Follow-up on my recent editing post…why I hate dissolves

Posted in Editing, Filmmaking, Uncategorized on March 28th, 2013 by Dave

I try not to use a lot of special effects in my work. I don’t need to generally, because most of what I do is narrative in nature and I find that effects just tend to be distracting to the subject matter. In my younger days yes, I relied on effects to jazz things up, but not so much anymore. Nowadays I prefer lots of cuts in my work even to the point of cutting from black to titles and from titles to black and then cutting to actual video. I like, when I can, to cut out of a sequence, go to black then cut back into the next sequence, which is generally a new thought or transition in content. I like the energy you get when cuts are used…not real fast cutting necessarily, but one image changing to another, to another…

If I’m picking and trimming the clips that I’m editing together just so, the whole sequence moves along with the narrative aiding and abetting the audio part of the production. If the cuts aren’t working, then it almost always comes down to I need to shoot more material, so I schedule another shoot. For me, it seems to work out that I never shoot exactly what I need the first time out. That’s because during editing, when I’m actually creating the story, I start having ideas for shots – and I don’t deny myself when it comes to shooting more and not settling for less, meaning what I have on hand. That’s why I’m returning to New York City in a couple of weeks to pick up shots I’ve been adding to my list while editing my new film, “From Talking To Playing”. I’m not wild about a 7 hour bus ride and the whole lot of gear I’ll need to manhandle and drag around once I get there, but it’s got to be done. I don’t even carry a clothes bag on these trips. My clothes are packed in spaces between my microphones, lights, etc.

I’m digressing.

So what does this have to do with hating dissolves? Well, if I were to rationalize and say, well I can probably use this OK shot if I blend (dissolve) from it to another OK shot, maybe bring up the music and just stretch the footage as much as I can, maybe even freeze the last frame of a clip to stretch it out more, well, yeah, I’ve covered my audio but it’s dull, dull, dull. And any god fearing fellow filmmaker would laugh at the hack moves I was laying on them. They’d know it was just illustrating. So for me, using dissolves this way is the way of the lazy, maybe even the way of the coward… It’s so easy to be swayed by the siren call of dissolves to smooth out the bad cutting. And even worse, I’ve found that once you start dissolving from clip to clip in a sequence, it becomes difficult to return to cuts. So now you’re stuck in the gauzy visual equivalent of elevator music. Lotus eaters.

I don’t really hate dissolves. I just think they can be overused or used inappropriately. If there’s a strong reason to use them, one that amplifies the narrative great. Or to signal a sense that time has passed, well double-great. But if all you’re doing is smearing video together to “cover” your audio, grab your camera and head out for some fresh air, and fresh ideas.

PBS Affiliate WXXI in Rochester to air “Captain” Once Again

Posted in Captain, Informational Video on March 26th, 2013 by Dave


I’m happy to learn that our local PBS affiliate, WXXI, will be broadcasting “Captain – Story of a Fallen Soldier” for a second time Saturday, May 25th at 6:30pm.

Some additional thoughts on editing – and doing more with less…

Posted in Editing, Filmmaking on March 25th, 2013 by Dave

I’ve been using Sony Vegas Pro 11 for the last two years. I paid $300.00 for it on Amazon. I have worked with Adobe Premiere, ten years ago, and liked it too. I did feel, and still do, that Vegas is faster to work with but a lot of that is because, well, I know it inside out. This is all by way of saying that I don’t think it really matters anymore what you edit with. I’m not talking about Hollywood here, but smaller independent productions doing basic editing. Vegas has it’s strengths, Premiere has its too. So does Avid. They all work. I think you would tend to be really choosy about your editor if one or another had certain strengths that you needed for a particular project. I do a lot of cuts with occasional simple titles. In addition, I wind up doing a fair amount of compositing as well – and even that is on the simple side – three to four layers max. Vegas has been fine for this work so far, but Adobe After Effects is out there and I may need to explore it in the near future for a theme-based long form film I’m contemplating.

One thing that’s a real minus with Vegas is the poor integration between the New Blue Titler that bundles with it. I try to avoid using it as it causes crashes about 1 in 5 times I use it during an edit session, (I’m using an I7 Intel processor, 12 gigs of internal ram, and an AMD Radeon 6700 Series graphics card with a gig of on board ram. This isn’t just me, a lot of people online complain about New Blue Titler crashing Vegas…So I wind up losing a couple of minutes of work, (back to the last auto-save). Like I mentioned, I keep my titles simple so I use the Sony bare-bones titler and if I need anything a bit more tricky I can even open Photoshop and whip up a title or graphic. Then bring it into Vegas and apply motion fx, whatever. Again, if I were doing car commercials or stuff that needed a lot of flash, I’d be into a whole different edit package and titling/graphics add-ons. I like how quickly I can drag and drop clips together to “sketch” a scene. I like the way I can slide together clips for dissolves. I like their pan/crop effect which I use all the time for creating moves when I’m using photographs. I know it’s strengths and weaknesses so I’ll be sticking with it for now. I like the way you can create subclips with descriptive names and then search them out at any time – great for b-roll.

Switching gears,…I was thinking the other day while out walking the dog that if my house burned down and destroyed all my gear and computers and I lost everything and was destitute, (forget about the fact that our house is insured – and destitution is relative:)!), I’d still be able to make films. Let see, I’ve got my smart phone, and a couple of apps, my favorite being Vintage 8mm , I’d scrounge a two year old laptop and edit in Windows Movie Maker. What, no lighting, sound, or other filmmaking paraphernalia? Not if I really went for the “content is king approach” and continued to stick to small productions working within the limitations of my “new” toolset of course. Other’s have done it:

Perhaps this is me telling myself once again, (by way of the Brooklyn Bridge), that the story is everything. In this glorious age of filmmaking, the possibility of making a film on less than a shoestring is a reality. And even if you don’t reach everyone, if your film means something to even a few people that’s something isn’t it?

My Editing Process…

Posted in Editing, Filmmaking on March 21st, 2013 by Dave

I’d like this to be an ongoing post about how I approach editing one of my films. First, all the disclaimers about being an authority…I’m continually learning how to edit. And I’ve come to the conclusion that, like painting a picture, it’s something you have to learn for yourself – by, well, editing a whole lot!…

For me, editing is extremely challenging – with incredible moments when something magical happens. When individual parts of the production come alive, and then larger sections start to coalesce.

It’s one thing to edit a “job”, whether it’s a training film or promo for a business. There are a bag of tricks that anyone with experience can pull out and put together a view-able product assuming well-structured content, writing, and directing. And there are visual and sound effects, flashy editing, what have you, that can jazz up a production – particularly where the production is weak in the aforementioned areas. This kind of editing is to me a craft – no put-down intended. It allows you to get a job done and put bread on the table – and that’s OK.

But, for me, if you’re working on a personal piece you have to dig deeper. You have to edit by the gut. You have to re-invent the editing, story-telling process for every single project. When I say “you” I mean me specifically, but the “you’s” out there I’m sure will understand what I’m saying.

My approach is to look at the footage over and over. I log it of course, but I watch it and re-watch it until it’s in my longer term memory. This gives me the ability to have little flashes, or images pop into my head when I’m taking a shower, taking a walk, etc. I like letting things perk. And, of course, I keep thinking about my subject. What is it that really hits me – what’s that one wonderful thing the film is about.

The film I’m editing now, From “Talking To Playing”, was shot in New York city back in December. For the first month after filming, I looked at the footage and then got drawn into the holidays. The second month I looked at the footage, cut together the narrative, and felt that the project was hopeless. I was thinking about the production all the time, worrying mainly. Not because I didn’t have a wonderful subject or good interviews and footage, but because I couldn’t find a way into the film…I hadn’t boiled down what I wanted to portray that would be the essence of the film. Month 3, I edited the first seven minutes. I was starting to feel good. Then I got on a roll and rough cut fourteen additional minutes in a little over a week. And the momentum continues now because I know what the film needs, the film-subject has seen the draft edit and is behind me, the wind is at my back and I’m inspired…and I think that’s where a person has to be in order for the magic to happen…

I’ll continue this subject from other angles in a future post.

“From Talking To Playing” – film about concert pianist Mira Gill nearing completion…

Posted in Artist Profile on March 19th, 2013 by Dave

I was very lucky to come across an inspiring artist last summer while on vacation with my wife in Maine. We met-and got to know Mira Armij Gill, a concert pianist/teacher living in New York city. Mira began studying piano at age 7, and has pursued, with a tremendous drive, her artistic goals ever since. She lives to perform, playing some of the most demanding works in the piano repertoire. “She is small, but her music stands tall”, is how one critic has described her. I am about 85% complete with this production and need only a bit more footage of her working and performing and the film will be done. I’m very excited to be involved in this project. It is a privilege to watch and learn about the hopes, dreams, and doubts of a top-tier performer – and a true artist.