Another Extreme Run ‘n Gun

Emma Manners, Her Grace, The Duchess of Rutland

 

Did I ever mention I’m the ‘Videography-in-Residence Belvoir Castle’?

I came here to England because my sculptor wife landed a gig as Artist-in-Residence for the Duchess of Rutland (Belvoir Castle).

Years later the Duchess realised the value of video after I did one for the Belvoir Shoot that got about 35,000 views in a couple years.

Anyway, over the years I did a few things for the castle, some paid, some not. But more recently I really think she realised the marketing value and has asked for a slew of videos over the next little while, this one being the first of the new lot.

The reason I’m posting it is that it really is an example of run and gun to the extreme.

What I mean by that is that it was done totally live with no preps and no idea on my part of what she was going to do, where she was going to walk, when she was going to stop, what she was going to say, when she was going to say it and how she was going to end it.

It all took place over about 45 minutes.

One thing I had learned, working with the Duchess, was to always have the camera running as she was apt to start talking at any moment and expect to be in the camera frame and fully recordable.

Step 1: Stick the radio mic on her.

Step 2: Turn the camera on and don’t’ turn it off for any reason until she indicates we are well and truly done.

Now, understand, this approach was understood to be a ‘blog style’ video–meaning, it was going to be dated. It was just an update report on an on-going project that will be totally different a month or two from now. It’s akin to (but hopefully better than) some guy walking around with a camera on a selfie stick.

For this I used the Sony HXR X70 on full intelligent auto mode. No pretentions about getting ‘perfect video’ (color temp, exposure, etc.). Facial recognition was on for focus control of her face.

Actually, in this case, I didn’t even do any color correction. This is right out of the camera.

Everything hand-held, as usual. (try doing that on a gimbal–she’d have left you in the dust from the get-go while you fiddled with your balance controls). Take 2? Forget it.

For something like this you’ve got to have your true run and gun hat on (which is what that book is about you see the link for on the right of the page)

I’m not trying to be smug. You just have to be able to do this sort of thing as a run and gunner.

So…in auto mode you obviously run into some non-ideal situations–like going from inside to outside (or visa versa) or finding that your talent has suddenly stopped with the sun right behind here and has gone into silhouette, and so on.

You will see I did my best in those circumstances to shift the camera’s position as she was talking to optimise the lighting conditions but’s that’s all I did. You’ll see that in certain circumstances the auto color balance adjusted midshot.  Purists will notice. No one else will.

She just wanted to give an update on progress on a live construction site. And that’s what we got.

Just before she walked off to her Bentley I told her I’d need a few moments to run around and get some B roll footage which I did in about 4 minutes. She waited and made some calls.

And that was it.

A couple hours later the edit was done.

Was it stressful? A wee bit.

But practice makes perfect.

We’ve got another one coming up. I’ll try to do better.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Just An Fashioned Music Video

Just an old-fashioned music video–sans modern transitions, etc.

In all fairness, I have used some of the modern transitions when appropriate, but I am generally not a fan of the current craze–or any fad for that matter.

But that’s not really the point of this post.

In actual fact, this music video isn’t finished yet. There’s another location shoot to do, but that won’t be until summer’s end, so for the benefit of the singer, we’ve decided to release it as-is and update it later.

The point of this post really is that I used quite a number of plug-ins for this. Probably more than in any other video I’ve produced.

John Belew’s ‘Lens Filter’ pack contains a number of very useful filters, but the one he’s got in there that I don’t think anyone else has is a ‘fog filter’. Strange that it’s so rare. In the early days of Hollywood it was pretty common and used mostly for shooting close-ups of the female stars. To get the effect the cameraman would use vaseline on the lens or stretch a stocking over it. Eventually, Tiffen made a series of fog filters which I used myself on occasion. In this video it is kind of obvious what the fog filter effect is.

For grading I used a combination of Color Finale and the FCPX color board. I often use them together.

One of my most useful tools is Core Melt’s Vignette Shape Mask which you can get free from that link. It’s a powerhouse vignette tool that has infinitely variable parameters. In this video I used it to partially mask some of the background shots so that the slow dissolve transitions to the singer wouldn’t be as jarring.

Everything else was done from within FCPX.

It was shot with a Sony PXW X70 in 4K and output to 1080.

The performance was shot with 2 cameras (Sony X70 and Sony RX10ii) over 3 different takes to obtain the different angles.

Holly (the singer) did an almost flawless lip-synch to her studio recording every time.

The edit was done as a multi-cam edit in FCPX.

Looking forward to completing it early September after a sunset shoot on the rocky coast of southern England.

Comment on Lighting and Grade

Someone asked if I could comment on the lighting in the comments.

Well, it was simple, but also interesting for me this time. By simple, it was an upstage key (flexi LED panel snooted with black foil) and a more or less opposing backlight (also a flexi-LED)  set to create that soft rim on the side of her face. Truthfully that backlight could have been a stop less bright. It was all rather slap-dash. The fill was simply ambient bounce from the room. No supplementary fill needed.

By ‘interesting’, I mean this: I knew it was a white room and I knew I wanted to go for low-key lighting (two things that don’t normally go together well). Fortunately I could shutter the windows and knew that I’ve have to flag the hell out of the key and backlight. In each case I used back foil to create a ‘snoot’ that restricted the light to a very narrow band. Of course that still gives off enough bounce to illuminate the white walls. So in post I just took the mids way down on the FCPX colour board. Nothing fancy. Didn’t affect the highlights and was adequate to considerably darken the white walls which had been reduced to mid-tones due to the flagging off the light sources in the room.

The other thing that was a bit of fun was creating the ‘day-for-night’ look on the exteriors. Again, nothing really fancy, but normally I don’t have any reason to do that (doing corporate videos), so it was fun. I used the FCPX day-for-night effect as a start and adjusted it’s parameters. I then supplemented the effect with Color Finale with which I increased the saturation of and reduced the luminance of the blues.

Incidentally, those exteriors were shot on the RX10ii which I was using for the first time on a production. Bit of a no-no because I never really fully tested it in video mode. Maddeningly I could not get it into total manual in the very brief period of time we had at dusk. As a result, I was getting exposure correction that I didn’t want and, since I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, I was trying to trick the meter. Anyway, it was a disaster, but the main point is that most of those shots were OVER-EXPOSED! Even so, I was able to fix it in post to the look that I wanted.

And now, of course, I know how to put the camera into total manual. Nothing like near-disaster to inspiring one to read the manual a little more carefully.

 

Free Book Offer: Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide

Run 'n Gun Videography

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

US Amazon Link

UK Amazon Link

Available world wide.

Using Photographs in Video

(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!)

Belvoir Castle's Capability Brown Landscape thumbnail

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.

Run ‘n Gun Music Video?

Abi Moore

 

(from the Run and Gun Videography Blog)

Well, normally one wouldn’t promote this sort of thing. After all, it takes quite some time and planning to do a music video…

But, as Abi Moore remarked, ‘if you want something done fast, ask a busy person”.

I’m not always this busy, but in the week before a trip planned to the US, I found myself with 3 scheduled shoots and one edit that absolutely had to be done before I left.

Then Abi messaged me urgently.

She needed a music video by the end of the month (when I would be gone).

She had sent me the song. A very nice song, though a sad Christmas song as it were.

I asked for the lyrics, got them, glanced it over and said, ” Come on over tomorrow. We’ll shoot you singing the whole song whilst driving a few times and then some more at our neighbor’s Steinway piano, a few additional shots in town, throw something together and see if we need anything else to polish it off.

So we did just that one evening.

For the night scenes I used the Sony HXR NX30. All hand-held, of course, though I utilised a bean bag on the car’s dash for most of the car shots.

For the piano scenes I used the NX30 and the X70; X70 on a tripod and the NX30 handheld.

And, for the first time ever, I found it necessary to add stars to a shot using an FCPX generator and FCPX color controls and shape masks to take down the white sky to a darker gray.

Also, for the first time ever, I added snow to a shot, using the Pixelfilmstudios plug-in. Two layers of snow–the foreground layer to which I added yellow as if lit by the foreground yellow light from the doorway. That was surprisingly easy.

Who says you can’t produce a music video in a couple of days cheap as chips?

You’ll be the first to see it as I’m only publishing it here.

(Best to watch in full HD, as it’s a rather sad–and therefore somewhat dark Christmas story.)

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