Category Archives: how to

The First Shot

If you have ever done any sort of writing then you know of the daunting task called the topic sentence. It is the opening sentence that captures the readers attention, tells them what you intended to discuss and it really the foundation of all that is about to come forward. Actually in sitting to write this, I was wondering what that opening sentence was going to be. Formal writing has you state your case right away “The first shot of any film or web video is the most important element of all your work”. But in todays world, things are a bit more lax so we can go with a sort of informal, casual look at things such as the sentence I choose. And actually, I never even wrote drafts…this is a blog so for the most part is off the top of my head…but I digress (fucking ADD)

Much like writing, the opening shot of anything that you make in the video and film world has to have enough weight to:

- hold the viewers attention

- capture their imagination

- give them a reason to emotionally invest in what is going to happen

- tell them that you know what you are doing and this is worth watching

- let them know what this video/film is about

Now in making a full feature – you get some leeway here – most times the people have paid and have an idea of what the film is about. They have made a commitment to be there and participate in it. BUT in the web video world, it is totally different. Especially with the large amounts of content out there competing for your audience.

Also, in film, you get more time to develop, but the time a film has developed to tell you more about what is about to happen, most web videos are over. But still, the first shot is just as important.

Picking the masterpiece is beyond difficult and many times is the one thing that I really struggle with in an edit. But I have learned a couple things over the years and here are some suggestions for picking that first thing people will see on screen

- Don’t make the first thing someone sees a talking head – unless it is someone instantly recognizable to your audience (you know like the President, Leo DiCaprio, etc..)

- Find something that you could publish as a photo – really this rule works for me pretty good. Could this be a compelling photograph that evokes emotion, displays the mood of the entire piece, showcases a certain amount of artistic knowledge, gives insight into the mission of the piece…look at it like a photographer…you might be surprised..

- It is the BEST shot in your film. I mean the most beautiful one – the one that you are the most proud of. Where in logging you said to yourself “wow”– because if you “wow’d” your self…you will most likely wow everyone else.

Some other funny things about the first shot…it does not have to relate one bit to the sequence you are setting up. It can be something showing the resolution, the after party, what ever! WE just need to capture some attention here and deliver a single knock out punch to capture interest and imagination. Seriously, it is almost a disconnected piece of content – but it is the most important one in your whole film or video.

I recently started watching an event video that was 8 minutes in length. Opening shot was an interview, no music, no B roll, just a talking head. The audio was terrible and I felt like I was about to watch a home movie. They did this for over 2 minutes, I was over it. I was bored. I wanted to move on. Ironically, the event was in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and they even had drone footage later on in the video. Had they moved that drone footage up to the first frame it would have changed the entire dynamic of the video for me. It would have told me “ok there is investment in this piece, the place is beautiful…there may be some good eye candy in this”. Instead we had people standing in the dark of trees and you know what’s funny – I don’t even remember the topic if the interview… that is how compelling the first half of the video was…

You, as an editor, are in the job of making an impact on your audience. It is what we are called to do. In doing so, you are making an impact on yourself as well (whether you know it or not). But that impact has no chance if you pick the opening shot of your sequence to be something that is just there because it seemed “right”. Go farther, find that one shot that may be totally unrelated, but tells a story in itself.

Some samples from work I have just on my hard drive of this computer…

QB Clinic video – opening shot says “This is a video with Dave Kalama and involves Quickblade” was the most artistic shot of the day since it was really a full day of people sitting and listening and some paddling.

QB Trifecta video – this opener shows the cool clean lines, has a light panning across the paddle so it went from dark to this lit up shot. I felt it told the audience “this is different” – in essence we were going after the look of a sleek car commercial

Dave Kalama “Have Fun”- this was an interview with assorted B Roll and this shot for whatever reason stood out to me. I could have framed this one it was just so neat looking. Shot with a Lensbaby of wind driven water on the rocks in Maui. The shot to me said “we are in Maui, it’s bright, it’s happy and this video is about having fun”

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Why Watch?

Jamie Mitchell leading the Tahoe race

Jamie Mitchell leading the Tahoe race

I was on one of my favorite sites for stand up videos , SUPRACER and was watching a new video out of France when I started to ask myself, “why am I watching this?”

Sure, I make videos for a living so that is one obvious reason, I like to watch videos. Plus, to be really honest, it gives me a glimpse into what other producers are doing :)

This latest piece was a 14 minute mega video of a race in Europe. The intro threw me off because they had the audio mixed to one speaker – cut quickly to someone giving instructions (but it was just music over them no actual audio of the instructions, but then again, I would have never understood them anyways – it’s in French!) and then a quick snippet of the guy talking and POP the audio mix came into both speakers about blowing my ears out. Cut again to windy audio of a beach side interview – in french so I had no idea what was being said, then into a wonderful song and montage of, I guess, the long “elite” race.

I have no idea who any of the paddlers are, what the race course is or anything else about the event – so as I am about 11 minutes into watching people I don’t know or care about cross the finish line – I ask myself – why am I watching this? Which of course started me down another rabbit hole – why does any watch a video from any SUP event? Really, most event videos follow a very common path – some type of set up shots, some type of race montage set to some upbeat music and of course, the awards. And if the company has budget – stick in some drone shots for good measure.

Stand Up World Tour has a different model, they do a narrated highlight reel after each day of competition… they skip straight to action of athletes who are team riders for event sponsors. I recall seeing one of their edits and wondered if any other board company besides Rogue was even at the event!

I watch these videos for entertainment, to stay informed about the sport on a global level – and yes, to see people I know in them. It is pretty neat to turn on a video and see someone I know half a world away competing. Kind of cool how technology can be used to bridge vast distances.

I began wondering about my own work…many say that I am skilled at connecting to emotions at the events. But what’s interesting is that most of the time I really don’t know who I am shooting and rarely go into any situation with any sort of game plan. Sometimes I will make a video that is 10 minutes long, sometimes it will be 3 minutes long. It all depends on what really happens that day. But more on that later…

I know that probably about 1 of every 10 people will actually click on a video link that I post. I tend to believe that most just get through the first minute and move on. I know I have done the same with some videos. I will give it my “minute test” – if in the first minute I don’t see something that grabs me – a shot, a sound bite, even a song – I am out.

Yesterday I watched a surf video that was over ten minutes long. Ok, let me be honest- I skimmed a surf video. It was BEAUTIFULLY shot. I mean GORGEOUS. But in all that time, they never said one word. I was dying to know “why did he use that board?” – the guy was on a HUGE long board that looked like it has so much history and I wanted to know about it. He drove from remote woods into San Fran, what was it like to go from woods to the big city? What was his experience? Videos, for me, HAVE TO BE more then just a collection of pretty images. I want to share in your experiences. If your pictures don’t tell a story, don’t have a sense of being, of being their own little personalities, then what is the point?

So ..why do you watch SUP Videos? Or any paddling videos? What is your one minute test?

And if you are working on something ask yourself – what is this piece’s personality? How does it talk? Walk?? breath? it sounds so odd – but the music can drive those things only so much – is it sad? it is lonely? is it happy? Is there a serious undertone of reflective peace? I am not sure that I think about these things aloud; but the interviews I gather, the look of the day, the feeling of the air while shooting will give me these indications. And that will, in turn, drive the entire project. So ask yourself these things next time  you are sitting down to edit.

 

 

 

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How Do I Start? – Gear and Software

Most often I get the email from younger folks (man did I just make myself sound like I am in my 80′s) asking “how do I get started?”. Usually these emails contain a youtube link to something they made as well as a list of equipment that they can get their hands on. Most commonly it seems, it is a Go Pro and the family Mac computer. This actually is a decent starting point.

Although I am really against people making 10 minute long Go Pro videos, the price tag of one and the quality of it is so unreal, it is kind of a no brainer. And with iMovie you can actually make some pretty decent stuff. It just requires that you get to know the software inside and make it do what you want to do. But what about the person starting from scratch? Well, this opens a lot of doors…and the only advice I can give (since technology moves so fast, any gear I post here will be outdated in week anyways) is what I did.

I was VERY lucky that my girlfriend back when I started saw how much fun I was having making videos on my little digital camera. She got me a new HD Camcorder for my birthday and from there it was on. I had been in technology enough to know of decent PC based editing apps and got Sony Vegas. This was back when HD was kind of a newer thing for camcorders and I had a lot of fun running around town shooting things and making little videos out of them. It was far from professional per say – but I was having fun and that is the point of all of this anyways…

So for the newbie with nothing, I would suggest going to your local electronics place, ebay, or amazon and find a decent camcorder on sale – you can get a good HD one these days for under $500 – it is pretty unreal. I like Sony’s for beginners because they make their menus easy to use and figure out. But I am also a HUGE Panasonic fan on their pro side – I have not used their smaller consumer camcorders. The other wrinkle in today’s market is – do I get a DSLR or a Camcorder? That is a tough one. I would actually suggest the camcorder to get used to the idea of shooting video only. Also, the DSLR will add additional costs with lenses for the camera. In the DSLR world, the quality of the image is not sensor dependent, but more so on the glass on the end of the body. So get a regular camcorder for just starting out – you can save up later for a full DSLR to expand the creativity.

ChrisAguilar_06

The most important thing in all of this is actually your software. Because really that is where you will be spending all of your time in doing video. Ok maybe a comfy chair too.

For us MAC folks there are a lot of options – iMovie (which came with your Mac), Final Cut X, and Adobe Premiere. And those are listed in order of price. Final Cut X is about $300, while the Adobe product is closer to $1000 for a suite. Now for the person starting out, I would not get the big old Adobe suite. It would be overkill for starters. You can probably find Adobe Premiere Elements which is the “light” version of the pro app for about $200 and has an upgrade option to the bigger suite. It will allow you go get used to the basic controls of a non-linear editor.

Final Cut X is a good app that I have hardly used, but some friends are moving to it and actually get to like it. Lots of studios have moved to it and it is gaining some popularity after a rough start. It is called iMovie on steroids because it has pro features built in. If you are familiar with iMovie this this app will be easy to learn. Otherwise – why spend money? your MAC came with a limited non-linear editor built in that you can use ! iMovie is used by a lot of people I know for basic video editing and it has cool little backgrounds and text tools built in that are easy to use.

PC folks have more options – and really get more bang for their buck in hardware. Sony has a great suite of products for PC editing. Like I said I started on Vegas, and they also have “light” version of it called Movie Studio – for $170 you can get everything you need to make professional looking videos uploaded directly to youtube, etc.. the ONLY problem with PC editing I had was the render times were crazy – I am talking hours and hours. Mac’s just seemed to do this faster. But a PC based editing system can be as much as half as less as a Mac. For PC there is also Adobe Premiere Elements, a great intro to the Adobe Suite and another easy to use application. Also for PC you can opt for the higher end stuff like Avid – and I hear they have a light version as well for $299. Avid is used by a lot of production houses so it may be an option if this is REALLY something you want to do beyond a hobby

For info you may check out these resources:

Cameras:

Nice Compact Camcorder from Panasonic that records 1080/60p HD

Another nice compact Camcorder from Panasonic that is full HD - My favorite from Panasonic for starting out

High End Sony Camcorder

My fav Consumer Sony Camcorder – I love this CX series, I had one for ages and it has always produced very good quality images- comparable to my 7D and other DSLRs

Software:

SonyCreativeSoftware.com

Adobe Premiere Elements

Final Cut X

 

Questions? Comments ? Email me chris@finfilmcompany.com

Telling the Story: Visual Evidence

There are many principals that go into story telling that should always apply to the work that we do (when I speak of the “work” I mean the idea of web video and using it as a medium of documentary film making). One that is very much unique to the visual mediums we practice is the idea of presenting “visual evidence”. We cannot simply allow a “talking head” to say “the surf was big that day” without presenting the viewer with evidence that the surf really was actually big.

 

Dave Kalama- Molokai 2 Oahu 2012

Dave Kalama- Molokai 2 Oahu 2012

How many times have you watched a documentary but there was nothing showing you the actual proof of what is being discussed ? I know that I have and it always bugs me to hear someone discuss something that has taken place and not to see any visuals to back it up. The result is a “talking head” and especially in web content, the viewers get ADD – so we have to give them something else to look at besides someone yapping on and on…

So the great challenge for the documentarian is to somehow allow the viewer not to be dulled by a  interview with no actual evidence to demonstrate what is being discussed. It is our calling then, to present the viewer with all of the facts. This includes the visual evidence of the facts being presented.

This begins in the interviews you gather. Because of the nature of what I shoot, events, this can be pretty easy – the people talking are talking in the moment at the event, so it is very easy to collect collaborating ” B roll ” so the viewers can actually see what is going on. This thought becomes the very heart of how I tackle event shooting. Everything I shoot MUST support what the interviewees are talking about. If an interview talks about a race being “big” – then I go looking for shots that support that statement – shots of the crowd, of the field, of racers out on the course, etc..
If the interviewee is talking about how much they love their team – then part of my shooting plan becomes going looking for shots of camaraderie, people being together, group shots, etc.. These are all examples of the visual evidence needed to support the statements.

Bailey Rosen-Florida

Bailey Rosen-Florida

In all of our work, I always try to present shots that match up with the interviews statements. Not so much just to have ” B roll” to make the talking head less of a talking head. But to add to the STORY  of what is being discussed. It is up to us as documentarians to actually document. And in doing that, we need to find shots that support the statements being said. This small principal, I think, applies to all sorts of video production and documentary film making. It is our job to present to the viewers something more then people talking about their passions. We must show the audience evidence of that passion.

Visual evidence is the heart of our story telling medium, it is what will separate a music video from a documentary. It is what creates the story and engages the audience to become invested in what we are trying to present to them. Using this simple concept will allow you as a film maker, as a story teller, to deliver a piece that not only informs, but SHOWS the audience proof of events that have unfolded.

The Frantic Idea of a Same Day Edit

Ah, the Same Day Edit – The idea of doing these insta edits actually goes back to my days working in weddings. Same day edits are commonplace in that industry – and they are a VERY effective marketing tool for those professionals. Seriously, if the couple is putting out for that edit (usually $1000-1500 in additional costs) then the wedding is a high end wedding with over a hundred sets of eyes watching your work (they usually will show the edit at the reception) – it’s marketing at it’s finest. These edits are then posted to the web for the friends and family to always relive and enjoy the moments – it’s pretty epic. Believe me, I worked for one of the best wedding companies in the world and their work in the “same days” were better then what most average wedding companies produce with months of time.

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In our workspace, the event space, how can we get the same kind of marketing value from these types of edits? Well, in stand up it’s simple. SUP is a sport born on facebook and twitter. It’s audience thrives on real time information. So for any event videographer looking seriously as trying to make a living in SUP – having the capability of rolling up to an event, shoot it, then put out an edit the same day is a huge skill. And I think, of supreme value to any event director. If you are an event director reading this post – something to think about. Certainly you will have a couple hundred people there with iphones and gopros shooting at your event. They will make shaky amateur video of your event – and in this day and age – this is a good thing. The more exposure the better. But this content will be short lived, it will cycle through a small segment of facebook users, maybe get posted to youtube and get hit when people are searching. But for the most part it will get a couple hundred views. You also have Andre with SUPConnect going to sites with his “live” feeds – basically iphone video streamed through Brightcove with interviews. This is a great innovation as it delivers to the masses live, updated content from your event. But it still lacks a depth and a certain polish. If you are bringing in a professional video crew, then you have, really, about a month’s time to put up that content and push it. Something, anything. In the fast paced world of SUP where you have a new race every weekend going on somewhere – the more real time the content the better. That’s why I think the same day edit belongs in this space. It can provide hungry fans with a first look at your event, people can share it quickly and virally across the interwebs, your event can get featured with a professional video instead of being represented by amateur quality content, SUP blogs and outlets will be quick to publish it to show “whats happening now” in SUP.

The first SDE I did was BOP 2009, at the time I was working on my own video site, The Stand Up Project – a collection of SUP short films and event videos (that site is done, I could not get anyone back then to back anything I was doing). The next morning when the video was out, I had people coming from all over commenting to me about it. It was a cool moment for me, because I knew it “worked”. I was up till 2am editing, and it took FOREVER to upload;I was really feeling the pressure to get it done. It was shot on all SONY HDV Based Camcorders. I did it for no one but myself in hopes of maybe getting some work. Taking risks definitely led to great rewards.

2009 BOP SDE

Battle of the Paddle 2009 “Quick Edit” from Soul Surf Media on Vimeo.

I stopped doing these edits because it was so stressful, it was back in the days of tape based workflows and the log and capture process was just too brutal. Plus at an event, I would shoot around 6-8 hours of tape. By the time I did the Carolina Cup SDE in 2011, I had gone tapeless and the edit process was a little less painful. I offered to do this for them because it was a new race and I wanted to help promote the event. The guys who run the event had been super supportive of me and my efforts so in a way it was a “thank you”…The advent of a tapeless workflow gives you the advantage of speed editing. Plus having a faster computer to work with also helped. Shot on Canon 7D and Panasonic HMC-150

2011 Carolina Cup SDE

Events: Carolina Cup – Same Day Edit from Soul Surf Media on Vimeo.

in 2012, The Battle was back and I was assigned by Bark and QB to produce the event for them. I decided to bring back the SDE. This one was the fastest edits to date, but ironically was the most “shot”. We had four Go Pros, multiple 32GB Cards from the 7D and one card from the Panasonic. Unfortunately, the Panasonic got doused by a wave and went down in the first race of the first day. It was a bummer. The challenge was mixed frame rates, formats and conversions that had to be done on all the footage to get it all ingested in to FCP for editing.

2012 BOP SDE

Battle of the Paddle California 2012 Same Day Edit from Soul Surf Media on Vimeo.

Across all of these edits some basics remain the same to be successful as an event/sports videographer and make these things work. At least if I am asked to do one, I always go in with the following:

- Have a plan- The wedding guys get these things hammered out in 3-4 hours, we have all afternoon and evening. In the case of Carolina we showed the edit at the Awards, so that was a 3 hour time crunched edit. If you are shooting to show at the awards and are solo, have a cut off time or event. Make sure you know how much time you will need to be successful. Yes, you will need the elite, but do you really need the obstacle course?

- Pre Plan- the key to success here is to pre-edit as much as you can. I am not talking about footage, but setting up that laptop for success. I go into these with a bank of pre-selected music all timed and marked with text cues about where the music has bridges, choruses, etc.. what kind of footage I think would look good with what part of the song (for example, noting a rising chorus with a wide, cinematic shot – and sticking a text marker there for it on the time line). Set up the time line with the correct settings, make all of your filters available, do what you can so that you can sit down and start editing right away

- Make sure you eat – yes it sounds stupid, but making sure you are hydrated, full and ready to work is important. Your brain needs fuel to make this happen.

- What To Pick ? – the biggest question, you are logging and transferring, you have a list of clips–now what? Look for anything that catches YOUR eye. This is a same day, this is not the finished piece so I try to find the most compelling thing possible in each clip. I give myself a lot to choose from. I literrally scrub through the clip looking for anything that catches my eye, sometime there will be nothing there, but most times there may be a cool wave splash, finish line shot, etc.. the MORE VARIETY the better. Crowd shots, racing, close ups, portraits, announcers, beauty shots, pick what is compelling and goes with the music tracks you are working with.

- Audio? I HARDLY use interviews in a SDE, these are pretty much music video montages of the day. Sometimes when interviewing someone I will click with something they say and decide at that moment to remember to look for that sound bite and use it in the SDE. Or in the case of the first BOP video I got SUPER lucky to get good audio of Dr. Paskowitz’s speech that year and knew at that moment that if it came out, that would be used in the race video. Frankly though it’s a tall order to lay in someone talking in a rushed edit situation because now you are adding the complexity of audio mixing.

Workstation- I use a macbook pro and find the FASTEST portable hard drive I can find, something that will work off the firewire ports or thunderbird ports. Secondly, I use the best ear buds I can find and locate a space where I can be alone for several hours (usually a hotel room). You will be depressed as you won’t be going to dinner with everyone else, because you have created a self imposed work deadline.

And if you don’t pull it off? (it’s happened to me more then once) don’t beat yourself up. These are HARD to do. In the wedding market, they literally bring in an editor and a full iMac workstation for these edits. For us solo guys it is a tall order to pull off – especially if you are going to be showing it at the awards dinner. If I get asked to do this, I ALWAYS level set the client with the notion that it’s a 50/50 gamble but will do the best that I can..

Got questions about this? feel free to email me and I will answer what I can.