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Editors Who Shoot – Thinking Ahead to Fix Your Own Post

I know there’s a lot of us out there. We prefer the dark, climate controlled edit cave and the soft, warm glow of a monitor. But then our world crashes down and we’re forced to actually go out into the world and shoot things with a camera and everything.

I don’t know about you, but this is my weak point. I’m better at crafting things in the edit (and complaining about the ineptitude of a shooter) than actually shooting it myself (and mourning my lack of skills in the field).

The positive side about shooting your own material is that you know your own weaknesses, and you can plan around them to try to help yourself inevitably “fix it in post.” There are some simple things you can do during a shoot to set yourself up for success on the timeline: taking notes, great pre-production, getting a metric ton of b-roll, establishing shots…thinking like an editor while you’re shooting will really help you out.

And yea, you can work hard to try to get it right, but sometimes you just know things are going south rapidly. Recently, I was in Texas shooting at a trucking company. A majority of my day was spent chasing a couple of semis around the extremely busy Dallas interstates, jumping out of a vehicle, and setting up different shots before they drove by. As you can imagine, I didn’t always have enough time to think about my shots. During one such moment, I jumped right out of the car and into a bed of weeds along the road as I could see the trucks approaching in the distance. I didn’t have time to set my tripod because the ground wasn’t even close to level anyway, so I decided to try it handheld, zoomed in. Ugh. Did I mention it was like 95 degrees? So much sweat.

Here’s the result.

Comparison - Before - Stabilization with a Reference Point

Could be worse, but yea, it sucks.

However, as I was framing, I decided to try to leave in that little antennae tower thingy. Why? I know that camera tracks and stabilizers work best with a really solid reference point that doesn’t leave the frame. There’s a lot going on in this shot between the foreground being blurred and the trees blowing and everything, but that spot is pretty much untouched and available for the software to reference. I opened up Premiere Pro CS6 and used Warp Stabilizer – no motion, position/scale/rotation, auto-scale/crop/stabilize.

Here’s the shot afterward.

Comparison - After - Stabilization with a Reference Point

Then just now, I was wondering if CS6′s stabilizer didn’t even care about reference points, if maybe it was so crazy anymore it could figure it out. So I grabbed another shot of a truck that came up a few miles behind where I moved the framing to just include the trees, since I had grabbed the shot that would possibly be tracked already. (That’s another good planning thing: only do dumb things after you’re sure you have something viable.)

Here’s that shot.

Comparison - Before - Stabilization with No Reference Point

And here it is stabilized with the same settings.

Comparison - After - Stabilization with a Reference Point

It did pretty well, but you can see that there’s a funky zoom in it.

Knowing what your tools need from your footage in order to help you fix it in post is a valuable skill if you have to go out and shoot. Obviously the best way is to simply get it right. But I’m honest with myself – I kinda suck at that sometimes, as do most of us – so I plan ahead and try to think about what I’ll need to help myself recover later.

And if anyone has any comments on Premiere Pro CS6′s Warp Stabilizer, I’d be glad to hear them. This is my first time using it, and I don’t think I need to say that it’s about a billion times more usable than the stabilizer in FCP7. But it is. And you can still work while it analyzes, if you didn’t know. SO GREAT!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on May 30, 2012 at 8:11:11 pmComments (2) warp stabilizer, videography

20 Beginner Tips for 48 Hour Film Project Survival

Since the 48 Hour Film Project is kicking off this month, I figured I'd update my tips and repost. So, you're crazy enough to have signed up for the 48 Hour Film Project and now you're Googling away, trying to make that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach go away by researching and preparing yourself? Spoiler alert: unless you really get an endorphin trip from pure craziness and frenzy, that feeling isn't going away. There's not a whole lot you can do to really prepare yourself for the crushing realization you have to make a film in two frickin' days, but these tips will certainly help you set yourself up as best you possibly can to avoid some of the pitfalls before you even get started.

If you've read this on my blog before, it's because I posted an older version before. This is an updated post.

<!--more-->Oh, and some background on me: I've done the 48 Hour Film Project twice (2010 and 2011). Our film won best music in 2010. Didn't win squat in 2011. Our 2010 film really got some mega-mileage out of this two day insane-a-thon though. It's won some awards at other festivals (including Best Film, at a contest where it competed against films that had UNLIMITED time to finish!) and it's been screened at something like 10 theaters across the midwest, even so recently as last month. So clearly we did something right. However, remember that like any other awards ceremonies and contests, there are politics and opinions involved and often the deserving films are beaten by the flashy or heavy concept ones. Just a warning - the judges make a huge difference, so do this contest for the fun of it, not the glory of awards. But that should be true in any case!

1. Assemble your crew ahead of time and come up with a plan.
This is the best thing we did. We had a couple of meetings beforehand where we solidified our roles, equipment, where we'd find props, actors, etc. We had a production schedule on paper to help keep us on track even though we had absolutely no idea what we'd be shooting. Everyone knew the basic outline for the weekend and what kind of expectations to set.

2. Pick locations beforehand - and make sure you have full access.
This is another great thing we did. We decided to stick to one single very diverse location to limit our ideas and transportation time. We set up a little headquarters, had parking taken care of, and spent the entire day in this location. We let it help guide our shot selections. Plus, we got shooting permissions signed off on well ahead of time. However, we were on one location late at night doing some editing as well, and we happened to get tossed out by the local security/police. The person who had signed our location release had put the address of his building only, not the entire location (it was a college campus). Although it was totally clear we were allowed to be there, the officer took the opportunity to take advantage of this technicality. If you're in a place that can have gray areas, get an itemized list of the locations you're allowed in, and the times you're allowed there.

3. Make sure your auxiliary crew knows the plan.
Our core crew was pretty well on top of things, but we had some extended crew like hair, makeup, etc, who likely never saw the production schedule. Obviously it's helpful to them if they know how long they have to do a hairstyle or create a makeup change. And make sure extras know the plan and are treated well too.

4. Have a backup plan, even if it sucks.
On the day of our shoot in 2010, our main talent didn't show up and was unreachable. Turns out he stayed up all night for no reason and fell asleep with his phone off. Great, never working with you again! But miraculously, we ended up finding a quick replacement with his entire day free that was 10 times better and brought so much more to the role than our original person ever could have. We could have easily have been screwed though. Although you have no time to figure things out, always try to keep some sort of Plan B in your back pocket - whether it's a talent replacement or a weather challenge, or a location change. We had a backup in mind that would have worked and we were about 4 minutes away from putting him in front of the camera, so we didn't end up losing that much time to this fiasco. We also had a backup location for rain and a backup schedule to work around rain. We didn't end up needing either (barely, it rained right after we finished the outside shots).

5. Don't get distracted by the assigned aspects (character, dialogue, etc.)
The problem with 48HFPs in general is that people get distracted by everything going on and their story gets lost. Make sure when you are writing your script or outline, everyone agrees on the basic plot, story, and theme of your film. No matter what, this core concept will not change on the fly. That's when things turn to crap. Also, avoid cliches because most films will be FILLED with them - both plot and visual cliches. Don't get hooked by one aspect of your film - for example, if you have a good idea for the use of your prop, don't let it dictate the entire production. While there are awards for such things like best use of prop, it probably doesn't make for a great story.

6. Be willing to compromise - changes WILL happen.
As the production moves forward, you'll hit challenges. Everyone needs to be willing to evolve with the production. These changes happen on movies of any scale. It's just with the 48HFP, the evolution of the film happens in lightspeed. Everyone needs to be flexible. If you had hard-headed people on your team, ditch them. Everyone needs to work together.

7. Dedicate liberal time to production.
We decided to dedicate our entire Saturday to production, no matter how long it would take. That was the right call. Our call time was 8a and we shot from about 10am til 8pm.

8. Start editing while you're still shooting.
Our editing area was near our shooting area. We shot tapes to about half and ran them to the editor to begin logging. I would have preferred a tapeless workflow obviously but it wasn't something we'd done before as a team. At this point, if you shoot tapeless and edit in Premiere CS6, you should have almost no downtime. That is a huge plus.

9. And if at all possible, keep production and post production separate.
Your production crew can rest while the edit happens, and the editors can rest while the production happens. No one will be married to any shots because the editor will be impartial. Then on Sunday morning, the edit can be locked with everyone fairly well rested. That's really how this should work. Ideally, if there can be someone on set as a liaison between the editor and the production crew to relay the idea of the film and what the director wants, that would be best. If it can be the director, super. Better yet might be a second assistant director who is there half a day and hasn't been going strong for hours, but understands the film from the other assistant director and reading over script notes.

10. Pay a lot of attention to sound.
This is one of the top 3 things that derail a production - no matter how great your visuals, if your audio track is awful, you will never be successful. Have a dedicated sound person recording or monitoring. If you can't, strip away your location sound and add in stock audio. Or do a silent film. Don't forget to grab room tone. These things are usually shown in nice theaters, bad audio sounds even worse. For our first production we didn't want to get screwed with audio, so when we wrote our script, we intentionally made it very silent, relying on foley and ADR over location sound.

11. The other 2 things that derail a production: lack of communication, and getting hung up on things that don't matter.
Keep communication open and honest. And if something is holding you back, make a decision and move forward. If nothing else, just defer to the director. Make a decision collectively ahead of time that someone will just be the final decision maker. It's better to just understand that not everyone will get what they want than to fight about dumb things.

12. Test your workflow ahead of time!
This is huge. Have everyone on the same page as far as how the workflow will go from ingest to delivery. Test out bringing in footage, getting the right aspect ratio, how long the color grade will take the render, and how long the export will take. Have a Compressor setting set up with the delivery requirements. However long the export will be planned to take - double that time. Make sure you have at least that amount of time on Sunday. Seriously, do this. You don't want to be watching a render bar 15 minutes before the deadline.

13. Now is not the time to try something new.
If you have a new plugin, or you want to build something new in After Effects, great. Just don't do it when you only have 48 hours to finish. Stick to tried and true methods, things you can pull together in your sleep. Or else you might be stuck trying to figure out something trivial that has no bearing to your story. Keep it SIMPLE.

14. Dedicate one person to paperwork.
There is a crapload of paperwork you need to turn in with your project. Have one person responsible for gathering and organizing all of it. There is too much to have it flopping around everywhere. You don't want to get disqualified for something stupid like a missing release.

15. Have someone completely separate from your production cater for you.
Parents, friends, whatever. Have someone bring food at a designated time during production and have everyone take a break. They will be happier for it. And your cast will be impressed you actually thought to feed them real food (and not just cold pizza) and will want to work with you again.

16. Have a production assistant you can depend on for menial tasks.
Coffee grabber, equipment finder, or just someone to watch your editing room while you go to the bathroom. It's very handy to have someone willing to stick around and do whatever you might need whenever you might need it. A friend is ideal, a student or someone interested in filmmaking is even better. Our PA was Lauren, and she was able to sit and watch equipment, direct extra crew and cast to the right areas, clean up, and run to get us things so we didn't have to leave the edit. It was lovely.

17. Just because you have 7 minutes doesn't mean it needs to be 7 minutes.
Honestly, most films I saw could have been cut in half. Increase the pacing, cut the nonsense, and make it shorter. It's almost always better.

18. Story is the key. Keep it simple!
Like I said, you don't have anything if you don't have a great story. A lot of 48 hour films I've seen look good and have some great aspects to them but they don't tell a good or complete story. So what's the point of them? The films that win (usually..hopefully) have a great story. If you can, get some people involved on your team that have a background in writing or storytelling. Keep it SIMPLE.

19. Have someone take production stills for you.
You'll be busy, so recruit a budding photographer or bribe a professional to document your day. You'll love seeing all the photos later, especially because you won't remember a lot of it.

20. Have fun.
You aren't making an Oscar winning film in 48 hours, it just doesn't happen. This is a great opportunity for you to bond with your friendly filmmakers, meet some new people, and see what's possible.

BONUS TIP: Constraint is your friend. Having the genre, character, and item thrown at you on Friday night is enough variable. Establish the pool of actors you'll draw from, the location you'll be at, and maybe some possible costuming or props. Don't change this stuff. Use it to guide your story. This allows you to develop a story easier - you're writing a story around a certain person or place instead of writing a story and trying to figure out who could play the lead, where you'll shoot it, and if it's even possible to do so. What's easier: "We need to write a comedy" or "We need to write a comedy about a butcher with a dog that will take place in this office"? Find the film "The Five Obstructions" and get some inspiration. Thinking from a constrained viewpoint instead of having the entire world at your finger tips makes a much better film.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on May 18, 2012 at 5:40:28 amComments (2) 48 hour film, film race

Using YouTube Retention Data to Edit for the Web

Today, I was checking on some video analytics for a client's YouTube account. I manage the postings for the account, and use the data to develop stronger videos as time goes on.

YouTube recently redesigned their analytics dashboard (again), and one of the changes was the addition of "Audience Retention." This feature kind of existed before as "Hot Spots." Hot Spots compared your video to other videos across YouTube of similar length, and showed you a relative graph of how much of your audience you were retaining relative to the other videos. The graph would show you peaks and valleys so you could check where people were likely skipping forward (valley), rewinding a section (peaks), or just leaving altogether (downward slope). It was a really good indicator of what people liked or didn't like about your video, and I used it a lot to see where I was losing people. It was a bit vague though -- it didn't really offer any true numbers, just "hot!" or "cold!"

The Audience Retention feature now calls this "Relative Audience Retention," one of two options available to view. The other option? Absolute Audience Retention. A real time, moment by moment graph of your viewers' attention to your video - and ONLY your video. I was checking some videos today on the Absolute Retention, including one of the most popular postings in the last year. This video has gotten a ton of views and is currently sitting at number 4 in the top 10 videos on the account.

The retention rate for the final two minutes of the video: 15%.

This video is the last part in a four part series following two guys as they go through a school. It's shown to new students in the classroom on the first or second day of classes, and I've been told that it's helped a lot to improve graduation rates since it puts people at ease. We've gotten a lot of really good feedback and students are engaged in the video the whole time (mostly, anyway). They remember the information provided, and their questions to instructors are better since they are more informed about everything.

The structure of the piece is pretty simple, basically three quick acts. The setup: it's the final day of class, the students have to pass a test, and there's a dramatic build up. Will they fail? Will they succeed? Then they pass and talk about how it felt and where they go next. Informative (if a little too talky at times but that's another post), sucks the students in, plays well on the big screen.

It gets a LOT of views on YouTube, but it simply doesn't hold the attention of the viewer the same way. They barely make it halfway through, and certainly don't make it to the end where we tell them what action they should be taking next. 7000 views in the last few months, but only 15% of those viewers are seeing the entire video.

This has made me think a lot about how to approach an edit for the web. In this case, the YouTube views fall off dramatically as soon as viewers know the outcome of the tests - basically, after the climax, they run for the door (typical.) The topic of the video is obviously a really popular search term since so many people hit it. But then they bail. Why? I'm assuming they just wanted to see what the test was like, and were engaged just enough to care if the guys passed. They aren't a captive audience, they're distracted by a million other things on the Internet, and while my video is answering their questions, they would prefer to be entertained instead. My conclusion is that I need to do more videos with this subject, and be more clever about how the action unfolds, and how I deliver the calls to action. The information you can gain from these graphs is not always so abstract. It can be as simple as checking to see if a setup falls flat, if a hook is grabby enough, or I suppose you could even compare versions of videos to see if different edits or graphics make a difference.

The interesting thing is that if you look at the Relative Retention on this video, it's not awful. Remember, this compares the audience retention to videos of similar length to yours.

What does that tell me? It tells me that YouTube users have no frickin' attention span, and it's all part of the challenge when editing for the Internet.And there's an awful lot of horrible crap on YouTube, weighing down the site.

And a lot of web video experts will tell you different things about this. The big thing right now seems to be "if your content is engaging, people will watch the whole thing no matter the length!" Yea, maybe for some audiences. But not all of them. This video I'm talking about is tightly edited, packed with good information, well-recieved among students, and answers a lot of questions. But YouTube viewers in my neck of the woods aren't interested. They might stick around if there was a nude woman, maybe. And that's a big maybe. I have to play a game with them and try new things to engage them and make them realize that this is the exact information they were seeking.

Go check out that Audience Retention tab on YouTube and see what juicy bits you can glean from it about your media. Are people rewinding a part to watch repeatedly, maybe a comedic cut? Are people fast-forwarding in a section that lags? Are you losing viewers in droves? Why? Of course, it's all one big psychological study. Who really knows what goes on in the brain of a typical YouTube user? And do any of us REALLY want to know?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on May 10, 2012 at 9:22:24 amComments (1) youtube, editing

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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