Friday, August 31, 2007

Time Has Not Stopped

Time has not stopped in its tracks -- I've just been slow to post for the last week.

A few reasons: new gig, old gigs, revamping for Fall.

All will be detailed soon.....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Shoutouts

Our friends at Inkaland have returned from their documentary shoot in Peru.

Our friends in Toronto are tracking the Toronto International Film Festival.

Our Poverty Jetset pals are shooting a demolition derby in the Poconos.

And our California friends have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stills and Video

My other blog, New York Portraits, turns one today, and I've been thinking about the significant differences between still and moving images.

As with color and black and white photography, there is a tendency for people to think one is a limited form. Technical limitations meant photographers could produce black-and-white imagery before color was possible, so it's easy for us to believe color photography is in some way a more advanced form. The fact, however, is that it simply works differently. Comprehending those differences can require a subtle and complicated visual literacy, but that's fine.

Similar ideas come up when we consider still versus video work, and we're now at the point where the two "compete" in the same arena: the Web. The early Web could support still images, but not video, and now for most people either will work fine. So the question arises: what does each form do well, and why wouldn't I simply want video for everything?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rewatching and Rehearing

In general, if you make video work you get better at it over time. It's a slower improvement than in a field like photography -- where sometimes you go from little understanding to a high level of seeing in just a matter of weeks. Still, over time you get better at understanding why something works or doesn't work, and your ideas on how to cut become more refined.

Well, I recently had to watch a number of older pieces I made (I was assembling them for a portfolio) and went through the experience of re-thinking each cut as I watched them. It's not an easy process.

The biggest surprise was that I've learned a lot about audio continuity in the last year -- and that was the main thing I thought the older pieces lacked. The idea of how sound lets us orient ourselves in an imagined place and how each soundscape can flow into the next is something I had not always been thinking about. I think I still have a lot to learn about it, so I'm looking for ways to practice that set of skills....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Best Books on Editing Theory

I've had a few conversations about editing theory lately, and always I point to the three books by or about Walter Murch as great background material. To me, these are the closest most of us will get to watching over the shoulder of someone like Murch -- an expert practioner and a brilliant theorist.

And all three books are entertaining, as well....

In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema, First Edition

Friday, August 10, 2007

Late Friday Afternoon Corrections

Previously we announced that our short film Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing would travel to Kosovo in August for Dokufest. Apparently this did not work out and the film is not showing there. Ah well, perhaps next year.

New Posts at Inkaland

Profluence member Maya and CFoA (Certified Friend of Actualities) Chris have continued writing on their documentary trip to Peru at Inkaland.

The National Film Challenge

The National Film Challenge has just announced its competition weekend will be October 19-22, 2007. What is it? It's "a timed filmmaking competition where filmmaking teams have just one weekend to make a short film." Sounds great to me.

I don't think I'll be able to take part, though. First, I'm certain I'd draw the "musical" genre, and second I may have something going that weekend....

I do see, however, that The International Documentary Challenge has been scheduled for March 6-10, 2008. Perhaps I should put that on the calendar....

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Over on New York Portraits I'm documenting my participation in the Spin 3: Txt Me L8r exhibition at Houston Center for Photography. The short version: the museum sends text messages to the artists in the show, and then we respond and send in cell phone photographs. These are posted on a Flickr site, and then will be projected in the museum.

It's been fun so far:

assignment one
assignment two
assignment three
assignment three, part two
assignment four

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I Did With My Summer Vacation, Part Two

Well, the 12-week run of the Frugal Traveler's trip from New York to Seattle has come to an end. Here are the Frugal Traveler episodes I edited this summer.

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 1: Maryland and North Carolina) 3:07
May 23, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 2: Armuchee, Georgia) 4:14
May 30, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 3: Nashville, Tennessee) 4:39
June 6, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 4: Columbus, Indiana) 4:28
June 13, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 5: West Lima, Wisconsin) 4:36
June 20, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 6: South Dakota & Nebraska) 5:04
June 27, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 7: Greensburg, Kansas) 5:26
July 4, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 8: Austin, Texas) 5:05
July 11, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 9: Columbus, New Mexico) 4:29
July 18, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 10: Fort Collins, Colorado) 4:57
July 25, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 12: Newport, Oregon) 5:28
August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why is Audio So Hard? Five Audio Tips

In low-budget video production -- sometimes even in medium-budget work -- the biggest problems usually come from audio issues. Here are a couple of quick ideas on how to avoid an audio crisis in small-crew video production:

1. Proximity Problems
No on-camera mic is great at a distance from your subject. While you can often get a better visual by backing up, keep in mind that a great visual of an interview without clear audio is not usable. If there's doubt about what you are getting, get closer with the camera and get the microphone in close.

2. Background Noise
Keep in mind that even background sounds which don't overwhelm or distract from your subject's voice can cause problems. If you are cutting together a few short phrases from a longer statement -- common practice in short video -- the background sounds can make this very difficult. Wear headphones that cover your ears and you'll hear these background problems before you record them.

3. Directionality problems
A shotgun microphone -- either on a camcorder or on a boom pole -- is a great solution for this kind of work. But it introduces a new problem: directionality. If we have two people speaking, it is very easy to have the microphone pointed at one and not the other, and we end up with one subject sounding great and the other weak. Or, if a shotgun is on camera, you may have audio levels go up and down as the camera changes where it is pointed. If you are going to use a microphone on a boom, practice with it -- wear some headphones and try it on a few live conversations.

4. The Two-Level Trick
In documentary-style production, situations often change very quickly. You might set a level and then realize the everything has gotten quieter or louder. Or the sounds you want might vary greatly. One excellent trick is to record onto to channels or two separate sources and set the levels differently. For example, say we had a boom microphone going into the camcorder and had set that level to our best guess. You could also record into another source -- another camera or a field recorder or anything you can get your hands on -- taking the same signal but setting a higher or lower level. So, if we imagine a situation where most of the audio is fine but our subject screamed a few times and became too loud and distorted --we could be saved by a second recorder set at a lower level. We'd just find and drop in the lower-level audio in that section.

5. Would You Repeat That?
There are a lot of ethical choices involved in documentary filmmaking. One that most people get past quickly is leaving the subject alone entirely. So, if after three days of following a subject around, they finally say something central to the story and a car horn honks in the background, consider asking them to repeat it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

In Production

On Friday we shot Episode Two of the Photo Chick project.

Note that this is very straightforward, ultra-low-budget production, since that is all that's really needed: borrow an office, move the desks out, set up and shoot.

Big soft boxes? Nope -- point some hot lights through a diffuser. Fancy set? Nope -- some black board. Boom mic? Nope, Lavalier Microphone.
Crew? Nope: point the camera and tape.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

This Just In

Some news on the proposed new rules on photography (and videography, and cinematography) in New York:

"August 3, 2007 - Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (MOFTB) Commissioner Katherine Oliver today announced that MOFTB will redraft proposed Charter-mandated rules for issuing permits to film or photograph on public property. The revision of the rules will take into account feedback MOFTB has received over the past two months. Public comment, which is scheduled to end today, will be re-opened for another 30-day period after the redrafted rules are published."
As before, my advice is that online petitions, videos protesting the rules, etc. all have their place. Your best bet, however, if you are concerned about the issue, is to write:
The Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting 1697 Broadway Suite 602, New York, New York 10019

Friday, August 03, 2007

On my Other Blog

Over on New York Portraits:

The Quest for Shirley begins, as does the Txt Me L8r exhibition in Houston.

New Episode of Photo Chick

I've been helping with the new "Photo Chick" series. Episode One is posted, and we're shooting Episode Two today. The idea is that it will be a series of 3-minute videoblogs, usually containing photography tips but perhaps also addressing other aspects of the field. I expect the show will also go outside the studio once in a while for more of a documentary approach.

This first episode was a sort of "shake down cruise" -- finding out what works and what doesn't. We've learned a few things we'll apply to future episodes. For example, I think the idea of cutting from wide shot to closer shot is fine, but both cameras should use direct eye contact. As well, the process we used ended up a touch darker than I'd like by the time it made it though the encoding to YouTube, so we'll light the next one for more separation from the background.

We'll see how it progresses....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Editing Notes on the Latest Frugal Traveler

When I was a kid, there was a craze for obstacle courses.

No, really, that's not totally made up -- there was. In 1973 ABC started broadcasting a show called "The Superstars," which had athletes from different fields compete in a series of athletic events, ending in an obstacle course. That show then spawned "Battle of the Network Stars" in 1976, also ending in an obstacle course.

I'm thinking of that now because Tuesday night's editing process for the Frugal Traveler was a bit of an obstacle course: no one element was insurmountable, but each element was a significant challenge -- and I was exhausted by the end. Usually the way these edits go is that the overall video has several sections that cut easily, but one or two that have some real challenge to them -- editing problems. These might be based on any number of issues, and you generally either delve into the logic of a particular section deep enough to understand how it can work well, or you make some compromise and get it to at least function and not derail the piece altogether.

The latest video, however, was nothing but editing problems. It's surprising, because the material was good, shot well, and there was a lot of coverage of angles and events. On the surface it seemed like it would be simple to put together. It's a fairly straightforward piece. There's some driving at the beginning, then some hiking, then some cooking and resting, then more hiking, and eventually a parody of a "showdown" sequence in the style of a Western. The surprise was that each section really required a lot of delving and some sort of a fix -- nothing cut easily.

So I spent a long night with a lot of editing questions. Here are a few issues for consideration....

1. One that was easily solved: you want to show hikers moving along through the wilds. You have a series of shots, all set up well with the camera on a tripod, and these include time before the hikers enter, then the hikers entrance, and the long progression through the space and eventually exiting the frame. How do cut these together? Well, if one was making a 6-hour video, you would start each shot before the hikers enter the frame, watch them go all the way through and exit the frame. That's way too long, of course, so the question becomes: how do you cut the short version? How can you compress the time but make it feel continuous? What I liked best: each shot starts before the hikers' entrance, they get into the frame (usually to the middle) and you cut to the next shot -- just before the hikers' entrance in that shot. Simple. Audio helps determine exactly what frame to cut on, as we realize it isn't realtime continuity but continuity of action. Audio that seems "live" from shot to shot also helps with the feel of that continuity.

2. Another, a bit harder to solve: compressing the time of a cooking segment with limited shots. If one had a long shot or shots of someone going through a cooking process, you could easily compress them if cutaways existed. That is, now I break the egg in the pan, cut to audience reaction, back to cooking egg in pan, reaction, etc. That way a process can be greatly accelerated without too much confusion. But, without much in the way of cutaways, the key for this piece was to look for shots that were significantly different from the previous shot -- that is, don't cut from boiling broth to stirring eggs, as the shots are somewhat similar, but do cut from adding an ingredient to a wide shot of the cooking location back to the next step in the cooking process...

3. A pretty typical strategy in videos with music is to bring in music at full volume, then ramp it down over 1 - 3 seconds, just as or just before someone is going to speak, then ramp it back up after they speak. Fade out at the end. But sometimes, for one reason or another, you have to get out of a musical segment quickly. You can't just cut music abruptly -- it sounds very unnatural to our ears, since we hear music in a physical space and even if you clicked a radio off there would still be some reverberation of the sound. So the trick in this piece was to emphasize that further. I needed to get from the Western-style music to a shot with live sound / sound FX and a fade out of the music would not have made sense. An abrupt cut of it couldn't work. So, the answer was to find where I would "click the radio off" and then take that clip -- cut on that frame -- into an audio editing program and add a ton of reverb to it. Then, export the clip that has the sound of the reverberation and add it to the edit. The effect is as if you turned the radio off abruptly but the live space you were in let it reverberate. It makes sense in the piece and lets us transition to the "drama" of the blowing wind as the two characters face off....

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Episode of Frugal Traveler

Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip
(Week 11: Wyoming & Montana) 5:05
August 1, 2007