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Kylee Peña's Blog

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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

What I Learned About Post-Production at My First Job

And I don't mean my first industry job. My first JOB. The first time I got a minimum wage paycheck for cleaning out a toilet. Well, in my case it was for cleaning up about 7 gallons of frozen ketchup, but we can talk about that another time.

The deeper I get into my editing career, the more I realize that the basis of everything I do on a daily basis was learned at my first job. When you peel away the layers of technological aptitude and the years of experience, the thing that sets one person apart from another in this industry is their ability to be a decent human being -- or deal with those that are not.

I got my first job when I was 16 -- a waitress at a 24 hour diner and soda fountain, basically. A corporate chain with corporate rules, many of which were arbitrary only because they were so freaking obvious: priority system (first in, first out -- for food or for customers), wash your dang hands, smile occasionally. Others actually were arbitrary: carry a tray with you every time you're in the dining room, even if you're just bringing a refill and carrying a single glass on a tray makes it WAY MORE LIKELY TO SPILL THANKS. In a way, the arbitrary rules were a part of the learning experience for every corporate experience that I ever had after, but that's not my point here.



My point IS I find it very interesting that most of the situations I first went through as a 17-year-old waitress are situations I find myself in as a 27-year-old editor. The setting is different and I don't have to wear a uniform anymore, but I find value in the experiences and lessons I got in the weeds, as they say.

Example One: A nice spring evening, I'm working the dinner rush as usual. Our restaurant was famous for making shakes to order (yipee) so almost every table ordered at least one (YIPEE). On this particular evening, we got super slammed. As a diner waitress, you make your tips from turning tables quickly (yay cheap food), so this wasn't completely out of the ordinary or beyond our capability. Except for when the dishwashing machine stops functioning at 6PM. We had plenty of plates and such for the moment, but ALL the glasses were dirty. Having had this happen before, we started using foam cups usually reserved for to-go orders. More expensive for the store, but not as expensive as not making shakes, right?

As luck would have it, this night I got a table of regulars: an grumpy elderly couple that came in every Tuesday evening with coupons for a spaghetti dish and added the same lime freeze shake to their order. I brought their lime freezes in a foam cup, explaining that the dishwasher had broken for a moment and the clean glasses were way too hot to put cold liquid inside.

"No. We don't want this. We want real glasses."

I said even if I manage to cool off two glasses enough to not BREAK when I put the cold ice cream inside, they'll still have residual heat that will make everything melty fast.

"I don't care. We want glasses. And we want you to remake these."

I took their wrongly cupped shakes away to "make new ones." Being slammed, I didn't have time to deal with these crazy people. I found two warm glasses, poured the perfectly good shakes I had already made into them, put fresh whipped cream and a cherry on top, and returned to the table with their hot glasses and warm shakes. They took a taste.

"Perfect. See, that wasn't so hard."

And they kept coming back every week. And I never gave them a foam cup ever again.

Lesson: People will pay you for your expertise and a good product, then require neither.

Example Two: A couple months after I started this job, I had only begun to understand the manager-server-customer dynamic, and that different managers operated things differently. I was working after school during a dinner rush with three other servers, one of which was named Jen. Jen had probably worked there too long, but she was good. She took an order of burgers to a table of four -- a guy, wife, two daughters -- and the man's hamburger had an ingredient on it that wasn't supposed to be on there. Jen sighed a little too loudly. She was sighing at the incompetence of the kitchen, not at the man's complaint. The man took her sigh as backtalk and threw the hamburger directly at her face, screaming expletives about how the customer is always right.

I was still only 16 and new to this, so I couldn't believe this was going down right in front of my eyes. Still, I expected the customer to be asked to leave. Or something, right? He just committed battery with a burger!

I watched my manager, Brandy, apologize profusely to the man (who was now staring directly at the table in shame), comp his meal, and give him coupons for next time. Jen sat angrily in the back of the store until he was gone. Jen and Brandy were enemies until Jen stopped showing up for work. I never saw the burger thrower again.

Lesson: Stick up for your own people when they're wronged. If you don't, you end up with a good editor that resents you and a client that's never going to use you again anyway to show for it.

Example Three: Another dinner rush scenario. Slammed as usual. Good for tips. Except not, because a majority of my section is being taken up by a youth baseball team and they all want shakes. I take their orders down and get the shakes done and out of the way as quickly as I can because they're so tedious. Just as I was feeling much better about maintaining control of my section, I hear the screaming of nine 10-year-old boys.

I ran to the table and found that one of the kids had attempted to drink his shake too quickly, and had quickly puked it right back up onto the table. In the middle of a dinner rush. With a full dining room of people surrounding them.

I looked at the table and didn't see any puke, so I was kind of relieved. I mean, how much puke could a 10-year-old kid make in a matter of moments with a small shake, anyway? I saw a little pile of paper placemats sitting in the middle of the table -- or what I thought was a little pile. I lifted them up to survey the damage. There were more placemats than I thought. Oh, the humanity. Puke was covering the entire table. It was so much worse than I thought.

Half the kids saw this and started screaming again before I could cover it up again. This caused most of the tables in my section to turn and see what the fuss was all about, and get an eyeful of chunky beige kid-barf. The kid's mom, seated next to him, looked at the pile, looked at me, and said "I'm an RN. You should be wearing gloves when you clean that up."

YOU THINK?

So I carefully did and still managed to take care of my tables. The vomit-table left me a whopping 10% tip after all the accommodations I offered to them, but some of the surrounding tables left a couple extra sympathy dollars.

Lesson: Sometimes you're running one step behind a bad situation -- covered in barf/bad footage, and the only thing you can do is smile and do your best not to make it any worse.

Example Four: After high school, I transferred to another restaurant location in the middle of downtown Indianapolis where I worked for a few months in college before moving on to a new hospitality gig. Things were bigger, rougher, and much more violent at this location. On a bright January afternoon, I was running the dining room alone in the dead space between lunch and dinner. I only had one table of three youngish people -- two guys and a girl. Our restaurant, being a diner, had a cash register where you paid your bill instead of at the table, so I was running that too. While I was behind the counter looking at the dining room, one of the guys leapt out of his chair and started beating the hell out of the other guy with anything he could get his hands on: a half-filled glass, a plate, a condiment rack, a ketchup bottle, a chair. My tiny speck of a manager tried to break it up as the girl ran away, but the dude was destroying the guy's face pretty rapidly. Blood everywhere. Mr. Manager yelled at me to call 911 since I was standing next to the phone.

A woman had walked in during this fight, seeing everything that had happened including me on the phone. She wanted to place a to-go order, and I told her it would be just a minute until I finished speaking with the 911 operator. She got super duper mad at me for not taking her order right away. And then she got even madder when the 911 operator asked me to walk away from the counter to the bleeding man and ask him if he thought his nose was broken (??).

About this same time was a manager shift change, so the dinner manager had walked in the front door to find a man with blood pouring out of his face and a very upset customer who complained about me walking away from the counter. The dinner manager wrote me up for not taking the customer's order while I was talking to the 911 operator.

Also, this was the first and only time I called 911 and I got put on hold.

Lesson: Sometimes when you think you're doing the right thing, someone will perceive it as not the right thing at all. That doesn't make it wrong.

Example Five: Waitresses commonly get taken off dining room duties toward the end of their shift to do "side-work" which is some kind of cleaning task usually. One of the assigned side-work duties at my restaurant was the bathroom. Usually this was just checking the supply levels and sweeping, but it was still considered to be the worst of the assignments. On this fateful day, my lovely manager informed us all that deep cleaning would be necessary for a visit by a health inspector the next day. She took me in the bathroom and told me that the dried urine on the wall beneath the urinal needed to go. So there I was, kneeling under a urinal, scraping dried whatever off the wall, begging the universe to not have some creepy man walk in.

Lesson: THINGS CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE.

When I was 17, I thought that after I moved on from waitressing and customer service and got a real editing job, all that stuff would be a distant sticky memory. Instead, I find myself referring to the things I learned in the ice-cream-covered trenches now more than ever. How to treat other people, dealing with complaints, learning to accept that the best you can offer is the best you can offer; regardless of whether you're crafting a show for a producer or mixing a shake for a customer, it's all relevant.

Learning to control what you can, triage what you cannot, and sever ties with those that deserve it: that's the trick to be a good editor that I started learning much earlier than I ever thought.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 10, 2013 at 2:16:18 pmComments (1) post-production, dealing with people

Practical Checklist for Video Production Conferences

You've booked your conference (perhaps the Southeast Creative Summit), been practicing your handshake, and read How to Win Friends and Influence People - twice. The eve of your classes is upon you. You're ready to learn all the things and network your face off.

Congratulations, you've prepared yourself well. But have you prepared yourself for yourself? You can't learn if you aren't comfortable, and you won't want to be social if you're grumpy. Don't forget to check your own checklist for creature comforts.

1. Plan workshops ahead of time. Print out the schedule grid (because you can't rely on smartphone data service in cavernous conference centers) and circle the sessions you are most interested in attending. Prioritize them. If one is too full or not what you wanted, you already have your second or third choice in hand without thinking.

2. Bring a sweater or something. Hotels and conference centers are notoriously frigid.

3. Have a snack stash. The nearest food available might be expensive or icky or have a long line. You might get caught up talking to a colleague or presenter instead of eating lunch. Now it's afternoon and you're hungry. Protein bars, fruit, and water are good to have on hand just in case you need a blood sugar boost. At larger conferences, water is a particularly hot commodity, so bringing a refillable bottle is even better.

4. Pack your chargers -- phone and/or laptop. But especially phone chargers. Because you're going to want to do a lot of social media sharing (right?) and you don't want a dead battery before you can add your new BFF on Twitter.

5. Don't forget the little things: business cards if you're into that, chapstick, contact solution, hand sanitizer, medication, gum, whatever. Throw it all in a backpack and you'll be prepared so you won't have to skip a session to go to your room or a store. Don't pack your life, but think more than 20 seconds about stuff you probably want to have with you.

I made a new friend at a conference once by being prepared. He tweeted with the conference hashtag, asking if anyone had any aspirin. I tweeted back that I did. Now we're married. Just kidding, I think he still follows me though.

6. Paper and pens are often much better than trying to bring a computer and type notes. Either way, good to have a backup plan for taking notes if technology forsakes you. (Bonus note: unless the workshop is built for following along, don't try to follow along with software demonstrations. You'll get lost and distracted.)

7. Don't bring things that are annoying. Loud things to eat, stuff that smells weird (food or perfume), junk that takes up a lot of space. Be courteous, it's not like you're going to the rainforest.


Make a list and assure you haven't forgotten any minor essentials that will help enhance your conference experience. If you're attending the Southeast Creative Summit this weekend, come tell me what I forgot to put on this list. And if you aren't already registered, you still can! Discounted full passes are available (with code creativecow2013), or you can attend just one day.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 23, 2013 at 12:58:18 pm video production conference, southeast creative summit

Five Video Editing Tips – from Writers

I like writing. I always have, and I've always been okay at it. It makes a lot of sense to me when editors also write -- blogs, scripts, whatever -- because the tasks are so similar. It mostly comes down to constructing a story of some kind, and the same pitfalls seem to apply more and more as I keep editing and writing stuff.

Since I'm sufficientish (or maybe proficientish? I don't know words) at writing and I want to be AWESOME, I did the obvious and looked up advice from famous authors so I could copy off...er...attempt to emulate their success in small ways. I got hooked into a bunch of articles by awesome writers talking about being awesome a couple months ago. Since then, I've been noticing more parallels between good editing and good writing. Story stuff is story stuff, but it's been interesting to apply tips meant for writers to editing video -- unscripted or narrative, or whatever you might be cutting.


Don't go into great detail describing places or things. - Elmore Leonard

In unscripted stuff particularly, I've seen a tendency for editors to use a whole bunch of b-roll at the beginning to describe a place. It's kind of like the editorial equivalent of four pages of describing the weather and town instead of actually getting to the story. It's so much better when a place or thing is built through a character experiencing it.

Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action. - Kurt Vonnegut

If a cut isn't revealing character or advancing the action, then why is it there? This has been especially interesting to me while cutting narrative. I'm not just assembling a scene. I'm editing a script, after the fact.

Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. - Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk goes on to talk about the differences between two kinds of passages. In one, the main character is described as anxious about missing a bus. In the other, the circumstances of the main character's anxiety are laid out. You're in her head and getting a sequence of events that leads you to feel anxious FOR her, but the text itself doesn't say "X was anxious."

In editing, I've seen something like this: you're following a protagonist who is about to embark on a scary adventure after a restless night. In one version, you dip to black, put up a descriptive title slide, then move onto the action of the next day. In another version, you find key bits in the b-roll (maybe even in different parts of the day or from another day) that build the anxiety of the night leading into the action of the day. Easier said than done -- you often don't have the b-roll -- but some creativity and intent is sometimes all it takes to help suck the audience in a little bit more.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. - Kurt Vonnegut

In the subjective world of writing and editing, it's hard to please everyone. And that's not what this is about. Tell the best story you possibly can with what's been provided to you. Don't be lazy, don't cut narrative corners, and don't assume your audience are imbeciles (unless that's your target, I guess.) If someone feels their time was wasted by watching your story, that's their problem. 

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. - Elmore Leonard

If it looks like editing, edit it differently. This is the one I've had on my mind the most over the last couple of months. Sometimes I come into contact with sequences cut by people I don't know and have the opportunity to examine them closely. So often I'll find that a good opportunity for an invisible edit is squandered by a flash to white or unnecessary speed ramp. Style over content.

The footage is good. The right music change, natural sound, and arrangement of cuts would be sufficient to end a thought (or paragraph) and go to the next one. This bit is more than just an inability to transition: cuts that are too clever or on the nose or perfectly to music, unintentional jump cuts, star wipes (eh) -- any kind of edit that reminds a person that editing has happened. 

 
I suppose it's extremely obvious to compare writing and editing since it's all storytelling, and often as an editor you actually ARE rewriting a thing someone said. Plus, how many times have you been searching for editing jobs online and found a bajillion copy editor gigs instead? Story is story and editing is editing, but some timeless wisdom has served me well in the edit suite lately.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Oct 13, 2013 at 7:46:55 pm video editing, writing

Why Are You Going to the Southeast Creative Summit?

One of the great things about getting out of the dimly lit edit room (or bay or suite or closet or whatever you use to describe where you spend 85% of your life) and going to places where your peers are gathering is that you -- gasp -- meet your peers! And some of those peers become -- bigger gasp -- FRIENDS!

So allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine: Joel Yeaton. I followed Joel on Twitter for a long time and we exchanged baked goods* a few times before meeting at Editfest NY in 2012.

(*Some of us on Twitter Editors occasionally exchange baked goods with one another. It's not as weird as it sounds. I think.)

Joel is attending the Southeast Creative Summit in October, so I figured I would stop telling you why you should go and let him tell you why he's going.

What conferences have you attended in the past?

I hadn't been a part of Twitter for that long before I got connected to #postchat (where I'm more of a lurker than anything else) but @Dr0id mentioned Editfest and on a whim one day I decided to buy a ticket to Editfest NYC 2012.

What have you gotten out of educational classes and workshops that you couldn't get out of online training?

I've gotten so much more out of workshops than I ever have out of online training. Online training is alright and has its place, but it is unfortunate only ever talking about the WHAT or the HOW and never talking about the WHY. Educational classes and workshops like the Southeast Creative Summit are the places you go to learn about the WHY. Also -- and even more importantly -- because of workshops, over the past few years I have gotten connected to a community of editors and post talent who are amazing people doing inspiring work all around the country.

Why did you decide to come to the Southeast Creative Summit?

I decided to come to the Southeast Creative Summit because I had such a great experience with EditFest in 2012, and unfortunately they didn't have another east coast workshop in 2013. But then the Southeast Creative Summit came and filled the gap that I was missing, and I'm so excited for Oct 25th — the 27th to come.

Why do you think it's important to learn in person?

Anyone can learn the WHAT of something, but the WHY of something is the most important and the hardest to learn. When you learn online, you can only learn from one person at a time, but at workshops and conferences like the Southeast Creative Summit, not only are there so many excellent teachers scheduled for workshops during the weekend, you can learn so much from the knowledge base of the other editors that are there learning along side of you. By going to these events, you are increasing your opportunity for connection and collaboration. Chance favors the connected mind!

What do you hope to learn at the Summit?

I currently work for a large PR firm as an editor, but my role is slowly transforming to more of a producer/editor so I'm really excited about all of the production/pre-pro workshops. I have also been playing on some jobs with Mocha and will hopefully get to sit in on one of those workshops as well.

What kind of people would you like to meet at the Summit?

I just want to meet old friends and new. I love meeting people and am very excited to get to be in the same building with the vast talent pool that Walter and crew have assembled. Tweet me if you decide to go! My Twitter handle is @joelyeaton.

What tips do you have for people attending classroom-style workshops?

I don't know if I have any great tips for people that @kyl33t hasn't put in her blog post, but I would just say be open, be friendly, and just decide to go and see what happens!

--

I swear I didn't tell him to say any of that stuff. Or link to me. But hey, that's okay with me. Thanks Joel!

Look at that, you already know at least TWO people at the Summit, so you may as well register already. Use the code trackmatte2013 to get a limited discount - $449 for a ticket.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 30, 2013 at 1:17:32 pm southeast creative summit, video production conferences

Okay, fine. Premiere Pro CC is pretty good to me.

Alright, I'll admit it. Premiere is pretty decent these days. 

I know a lot of people say that. The Internet is filled with love letters to Adobe. I haven't really been among them, well, ever. I've almost always had bad experiences with Premiere, which I've documented a-plenty. Long story short (unless you go back and read my post where I lay it all out), Premiere was unstable as hell for me, Avid wasn't accessible (physically, I could never get in front of one) and being technically proficient in SOMETHING was important to me. So my senior year of college, I learned everything I could about FCP and even got certified by Apple. A card carrying FCPFREAK except not really because the certification logo usage guide was like 18 pages long. I cut on FCP for 3 years professionally and enjoyed using it -- until three months ago, when I came into a new job with Premiere. Creative Cloud actually went live on my first day of work. I used CS6 for a few hours, then CC forever and ever after.

And it's added or eliminated a lot of stuff that used to drive me CRAZY. A lot of people really liked CS6 and I'll agree it was an improvement but MAN, it was like a reanimated corpse in some ways. Nice to edit natively, but OMG WTF at some stuff -- sorry to use so much industry lingo on you. 

Obligatory comment about how story is more important than tools. Yes, we know.

So anyway, I know a lot of people are resisting Premiere because they don't like past versions or they don't like the idea of the Creative Cloud or subscription or whatever. Sure, perfectly valid reasons not to use software that don't really concern me. I can't stress enough how much I don't want to argue about the cloud with you. But I thought that since I used to be so firmly in the "omg Premiere sucks so much I can't even look at it" crowd and now I'm not so much, I should spread the word just in case. 'Cause it really does save me a lot of time, I think. 

The biggest thing for me that really makes me happy is not needing to transcode. In FCP, I transcoded all the things. I didn't think this would be a big deal to me because I knew FCP's quirks so well that managing media didn't bug me. Well damn ya'll, turns out when you can have a timeline with 6 different kinds of media on it without blinking, that's pretty much okay.

Other stuff that was previously missing or annoying is gone -- and well-covered in actual reviews that aren't just confessionals. Coming straight from using FCP every day (or even Media Composer every night), there's not really much about it that's bothersome when it works as intended. The person to person support seems to be very good. Despite becoming a punching bag for a lot of people, Adobe is pretty flippin' responsive. The help section sucks a lot, but luckily I don't resort to that very much (not because I'm SMRT but because sites like uhm Creative COW do it a lot better anyway.)

The thing is, I still don't really trust Premiere as much as I could. Sometimes weird things will happen and I'm not sure if it's me or the software, or if it really happened. Renders unrender. In or out points go POOF. Disabled clips still act enabled until suddenly they don't. Odd little bugs I can't recreate and make me question my sanity, some of which have been around a long time. Even timecode issues. NBD though right, it's not like timecode is important. At least when FCP tended to flip out, it did it noticeably. 

Premiere is keeping up and trying to add new stuff without destroying the delicate little world an editor creates for his or herself, which I respect. But in its constant evolution, I feel like minor oddities that can become show stopping calamities are always a possibility. I never got that from FCP. For all its quirks and dinosaurness, I was always pretty sure that my timecode was accurate or my tested workflow wasn't going to collapse in on itself. 

(I'll note that I am using Avid Media Composer for the feature I'm working on because it's awesome for narrative, in my correct opinion.)

I suppose it's sort of a risk and reward situation. FCP was a stable dinosaur, a friendly brontosaurus. But to keep it stable, you stay on older operating systems and older computers, and that's not going to do you any good eventually. Premiere is uhm...the dinosaur that eats Newman. Or whatever. Point is it's pretty awesome and so very fast, but watch out because it does spit toxic black stomach tar sometimes.

Honestly, my main concern with being a Premiere user is: am I inappropriately spoiling myself? Am I setting myself up for failure by no longer caring about the media the same way as I did before? Or is this what we should all come to expect, that we SHOULD be able to throw random r3ds and loose P2 junk around and let the software deal with it because life is short dammit? I'm nearly made to feel like a cheat for not spending half my life wrangling and managing media...but we have 64 bit phones so why is that my concern?

In summary, I guess I'm saying: Premiere CC is good stuff worth cautiously exploring, so don't reject it because YOU'RE the dinosaur.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 23, 2013 at 7:59:37 pmComments (2) adobe premiere cc, creative cloud

Am I Too Inexperienced for Educational Workshops?

A big dilemma when deciding to throw your hard earned money at someone in exchange for knowledge: am I ready for this? Will I get enough out of it to justify the cost? Will I get eaten alive? I'm scared. Hold me. I don't want anything to do with any of it. Go away.

Or something like that. It's a realistic dilemma to have. As a video editor or motion graphics artist, you wouldn't go to an advanced PHP conference or Accountantpalooza (if there is such a thing…and if there isn't, there should be.) And you wouldn't pay to attend a weekend of advanced level hands-on video production classes if you've never touched a camera before.

But chances are if you've made it this far and you read industry blogs like this one, you're exactly the kind of person that would benefit from attending video production or post-production workshops. Whether you're still in college, never went to college, you're in your first video gig, or searching for that first job, you'll get something out of a week or weekend of video production classes.

Most conferences are built with a wide demographic in mind -- which makes sense, because everyone is so different in our industry. So don't fret that you'll be the dumb kid in the back of the room if you feel a little green. Even if a few concepts do go over your head, at least you'll know what you're interested in researching further. And being surrounded by a bunch of your peers, you'll probably discover that you're less inexperienced than you thought. There's no need to feel intimidated, especially in a learning environment.

The Southeast Creative Summit is coming up on October 25-27 in Atlanta and it'll be a great conference for the less experienced. The focus is less on specific tools, and more on what to do with the tools. Learn more about the art and craft and apply that to all the technical junk you have yet to learn. The student rate will remain in effect until classes begin. Which is awesome. If you aren't getting free and cheap stuff as a student, you're doin' it wrong.

I was going to write a post called "Am I TOO experienced for educational workshops?" But duh, no, you aren't. There's always something new to learn about or get better at, and as soon as you start thinking you're too knowledgeable to possibly learn anything else, you should probably retire or move onto a new career. Maybe something in event planning, adding "--palooza" to words.



Happy Birthday X-Files!

It almost snuck by me, but I remembered! Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The X-Files. And as a huge fan (I think they used to call us X-Philes) of the show who has recently been working through (almost) every episode from start to finish, I have a couple things to say about this. 

This is the first chronological binge viewing I've completed on this show since I originally began watching -- something that happened pretty late in the series. Sometime in 1999, I picked up the show during season 7 and got hooked after the finale. That summer, FX played a couple episodes a night starting from season 1. By fall, I was fully engaged in not only watching the show, but also talking about every aspect of the show on the Internet. With other self-proclaimed "x-philes". Half cringe, half I ain't even mad.



Besides the phenomenal technical achievements of the show which I'm sure are discussed elsewhere on the internet on this happy birthday week, I have two major takeaways as an impressionable teenager, both of which have become a lot clearer upon this recent binge in adulthood, ten years after the show's series finale (sob).

The first thing: characters are everything, and not just the heroes. Yes, Mulder and Scully went through some fantastic character development (which, by the way, is even more impressively subtle when you view episodes back to back to back, there's some amazing mental breakdown slow burn). But how about Cigarette Smoking Man? How many shows give their nameless villain a whole subplot? An entire episode? It's a long journey to the reward, but these small hints build up to a pretty emotionally complex end to the main mytharc, with a lot of engaging and amusing stand-alones along the way. Even characters we saw once or twice -- the psychological mindgames of "Pusher", or the scary as hell hair and nail fetishist in "Irresistible" were way more captivating than a lot of recurring roles on other shows. 

Interesting and likable (or at least relatable) characters are a difficult lesson to learn as a filmmaker, and even when X-Files was at its worst, it was still a great teacher.



Two: Dana freakin' Scully. Looking back, she was possibly my biggest role model as a teenager (plus I had a lot of Scully-related forum handles) -- and I wasn't alone. At a Comic-Con, Gillian Anderson said she had dozens and dozens of women tell her that they pursued a career in medicine, science, psychology, law enforcement, or another related field because they had grown up watching Scully kick ass every week. In another interview, I saw a lot of women mentioning their path into filmmaking began with Dana Scully. I'm not sure my hair would even be red without Scully.

Scully is complex character with layers and junk. She's a deeply flawed person without being portrayed as weak-willed. She's physically and mentally tough, but she worries about burdening her partner with her concerns and keeps a lot to herself. Early in the series, the show tried to occasionally show that Scully had a romantic life -- but then somebody realized that the audience didn't care, and it got way better. 



It's interesting that the main thing taken away from her after her abduction was her ability to bear children, which made for an interesting dynamic to a character that already overcompensated for her gender as many women are prone to do in a male-oriented field. But she's, at least for 7 seasons, not defined by infertility so much as she is by wanting to find answers, like Mulder. Even when she's the victim, she's not truly helpless (nor is she truly unaffected.) And I think that's kind of rare for women in stories. Plus, infertility is such a trope for female characters anymore, but was anyone addressing such a thing in the early 90s?

I'll admit that Scully in seasons 8 and 9 was kind of crap though. The storyline that had sucked me into the show originally ended up being the weakest link for her character (make babies, protect babies, etc.) But still, we'll always have the ass-kicking Scully in seasons 3 through 5 (including the movie, especially the movie!) And girlfriend could wear them shoulder pads, mhmm.

Also, a majority of X-Files were edited by female editors. I don't really have a further point to make about that, I'm just saying it was a thing I realized upon this binge.

X-Files was awesome. Ya'll should Netflix it if you never watched it before. Great stories, great dialogue, best opening title sequence ever. Yeah, I said it.

Scully: Mulder, it's such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the idea of trying to find life on this planet?
Mulder: I've seen the life on this planet Scully, and that is exactly why I am looking elsewhere.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:12:02 pmComments (8) x-files, filmmaking

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