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Kylee Peña's Blog

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Embracing Failure - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

This is an on-going post-production diary I'm keeping while I cut my first feature, The Impersonators, an indie comedy.

Before the failure, a success: the first teaser trailer was released a couple days ago:

And now the rest.

As I moved through the motions of being my own assistant, I hit my first point of utter frustration. Not even a clip in the bin yet and hair was threatening to be pulled out. I wasn't exactly punching walls, but it was irritating me exponentially.

For the purpose of hopefully offering someone some insight on this, I'll remind you I'm working with Avid Media Composer 6.

Avid's error messages are scary, and I've seen a lot of them now. My issues seem to be well documented on forums but with no actual solutions, which is maddening. Some things work for people, but not for others. There's no consistency like with most issues I research. I'm documenting my experience for the next person that has to do this, so maybe they'll come to the understanding that it isn't something that is entirely THEIR fault, necessarily.

The production was shot on hacked Panasonic GH2 cameras. It's a pretty common thing to do these days. I have folders of AVCHD media arranged on my external drive (.mts files if you're newer to this or possibly looking for a solution to your own issues.) I've worked with AVCHD before so I knew of the potential pitfalls, but I've always been fine when using the Log and Transfer tool in FCP7. This was my first adventure into AVCHD in Avid Media Composer, so of course it has to be with clips that may not be entirely standard as far as codecs go.

Here's what happened. After the project was created, I'd link to the files via Avid Media Access (AMA) and they'd show up in my bin. My first issue occurred when simply trying to play them in the source window. They'd play for a second, then I'd get an error to the effect of "ASpringbuffer". Then it would stop responding and I'd have to force quit.

I tried again, going right to consolidate/transcode without trying to play back the files through AMA. I set up the transcode to DNxHD and let it go on a batch of maybe 10 files. The status bar would hang for a while, then beach ball of death, then an "upstream pipe" error.

At first, I figured it was because I was using a little USB 2 drive just to test out a couple clips while my new g-tech drive was being shipped. But this remained consistent after I was hooked up to the 7200rpm 2TB drive via eSata (maybe I should try this with Firewire 800 just to rule out eSata being weird?) At this point, forum posts I've seen mentioning this error have people speculating that it's either the hard drive unable to keep up with Avid writing files, or it's the GH2 hack affecting the audio side of things on the clips, making Avid unhappy. I tried changing some settings to make Avid happy with the audio and nothing changed. The most frustrating thing about this is that on the forum posts, sometimes these clips work totally fine for people. The original poster will share a clip, and subsequent repliers will be able to AMA and transcode it. Then the next person in the thread will get the same upstream pipe error. Then someone else will change a setting and it'll work, while the next person will change the same setting and it won't work. Nothing online has a definitive answer.

I sent a tiny clip to two trusted Avid editor friends to see what would happen on their system. Same thing. Asked a few more, including some helpful COW people. No clue.

So now I've pretty much narrowed it down to either being a software or a hardware issue. YES, I know, I'm so helpful.

My next thought was to say "eff it" to AMA and try to just import the clips and let Avid take a century to transcode them that way. So I tried that with ten files from another folder within the drive. At first, it seemed like it was working. Then after one clip, an upstream pipe error.

Well, ok then.

So at this point, I had no easy way to get these clips into MC. I knew they were fine because Premiere was importing and playing them back relatively fine, if a bit choppy at times though to be fair they are massive. I didn't really push Premiere to do anything beyond just importing, but I'll give it credit that it actually worked. I decided to see if FCP7's Log and Transfer tool would like them and opened that up. (As a side note, one or two of the card volumes wouldn't mount in there because the person wrangling the media was messing around with the card structure. One of my folders is JUST mts files without the metadata. What a pain. Camera people: DON'T DO THAT.) So I mounted a volume and transferred three clips, transcoding them to ProRes 422. It was fast and it took the files, and they looked good and played back great.

Then I had a moment where it was 1 AM and FCP7 was about to seduce me into cutting in there. It was just so familiar. "Come here, have a cuddle."

No, I really need the extra practice in Avid, and FCP will forsake me later for sure anyway. As I make OS updates, it gets worse and worse. Premiere is an option, but like I said, I'd rather go with Avid for my own sake. I took the ProRes clip that FCP made and transcoded it to DNxHD, and it fast imported into Avid. I briefly considered doing this for every clip - renaming them by scene and take right there. It wouldn't matter since I'm doing all the finishing within my Avid, more or less, no concerns about relinking or sharing. But among other reasons to not do this, it seemed like a LOT of extra time spent transcoding things twice. And a lot of messing around with disk space allocation.

I should throw in an aside here that it was after midnight and I posted my frustrations on Twitter and instantly had four people giving me their opinions or advice, or at least trying to troubleshoot. That's awesome. I love you all.

Anyway, my next move was to obtain Clip Wrap and try that out. I used it to transcode a file to DNxHD. It worked and fast imported into Avid as expected, played back great. Yipee. The only issue is I have 12 folders of media that I need to transcode, and they don't have unique filenames (meaning, in Card 1 there's a 001.mts, and Card 2 there's a 001.mts) so if I loaded all of these into Clip Wrap, I figured there'd be some funkiness where it's re-writing, overwriting, or just crashing when it hits those files. There's no way to batch them and I wanted to let it run overnight. And I didn't want to rename the source files.

So instead of transcoding in Clip Wrap, I simply re-wrapped a couple of folders worth of files since that takes just a couple minutes. Out of curiosity, I tried to AMA link to those files (which didn't work). Figures. So I opened up Mpeg Streamclip and set up a batch list to transcode 2 folders of files. In the batch list, you can have files being sent to different places, unlike in Clip Wrap where everything has the same destination folder. Plus I pretty much trust Mpeg Streamclip with my life anyway, so it seemed like a safe bet to let it run overnight without error.

The transcode takes for-freaking-ever as you'd expect with all this media, but it worked. I then took those and am currently fast importing into Avid, which also takes for-freaking-ever but not in the same way. They should totally not call that fast import because it makes me expect it to be faster. Maybe "easy import"? "Slow and steady import?" Anyway, they are all importing correctly, mxf files being created, everything plays back fine and looks good. The transcoding and fast importing time so far has exceeded 20 hours. It'll probably wind up closer to 30. I absolutely see why people are taking Premiere more seriously. That's a lot of downtime for your system JUST to get the media in the NLE. But I'm assuming I'll make back this time later in by not having to troubleshoot Premiere. If this was something I needed to turn around fast, I would have to use Premiere, no doubt. I also see the benefit of something like the KiPro, recording natively on set.

But ya know, if anything else goes wrong with this, I'll have to bail and go to FCP7. I'm willing to troubleshoot Avid for a while - that's a part of the learning experience. But when it gets past a certain point, it's time wasted.

So for my workflow, this will work. But what if I needed to have an edit that can be relinked and moved and shared among facilities? What would be the solution? I'm not really sure, and I'd love to know. I really think it has to do with the codec not being perfectly standard. There's just one little thing in there that's making Avid sour. At first, I thought it was a disk speed issue. Maybe it's a combination. But really, I think it's the fact the files are just a little different. Regardless, this has been really educational already. And I have the feeling my permanent tension headache will subside soon, as I tried editing a few clips into the timeline as a test and everything suddenly was familiar again.

Another side note. The teaser trailer I posted in this blog was cut in FCP7. I knew exactly what scenes and takes I needed, so I was able to go into Log and Transfer and quickly grab my handful of media and go to work. While editing this teaser, Log and Transfer actually crashed FCP 28 times over not that many hours worth of editing. So Log and Transfer really doesn't like these clips either. Even if I were in FCP7 I'd still have hours of transcoding via Mpeg Streamclip, just to ProRes. But no importing into FCP. However, much less robust media management.

When I was getting ready to start this project, I asked around for advice and tips on setting things up or exploring the depths of Avid. One editor friend gave me the best insight so far. Paraphrased: Embrace failure, because every time you screw up now is a time you won't screw up in the future.

Anyway, now that I've got that sorted out, I can finally start to sync and cut. More opportunities for failure lie in my reach!

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 6, 2012 at 9:17:42 amComments (8) independent film, avid

How to Change the Color of Multiple Text Clips in Final Cut Pro 7

I'm currently working on a training video with a lot of text clips in the FCP7 sequence and I needed to change the color of all of them. After a quick Google search to make sure there wasn't some elegant and quick way to do this since you can't copy and paste text color attributes in FCP7 (at least with FCP7's text, I didn't test the others like Boris because I didn't use them), I figured I'd write up a quick guide in case anyone is looking. This is pretty simple once you know what you're looking for, but it can be intimidating because you have to use XML.

First, open the sequence with the text you need to replace. Then, go up to file, export, and XML. Save this file somewhere.

Now, open the XML file in a text editor like TextWrangler. I think TextEdit has gone to hell with Lion, but if you edit in there make sure it's not in rich text mode.

Now you'll need to find an instance of the old text color. I colored the first clip with the new color before the XML export so I'd be able to get the RGB values from that instead of looking them up in Photoshop or wherever. If you know the RGB values, you don't really need to do that.

Look for something like this within a text element - fontcolor, specifically is the parameter.

Copy and paste it that little bit into another editor window. Then go to the next instance of this code, which should be the second clip and your old color. Copy and paste that too. So you'll have code with the new color, and with the old color. You only really need this little bit with the RGB/Alpha values, to keep it simple.

Now, go to find and replace.

In the "find" field, paste the code for the old color.

in the "replace" field, paste the code for the new color.

Now hit replace or replace all.

Now save the XML file. Make sure it saves as a .xml file.

Go back to FCP7 and rename your sequence - maybe add "-old color" or something to distinguish from the new sequence.

Now to go Import > XML and go through the dialog box. A new sequence that's named the same as your previous one is in your bin.

Open it up and it should be exactly the same as before, but with the text changed. TA DA.

Note that this only works to pretty much change all of one color to all of a different color. If you only need part of the sequence changed, you'll have to make a judgement call as to if this will save you any time. Or copy/paste portions into a new sequence and use that, then paste it back?

You can do a lot of other things with this simple find/replace of code, like changing the font color en masse or something like that.

So there you go. That's one way to change all the text color in FCP7. It might be the only way, I'm not 100% sure.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 4, 2012 at 9:29:59 am final cut pro 7, change text color

Learning to Walk Again - My First Feature (The Impersonators)

Post officially began the day before the production wrapped, which also means my sleep schedule has officially switched from iffy to erratic. Perhaps the toughest thing about having a creative side project for me is that I tend to work best on these things very late at night. That doesn't really mesh well with a day job you have to get up in the 5AM hour, but sleep is for the weak. That being said, prying yourself away so that everything else in life doesn't suffer is easier said that done.

As I said in the first post, I chose Avid MC6 to cut this for a number of reasons, one of which is so that I can gain the same level of fluency I have in FCP7. Honestly, it's irritating when people tell me that Avid and FCP are "basically the same." That's just not true. Sure, editing is editing, but when you can't remember which button to hit to make the thingy move to the other thingy, there's nothing more frustrating. Creative flow is killed. Not to mention the way Avid handles media is a lot different. It's just a different mindset from start to finish, and you have to be careful or you could really mess things up.

Earlier this year, I started experimenting with remapping my FCP7 keyboard to include more Avid-y shortcuts (and some additional rearrangements I picked up from Scott Simmons). I had a hard time at first. When I got certified in FCP6, I had to memorize the default shortcuts, and those became the shortcuts I used on a daily basis. For better or for worse, I have a crazy muscle memory for these shortcuts. But I like working the "Avid way", so I switched my keyboard configuration.

I failed at this hard. It was too much. I switched back to my happy FCP7 defaults within hours.

I shared my failure with my friend and fellow editor Meaghan over brunch after Editfest. Among a plethora of great advice about a number of things, she suggested changing only a few keys each week to transition to a more effective layout.

Duh. It seems so simple. So I did just that. And guess what? It worked. I realized this last week when I opened up Premiere CS6. I don't use Premiere a whole lot, but I set it to the FCP7 default keyboard earlier this year when I upgraded from CS4. I was crippled! Success!

So basically, I've got mostly Avid shortcuts in FCP7, mostly FCP7 shortcuts in Premiere, and uh…Avid shortcuts in Avid with a few FCP7 holdovers. This is all very strange, and you better believe I carry every configuration with me or have it stored in my Dropbox for when I use another editing system. At this point I could probably adapt from one default to another pretty easily (except Premiere's original configuration which is weird) but it just bugs me when I can't work at maximum speed.

After nearly 4 years of using FCP7 on a daily basis for my full-time job, it's been hard to break my habits. Like learning to walk again. It's frustrating because you know you can and you've done it all before, you just need time and persistence and practice to get back up to speed. It's a long process of learning to walk again.

Anyway, keyboard shortcuts aside, I'm still acclimating back to the Avid way of life. I've been here before, but not on this scale. I've been learning boatloads about DNxHD, trying to sift through piles upon piles of opinions on the best way to handle media. I've been watching every each take and cross-referencing the script supervisor notes to skip over useless ones. The notes have been so accurate that my review has been super fast. In my notebook, I've been making notes on usable takes - which ones made me laugh, if there are reactions within shots that might be usable in other contexts, things like that. This week, I'll finish up with the assistant editor tasks and dig into a teaser trailer for the film. I'm getting really really excited about cutting this film. There are so many opportunities to apply what I've learned from top editors over the last year. The film was DP'd by David Brewer, and it looks amazing. There are some great comedic performances that are about to emerge. I can't wait to start putting scenes together. My day job edits have been piling on more than ever, so I've been spending more hours in my day staring at an NLE than anything else. Figures, feast or famine.

One thing I did outside of organization within the software is a notecard storyboard. I'm a really visual person (obviously) and I've always heard of editors doing this so I figured I'd give it a try. I was already referring to it before I'd finished with the dailies. It's definitely going to be a really helpful tool. Because I'm also a list-checker-offer, I plan on sticking a colored post-it on each scene when I finish cutting it, among other color coding. I love color coding. It will be motivational.

Now that I've talked all this about Avid, people that follow me on Twitter will know that I've been having massive issues getting this footage into the Avid at all. I believe I have a workaround - a crappy, long-winded one, but still - but I'll save that whole debacle for the next blog so I don't jinx myself.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 2, 2012 at 9:22:22 amComments (2) avid, independent film

Using the iPad as a Teleprompter - [Review]

We may not have flying cars or a Mars colony, but dammit, we live in the future and we have iPads. And all of us in media production have used iPads in our workflow at this point, whether it's previewing something or used as a slate, or just a game device during renders. How about a teleprompter? It's actually pretty nifty.

Last year, the company I work for researched and purchased a teleprompter setup built for an iPad from Prompter People. Basically, it's the reflective bit and iPad holder that fits on a camera and tripod. It can accommodate our smaller JVC ProHD camera, or a larger ENG camera. You can also purchase it from the company with an iPad, but we already had one so we didn't. It arrived in a couple of boxes pretty quickly, and was simple to assemble. It's very similar to a regular teleprompter, though I found it lighter and simpler, which is good because it was marketed as such. It's not so light that it's not properly balanced on the tripod though. Basically, it's pretty much what you would expect from any other teleprompter. When we bought it, it was about $600.

The iPad slides in snugly and is reflected onto the screen. We did find two minor downsides to this: the screen got dusty a lot from the black material that fits over the lens, and the iPad really needs to be plugged in if you're using it at any length. But these were very minor and easily fixable with the right amount of lens cleaner and duct tape.

So the actual teleprompter device with an iPad is great, but the thing that really makes or breaks it at this point is the teleprompter app you choose. The Teleprompter People device didn't come with one at the time, so we had to go in the app store and figure out what we wanted. Apparently it now comes with their app iCue which doesn't have very good reviews at the moment, but if it comes with it I'd definitely try it out anyway.

The app we chose is Teleprompt+. Overall, I think it's a great app, and over the several shoots we have used it on, we've had no issues with talent adjusting to it. In fact, our last talent told us there was absolutely no difference to her between this iPad setup and a full-on teleprompter. This app is currently $14.99. Gasp, paying for an app? Yea, do it. Sheesh.

It has basically everything you'd want to be able to adjust - font changes, size, color, speed. It has a mirror on or off function, so you could simply use the iPad itself without a a teleprompter setup if you're running your own thing - prop it up by a camera and let it run. It also has a voice recording feature so you can practice your speeches, which is kind of cool.

In theory, you can control the teleprompter speed and position with another device paired to the iPad, like an iPhone. We found that this never really worked as expected, so the camera operator or an assistant needed to stand next to it and adjust as needed. We found that using a stylus really helps a lot. I'd say a stylus is necessary, comparing the ease of use between shoots.

For editing scripts on the fly, you can do that on the iPad itself. It's pretty cumbersome to do so when it's all hooked into the teleprompter system, and you can't really be taking it out of the area repeatedly without getting annoyed. However, if you have a wifi connection and an extra person with a laptop, you can have scripts upload from Google Docs. I'd upload all the scripts to Google Docs (letting Google conform it to their format.) Then go on the iPad and upload them. Whenever a change needs to be made, hop onto the Google Docs account and edit the script. When you go back to Google Docs within the app, it'll mark the scripts that have been updated and need to be re-uploaded. The only minor setback with this is the initial upload of scripts - there's no way to batch upload in the app, so if you have a lot of really short scripts, you have to upload them one by one. After that, it's pretty flawless. You can also upload from Dropbox, but I didn't have as smooth an experience and I'm not sure that you can make edits within Dropbox.

Overall, using an iPad + app + Prompter People system works really well for our setup. We typically have small shoots, often with just one talent speaking. We didn't have to drop thousands on a teleprompter system that we don't use more than 6-7 times a year usually, or pay a teleprompter operator day rate which is probably the same or more as the cost of this system minus the iPad. We already used the iPad for other stuff, so that wasn't really a part of the expense in my opinion.

If we were producing something with higher production value? Yea, we'd hire a specialized prompter operator. But for our small company and simple shoots, this works great.

Yeah for the future!

(Nobody gave me any money to write this. But I'd take some...)

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 31, 2012 at 9:52:59 amComments (1) ipad teleprompter, video production

The Impersonators - My First Feature

Here's one for the baby book: I'll be cutting my first feature film this fall. The Impersonators, directed by Joshua Hull, started shooting today in the central Indiana area. I attended the last full table read and production meeting last night, and this is definitely going to be an interesting film to edit. The Impersonators is about a team of superhero impersonators who normally find themselves rented out for birthday parties or other recreational activities. Their whole team is booked to spend time in a small town bringing up the morale with their presence. Soon enough, they find themselves in a real superhero situation, and hilarity ensues. It's got a pretty large cast and stars comedian Josh Arnold. The audience is definitely the comic book movie lover - there are a lot of jabs and self-referential pokes in the script. It's also quite crude. I love it.

This will be the largest project I've ever cut on Avid Media Composer, and well, the largest project I've ever cut at all. The tone and what I'm guessing the cutting style of the film will be really matches closely to the kinds of film aesthetics I personally enjoy, which is exciting. The production will be shot on two GH2's with a bit on the AF100, so I've spent some time checking out the workflow and pitfalls of the footage.

I'm also on the post team for Kate Chaplin's feature film Ingenue. I'm not sure what my final role will end up being, but I'm providing editorial support, color grading, VFX, and an opening title sequence for the film. Ingenue has a bit of buzz around it, which is exciting. My friend Katie Toomey is editing the film, which is pretty cool because it will be HER first feature. It'll be interesting to go through the whole experience of editing for long form as she does as well.

I know a lot of editors all over the place have a desire to cut a narrative feature and don't ever have the opportunity, so it's pretty crazy that I have the opportunity to be doing work on TWO in the Indianapolis area. I was originally slated to co-edit a horror feature this fall, but that project fell apart in a matter of days. I'm glad to have this film to work on - it's suits my style, it's not so crazy that I'll need help, and the filmmakers have a great background. Lots of great stuff to chew on as an editor, too.

I'll be chronicling my experience editing my first feature in this blog series, documenting the successes and inevitable failures that will ensue. I'll probably also be asking for help occasionally too, so hopefully one of my dozens of readers may oblige.

So, to bring the whole thing up to speed until now, over the last month, I've been slowly getting ready to take this film on. I spoke with the director to get some idea about how post would go and set up the expectations, and we had a great conversation about the tone of the film. I did some refreshing in Avid, and some research since the last time I spent hours at a time in MC was not very recent. I edit in FCP7 all day at work and I can't switch to Avid there, so I'm going to have a really split personality by the time this film is locked. I really don't want to cut this in FCP7 for a number of reasons. I'm also in the process of re-arranging my edit cave to make it more habitable since I'll be in there a lot. It kind of feels like nesting.

We'll have a teaser available really soon after wrapping the film, long before post is even close to done. I'm not sure how often I'll be on set for the next week, which I think is good, keeping separation. I work better when I don't have any idea of what's happened during the shoot. I'm expecting to be working on the color grading and titling for this one too, so there will be plenty to do and talk about in this blog. Both The Impersonators and Ingenue are following a similar post timeline, so I guess I'll be spending another fall season mostly indoors (the way I like it.)

I'll be picking up the first batch of footage on Monday and I believe I'll start transcoding to DNxHD36 for the offline (unless for some reason that's a dumb idea), then start the logging process. Happily, there is a script supervisor on set every day who happens to be a familiar face that I trust.

So, a little more edit cave nesting tomorrow, then it begins.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 18, 2012 at 9:56:33 pmComments (4) editing, independent film

A Dream Job in Video Production - literally

In light of the Mars Curiosity landing successfully on the planet after an incredibly ingenious deployment technique, I've been thinking about my dream job. When asked, I know a lot of us editors probably have similar answers to the dream job question: to edit a TV show, to edit features, edit documentaries, edit a meaningful piece about humanity, edit national advertisements. But what's my dream job?

If I were to create a job out of thin air (that may or may not exist, I'm not even sure), I think I'd have to go with Space Videographer/Editor. I would work for NASA or SpaceX or whatever other space exploration firm is out there, producing all their video for broadcast, the web, and whatever else.

My duties as a space video producer? Well, obviously I'd have to go to space every once in a while to do some shooting. That's a given. I don't care if robots and astronauts can do it, I need to go up there and get some shots of my own. The job would be maybe 10-20% "travel" (to space, duh) and the other percentage would be spent on Earth, either documenting the exploration process or in the edit, putting it all together. And these aren't cheesy or dry videos - they're fun, engaging, or inspiring. Did you watch the 7 Minutes of Terror video that was released? They'd be more like that than NASA TV's 4:3 feed of their control room. Powerful, inspiring, and relateable video about SPACE!

Another aspect of my dream job duties would be the ongoing curation of an educational video series for kids to inspire them to pursue learning about space exploration. I love the idea of designing videos that actually engage young minds and deliver the knowledge of the universe. It's also my contribution to erasing the effects of Jersey Shore and the like.

Basically, I would sit down and watch the greatest minds in the world explore space, and figure out how to take the information they give me and produce it in a way that's understandable for the masses, but not in a watered down way. Oh, and also go to space. How great would that be?

Alas, I don't think my dream job exists, so I might have to settle for editing a TV show about space someday. Some edit bays are as cold as the vacuum of space, so I could get pretty close to a simulation.

If you could make up a job out of thin air, even if it's not remotely feasible, what would it be?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 15, 2012 at 9:52:46 amComments (5) video production, nasa

Wedding Video: Thoughts, Advice, and Crowd Sourcing a Wedding Day

This past weekend, I was in the wedding of one of my favorite couples. We met in college when we all worked at the Zoo together (they actually started dating there) and stayed friends beyond into the real world. During my bridesmaid stint, I was thinking a lot about wedding videography. As a video producer/editor, I'm always (painfully) aware of the video being produced during a wedding, especially if I'm attending a wedding for someone I really care about. I want their videos to look amazing, almost at times jumping up and grabbing a camera or source material to edit it myself.

I guess you can call it half caring and half control freak.

Wedding video is not as widespread as wedding photography. Even as a video person myself, I don't consider wedding videography to be a priority. If you're working with a budget, I would always suggest putting more into still photography than video. In my opinion, weddings are more effectively captured one frame at a time. There's a romanticism you can only get in a single still frame that you can finesse and process to bring out the good qualities and hide the bad, and then over time, that's what you remember that moment as - perfection. With video, you have to have some great talent behind the camera to achieve that same feeling.

There are some amazing wedding video producers out there today, you just have to be prepared to toss a bit of money their way. And for what you get, it's a fantastic purchase. Wedding cinematography is gorgeous when it's done right, and provides you a keepsake that you'll probably actually go back and watch a few times.

The thing is…if you hire a wedding video company and pay like $500 for your video, it's probably not going to be this fantastic, romantic and flawless product. Great wedding videography is hard, and it's expensive.

Which leads me to my next thought - a wedding video company called Wedit. My friends chose this company to document their wedding day. The basic concept is that you are given 5 Flip cameras to distribute throughout your wedding. Your bridal party, you, and your guests are charged with documenting the entire wedding day or weekend. The cameras have little tags on them to remind people what kinds of shots they need to get. Then after the wedding is over, you mail the 5 cameras back to the company, they edit a wedding video from your footage, and post it along with all the raw files for download.

Now, I'm not really sure what I think about this. On one hand, it's a cool concept because your guests may know you better than a videographer, so you'll get more natural reactions and everyone is more comfortable around the camera. It's also really interesting to potentially have 5 angles from different and unique POVs at any given moment. If a regular wedding videographer shot everything on Flip cameras, handheld, you would slap them in the face. But because you set the expectation that these are all shot by guests and bridal party members, there is a level of acceptance for flaws in the video. It's closer to a documentary than a cinematic experience, which works because you aren't expecting any more from it. It's also relatively cheap - probably about as cheap as hiring a bad videographer.

But again, the expectations make it work better.

One downside is having 5 cameras to track and distribute. But the biggest downside, in my opinion, is putting the burden of recording the major moments onto your guests and bridal party. For our group, it wasn't a big deal because I always have a camera anyway. But I noticed during some of the reception events, there were people up and standing around, recording things instead of enjoying them. When you have a wedding reception, you sort of want your guests and everyone to relax and have fun, and this adds a burden of responsibility on them.

Another downside is making sure the big moments get proper coverage. With 5 cameras floating around, one person might want to actually enjoy a moment instead of capture it, thinking "oh, one of those other people is recording." Then nobody records it and you have no video of your first dance.

The biggest thing to remember is: with a service like Wedit, the success of your video is determined by the enthusiasm of those involved in your wedding. The video can only be as good as the footage captured.

I kept a camera with me the whole weekend and documented everything the way I'd want it if I were editing the video. I got loads of coverage - transitionary shots, establishing shots, closeups, reactions, nat sound, everything. And shots that are held long enough to actually use! I also got a ton of great pre-ceremony footage - the little nervous sighs, the mascara being applied, the gentle light in the readying room, the sparkle of the dress. I tend to think a lot of people that shoot these wouldn't get this stuff because they aren't used to telling a story with visuals, and that makes me wonder how these videos usually turn out. The very best moments of a wedding video are the little things you capture, the environment the people are in, and the care you take to making people look good (or reasonably good, there's only so much to be done with a Flip!) I hope the editor of this Wedit video does it justice, because I'm pretty sure you could edit a decent video out of just the stuff on my camera. And I hope the editor appreciates having b-roll for once.

I am a little concerned about the quality of the edit though. The service is only about $400. If you have 5 Flip cameras with 2 hours of runtime, you could potentially have 10 hours of footage to sort through. I'm guessing most weddings don't fill all 5 cameras (ours didn't, not even my 150+ shots), and the company relies upon this to turn things around and remain profitable. But even for $400, how can your video be devoted the proper amount of time needed to review footage, find all those great little moments, figure out where camera overlap occurs to multi cam it, and pull out a cohesive story? Needless to say, I have massive doubts on this.

If you're reading this, trying to consider if you want to try a crowd-sourced wedding video service like Wedit, or wedding video at all, I would just consider 1) if your guests and bridal party are the kind of creative people who will pitch in to shoot some video without being prodded, 2) what kind of wedding video you want (Is a guest POV, probably shaky camera all you wanted? Or do you want a theatrical wedding video with crane shots and dolly moves?) and 3) what kind of budget you have. Always put more budget into still photography - I'm begging you. Believe me as a video producer telling you this - you'll cherish still photos more than video, 99% of the time. Overall, I think Wedit is an interesting concept for the right group of people.

It's been interesting to see the evolution of wedding video. Now there are apps where you can upload pictures and video during the wedding to a central location, which takes the Flip out of the equation entirely. But it still comes down to the willingness of your group of friends and family to contribute. If it's important, it's always better to defer to a professional than to get disappointed.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:09:03 amComments (4) wedding video, video production

11 Facets of a Great Video Production Intern

If you want to be in video production, chances are pretty good that you're going to need to complete at least one internship before you find a job. The best part is that almost all video production internships are unpaid. In return for your free labor, a company agrees to help you along, teaching you and giving you valuable work experience. It should be a pretty fair trade on both sides, but it can start to slip occasionally. As an intern, it's important that you stay on top of your work, while holding the company accountable for their end of the bargain.

In college, I completed three internships that ranged anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week. This was a challenge to balance with school and a part-time job, so getting the most out of my internship time was a huge priority. I worked on museum exhibit videos, local events, conference slideshows, and television, digitized tapes, prepared graphics and laid a-roll. I also swept floors, answered phones, organized music libraries, and even cleaned out offices when half the staff were laid off (but that's a separate post for another day.) Interning isn't always fun or glamorous or even interesting, but it gives you essentially building blocks for your career. Here's my eleven most important facets of a video production intern.

Let's face the facts. First of all: no matter what kind of college program you might be working through, or how innocent and passionate you might be, or how dedicated to video production you say you are, you're probably going to be doing some pretty menial work as an intern.The sooner you realize that you are an INTERN, the sooner you can really start to make the best of the situation.

Alright. Now that I've said that, I want to stress that just because you are an intern, doesn't mean you're the company play-thing. You (probably) won't be working on high dollar edits, but you shouldn't sell yourself short and start scrubbing floors and vacuuming spiderwebs out of dark corners. At least not all the time. If your internship resembles more of a janitor or secretary position than a low level assistant, there might be something wrong. There also might be something wrong if you're working 50 hours a week on client work without pay, too.

If you're in an edit suite shadowing an edit, ask the editor questions (but be careful not to interrupt them). If you're sitting on a couch with an in-house producer, ask them questions. If you're going to lunch with some associates, ask them questions. What kind of questions? Ask how they got to where they are, what school they attended, what their major was, what internships they did, what other jobs they've had, what the turning point in their career so far has been, what they like, what they don't like, the work they'd like to do, how they deal with clients, how they determine their freelance rates, what that little button on the Avid does, why they made a creative choice. In other words, ask anything and everything you can think of asking. And take notes.

Speaking from a technical perspective. If you're shown something, you should take notes. If someone demonstrates how to set up a capture in Avid, write it down. Don't ask for someone to show you every time. If you don't understand, it's fine to keep asking questions about the same thing. But there's a difference between "Can you show me how to set up a tape capture?" and "I'm working on setting up this tape capture and I think I've missed something, can you check it out?" One shows that you're on the road to learning it, and the other shows you probably don't care.

You might be taking on some tasks as an intern that aren't so great or enriching - organizing tape libraries, for example. But in almost any task, there is something you can take away from it. Instead of grumbling your way through something, ask yourself what you're learning. If you're doing too many menial tasks and not getting anything out of it, and you're unpaid? Go to the person coordinating your internship, and let them know. Which leads me to--

In your (probably) unpaid internship, you should be taking something away every day you're working. If you aren't getting what you want, talk it out. Be polite, explain your goals, and ask if some changes can be made within reason. Any company you intern for that's worth ever working for full-time will understand and help push you back into the right direction. Open the lines of communication right away. Meet up with whoever you report to as a supervisor at the beginning of your internship, and establish your goals. That way, they know what you want and can try to shape your experience.

Ask to get hands on with equipment as much as possible. In my past internships, I would take tutorials and manuals into empty suites and work away. Never waste any downtime. You're in a prime situation to better your skills in a way you might not be able to otherwise. Plus, if you get stuck, you have a staff of well-trained individuals to help you.

Don't skate by at your internship. Come in early, stay a little late. Don't simply exist. Why the hell are you there if you aren't doing anything? Certainly not for the pay. Do your very best work and be enthusiastic. People take notice of happy people who want to do good work, and you have a much better chance of being hired full-time if people genuinely like you.You could prove yourself to be a really valuable member of the team and a perfect choice for an editor role but if you're a jerk face, you're going to get passed over. If you're a little black rain cloud that just complains about everything, you definitely will be shown the door.

You're inexperienced, you're going to make errors. It's part of the company's hazard. If you make an error, apologize and fix it right away. No need to dwell on it or get emotional. Just fix it (or ask for help) and move on. Don't try to cover your mistake. And if you accidentally deleted the company's Unity? Welp, you're on your own with that one.

Get a status report. Are you meeting the company's expectations? Are they meeting yours? What improvements can be made on both sides, if any? By setting a date to speak, you'll guarantee you get some quality discussion that can really help you out. And you'll definitely be on the calendar for a meeting with a potentially very busy producer or manager.

Not Stereotypical
Don't get into personal relationships with anyone, or do anything that could damage your reputation. Be respectful and positive, and stay out of trouble. And be careful on social media.

What's missing from my list? Skillfulness or intelligence or technical aptitude? Nope, not necessary for an intern, at least not specific to video production. Companies want bright, curious, and enthusiastic people who are eager to move up and learn new things. They don't want someone with a cocky attitude who thinks they already know everything. Sure, some facilities may ask for applicants that have a basic understanding, but they aren't looking for an expert. When you approach a facility to inquire about internships, keep these facets in mind, and maybe you'll find yourself behind the camera or in the edit bay.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 9, 2012 at 5:47:18 pmComments (4) video production, internship

The Best Compressor Feature You Don't Use

The greatest thing I've ever stumbled across: job-chaining in Compressor. It's perhaps the least known about yet useful thing in any Pro App. I've posted twice about job-chaining on my blog, but after some confirmations at NAB, I wanted to make one last revision on my thoughts.So if you're one of the dozen people who might have stumbled across those posts, I apologize for the re-hashing. If you just want the steps without my backstory, skip to the bold text.

I first found job-chaining about a year ago when I was trying to figure out a way to make my encoding time shorter. In my day job, we have a media player with dynamic bandwidth switching playback. That is, it sees what's up with your viewer's connection, and picks a version of the video based on what they their connection can handle. This works really well for our demographic especially, where we have a lot of people out in the middle of nowhere on dial-up, a ton of people on phones, and then people who pay for a broadband connection. I usually have to encode three different videos of varying sizes and bitrates (and originally we even reduced the frame rate.)

I have a ProRes master that I keep as my archival file, and I use it to encode every asset I ever need. And I found that the conversion from ProRes to H.264 took an unbearably long time. Between the Frame Controls AND the bitrate crunching, Compressor was getting tripped up. It's too much to effectively process at once, so it just slows way down.

Enter job-chaining! What does it do? Basically, you can set the output of a Compressor job as the source of a new job, all within one batch. So for example, in my situation, I did all the resizing in one job, and all the actual compressing in another job. The two tasks are split up so Compressor can handle them better.

Let me explain with pictures how to set this up.

How to Job Chain in Compressor:

First, have a new batch open. Drop in your master file that you're making all your great outputs from. In my case, I dropped in my master ProRes.

Now, stick all the settings you want on that file. For me, I dropped another ProRes 422 preset on it, and changed the frame size and frame rate to what I need my outputs to be. This way, the codec stays the same, so there should be no complexities in switching things around - it should (mostly) just change the size.

Ok, now click on this job, and go up to Job, and choose New Job with Target Output.

You'll see another job pop up in your batch with a little chain icon.

Compressor is going to do what you asked of it in your first job - for me, resizing a ProRes file. Then it'll take that output, stick it into that second job, and do whatever you ask of it on there.

So now you can drop on whatever settings you need on job #2. In my case, I need three different outputs for my dynamic switching, and I have presets ready for that. No resizing, no frame rate adjustments - simply changing to H.264 and crunching the bitrate.

When you click submit, you'll see Compressor run through the whole batch as expected. For me, the time it took to complete an encode dropped from close to an hour to maybe 10 minutes.

It's worth noting that the intermediate file created by job #1 isn't a temp file - it's actually created, so you'll have that file whether you need it or not.

So there ya go, job-chaining. It'll change your life, one way or another.

It's a great tool to have at your disposal. It's also not an instant band-aid to your compression woes - it's a potentially valuable step in a compression strategy. And yes, it's possible to do the steps separately, but you risk messing things up if you do it yourself, and it's not completely autonomous. And we love autonomy in post, right? Well, at least for the boring stuff.

When I originally posted on this subject, I wasn't quite sure what I had stumbled upon, or if I was doing things right. And then last time I updated this post, I still wasn't sure if it was acceptable. Everything looked fine and worked great for me, but I was almost waiting for someone to reply and call me a moron for losing valuable bits somewhere along the way. But then this was brought up at NAB during Post Production World, and my entire thought process was validated for once. Is there quality loss? Well, I'm sure there is somehow, you always lose something with every transcode. But it's not big loss by any means. Well worth it for the time saved in many instances.

If you have another use case for job-chaining, please share. I'm curious about how others utilize this lesser known feature.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jun 30, 2012 at 10:14:46 pmComments (8) compressor, job chaining

Your Edit on the Big Screen: The Traumatic Experience of Baring it All

When a dire situation is at hand, an cuddly little animal called the hairy frog (or even more affectionately, the horror frog) intentionally breaks its bones to form claws. Another creature called a horned lizard creates pressure in its nasal cavity so great, the blood vessels in its eyes burst, spraying attackers with blood. A possum will, uh, play possum, which includes foaming at the mouth and emitting a green anal fluid. Potato beetle larvae cover themselves in their own poop. And the poop is poisonous. An malaysian ants? They just self-destruct[1].

As editors, we become very intimate with footage and invested in a story from the very beginning. It's as if you build a personal relationship with the subject-matter, or even the subjects on the screen. There's a fine level of attachment and privacy to a film or video that's built up as you've worked on it. You've carefully crafted it. You've raised it from birth. You've slowly carved it out of stone. It's been molded in your very hands for the last week, month, or year. It's your little duckling that you've sheltered from the harsh reality of the world.

And now you're screening the final product for the first time, and people are going to look at it and tell you what they think about it and everything.

You know that feeling where you want to melt into the floor to escape a situation? You should have been born a sea cucumber. They can turn from solid to liquid, and back again. Handy.

For me, the first screening of a finished (or semi-finished) product is fairly traumatic. And I think this is true for a lot of editors. But why? Shouldn't we be excited to show the world what we've done? Shouldn't we be eager to get it up on the big screen so we can start hearing feedback? Isn't the point of all this to tell a story that makes someone feel something? How they gonna feel anything if you hoard your work in your edit room on your little screen?

I am excited, and I want the feedback. I want people to experience what I've experienced. But the idea of blowing up the blood vessels in my eyes also becomes inexplicably appealing.

I have been wondering why this natural aversion to my work being shown happens. I've heard that some actors can't watch themselves on TV shows or in movies. Or artists can't view their own public exhibitions. Why is the transition from the creative environment into the cold, mean world so harsh? I mean, most of us as editors have developed a thick skin. We can defend our cuts. We're comfortable with our skills. It has nothing to do with confidence.

What makes watching your work on the screen without the ability to hit the spacebar and flee the area feel so different, psychologically?

I don't think I have to argue that a majority of editors are introverts. Sure, it's not always true, but generally if you enjoy the quiet solitude and reflection of 18 hours in a dark room on a sunny Spring day, you're probably seeing those same patterns throughout your lifestyle. Obviously being an introvert doesn't mean you're socially crippled or unable to be in public. In fact, most people aren't even entirely in one camp or another. Introverts aren't just shy. Shy people are freaked out in social settings, and introverts are not always as such. But what is true is that "introverts are people who find other people tiring[2]." Could this be an explanation for my natural aversion to public screenings? A defense mechanism resulting in an involuntary reaction leaning toward solitude?

I find that public screenings are a lot like public speaking classes in high school. In these courses, you're often speaking about something that's supposed to be important to you (no doubt a strategy from teachers to make you care about the project.) You have a certain level of attachment to your subject, you've got a carefully crafted argument, and now you're facing 30 or 300 bored faces that are mostly just waiting for you to finish or fail, whichever comes first. Your palms get sweaty. Your blood pressure goes up. You're painfully aware of every tiny error you make in your speech. Minutes seem to turn into hours. But the truth is that hardly anyone ever notices this anxiety or stumbling. The audience doesn't know the intentions you held internally for the speech. Huge mistakes to you are tiny blips to them.

Back to the theater, and you're feeling the same way. You've got a carefully crafted argument in the form of a film, and you desire to change or affect a person with your argument. But just like in high school, the audience doesn't know your original intentions. They don't pick up on the things you wish you could fix.

But somehow, it doesn't make it any easier to realize that. So the big screen is somehow a threat to everything you hold dear in your edit, and you're trying to decide if you should hide in a closet or storm the stage "come at me bro" style. Maybe this feeling comes from a fight-or-flight response? Fight or flight, of course, is the surge of an animal's sympathetic nervous system that primes the animal for fighting or running. Basically, it's a response to stress that puts you on the offensive (running the hell away) or defensive (come at me!) In a very first world fashion, I seem to experience this feeling most when I go to see my work screened before an audience.

So, my frontal lobe knows what I'm going to put it through. Then my body reacts to these thoughts by turning all my systems up to 11. And the primal systems left over from millions of years of evolution release the same response as if I were being chased by a brontosaurus. (Yes, I know homo sapiens didn't exist when brontosauruses did, just let me have that fantasy, ok?)

It seems silly to be so bothered by 24 frames per second flashing by on a screen, but maybe I shouldn't feel that way. In a recent study about how films effect the human mind, researchers discovered that "movies activate every one of the seven intelligences: the logical (plot), the linguistic (dialogue), the visual-spatial (images), the musical (soundtrack), the interpersonal (storytelling), the intra-psychic (inner guidance), and even sometimes the kinesthetic (moving) as we tense up or move to the music.[3]" So the films themselves are turning all of my sectors up to max power as a regular viewer. As someone deeply involved in all of these areas? Well, it's more like critical mass. I'm experiencing all of these, plus the additional things beyond the frame that the audience can never know.

Speaking of experiences beyond the frame, in the book "In the Blink of an Eye", editor Walter Murch says "Emotionally, it seems like some big hand has come and grabbed you up by the hair, picked you up, and put you down ninety degrees to one side. And you think, 'Oh god, look at that.' It's as if up to this moment you have been constructing a building but always standing in front of it to evaluate it. Now all of a sudden you are looking at the side of the building and seeing things you seem to have never seen before.[4]"

"Oh god, look at that." Sums up a public screening pretty well, I'd say.

Murch goes on to give some advice for dealing with screenings, stating that "Even with technically finished films, public previews are tricky things. You can learn a tremendous amount from them, but you have to be cautious about direction interpretations of what people have to say to you, particularly on those cards they fill out after the screening."

Of course, we all know that the interpretation of a film will vary wildly from one person to another. But it's hard not to get caught up in why one person may have a strongly negative reaction, while another will sing praises to you all night. As it turns out, it's all in their head.

In a research project a few years ago, some researchers tracked the brain activity of subjects while they watched several segments of films. As you'd expect, there was a certain level of similar behaviors. In fact, all the activity in the logical, sensory, or basic comprehension processing was pretty much the same. The really interesting part is that the interpretive parts of the brain always showed different patterns. There was never a match between subjects when it came to the emotional, intellectual, or perceiving parts. Logically, each person saw the film the same. Emotionally, entirely different.[5]

This goes to show us that the basic form of a film may exist in the same way for each person, but the experience of it? Wildly unpredictable. I guess that's not really that surprising, but to see it exist as tangible data is pretty impressive.

So we're back around to our original premise: why do things change for us as editors when we have to show our work on a big screen to a bunch of people? An evolutionary defense mechanism? A psychological reaction? A biological response?

Like anything else in life, it's a big, complicated pot of a little of everything, I think. Natural caveman instincts. Emotional investment. Past experiences. As the great Ron Burgundy once said, we're in "a glass case of emotion." Everybody wants to be validated. Am I right? Am I?

But next time you're in the screening room, wishing you could burst forth some claws from your own hands or cover yourself in poisonous poop, remember: there are some people out there that are biologically programmed to hate your work! Great! May as well relax, grab a drink, sit down, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The screening room, while traumatic, is also an educational experience. Nobody can put it better than Murch: "The most helpful thing of all is simply learning how you feel when the film is being shown to 600 people who have never seen it before."

And be really glad that your human brain can understand and prevent these natural reactions from taking over, because nobody wants green anal ooze in a crowded theater.

I'm interested to hear what others have to say on this topic. How does the first public screening (or in progress screening) feel for you?

Half-assed bibliography (psh, I'm done with school, man):

[4]"In the Blink of an Eye" - Walter Murch

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jun 25, 2012 at 7:39:56 pmComments (3) screenings, editing

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