Drones: The Video Whisperer Enters the Modern Age

Red Kites flying over Blackberry Hill at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, England

 

Well it’s true, but don’t worry, it doesn’t mean every shot is going to be a drone shot now.

But heck, it certainly was a lot of fun.

First and last shot in the video below were my first actual drone shots. I was practicing. Due to bad weather after that, it’s a good thing I did.

I know, I know, I flew over traffic and people. My bad.

But in the first instances of using this Phantom 3 Standard drone over empty fields just a few moments before, I was so amazed by the technology I couldn’t resist it.

You see, my introduction a few years back was with a Ghost Drone, supposedly just then introducing the technology of controlling drones through a smartphone. Problem was, I don’t think their IOS software (I use iPhone) was quite dialed in. It was a disaster.

I never got a decent shot and wound up crashing and destroying 3 of them.

This entry-level Phantom blew my mind.

Now I want the Mavic Pro 2.

Anyway, enough of that. This is not a review of drones. I think everyone reading this already knows a lot more than I do.

Instead, let’s talk about the video.

This video is meant to be an ‘update’ on a new facility opened up at Belvoir Castle in England. It’s the first video since the place was opened last summer, but I wasn’t here to do a video of it. My last updates showed it in quite a state of construction–like scenes out of movies during the reconstruction of Europe after WWII.

So we had some catching up to do.

It’s opening was a greater success than dreamed of, and more importantly, since then the parking lot is full every day of the week, even now in the cold bleak English almost Winter. So they must have done something right.

This video catches us up and shows all who haven’t come what is there and what’s to come (since it isn’t quite finished yet). It’s meant to be a hold-over at least until Christmas.

Then we’ll update again.

Eventually, when it’s done, we’ll do a finished posh version that can reside on their website.

What’s to tell?

Not much. The whole process is no different than I cover in my book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

As usual, it’s all hand-held, except the interview.

It’s quite long, but that’s because there’s already a substantial following that will probably watch it all the way through.

It’s a local thing. So it was important to show what is there and a bit of the flavor of what is there.

It was shot mostly during part of one day with a few pick-ups. Edited over most of the next day.

It was all on my own in terms of narrative edit and content (no other input), which I prefer and which is 99% of the case with each of the 300 or so videos I’ve done in the past several years.

It was approved first time through.

It’s not perfect, and some of you eagle eyes will figure out why.

But I think it does the trick.

 

 

Music Festival Highlights Video

 

I haven’t posted anything here for a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been renovating an old forge (1652) which will see a new life as a 4 bedroom house with a beautiful walled private garden.

But I did have to put together a highlight video for a festival which I shot last August. It is targeted to local (French) government agencies and private businesses for the purpose of raising funds through sponsorship and grants for next year’s festival.

I crammed about a week’s worth of highlights into about 3 1/2 minutes. To keep a musical continuity I selected two songs from the festival to be the music score and used subtitles to get across the significance of the different events to potential new sponsors.

The idea was to show, 1) A lot of people came to this small town, 2) They all had a great time, 3) There were multiple events of all sorts all week long to interest and involved people in various ways. I didn’t even get it all in there, but enough to get the idea across.

That’s it really. Nothing fancy, but fun to throw together just the same.

All shot hand held on the Sony PXW X70 and NX30. Edited and color balanced in FCPX.

Here’s the English subtitled version: (the main one is in French)

When the 4 Camera Shoot Becomes a 1 Camera Shoot

The ‘Balcony Serenade’ Parade around Chalabre, first of its kind.

This was the Grande Finale Concert of the week long music festival Chalabre en Sérénade in Chalabre, France where I live.

Vinx is my neighbor here, and as we are both taking actions to promote the area, all my shooting was volunteered.

Most all my coverage of the various events was with a single camera, adequate to produce promotional material for next year.

Two events were multi-camera shoots including the Grande Finale, not for purposes of producing a concert video, but perhaps for releasing a few of the songs from the 3 hour event.

In this case I had two fixed cameras plus my hand-held (X70 fixed taking sound off the board, and RX10ii on a fixed side angle). Hand-held was the NX30. Additionally a new friend who came to perform, but  who also produces high-end commercials in Hollywood as well as documentaries, was shooting the finale with me.

But, as happens, it ran longer than anticipated.

One by one my camera cards filled up and they went off line. Alone, it was impractical to climb up ladders and what-not to change cards and batteries for the other cameras. But unbeknownst to me, my other shooter was chased off-stage by the stage manager and so he wasn’t there for the end either.

Down to one camera.

The unfortunate thing was that what happened at the end was rather unexpected–and quite emotional. I had to cover it.

Even if you don’t watch the whole 16 minute video below, the first two minutes will tell you why this was so. (in short, he was recovering from brain surgery a few months back and it wasn’t even certain that he’d be able to partake much at all in the festival that he created)

I had asked Vinx before the show if he was going to take to the stage. He said he wasn’t sure.

He did intro each of the acts, but when it came to the very end, imagine my surprise as I realised he was going to perform the Grande Finale.

So I covered it as best I could trying to anticipate when to be where and when it would be ok to change locations requiring some sort of edit handling.

When it was all over and done I thought about how I was going to put together an edit of this emotional ending for the benefit of his fans, the attendees (who all wished they didn’t have to leave) and those who wanted to come but couldn’t.

B roll saved the day…, but in this case, I think I used it rather cleverly…

(Like and Share if you would…not for me but for Vinx)

Check him out at vinx.com

Technical:

All hand held with Sony HXR NX30 and Sony PXW X70 and OSMO. Aerials by Jastero with DJI Phantom Pro.

Edited on FCPX.

For those who noticed, I never had ‘banding’ of any kind with the NX30 and was unable to handle it after trying a few of the usual solutions. Strange that it was locked, not rolling. Anybody know what that is and how to handle it?

Run ‘n Gun Ticket to Africa

 

Looks like I may be going to Tanzania early next year.

This video isn’t exactly ‘my ticket’ there, but it isn’t the sort of thing I’ve done before–use someone else’s footage to produce an edit with a short interview I shot.

But you see, The Video Whisperer also happens to be the ‘Video Artist in Residence’ for Belvoir Castle in the UK Midlands.

The Duchess went to Tanzania last year to help with a small charity down there called ‘Go Make a Difference in Tanzania’ (Go MAD).

She invited the founder, one of his staff and a group of other businessmen and clergy that could help the charity for a meeting at Belvoir Castle a few days ago and offered my services in her name to help with some video promotion.

So this video was a short video of the Duchess done in about 10 minutes. All but 10 seconds of her interview makes up this two-minute video.

The rest was footage was shot on site over the last few years and provided by GoMadd in the form of 720p video land about 400 stills. It’s all I had.

I’ll be doing one more based on an interview done with their young, enthusiastic site manager who went there to volunteer 10 years ago, and who, after finishing university in the UK, went back to Tanzania to become permanent staff. I guess it will contain more or less the same B roll footage, but it will have a unique target audience of UK students looking for something to do on their gap year.

The next project (that the meeting was about) is to run a pipeline from Lake Victoria (about 1.2 miles away) to the farms in the region you see in the photograph above because they get little rainfall each year and sometimes none. When that gets off the drawing board, it looks like I’ll be going there to document it and help further promote Go MAD.

Confessions

All right, that’s all very fine and interesting, but this blog is supposed to be informative on the subject of video one way or another.

If you read my book ‘Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide’, you’ll know I talk about ‘when things go wrong’. After all, run and gun is often seat-of-the-pants with very little prep time and sometimes things go wrong.

So yes, that was a 5 minute interview. I had 10 minutes in advance of that to set it up.

The Duchess rightly thought it should be done is any of the many ‘over-the-top’ locations in that 320 room regency castle, so she said, ‘let’s do it in my sitting room’. Mind you, even that was pretty impressive, but taking her cue I found a rather dull corner (which coincidentally had sort of African curtains) and did my best to work out how to battle the ambient light conditions while she got changed.

I was using my Sony PKW X70 in 4K (been doing that a lot lately) and just put it in full auto mode. Then she showed up before I was really settled on it all and sat down. That, in this world of castles, is the cue to start.

Well, as you know, sometimes the viewfinder monitor can be a little deceiving (especially when the video guy is anxious to be deceived), so when I imported the footage later that day, this is what I got:

As shot

 

Not only that, there was a hum in the room I hadn’t noticed. Fixed that with RX6 Audio Repair, but the color grade was a little more difficult.

I used several things to fix it:

  1. FCPX color tools at two different stages including a shape mask in the end to bring her up against the background after I did everything else.
  2. Color Finale Pro
  3. Core Melt’s fabulous infinitely variable Vignette plugin.
  4. Neat Video to take noise out of the shadows
  5. A face correction plugin to smooth out skin tones

Whew!

 

Graded

Here’s the video…

 

The Accidental Wedding Video

Vinx is a world class musician with a long and colorful history. From his website.  “VINX has recorded and toured with some of the music industry’s greatest icons: Stevie Wonder, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Sheryl Crow, Branford Marsalis, Ernie Watts, Taj Mahal, Ricki Lee Jones, Darius Rucker, Vance Gilbert, Cassandra Wilson, Brenda Russell, Cher and numerous others.  His songwriting credits are a long list ranging from Tom Jones and Will Downing to The Lion King and Sprite™”.

Anyway, Vinx moved to Chalabre, France last year, two doors down from our house, joining a growing group of talented people including my wife, sculptor Laury Dizegremel and others. We, along with the Mayor, are taking actions to ‘put Chalabre on the map’, i.e., make it a destination. There are good reasons for that, but in short, this area is ‘France’s best-kept secret’. It’s ‘the other southern France’.

For brevity, I won’t say much more than that except that I have been accumulating footage of all of the extraordinary things that happen around here, including the things that are not far from here (the Med is a 90 minute drive through one of France’s best wine regions, we’re 40 minutes from skiing, an hour from Andorra and Spain, surrounded by Cathar castles mounted impossibly on steep rocky mountain tops–and much more, not to mention a perfect climate).

Vinx’s wedding was just one of those things I wanted to get some footage of. It took place at the chapel on the hill that looks down over Chalabre, a view featured in the opening shot of this video (night for day shot–a gorgeous daytime time lapse made to look like night–sort of). I planned to go and shoot some clips for my eventual promotion video for the area. And I planned to go to the concert he organized afterward in the covered hall in front of our houses.

Because I was meanwhile busy with renovations, I didn’t realize there was a connection between the two.

The concert was called ‘A Night of Serenades’ whereby musicians would perform and dedicate a song to someone sitting in a chair in front of the stage. There were about 20 serenades. Vinx’s serenade to Jennifer was to be the last. But by then the front chairs, including the chairs of honor, were full of crowd, so I organized a chair for Jennifer to be put on stage. By then I decided I’d do my best to cover Vinx’s serenade and use it to be the soundtrack for a short wedding video, weaving the two performances together.

And so it was that I came to shoot an accidental run and gun wedding video.

It was shot on September 3rd and edited on September 4th.

No prior planning except for an 11th hour idea.

No audio out of a mix board which didn’t exist. Because my hand held camera would be moving around, I put my Zoom H2 in front of the stage and hoped for the best. Not getting what I hoped for I improved it as much as I could with the iZotope RX 5 audio editor (the best) and some FCPX Eq tools.

Poor lighting in both locations But I only used Neat Video on 3 shots. Otherwise the Sony PXW X70 performed well enough at +32db.

It’s only 5 minutes long, and given the circumstances, a bit unique.

 

 

 

 

Color Grading Tools for Hogwartians

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:

boy+meets+girl_1.1.1

And here’s what I did with it:

Boy Meets Girl

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:

Slice X

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:

Slice X Inspector

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:

Peter ungraded

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:

Peter grade

 

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:

 

Duchess ungraded

Duchess grade

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?

Our little secret.

 

Links

Color Grading Central Facebook page

Color Grading Central Website  (where you can get Color Finale)

Slice X Vignette Shape Mask

Neat Video De-noiser

Run ‘n Gun Videography eBook

 

 

Confessions of a Run and Gunner

The Ritz

 

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.

This video is not typical of what I do, but I treated it like any other that I do. And all that is covered in the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

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.

 

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