Monthly Archives: January 2013

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.


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.


The Basics….

In my last post I talked about Chris Nolan’s advice to me to “turn it on it’s head” in regard to the projects that he does and in regards to the projects that I am doing. Well, being sick for a week I got to really think – problem with spending too much time by yourself. What is it that we do? (the “we” being producers, editors, content creators, etc..)

QB Shoes in the House

QB Shoes in the Tahoe House

Well, the basics of any journalism is telling the “who, where, what, when and why”. Part of my challenge in my work is doing this in a way that also is somewhat cinematic, is spontaneous, and captures some sort of emotion and tells a story.  Once an event starts - it is a frenzy of shooting, an hour of location review to figure out how to shoot the event, who is there, who to interview and then the actual event shoot. Everything else is an after thought in post. Unlike traditional production, there are no story producers, show runners, story boards, shot lists, crews or – well, help. You can’t story board a live event, just as much as they can’t storyboard the production of NFL games (they just get to operate on MUCH bigger budgets then me).

If we deconstruct the QB at Tahoe video from last year, that was a study in taking an event, applying important, key story elements and making almost a short film out of an event video. Actually, the “event” was not so much the race – (race footage does not even show up till a few minutes in) but it was the QB team living together in one house. The race footage is presented as a simple afterthought, a montage combining two days of racing. For ardent stand up paddle fans, this concept does ruffle some feathers – especially when this same approach was applied to the BOP. (I believe one person commented “why did I have to wait 4 minutes to see any racing?”). But as story tellers, it is essential that we not bow to the convention and give what is expected. Anyone with a DSLR, a $200 zoom lens, and some basic knowledge of video editing software can call themselves a film maker – and produce a pretty darn good music video with some cool filters and effects. So if we want to do something different — how can we accomplish this goal?

By going back to “basics” – “who, what, where, when, why” – and maybe presenting them out of sorts. Any television or movie script is usually presented in three acts. Some say is mainly because in broadcast they divide the show into three commercial breaks.  Inside of these three acts, the writers and editors have to present the “basics” to the audience as well as resolve the conflict set before the characters. Usually in that first act we have to care about who we are watching enough to emotionally invest in finishing watching the show. Otherwise we’ll change channels. Thus, shows that take the risk of messing with “the basics” tend to be ones that people laud as “groundbreaking”. Look at Lost for example, in the first five minutes of the show the plane crashes, we have no idea of the “who” – we don’t even know “where” – just “what” – a plane crash. For the entire run of the show it was a hunt for the characters and viewers to answer the question “why” (and yes, I was one of those guys who was reading blogs and message boards trying to figure out what those darn numbers meant! )

Jamie Mitchell leading the Tahoe race

Jamie Mitchell leading the Tahoe race – photo Chris Aguilar

What if we took this same approach – turning the “basics” on it’s head in our own productions? Look at Tahoe… intro sequence is Jay Wild talking about his journey to Tahoe and his newborn. The opening line “I was lost” is a topic sentence for everything that follows. Who can’t relate to being “lost’? We are all lost on varying degrees. Almost everyone I know is “looking” for something and if you asked them “what” they would all say “I have no idea”.  The idea that Jay was lost and then found a family in Tahoe and then expanding that concept out to finding a team and a family in QB gives us the “why” and the “who”. Jay’s opening interview gives us the basics – everything that follows is a reinforcement of that concept first presented. Secondly, that topic sentence of “I was lost” is the crisis to be presented for the duration of the video – going from being “lost” to being “found”. The QB Tahoe video is my simple attempt to mix things up a bit – to bring into our genere the concept that a web/event video can live on different planes – not just about racing. But about a community – the video is also structured in four distinct acts. The first is Jay’s intro, second is the family hanging out (mixed with some race footage), next is the actual race, followed by a closing montage where Jay gets to confirm his transformation of going from “lost” to “found” by being a part of the family. All of these concepts are after thoughts. I had no idea when I was shooting I was shooting for four acts. And this video was produced weeks after the event.

Next time you are getting ready to head out and shoot an event, think of the basics and how you can turn them on their head – can you introduce one of the elements early? Instead of just leading with the typical “who” and trying to set up a character – lead with a flashy race set and catch the audience first. Or start off with the “who” in a different way -maybe one of your characters having a real, genuine tear filled moment? Or the “where” -try an opening shot of the race with raw audio and letting it play fading into a pre race interview with the race director (the who and why)..

We cannot get away from being journalists in our jobs – reporting the facts of the event as closely as possible -but the challenge is to do so without making another useless music video. There are enough people out there pointing their cameras at the field with the goal of putting it to music and walking away without being story tellers. It is my focus in this blog to hopefully help people think outside of the convention and find ways to continually do what Chris Nolan told me to do – turn everything I do on it’s head…

Quickblade Team at Tahoe Nalu from Quickblade Paddles on Vimeo.

Heros – Chris Nolan

Over on facebook before launching this blog, I started to post up directors who have inspired me over the years. The posts started to get kind of lengthy so I thought “well, now that would be a good thing to be blogging” so I built me a little blog and will start dumping these longer thoughts out over here in this corner of the web instead of crowding all of the facebook feeds of our fans.

Chris Nolan

Yesterday I posted about Michael Mann….today it’s time to bring up another feature director ….Christopher Nolan. I had the honor of meeting Chris Nolan at the Santa Barbara International Film festival last year. More then just a passing autograph I got to be at a small party with him and sit and have a lengthy chat with him. He is an extremely approachable guy and asked about what I shot, on what, etc.. it was then we got into a lengthy conversation about the beauty of Super 8. Besides trading stories about shooting on real film, he gave me a piece of career changing advice that he has used as his guide for his own career. He had this thought when it came to Momento that he needed to make a mystery but had to “turn it on it’s head”…as Steven King says about great stories – they all start with “what if”. Nolan does the same with his movies – they seem conventional, but he insists that he go turn the thing on it’s head. So he asked me – “if you are going to make a film about paddling…how can you, somehow turn that on it’s head?”. He dug in more – how can a surf movie be turned on it’s head? It’s the creative response to the formulaic stance we find ourselves in when it comes to entertainment. Especially in sports- we tend to be bombarded with the same plot over and over – so how can we as directors and producers take the concept of “guys go surfing in tropical place, score some good days, eat some food, cue rock and roll sound track” and turn that on it’s head? Do we send them to Alaska? Is it location dependent? Is it more about the people – their stories – the personal trials and tribulations set against the back drop of waves – is the ocean curing them of something? Or is it just surf porn? And if it is – how can you make it stand out. It is interesting that the feature movies that have stood out in the last few years have been ones that took some great risk. Nolan’s interpretation of Batman was a great risk. One that paid off over three films and reborn a seemingly dead franchise. He said himself that when it came to Batman he had to ask himself how to turn it on it’s head, make Batman a person – someone you can relate to – someone damaged. Thus, Batman would go on the Hero’s Journey  - a man in search of something – himself.

My meeting with Chris Nolan only solidified what I thought of him from his films. The guy is a genius his first student film got distribution (and was shot on super 8). And truly is someone I think of often when I sit down to start an edit asking myself “how can I turn this on it’s head”. Or for me, asking – how can I make this relatable to someone who does not even paddle?