: Kylee Peña's Blog
"I hadn't even heard of that movie until the nominations."
"Oh, it's Oscar nominated? I'll have to see it."
"I need to see all the best picture nominees before the Oscars are on!"
How many times do you hear these things during awards season? All the time? And then also through the rest of the year? Yeah, me too. Because it turns out that no matter how apathetic you can be toward awards, this is the one award that most people use to judge the worthiness of a film. It makes them seek it out.
That's the first reason why the Oscars matter. Here is the second reason.
After the Oscars were announced this morning and I aired my grievances -- not shock by any means, but annoyance -- on Twitter, I got some push back. Who cares about awards? Well, a lot of people: see above. But mostly, my displeasure comes from the fact this is another greater representation of how skewed Hollywood is.
In the entire history of the Oscars, since 1927, there have been four women nominated for best director. That's four out of 423. Less than one percent. There have been 637 people nominated for cinematography -- zero of them women. That is also less than one percent.
There are some women nominated this year, like Sandra Adair for her editing work on Boyhood
. Becky Sullivan for sound editing on Unbroken
. Laura Poitras' documentary CitizenFour
. Documentary shorts Crisis Hotline: Press 1
directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Joanna
directed by Aneta Kopacz. Some nominations for songwriting, make-up and hair, production design and costuming. And yes, actress categories, haw haw. But my point is that beyond the editing nominees, this is pretty much how Oscar nominations for women tend to go in a good year.
Things don't change unless people in places of power and decision-making seek to change them. Studios don't take chances on women because they're still "different". People hire from within, and they tend to hire people that look like them. All of these things that come back around to internalized sexism -- sexism that is mostly just casual and societal rather than outright malicious -- and it feeds into Hollywood and gets spit out on Oscar nomination morning in the form of eight best picture nominees about men.
That's why awards matter: they bring attention to stories that might not get attention, and they represent what Hollywood has to offer us which often serves as a reminder of what Hollywood lacks. The visibility and success of these films from Oscar season tells Hollywood what "we" want to see, which circles back around into creating next's year crop of things. And the lack of diversity in what "we" desire does nothing to help eliminate the gender gap in Hollywood.
(Okay, maybe the headline is a LITTLE strong, but I HELPED.)
In the world of corporate video, the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world didn’t come around often for me. I know that’s not true for many people in the “corporate video” world, which is a general term I could use to mean anything from industrial how-toe or non-profit event highlight reels. But in my little piece of that land, my videos were generally not going to make a change that would last for future generations. At least, not a positive one.
When I started working on the PBS series This American Land, I finally got the opportunity to see what it was like to work on content with consequences in the real world, specifically the natural
world and everything in it. The two seasons I’ve spent on it have been focused on the angle of people working toward a greater good to solve an issue — an endangered species, shrinking wild land, or polluted river.
In 2013, I edited a segment about the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California. The San Gabriel Mountains Forever
campaign was trying to get the area designated as a national monument so it would be protected from development in the same way other natural lands are in the United States, and with its proximity to Los Angeles, the conservation of the area for providing drinking water and green space is important. It was kind of a tough edit because, to put it delicately, the field producing wasn’t tops. The executive producer (who did not produce the segment) was worried we wouldn’t have what we needed because it was pretty rough, but he gave it to over to me with the hopes I could find the story. We emailed back and forth a couple of times about the mission of the piece and what they hoped to accomplish, and I dug in without a script or guide or notes and came back with a six minute piece called Backyard Wilderness. The EP was so glad I did what I did with it, he gave me the producer credit for the story.
Late last year (in 2014), I got a news alert on my phone that President Obama was going to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. I was like hey, whoa dude, I edited a thing about that and now it happened. Not to say my editorial work had any impact (or maybe it did, for the right people — it’s on the campaign’s main page and was broadcast nationally and all) but I’ve never felt that kind of connection between cutting a video and then seeing the direct outcome of that. I felt a smidgen of ownership in that because I had dived so deep in the material to draw out pieces of the story that would make the best case for the campaign.
People have been working on this for over a decade, and I’m sure it’s been hugely rewarding to finally see it come to fruition. My part of it coming in the final year before the designation was given is pretty cool too. I hope everyone in post-production gets the opportunity to edit something that has meaning beyond the half hour its broadcast to the world. It certainly gives you a new perspective when you’re still working on it.
Another edit I really enjoyed was about an area of West Virginia that contains the beginning of six watersheds that feed into bigger rivers downstream. Birthplace of Rivers
is a campaign to designate this area a national monument, so the quality of drinking water can’t be affected by oil and gas development or other industries. This edit was another where I was given a bunch of stuff and a loose guide — not out of necessity but rather to see what I’d make with it — so it was another I’ve grown attached to. I hope Birthplace of Rivers will see the same kind of success as the San Gabriel Mountains.
If a thing happens and nobody blogs about it, did it really happen? Of course the answer is no, which is why I'm writing a post about a project I finished editing in September. But there is some freshness to it: it's actually airing nationally(ish) this week. You could have seen it online this whole time, but there's something about a thing airing nationally(ish) that brings a new layer of legitimacy to it.
Editing a show filled with shots like this was okay.
One of my most complicated projects to date at Biscardi Creative Media (or anywhere, really) was started in July, right after the conclusion of the fourth season of the This American Land
for PBS…so ya know, "okay good job, *shoves you out window*" basically. It was a web series called Arson Dogs, featuring beloved dog trainer Victoria Stilwell
as she visited and learned from State Farm's arson dog training school in rural Maine. Arson dogs are super-duper energetic dogs that are trained to go into a fire scene (after the fire is gone) and try to find accelerants like gasoline so samples can be taken and arsonists can be convicted at a higher rate. It's really hard to find this stuff in a fire scene since petroleum is found in everyday products, but the dogs seem to have no problem. In fact, a large part of the schooling is really training the eight handlers in the class to handle and read the dogs. The training is based upon positive reinforcement, which aligns perfectly with Victoria's personal training mission too. But to make it difficult for her, the arson dogs' energy isn't curbed and they're never trained not
to pull on their leads, so working with such dogs is much different for someone who typically deals with obedience.
This show had 6 black labs and 2 yellow labs and I still know this is Fresca.
BCM cut a trailer for the show before I started my edit, so I was vaguely familiar with where some things were. But once I actually began to look at everything for real, I had some concerns. For one thing, there was a massive amount of footage. Like not just a lot of clips, but a lot of multiclips where conversations would last for over 45 minutes and cover two dozen topics between 10 people. And for another thing, almost ALL of the dogs were black labs. I'm not exactly sure why that was a concern, but I had a brief moment of panic about not being able to tell the dogs apart, like it really matters. (And by the way, at the end of this edit I could easily tell all the seemingly identical dogs apart.)
Victoria was the audience POV as she became a student again to learn new training techniques.
Victoria's team did some logging and organizing of the footage THANKFULLY which really allowed me to find my way around much more quickly than if I would have had to do all that myself. They handed off the Adobe Premiere Pro project with all the logged clips, and I duplicated it and started working within it after reconnecting all the media from a NAS. Everything was split up by day, and then put into bins based on major events or locations. Interviews were separated out and labeled, which helped me figure out who was who in a cast that included 8 handlers, 3 trainers, 1 spokesperson, and a lot of dogs. I spent the better part of a week watching almost everything and adding markers to the timeline with descriptions.
The Marker window was especially helpful in long multiclips.
Here's the thing that made it complicated for me though. I had a sort of
outline. Maybe like twelve sentences? It was more of a suggestion based upon the experience the team had in the field. Like "maybe you can split the episodes up like this?" Or maybe not. It was up to me. If 20 three minute episodes was best, I would do that. Much fewer longer episodes? Do that. Okay. While I was watching everything, I was trying to take notes about what story lines might emerge and what characters were best to focus on for each episode. With the school being fairly linear, and with the footage covering the first three days and the last two days of the five week schooling process, I had a basic structure to work from. But besides "second day of school", what was it really about?
And how much sponsor information do you sprinkle in? When?
Victoria's team logged and organized the 4000 clips in the project.
These weren't on a tight turnaround necessarily, but I knew once I started delivering, they would be due on a weekly basis. And I was doing all the color correction, sound and graphics myself. I wanted to get to the edit as quickly as I could, so I decided to just start making harsh decisions as quickly as possible. As I watched and placed markers, I made notes in a text file about sequences that would work in each episode. It became an ever-changing living document where I constantly moved segments around, shuffled them within an episode, or pushed them back to another episode. I'm really weird about outlines. I find it difficult to write things without an outline of some kind. When I edit unscripted stuff, I'll write down a quick roadmap of where I think I want to go. It's impossible for me to start doing anything until I have a scribbly little list that I'll never look at again.
My favorite dog (yes favorite), Sadie, after investigating a fire scene with Victoria.
I was thankful to have a basic understanding of a higher level of finishing audio within Premiere, too. So many microphone sources, many of them with wind or underneath a scarf. I'm not an amazing sound mixer by any means, but a little compression and EQ was going a long way for me. Color correction was done with Red Giant's Colorista II, which is about a million lightyears better than the 3-way color corrector inside Premiere. I had minimal issues with Premiere Pro (2013), except for autosave becoming really slow toward the end…and the occasional export not exporting correctly for no particularly good reason.
I built the minimal motiony graphics inside Premiere (2013) so I could react to feedback more quickly.
Here's the other thing that complicated it for me: there really wasn't any established structure to the show. So while I was putting together the actual content for each episode, I was simultaneously considering how to package it together, and pulling clips for a title sequence. I ultimately decided on a fairly tried-and-true web series formula: a cold open with some kind of hook, a short catchy title sequence, the episode content, then a tease for the next week. There's nothing inherently difficult about any of this, I know. It's just thinking about it all at the same time was a little challenging at times.
I used a lot of Rampant Design light leaks for some quick transitions with minimal effort.
I held back the first two episodes (which were more of a two-parter for the first day of training, setting up the training and introducing the guys to their new dogs) until they were both entirely finished before I showed the clients. To my utter relief, they were totally thrilled with the style and structure.
So that's always a whew.
After that, I put my head down and tried to keep editing as quickly as I could to turn in episodes on a weekly basis for posting the following Tuesday. I had selects timelines with all the moments I wanted to use for each episode, so if I was skimming for something for episode 4 and I saw something I thought I'd probably want for episode 6, I'd take it and toss it in the other timeline. I was relying heavily on clip descriptions and markers for orientation within longer multiclips (rather than subclips) and I liked that method a lot.
Dogs are awesome.
From a story perspective, this is fascinating content any day. But a challenge I had was keeping the energy levels up for the viewer. The guys in the class were there for the long haul. And they were law enforcement officials, so it's not like they're going to be overly dramatic or bouncing off the walls with fear and excitement. So it took a little editing magic to keep things fast and exciting. Nothing tricky or fake, just condensing time and combining it with the best, most heartfelt moments, like you do. But man, there was a lot of sifting to find those.
Dogs are really awesome.
In the back of my mind through the editing process, I knew the ending was going to be a challenge. There was no footage of the actual certification process (and I'm not sure it would have been allowed), so I had to deal with a time jump from anticipating certification to a post-graduation celebration. There wouldn't be any moments where anyone found out on camera that they were official an arson dog handler, which is a bummer. I didn't really have anything to use other than a celebratory dinner in a dimly lit room. But I did have one thing, possibly unintentionally: after certification, all the guys had official portraits taken in their dress uniforms and someone had left a camera to run on the scene. So I let music and heavy visuals drive the point home that they had passed and were celebrating. Did it work? I think so, especially considering what was given.
The handlers are all fire marshals and fire fighters throughout the country.
I edited eight episodes of the show (6 in the linear narrative and 2 training-related supplements, a little over an hour of show content) and I've seen endless positive comments on it which is gratifying considering trying to put together the whole package of the first two shows probably took about five years off my life expectancy. Not that it was the client that did that, no, they were great. It was self-inflicted. I love dogs and I wanted to do their show right, man.
The only bit of the show made in After Effects - provided logo plus fire elements and smoke from Rampant Design.
Serving as my own producer on this made it kind of a new experience for me. I mean, I've cut plenty of unscripted stuff before and I've been a producer on that stuff. But the experience of working on so many episodes at once was…kind of new. I really enjoy the problem-solving side of editing, and a lot of this edit was just that, trying to make things work together that were almost
working together. Sinking into the actual craft of the thing was a little harder since I was never really entirely dedicated to one show, always trying to keep eyes open for bites that would be THE defining bite for a later episode. But I really enjoyed it. I learned things about myself. Like every time I do a project like this, I have faith in my first judgment decision making skills. If you can't go into a project with a whole huge mess of stuff to work with and make quick editorial and structural decisions, you can't hit deadlines. And you can't satisfy a client unless those gut instincts are usually right. And my time management and estimation skills are pretty spot on. Eyeballing a project and estimating the time it takes? I'm not terrible at that. Any time I can add a little bit of faith in these kinds of abstract skills, I'm appreciative of the project.
As a cat person with a reputation, this dog's face makes me want a dog.
And you wanna know a confession? I miss all the dogs. ALL OF THEM. I can tell them apart by their little faces, and I miss hanging out with them. I would be their friend. I'm hoping for another season (which looks very promising!) so I can meet more dogs and be their friend too. I loved editing a project about something that really matters to people and animals. These dogs are generally considered to be undesirable because they're too energetic, and many of them were in line to be euthanized. Instead, they're working with law enforcement, in an atmosphere where their crazy energy is put to good use dramatically increasing the number of arson convictions. Dogs on the brink become heroes. I'm not crying you're crying.
Look at his vest, I can't even.
Which brings me back to my opening paragraph. You can meet these dogs (and humans) online. Or you can watch them at some point on DirecTV's DogTV channel
, which is apparently 24/7 programming for dogs -- except for this week, which is human-related dog programming. Like Arson Dogs. (Newbie tip: If someone asks you to cut something exclusively for the web, keep your graphics title safe anyway. Because you never know when they'll say "actually, DogTV wants to air it.") They're doing a free preview of the channel for Thanksgiving week, maybe so your dog will get hooked and you can order the channel for them for Christmas!
Stills in this post are from Arson Dogs, copyright Victoria Stilwell Enterprises, except for my interface screenshots which copyright nobody.
Here's a hot tip I've been chewing on for a while, especially for younger editors:
If someone offers to speak with you about your career -- a coffee meeting, an email, an informational interview, anything -- follow up with them.
If someone hands you their business card and says "stay in touch", do it.
Because you know what? In my experience, almost nobody does it.
Over the last few years, I've grown a lot as an editor and I've gotten some good experience so far. But I'm still close enough to college graduates in age that I think my experience in today's economy is relevant to them, so I try to give back as often as I can. I've done workshops, panels, small group mentoring in high schools, Twitter chats, and networking events. If I talk to someone at length trying to break into the industry and they
express interest in continuing the conversation, I will always give them my card and an open invitation to contact me.
You know how many of them actually email me? Like two out of a hundred is being generous.
(That's out of people that have asked me to continue the conversation. Whenever I make a presentation to a class or group of younger people, I always post my email address at the end with an open invitation to follow up -- I'm not counting these, but if I were it would make the number more like two out of four hundred.)
Heres the thing: if you ask someone for help and they say "yes, here, contact me", follow up with them. If you're in college and a professor you like has office hours, go for a visit. If a company invites you to shadow an editor or do an informational interview, set up an appointment.
If someone says sure, bother me all you want? BOTHER THEM. You should be trying to make as many contacts as you can, an that includes "bothering" people who haven't
offered you their time outright. What chance do you have at making connections if you aren't even taking the free space in the middle of the board?
This is important: there will be people who are blowing smoke and don't actually have the time or interest in meeting with you. That's okay. There are plenty of others that can make the time and have the interest, because different levels of mentorship are mutually beneficial.
I often learn just as much about the industry when I talk to younger people as they might be learning from me.
I've been where young editors probably are: too much work, too little pay. Maybe trying to balance classes and internships and work and a shred of a social life. I've been handed a business card with an open offer to communicate. I've let it slip because I didn't have time or I didn't think they really
had the interest. I've potentially left a lot of opportunities on the table because I couldn't put aside a few minutes to throw an email at someone who already welcomed me to do so.
Keep track of your contacts and follow up
. If someone is opening up their busy schedule to potentially share their knowledge and connections with you, for the love of everything, respond. If they get kind of wobbly in the response, keep bugging them. After all, they started it.
Everybody tells you to network and meet people. The part that comes after -- where you actually start to make the real connection -- is the part that will help make you successful.
This week, I've seen maybe a dozen articles about "Millennials". What do they want? Why aren't they buying houses? What brands do they like? Why don't they vote? What's their favorite color? They're mostly all written by people from the Baby Boomer generation, and they're mostly filled with generalizations and assumptions like "all Millennials care about is texting each other." Seriously, that was a comment. Not even a clever burn. Like offensively non-clever
First, a definition: Millennials are people born between 1983 and 2003, give or take some years depending on who you ask. To define a generation does sound a little generalize-y on the surface, but people born during this span of time do have a lot of things in common: they're typically more open-minded about social issues, they marry and have children much later (if at all), they're less likely to be religious, they have more student loan debt than any generation before, and they're described as liberal do-gooders by some and self-entitled narcissists by others. Again, speaking in terms of statistics based on this twenty year time span.
And people are desperately seeking to understand them. To market to them, campaign to them, sell to them...basically, to communicate with them.
I feel like this is a topic worth exploring for the video industry because the Millennial generation is clearly dealing with a lot of factors that Baby Boomers and Gen X did not, just as those generations were affected in ways that their parents were not. Millennials go to the previous generation for life and career advice (which is great, the best way to learn) but there’s a disconnect when it comes to applicable advice.
Some facts evergreen: work hard, keep learning, understand the theory. But a lot of specific advice can’t be handed down like in other careers because the industry has changed so much, and it seems like older people mistake this disconnect for arrogance. All of our jobs as we know them didn't even exist thirty years ago, and Millennials came of age in the digital video world. As the era of the hundred thousand dollar Avid suite was winding down, I was creating videos at home on a consumer Dell computer. This inherently gives me a different perspective on the industry, and it's hard to wade through knowing what's "right" instinctively and being told what's "right" historically or cynically.
In an effort to help mitigate the generational divide, here are some things about the Millennial Video Producer (or shooter or editor or whatever) that I know to be true more often than not.
1. We're more interested in happiness than financial stability
-- at least, so far. In a Millennial Branding report, 45% of respondents chose job flexibility over pay and 72% want a job where they have an impact. Millennials are highly entrepreneurial and generally like to see themselves making some kind of change. There's some conflicting information about just how civic-minded Millennials actually are, but it's definitely easy to see the social patterns reflected in the kinds of businesses they align themselves with.
A statistic like this really seems to make Baby Boomers’ heads spin, spitting words like “selfish” and self-entitled” despite the fact these young people are saying they want to make change happen
. There’s a generational shift away from prioritizing family first: in ONE way. One could easily argue that by pursuing the things that make a person happy, they are doing more for their family life than they ever would being utterly miserable but financially stable.
2. We're generally under-employed and kind of resent it, especially since we're very educated.
A lot of Millennials (the most educated age group after the economic downturn according to the Department of Labor) started their careers (or tried to) at the downturn of the economy in 2008, graduating from college to find job postings that contained such comedy as "entry-level editor: 5 years experience required." Pair that with the fact they have the highest amount of student loan debt any generation has seen (nearly 40% of debt for people in their 20s according to a recent analysis by TransUnion) and it's no wonder they're being a little more careful about buying homes or moving out of their parents' place altogether. Which sucks, considering most Millennials spent their childhoods being told that a degree was the key to a career.
After the worst of the recession had passed, employers remained cautious about the job market, not hiring and not paying pre-2008 wages, either because they hadn't recovered or didn't want to take any risks, or maybe just because they could get away with it. A note of personal experience here: when I started college at Indiana University, I was told that no student left the program without three or four job offers on the table. When I was in my last couple months of school four years later and hadn't gotten so much as a rejection from any potential employers, I asked my advisor what I should do. He laughed and said "gosh, I don't know. Maybe go to grad school to wait out the economy." No doubt a temporary solution that too many people in my generation took advantage of and are paying dearly for, literally. For a lot of them, it was probably worthwhile. For this industry? Not so much unless you wanted to pursue a teaching career.
3. We're likely to freelance.
A recent survey by Elance found that 83% of Millennials say working independently or freelancing is a part of their career strategy. Coming from a blue-collar family heavily involved in the automotive industry, I can’t imagine any of my previous generations talking about freelancing as a major part of their long term career goals. That's completely bananas. Maybe it’s a result of increased self-reliance, being conditioned to poor economic times, or just a decreased willingness to work for The Man since he's not paying you anyway (and often not giving you insurance or other benefits), but more of this generation is looking to make it on their own and work for multiple clients at once.
And it's definitely possible, especially with healthcare reform providing (sometimes arguably) affordable ways for sole proprietors to manage their own health insurance. From subscription based software and workstations that are within financial reach, a lower cost of doing independent business all around hasn't been great for brick and mortar video production, but freelancers in many parts of the country are thriving, especially if they're as connected as Millennials. In a few years, 50% of the workforce will be Millennials, and many are predicting a cultural shift from the 9 to 5.
4.To finish the point of the last bullet, we're unlikely to settle in and spend twenty years with an employer
. Millennials have been cited as the job-hopping generation, looking to get lots of different kinds of experiences instead of settling in to one employer for the entirety of our careers. We're used to an uncertain job market, so we value exploration over making our way up the ranks in one company that may not even exist in ten years from our perspective. According to a 2012 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median time spent at a job for someone 25-34 years old was about three years. Most people I know have already had three or four jobs, if they took full-time work at all.
And especially for a video producer of some sort, the allure of freelancing usually includes a more diverse portfolio and more chances to learn new techniques — something that we’ve been told time and time again is very important if we want to make it in this industry.
5. We value individualism and that doesn't make us (all) narcissists.
Yeah, we share our lives online like an open book and take selfies and spend hours a day looking at screens. But one thing our parents seemed to do for us is give us a good sense of self-esteem. Or maybe they drove us so crazy, we collectively rebelled. Either way, this individualism plays into the freelancing spirit and career exploration, but it also means that Millennials are marrying and reproducing later and less often (with a Pew study reporting that 25% of Millennials don't wish to ever get married.). And that's not good or bad, it's just a generational fact that home life in our 20s is very different than home life in your 20s might have been.
6. We like you but we kind of hope you can retire soon.
Look, we know that the retirement age is going up. Boomers don't want to retire, either because they can't or they just don't feel like it's time. That's cool. Yay, people are healthy and living longer. But dang, nobody wants to be a 40 year old junior editor, probably. The post-recession job postings asking for a million years of advice for newbie pay are still pretty common, and those jobs are being filled by you guys, which sucks just as much for you as it does for us. I see a lot of people say they're getting beat for work by young people, but plenty of young people are being passed over for older people who can't leave the industry yet.
Which is likely a major reason so many Millennials are going solo with their careers pretty early. May as well control your own fate, right? But whether it's a staff gig or freelance work, we hope the economy works itself out so you can retire and we can take your jobs. In the mean time, you can't blame us for being aggressive.
So what I'm trying to say here is that the Millennials are coming and they want to learn from your experiences, but there's always going to be a gap. The gap isn't arrogance or self-entitlement, but rather a pile of a whole mess of other kinds of experiences that shaped us, each with their own benefits and challenges. There's an assumption that things are so
much easier now for young people, with the low cost of of entry and the wide availability of tools. But while we're not fighting through the analog to digital transition or spending life savings on computers, there are a lot of challenges: a highly saturated market that includes the original experienced pros, an economy less willing to put money into video production, and a culture that requires instant gratification for work. So we thank you for what you did to get us to this point and we want to learn from you, but just don't mistake our generational differences for something more malicious.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.