When Everything Goes Wrong

I’ve been traveling a lot between England and France lately. Thus I’ve had to change my equipment packing routine–which I know is a dangerous thing to do.

I’ve forgotten to bring my keyboard (so now have one in both places, plus a spare), drives that I needed (now I taken them all back and forth in a small case), my LED lights (well, can’t forget those again because they’re too expensive to just buy a spare set), battery charger cords, drive cords, etc.

All that’s pretty sorted out now, but still, traveling on Ryan Air with a couple small bags with all the equipment I need violates my run and gun principle of ‘always carry everything you might need in two small cases’.

But ‘Ryan Air small’ is a different kind of small.

So it was with great deliberation that I decided this time to leave my Sony RX10 in France.

That was the first thing that went wrong.

A couple weeks ago I went to Wales to cover the unveiling of one of my wife’s statues. I shot a lot of it on the RX10. Naturally I thought I had done what I always do after a shoot: immediately download.

So when I arrived back in England with some time before my next shoot I thought I’d sit down and put together a promo video for Laury on that last statue commission.

But it turns out half my footage and all the high quality stills were still in France. Either that or the footage evaporated off my drives in transit.

The other things that went wrong happened earlier in Wales though.

The morning we left I had a few short minutes to interview the main guy who was going to provide my narrative for the video. We met at the statue.

Suddenly my radio mic wasn’t working. It stared at me with an ominous digital error message.

I didn’t have my rifle mics either.

That left me with no choice but to use the on-board Sony PXW X70 mic. In the wind. Next to a busy road.

When you only have one choice, you have to take it.

So I worked with what I had.

Then Laury gets an email that she’s been shortlisted for another statue in Wales.

Suddenly my new video was urgent. I knew it would potentially close the deal as it was a freshly unveiled statue in Wales with some very good selling points spoken off-the-cuff by a respected Welsh solicitor (lawyer).

Footage-wise I managed with what I got on the X70.

I had to steal a still photo off the internet shot by the event photographer who was next to me as I shot the same shot on video. Hope he doesn’t mind.

For the audio I used Izotope RX6 Advanced audio repair. (really, it’s a life-saver)

And I came up with this:

 

 

Why I like Audio Jungle for Audio Tracks

I promised to put together a short video piece for a friend who was doing a photo exhibition in our town of Chalabre, France and then totally forgot about it until the day before.

I had been (and still am) accumulating footage of what happens in the local area for an eventual narrative-driven promo and intended to use some of that for a short piece.

As I was leaving the next day for an event in England, I had about 6 hours to get the job done.

Since it was just going to be an edit to music, and knowing I had plenty of footage, the first step was to find a piece of music that was quintessential France.

I almost exclusively use Audio Jungle for a few reasons. Other sites may have these qualities, but once I found Audio Jungle years ago, I had no reason to look further.

As with any site, you can narrow down your music search by genre and even further by instrumentation, vocals, etc.

Unlike most sites, you can also narrow it down by putting in length parameters (time). Also BPM (beats per minute).

But what I like most is that the music is graphed so that at a glance you can see if there are shifts and changes in the music. (A lot of music for corporate and such uses is rather monotonous with great use of looping and you can see it instantly on the graph).  That at least helps me narrow down the options of what I’ll bother to sample because I prefer a piece with variations.

And, once I’ve found something I think will be suitable, Audio Jungle allows you to down load a preview (with audio water marks) so you can test it out in the edit.

In this case, I spent perhaps 5 minutes to find a suitable piece.

The edit was simply an assembly edit to the music.

No fancy transitions or titles. They wouldn’t have made it any better or made anyone more interested in perhaps visiting this area of France.

Watch it and tell me if this might make you want to come. Or if fancy effects would make any difference in your wanting to come.

If you do…we have Air BnB space for you to stay right in the heart of all this. Indeed our house is right on the village square where several of these scenes were filmed.

 

 

Spin a 60 Second Instagram Version off Your Corporate Video

Some of you may have seen a few of the videos I’ve been doing for the Duchess of Rutland. She got the video bug all of a sudden about 6 months months ago after realising that shoot video I did for them was bringing in big spending foreigners to the Belvoir shoot.

She also got a 20-something Marketing Director in who got her all jazzed up on social media, particularly Instagram and they have a successful account going there.

So now I’m having to make 60 second versions, and sometimes exclusively a 60 second video for their Instagram account.

For their website, however, I produce longer, more informative videos on their main subjects or services (weddings, corporate events, Gardens and one on Capability Brown–England’s most famous landscape architect) whose last design happened to be for Belvoir Castle, a fact only discovered in the Belvoir Castle archives a few years ago.

Anyway, I was busy doing the usual corporate style videos for the website (Gardens and Corporate), and was asked by the Marketing Director to do an Instagram version.

In two cases I just chose some appropriate music and condensed the B roll into a 60 second edit because there was no way to edit down the narrative to 60 seconds.

In one case, I was able to make a sensible narrative in the 60 second time limit, so now I’ve done both.

I then wrote the Managing Director of another marketing company that uses me exclusively for videos and showed him what I’m about to show you–suggesting that for future contracts, we add in the offering of a 60 second version for any company that also has an Instagram account. And charge them for it, of course.

He thought it was a good idea and I’m passing it on to you, hoping that I’m not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs in the process.

So here’s the usual corporate video:

And the Instagram version:

And by the way, if anyone is reading this far:

Shot on the Sony PXW X70

All hand-held, except for sit-down interview, of course. Stabilised as necessary with FCPX.

Edited and Graded in FCPX (following Denver Riddle’s excellent video on using FCPX’s new color tools)

And, something new! I bought Izotope’s RX6 Advanced when there was a recent offer, paying only a few hundred for an upgrade from RX6 Standard (hey, I’m not rich and the price for Advanced is usually over $1000).

My oh my! I used it on the Duchess interview to handle room echo and clothes rustle. The former was not my fault, the latter was.

One click and less than a minute of processing for the entire interview and you’re listening to the otherwise UNMIXED result. (I normally–even with RX6 Standard) spend a lot of time mixing to get the sound good. The RX6 Advanced result was so good I just left it as it was. Presence, warmth, clarity.

RX6 Advanced is lightyears better than anything else and even worth the $1000 price tag to have it in your FCPX toolbox. For anyone interested, my last blog was all about that with reference to the same video above (but you can hear the before and after there.)

 

Pure Frickin’ Awesomeness | RX 6 Advanced Audio Repair

I stumbled on Izotope’s RX Audio repair tools a few years ago.

I bought and used RX5, and later upgraded to RX6 Standard. Things that used to be impossible to handle (such as wind noise, clothes rustle, echo or even police sirens) now could be.

I’m not an audio geek. But I do know that the best answer to all these audio problems is not to record them in the first place.

In other words, correct microphones correctly placed and a good audio environment are far more important than many people realise. And no matter the quality of the image, poor quality sound is unavoidably a direct index to one’s level of amateurism.

Even so, things don’t always go right.  And that’s where RX6 Advanced is an essential editor’s tool. It’s pricey, but worth its weight in gold.

Now listen to me. RX 6 Standard is pretty good, but compared with RX6 Advanced it’s like the difference between a 2011 MacBook and a 2018 iMac Pro. Or, shall we say, a Ford F150 and a Ford F350 King Cab dually.

And the difference is a module called ‘Dialogue Isolate’.

Take a look at the modules that come with RX (click to enlarge).

 

Anyway, like I said, I’m not an audio geek.

I recorded the Duchess of Rutland in the Guardroom, which I already knew was an echoey space. I used a rifle and a lapel.

The rifle mic turned out to not do the job. And the lapel had clothes rustle on it. And, of course, there was echo.

Being the new and proud owner of RX6 Advanced I fully expected to use at least ‘Dialogue Isolate’, ‘De-Rustle’ and ‘De-Reverb’ to clean up the sound.

Turns out the default position of Dialogue Isolate did the whole job. It was a two click process. Sure, there were LOTS of parameters I could have adjusted, but just to show you what it can do in default mode using only the dialogue isolate module with no further adjustments, listen to this short excerpt. It starts with the untreated raw footage and intercuts with the RX6 Audio repair and graded footage.

Here’s the whole video.

Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

I was doing a little maintenance on the Video Whisperer website and found an article I had written that somehow didn’t make it into the Run and Gun Videography book. The basic idea was written into the book in other ways, but in seeing this I felt it was quite well written and informative and worth sharing on the blog. Here it is:

Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

Most of the business/corporate videos on this site were done with local talent–specifically, the actual people who work at the business, including owners, directors and regular staff.

Heavyweight Air Express was a medium-sized, but global company venturing into the video realm. They immediately thought to hire a professional actor to do their video. I advised against it, and whilst my opinion, when I told them why, they decided to go with their own talent.

In the case of Heavyweight Air Express, it wasn’t that they couldn’t afford to hire a pro for the job. In the case of smaller businesses, the additional cost may indeed be an important factor, and could even be the reason for not even considering having a video done due to perceived high cost.

The good news is that a high quality impactful business video is quite affordable, notwithstanding the fact that it should rapidly pay for itself.

As to pro actor versus local talent, here is my opinion and essentially what I told Heavyweight.

Firstly, think about those big companies who use professional talent on TV commercials. We know they’re actors and we know they’re paid and we know they’re reading script. The only reason that doesn’t bother us is that we ALREADY KNOW the company, its products and services, precisely because they’re already big.

Now let’s consider we were watching a commercial for a company we never heard of and that a professional actor was presenting. Well, we can tell at once that he or she is a professional actor, and we know that they’re being paid and reading script.  Suddenly those factors that didn’t bother us with the company we already know come into play in a different way with the company we never heard of. To a certain degree we suspect that is it just “hype”. Afterall, it’s a professional actor reading a script with perfect hair and all the right hand gestures.

Now let’s take that same company and use it’s actual president, CEO or owner.  First off, we can tell it’s not a polished pro. We can tell this is the real guy and that he’s putting his reputation on the line. So what he has to say–if it’s a subject we’re interested in–has a little more credibility. And we tend to give him a chance. We listen. We don’t just toss him off as a bit of marketing hype.

Secondly, people who work for the company and believe in it and its products and services are emotionally attached. They know what they’re talking about. They’ve dealt with the products, services and the customers who use them. And we can tell that too.

So the question becomes, how does one get a “regular guy” to come off well in front of the camera.

That’s pretty simple and is something a director is trained to do. But in terms of content (how we get them to say what we want them to say), here is where the Video Whisperer differs from most other video production companies. We don’t try to script it. “Remembering script” or “remembering what to say” is the downfall of any attempt to produce a marketing piece for a business, because people who are not trained actors have trouble with that sort of thing–and you can tell.

Instead we do it on an interview basis. We have an informal chat–interview if you like– with the camera rolling. Sure there are plenty of bobbles and mis-starts and all else that is part of normal human conversation. But as soon as we start talking about a subject that they KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT or have a particular EMOTIONAL CONTACT with, they suddenly start sounding quite natural and start coming off quite professionally–having completely forgotten about the camera.

Such interviews may last 20-40 minutes or more. And from that, the job of the editor is to distill from all the footage the essence of what we want to impart to the potential customer or client. That means there are a lot of “cuts” and that means often things are put together in a sequence differing from how it actually came off in the interview. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in the end, they provided the material necessary to being able to put together a marketing piece for the company just as if it had been scripted to begin with. And the best part is: Some of the things that come up in an interview one would never have thought to script!

Your Equipment Does Not Define You or Your Skills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(originally posted on my Run and Gun Video Blog , but seems not too many people follow that one, so sharing it here)

 

I noticed my book cover on Amazon along with some of the related ones being promoted (and their covers) which reminded me at the same time of the many postings I’ve seen of people’s equipment. Some nice stuff and some Frankenstein monsters, but the underlying message (despite what was being said) was usually, ‘look at me’.

You know, the guy posts a shot of a whole load of expensive stuff with the caption: ‘off to do a blah-blah shoot’. Since surely nobody cares that he’s off to do a shoot, the obvious intended message is ‘look at all my cool stuff and be envious’.

Now look at the cover above.

That was very deliberately posed. Of course there was a humorous analogy with and throughout the book of the camera being a gun (so the Marlboro man hat and coat forwarded that), but note that the relatively small and unfancy camera is just dangling from the hand as if it were a 6 shooter and he’s off to shoot some vermin on the ranch that are stealing his chickens–or off to the OK Corral  to dispatch Billy the Kid for that matter.

The gun, the camera are tools, they are not the man.

They come out when it’s time to do the job and the pro doesn’t care what you think about them.

They’re taken care of, oiled and cleaned as any professional would treat his equipment, but except for a few of the narcissistic crazies, they don’t sleep with them, pose with them in the mirror or caress them fondly when no one is looking.

They’re just tools.

And look here: The gun that killed Billy the Kid didn’t even have a laser scope on it.

 

 

You Can’t Polish a Turd….

…But You Can Roll it in Glitter

 

Sorry, I heard that expression recently and just had to use it.

The point is: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

None of the videos shown here were turds really, but I did have some ‘issues’ to do with lighting. So this is really about color correcting and other image handling tools one can use.

As a note, the whole subject of ‘grading’ is popular today, particularly amongst an apparent group of ‘newbies’ who think it’s the next one-button solution to creating a ‘filmic look’. Nothing wrong with hoping for that, but it’s too often evident that they neglected to invest any time into basics such as ‘how to make a movie’. In short, I’m finding those forums a bit annoying. So to be clear, this isn’t really grading. It’s color correction with a couple extra tricks.

So let’s get practical, at least on the corporate video front. It’s simple: You make the guy or girl (or whatever other genders they have these days) look good. THAT’S ALL.

I’ll be covering two different videos I did recently.

On this first one I was having to solve a problem (I thought) of having forgotten my main LED interview lighting kit. Fortunately I had one back-up floor soft box with me and was forced to come up with something with the one light I had along with what was available in terms of room lighting. It was an interview with a Duchess on a tight schedule, so “oops, I forgot my lights…” as an excuse was out-of-the-question.

Needless to say, this was very naughty of me.  It’s just one of those things that can happen so you have no choice but to carry on as if nothing has happened at all and make it all come off anyway.

For comparison, here’s a still from an interview with the Duchess last year in the same location when I didn’t forget where my lighting kit was:

Standard key, backlight and fill and good subject to background contrast ratio. Controlled lighting.

 

Here’s what I managed more recently when  I only had one light to work with:

Camera Original

 

Here’s how I polished the turd:

FCPX Color Tools, Colour Finale Pro, CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask

 

Not as punchy as the first correctly lit sample, but better than the camera original.

First I color corrected it using the FCPX color tools and ColorFinale Pro (to bring up her blue blouse). This was before FCPX 10.4 which can do the same thing.

Then I used a ‘make-up’ program to soften her face (which I typically use on females of her age). Subtle, but nothing she or anyone else would notice. (Someone’s going to ask: I used PixelFilmStudios ‘Skin’ plugin. I don’t buy from them anymore, but I had it and it works well. –Buy from Motion VFX instead)

Finally I used one of my favourite tools, a vignette shape mask from CoreMelt which allows you to completely control the size, shape and density of a vignette. I use it often, even when I have lit the scene to the best of my ability. It allows me to create further contrast from subject to background when I am not able to achieve it satisfactorily on site myself. You can get it here FREE in CoreMelt’s ‘Slice X’ package. Go ahead and get it. You’ll love it. (There’s even a Photoshop style ‘Object Remover’ for video and a few other clever tools). But I guarantee you’ll find yourself using the vignette shape mask often.

Screen Shot: CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask

While that interview was done for several videos, here’s one of them that’s public now:

And here’s the next one:

P.S. (It turns out the LED flexlites were with me the whole time, tucked into an  outer pocket of my camera case for a little shoot I had done recently. (they take up very little room)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to modify your kit bags for a particular shoot, PUT THINGS BACK to where they usually are directly thereafter)

Turd Number Two

Ok, this one was less my fault.

I was at our house in France where we are good friends with our American neighbours Vinx and Jennifer. Vinx is a musician who has performed with many famous musicians from Isaac Hayes to Sting and is currently doing his own thing touring around the world. He’s a vocalist and percussionist. (Vinx.com)

Anyway, they got married there in Chalabre last year, part of which was a big concert to thank the town. It was called ‘Night of Serenades’ and featured 20 different acts, professional and amateur, all performing serenades to someone in the audience who was seated in a special chair in the front row and presented with a large bouquet of roses before their serenade. It was so popular that the town asked that it be done again next year (and every year thereafter).

If you’d like to see the short wedding video I did featuring Vinx’s serenade to Jennifer (which took place in the covered market in front of our house), you can watch it here.

So…this years’ Night of Serenades will be over 3 days preceded by a few more days of music related workshops. The venue has expanded to 3 stages across the town and includes serenaders performing from balconies around the town’s main ring road and lots more. It’s a big deal.

So they asked me to do a video to pitch to potential local sponsors.

All I had with me was a Sony RX10ii (a down-version of something like the Sony A7, but a gorgeous camera that happens to have the same sensor as my X70–which is why I bought it). I had no lighting or audio equipment.

Of course we’re sitting in front of a mix board, but Vinx was busy with a deadline and setting up a mic and audio feed was going to be a bit of a problem. Since this was a small distribution video for some local vineyards and other businesses in the seeking of sponsorship, we decided to do the best we could with a little omnidirectional mic Vinx uses on his GoPro cameras.

Original. Overhead fluorescent lighting.

 

Knowing that I would be using the vignette mask, I moved Jennifer forward so it would look ok with the background being a bit darker.

Similar to the last sample, I used a combination of FCPX’s shape mask and colour tools to correct colour and contrast followed by the vignette shape mask to create some depth to the background while spot lighting the main subject.

Colour Corrected with Vignette shape mask

 

That, I’m afraid, is an example of ‘run and gun’ Emergency Room procedure. Or, in the U.K., A&E (Accident and Emergency).

P.P.S.  Because I sort of stole the image, those are Unicorn Turds pictured at the top of the page. If you want to buy some, you can get them here: http://tetragrammatron.com/unicornturds.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

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