Announcing a new Video Blog by Dave Esposito

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking, Video Blog on September 13th, 2014 by Dave

I’m happy to invite you to my new video blog that will be posted each Monday morning at 9am beginning Monday, September 15th. I’ll discuss a whole range of film making topics from methods and gear to my own thoughts about storytelling. I hope you’ll join me!

Approaching my next project…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on September 1st, 2014 by Dave

 

Friendship Film

Evolving “Mind Map” for my next film on the theme of Friendship.

As I’ve progressed as a film maker though half a dozen film  projects, I’ve gradually changed how I conceive, work on, and execute my films. More and more I find myself moving  towards a completely organic way of doing things. For me, this means having lots of things going on at once…and being ready to follow a whim at a moment’s notice. To me, a whim, a glimpse, a half-formed image in my head, are all-important because they provide clues to what my story is about. Where it’s heading, what it is and what it might be.

In previous films, I’d find a subject; a clothing designer, a pianist, a Vietnam veteran. I’d ask them to tell their story,  then add the trimmings of  music and visuals to amplify their tales. Of course, I had a lot of selecting and editing to do in order to arrive at a narrative that presented a distilled summary of my subject. And on the whole,  I think these films  turned out to be fair to middling. But I wasn’t all that aware of my own drives, needs, and yearnings as an added character that I unconsciously brought to each film. In retrospect, I believe I approached these subjects from the outside looking in…

Father Soldier” changed all that for me. I think, at first glance, the film might seem to be a repetition of my previous working methods…Interviews edited then illustrated with sound and visuals. I guess, loosely speaking, that working method could be said of almost any documentary.

In order to give myself a reason to make a film about Father Leo, I spent a lot of time thinking about why I was drawn to his character. His personal story was on the interesting side, no denying that.  But I became more and more aware as I struggled for a reason to commit to this project that what I found most interesting about my subject was the perfection of his life. That given a fine constitution, a good mind, and the nurturing environment of a golden childhood, he not only was able to take on World War II, withstand the loss of many buddies including his best friend, but additionally, weather the  associated trauma of actually witnessing their deaths.

I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. How does a person go on after experiencing that kind of devastation? Maybe you “survive”, but can you ever really live, flourish and be there for others? How does your best friend actually dying in your arms not be the defining moment of your life? Which is exactly the answer I expected when I asked Father Leo what his defining moment was. His answer, delivered with no hesitation, was that becoming a priest was that moment, that experience of a lifetime. That really hit me! So I spent a lot of time trying to come up with imagery and sound that expressed loss, grief, solace, and redemption. I filmed a lot in bad weather so that I could use nature to amplify my character’s thoughts and emotions.  Portraits of trees strong and bending, the rustle of the wind, the soft blanketing comfort of snow falling , rain and moving water. So many different emotions can be projected on these natural forces…

It seems to me that whether it’s choosing to be a priest, a teacher, a toll booth operator or an artist, there is a moment of decision that defines each life.  For some it might be a terrible ordeal, like a war,  and then a decision point as to whether to seek life and meaning – or to live in or re-experience the past. For others it might be a long search, with no real external trauma influencing anything.  A long search…and finally an answer to the direction of one’s life.

Stanley Kubrick once said that existence was entirely meaningless , and that given that fact,  it then becomes the job of each human being to create that meaning.  I like what Kubrick says because essentially  choosing one’s life path becomes a creative decision.  And  it’s a job.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on my current film, “Father Soldier”…

Posted in Documentary, Editing on August 25th, 2014 by Dave

dave's portraiMy most recent film, Father Soldier, a profile on the life of Father Leo Hetzler, CSB, has been available live on the web for the past week. So far I’ve gotten some very nice responses from online viewers. The one most interesting came from my older brother, Joe, who said he screened the film, went to bed, and woke up near dawn after dreaming that he was hearing and thinking about Father Leo’s voice…

Early this past week, my wife and I were invited to the Basilian Home here in Rochester, which is where Father Leo and a number of older priests are in retirement. We were treated to a really nice meal, and then we screened the film. There were ten priests total in attendance. As usual, I stood behind the audience with one eye on them and the other on the screen. Most of the priests are retired academics – they’re a very bright and sophisticated bunch – and they’re all still quite sharp. I felt a bit intimidated at all that brain power in the room and wondered what they were thinking about while watching the piece.

When it was over, four of them were plainly moved by the film, their affect ranging from mistiness, to tearfulness, to outright sobbing. The sobbing, for me, was really disconcerting – actually it was a bit frightening. I checked on the priest immediately and put my arm around him. His name was Father Paul, 88 years old, and the same age as Father Leo. I asked him if he was OK, he nodded, and I moved away. I found out later from Father Leo, that the scenes of boyhood really got to him. He said to Father Leo, “that was my childhood!”

Another priest, Father Al, a retired mathematics professor at St. John Fisher College, walked over to me quickly, gave me a big hug and cried, “God Bless you, God Bless you!

Father Leo himself was tearful, but quiet. I asked him why he was emotional at this screening, since he had already viewed the film twice previously. He said that the first two times he was watching it to see how it hung together, whether there were any problems with it factually, etc. This time he said he could just let it wash over him. He told me he was deeply honored by what I had done.

Tim, a philosophy professor from St. John Fisher who I had interviewed a couple of days earlier for my next film project, was also in attendance. He thanked me for the screening, didn’t say anything in particular about the film, but the next day emailed me with names I should call over at the college in order to arrange screenings for larger groups. Action not words!

The biggest surprise of the screening was in my own reaction to the film. Being the person who had filmed, edited and watched the film literally dozens and dozens of times as it came together, I had thought that I would never be able to view it with fresh eyes – except perhaps after a long break. At the time of this screening I felt completely unable to evaluate it, except from my own skewed perspective of course.

Well, as I stood behind the audience and felt the vibe coming off them, I saw the film, if not with fresh eyes, at least through theirs. And it was great – in fact it was thrilling! My wife and co-producer, Ann, told me I caught her eye during the screening. She said I was moving my right arm and leaning towards the screen as if I was conducting an orchestra! I just vaguely remember being caught up in the moment…and hoping people were riding the wave with me.

I think the most wonderful part of a successful screening, or any presentation of one’s artwork, is coming to the realization that you actually had an effect on the audience, not by talking or interacting with them directly, but through the third party of a piece of artwork that exists separately from you. It is something to be savored, though never taken for granted. I’ll call on it when I’m in the throes of my next production, which will be on the theme of friendship.

The Golden & Guilded Age combined…

Posted in Documentary, Editing on August 11th, 2014 by Dave

I’ve been watching my hard-drives fill up over the last few months. Not just from my current project, “Father Soldier“, but from the material I’ve collected making my  five previous films. I currently have over 2 terabytes of data accumulated over the last 2.5 years. Nothing fills up hard drives faster than video, and the rate of data is soaring as new higher quality video formats are coming into widespread use.

To give you some idea, I have two cameras I film with, One is the Panasonic Lumix G6, which is primarily a stills camera that just happens to shoot amazing quality video. I bought mine for $600.00, which considering the picture quality is absolutely astonishing. g6

The G6 shoots in what is called AVCHD, which is a highly compressed, but still high quality recording format. It uses data at the rate of 2.8 megabytes per second or 10.8 gigabytes per hour. That’s a lot, but it’s manageable. It runs cool, and batteries last at least an hour – and they’re cheap to buy.
bmpcc

 

 

It’s  nothing compared to my new baby, the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, (above), which is an infant in physical size only.

It’s a monster in the amount of data it eats up: At full High Definition resolution, which is 1920×1080 pixels,  it chews up 17.9 megabytes per second or 79 gigabytes per hour. It get’s hot in your hand  when you’re shooting. I use it as a hand-warmer in cold weather:) . It eats a battery in twenty minutes.

What sets this camera apart from my G6, (the one that shoots AVCHD), is that the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, or BMPCC for short, shoots in a very high quality format called Pro Res 422 HQ, (it shoots in other formats too, but I use this one ). Being able to record in this format  makes it a true cinema camera – think of it as digital film.

What does this buy the Director of Photography, or Cinematographer?

The camera shoots a “flat” image. It’s dull and washed out. It actually looks bad! But,  the images contain the raw material for gorgeous images. Because there’s a tremendous amount of information in this crappy looking image which can  be  unleashed in the post-production process called color-grading.

On the other hand,  when you shoot AVCHD, you get a decent image right from the camera. That’s if you expose properly, and get the color of the light you’re shooting accurately recorded. But if you’re off a little, particularly in exposure, and the lighting conditions you filming in have a high dynamic range, meaning high contrast- harsh sunlight with lots of bright areas in part of the image and shadow areas that are very dark in comparison – then you’re in trouble.

Your eye can handle extreme dynamic ranges but cameras shooting in AVCHD struggle.  Exposure mistakes  can’t be fixed in post production to any great degree.  In comparison, the  BMPCC’s, and it’s Pro Res format,   has the amazing  ability to provide information and detail within nearly every part of an image. It doesn’t  record an  image that is any sharper than the G6, but it’s image is far more filmic. Because there’s more information in the image that can be brought out in post-production – and which can be manipulated not just to fix mistakes, but to give the film a “look”.  Just like the way Hollywood does for its features. For an independent  filmmaker, this is  wonderful. We love gorgeous images, even if the majority of our audiences don’t place a high degree of importance in upgrading from Standard DVD, which has a resolution of 720×480 pixels, to Blue Ray which is 1920×1080 pixels.

But I’m a convert to theses new formats and it looks like I’ll be buying more hard drives…in fact,  I’ll be doing it gladly. I’ll still use the G6 for interviews that are lengthy, it’s quality is still darn good. And if I expose properly and adjust the camera to the color of the light in the scene, it will look very, very good. And it will edit together OK with the BMPCC. Not perfect but only other film maker pixel peepers like myself will notice or care.

The BMPCC is soooo nice. It’s my  go-to camera when I want maximum quality.  Or when I want to “push” the color of an image around to create different looks and moods.

I bought mine new a month ago when the camera went on sale…for 500.00! About the cost of an IPhone … which puts out a pretty amazing picture too come to think of it.

It’s a golden age for people creating digital media, no question about it. I will use these new tools to guild my films in luscious beauty.

There, I sort of wrapped up the title of this post thingy.

 

Going deep….

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on August 4th, 2014 by Dave

Timmy Underwater2 copy

Tim O’Hare, (Go Pro waterproof camera  in hand, but out of view),  films himself playing young Leo Hetzler in the golden childhood summer of his youth…

 

As Father Soldier nears completion, the excitement, (positive), and the anxiety, (not as positive as the excitement), grow.

I’m in the “combing” through phase of the editing, lot’s of technical tweaking, but also adjusting edits, timing, pacing. My combing, (revision), process starts with rendering a high quality video file of the program and then sitting in a dark, quiet room with a notepad. I view the program and take notes. Then I go back into the actual program and make my changes. Then render, view, take notes again, make changes. I’m at iteration number ten as we speak and I’m down to about a half a page of changes per revision. Sometimes I’m changing things to make them different, sometimes to revert to what I had previously done.  The technical issues are all taken care of at this point. What I’m really going and hoping for  now is coming to each viewing with fresh eyes. I’m doing this because I’m still hoping that I’ll see something that strikes a spark that I can act on before saying good bye, good luck to the film…

One of the things about living and breathing with a personal film project, or anything that you’re intensely involved with I imagine,  is not just maintaining objectivity with each viewing, which sounds obvious enough, but approaching the thing you’re trying to do  in a state of even mood. For me at least, I’ve noticed that one day I’ll look at my film and be moved, caught up in it and surprised at what I’ve accomplished, and the next I time I view it I think it’s horrible, hopeless, and futile. And of course whatever your reaction is, it carries through into the rest of your day.

I think at a certain point almost anyone trying to create or express something loses objectivity about their work. With this film, I’ve seen it so many times, I know it so thoroughly, that I worry that I won’t be able to tell what’s working and what’s not. So my fallback is to ask myself whether I’ve been true to my subject. And I’m not just talking about the person I’m filming. I mean did my own projections onto the subject play out in a way that seem truthful and honorable. Is the relationship between the subject, the film maker,and the film a good one.

I cleared a major hurdle this Saturday day morning when I showed my co-producer and wife Ann, the film for the first time.  My work on the project  had just past the one year point – and I haven’t shown it to  anyone.  But the time had arrived and I had the “screening room” all set up just so, nice and dark and  quiet.

She was crying very early on, which is typical for her as she will cry at weddings, graduations, grace before a meal at a family gathering…She was crying at the end of the film as well. Of course the crying could mean anything, like this was a total waste of my husband’s life for the past year – what a loser, why did I marry him in the first place…you know, doomsday scenarios like that were running through my head. Not really though. I knew that something good was happening, but I was hoping that the somber, serious nature of the film wasn’t driving her into a state of clinical depression.  As it turns out, she looked at me at the end of the film, shook her head, and said this is really, really good. Or maybe she said great. Good,  I thought, would be good enough…

This week, Father Leo will see it.

Editing is intuition, is storytelling…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Storytelling on July 28th, 2014 by Dave

I’m finishing up the edit on my latest film, “Father Soldier”,  hopefully within the next few weeks…and it has been a journey! For the longest time, I’ve felt like a  blind man groping around for a way to tell this story.  Now I feel more like someone with bad allergies and watery eyes – or maybe a mild case of glaucoma…serious, but not life-threatening.

The narrative of this story is simple, a young boy, Leo Hetzler, born of a  well- off family in Rochester, NY, has this wonderful, golden sort of childhood. His parents are loving and nourish him with freedom and responsibility. He goes off to fight in World War 2, as a combat infantryman,  experiences tragedy and hardship, but survives after nearly being killed, “about six times a day”, as he puts it.  He is sent on to the Philippines, where he and his buddies are told that they will not survive the planned invasion of Japan. The allies drop the bomb, he goes home, enters the priesthood, gets his Ph.D, and  spends the following  sixty years as a Basilian  priest and Professor of English at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. So that’s the narrative – now how to make it into a film that is true to the the person I’m filming and to  my own reaction to his life? And on top of that, has a spiritual, poetic qualtity. Something that hangs in the air…

 

Freezes (2)

 

I pretty much ruled out a straight documentary approach: complete with a timeline, on camera interviews, voice overs, and images and sound to cover the narrative.

Instead, I basically did all of the above, but I’ve tried to take it to a different level. Actually I didn’t really try, it just seemed to progress naturally from having spent more than a year turning this film over in my mind – and in my video editor . Like all of my films so far, I’ve gone through periods where I thought the project was utterly hopeless and that I’d never get “there”, – wherever “there” was.   But the more work you turn out, the more keys you find to open new doors.I think in all of my films, “To Have and To Give”, “Captain”, “Not Knowing but Trusting”, “From Talking to Playing, and most recently, “School for Jazz”, I’ve wound up in one way or another exalting my film subject – holding them up as a beacon. Seeing in them all the best things that are to be seen in this life – for  me for sure, maybe to others. And after five films, I’m aware that this is a very important theme to me, perhaps my one and only theme.

For me, if I can come up with a good title that works on multiple levels – and that I can refer back to for guidance I feel that I’m off to a good start. “Father Soldier” felt like a good one to me – a perfect dichotomy! So I did a lot of interviewing with Father Leo, strung a narrative  together, then re-wrote it with with Father collaborating, ( I wasn’t going to let 60 years of literary background go to waste). I recorded Father Leo reading our script. Then I started to slog away, filming visuals and editing , filming and editing.   I knew I wanted to film nature in bad weather, the more extreme the better. I had no clear idea how I would use the footage I was collecting. But I felt that being out in snowstorms, windstorms, and cloudbursts would find there way into the film. And of course, since it’s my film, they did…

Next week I want to keep going thinking about and exploring my process…

Transcribing Video Interviews – My Approach

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on January 21st, 2014 by Dave

 

I recently had over four hours of interviews to log and transcribe for a documentary film I’m working on, and although it is a tedious job, it’s a great way to re-listen to what the subject had to say away from filming, running audio, doing the lighting etc. For shorter interviews fitting into shorter projects, I’ll often just put the footage in the timeline, review the clips and  make notes, set markers or make subclips to note the parts of a given clip I want to keep, and then just edit away…

Back in the 1980’s I used to log all my footage with a pen and yellow legal pad. Spreadsheets  and word processing documents followed, but I found this approach cumbersome: You typed on a laptop while pressing play/pause on a video deck with a VHS time code burn of your footage.
When I decided to log and transcribe the footage for this current film, I was sure that technology would come to the rescue with some new software tool that would hopefully integrate with my editing software and allow me to create a transcript that was keyed to a particular clip with timecode,  and that would allow me to add descriptors like type of shot, camera angle, etc. The main thing I hoped for was a way to make it all searchable based on keywords I created. My web search yielded very little. In fact I was astonished that the topic was barely discussed online at all. There were certainly plenty of transcription services online that would do the work, but I wanted to kill two birds with one stone:  review the footage and save some money.

The editing software I use, Sony Vegas Pro 11, has media management software built in which helps you create a database of all your media assets spanning multiple projects, but I found it was prone to crashing, had an interface I wasn’t interested in learning,  and  didn’t really give me what  I needed anyway; which is to say a transcript of the interviewees narrative with time code location along with other descriptors I tend to invent to suit the job. Vegas does allow clips to be named and then renamed into subclips which are searchable, but did nothing to solve my transcription needs.

I wanted the transcriptions so I could develop a “paper edit” before actual editing. The paper edit would basically involve cutting, pasting, rearranging, and deleting the transcript. If I wanted to, I wanted to go “war room” and spread all the pages out on the floor to see the big picture, pace around, re-arrange, muse, ponder…you get the idea.

I tried software called InqScribe which was actually pretty nice;  it allows you to import your clips into it’s interface, view the clips in a preview window,  and insert the time-code of the portion of the clip you were working on into a text box. You then typed away as you watched and listened to the playback of the clip. It also allowed you to slow the speech down while maintaining  pitch – another nice feature. It was 100.00 which wasn’t bad, but then to make the process really speed up you needed to buy a foot pedal which would insert time-code into a text box field when pressed.  Without a foot-pedal, it takes two keystrokes,(CTRL +; in windows), to insert the time-code.  Another $60 – 100 bucks for a foot pedal… and then you still had to slave away with the typing.

Frustrated with my web searches and not wanting to plunk down cash if I didn’t have to, I began cast about for a home-grown solution.

I own an Ipod Touch 4.  I also had on hand a Home Edition of the Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition software, which cost me $50.00 a couple of years ago. So…I tried an experiment. I laid out all three hours and forty five minutes of   interview clips in the Vegas timeline – all butted together end to end. I rendered the footage out to a mp3 sound file, so I had the audio track only.

I swear, I may be alone out there, but it took me a solid two hours to import that mp3 file into Itunes and then sync it to the Ipod. I’m still not exactly sure exactly the sequence I used and I regret not having written the steps down as I worked, because what should have been a simple task turned out to be frustratingly  unnecessary – and I thank Apple for that.  Basically I had to use the Itunes File Menu to “Add a file to Library”, synced the Ipod, and then did a search for the file on the Ipod. I couldn’t find the file unless I searched for it.

Doubtless others out there may have had no problem with file transfers to their Ipod or phone –  but I sure as heck did.  I felt that Itunes wanted me to live only in their little world and that my own content was not welcome. I guess if I had uploaded my interviews to their store to sell, and charged .99 cents, I would would have been able to buy (or ransom), the dern thing back. Grrrrrrrrrr.

Well, I finally was able to play the interviews back on the Ipod. I fired up the Dragon, opened Word and created a two column table with one column labeled Time-code, and the other labeled Audio. Keeping it simple for now.  I put the headphones on that came with Dragon…and immediately took them off because it made me feel like I was in an Iron Maiden. I thought to myself, why do I need headphones? I took out my USB mike, just a 20.00 cheapie, plugged it in, pressed play on the Ipod and started dictating. And away I went. I did a paragraph, then two, speaking more naturally, (and faster), as I went along. The Dragon was picking up my speech nearly perfectly! Unbelievable. My wife was preparing dinner so the room I was in wasn’t entirely quiet but it didn’t seem to matter. To navigate I said, “Press Tab” , to move from one column to another.  Dragon has a lot of commands for moving around in your document, editing, correcting mistakes etc., but I only used a couple of commands to do my work.

Then I noticed something else about the Ipod interface. It has a jump forward 15 seconds and a jump back 15 seconds feature. If it hadn’t had that feature, it would have been impossible to nudge the playback a few seconds, given that the timeline in the Ipod was nearly 4 hours long. So if I didn’t get the last few words spoken by my interviewee, I could just touch the 15 second review icon and try again. Another great thing: if you’re in podcast mode, (which is where I placed my mp3), you can slow down the speech to half speed or speed it up all the way to 2x. That feature I knew about because I listen to a lot of podcasts speeded up.  But for my transcribing job,  I had it set to .5 playback and I just narrated, (slowly), but accurately and with no typing! Just me holding the Ipod in my left hand and pressing play and pause as I moved along in the dictation. After a while I moved it back to normal playback speed and I had no problem keeping up with the dictation – and neither did Dragon. As a matter of fact, I found the whole process to be relaxing, productive and FAST. The nearly 4 hours of dictation took most of the day, but it wasn’t the monster I had resigned myself to at all.

Now maybe you’re wondering how would I note time-code given that I was listening to an audio-only file. Remember I said I butted all my video clips together on the Vegas timeline? Well, the Ipod had it’s own little time counter and I checked it at various points against my clips in Vegas after I finished my work.  I was within a couple of seconds of my notation in the transcript all the way through my document. Not frame accurate, but definitely close enough for government work! And really, I wouldn’t have been counting frames anyway even if I could see the timecode.

This has proved to be a great solution for me. Others may have different solutions to this task and I would love to hear them. I consider the Dragon software to be fantastic.  Amazing. The software  recognized my dictation correctly at least 98 percent of the time. I had used the software previously but under different circumstances. I found that I just didn’t need it when I was actually composing a document.  That’s because I’m thinking , pausing, and then typing a little. I didn’t feel that speech recognition was all that useful for that kind of work. There would be errors and I’d have to go back and correct them anyway, so the time savings just didn’t add up.

But for rote transcription the combination of the Ipod, USB Mike, and Dragon Software worked beautifully. For my purposes, I didn’t care about small errors as long as the context is clear. My sweet little Dragon.  I feel listened to. I feel heard. Sweet.

The many qualities of quality…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking, Mira Armij Gill on April 21st, 2013 by Dave

I’m finishing up my film on concert pianist Mira Gill who lives, performs, and teaches in New York City. The film is a little bio/profile of a wonderfully gifted artist with an equally strong artistic spirit. Material for this film has come from a variety of sources; family photos, scrapbook items from Mira’s youth, footage I shot in NYC and Maine, archival footage in the public domain, and finally some low quality footage shot of Mira performing with the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra at age 15.

The footage in the clip below barely approaches VHS quality, (and that’s being kind), and to make matters worse, perhaps in extended play mode which would give it that worst possible quality look that we all love of course. A cave painting shot filmed through a fish bowl – you get the idea. It was a wide shot so Mira, occupies just a small section in the frame. At first, I thought, no way – the footage looks really crappy – it’s going to look even worse surrounded by the HD footage I shot for the film. I can’t use it, can I? Then I played it a couple of more times. Again, the footage was so poor you can just make out that it might be Mira – or not! (trust me, I have a signed affadavit!).

I kept replaying the clip, and each time I looked at it I liked it more. It finally dawned on me that this is the real power of art: that as bad as the picture quality was, the performer and the orchestra surrounding her broke through the quality barrier…to freedom! Once I knew I’d be using it, I blew up the frame in several places, pushing the quality lower and the impact higher. I did this so that I’d be able to punctuate the performance with a couple of cuts. The one at the crescendo of the piece is perfect – the cut from the super close-up of Mira, in all her pixellated glory, to the wide shot as the music finishes. I think it works really well – judge for yourself.

Throughout the editing of this film, I found myself getting caught up in the performance each time I passed it in the film. In fact it became more thrilling each time I played it…the performance of this 15 year old phenomenon and the the community orchestra that rose to the occasion and played for all they were worth. They were like a freight train barreling down the tracks. For me the clip I’d like to share below is one of my all-time favorites in my own mental cinematic archives, …and I’m thrilled to be using it in my film.

Additional Editing Workflow Ideas…

Posted in Editing, Filmmaking on April 2nd, 2013 by Dave

 

As I get close to the end of editing a piece, my practice has been to begin burning DVD’s of the film with time code, (basically a digital clock that is visible on the screen and that tracks the elapsed time of the film). I burn these DVD’s so that I can see a decent size image with all video effects fully rendered. I can can then sit down and view the production in full-motion without any stuttering, and at full resolution. I burn the DVD directly from the timeline of the film, which Sony Vegas Pro 11 allows for, and then grab take a yellow pad, press play, and stop the playback to take notes on the fixes/changes I want to make in the production. Then back up to the edit room to make the changes. I must “burn” through 20 or more DVD’s per production as I comb through and refine the film.

Yesterday, though a minor evolution/breakthrough just seemed to happen all by itself. I needed to render a 1280×720 draft version of the film so that my film subject, Mira Gill could view the progress of the production. I went to spot-check the rendered file to check for problems before uploading it to my video account. I opened the production on top of my Sony Vegas window as seen below.

 

 

The rendered video is the upper left window and the editor sits below it.That’s Mira on the left, concert pianist extraordinaire, with her brilliant student Sonam, (wait till you see her play in the finished film!)

I started checking the rendered film and happened to spot a change I knew I wanted to make. So I just toggled my screen to my editor and made it immediately. I put my studio headphones on and made a sound tweak. Then I just kept going. I made another fix, then another. It occurred to me, hey, I’m looking at my film now at twice the resolution that would have been burnt to standard DVD, (720×480). I found this a pleasurable visual experience as well. The picture, so sharp, creamy and three-dimensional. All of this sounds so obvious in hindsight, but when you’re used to doing things a certain way, habit often prevails, even when a better approach is staring you right in the face…I think if my yellow pad had been in front of me I would have logged the fix in, burnt the DVD, and continued trudging along the old well-worn path.

When I had worked my way through the rendered film, making changes in my editor as I went, I re-rendered the film, but this time stopped myself at a quick spot-check. I’ve found that at a certain point of viewing and reviewing a piece, I no longer can see it objectively. I think to myself, my eyes are starting to bleed, I need to do something else, like go walk the dog, clean the grout in the shower – anything but edit. Later on, I come back to it with fresh eyes and recharged motivation.

So, this is just a chronicle of a small change that can evolve in one’s workflow that can have a big impact in productivity – and actual enjoyment of the process… I like the instant feedback and the instant correction that this method makes possible. And I don’t have to decipher the hieroglyphics scrawled on my yellow pad later. I’m sure other editors have been doing this all along, but for some reason I never picked it up…

This little victory is a reminder to me that not all one’s creativity occurs in the storytelling…

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.