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:
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
The problem, of course, is that most of the people you’ll be interviewing have either never been interviewed before or they’re marketing people who have tons of ‘talking points’ stacked up in their heads that they just roll out when a questions seems somehow vaguely related.
In the first case, if you don’t handle it right, they will come off weak and unconvincing because the person is introverted and not speaking from the heart.
In the second case they will come off weak and unconvincing because the viewer will instantly recognise the marketing hype, immediately reject it and go to the ‘user review’ section to find out what real customers think about the product or service.
In either case, editing becomes the task of creating a narrative that best forwards the marketing message. And in both cases, this is achievable–sometimes better than other times.
Anyway, we ran into an unusual situation recently.
For starters, the production executive in charge of the multi-million dollar installation was surprisingly young. He was also very well spoken.
The 25 minute interview for the 3 minute video was almost 100% usable just as he said it.
What to do?!!
First off, this was a testimonial-driven corporate video as most of mine are. In other words, we are interviewing the client’s client. The video is for Company A who have produced a product or service for Company B. We don’t bother interviewing Company A (the producer) because of course they are going to say their product or service is wonderful. But is it really? Let’s ask their customer–and that’s the strength of corporate videos based on customer reviews. The viewer doesn’t have to scroll on down to the user review section because this video IS a customer review.
Anyway, turns out it was very difficult to cut this one down to 3 minutes. There were so many options.
Usually I have bits in there at the beginning and end talking about the producer of the product or service (our client). And in the middle a bit about the actual product or service.
Every version of the edit using that template was just too long.
In the end I opted to have the interview only talk about the producer (our client), not what they produced (and industrial automated conveyance and sorting system). Even that was hard to get down to 3 minutes.
This does pose a small problem: Normally the B roll in the edit should roughly correspond to what is being said. That’s integrated story-telling and easy to follow.
In this case, while he talked about the company that provided the service, I had no choice but to show in the B roll the actual system that was produced. Of course the two are related, but he’s not talking about what I’m showing.
In an upcoming update of the Run and Gun videography book mentioned above there will be a few more chapters that I wrote a few months ago. One of them is called ‘Marketing Viewpoint’. In essence, one has to assume the viewpoint of the eventual target audience you are selling to. It’s what they want to know that’s important, not necessarily what the video client wants to say. The video is for future customers, not the board room executives.
In the case of this video we knew that the potential customer for a multi-million dollar automation system would well know what such a system looks like and does. He’ll have done his research. So he’ll be far more interested in what an actual user thinks about the product than having the system explained. The purpose of the video is to get him to contact our client for more information. It is then that he can ask more questions or arrange a meeting. Job done as far as the video goes.
As you, reader of this blog, are probably not in the market for warehouse automation, most of this might go over your head. So you might have to watch it twice. First listen. Then watch. You’ll find, in both cases, that the video showcases our client’s service, but it is the narrative that is doing the real hard-sell.
The following videos were directed and produced by Leapfrog Marketing (Alan Myers – 0116 278 7788) in association with The Video Whisperer.
(Two for the price of…)
After the shoot the client requested of Leapfrog that I send them the raw GoPro footage unedited. I did.
They like it so much they asked for an edit (you know, take out a few of the bobbles and add some titles).
I decided to take my chances and do something a bit different, so I crossed my fingers and we sent them this:
Color grading is relatively new to me, so I’m not an expert, but so far it has enabled me to not only make shots look better, but has allowed me to dramatically improve the look of interview shots.
Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central originally introduced me to the whole subject when he released Color Finale for FCPX. It’s an invaluable tool and I highly recommend getting it.
FCPX has some powerful grading tools itself in its Color pane. It’s more powerful than many people realise, but I’m not going to attempt a tutorial that others would be much better at.
Instead I want to show you a couple recent examples, starting with a little contest Denver Riddle posted on the FB Color Grading Central page.
I’m also going to tell you about the amazing vignette tool from Slice X and show you how and why I used it in grading a few shots. It is definitely way better than the built-in FCPX tool because you can infinitely manipulate it.
I’ll put the links to all these things at the bottom of the post.
First, here’s what Denver posted and asked people to grade:
And here’s what I did with it:
Hundreds of people posted their grades in response to Denver’s challenge. Mine seems to be one of the few he commented on directly saying it was a nice color balance. I was kind of chuffed, though he said there was too much separation from subject to background. On that I had to disagree. It is one of the primary things I try to achieve with lighting first, and grading afterwards because it creates more depth and 3 dimensionality. But in fairness, I didn’t spend that much time on it and there were still some things I wanted to do to improve it. He might have had a point. Too much separation? Anyway…
I did this grade using both the FCPX color pane and Color Finale. The FCPX color pane, amongst other things, gives you the ability to isolate shapes which you can then adjust independent of the surroundings. In this case I isolated their faces and graded them separate from the background. Most of the color work on the background was done using Color Finale which allows you to independently control the hue, saturation and brightness of the main color components (along with many other things).
Finally I used Slice X vignette to direct attention to the subjects.
All of these things are key-framable. Since this is a still shot, key-framing was not necessary of course.
SLICE X Vignette Shape Mask
Here’s a screen grab of Slice X Vignette in use:
Unlike most vignette tools, including the one in FCPX, this one is infinitely controllable in terms of shape and axis. Like all the others, you can also control the density, size and softness of the vignette. But this is the only one where you can also shape it and change its axis. Here are the properties that you can vary from within the inspector in addition to the on-screen controls you see above:
Ok, now for real life.
For those of you who read Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, you’ll know I covered the subjects of lighting both generally and specifically in regard to interviews. Lighting is the lifeblood of cinematography and is much more effective in creating that ‘cinematic look’ than shallow depth of field alone.
Here’s an interview shot I did recently as it came out of the camera:
It was not without some problems.
While I did manage through lighting to effectively separate him from the background in a white room (turned off all overheads, closed the window blinds, skimmed the back wall with a light to give the impression of of an off-scene window while controlling the spill from hitting the opposite wall as much as I could and gave him facial modelling and a backlight–both of which I had to severely control with black foil to avoid spill). The trouble with white rooms is that light bounces all over the place. So this was pretty good and I could have left it as it was, but there was another problem I hadn’t realised at the time. It was shot with relatively high gain (unnecessarily) and so is a bit grainy. You’ll see what I mean if you click on the picture to see it full-sized.
Here’s what I did with it:
Grading was done with FCPX and Color Finale. Then I added the Slice X vignetting tool subtly. I also used Neat Video to de-noise it. The result, I think, is that the shot has more depth and dimension.
And one final sample and a small test:
The first one was out of the camera, the second one graded. But what may be of more interest is the lighting. See that big window in the back? Well, there were three more to the left which effectively lit up the whole room. I closed the heavy curtains on the side windows. Then I placed a softbox in the floor in the background (left) to create a fake light from the (now dark) window being sure to keep it off the walls. Now I was able to light her with a relatively low intensity softlight and have her more dramatically separated from the background. I gave her a backlight and a little frontal fill which also gave her eye lights.
As I told Denver, this is what I try to achieve with almost any shot–separation of subject from background which can be achieved with focus or lighting or both. (In this case lighting was going to carry the job as the focal length was wide and the depth of field too great)
I could have done it more telephoto (which can also be more flattering), but chose this because she is a Duchess in a castle and I felt the grandeur of the room was important to include.
Now for the test:
Did you notice the microphone in the shot ?
(I didn’t think so–which is why I left in in there rather than crop the shot)
Because of the depth and because of the directing of attention to her face, what is it that you look at when you see this shot.? Her face, right?
Warning: This is an 11 minute video. The subject is St. James’s Square, London, one of the most historical and prestigious districts of London. All of the following will be of no value at all if you don’t plan on watching it. This is for those of you who plan to.
It wasn’t typical, because it is long (11 minutes).
In the book I talk about how to do and edit interviews. Up until now, I’d say for an hour of interviews, I cut out on average about 50% or more. That means all of my questions and all of the answers that I know I won’t use. What’s left is what I use to construct the narrative.
In this case, I had just over an hour of interview, and with my questions cut out, over 95% of is was totally usable. That’s never happened before.
This was a case of a very educated, experienced and articulate Brit. There are many like him. I just never got to interview one. And I’ve done over 1000 interviews.
I already knew I was going to produce multiple properties from his interview, but when it came to the first one–an overview of the St. James’s Conservation Trust, when I got it reduced down to about 11 minutes, I felt I couldn’t cut it down any more without losing.
Sure, he didn’t say it all in the order your hear it, but in crafting an overview and knowing that it’s first showing would be to a prestigious event in St. James Park attended by a lot of very important people, I felt I just had to work with that 11 minutes and make it as visually interesting as possible.
That was what was different about it.
As to the rest, it was all hand-held, except for the interview of course.
Why is that worth bringing up?
Well try going around St. James Square and in the vicinity of a working palace and other important clubs and high-end shops in the heart of historic London with a big camera and a tripod and see how far you get. The client was even concerned that I get all the right ‘permissions’. I told him, “don’t worry about it”.
All that B roll was shot with my teeny weenie Sony HXR NX30 hand-held.
The interview was shot with my Sony PXW X70. And guess what? I somehow screwed that up, inadvertently shooting with high gain.
Though we were in the offices of the Ritz Hotel, we weren’t able to get a suite in the Hotel for the shoot. I was your typical white room. So to get that interview look I had to 1) apply Neat Video de-noiser to it, 2) use Color Finale to get the best separation from subject to background (after doing my best with foil to keep spill lights off the back wall) and , 3) Used the vignette tool from Digital Rebellion (it’s awesome–much better than the FCPX tool, because you can manipulate it on all axises, control its shape, ctc.)
TIP: When using Neat video, get your look, then disable it. It’s very processor intensive and whenever you change an edit it will want to re-render again. So get your look, disable it, and when you’re all done, re-enable it and let it render everything one time.
The other regular practices were shooting tons of B roll and how I found a stock music piece that worked (two in this case) and made them seem like they were written for the video. Seriously, if you manage to watch it once through, try again and just listen to how the music plays to and enhances the narrative. It was pretty magical–considering it’s stock.
B roll: As much as I preach about shooting TONS of B roll to cover your edits, even I, in this case, did not shoot enough. In fact I made 3 trips to London in all. And still didn’t shoot enough. There was just SO MUCH covered in more than an hour of interview, I was lucky to scrape by in order to produce this one (and the next one I’m working on now). More properties will probably develop from this, and when that happens I’ll edit the narrative first and then get back on a train to London with a list…
Shooting handheld: Shooting hand-held is one thing. You should also know that for almost all of these hand-held shots I applied 50% slow mo. And in most cases ALSO added stabilisation. Some from FCPX and some using CoreMelt’s ‘Lock and Load”. Also (did you know?) that once you apply any kind of speed change in FCPX, you can then select a video standard of either ‘frame blending’ or ‘optical flow’. I used optical flow which smooths it out just a little bit more. Also, in some case (shooting those wall plaques), I shot them both as stills (on the NX30) and as slow zooms. In the edit I wound up animating the stills rather than using the zooms. And finally, (as dictated by the edit and conformity with surrounding shots, i.e. continuity), I also often applied manual key-framed zooms to my shots.
Marketing yourself: Also covered in the book. Relevant here is this: Sometimes you do something for cheap with malice aforethought. I had done another video for an organisation that had often asked but never hired me. Finally I did a birthday video for the daughter’s 18th. That was so well received I was asked to do one for the organisation–for cheap. I did it because I knew their upscale clientele would see it and it would likely get me more business. It got me two commissions worth £6000, including this one.
Now you know all my secrets.
Ok, so this is run’n gun. As covered in the book, it ain’t perfect. It won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the various film geeks out there. But it does the job and the stuff that the geeks will gleefully point out won’t be the things that the intended audience will ever see or concern themselves with.
The test is, does it get the message across with clarity and impact.
I’ve decided to enrol in KDP Select which gives me some promotional options including making the book available for FREE for 5 days.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
I’m doing it for two reasons.
I’m locked into KDP select for 90 days during which period the book can only be available on Kindle. So that gives me a sort of deadline for making the book available in soft cover and putting it on other platforms. I can’t promise it, but it’s a good target for me because I’m going to be pretty busy before then anyway. Plan is to update it and make it available in hardcover next fall.
Though the book has sold a few hundreds copies, it’s only gotten about a little over 30 reviews between the UK and US markets. They’re all good reviews, but I’d like to see a lot more reviews.
The Free Download Offer is NOW LIVE on Amazon and runs through Sunday.
I hope that most of my subscribers here who don’t have it yet will take the opportunity to download it.
In exchange I have a humble request: Please review it on the Amazon page once you’ve read it.
(From the Run and Gun Videography blog, for those of you who don’t follow that one). Thought I’d repost it here as I haven’t posted anything in a while (super busy!)
Nothing revolutionary here, but I haven’t posted in a long while.
This could be titled ‘Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’.
It’s Spring here in England, but with cold weather lingering, Spring has been struggling to arrive.
The gardens at Belvoir Castle are open now and the Duchess of Rutland wanted to promote them in a timely fashion–that is, promote them to potential visitors. There’s another good reason to promote these particular gardens. This is the 300th anniversary of the birth of England’s most famous landscape architect–Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed the landscapes of over 170 of England’s mosts famous estates) and Belvoir Castle was his last project. It was never realised while he was alive and never completed.
A few years ago his plans were found in the Castle archives and the Duchess of Rutland set out to complete them. It was the subject of a 3 hour television show here in England last Autumn, and now that it’s Spring and the gardens are open, it’s the perfect time to promote them as such.
But Spring has been stubborn in it’s arrival, so there would be no live footage of the beautiful gardens and landscape.
What to do?
I suggested to the Duchess that we use the photographs from her book on this very subject and update the video later with live footage that I can take over the next few months.
Now that it’s done I don’t think I’m going to do it, because I like this video the way it is. So I’ll probably just do another video using some of this interview material and other bits I didn’t use.
Very often I make a video that exceeds my own expectations, given the production circumstances. This was one of them.
There’s not really much to say about how to use photographs in a video. Many go for the ‘Ken Burns’ effect. I just manually animated them very simply. The real trick is choosing the right photo that helps forward the narrative.
There are two other things that make it a good video in my opinion. All these techniques and approaches are covered in detail in the Run ‘n Gun Videography E Book (centering around message, of course), but in this case–since it was really only an interview and still photos, the strengths were lighting to make her look good in an appropriate environment (her home at Belvior Castle) and music.
The lighting is what it is. 3 lights used judiciously in a large space. But in this case it was the music that really did it’s job. In the book I covered the subject of using ‘stock music’. The trick is to make it appear to have been specifically scored for this specific video. Music has the role of forwarding the messages as much as any other technical subject does. Too many people just tack on music for no reason and to no advantage. I won’t go over my procedure in detail here (that’s covered in detail in the book), but I would like you to note how the subtle shifts of music sync up to the narrative and pictures being shown. That’s the real magic as far as I’m concerned. Because that composer had no idea that his music would be used for this video. Yet I think anyone would be hard pressed to think that it was not. How this is done, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read the book.
Sorry for the shameless promotion, but this blog is meant to be a supplement to the book anyway.
For anyone interested in the Capability Brown story, several months ago I did another video. This time it featured your truly, the Video Whisperer.
It’s a fund-raising video and I really thought it should be done by an English person–but that got too complicated, so in my brash American approach to getting things done, I said, “well fine, I’ll do it myself”…
By the way, the sculptor Laury Dizengremel, is my wife. The statue has, since this video, has been cast in bronze on our dime. So if you’d like to contribute ANY amount–whether you’re an Engishman or just a follower of the Video Whisperer, any donations will be appreciated. Just go to to the link at the end of the video to donate a tuppence or two.
I recently produced a short promo video that performed surprisingly well in its first 5 weeks online. In fact, it’s out-performed any other video I’ve produced like it.
When a video performs well or badly, YouTube analytics is a handy and comprehensive tool to determine why.
You’ll find the analytic metrics in your YouTube ‘video manager’.
The metrics I tend to be interested in are, 1) traffic sources, and, 2) Audience Retention. There are a lot more metrics being tracked including views per country, viewer demographics, etc.
Traffic sources tells you if the video is being viewed from the YouTube watch page (organic search), as a suggested video by Youtube (someone watched something else and Youtube suggested yours to watch next) from an embedded website, etc.
Audience retention can be viewed as ‘absolute retention’ or ‘relative retention’.
‘Absolute’ tracks every minute your viewer watches your video. It shows you where they start dropping off and also tells you if they watch it more than once or watch certain parts over again (indicated when the retention percentage exceeds 100%).
‘Relative’ compares your video’s performance with other videos that YouTube deems similar to yours. Here you can see if your video is performing average, above average or below average.
As I mentioned in the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide, it is folly to expect that 100% of people watch your video all the way through. Even popular viral videos probably don’t achieve that. For one, there are those who click on it and click right off realising it was not what they were looking for. For two, they tend to click off when they perceive it is done if they do watch it all the way through, but may not stay on for any ‘end credits’. For three, people may stop watching when you’ve ‘sold’ them on whatever it was you were trying to do (in the case of business or fund-raising videos, product videos, etc.) –and that would be the purpose of the video in the first place.
This is not a metric, but it bears mentioning that you’ve all heard that videos should be ‘such and such’ a length due to the ‘short attention span’ of people. This is simply false. A video can be as long as it keeps the attention and interest of the intended audience period. Any other datum is simply the confession of video producers who produce crappy videos.
As an example, my most popular videos (the NX30 and X70 reviews) were both long videos. 14 minutes I believe for one and the other was even longer. Yet between them I think they’re well over 175,000 views with tons of engagement (comments, likes, shares, emails to me, etc.) and the audience retention is about 35% which I think is quite good. Look at it this way: 60,000 people watched the entirety of both videos.
It appeared that Belvoir Castle uploaded the file I gave them directly to their servers, so that was not a source of the views counted by YouTube. The other site it was embedded on was Guns and Pegs (which was a YouTube link), but I doubted it was delivering that many views. So I had a look to see what was happening.
Turns out only 21% came from embedded websites. 43% came from the YouTube Watch Page and 1/3 of all views were because of YouTube suggesting the video when someone was watching something else similar.
Thus, nearly 3/4 of all views were the result of an organic search.
Next I looked at audience retention.
Here I found there was a very high retention rate (73%). Roughly 3/4 of all viewers watched the entire 4 minute video.
Relative audience retention (how the video performs compared with similar videos), showed it to be ‘above average’ through most of the video.
How did they find the video?
That is attributed to the relevant title, tagging and description I gave it. (mind you, this is for a targeted public–those who are interested in paying big bucks to shoot on a country estate, and to a lesser degree, those generally interested in the subject of shooting or Belvoir Castle).
Why did they watch as much of it as they did?
That can only be a measure of the quality of the video to get and keep their attention.
As you can see, using these analytics, one could go back and modify a video to improve it by seeing where attention drops off, evaluating what caused it and then remedying it. As for me, I usually just let it go if it seems to be doing its job.
There’s a chapter in the Run ‘n Gun Videography ebook that goes into greater detail on how to optimise videos for YouTube, and even then, there’s much more to it than I covered. But I did cover the essential basics based on my own experience.
Message is a big subject in that book and it might interest you to know that when I produced this particular video, the client had quite something else in mind. It took some fancy dancing to go ahead and produce it the way I did and then get them to watch it with a looming unalterable deadline facing us. After all, it was their interest I had in mind, not any desire to make myself look good. They loved it, so again, the point made in the book about the seniority of message was well proven as the video’s performance in the first 5 weeks has been very positive. You just have to understand and be able to clearly communicate the intended message and disregard ideas to the contrary.
Not exactly a key-word-rich title, but I kind of like it. Just came to mind as I sat down.
My wife is a sculptor who has worked on many prestigious projects and hobnobbed with some important people and celebrities over the years.
Occasionally I’ve been around and was able to get an interview or two on tape to add to a growing list of B roll shots I had been accumulating in the past few years.
Finally, with 3 interviews and some recent interesting footage with the Duchess of Rutland and Alan Titchmarch, I thought it was time to throw something together that didn’t require interviewing Laury. I’d just let these other people do the talking this time.
As I usually do, I edited the interviews to provide the narrative that would drive the video, then added appropriate B roll, titles and music. Pretty standard fare. For those interested, it was all done on the Sony HXR NX30–except a few rocky shots that were shot in China by someone else.
Something interesting happened though–of no great importance, but interesting just the same.
I had recently completed a corporate video. I spent quite some time searching for the right piece of music for it on Audio Jungle (my favorite music site) and finally found a piece that was not only perfect for the video, it was the perfect length. Double perfect. It was the only time I ever added music that I didn’t also have to edit to fit. It just fit perfect and, unbelievably, did all the right things in all the right places–just as if it were written for my video.
I really liked that piece of music and, in the back of my mind as I was editing Laury’s video I hoped I might be able to use the same piece of music–something I don’t normally do.
As I got the final length established (by the narrative along with beginning and end titles) I glanced down at the total length. Amazingly, it was the same length as that last corporate video I did, and amazingly that same piece of music dropped in on this video without any need of editing.
In the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–the Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide I went into some length to describe an atypical approach to shooting corporate videos which I’ve done successfully for several years now. In short, it’s a method of deriving the narrative content (or script) from an interview. And it does take some knowledge of how to do an interview.
Anyway, I recently completed a 2 day shoot from which I produced 11 different videos. This company produces a diverse range of product protective covers as well as cotton bags and what was wanted was an overall video for the site’s home page or ‘about us’ page, several short narrated demonstration videos on their best selling products and a few more narrative driven ones, also on their best selling lines.
The sample I’m showing here is one of the latter.
This series is now one of my favorites, and the reason is that this guy was so likeable and sincere, even self-deprecating, which, oddly enough, is perfect for the UK audience which responds better to soft-sell than hard-sell.
Even he was very nervous about the whole being on camera thing and I really had to twist his arm. But he was so easy to talk to that he easily forgot about the camera and just continued to be his normal, likeable self. This, and several other short videos like it, was produced from only about 40 minutes of interview, and like any other narrative script derived from an interview, it was pieced together to create a seamless narrative even though it wasn’t recorded in the order you will hear it.
Now maybe this isn’t fair, but in the process of uploading his videos YouTube offered up some ‘related videos’ which are some of his competitors.
I’m including a couple samples–the first which I think is rather typical and the second which is simply a home-made video for a business. Please do not comment or do anything to criticise them. Rather just notice the differences and learn something from them. This is why I wrote the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.
Now, to be honest, despite what I wrote in the book, it isn’t always as easy as I describe.
The project previous to this one was an example. Very nice guy, but very self-conscious. Though I managed to break him out of it part of the time, I had to use interview material that was a bit more stiff in places, including the beginning. That one was a 12 minute video meant to replace his frequent need to take clients and brokers on 90 minute tours of the factory. It was a 2 hour interview, which tells you how difficult it was. Most of the time he was covered by B roll and for those moments he was in good form I’d bring him back on screen so you could see the passion and get a feel for the continuity of his talk (which was really created from 2 hours of interview to appear to be a seamless 12 minute talk). If you ever wanted to know how coal briquettes are made that video is last on this page. It’s titled and tagged so as to not come up on searches for that company, and is offered here only for education purposes in the context of this post.
To best understand how to shoot a concert as a lone shooter, let’s consider how a concert would normally be shot.
Typical Multi-Camera Concert Shoot
A live concert is generally shot is with 6-18 cameras and a live cut director. (those numbers are arbitrary, but representative of most of the concerts and live performances I have shot).
Typically one frontal camera is dedicated to close shots of the main performer. Next to it is another frontal camera whose job is to cover anything from long shots of the stage plus audience all the way into medium shots of the performer. With this set-up you’re never without a close shot of the main performer even though other cameras will be shooting close-ups from different angles from time to time.
Then off to the left and right will be another couple of cameras also dedicated to side or 3/4 angles onthe main performer, but can also be assigned to other performers and solos based on the shooting plan.
There will be one or two, even three long shot cameras covering the whole stage and will be variously framed on the stage or stage plus audience and may be zooming in or out at the beginning and end of numbers.
Either additionally, or as part of the long shot camera set-up, there will be a couple cameras (or more) on cranes.
Near the stage there may be a camera set up on a dolly for lateral dolly shots.
And finally there will be 2 or 3 (or more) hand-held cameras on stage or at stage front assigned to dynamic angles, instrument close-ups etc.
That’s a pretty standard set-up and can even be tricked out with steadicam operators, wire cameras (cameras flying on wires), etc.
Ideally there is a full rehearsal with the band at which point the director determines the various camera cues. For example, when there are solos, he’ll know when they are and that he must have a camera on it and ready to go.
If no rehearsal, there will still be a cue sheet used for the same purpose.
All the cameramen will be in communication with the director (mainly for listening) via a comm system. During the show the cameramen, with their various assignments, will generally know what to do throughout the show based on their assignments (so you don’t wind up with 18 cameras all shooting close-ups of the singer), but will be assisted by the director calling out cues in advance of the live cut. For example; “Ready Camera 2 on a close shot push”, then, “Take”. The “ready’ means you’re about to go live pushing into a close shot. “Take” means you’re live. This doesn’t mean he’ll cue every single cut. He’ll be looking at all the cameras on his monitors. If he sees a nice shot on camera 6, he may say “ready 6….take”. When he says ‘ready’ that means he’s going to you, so that’s not the time to zoom into a cute girl or pick your nose.
And so it goes.
From the multitude of cameras of varying image sizes and angles makes editing easy, even on a live edit. Any mistakes are easily fixed in post.
Ok, so that’s NOT the scene we’re talking about for a lone shooter.
The Lone Shooter ‘Multi-Cam Shoot’
Why do lone shooters even try to shoot a concert?
Most likely it’s for a friend. And most likely it’s for little money if any at all. And such is the case with the video samples you will see below.
When it’s a managed band with a budget, even if you are to do the shoot, you’ll be hiring extra crew and equipment–minimum two operators and 3 or 4 cameras for a small budget production and on upwards to the big budget ‘sky is the limit’ productions.
But some shooters will want to do it for a friend, do it for fun, or break into the music video business by offering some ‘starving artists’ an opportunity for better promotion with a music video for little or no money.
So how do you do it?
First of all, let’s be clear: Shooting alone is not the best way to go about it.
Shooting with only one camera is definitely the worst way to go about it.
Having at least three cameras, one of which is ambulatory (your hand-held), can make it appear to be a multi-camera shoot and will be fairly easy to edit.
More than three is even better.
Better still is having a second operator for one of the cameras…
And so on.
Ok, let’s start with a lone shooter and three cameras.
Where do you set them up?
First of all, your main camera will be your hand-held and that’s the one that’s going to be getting all the close shots of the main performer. You must realise that if there is any fan-base at all, they’ll be wanting to see close shots and close-ups of their idol. They really don’t care much about cool shots of guitar strings and all that kind of fluff. Give them what they want, not what you think might be ‘artistic’.
Your locked off cameras must be necessarily on the wide side because you can not control the various changes that happen on stage while you’re running around with the hand-held, so you minimally have to cover all the performers on stage with your frontal locked off cameras.
One of the locked off cameras should be a tight shot of the main performing area of the stage. If the stage is full, then it’s the whole stage and all the performers. If the performers occupy a portion of the stage, then it’s a loose shot of the whole grouping of performers, rather than the whole stage.
The other is on a medium shot of the main performing area from a different angle.
Balconies are a good place for these two cameras (one on either side).
I think the side angles are more interesting than a dead-on center shot, but if you have another camera, you can put it next to the sound booth or whatever center position you can occupy.
If you have a fourth camera, put it backstage shooting past the performers at the audience. It will give you nice relief shots with some nice flare off the spotlights.
You must set your static cameras to manual exposure using the highest light level of the key spot light on the main performer. (Just ask the lighting guy to give you that level and set it on someone standing in the performers position). If you don’t do that, your cameras will try to give you an exposure to the overall long or medium shot of the stage (which, on an interior stage is usually mostly black) and that will result in the main performers face being blown-out most of the time.
If you use a GoPro, just let it do it’s automatic thing. It’s pretty good about auto-exposure.
On your hand-held camera my advice–if your camera is intelligent in its auto modes like the Sony cameras I use–keep it on full intelligent auto. You’ll be all over the stage at different angles, but your shots are mainly going to be closer shots. Your camera (especially if it has facial recognition) will be able to give you good auto exposures most of the time–or at least close enough to fix in post. You just won’t have time to be fiddling with settings as you’ve got too much work to do keeping that camera’s shot useful as much as you can.
The Hand-Held Camera
The hand-held camera is the one that does all the hard work.
Because you’re ambulatory, you can get all kinds of different angles: frontal, side frontal, from the wings of the stage, and even from backstage.
Add all these angles to your static cameras and you’ll wind up with something a bit closer to a multi-camera shoot and W A Y better than a single camera zooming in and out all night long.
Be Quick But Be Patient
The trick to the hand-held camera is to hold a shot up to and slightly past what you know will be an edit point. For example, let them finish a line of lyrics or chorus and add a beat or two before changing frame. If you don’t, you’ll find out the hard way that the cut to another camera may seem awkward if you suddenly decide to reframe your hand-held camera at the wrong moment—and you’ll have no choice but to cut to another camera, because your hand-held is useless as you’re moving position and re-framing.
Once you’ve reached an edit point, you move and re-frame as fast as you can. Ideally start with a different image size. While you’re moving and re-framing, you’re covered by any one of your other cameras. But the interesting shots will be the hand-held ones, so you move as fast as lightning. All your static cameras will be shooting the same thing all night, so they’ll start to appear rather repetitive. Use them as relief, or as openers and end shots and the rest of the time run your butt off getting as many different shots as you can from different angles with your hand-held.
I mentioned above having a second operator on one of your cameras. Even if you assign him to a fixed position on a tripod, at least now he can be zooming in or out, changing static image sizes, covering a solo, etc., so now of your 3 or 4 cameras, only 1 or two are completely static. You use them lightly and give the main work to your hand-held and your other manned camera. Now it can really start looking like a professional concert shoot—even with only two cameramen.
“But I only have one camera…”
Well–borrow one or two. By hook or by crook, get at least two or three additional cameras. Fortunately most video cameras these days are HD quality. Even iPhones and iPads and the Android equivalents shoot HD.
In the samples below I had 4 completely different cameras. A Canon DSLR, a Canon XHA1, a GoPro and a Sony HXR NX30. To say they didn’t match up would be an understatement.
I now have another Sony camera (X70), so next time I’ll be better off.
The particular show in the samples below was 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I knew it would happen eventually, and sure enough, toward the end of the show the GoPro and DSLR batteries died (even though I changed them during intermission) leaving me with only two live cameras. (That gives me the opportunity to show you what can be done with two cameras in a pinch).
Take Advantage of Breaks and Intermissions
Between songs the performers sometimes (not always) chat with the audience. There’s your chance to grab some water or make your way to an interesting new angle from the wings of the stage or wherever.
Obviously it’s best to have your static cameras on AC power, but you may need to change cards (or tape) and that you can do during an intermission or break. You can even re-frame your static cameras during a long break or intermission.
If no intermission, you’ll have no choice but to do it during one of those chats with the audience between songs. You may risk not being ready by the time they start up again, but it’s better to have that camera up and running as soon as possible than to have it dead. You’ll simply have to rely on one of your other fixed cameras while you’re tending to all that.
Of course I’m really talking about the L O N E shooter to the nth degree here. If you can get an assistant to deal with those things, all the better.
You take your sound off the house mix board. That could be run by cable to one of your static cameras, but if the cameras are too far away from the mixboard, you can simply use a digital recorder to take the audio and sync it up later. I use the Zoom H2 which I’ve had for years and which never lets me down.
Matching Disparate Cameras
Since I had 4 completely different cameras that handled color and light differently, in order to smooth it out a bit I added a ‘look’ after manually balancing the color and exposure as best I could. In this case the looks were from a Pixel Film Studios plug-in. Now I have Color Finale which, like Divinci Resolve, allows me to create any look I want. Since this was a concert with weird concert lighting anyway, the addition of a ‘look’ just added to the whole concert thing. But mainly it served to smooth out the differences between all the cameras to some degree.
The singer sat beside me and I scrolled through the various looks I have from Pixel Film Studios. By clicking on each filter it would give me an instant live preview in the preview window. We picked one she liked and put it on the whole song. (I used a couple different looks for various of the songs). Since the stage lighting was so crappy, one good thing the looks did was crush the blacks which also served to hide the different grain levels of the different cameras.
The GoPro isn’t good at low light levels, so on the darker scenes the grain was as big as golf balls. For those few Go Pro shots that I had to employ in the edit, I used Neat Video, a pretty good piece of software for removing grain. When the grain is extreme, the result is rather severe, but, in this case it was worse with the grain. For light grain, Neat Video is brilliant at removing it rather seamlessly.
All this is unnecessary, of course, if you have closely matching cameras. That’s not to say you couldn’t add a look anyway.
Concert Video Samples
In this case, I saw no rehearsals. I was seeing it for the first time live and had no choice but to think on my feet and do the best I could under the circumstances. If nothing else, it’s a good exercise even if it doesn’t all come out the way you hoped it would. The next good exercise in that case, is figuring out how to fix it all in post. And that can be fun and rewarding too—but only if you have multiple cameras to work with—or, as I had near the end of the show, only two.
Also, in this case, I was alone. I had no assistant. So the samples below are meant to give an idea of what a lone shooter can accomplish. I don’t offer it as anywhere near ideal–or indeed what I would want if it was my band, but still, for the money, it was a pretty good promo for this particular band. And it was fun and a good exercise for me. Next one will be better, for after all, it’s from things like this that we learn.
Let’s start with one when all 4 cameras were working. (after that are samples with 2 and 3 cameras)
As the show went on, and since I didn’t have an assistant, I would start losing cameras to either dead batteries or cards filling up. I dealt with that as best I could between songs, and of course, during intermission. Nevertheless, toward the end of the show I lost one camera permanently and later lost the GoPro as well when it’s short-lived battery died.
I know all this is rather stupid–even amateur, but at least it gives me the opportunity to show what you can do with 3 cameras and 2 cameras.
The following video is comprised of 3 different excerpts from the end of the concert starting with a 3 camera shoot and ending with two different samples of 2 camera shoots.
Post Lip Sync
And finally there’s the matter of syncing a performance to a studio recording.
This is fairly doable if the performer has performed the song many times after having done a studio recording. It’s surprising how close they can be in sync to a studio version while performing a live gig.
The samples you saw above were all multi-track recordings which were subsequently mixed by the band and forwarded on to me. That’s why the sound is so good.
This was their final performance after a year on the road.
I also filmed the first performance, a year earlier, which was not multi-tracked and was so bad a live mix that the singer asked if I could sync their live performance to the studio recording.
Turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be.
When lining up the studio recording with the live performance we found that there were only three parts of the song that drifted out of sync a few frames. So we synced up the live performance to the three sections that were in sync, and in the three sections where the sync had drifted off a few frames we used a reverse angle to cover the cheat.
That was only a 3 camera shoot: Here’s the result: