Compression

As an editor, I know you’ve made a special study of compression of your final export, right?  If not, it should be one of your big priorities.  Why?  Because you’re ability to export a properly compressed file for the medium you’re using to broadcast can make or break the visual quality of the project.

Examples: I’m aware of a lot of shortcomings in the first season of Issues.  However, one of the things that I know we did right was our decision to shoot the show in HD.  It gave us a beautiful, crisp, sharp picture, and it allowed me a lot of flexibility to manipulate the footage as I needed to.  All of the Issues footage was shot in high def. except Jared’s web videos, which were shot with the built-in camera on my MacBook Pro because we wanted it to look like a webcam.  Shooting on a webcam was easier than degrading HD footage to look like a webcam.

However, if you go back and watch the first promos that were released from Issues, you see 4:3 picture in relatively poor quality.  Why?  I didn’t compress it correctly.  It’s a mistake that I corrected as the series went on, and the episodes are all appropriately sized for the computer screen with sharp pictures.  It took some trial and error to get it right – I wanted a precise understanding of which format worked best.  I could have taken the easy way out and just compressed for iPhone, and did at the beginning, but I’m now able to custom program the settings I need to get the show up on the web and looking good.

I’ve been thinking of this for a while, and it came back to me forcefully yesterday when watching the first episode of Bleeder, a new web-series about a hemophiliac taken in by a group of vampires.  I found the show because Sarah Croce, who plays Jane in Issues, plays Daisy, one of the leaders of the vampire clan.  The story line is very intriguing and I’m interested to see how it develops over the next several episodes.  My only critique of the show at this point is technical.  For a show shot on a RED One camera, the picture quality appears low in the finished version.  I’ve become spoiled by my own show, and am looking for that same sharp quality in other shows now, especially if the story is engaging and intriguing.  I would love to see Bleeder in HD, because I know several of the neighborhoods they’re shooting in, and I want to soak in all the detail of those locations.

Compression is tricky, and isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Online video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo help out by describing what specs. to use for good results on their sites, but in other circumstances, you’re going to need to know what settings will give you the best picture for your medium.  To give you an idea of how important compression is, I constantly exported 3 formats of each episode of Issues, one for our website/podcast channel, one for YouTube, and one of HD DVD quality.  So if compression isn’t something you’ve given a lot of thought to, I’d recommend that you start now.  If you don’t have access to a compression program like Compressor or Sorenson Squeeze, a $30 investment in QuickTime Pro (for you Mac users) will give you much more control over your videos.  Having a properly compressed video will mean that your audience is spending their time more engaged in the story because there are no distracting visual elements to detract from it.

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No Shit, New York Times

The New York Times has apparently discovered the amazing and little-anticipated truth: people will watch web videos that are more than 2-minutes long!  Apparently this fact was also the subject of some deep discussion at the LATV Festival, according to those in attendance.

Forgive my sarcasm, but I just find this story to be so ridiculous.  It’s a discussion that we had on the forums of Broadcast Assassin months ago: how long can a web-show go?  The conclusion we reached: as long as it wants to as long as it’s engaging and entertaining.

I have little doubt that the Times analysis of why web videos remained short for so long (technology that made watching video on the web unpleasant until relatively recently) is accurate.  However, anyone who has poked around a few web series is able to see that times of episodes are getting longer.  The internet is allowing for larger files to be uploaded and streamed at increasing speeds.  Watching video on the computer has become par for the course for us – to the point that we feel too constricted to be tied to the computer, and would rather upload our videos to our smart phones, mp3 players, and other portable devices.

So I’m not surprised that people are watching longer videos.  I’ve at the privilege to start talking to the creators of several series, and I find all of them to be emotionally engaging, and entertaining.  So I’m not put off by the length of an episode of Gold, or Captain Blasto.  In fact, I was surprise to realize how much time had passed after I watched the first episode of Captain Blasto.  I was honestly too engaged in the story to notice the passage o time.  And I have little doubt that their new series, Mercury Men, will be just as good.

So wake up, guys.  Web video is going to keep pushing the envelope, we’re going to keep stepping up production values, and pushing our run-times out.  Network television shows streamed online (hello, Hulu!) have proven that you can sustain audiences at traditional episode lengths online.  Why would anyone suppose that this wouldn’t also be true for original, made-for-the-web content?

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Off to the New York Web TV Meet-up tomorrow night.  Probably no post tomorrow as a result, as I’ll save my talking points for a summary of the experience – it will be my first time attending.

The Importance of Coverage for an Editor

When Issues was still in its early stages, I attended an event held by New York Women in Film & Television.  At that event, the creators of the Midwest Teen Sex Show (a sex education show distributed solely on the web) talked about how they made their series successful.  They also offered points for others who wanted to make a web show.

Drinks weren’t allowed at the event.  Which is good, because I would have spit whatever I was drinking at the person in front of me when they stood up and told everyone that coverage doesn’t matter, and that you don’t really need it, not to worry about it, etc.

For a show formatted like MTSS, a straightforward, informational show, this may be true.  But to flatly claim that coverage isn’t important?  For any show that doesn’t break the 4th wall, it’s vital.  As a series, one of the things that Issues severely lacked in it’s first season was adequate coverage.  The result: some actors are not on the camera when they are speaking.  I got to find out the true flexibility of high definition footage when manipulating it to hide imperfections because cutaways weren’t available.  Let’s just say it is capable to make a light disappear from a set through drastic zooming and what proved to be very strategic placement of our actors.  (Noah, you will never fully understand how your body position and choice of motions absolutely saved that shot.  Thank you.)

In short, a lot of the editing on the show wasn’t a stylistic choice, it was a necessity.  Because of a lack of coverage.

Now, I’m not saying that half of what you shoot needs to be coverage.  But plan accordingly.  If a scene calls for 4 angles, shoot the 4 angles.  At worst, you don’t use them all.  But if you don’t get them, you’re editor is going to end up needing them and you are going to compromise the quality of your piece.  So be wise in choosing coverage.  It will allow your editor to have the flexibility to give you the best edit possible.  And it will be truer to the vision you saw in your head when you first decided to take this script and bring it to an audience.  It will mean that you need to be strict.  You will have to honor your schedule.  You will have to be ready to delegate extensively to make sure everything is done in a timely matter.  But in the end, you will have the choice of what your cut looks like based on your favorite takes – and not be stuck choosing between a take with less than ideal delivery or one where there’s cables running through the background of the fame.

Coverage seems trivial, but it creates a feeling of professionalism to the piece, because it adds variety to the final cut, and can hide any errors that weren’t picked up on during production.

Children & Final Cut Pro

Sorry for the lack of updates the past 2 days.  Hit a very busy patch where I wasn’t home, and updating from the iPhone can be difficult.

As a trainer at an Apple Store, I teach people everything from turning on a computer and using a mouse, up to how to create movies and videos using FCP.  One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered is that some families with training memberships are using the membership on their kids.  Yesterday I met with a teenage boy who is fully proficient at iMovie and is planning on moving up to Final Cut.  (I recommended Final Cut Express to his mother, as he has no use for the other programs in FCS.)  We spent the hour talking about how to chroma key, and why blue and green are the usual colors for chroma keying.  One particular boy genius I have is about 7.  He is such a master at iMovie that his parents and I did a test session to see if he was ready to start using FCE.  The result:  a 7 year-old’s attention span isn’t long enough to deal with a complex program like FCE, so he is working on other iLife programs for now.

Training kids and teenagers in Final Cut is always tricky.  I started using FCP when I was 16, but it was offered as part of a Television Production course sequence my school had.  I got to practice shooting, lighting, sound, and editing every day for 2 solid years.  (Junior and senior years of high school.)  That kind of continuity made me so good at Final Cut that when I started college, I successfully got my Communication Studies department to convert from Adobe Premier to Final Cut Pro, and then ran the suites for 3 years as a student employee.  I trace my proficiency with Final Cut to the fact that it was something I used on a daily basis for several years.  I’ve also taught Final Cut for several years – first as an instructor for the NJ Governor’s School of the Arts, and as a support system for faculty in my department – and now I teach it at Apple.

But teaching children a program like Final Cut, whether Express or Pro, is tricky at the store.  We only see these kids at most for 1 hour, once a week.  That doesn’t allow for a very detailed curriculum, which I think kids need.  I won’t make the argument that kids don’t have a need or use for Final Cut.  After 3 years of working with high school students in the Governor’s School, I know that they have the capacity to produce some absolutely amazing projects.  I do think they need a structured plan of how to teach them.  It’s one thing to work with editors, producers, and camera operators.  They already have a sense of what they need to know.  However, with children, you’re responsible for building a foundational knowledge of how video and film work, as well.  What do you think?  How do we approach the phenomenon of children in the editing sutes (or calling the shots, or behind the camera, etc.)?

Using Consumer Programs as Supplements

Last month I did something I haven’t done in, well at least 6 years:  I editing a piece in iMovie.  The last time I had used iMovie previously to this was in my junior year of high school – back in 2001 -2002.  What I used it for was to create a fun, playful little promo to help raise money for the web series I’m working with.  It was the perfect supplement to Final Cut Pro 5, which is what I used to edit the show proper.  Why?

1.) I shot the promo on my Canon Vixia HF-10, which records to AVCHD.  Final Cut 5 isn’t really set up for AVCHD, so iMovie is a great way to capture and store the footage.

2.) Themes.  iMovie ’09 has a few playful little themes that you can apply to your movie.  My series is shot in and centers around a comic book shop.  So the promo is made to look like a comic book.  Transitions slide from panel to panel, and generally make the promo more lighthearted than it would have been.

3.) Priorities.  I was still working on the episodes at this time, and didn’t want to derail FCP, which spent the last 8 months being set up for the series.  I cut and exported the promo in the span of about an hour.  And exported to full quality.

4.)  Features.  Many consumer programs have features previously only found in the pro-level programs.  iMovie ’09 offers image stabilization, and is faster about it than FCP 6, which, let’s not forget, I don’t currently own anyway.  I’ve exported clips to iMovie and sent them back to FCP in stabilized form.  Works like a charm.

5.) Price.  I was able to upgrade to iLife because it only costs $80.  I haven’t been able to upgrade to FCS 2 yet because I lack the $650 to invest in it.  Besides, I’m waiting for the NAB conference like everyone else to see if Apple somehow unveils FCS 3.

I also use a combination of Aperture and iPhoto in dealing with stills from the show.  Aperture is great for quickly sorting the best photos and offers greater tools for really tweaking them before publishing them to the web site.  But iPhoto ’09 has Faces, which has made it incredibly easy for me to start creating albums for each actor, so they can all have their stills to do what they will with.  None of these consumer applications could ever replace my pro-apps.  The difference in functionality is simply too great.  However, they are very useful when incorporated alongside the pro-apps.  Especially since they can help you survive the larger gaps between updates to the professional applications for a reasonably small price.