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Remixing Cinema with Soderbergh, Spielberg, and Me

Today, one of my favorite directors, Steven Soderbergh, posted a really great blog about “staging” in film, which is meant to mean how all the elements of a scene work together to tell a visual story. To illustrate his point, he took ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and remixed it a little: converted to black and white, all music, sound and dialogue removed with a different soundtrack alongside it to help you focus on the staging — the direction, the length of each shot, how the cuts work. It’s pretty much as awesome as you might think, so you should definitely go watch all hour and fifty-five minutes of it. I’ll wait.

When I saw this hit my various feeds today, I felt a particularly affinity for this kind of visual investigation and experimentation. I occasionally watch The Social Network on mute to get this same effect, to absorb the staging and rhythm of the thing, because a great movie works without any sound and that one is especially good for me.

But that’s only tangentially related. The affinity I’m talking about is using a similar technique to investigate staging and rhythm and cuts for my capstone project when I graduated from Indiana University. A capstone is a culmination of everything you learned (in theory) and my professor and I came up with this bananas thesis about how I could take a scene in a film, rip it apart and study the math, and discover some things about editorial that I never knew before. A sort of Gus van Sant/‘Psycho’ approach to appreciating a scene on a deeper level, but maybe more successfully.

One of the scenes I chose was from Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film ‘Traffic’. I chose a druggy overdose scene, of course. I ripped the scene, brought it into Final Cut Pro, and razor bladed on every cut within the movie. And I measured exactly how many frames there were for each shot. I played around with changing the speed or reorganizing the shots for my own experimentation. I saw why the way it was shot and assembled worked, and how I could make it not work.

Then I rounded up some of my friends and reshot the scene myself. The point being I would get some kind of understanding from actually going out and doing it myself, and cutting it myself. It was a little like shooting a music video because my friends/actors had to lip-sync the lines. Extra weirdly, I only had the shot I needed pulled with the audio attached so I could be sure it was the proper shot length, so some of the lip syncing was to random syllables. Extra extra weirdly, I looped it in Quicktime for multiple takes. It was a really weird shooting experience.

Don’t laugh at me, this was a great learning experience. ‘Traffic’ starts a minute into the piece.



Besides learning the limits of the focal length of the camera I was given at school (and the importance of understanding how to use lenses), this ended up being a transformative experience as an editor, appreciating the staging of each shot and just how short or long some shots ended up being. Because on the flip side of this, I also did a scene from Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Festen’ (‘The Celebration’) and that one let shots play out a whole lot longer than I’d ever considered in my MTV generation upbringing. Another thing I learned about the composition of a shot and the staging of a scene: those big bright colors in the background of a shot? Yeah, they’re not just there for fun. I completely missed that lighting in my shoot and crudely added it in post to get the visual effect. Yikes.

In his post, Soderbergh writes that “this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker [Spielberg] forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math sh-t).” Tell me about it, dude.

I think for the visually inclined among us — the editors and cinematographers and the like — these kinds of exercises are something that can refresh your creativity in just the right way. I highly recommend turning a viewing experience on its side to investigate what makes it work so well for you. What you uncover probably applies to any of the work you do.

So in summary, you should go watch at least parts of Raiders in gorgeous black and white and enjoy how every shot is beautiful and comes at just the right time, and also I’m a massive weirdo.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 22, 2014 at 8:32:18 pmComments (1) editing

How Kevin Spacey Helped Me Get Started In Editing

Last weekend I was bingeing on House of Cards (as you do) and after one particularly riveting episode where blank and blank blank-out and they all blank (spoilers/adult situations) I finally noticed a familiar logo: Trigger Street Productions, Kevin Spacey's production company. Not that it's terribly widely known I guess, but the logo is burned into my brain (a folder within a folder within a folder from years ago, but it was there.)



In 2002, Kevin Spacey started a website called Trigger Street Productions (now called Trigger Street Labs) for unrepresented writers and filmmakers. It was pretty phenomenal at the time. Years before YouTube, they were storing and streaming a massive amount of video for free – to give filmmakers a chance to get real professional (and not at all professional) feedback. The way the site worked was that you had to give reviews to get reviews. You had to be active on the site in order to get your stuff seen. As a result, the feedback you got was generally fairly thoughtful. If it wasn't, you could be reported and your credits would be taken away.

It so happens that I discovered the Art of Effing Cinema As I Know It in 2002, when I was like 15ish. I read about Trigger Street Productions in Moviemaker Magazine (I think, anyway) and bookmarked it. Later that summer, a friend and I spent a sunny day out shooting a short film. We got together at ten in the morning, wrote a quick ridiculous script, shot it, and then I was up all night editing it in the primal way editors do.

For my first REAL short (first one cut in a real NLE, as real as Premiere was in 2003 anyway), it was pretty awesome. It was about a girl who turns to online dating and finds herself falling in love with a goldfish cracker. I think our idea was that she's so desperate for love, she falls in love with a piece of garbage someone leaves on a door step. Or is the fish real? In any case, she has a torrid love affair and then her lover is killed by a jogger running by who steps on it.

Sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper but this thing had levels, man. And it worked on camera. I have no idea why.



I added this short film to my new Trigger Street account (on July 22, 2003) and for the first time, I got real people giving me real feedback on a creative thing I did. Up to this point, all I got were reactions from my mom and my friends. It wasn't all that easy to share video back then. I found server space here and there and put links to videos in my AIM Away Message (WTF) for friends to watch. But these replies, THESE were other filmmakers.

"There was some stuff that was a almost creepy though, certain innuendo that probably wasn't necessary."

"Seriously, though, WOW! That this piece was shot and edited in a day by high school students makes it very impressive indeed. If I were back in high school I'd definitely want to hang out with this bunch and make movies."

"Obviously, you guys are inate storytellers, and quite bright. I doubt that you've gotten much training, which means you watch movies and see what works. That gives you a head start."

"I liked the edit, I liked the camera work, and it was lit well, at least, I could see everything clearly and it fit the moments. Nice work from some talented young ladies."

"Cutting the voiceover would have really made it a film instead of a project done in one day. You should open up Premiere and click on the voiceover track and hit delete. Then watch the film, it will be much better. "

By the way, I didn't agree with that last one then and I still don't agree with it now.

I hadn't logged into Trigger Street since high school, so to my surprise there have been a number of reviews posted in my absence despite me not reciprocating in some time now. I was even surprised my account existed any longer. But there it is, along with all the old reviews and my Realmedia encoded microscopic videos with a bit rate of twelve.

Between the refreshingly interesting storytelling of House of Cards and the very first reviews I ever got, I started to think about what editing was like when I was just getting started. Not that the evolution of a career isn't something amazing to experience, but when you're fifteen years old, there are no notes from clients. No difficult producers. There are no tricks or carefully written emails. There's just you and your imagination. There hasn't been time to over-think or stress about an editorial decision. It's all one big experiment.

It's amazing how much you can grow as an editor while simultaneously losing the ability to think from all these angles. I think most editors would say they're unwaveringly inventive and creative people, but the truth is that you start to become the sum of your experiences. You can do amazing things in your work, but nothing will ever be like when you were making things for yourself and yourself only.

Although, to be perfectly clear, I'm really glad I'm closer to this part of the journey than the very beginning. I want to go back in time and tell that excitable kid with the Hi8 camera and too much time on her hands that it's a long, confusing road ahead - but stick with it, because it gets cool more often than not.

And it's worthwhile to read some of the stupid things strangers wrote about your first film project:

"Although this film has transitional difficulty in editing and lackluster camera work, it's kind of fun and very interesting."

Thanks, Internet stranger. You made my teenage day. And thanks Kevin Spacey. Hit me up if you need an editor.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 23, 2014 at 7:31:14 pm editing, filmmaking

Beyond the A's and B's of NAB

There’s a whole big world out there in post-production-land, and most of it is pretty awesome.

When I headed to the NAB Show last week(ish), part of my (personal) mission was to learn a little more about companies I didn’t know much about. Not just ask someone or read some Wikipedia stuff, but actually get to know what their missions are in post-production right now. I found that if I just went up to an industry peer and asked about Grass Valley, they’d give me a bit of “oh, they’re still around?” I mentioned to someone that I had just been to a Quantel press conference and they quipped something about how the six people that use their stuff will be happy to see the updates.

Clearly this isn’t the case. At NAB, these two companies have two of the biggest, most prominent booths. They’re doing big business at the show but more importantly for the world of post overall, one way or another. And there are others too, like Vizrt and NewTek (who are working together on some pretty cool graphics stuff that you’ve probably seen in use) — prominently standing out on the exhibit floor that is entirely dedicated to post-production. But beyond the NAB bubble, these kinds of companies are the ones that run the backbone of post-production facilities and broadcast and live production and all sorts of other unsexy-on-the-surface stuff.

Beyond the surface, they’re doing some awesome stuff and they have been for a while. I know a lot of us don’t deal with these areas of post because we’re editors and cinematographers and freelancers. But it’s all in the same universe, and that means that these technologies can trickle down into our neck of the woods someday and solve some of our problems. And having a broader scope of the world is only a good thing for all of us.


Covering a lot of ground at NAB requires maximum comfort: dresses and sneakers.

For example, most of us are looking at NLEs and some cameras — 2K, UHD, HDR, 4K, all that stuff. We’ve been introduced to the idea of collaborative timelines in Resolve, cloud-based editing in Avid, 4K GPU debayering in Premiere. This is some of the top-billed stuff in these releases, and rightfully so. It’s freakin’ awesome stuff and it’s exciting for us to get our hands on it. It changes our every day right now.

But look a little further and see what’s already been happening. Grass Valley is providing Japan’s KTV with a full 4K editing system right now (with support for 8K later, 8 flipping K.) That means the news station is using EDIUS for real time 4K editing with Grass Valley's HQX codec, which allows for super high resolution video with dramatically improved editing response time. And if you didn't hear, Japan plans to actually be broadcasting 4K this summer, two years earlier than expected. And 8K broadcast is even being pushed forward, with NHK demonstrating their 8K playout at NAB and other trade shows. So while we're discussing the validity of having 4K in the home at all, Japan is doing its thing -- its thing being trying really hard to beat South Korea at technological advancements. Maybe we need a "friendly" rival again.


Grass Valley also had an interesting booth at NAB. If you're gonna have live models on display, may as well make 'em fight.

Quantel’s Genetic Engineering 2 allows editors to open any project in any room (or multiple rooms) to work. And that’s a “2" meaning it’s the second version because Genetic Engineering was first introduced in 2007. With GE2, a bunch of Pablo, eQ and/or iQ stations share a "GenePool" -- shared storage -- and that allows real time sharing of projects and guaranteed playback of multiple high resolution media streams, as well as other non-creative tasks at the same time. I don't mean project sharing so much as having multiple editors working on the same clip in different rooms. The first version supported stereoscopic 3D and 4K, and did I mention this was in 2007? I was still editing mostly standard definition stuff in 2007. The updates at NAB added some new stuff, including 6K playback from disk to 4K outputs. Light Iron has finished at least 4 6K DI sessions with this stuff. That is bananas to me.

Post-production and technology consulting companies like Digital Film Tree are building their own proprietary cloud-based editing systems that are in use on television and film today, and not in an experimental way. Five years ago (yeah, in 2009), they partnered with Rackspace to work toward realistic cloud-based collaboration and sharing because the old Hollywood ways of looking at dailies were getting super inefficient and way costly, especially when you consider a show might be shooting 50TB of stuff a day. Instead of pushing around a bajillion terabytes of content through a bigger, more expensive pipe or grabbing more storage, they're designing private clouds for studios powered by OpenStack to manage content sharing and collaboration. "Cloud" was a buzzword at NAB this year and lots of people are adding it to their products (or at least their product marketing), but Digital Film Tree has already been improving their own actual clouds all this time.

And I mentioned how NewTek and Vizrt are working together on some cool stuff. Vizrt makes tools to create the real-time 3D graphics and maps you see on CNN, CBS, NBC, pretty much all major US broadcasters -- you probably watch football, yeah? The graphics are from Vizrt tools. Not football? How about the last presidential election? NewTek's TriCaster (for live multicamera productions) can now integrate with Vizrt, meaning all those complex graphics can now be managed by one person and used on mobile production trucks, along with NewTek's replay system (3Play). This means a lot more scalability for different live productions. Like, your next college football game might have a significant jump in production value.


From A to B, all the way to V..izrt.

Even though I’m not going to be using Pablo anytime soon and I’m not managing dailies on a 6K studio feature (yet), these are all fascinating updates. These are global workflows that are touching a lot of people in some way, and as they get to be old news, my NLE seems to inherit them. Some stuff changes my every day right now, but the bigger picture gives a glimpse of what my future looks like — either my current NLE or maybe a jump into something new.

I think this is especially important to mix up the usual conversation about post. So much of the discussion is dominated with regurgitating old debates or evaluating a product based on the old, trusted ways. The trusted is becoming obsolete, if it isn’t already. While some are going in circles, looking for anything in a press release to confirm their bias, the rest of the world of post has moved on to bigger and better things.

I found a lot of cool stuff at NAB this year, but I think the most important discovery wasn’t an anecdote about 8K broadcast, but rather the world beyond the companies that start with A (or B). It doesn’t change what I do in my edit room tomorrow, but it makes me optimistic for the future of my career: longevity, security, and a whole bunch of flippin’ sweet technology to play with.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 20, 2014 at 8:19:27 pm post production, nab show

NAB Day Whatever - New Perspectives on Old Business

With the show wrapping up and my body shutting down, I've been thinking about the stuff I've seen and people I've talked to at this year's show. This is the first year I've been covering the show in a full on press capacity (meaning sitting down with a number of vendors to get the story straight from them) and it's been great fun. It's also offered another perspective to me as a show attendee, maybe the clearest one about the industry overall I've had so far. 

This is my third NAB. My first year was a learning experience where I did educational classes.  Last year I blogged a bit and worked as an exhibitor. This year's press interviews meant I was covering a lot of ground and talking to a lot of people about a lot of things. And I'll be posting a lot more about what I've found over the next couple of weeks, by the way.

A common theme I found this year was that everyone was excited but not really about anything in particular. When I spoke to companies one on one, I asked if they had heard about anything cool I should check out. They are admittedly focused on their own products and business and are obviously excited about those things, but besides the camera offerings from Blackmagic and AJA, there wasn't much else to the conversation. 

Same with attendees. No big news beyond the few Monday announcements. A lot of people I talked to felt that traffic in general was light in general. I have no idea if that's true, but it didn't seem quite so crowded on Monday morning to me either. By Wednesday, however, I couldn't tell if the south hall was friggin' hot or if I had a fever. Who thinks to pack a thermometer in their bag to Vegas? 

One small company I spoke to said he realized that having a booth presence at NAB meant he was investing a lot of time and money into a week where he got limited exposure to a lot of people who didn't really need his service. Instead of wrapping the year around the artificial deadline of releasing new stuff for NAB, he's invested in web advertising and releases new stuff whenever he feels like it or whenever his customers ask for it -- and he claims many other small companies are starting to follow the lead.

On the other side, I talked with another vendor who probably won't be ditching their booth presence anytime soon. They also mentioned they've seen the value in not letting NAB dictate their product releases. The industry calls for changes to be made and updates to be sent out on a flexible basis and the Internet makes all that easier all the time. There is a far greater value in delivering things throughout the year than making a smash at NAB because responsiveness is valued over showmanship. 

Judging by the booth traffic in the major vendor booths near the front of the south hall -- Grass Valley, Adobe, Blackmagic -- NAB certainly isn't dying off. This is not a sky is falling NAB is dying article. That's not my jam. There's still relevance to a trade show. People like to shake hands, one on one training is valuable, and plenty of business is done in Vegas this week. But companies of all sizes are seeing the value of letting their product cycles be flexible instead of fighting the other thousand press releases hitting this week, or the other hundred booths around them for attention.

I learned a lot this week, but most of what I learned came from bigger companies in the front half of the south hall. There's a lot going on besides cameras and NLEs, a whole side of post and production technology that barely touches my world. The deeper infrastructure that makes the world go 'round seems mostly unaffected by anything other than a push to be smaller and more efficient, which has been the main goal of technology for only about a hundred years or so. 

So here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go home, determine if I've been afflicted with the rhinovirus or something that needs heavy artillery, get my $&%^ together, and tell you more about the awesome stuff I found and talked about -- collaboration near and far, stories of people I met, and yeah, I found some ladies at NAB I'd like to tell you about.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 10, 2014 at 3:58:32 pm nab show

NAB Day 1 - Throwbacks

The running gag on the show floor yesterday was a punchline to the effect of "AND we're releasing a camera!" If that kind of humor isn't your thing, then I can't really recommend you come to NAB for real.

But even with all all the hooplah about new cameras and such, a couple things that stuck out to me today are throwbacks. The last few years in particular, I feel like there's been a push toward the nontraditional -- NLEs doing weird stuff that grumpy dudes hate, cameras turning into little boxes you can't actually handle, that kind of stuff. And today we saw AJA's new camera (WTF, what a weird phrase) and Blackmagic Design's new cameras both with more classic camera design features. Of course the camera companies have always had a mix because they have so many cameras to choose from. But companies that aren't traditionally linked to cameras experimenting with designs in their limited product pool is an interesting way to see what's happening in the industry. DSLRs started some kind of trend a few years ago, and it seems like maybe camera designs are coming back around.

Then again, I'm an editor.

Speaking of throwbacks, I think Blackmagic Design's new Cintel Film Scanner is awesome. In all the innovations within the show moving digital media forward, it's nice to see that film has a place front and center.

Interestingly, most of the excitement on the floor has been in discussing the future and what's possible very soon rather than specific products, large or small. It's kind of nice to see people thinking more about the big picture, a kind of joy for the industry that was sort of lacking last year. To me, at least.

Oh, and to update you on the superficial aspects of the show: it's loud, crowded, and hot. Everything is too far apart. Lines are long, food's expensive, and actually I'm having a great week thanks for asking.

I've also decided to put together a new art exhibit of images I'm collecting this week. It's called Human Props Sitting Sadly in Booths.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 8, 2014 at 8:15:23 am nab show

NAB Pre-Show Buzz -- or lack thereof?

So yeah, if you haven't guessed by the articles you might have seen with my name on them or the NAB show guide and all that, I'm here in Vegas for my third NAB. My brain hasn't really caught up to the idea yet, so I've spent much of the weekend walking around in a daze. I think it's starting to settle in though, and just in time. No matter what tomorrow brings, I'll be on my feet a lot -- my poor feet that already have a blister. Damn you, shoes.



I was at the convention center and other press events all day, and some social events like #postchat all night, so I made sure I asked mostly everyone I saw what they're interested in seeing this year. Is there a product? A company? A general idea of a thing? A problem that needs solved? Some kind of something?

The response I got was mostly a half-hearted shrug. A canned answer, if I'm lucky.

My last two shows, I didn't ask quite so many people about what they were interested in seeing, but I've never really had so many people give me a blank stare. It seems like there's not a lot of buzz over any one thing, people are 4K'd out before the week begins, and many of the rumored items so far haven't done much to excite my circles -- not even the giant Resolve 11 screenshot plastered over the south hall. Maybe it's just the people I asked, but my sample size was large: random press, friends and acquaintances, a stranger I shared a cab with. I'm just sayin'.



So this year, rather than going into the show with unbridled anticipation, the real enthusiasm will have to start around 9AM tomorrow morning. Maybe. Guess we'll find out, eh?

I'll tell you this, though: I used a cupcake ATM today and it was everything I ever dreamed it could be. If you're looking for an excuse to come to NAB, let it be that.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Apr 7, 2014 at 1:25:18 am nab show

NAB Show Guide to Thriving (instead of just surviving)

The NAB Show again approaches and the various survival guides are being recycled into the Internet. I wasn't going to post one this year just because there are so many other completely comprehensive fully illustrated and hypertext marked up guides out there a Google search away. But I've gotten a number of requests to share my experience with newcomers again so I thought about it a bit, and I guess I do have something more to add to the conversation beyond just comfortable shoes and protein bars.

Sure, it's obviously important to be physically prepared for the show. If you showed up to the convention center without ever having been briefed on what to expect, you'd burn out quickly and miss the good stuff anyway. So go and find those NAB survival guides and have a plan of attack. Consider that the 101 class. When you're ready, this is the 200 level: being mentally prepared for this mob of video geeks. Basic etiquette, humility, and coming away from the whole mess with maybe a friend or two.


Ronn (@rovino) knows me from Twitter and found me in the south hall!

1. Don't be intimidated.

Okay, try not to be intimidated. Okay, don't let any intimidation get in the way of your enjoyment. Last year, there were over 93,000 registrants from 156 countries, all packed into one of the weirdest cities in the United States. That's a lot of people. Some people are intimidated by crowds, some by the idea of having to talk to so many people, some by the sheer number of bright blinking lights. Remember that a lot of those people are probably feeling just like you are about the whole thing. Ain't nobody judging you. If anything, you might find some common ground on your newfound appreciation for sardines. Plus, you won't even see a lot of them unless you're into some heavy duty radio or broadcasting stuff. If you're in a class, say hello to people around you. Sitting down for lunch, say hello to people around you. See a pattern? I know it sucks and it's difficult to talk to strangers, but try it once and see how it goes.

2. Aim to meet people.

Unless you're going to NAB specifically to buy things for your company and come home, I don't see the point in attending without aiming to meet people. You're in Vegas with perhaps thousands of the most like-minded people you'll ever find. It's like OKCupid, but instead of searching for your soul mate you're looking for that person who will debate the pros and cons of various archival systems until the wee hours...who may also be your soul mate, but hey, take it slow okay?

How d'ya meet people? Find people you know online or people whose blogs or articles or books you've read, and introduce yourself. Go to some of the evening events like my Cards Against Humanity casual hangout fun (Monday, 9, LVH!) or the #postchat meetup (Sunday, 8, O'Sheas!) You'll find all kinds of tweet-ups, parties, hang-outs, events, and get-togethers listed online.

3. That said, plan your evenings wisely.

Once you see all the stuff that's going on at night, you'll be tempted to stretch yourself thin. Remember that Vegas is big. You can't go everywhere and do everything. If you do, you might not be able to scrape yourself off your dirty casino hotel bathroom floor the next morning to go back out to your classes or exhibit hall for more education and scavenging. Pick the things that seem like they'll have the best reward -- somewhere you know some friends will be, or where you know you'll be able to network with the right people. If it doesn't work out, you can always move on, but trying to get to 5 parties in one night? Well, just remember how all those Redbulls are going to feel tomorrow.

4. It's okay to be alone.

Bright lights, tons of people. It's okay to be alone for a while if you've had your share of the whole thing. If you can find the careful balance between too many people and being a lone wolf, you should feel pretty capable of pulling this whole thing off and getting home in one piece, only lightly traumatized. A couple hours in your hotel room or even a solo walk along the strip is often a sufficient reset button for short bursts of social interaction.

5. Don't be a jerkface.

I spent this post reminding you to put yourself out there and be kind to your brain and body and meet people and be alone. Now I'm reminding you: don't be a frigging' jerkface to anyone. If you're a little tentative on social interaction and meeting new people, you should treat everyone else how YOU would like to be treated. Someone introduce themselves? Be kind and courteous and make an effort to get to know them a bit. If they're a weirdo obviously you can bail, but in a NICE WAY. If you're at NAB, a large part of your experience should be spent networking because you don't have the opportunity to meet so many people from so many different aspects of video life at any other event all year. If you're arrogant or dismissive, you've blown it.

There are so many guides and stuff about the NAB show, you'd think it were some kind of grand adventure to the moon. But in a way it kind of is, isn't it? But that doesn't mean you need to overthink the whole thing. NAB is crazy, but it's still just a bunch of broadcast geekery filled with awkward humans like you and me. So get your comfy shoes and socks, meet some people, learn some new things, and have fun. And if you see me around, please stop me and say hello. I don't usually bite.


Kes (@nle_ninja) & I "met" on Twitter, met at NAB 2012, and spent 2013's show dressed alike to promote our podcast!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Mar 17, 2014 at 8:31:46 pm nab show, tips

How Are You Doing? Let's Talk: Mental Illness & Creativity in the Film & Video Industry

Let's talk. No tech questions, no debates, no critique. Let's talk about you. How are you? No really, how are you?

When's the last time someone really asked you that? When's the last time you answered truthfully?

Post-production is hard. Like, really hard. It's the kind of industry where it's rare to have a routine and normal to work overtime. It requires you to constantly stay updated on software and skills and outlooks. Constantly look for work. Call people. Email people. Check Twitter. Call more people. And oh yeah, actually edit things. And oh, YEAH..have a personal life. Maybe. It's demanding. It's often thankless. You spend a lot more time being told you're wrong than right at some stages of a project. You can't leave your work at the office each day.

We had a good discussion about parenthood in post production last year, and more recently about being a good human to others. But what about you? You're the one that has to worry about all this. You have to, in no particular order: be a really good editor, pay your rent on time, deal with critical clients, juggle your personal life without dissing your friends to the point of abandonment, and accept more rejections than compliments. It's a rough industry. Your creative work is a direct reflection of yourself. The highs are really high, the lows are really low, and the drastic changes in work-related mood may mask deeper problems. And especially at this time of the year, when it's dark and dreary (at least in my hemisphere), it's something worth talking about.

A number of studies have pieced together some kind of relationship between mental illness and creativity. For example, a recent Swedish study showed that people in creative fields were 8% more likely to have bipolar disorder. Writers in particular were 50% more likely to commit suicide. You can probably name a number of famously ill artists, many of which took their own lives: Hunter S. Thompson, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway...a seemingly endless list. Whether there is a quantifiable link between creativity and mental illness or not, you can see why a creative industry can become associated with mental illnesses. Creative individuals are more likely to be self-introspective more often, are often extremely detail oriented, and spend a lot of time feeling closely associated with self-expression -- a strong desire to create, and often a strong desire to be better, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. (Not that other professions don't have their own draws and challenges that attract, nurture and tear down individuals prone to mental illnesses, but we're artists here so I'm talking about artists.)
 
I think everyone reading this knows someone who suffers from some degree of mental illness. Maybe you suffer from it yourself, or suspect you might. Yet there remains in our world a tremendous stigma toward mental illnesses of all kinds. People don't talk to each other about this. Our society's support system for the mentally ill is embarrassing. Healthcare is a joke even in the face of the Affordable Care Act. From the highest regarded artists in history to the overwhelmed recent college graduate, mental health is one challenge we all have in common. So why are we hiding it, and why don't we give each other the benefit of the doubt?
 
Among the most common mental illness in the United States is depression -- something like one in ten adults report occasional to major depression. And even then, it's vastly underreported because many people still associate depression and anxiety with weakness. "I'll deal with this myself, I'm just being dumb." "She sleeps until noon because she's lazy." "He doesn't want to go out again, he must be stuck up." Rarely is the first response to abnormal behavior to simply ask a person how they're doing. On the other side, for the person experiencing the depression: "I'm too strong-willed to be depressed." "I can overcome this by myself." "I must be ungrateful for what I have."

Some people are capable of crawling back out from behind occasional bouts of depression. Others only sink further, not seeking help out of pride, fear or anger. A recent graduate might say "if only I could get a job, then I'll feel better." A seasoned camera operator thinks "once this gig is done, I know I'll be able to relax." But then it happens - the job comes up, the gig ends - and nothing changes inside.

I asked a friend in the industry with severe depression and anxiety to describe how it felt, how he differentiated it from loss or sadness or stress. He told me he felt like the main difference for him was his inability to ever experience joy, for months on end. It doesn't get better. It feels stupid, especially in the face of an otherwise decent lifestyle, to not be able to function correctly with simple tasks. Keeping up with household tasks or finding inspiration for your work becomes harder, and the difficulty brings anxiety. Medications help to level the feeling and make it less acute, but they don't generate positive feelings. People have tried to tell him "look at what you have, you've got what you need, things could be much worse, why are you such a downer." He could win the lottery and buy a zoo and he'd still feel exactly the same way because that's what his brain and mind have come up with for him. His perception of the world (and himself) is skewed by this as he struggles to accept his differences not as deficiencies and find a way to function with them - a lifelong struggle often lost.

But if you saw his work, you'd never guess he wasn't at the top of his game.
 
Mental illness is pretty damn common, especially in our industry. People are good at hiding it, and our professions make it easy to mask. We're in an industry where all-nighters are normal, obsession can be called passion, and the momentum just keeps going forward so fast nobody can stop for a minute to realize that something real is actually wrong.

But these illnesses are like any other disease. They need time and support to heal, possibly under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Some of them need medication to manage, and that's as okay as taking medication to manage high blood pressure or diabetes. There is no shame in asking for help, just as there's no shame in going to a general practitioner with migraines or a podiatrist with foot pain. If you feel you need help, try to ask someone. If you know someone that needs help, offer to help. Or simply offer friendship and support without judgement. For some people, that can make all the difference in taking whatever next steps need to be taken.
 
Mental illness is often mistaken as a personality flaw, especially by the very person suffering from it: moody, short-tempered, weak, lazy. And that makes sense in our profession, where we're harder on ourselves than any of the critique we face every day. Just hear this: just like it's okay to post a question in a COW forum or tweet soliciting opinions, it's okay to ask for help in managing your mental wellness, and it's okay to encourage a culture where we can all be a little more open about these things.

So hey, how are you?


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 2, 2014 at 8:41:38 pm video production, mental illness

Becoming a Better Editor (but Mostly Human Being) in the New Year

Somehow -- and they might be lying to me about this -- but somehow, the year is over. What I mean to say is that this desk calendar I have is practically useless and I'll be writing the wrong year on my checks until St. Patrick's Day. I know, right? And I hardly noticed the 31st approaching so rapidly except for the usual influx of "year in review" or "resolutions for the new year" posts.

I've said before: I think resolutions are stupid. You're coming off a gluttonous couple of months where you've been feeding yourself whole pies and sitting around watching Netflix all day long, only allowing yourself to do so because when January hits, you'll be back on the wagon, one way or another. New Years resolution! A brand new me! Except no, that's not what's going to happen. Only about 26 percent of resolutions last past the 6 month mark.

But everyone loves to talk about it right now, so I may as well tell you what I think. And I think in the year ahead you could all stand to make some improvements to yourselves as editors and camera operators and producers. No, not just you. All of us. There's always room for improvement, right? Nobody worth a damn would say they don't need to improve.

But here's the thing: I'm not talking about tech and software skills. There's plenty of talk about that and you all know what you know and don't know and need to know. I think that you (and me and all of us, but mostly you) could benefit much more from increased mindfulness in our contributions to the industry.

Like what? Like this.

Think before you blog/tweet/post. Whenever you're going to jump into a conversation or post a thought you had, just consider this for a moment: does this tweet add anything new to the subject? Are you rehashing the same argument? Is your blog post contributing positively to the industry? I don't mean to say you should only post glowing reviews, especially for products that cost real money and affect our livelihoods. But there's a difference between a good bad review and a bad bad review, and I think we need more of the former.

Every time you post something, just think about how it may be perceived. If that's the only thing a person has ever read that you wrote, what kind of impression does it leave?

Reduce your sarcasm. I'm a fan of dry humor in the right context. But sarcasm in text form is hard to decipher. And most of all, it goes with the point above: it's often a weak substitute for a real thought or reaction, and probably doesn't add much to the conversation. Instead of pulling out sarcasm, how about something more sincere, especially when you're in the company of strangers and acquaintances.

Ask someone how you can help them. A lot of the conversation online is someone asking for help. Asking for feedback, testimonial or assistance, maybe here on the COW, on Twitter, or a Facebook group. A lot of the time it's a question that's been asked a lot because it's someone who might be new to the industry or the online community. Instead of the typical "let me Google that for you, invalid", how about you actually help them out, smug-free? Not everyone is in the middle of all this conversation every day, so they may not be up to speed on everything. People come from all kinds of backgrounds. If you can't not be a smug replier, just move along.

Don't complain. Online or in person, I've sometimes found myself in the middle of a conversation that was beginning to skew negative. Sometimes it's the way a project is managed and our frustration gets the better of us. Or it could be negative feedback to something like a software update or the latest Apple computing device (what, that never happens!) Instead of joining in the complaints, change the sentiment. Look for a positive aspect. Call the crowd out for their nonconstructive whining. Or just don't say anything. It's hard to be positive (or even neutral) all the time, but it's also hard to work around a chronic complainer.

For that matter, does everyone always need to know your every frustration or negative thought? It goes back to the first point: if this one thing were the only thing someone ever read from you, what kind of impression does it leave? Are you okay with that?

Be honest, but don't be a jack-ass. I've known some people who thought of their cruel honesty as a badge of honor. They told everyone exactly what was on their mind and if it didn't go over well, too bad. Honesty is important, from big things to small things. Discretion is important too.

Leave things better than you found them. Online or in person, when you enter a place and leave it behind, it should be better than you found it. When it comes to online interactions, this means not leaving a mess of arguments in your wake. In person, set yourself up so that you can always hand over your work with minimal effort. Either way, you don't want your reputation tarnished by someone having to clean up a mess you made, literally or figuratively.

Let things go. Don't hold grudges. If you feel a company or person has done wrong to you, let it go. Don't whine about it, don't tell everyone about your situation, and don't bring it up every single day. Because even if the opposing party is in the wrong, YOU look like the d-bag. And holding on to stuff that happened is a great way to never move on to bigger and better things.

Give back. We're lucky that we get to do this work every day, even if some days are annoying. Get some perspective by giving back to the industry in any way you can. Become a mentor, go to a high school or college, or make regular appearances in Basics forums to help out people who are just getting started. Volunteering your time to better the community improves everyone's attitude -- especially your own.

Try it for a day, a month. A daily affirmation. Think about your affect on the video production industry and ask yourself: is what I'm about to say, do, or type going to positively contribute to the conversation? You might be surprised at the things you don't tweet and how much happier you are each day.

Or you might compartmentalize all that negativity and go bananas on me in six months, in which case I'm going to say bring it because it was worth the effort.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Dec 26, 2013 at 12:33:10 pm video editing, new years resolutions

An Odd Delight: A Corporate Editor's Leap Into Broadcast

Seeing a stack of tapes labeled and ready to gather dust on a shelf is a feeling of accomplishment I've never had before last week.


A full season of This American Land, in glorious HDCAM

Not because I've never really had physical copies of any of my work (although outside of a DVD or two, that's definitely true), but because this was my first time cutting for broadcast and I'm pleased to announce I didn't screw any of it up.

Before this show, I only occasionally had to worry about title safe lower thirds or broadcast safe colors -- when I worked those DVD projects. But finishing a 1080i show for TV and a simple DVD for an internal training video are basically night and day when you look at the delivery specifications for PBS. Most of my work before this had been a mishmash of stuff in a sequence that eventually got spit out into a 720p H264 file for YouTube, the kind of thing where you can easily hide mistakes and inadequacies. There's not a whole lot of hiding when you're delivering 1080i. You're pretty much just naked to the world there.

There have been a couple of blog posts and press things floating around, but I couldn't let this milestone pass by without my own personal blog post to mark the occasion that I finished a television series and didn't screw up anything major.


The season storyboarded, daunting at first with every checkbox now filled. YAY.


THE TRIP FROM INDIANAPOLIS TO ATLANTA, AND FROM CORPORATE TO BROADCAST
I ended work at my last job on a Thursday. The following Thursday, I drove from Indianapolis to Atlanta to start work with Creative COW's Walter Biscardi at Biscardi Creative Media. By Monday afternoon, I was editing This American Land for PBS.

By Tuesday night, I had a fever of 104 and was sitting in an urgent care center explaining the finer points of my bodily functions to a nurse practitioner. Somehow, I had gotten strep throat without any oral symptoms. I spent day three of my new job in bed unable to move, the grim reaper sitting in the corner of the room checking his watch periodically.

I got a shot of some kind of magic medicine that allowed me to eat and walk again, and I was cutting again on Thursday, because I am dumb.

You know how you feel after you've been circling the drain, right? As a result, I did a really crap job on my first cut and was rightfully informed as such. It was dumb to start working again so quickly. It's not like I was tied to my desk and forced to work. And it's not a simple task I could put myself on auto-pilot to finish.

And that was my first week in Atlanta, Georgia. Like an Olympic runner who slips and falls on their face at the starting block.

I don't like making excuses -- even if they're mostly legitimate, they're a waste of time. I took the feedback, learned from it, and fixed my edit. And as much as it sucked, I'm a tiny bit glad my first cut went like this. Lessons learned the hard way are often the stickiest. And what I learned here - about storytelling and my limits - is stuck permanently right in the front of my brain.


MAKING MISTAKES JUST HOW I LIKE 'EM
Happily enough, the challenges that followed did not stem from my storytelling skills being stunted by my brain swelling in my head and leaking out my ears (or whatever, that's what it felt like.) Mistakes were made fully conscious, just how I like 'em.


I really dig Premiere's sexy waveform views. There I said it.

Before this project, most of my paid editing work was very utilitarian -- mostly just getting things in the right order. One of the things I enjoyed the most on this show was the blend of the creative and technical challenges. Getting the opportunity to put all the knowledge I've been stockpiling from places like Creative COW to work -- to see if I really did know as much as I felt like I did, and learn even more -- was gratifying.

I was thrilled to be cutting stuff of quality, but there's also always something to consider or fix: a sound bite to repair, a camera nudge to cut around, a GoPro shot at the wrong frame size or frame rate. I like troubleshooting things and choosing a course of action. It's like a really weird puzzle. And it's job security.


The door to my edit room is pink.

Compared to FCP7 and Media Composer, I'd hardly used Adobe Premiere Pro before I jumped fully into it for This American Land. Learning Premiere's way of doing things - or rather, unlearning all the stuff I HAD to do to keep FCP7 happy - was a challenge. It wasn't difficult to do in practice, but it was hard to wrap my mind around it in theory.

Between acclimating to a stand-up desk, or using a Wacom tablet and pen, or being in a dark room all day, though, switching NLEs was the least of my challenges in this new gig.

For the last four years, I was editing in a cubicle in a loud office next to a window. I spent most of the time huddled closely to my laptop screen, trying my hardest to concentrate. I always wondered if I would adapt too much to the loud bright editing experience, and I really did.

I found it difficult in my new gig to not be able to sit dangerously close to the screen. There was almost TOO much space available for my use. Of course, I got over that in about a week.

And a week was all it really took when I attempted editing at a stand-up desk, and Wacom-ing instead of mousing. But being in a dark room with adjustable lights and an 18% gray wall, a room that's had thought put into it...I'm used to it, but trying not to take it for granted. Now I find it difficult to edit with a mouse and laptop at home these days. Of course I can do without, but the benefits to my editing from these peripherals is definitely measurable, maybe only because I'm happier.


Another job benefit: sharing a break table with a dog.


AN ODD DELIGHT
I never really thought I'd be using Premiere professionally until the last year or so. While I was pretty easily annoyed by CS6, Premiere Creative Cloud has been an odd delight to work with on a daily basis, mostly because it WORKS for shows like this.

I got all kinds of stuff thrown at me, sometimes having half-hour timelines with 7 or 8 different formats sitting in it. I had no performance issues. On an iMac. A good iMac, but still - an iMac.

It takes a long while to load all the clips for a project with a lot of media references and there's no equivalent to transcode/consolidate for taking all those formats and making them into one nice little format for later.

Coming from FCP7, this was straight-up crazytown. I had gotten used to transcoding practically everything unless I had discovered a specific workflow in which the native media actually worked. But for the most part, everything was ProRes. And while hard drive space is cheap and plentiful, it was still an extra step and an extra bit of media to manage. I've had a number of conversations with editors that are trying to make the jump from something like FCP7 with its delicate sensibilities, and it's been going something like this:

"There's no log and transfer."
Yes, you just drag in media.
"But...no. I can't do that."
Yes, you can.
"NO I CAN'T, YOU ARE UNCLEAN."

Really, you can forget the FCP quirks. It's okay. The funny little Log and Transfer glitches. The still photo size limits. Even the H264 stuff (sorta, it's still not the greatest for editing.) Premiere has its own quirks, but they are fewer and far between. Why does it make me so happy to not have to resize images before I put them in my project? It's the little things.

(Most of the minor issues I ran into specifically on this show were legitimate bugs that Adobe noted, and even fixed during our production cycle.)


A BRAND NEW CONCEPT: TAPE
Speaking of my mind being wrapped around things, let's talk about tape.

I had to deliver shows on tape. A brand new concept for someone who finished a thing and uploaded it to YouTube in the past. Before, it was "Oh, it's wrong? Delete, upload again."

Not that tape is difficult. I mean, look at it. It's all old and junky. You hit the right buttons in the right order and it's just supposed to work. And it mostly did.

But when it didn't, I had the hardest time troubleshooting because I have no experience to rely upon. Is it me? Is it the machine? Both? NEITHER? I DUNNO. Well, it was USUALLY me, somehow. But a couple times it wasn't.

On one episode, after I thought I had truly gotten the hang of the easy 89 step process of laying a show to tape, I spent much longer than I thought I would trying to troubleshoot -- infuriating, because I HAD the episode all done, I just needed to do an insert to fix an error (of mine, of course) and it would NOT work. For no REASON.

After retracing my steps and determining that I hadn't forgotten something stupid (like plugging in the machine control cable which I GUESS is important, whatever), we determined that it was the deck acting bananas. Then oopsies, the deck messed up the tape. I think I watched that episode about 19 times that day before I got it out the door.

Tape. A weird concept to be learning for the first time in 2013, but now I appreciate FTP just a little bit more.


Laying a show to tape, hoping I didn't forget something important like color bars.


DEADLINES AND DETAILS
Another challenge? Deadlines, funnily enough. Broadcast also can have some quick turnarounds, which always worries me because there are so many DETAILS to check. You mess up one thing at the beginning and you can cause a terrible domino effect that makes future-you curse your name.

I've never missed a deadline, but the consequences of doing so at past jobs had been being told, "You suck." Missing a TV deadline is more like, "You really suck because you've caused a cascade of failure and now it won't air on time and it'll cost a lot of money AND YOU SUCK."

The only real stumbles here for me were receiving projects from editors I've never met who don't necessarily organize things in the most effective way. Trying to turn around something relatively quickly while wading through someone else's piles of junk? Well, it's not the most fun I've ever had.

While everything went very smoothly most of the time, there were times, particularly toward the end of the season, when I could appreciate a well-organized timeline, a good sound designer, and a responsive producer.

Beyond all the technical challenges, the learning of new things, and the completely new environment for living and working and generally just existing, the real high point of cutting This American Life was having authorship over a thing. A thing people watch willingly that is trying to change the world for the better, especially in a way that I support on my own time.

I especially enjoyed the segments I cut without active producer guidance or scripting. And the show opens -- making the best minute and a half you can manage that will keep people watching after the opening titles. But being trusted alone to assemble a half hour show? Yep, I could get used to that. More, please.

It's been a very full 6 months working at BCM and I've learned a lot about myself as a person and an editor. Working on a national PBS show is a huge leap from where I was a year ago. Since Thanksgiving just happened and we've got this holiday spirit going on, I suppose it's appropriate to say I'm thankful for people who still give the young and technically "inexperienced" a chance to prove their worth. More often than not, it seems to pretty much work out for everyone involved.


Bossman Walter and I after a long weekend OUTSIDE the edit room - shooting original content. We do see the sun occasionally.

(Here is one of the things I edited. This American Land is currently airing on a lot of PBS stations, and will start airing on others sometime soon or not soon. Check your local listings and such.)








Never mind, I broke everything.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 29, 2013 at 5:18:10 pm editing, broadcast

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