Archive for the ‘ Workflow ’ Category

Challenge Yourself

As you know, I’m in a bit of a lull with Issues still in development for the second season.  I’ve been getting incredibly bored recently, with nothing to edit.  Sure, I’ve been working on the new software a lot, but you can only do that for so long before needing a break.  What I need is a project.

So, to that end, I’m making some work for myself.  I’m determined to make Issues stand out more in it’s second season with transitions, titles, and effects that fit our show.  In particular, I’m taking pages from two shows, Captain Blasto, and Beautiful Jones, who have used similar tricks on their shows.  The big challenge is to design new opening credits for Issues that are more than just pictures fading in and out.  The existing credits were created on-the-fly because we were ready to release, and there had been no direction on what kind of credits to use.  So I scrambled something together in a few minutes, and stuck with it through the rest of the absolutely chaotic post-production/release season.

Now that I have some downtime, I’ve developed a concept of what a good opening sequence would look like for the show.  It will NOT be easy to make.  It requires a lot of graphics work, which I can do, but am not very practiced in, and may end up requiring some work in Motion/AfterEffects.  However, when I get tired of practicing new software and want to return to a project, I now have my opening credit concept to return to.  My hope is to make it the opening credits for all subsequent releases from the show.

In addition to keeping me entertained, it’s also forcing me to work on skills I’m not as good with, and to learn entirely new ones.  It’s something I’m undertaking of my own volition, because I know it’s difficult and will be a complete pain in the ass.  But then after it’s done, I can go back and refine the process, and really integrate those skills.  So my challenge to anyone who has some time to kill:  Design a project for yourself that you know is going to be difficult.  And do it.

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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.

The Challenge of Learning New Skills

I’ve set some very high goals for myself this summer.  I’m not taking any classes towards my Master’s Degree, as they aren’t really offering any of the ones that I want.  Instead, I’m focusing on heavily diversifying my skill set.  In the past 2 weeks I’ve acquired Adobe CS4 Design Premium, and Avid MediaComposer 3.5.  My goal for the summer is to gain a familiarity with Avid, since I will be using it to do some rather advanced editing in the fall.  I am also aiming to become proficient in Photoshop and Flash over the summer, and to build a familiarity with Dreamweaver, so I can give my site a truly custom layout.  Wordpress themes are very  nice, but I feel that they aren’t really suited to building a site that will really amaze people.

Photoshop has not proved much of a challenge yet.  However, upon starting Avid today, I was immediately faced with the fact that learning this new editing system will not be easy.  For someone who has been editing on Final Cut Pro for 8 years, it’s quite a culture shock to suddenly start using a completely different system.  I now understand the frustration editors must be feeling when their companies switch systems.  (Some major stations in my area have switched from Avid to FCP due to cost issues.)  I’ve built an extremely efficent workflow in Final Cut, which is in part due to the fact that their user interface has been very consistent .  I’m personally hoping they keep it the same in the next version as well.  It just works beautifully.  While I have no doubt that I can build an equally efficient workflow in Avid, I know that the initial culture shock is going to really set me back initially.  I’m used to being a pretty darn good editor, and I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that I’m not on Avid.

Regardless, I’m determined to push forward with it.  I have all my source footage from Issues, Season 1.  I’m planning to gain practice by recutting some of the episodes and trailers in Avid.  I already know what the final composition of those pieces should look like, so I feel I can really focus on the interface and learn it.  It’s much more symbol driven than FCP, which is the first thing I’ve noticed.  When I have the $550 it takes, I’ll sign up for the online training that will get me extremely proficient with the system.  For now, I’ll muddle through on my own.

I think one of the principle challenges to editors expanding their skill sets and really diversifying their abilities is cost.  I could not have afforded to do any of what I’m doing right now (learning Avid, Photoshop and Flash) if it weren’t for my rather unique circumstances.  My employer does quite a lot of business with Adobe, and as such, was able to secure copies of CS4 Design Premium to give to employees who had completed Adobe training in the past.  And I was able to buy Avid MediaComposer 3.5 utilizing their extremely generous academic discount.  My employer also affords me discounts on PeachPit Press training materials.  PeachPit also offers discounts to customers who have shopped with them in the past, independent of my employer’s affiliation with them.  That means the total cost for CS4, Avid MC, and Adobe’s Photoshop and Flash training books was $300, which I was able to fund with my tax refund, so it means no additional debt for me.  (Which is good – I’m still paying off my camera.)

My situation, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone because it’s not financially sound or healthy at all – has afforded me a rare opportunity to work with the best software out there for little to no cost.  By contrast, most editors must pay hundreds or thousands for training on these systems.  The one piece of advice I would offer to all of them to is utilize self-paced, independent training if they own their own software.  $550 will give you a year of access to Avid’s training resources, including all the classes you need for MediaComposer certification.  Apple and Adobe’s training books give you media to practice with, and typically cost $30 to $50 per book.  It puts training much farther in reach than classes.  (Apple’s cost ~$600 each, and Avid’s can run upwards of $2,000.)  It let’s you work at your own pace, which I find invaluable when I’m learning new software.

Another option is to think about taking some money and subscribing to Lynda.com.  A Lynda membership runs ~$375/year.  With it, you get unlimited access to their training library.  I have access to it through a work account, and have been highly impressed by the video based training they offer on Apple and Adobe products.  They offer a truly amazing range of training.  Like the books, Lynda gives you media so you can work along with the instructor with their premium membership (which is the price I quoted above).

Know of another good, affordable means of training yourself?  Feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll post them to my site and share them with my groups on LinkedIn so we can start building a decent database of options.

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.

Long Distance Editing

Making up for some of my missed blogging earlier.

One of the biggest differences between editing now and editing maybe 5 years ago is the ability for true long-range collaboration.  When editing for Issues, there was some distance between me and the director, but never more than about 2 hours.  I’ll be undertaking my first truly long-range editing project this weekend.  I’m based in NJ.  The person I’m editing for is out in California.  We’ll be doing file exchanges through FTP accounts, and communicating through a mix of the phone and email.

The challenge of long-distance collaborations like this?  Simply, a lack of visual communication.  You can’t see the director’s facial expressions, read their mood, or see any gestures they would typically use when they speak.  You are forced to be much clearer in your spoken and written communications than you’re used to.  There is increased time for file transfers and uploads, and you need to be creative in your solutions for how to interact throughout the project.

One solution I would like to offer up is the creation of a password-protected web site for you, the editor, and your partners/clients/bosses.  I’ve used this in the past, and it is a wonderful way to communicate if there are several people who will be looking at your work.  As a Mac user, I have access to iWeb, which allows me to create a web site with a user name and password for access.  It actually became the central hub for all the media associated with my show.  All of our production stills were available through that portal, as well as previews of videos a various stages of editing.

How do you deal with long-range collaborations?

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.