My assignment was to cover a police officer’s funeral.
Ok. I think about how a funeral unfolds. I arrive at the high school gym an hour early and score a decent parking spot. I set up my Nikon D4 DSLR camera on the mezzanine level of a high school gym with a 200-400mm f/4 lens and a wireless mic to capture video of the speakers. I also shoot b-roll of the mourners and crowd shots. Now what?
This is what I faced as I formulated my plan to cover the funeral service of Coeur d’Alene Police Officer Greg Moore who was killed in the line of duty in May.
And this is where three local TV news stations covering the funeral and my newspaper produced video diverged. We had two still photojournalists, Dan Pelle and Kathy Plonka, covering the funeral. I decided ( at the last minute) my job was to find the gold coins from the speakers and then create a narrative spine to hang the still photos on. I also made sure to shoot video b-roll of the police car procession mixed with citizens lining the funeral route.
An hour after the event was over, I was staring at a blank timeline with a ton of raw video in my Final Cut Pro X browser waiting to be edited. I began to panic. How can I tell this story in a short amount of time, but still connect emotionally to what was happening? Where do I start?
It took me a few minutes, but my simple solution was to start with a music track. I headed over to Preminumbeat.com and purchased a simple piano-based track that had a slow beat. Once I laid the music down in the Final Cut Pro X timeline, it was just a matter of meshing the one speaker, who defined the communities response to the tragedy, with the still photos, which I edited the beat of the music. I realize this not the type of video story TV news could or would want to tell (stand ups and anchor tosses are the norm.) The newspaper benefited from also having a wonderfully fact-filled print story for online readers, but this video allowed them to feel the emotion of the event in ways the printed word can rarely do.
Video storytelling is a wide-open genre. I’ve learned over time there is no right or wrong way to approach a story. I just try to make sure to connect with the emotion of my subjects. If I do, I know my video story will be good as gold.
It’s not often a video story comes knocking at my door. A few weeks ago, Pat Adams, my next-door neighbor, came over to my house to ask me how she could get in contact with Dan Pelle, a co-worker of mine at The Spokesman-Review. Adams told me she had painted a picture of Pelle’s dog Koko, who died in a vicious pit bull attack last year, and wanted give the painting to him.
I learned Adams has been churning out dozens of oil paintings of people’s pets that have died, and that most of the painting recipients had never met her. When she told me she did the paintings free of charge, I knew I had a story.
I spent a few mornings shooting Adams as she painted. As you watch the video, take note of some of the production and editing techniques I used:
I start the story with a video title card with music. This short opener allows web viewers to adjust their audio. It also makes a great thumbnail for Vimeo, if that is where you upload to.
I open the video with Adams painting at her kitchen saying: “I love to paint…” I use a camera slider to add movement in the first two shots. It gives the video a cinematic feel and helps reveal my subject for the first time.
At 0.24 I introduce Adams with my opening narration. “For the past thirty years, artist Pat Adams has set up a painting easel and palette on her kitchen table…” Yes, I could have told this story without narration, but I don’t think the storytelling would have been as efficient. In this video, I only narrate in places where the story needs definition or a transition of time or place.
When I started shooting with my Nikon D4 DSLR–a great low-light camera–I didn’t think I needed to light Adam’s kitchen. But the cool window light mixed with the warm incandescent light made it tough to get a clean white balance. Thankfully, I had a light kit at my house next door, and a few minutes later, I had two quartz halogen lights set up to bounce off the white kitchen ceiling. The white balance improved dramatically with the added warmer, softer light.
Audio. I love using a wireless mic on subjects. The audio is clean and dynamically full compared to using just a shotgun mic. It has one other huge benefit—it allows the subject to be more natural without having a big microphone pointed at them from a foot away. I can be across the room shooting wide shots and still be getting wonderful soundbites to use later in the edit. Where the wireless mic paid off in this story is when Adams would talk to the painting. Those parts were emotional gold when I assembled this story later in Final Cut Pro X.
In the first minute of the video, Adams reveals, as a young mother of a Down syndrome child, she had a small stroke. Her cardiologist told her she had to paint to relieve the stress. This is the first gold coin in the video. I don’t reveal the true direction of the story yet because I want to pull the viewer in and surprise them with the next revealing moment.
At 1.06, I say: “Adams put her brush to canvas. At this point in the video I use a super-tight shot of her brush dabbing the canvas with paint. This is one of my favorite clips in the video. I shot it with a 60mm macro lens. It helps hold viewer interest in the story because I am showing them something they can’t normally see.
The interview. I waited to do the interview until the second time I shot Adams painting. This allowed me to ask better questions. I kept a mental list to things Adams told me during the first shoot, which then helped me formulate better questions to ask her in the formal interview.
The next big gold coin comes at 1.47. Adams says: “I think the first animal I painted was Sage…” This is where the first emotional tug in the story comes. It reveals what the story is really about, and hopefully, keeps the viewer engaged in where the story is going.
Music. I learned a valuable lesson about how to use music after I posted the video asking for feedback on a Final Cut Pro X forum site. Professional editor Jeff Bartsch gave me this advice:
“Big sloppy rule of thumb: in much doc/reality/verite TV, you’ll find that most cues of music run between 30-60 seconds. Anything longer runs the risk of saying the same thing too many times or getting old. At the moment, the piece is 6 minutes and has only 2 cues of music that are pretty much the same, though the piece has multiple sections of exposition and progression of thought.”
What Bartsch helped me understand was I needed to use music as a transitional element. As the scenes, or tone of the story changed, so too should the music. I added in three more music tracks, each to fit the different tones of the story. It was a huge improvement (Thanks Jeff.)
At 2.15, I start showing some of Adam’s animal paintings. I used an out of focus photo of a painting palette as a colorful background. I use a drop shadow on the paintings to set them off a bit from the background.
The one thing I kept telling myself as I shot Adams as she painted was to, “shoot wide, medium, tight, tight, tight.” The variety of the tight shots really made the editing job easier because I could use those shots as transitions between scenes.
The next story gold coin comes at 3.07 when Adams says: “What’s the scariest thing in handing someone a painting”? I cut to Adams walking out of her kitchen with a dog painting and giving it to a young couple in the living room. Adams voice over continues to talk about her fear of rejection, but at the same time, the couple tells her they love and are amazed by her generous gift. This is where understanding the power of the edit—how you can weave different threads of narrative and have it all work together to advance the story–is so important.
At 4.00 I take Adams out of the house and into her car to deliver the painting to Dan Pelle. Other than knowing that she is bringing him a painting of his dog Koko, they had not met until he opens his door. I just told Dan I was going to be there and to just ignore me during their interaction.
I shot some driving scenes on the way, and then a shot of Adam’s pulling into the driveway. This is where it starts to get technically messy. I switched to a traditional video camera for these scenes, because in run-and-gun situations, I find a DSLR is too slow to focus and make auto balance corrections on the fly. And because my video camera has two channels of audio (shotgun on the camera and a wireless on Adams) it gave me backup audio if one of the audio channels failed.
My favorite edit comes as Adams exits her car and shuts the door. I straight cut directly to Pelle opening his front door and greeting Adams. In one simple edit, I cut a whole bunch of time out of getting Adams from her car to the front door. I think it works, but it is a bit jarring.
At 4.30, Adams is invited into the house. It is technically challenging to go from outside daylight to inside incandescent mixed light. I put the camera into full-auto mode and hoped for the best. As I headed into the house, the camera was recording Adams and the Pelle’s as they introduced themselves. I can’t really shoot any cut-aways to cover the weird transition of white balance and exposure shift. Later, as I was editing this scene, I added a still photograph of the dog painting to cover of some of bad color shift. I always strive for perfection, but sometimes it just out of reach.
The next gold coin is the interaction between Dan Pelle and Adams during the painting hand off. It is emotional (for her) and yet what Dan Pelle tells Adams is heartfelt.
So how to get out of this story? Ira Glass, producer of “This American Life” says that a good story has to have a moment of reflection to remind the viewer why it was worth spending their time watching your story. As I was reviewing my footage, I came across this audio gem: “Its wonderful to see them. It’s like having your pet back home. Everyone needs a painting,” said Adams. I knew this clip was going to be my ender, my moment of reflection in the story.
“Everyone needs a painting” has gotten a lot of positive feedback from viewers. “I’m bawling in front of my computer,” is one common comment on Facebook. Knowing that my edit instilled an emotional response, makes me feel confident I told a compelling story.
The cries were fierce and seething. What did Apple do to my Final Cut Pro? It has been a little over two years since Apple software engineers upended the video-editing universe with the release of an “all new” Final Cut Pro X version of the proverbial video-editing program. Not long after the initial discussions as to whether it is called “X” or “Ten” subsided, did the bitchin’ and moaning among the ranks start.
Me? Well, I just dove in with gusto. Unfortunately, many fine editors made one big mistake. They tried to use the program without investing the time to learn how to use the new features—many of which were either a totally new way to edit (magnetic timeline) or ran counter to the way they worked in FCP 7 (dual viewers, bins etc.) They complained. Then they complained some more. Change was tough, especially for editors that lived in the old FCP paradigm since version 1.0
Before I even tried to edit my first project, my first stop was IzzyVideo’s excellent free FCPX video tutorials. I watched each several times until I began to grasp all the new concepts–connected clips, skimming, magnetic and secondary timelines, keywording and so on . I made sure I knew what each button in the interface did.
My first story edit went off without much fanfare. Still, I wasn’t totally convinced FCPX was better than my beloved FCP 7. The magnetic timeline drove me nuts, the single view monitor was strange and all that skimming took some time to get used to. I soldiered on and by the end of my third or fourth project, I started to jell with the program. Having to edit something in FCP7 now felt foreign. I kept wanting to skim clips in the browser.
My foray into FCPX was not without a hiccup that almost gave me a heart attack. Since its release, Apple has moved quickly to restore some of the lost features in the previous version. Multi-cam editing, XML export and dual viewers to name a few. But with all this updating, some versions became show-stopping unstable. Discussion boards were full of “FCPX didn’t save my project and now it is gone” type posts, which drove many editors over to the Adobe Premiere or Avid camps for good.
I was just completing a week-long editing project in version 10.05 when I started to trim a black slug at the tail end of my video. All of a sudden, poof, my entire project timeline turned gray. All the clips just vanished. A trip to the Apple discussion boards turned up many angry folks in the same boat as me. In typical Apple fashion, they shrugged their shoulders with silence and it took a user to figure out a convoluted solution to restore corrupted projects.
It made me realize at the time how much more FCPX needed to germinate before it was ready for real world work. That was a year ago and things seem to have smoothed out. My editing speed has accelerated dramatically the more I use FCPX. I feel much more comfortable and trusting of the program. I taught a video storytelling and production class at a community college and I found the students learned the basics much faster than they did in Final Cut Express.
So for now, Adobe Premiere sits in my applications folder unused. I have chosen FCPX as my video editing program. I continue to suck up as much information on how to use the program as I can. Lynda.com has really stepped up and provided some of the best FCPX tutorials around. If you invest the time, I believe you will become much more comfortable with FCPX. It truly is video editing reimagined. I look forward to what future upgrades bring.
If you don’t already use the audio filter Compressor in your video or audio editing application, then you are missing out on the key ways to make your dialogue sound better in your productions. Here is an excellent video tutorial from MacBreak Studio’s Steve Martin and Mark Spencer who show you how to apply a compressor filter to a clip and adjust the parameters in Final Cut Pro X. The key thing to remember when applying the filter is the 4:1 ratio. It will make your dialogue clearer–much like applying a unsharp mask to a photograph .
In 2005, Joe Weiss released Soundslides, a killer audio slideshow production program that helped transition many newspaper photojournalists into the world of online multimedia. Audio slideshows soon flooded newspaper websites. Its simple interface and even simpler learning curve proved a perfect match for anyone wanting to add an audio narrative to their online picture stories.
But times have changed. Many of those same photojournalists moved on to add video to their storytelling toolboxes. As they began to master video editing programs like Apple’s Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro, it seemed like a no brainer to use them to produce audioslide shows. I cannot say building an audio slideshow is easier with a video editing program, but it does afford you some added features that are hard, if not impossible, to replicate in Soundslides.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned when making an audio slideshow using Apple’s Final Cut Pro:
Soundslides is great at taking all the tedious production out of the process. It grabs all your photos in a file and automatically sizes them for the web. When producing in a video editor, you have to do all this image prep yourself. But it’s not too bad if you create a Photoshop action to automate the process. I create a one-click action to reduce the image dpi to 72 and size to each photo to a width of 2500 pixels. This size makes the images large enough to use motion on later if needed.
Before you start to edit, it is important to set up your timeline as an HD project. It makes the photos look so much better, even after you compress the hell out of them later for the web. I generally pick Apple Intermediate Codec 720p30 from the “Easy Setup” menu. I think progressive timelines without the interlacing work best for photos. I’ve even used the XDCAM 1080p30 setting with great results.
As I assemble my story, I tend to build as I go. I start editing at the beginning with audio, then layer on my photos. I use the voiceover tool in Final Cut Pro to record my script narrative direct to the timeline. This is just how I do it. There are many ways to edit. You may like to have the whole project storyboarded out before you start your edit. Do whatever works best for you.
I try to scale up each photo to fill my Canvas viewer. This looks so much better than having black bars showing above and below the image.
One of the nice things about producing audio slideshows in a video editor is the ability to display multiple photos at once in the Canvas viewer. This solves the vertical photo issue of trying fill a horizontal space with a vertical rectangle. I like to fade in my vertical photos on the far left or right of my frame then fade in another image to fill the rest of the frame. Click image below to see and example of using multiple photos in one window.
Mount St. Helens comes to town
In Soundslides the default is to add a cross-fade to every image. I see a trend away from this as more people edit in video programs. Most of the time I just use quick cut between photos. It took me awhile to break the cross fade habit, but now I see how much better a show flows without all that cross fading. It also makes it easier to edit to a beat in the audio.
I tend to edit an audio slide show like I edit a video story. I try to use sequences of images that help move the story through time and place. I try to mix up the photo selection by using a mix of wide, medium and tight shots just like I do with video.
Use motion on photos with caution. Most of the time, slower is better. You don’t want to make the viewer seasick. Try not to zigzag all over the place. Use motion on a photo to reveal or isolate something that pertains to the story. I like to put a very slow pull or push on a photo that is almost not noticeable. It adds just a little kick to a static photo. One last suggestion on using motion with photos; If you are pulling out on a photo and your next image has motion too, make that one zoom in; otherwise it makes the viewer feel like they are heading through a tunnel.
Finally, the other added benefit of producing audio slide shows in a video editor is that it brings all your multimedia under one player for your website. If your video player has embed ability, it makes it easier for viewers to share your story and make it go viral.
Thirty years ago on May 18, 1980, I was a senior in high school in Spokane, Washington. It was Sunday afternoon and I was still feeling the pain from a beer-induced hangover, you know, the only kind you can get when your best friend Russ throws an “End of High School” party for the senior class.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and went out on Russ’s front porch. Glancing up at the sky, I was perplexed by what I saw. Instead of blue sky, it was brown with a pillow texture to it. “ Must be a dust storm coming,” said my friend’s father who also had no answer for weird brown sky. Suddenly, a robin came fluttering in front of us. It dove hard, landing dead on impact at my feet. I gingerly picked the bird up and when I shook it, a small cloud of dust came off its wings. What the…
I would soon find out that Mount St. Helens, 290 miles away, had literally exploded in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The best part? A dark cloud of ash would soon turn daylight into darkness. It rained ash overnight and part of the next day. For the next week communities in Central and Eastern Washington banded together to clean up the mess. Ask anyone who experienced the ash fall and I’ll guarantee they’ll have a story to tell.
A week ago, it was politely suggested to me that I should do a multimedia piece for the Mount St. Helens 30th anniversary coming up.
“I can do that,” I said. “I’m sure we have tons of photos in the digital archive.”
A quick look showed only a few pictures from that time, many of which had been used over and over. A trip to the basement print photo archive left me nowhere. It was as if Mount St. Helens ash never came to Spokane. “ Where the hell were all the photos”?
When searching the negative archive, I found a week’s worth of volcano negatives missing from the box. About to give up, I walked to the far dark corner of the neg room on a hunch. I found a shelf of orphan negative boxes labeled with old projects I was hard pressed to remember. Running my finger down the labels, I stopped on the three words: “Mount St. Helens. “
I think over the years and many volcano anniversaries later, long gone photo editors found that putting all the prints and negs in one box was a good idea. If I hadn’t made that turn into a dark corner, this audio slideshow would have been pretty lame.
My next chore was to find someone willing to write and voice a narrative that would reflect the content of the photos I had edited together. My go-to guy for historical narratives is staff writer Jim Kershner.
Kershner had that “I’m swamped ,” look in his eyes, but he said he could probably crank something out by the next afternoon. I asked him just to just write the story of the first week in Spokane and I would match the photos up with whatever he wrote. The next day as I was pawing through old unlabeled negative sheets, Kershner arrived with a killer script in hand. Only two takes later, I was ready to start assembling our St. Helens story. I like to use Final Cut Pro as I find it gives me the most flexibility with photos. I can color correct, put motion on the photo, create multi-photo windows where I can time the show to the beat of the music.
The fun part of this story for me was being like a detective, where I had to find a photo that would match the narrative. When Kershner said “Soon taverns and golf courses began to reopen,” I was lucky enough to find a photo from that week showing rednecks covered in ash drinking tavern beer and a group of golfers walking an ash-laden course.
For music, our company has an extensive Digital Juice music library I can use for multimedia projects such as this. I also used a couple of Garage Band stingers– short mood building clips–that helped set the ominous tone of the ash cloud coming our way.
Finding the Frame, a website dedicated to giving feedback to newspaper multimedia producers and video journalists has launched.
My post in Mastering Multimedia last month, “Video at newspapers needs to improve,” resonated with many people. I received lots emails from producers who vented their frustration at not being able to get feedback on their multimedia stories.
After a brainstorming session over a few beers, Brian Immel, a former multimedia producer and programmer at The Spokesman-Review, graciously agreed to build a website for the sole purpose of connecting those who need feedback on their multimedia, to professionals willing to share some time and knowledge.
Here’s how it works
The plan is to have onboard as many “expert” volunteers as possible that have solid foundations in video storytelling, audio slide shows or Flash projects. This pool of reviewers will peruse the submitted links of multimedia in the “Story Pool”. If they decide to comment on a story, it will then become public on the Finding the Frame home page where anyone else is free to give added feedback.
So why do this?
While most publications have driven head first into the online world, multimedia storytelling is still in its infancy at many newspapers. Unfortunately, not all people tasked with producing multimedia received adequate training or had the financial ability to attend a multimedia storytelling workshop. Many multimedia producers are self-taught, having picked up bit and pieces of knowledge along the way.
When I judge a multimedia contest, I often get frustrated at seeing the same problems in the execution of basic video and audio production fundamentals. Many photojournalists are struggling with how to tell an effective video or audio slideshow story that is different from the traditional still picture story.
What we need is for enough producers, multimedia editors and photojournalistswho have a solid experience with multimedia storytelling to step forward and share some of their knowledge with those that are looking for constructive, honest feedback.
So if you feel you have something to offer, we would really like you to join the pool of reviewers on Finding the Frame.
So go check it out and give Brian and me some feedback. Create an account. Upload a link to a video, audio slide show or Flash project. Be patient, as it might take some time for your story to get reviewed
I am not sure how many people will upload stories, so let’s take this slow at first. It would also be helpful if non-reviewers could give some feedback to others by commenting on their work.
If you would like to be added to the reviewer pool, register your account, making sure you create a profile and upload a photo of yourself or avatar, then email me at email@example.com with the request.
This website is for you. We would really appreciate your support and feedback.
It has been a relaxing summer and as you can see by my lack of posts, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. When I haven’t been on vacation or furlough, I’ve been shooting both stills and video. My most recent project “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon,” is yet another collaboration with Spokesman-Review reporter Kevin Graman. We spent a couple of days at a retreat for local wounded war veterans. It was (as usual) a rush to get the edit done.
Local TV news (KXLY) showed up just after we did. They grabbed a few interviews, shot some b-roll and were gone in 30 minutes. We stayed 48 hours and shot a dozen interviews. When I watched the TV version of the story, I was actually impressed. see: Local veterans getting much needed retreat.
They defined the story quickly, gave viewers the pertinent information with context from the injured soldiers. The writing was brisk, and snappy. But as I sit here seven days later, I have not much recollection of their story. It didn’t really stick with me.
I think the narrative, from both the veterans and the reporter voiceover in my video, go much deeper. I tried to keep the pace moving by editing in strong sequences of action between the talking heads. In the end, I can’t say my edit is any better—it’s just a different way to tell the same story.
One technical note here.
I used the tiny Canon HF-10 for some of the b- roll footage. I had it on a monopod, which made it easy to do high angle shots. I recorded everything in 1920p x 1080p, so it meshed perfect on the timeline with my Sony XDCAM EX-1 footage. I am hard pressed to tell the difference between video clips from the $900.00 HF 10 and the $8000.00 XDCAM.
Things I learned on this shoot.
If you’re doing a lot of interviews, mix it up some. I shot mostly tight. Having a wireless mic on the subject frees you up to move the camera to a more interesting angle. Try the side or a wideshot, then move in later in the interview. The opening shot in my video (a side wide shot,) which was my last interview, was an inspiration that came to late. If you have a second camera, shoot a different angle of the interview, which you can edit in as a cutaway later. Also remember to change up the direction the interviewees are facing. You don’t want everyone right facing into the frame like I did. For some reason, all my left facing interviews I didn’t use.
Finally, remembering to get some b-roll of each subject you interview makes life in the edit suite go so much smoother. The one sequence of the veteran Chris Carver on the high ropes course worked out great because I had him talking about how challenging that moment had been in the interview. I would have kicked myself if I had missed shooting that b-roll!
Final Cut Pro and Express users have long been frustrated with Apple’s lower thirds title generator for it lack of features. Many of the problems have been fixed in this free Final Cut plug-in by Alex Gollner. It provides more typeface, position and design options for adding text to productions. Simply download it and drop it in your Final Cut plug-in folder here: Your Startup HD/Library/Application Support/Final Cut Pro System Support/Plug-ins. It’s not to fancy like a Motion template, but for quick lower thirds on deadline, this will to the trick.
I haven’t really explored the many options for plug-ins for Final Cut. Anybody using a plug in that they can’t live without? Please share your comments…
While most still photojournalists are fawning over the wonderful DSLR/video hybrid Canon 5D Mk. II, JVC quietly unveiled a new tapeless ProHD camcorder that shakes things up a bit in the news-video world. The soon to be released (April 2009) JVC GY-HM100U has some killer features that I have been waiting years for.
First and foremost, JVC built this camera to record in native Final Cut Pro’s QuickTime file format. Its files need no ingesting/transcoding like an AVCHD files do. Nor does it re-wrap the file to an editable format like my Sony XDCAM EX-1. What this means is you can start editing video from the camera immediately. The GY-HM100U is built to work seamlessly with Final Cut Pro 6. I’m not sure if Final Cut Express 4 is supported with this camera yet.
Second, it records to cheap SDHC media cards. Instead of having to buy Sony $800 dollar 16 gig SxS cards or Panasonic’s P2 media, 40 bucks will get you a 16 gig SDHC card for the GY-HM100. It has two card slots for a combined total 64 gigs of storage space.
Third, the GY-HM100U has a small form factor. It weighs just three pounds. My wrist sometimes hurts when I shoot with my much heavier Sony XDCAM EX-1, so this full-featured, but light weight camera would be a welcome relief.
The GY-HM100U seems to have all the bells and whistles I’d expect from a pro camera: A decent HD lens, dual channel balanced audio inputs, full manual controls, for focus, white balance, shutter, iris etc.
Finally cost. JVC says it will be priced below $4000.00. That is right in the price point of the popular tape-based Canon XH A1.
High fives to the JVC engineering team for listening to their customers. This is a shot fired over the bow of Canon who has yet to produce a tapeless pro camcorder. Codec’s like AVCHD are fine for consumers who have the time wait for the files to be converted, but not so in deadline environments newspapers work in. Lets hope this is the beginning of a new generation of video cameras that will make transcoding and file rewrapping a thing of the past.
Here a couple of links for more info on the JVC GY-HM100U: