Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon link

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!

A better Final Cut lower thirds title generator

lowerthirds

 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…

JVC GY-HM100U and Final Cut Pro–A match made in heaven

JVC GY-HM100

JVC GY-HM100

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:

GY-HM100U product video

JVC GY-HM100U Info page

Final Cut Pro’s Voice Over Tool is a Time Saver

recordIt took me forever, but I finally tried out Final Cut Pro’s voice over tool yesterday for a daily video I did about a 100 people who lined up at a hardware store to buy snow shovels. The record 60-inches of snow that has fallen in the last month in Spokane, has made snow shovels scarcer then George Bush is on the national scene. 

The voice over recording feature in Final Cut Pro is one I had almost forgotten about. Now that I have started to do more narration in my videos, I realized my present workflow was really inefficient. I had been using an Edirol -R9 digital recorder connected to condenser mic–a Rode NT3.  After recording a script with four or five takes, I would import the audio files into Final Cut via USB from the recorder. It was all very time consuming.

I’m still trying to get the hang of writing a video script.  I usually edit my video in a linear fashion, stopping to add narration when needed. I know this goes against the TV news model of recording the entire script and then quickly laying the b-roll and cutaways on top of the audio. I found the voice over tool is perfect for my editing style.

Here’s how it works. My newspaper bought a cheap USB audio mixer (it cost about $120 bucks) a while ago when we were kind of playing with podcasts. Since we gave that fad up, the mixer was just gathering dust. I rescued it and hooked it up to my Mac. I plugged in my Rode NT3 mic in via XLR cable, turned the power on and was good to go.

In my shovel video story, I would drop some edited b-roll clips on the timeline, then place my play head where I wanted to start my voice over. I went to: Tools>Voice Over to open the voice over tool. It was pretty simple from then on. I clicked the red record button and got a visual and audio countdown before the recording started. It automatically backs the play head up five seconds for the countdown.  I read my short script and when done, hit the space bar to stop recording. The audio clip then appeared in my timeline right where I had placed the play head.  I clicked into the timeline and listened to the clip.  If I hated it, I’d just hit delete it and do another take. 

Some things to remember: You’ll want to make sure you have video clips on the timeline because the voice over tool won’t record on a blank timeline. Also, it won’t record past to end of the last clip or a blank spot between two clips on the timeline.

Update: Peter Saliva adds this even better tip for recording without video on the timeline:

“Another trick you can try when using the voice over tool: set an in and out point in your time line where no media exists, for say 2 minutes. Then you have established a duration in which your voice over can be recorded and you don’t need to have media present. You can record multiple takes without the hassle of muting or disabling additional audio tracks with other media.”

Final Cut Pro’ s voice over tool is going to make doing narration much easier for me.  Now, if I could just learn to write better scripts…

Frame grab workflow from the Sony XDCAM EX-1

leaf
From my last post, Matt Dial and Peter Houppi asked to see some frame grabs from my new Sony XDCAM EX-1.
brenna
On Sunday I shot some video of fall color and my daughter, freckles and all, Brenna. The day was cloudy and the light was low contrast.

Here was my workflow:

Transferred the clips into Final Cut Pro 6’s browser via “Log and Transfer.” It took only about 20 seconds to convert two minutes of video.

Loaded a clip into the viewer. Set an in and out point, then dropped the clip onto my timeline.

Navigated to the frame I wanted, then made a “freeze frame” by going to>Modify>Make Freeze Frame.

The freeze frame automatically loads into the viewer. I placed it on the timeline and set an in and out point. I double clicked the still frame clip to load back into the viewer. Then went to: Sequence>Render all.  Make sure “Full” is checked
Render out the clip (Command R)

Now export the freeze frame

Go to File>Export>Using Quicktime Conversion
Under format use “Still”
Under “Options” use “Photoshop”

Click “Options” and use “Best Depth” (I’m guessing here. There is a “millions of color” option, but I went with the default Best Depth.)

Name the file and export to your desktop.

Open in Photoshop and work the file like any digital still photo. The photo open as 5.93 meg file.

Some things I’ve noticed:

In Quicktime Conversion, don’t set the export to jpg. It adds compression jaggies to the frame grab.

Adding a light unsharp mask to the frame grab really brings out the detail.

I tried using David Leeson’s Voodoo Tool with ok results, but found my method looked as good without the upsizing to a 67 meg file.

If anybody else has suggestions for getting the best out of a fame grab do share…

Canon HF-10 performs stellar during training

Last week’s two-day video storytelling workshop for six journalists from The Spokesman-Review newsroom went well.  On day one I pounded into them the fundamentals of shooting, sequencing and storytelling.  I then turned them lose to shoot the rest of the afternoon. This was a highly motivated group. All in the class wanted to learn how to shoot and edit video. There was no arm-twisting by their editors.

On day two, I demonstrated Final Cut Express and how to capture video from camera to computer.  Out of six journalists, three received the new flash drive based Canon HF-10 video camera. Two others had standard def. Sony SR-200 hard drive cameras and one photographer inherited my prized Sony HVR-Z1U.

Come capture time, I was a little nervous. Other than some quick tests, I hadn’t really given the Canon HF-10’s a real field test. The moment of truth came when the three cameras were connected to the laptops through Final Cut’s new Log and Transfer feature.  Two of the three camera’s video clips showed up in the clip pane immediately. The third camera crashed Final Cut. A quick look at the computer found the reporter had a half-dozen other programs open at the same time. After a restart, all was well.

The workflow with the HF-10 is really simple. Just after Log and Transfer is opened, all the video clips on the camera’s flash drive show up quickly in a window. In order for Final Cut Express to be able to read and edit these files, it needs to transcode them from AVCHD into something it can read and edit. In this case, it is Apple’s Intermediate codec (Final Cut Pro 6 uses the better ProRes 422 codec.)

The transferred files are large, but with today’s massive hard drives and fast processors, it really isn’t a problem. With my old Log and Capture workflow, I would bring in all my video as one large clip, then break it up once it was in Final Cut. Instead, Log and Transfer allows you to scrub each video clip quickly, setting  in and out points of only what you need. After giving the clip a descriptive label, you drag it to the transfer window.  While that clip is converting, you start on the next. By the time you are ready to start editing, you will have reviewed everything you had shot and the clips will waiting for you already be labeled in the browser.

I think this is a much faster workflow then spending countless minutes scrubbing through unlabeled clips. Editing is faster because you don’t have a bunch of crap video to wade through. The three reporters who shot with the Canon HF-10s were all pleased with the camera and workflow. The HD video is stunning compared with standard def. and the camera handled low light amazingly well.

Part of their final assignment was to shoot an interview using their new Sennheiser G-2 wireless mic. All came back with stellar audio. Editing time was about four hours for about a minute and half of edited video. Not bad for the first time editing in Final Cut. Music reporter Som Jordan shot and edited this piece, which is now posted on The Spokesman-Review’s website. Business reporter, Parker Howell shot this video that was a companion to a story he wrote. Howell already had some experience with Final Cut so he cranked out this video quickly.

At the end of the day I gave a final critique of the finished projects. I was pleased by what I saw. Many used techniques that took me a year to finally grasp. I kept my feedback positive. One of the last projects I critiqued was by photojournalist Rajah Bose on Mutton Bustin’ at the county fair. You could tell a photographer shot this video. The visuals stood out from the rest of the stories.  I was really impressed, considering this was only the second video Bose had ever edited in Final Cut.

My plan is get together every so often and hold critique sessions of videos these new VJ’s produce. I will also do more advanced training in Final Cut during some brown bag sessions. They all will have a hill to climb. There is so much I was not able to teach in such a short amount of time–but will get there together.

On the other end of video experience spectrum in our newsroom, my co-worker Dan Pelle today shot edited this incredible visual story on ultralight trike aircraft. It has excellent sequencing and each clip is framed like it was shot with a still camera. This is definitely not the Spokesman-Review newsroom of a just few years ago.

A new crop of video journalists await

Right now my office looks like a camera store warehouse. Boxes of Canon HF-10 video cameras, Sennheiser wireless kits and shotgun mics will soon be deployed into The Spokesman-Review newsroom.  Next week, seven S-R journalists will attend a two-day in-house video workshop where I will teach the basics of shooting and editing video.

Each journalist has been assigned a MacBook Pro loaded with Final Cut Express software. Their newsroom roles are diverse–a breaking news mobile journalist, a music culture writer, two business reporters, a sports reporter, a photojournalist and our state legislative reporter.

Two days. That is the amount of time I have to share what has taken me four years to learn. The reality is that what I teach in this short workshop is only the framework of what these innovative journalists will need to learn. The heavy lifting will have to come from them as they learn to master the fundamentals over time.

One of the things I’ve discovered from other video workshops I’ve taught, is the less technical I get, the better students are able to grasp the fundamentals.  Spending a week watching Final Cut demos is not an effective way to teach video editing. The more hands-on training a student has, the faster they will learn.

After the workshop, my plan is to be a coach until each new video producer feels comfortable enough to fly solo. I will give constructive criticism and editing help on each video they produce. Truth is, most of these first productions will probably suck. I’m ok with that—and so should they. Video storytelling is tough, especially for word-oriented people. But with time and feedback they will get better, their editing will become faster and their storytelling confidence will grow.

These seven journalists were chosen because each has shown a willingness to adapt to change professionally. As our website grows in importance, their videos will help enhance Spokesman.com’s content in way words and pictures cannot do alone.