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2015 Chronicles: The Big Apple

I kicked off 2015 with a 2 day trip to NYC to conduct some interviews. I expected a spacious hotel suite, I got a Residence Inn just off Times Square. While some Residence Inns have a lot of space, this one, not so much. I was by myself so I carefully moved furniture around, including moving the tv wall unit into the bedroom and placing the coffee table on the bed, to free up enough space for a three camera interview shoot and lighting. Worked out ok but it was a tight squeeze.

It happened to be my cousin's birthday, so I met up with him for dinner, but after my first trip to B and H Photo and Video. If you are every in NY, do yourself a favor and check this place out. Seeing the website and catalog come to life was pretty exciting. Just leave your wallet at the hotel!

Quick drive back home to get ready for the next episode...

Happy New Year.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:26:51 pm interviews

2014 Adventures Part 12: The San Francisco Treat

Rice-a-Roni got it wrong...San Francisco IS the treat.

Getting there I took my first 777 - that's a big plane.

Here for the annual surgical congress for which we prepare the videos and provide other technical and project management support, San Fran is great in early Fall. Not too hot, not too cool.

I stay at the Hotel Nikko just off of Union Square. You go another block or two away from Union Square and it becomes a bit seedy.

I had some decent sushi and some really good Italian food all within a block or two of the hotel, and one bland seafood meal in North Beach (known generally for Italian food actually).

My other assignment was to record interviews with several surgeons about the history of laparoscopy. This took place at the Marriott, adjacent to the Moscone Center. Only about a 8 minute walk between locations. I setup in a hotel suite, conducted the interviews during a few time blocks during the week.

On this trip I didn't do too much walking around the city, mainly due to lack of free time other than for dinners. We happened to be in town when the Giants won the World Series. Why people celebrate by burning police cars I will never know. A cop we spoke to said that people use these situations as an excuse to let off steam. Whatever.

Then the last day it was back home.

I think I had a week off before the next trip, known as Part 13.

See you there.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 11, 2015 at 5:41:31 pm interviews

Talking Heads

Many video projects include one or more on-camera interviews those involved. Sometimes these interviews are run and gun like news, other times they are more organized, and sometimes a combination.

Run and Gun

Very often, an interview may be done between cases, either in an empty OR or ideally in a corridor, away from the hustle and bustle. Granted, in a busy hospital, hustle and bustle is just around every corner.

The thing I like about a long corridor, is I can position the camera far enough from the subject so I can zoom in creating a shallow depth of field. To do this, you really need a 2nd person to conduct the interview, or at the very least a warm body to serve as an eye line for the subject.

Run and gun interviews don't afford a lot of setup time. A single omni light with an umbrella or good diffusion may be all I get. The locations are usually very bright to begin with. Thus the lone key light, if I am lucky, will add a bit of modeling to the subject's face. If I happen to have a 2nd light, I can either setup a hair light, or a background light with some color. In a bright location, it would not add much to try to add color in the background, but it can add a bit of dimension to a flat background.

More Organized

More organized interviews sometimes equate with setup time. In these cases I will do the proper 3-point lighting we all learned, and a kicker with a gel for the background, and turn off the room lights to really have a blank canvas to work with. Now, in an empty conference room, there may be not much you can do but separate the subject from the back wall and use a slash of light for interest. A library full of books or a credenza with some trinkets is even better. Sometimes happy accidents create desirable effects, such as creative use of cast shadows.

More organized interviews, however, may be relegated to a small room, such as an office or awkwardly shaped conference room, with little room to have distance between background, subject and camera. These scenes can look flat, and there is not much room for light falloff. You have to live with it. If shooting in front of a bookcase, make sure the subject is not directly in front of the intersection of a vertical and horizontal piece of shelving.

Sometimes you can use the longest dimension of the room to your advantage. You may need to move some chairs, tables or stacks of books to work for you.

Half and Half

Finally, sometimes you are run and gun, but with a bit of time for setup, but you have each interview in a different room. Here it helps to have your lights, gels, stands and camera gear ready to move at a moment's notice, and an extra helper or two so you don't have to break things down just to move from location to location. On a recent shoot we were given use of several medical students for the day. In addition to interviewing them, they made great PA's.

I have had several projects where I interviewed 6 to 10 people in a day, each in a different location, with 15-20 minutes between locations. So here we are run and gun but with 2-3 lights and the ability to either choose the locations or do what we like with the assigned locations.

Conducting the Interview

Often, I both shoot the interview and conduct the interview. Getting the eyeline right, as described above, can be a challenge. If someone has not spent a lot of time on camera, you need to explain they are not speaking to the camera, unless they are supposed to be speaking to the camera that is. If you have a warm body to create the eyeline that is great. Sometimes you have a dedicated person for interviewing, but not always.

When I am doing the interviewing solo, my job is to watch the subject's eyes, since I am sitting or standing so that I can monitor the camera and audio, but also trying to keep eye contact with the subject. I ask the questions, and most importantly, ask followup questions on the fly, based upon the subject's responses. Another job as interviewer and as producer is to help the subjects say what they are saying in a concise manner that will help the project.

For example:

Q: Tell me about how you decided to be a fire fighter.

A: Well, my dad was a fireman, and his dad was a fireman. When I was about 12 years old our house burned down and I lost my collection of baseball cards. I decided then I would not let that happen to another kid. So, ah, you know, when I graduated high school I went to the fire academy, and then got a job here in my hometown of Smalltown, USA. And I married my high school sweetheart, you know, because she was my high school sweetheart, and well, it was meant to be. So, you know, things are pretty good and I'm doing what I've always wanted to do, you know?

Q: That was good, but can you maybe say it this way, "I come from a long line of firefighters – I'm the 3rd generation. I decided when I was a kid…" see what I mean?

A: You mean say it without the run-on sentences?

Q: Exactly.

This type of questioning and counter questioning, if you will, is a key ingredient in conducting an interview solo. As a producer you need to know what you need for the edit. Sometimes, if working for a client, you have an outline, script or list of questions and desired answers. Sometimes, you have questions only and your wits. In either case, conducting interviews on the fly is a great exercise in many aspects of a shooter/producer's arsenal of talents. Sometimes you get some duds, sometimes you get some jewels. If you conduct the interview according to your plan, hopefully you will get exactly what you need.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Nov 17, 2008 at 9:03:58 pmComments (2) documentaries, interviews, lighting

Large Project Editing Workflow

I'd like to say I have been so busy catching up on work that I have not had a chance to write new posts. This is partially true.

Partially, I took a week to visit my folks in insanely sunny Florida, helped my wife through some medical troubles (no, for the last time, I did not film it) and have in fact been pretty busy at work.

Oh, and I discovered I know a lot of people on Facebook.

But back to the important topic of workflow.

As described in excrutiating detail in previous posts, I make the most of to do lists, post-it notes, scraps of paper, e-mails to myself, Excel spreadsheets and various other attempts at self-organization.

I recently completed a project which was an excellent exercise in organization. I will describe it in generic terms, but give some specific example of learning points.

The Documentary/Promo/Movie Trailer to Promote a particular career

Ok, I guess that wasn't too generic. It is an interesting project.

We pitched a casual documentary style approach, using inspirational interview clips and relevant b-roll, good music, and little to no narration.

Once we had cleared the various PR hurdles, we got three great days of shooting at several medical schools and hospitals, including a c-section. I developed a list of questions, and while conducting each 30 minute interview came up with follow-up questions designed to get people to talk about what they do best(which is not talk about what they do best. What they do best is do what they do best.) It is my job as producer to draw out performances, even and especially unscripted candid interviews. We also tried some possibly hokey segments, some of which will never see the light of day!

The next step was to digitize (capture) all of the raw footage, 4 66 minute DVCPRO tapes and about 15 mini-DVCAM tapes. We shot primarily with 2 V1U cameras in DVCAM mode (incidentally, the two cameras did not match as I'd hoped they would) and shot a few interviews with the DVCPRO, although we could have left this at home and saved gas.

After 3 days of digitizing, while doing other work of course, the next phase begins - logging. Rather than logging the tapes before capturing (digitizing) I capture and then log.

Step 1

Take each interview subject and isolate unedited on its own sequence. In some cases we shot an interview with two V1U cameras, with the lenses practically touching, one wide one tighter, to facilitate editorial or time based edits without jump cuts or dissolves. This is a good way to simply edit out long pauses, ums, ahs, coughs, or retakes. But one can also compress a long thought into a short one. Since the V1U has no timecode output, we try to have each interview subject clap their hands, which is an easy way to sync things up. We generally had a lav going into only one camera, so you find the good audio, fill left or fill right, and turn off the track from the other camera.


Step 2

With each person on his or her own sequence (timeline) I next chop up the timeline into topics. In other words, I edit out the sound of me asking a question, so I am left with the person answering the question, with black spaces. I like to do things methodically, so I do this for every sequence, before actually viewing the material in real time.

Before proceeding to the next step, just for some psychological reason, I like to know how much material I actual have to now go through. So I ripple delete the spaces on all the timelines, so I can write a time next to each person's name. My yellow lined paper now looks like this:

Harrison Fjord - 22:00

Barbara Edyen - 7:00

Bruce Willjyis - 4:15 (boring)

Peter Jaquson - 11:15

you get the idea - I can now tell myself, "Self, you have 1hr 33 minutes of interviews to watch."

Not so bad.

Step 3

With everything chopped up, I now go back to actually listen to the material and make notes. On yellow lined paper, I write the person's name and then a few words for each unedited chunk of interview:

Steven Shmeeldurg

1 - why he got into his career - money of course!

2 - met his wife on a project

3 - When he knew this was the career for him - he could produce mediocre work and still get rich

4 - etc

5 - so forth

6 - so on


After this step, I now have a few sheets of lined paper. Now to select my, er, selects. I do this on paper, placing a check mark next to the clips I want to use. I go through each timeline, and just eyeballing the clip number, move the selects to a higher track. With this done for every speaker, I then copy and paste the selects to a new timeline, and watch it all in order. I save this timeline as edit 1.

Now I save as edit 2, and start weeding out the, er, weeds? My goal is as short as possible to get the message across. The goal was stated as between 3 and 20 minutes, whatever works. I wrote on my yellow paper:

Edit 1 - 23:00

Edit 2 - 17:00

Edit 3 - 14:00

As the amount of material is reduced it becomes increasingly more difficult to make cuts. I got to about edit 5 and maybe 7 minutes of really good gems.


The page down - spacebar to play - delete to delete keys makes things a bit easier in this process, although you need to use the mouse anyway.

Now for about three weeks (3 months) I had been brainstorming ideas on how to actually cut this together. The brainstorming started before we actually shot anything, but not knowing if we had a chance to get the kind of material I was envisioning. The plan came together - somebody call Howlin' Mad Murdoch.

With my shortest-humanly-possible-without-losing-some-nice-moments version in front of me, I came up with an editing format I was happy with, and realized I need to add some more time in the form of b-roll, SOT and some more interview segments from a second set of questions. Time rose back to about 15 minutes. Some efficient use of the three camera setup for one SOT sequence and some thoughtful cutting of the interview segments got me down to about 11 minutes. I next added a title sequence and conclusion and hit 12 minutes and change.

I watched this edit (7) another time or two and tweaked some edits on each pass.

Now to add the music and hopefully make it more engaging.

stack of discs 

I recently added a bunch of new CDs to my Firstcom contract, so I grabbed a few of the new titles, and found some contemporary sounding music. I decided there should be music under the whole program, including the interviews and SOT segments. Since there is no 12 minute track in the Firstcom library (I know, Sonicfire Pro could do it) I decided to use different tracks based upon the mood of the music and the subject matter being discussed (someone call Steven Shmeeldurg, maybe he can use that technique!). 


Some of the Firstcom discs include just the audio CD, so you need to rip the music. Others include a DVD-ROM of AIF files, including both the full mix and the separate instrument tracks. The separate tracks makes things more fun and you have more control over the mood. This also helps transition from one piece of music to another - you can bring in the drums or piano before the previous song fades out - hopefully this makes it less jarring. But kids these days are used to quick changes, right?

With the music added, I spent a few more hours perfecting the mix, and then time to render out to FLV for web viewing. Oh wait, have to color correct the multiple cameras, right. Premiere has numerous color correction tools, and it took a little while to find the right combination or 3-way color correction, Proc Amp, HSL, Levels and Equalize (not all of those and not the same cobination on all clips). Not bad for a first pass, we can tweak it on the final edit. Remember this is for the firtst edit.

I posted it online before heading home for the evening (incidentally, all of the above took about 4 days of focus.)

Once at home, I watched the full video over my DSL - always a good idea to check out your work via a home computer setup. Although we have cable modem attached to our network at the office, the home DSL experience is a good test.

It looked pretty good, so I e-mailed the client a link.

The next day most of the feedback was very good, a few comments about music choices and some of the interview clips, but these things are very easy to fix. I was also asked for a script. I quickly made a two page Word doc listing the times and brief summary of each sound bite, just so people could refer to this while reviewing. Once we lock things down for the final, a full transcript will be needed for approval. It is a good idea to have a transcriptionist in your rolodex (what's a rolodex?) for these purposes.

I should add that during the final day of editing, I was getting the inexplicable "Sorry, a serious error has occurred, Premiere needs to close." error, usually when doing anything in Premiere involving doing anything with any function. Not good when you are almost done with a project. On a few occasions I lost about 10 minutes of work. It seemed the faster I worked, the less frequent were my manual saves, and Premiere's auto saves were set to 20 minutes.

After a few frustrating incidents, I set auto save to 1 minute intervals - a little annoying, but even with frequent crashes I did not lose too much work. I dealt with this hassle so I could finish the project.

Once the video was online for client viewing, we determined a few things about my computer. First, someone had installed AOL instant messenger without permission - whether or not this was the culprit, it wasn't helping. Next we tested the RAM and that checked out. So next was a reinstall of all Adobe products. This seems to have fixed the problem, although I have still had a few Serious Error crashes, but nothing like before. I'm sure we will figure out the problem eventually.

Thanks for reading.




Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 5, 2008 at 6:03:08 pmComments (1) workflow, premiere, editing, documentary, interviews

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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