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Musical Cameras

No Steve Jobs, this is not some new gadget you can sell us, just a play on words.

Sometimes we have almost had to keep a separate calendar to keep track of who has which gear and when. For example, we recently had 6 shoots in about 10 days. A shoot that is out of state, which many are, means that a camera and associated kit will leave the office at 5pm and not return until approximately 10am 2-3 days later(a person goes too). Multiply this scenario by two kits and three people and you had better make sure you have planned ahead.

And speaking of planning ahead, you may want to find time to plan two or three shoots in advance. For example, as of this writing, one of our guys is returning from Maryland. Someone else is taking another kit to Vegas - they may cross paths for half a day in the office to exchange tripods. Then the next day I am taking limited gear on my own trip to Vegas where I will meet up with a fellow COW for a couple of days of shooting. Over the weekend another exchange will need to occur for something happening Monday in NY. Next week seems clear so far, but that could change, so we need to make sure we have gear available, which we will. Then I'm back in the office for a day, then out again the following week for a day or two. The TSA guys at my local airport seem to recognize me.

See what I mean? I am planning three weeks out, yet also doing or coordinating work in the intervening days and weeks.

A few months ago we installed an open source calendar on our web server, and we now have an easy way to see where everyone is going to be - all you need is the password. We thought about using Google Calendar, but not everyone has a Google account(believe it!), and honestly it would become one more account to have to remember to check. We just set the company calendar as one of the home tabs on Firefox and that's all you need to remember.

However we have dry-erase calendars tacked to the walls and the odd post-it note for good measure. Those of us with a smart phone likely store our important dates there as well.

So in summary, know who has what, where they are going with it, and when - and when they will return so that you can rinse and repeat. You always want to make sure you will have what you will need when you need it. To paraphrase everyone's favorite scientist, "Maybe in 1985 you can just buy a video camera at the corner drugstore, but here in 1955 it's just not possible."

Thanks for planning ahead.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 16, 2010 at 8:51:43 pm organization, coordination, business

Locked and Loaded

Yep, another blog about leaving the safety of my cubicle to work with a client.
Why so much emphasis on this? Because it is good for business to have your, er, stuff together!

Many people have a checklist for a shoot:

- batteries
- lav mic
- xlr cable
- bnc cable
- monitor
- hdmi cable
- 20 blank tapes or 6 p2 cards
- headphones
- gaffer tape
- etc

Likewise I certainly make a checklist for a week long trip:

- suit
- sportcoat
- 2 pair knakis
- 6 pair black socks
- 2 polo shirts
- 4 dress shirts (white, grey, blue, pinstripe)
- 4 favorite ties
- dress shoes
- bathing suit, flip flops (assuming they have a pool)
- etc

So why wouldn't you have a checklist for a non-shoot, non-convention trip out of the office?

The particular meeting described below was for an important project we are working on. The editor of the project and I have been meeting at his office on and off since November. In each meeting, we review the script and current images and video, look for new images and video, keep a tally of images and video we need to acquire, and then revise or re-write portions of the script (narration and on-screen text). Sounds easy enough. There are over 400 screens in the Flash program, 100 videos and at least 150 photographs. We also have a list of illustrations or animations to create.

The experience is taxing on the brain, and educational. I am not a surgeon, yet over the course of such a project, I learn much of what the target audience of surgeons will be expected to learn.

A few years ago I picked up one of these Swiss Army laptop backbacks. I don't know if these are affiliated with the Swiss army knife, or if the actual Swiss army uses these in the field (doubtful) but what I do know is that it is the best backpack I have ever owned. The only negative is that it holds a lot of stuff (heavy) which is good and bad. It is good because I can take whatever I need with me. It is bad because I have a spine and back muscles!

Below is a representation of the major components needed for this trek. Not shown are such essentials as blank DVD's, thumb drives, power supplies, phone charger, herbal tea bags, mints and a small flashlight.

Obviously the computer is the essential business tool. While this laptop, as described in earlier posts, has the full CS4 suite installed, useful for long plane trips and the occasional on-site edit session, in this case it is simply a web browser and word processor, perhaps a few Photoshop manipulations for good measure. It is essential to have an organized set of scripts, images, videos and other assets, and make sure this is backed up in multiple locations. Whenever a major script revision is completed, I e-mail myself a copy for safe keeping. Google and Yahoo share this task.

A fairly new acquisition is the Zoom H4N recorder. This little gizmo is great for recording temp narration tracks, or in some cases final narration with either a video's author or myself. Another handy gadget is a Canon HD camcorder, recording to SD cards. While not broadcast quality, what if I am sitting in an office and someone says "hey, you want to come see someone with a knife in their skull?" - a little camera that shoots video and decent stills is great to have for these occasions, or more likely if we need a quick shot of an instrument, piece of equipment or even just to photograph a thumbnail sketch as reference for an illustrator or designer. You never know.

While bus powered USB hard drives are cheap and getting cheaper, we have a library of eSATA drives ranging from 350GB to 1.5TB. While I may not use it, having it with me along with a portable USB interface is handy.

A USB mouse is much easier to work with for long periods of time than the laptop's touchpad. And sometimes the best technology of all is a sheet of lined paper.

And finally, do not discount the importance of reliable writing implements.

So, to summarize, any time you are going anywhere, whether for a video shoot, editing session, tradeshow or simply the all-important sit-down meeting, know what you need to do and have what you know you need in order to do what you know you need to do. Whew.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:52:03 pm travel, workflow, planning, organization, alliteration

Ready for Takeoff

The past 7 days have been spent preparing for a big convention that we participate in every year. our responsibilities include processing roughly 150 videos, mostly produced by outside entities (doctors) and about a dozen from our shop. We decided this year to finally do away with DVCAM tape and do all of the projection in about 15 half-day sessions via MPG2 files on hard drives. We created a simple html launcher and carefully organized the files by session.

The next step was to review the MPG2 files to ensure that they are appropriately representing the original quality. The original formats range from video DVD to DIVX, h.264, WMV and MPEG-1, with a handful of DV tapes, AVI or DV files. The lowest common denominator of MPEG-2 can be a good or a bad thing, depending upon the relative quality of the original. Thus, about 50% of videos did not re-compress adequately, so we decided to show the originals. Other MPEG-2 files looked ok, but needed audio or color correction, or correction of other assorted problems. The end result of this review process was a color coded excel file listing things to fix, things to know and things that are out of our control.

here's the detail:

In any project, organization is the key.

Our job is to help doctors look the best they can look before an audience of their peers. Thus the extra time spent, while invisible to the audience, makes a difference, however subtle.

With that task done, we sent a new hard drive to the venue, for cloning to about 15 computers throughout the vast convention center.

By the time Friday arrived, despite the mental exhaustion and repeated viewings of such classics as "Single Incision Colon Surgery" and "Abdominoplasty" the final step was to get the house ready for my week long absence. This is primarily cleaning the kitchen, doing some laundry, filling the litter boxes and replenishing the fridge. I despise doing the dishes, but, it can be fun if you make it into a fun activity.

While the cleaning was going on, I was rendering the final edit of the last video for one of the sessions. I had to visit the office to get some raw footage and transfer it all to my laptop (a 160 gig laptop drive holds a lot, but gets incredibly full. I had to delete my WMV of Empire Strikes Back made from the original letterbox pre-special edition VHS tape to make room - now that's self-sacrifice).

Editing in the office on a Saturday is not so bad - it was mostly rendering, which gave me time to tally up the most visited places for my job. Here are the winners by number of visits:

New York: 33
Chicago: 18
Boston: 15
Florida: 14
LA: 6
Dallas: 5
San Fran: 4

Final step of the night is to pack my bags. The rolling garment bag saves my back - usually. On this occasion I have my laptop in a backback, along with 3 terabytes of video files, drive bay, power supplies, cables, a small library book (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - probably won't have time to read it) and numerous DVD-R burns of various projects and demo's.

Once in bed, it seemed to be mere minutes until the pesky alarm sounded, and off I went.
While checking in for my flight, the pesky Blackberry tells me that while the video from last night is great, can I please update some other slides. Sure, no problem, I'll just do it on the plane. But first I have to work on an article for an upcoming issue of the COW Magazine. With most of that written, I opened Premiere, made the edits and set to rendering again.

Editing on a plane is not great unless you are a t-rex with tiny arms. I look for an aisle seat with a skinny person or child in the middle, giving me those few extra centimeters of elbow room.

Only problem is the flight to Chicago is relatively short, so I had to shut down while the tractor beam pulled us into docking bay 1138.

Upon arrival in Chicago Sunday AM, we headed to the convention center to setup our display. A medical convention is like NAB for doctors. The technical exhibits display the latest medical devices and in our case, our collection of surgical DVD's and medical text books. This year our booth resembles a mini Borders book and DVD store, complete with credit card reader and video kiosk. Sorry, no latte bar.

Once the shipping vendor located our crates, we setup the video racks, back-drop and book displays. I split my time between the booth and the video review stations, updating video files with last minute changes, including the previously described last minute edit once rendered.

By this time it is 5pm, and I have yet to find 5 minutes to eat anything. A non-quick taxi ride to the Hyatt (not the Riot House, but I have stayed there), hit the business center for $21 worth of copies (18 pieces of paper - I need to open a business center!), finally check into the room, drop the bags, splash water in my face (missed the $21 worth of papers with the splash of water - whew) and back downstairs to join my colleague for a kickoff meeting with some docs for a new endeavour. The kickoff meeting is an essential step in the process of any project. Check out my appearance in the Creative COW Podcast for more on this.

Finally it is 7pm and food might be in the near future. Luckily there was some Halloween candy in the biz center. For only $5 I enjoyed a roll of Smarties! Manna!

Once we got to the restaurant, the bar provided my first sustenance - beer - better than nothing but not good on an empty stomach. Finally we are seated and hot bread, stuffed mushrooms, calimari - life was going to be ok. The chianti helped my stiff neck and is sure to help me sleep off a busy day that would make Richard Scarry cringe.

Thanks for traveling with me.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 11, 2009 at 10:13:39 pm conventions, video, organization

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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