Grouping, Courtesy of Gaming

As you may know, I work a lot in reality TV and specifically with shows that use “Multicam Groups.” Hence,I’ve been doing a lot of grouping lately.  For those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of techie lingo, I’ll put it in layman’s terms.  I’ve been taking multiple shots of the same subject and welding them together so they can be used as a single piece of footage, like a live television director cutting from one camera to another on the fly.

I’ve begun using a method referred to by a lot of my peers as the 1-2-3-4-5-6 technique.  Here’s a piece on the basics of grouping:

The 1-2-3-4-5-6 method is as follows: you create your stack sequence (each layer of video is a camera and you synchronize them in a single sequence- I use the waveform a lot for this) then you put a splice through all layers every time a clip begins or ends.  Now you’re set up.

You then map your keyboard to 1 (mark clip) 2 (go to in) 3 (match frame) 4 (go to out) 5 (mark out) and 6 (make subclip) and create a new bin for groups.

Next, you go to the first scrap of footage in your stack (let’s say you have two shots of exactly the same length, ready to be grouped, just for simplicity’s sake) and you select all layers (in this case, V1, V2)  You play the clips so you’re timeline is focused on the shots you want grouped, and you hit the above numbers in order.  This subclips your mutlicam-to-be-footage into your groups bin.  You deselect the top layer of video and go through the 1-2-3-4-5-6 order again and it will subclip the next level down.  Once you have all your elements of the group in your bin, you can select the subclips and shift-control-G and have a group (select “group by in-point!”)

I color my finished clips red (sometimes you get a shot that’s longer than another and you need to keep subclips of those bits to have all the footage handy, since those bits won’t group), organize the finished bin by color and alt-drag the red clips into a new bin.  Now you have all the work you did on the groups backed up, and you have the clips for the stringout ready to go in their own bin without the extra stuff you used to make them.  Drag those reds (the ones you put into the new bin) into a new sequence and assuming you made them in chronological order in the first place, you’ll have a perfect string out of your footage, grouped or otherwise, that plays like one continuous clip reel.  Great, right?

Well, hitting 1-2-3-4-5-6 can be easy if you have ten or fifteen groups but what if you have sixty?    People make mistakes.  A lot.  Even when you have something so simple a trained dog could do it.  Well, for this, I brought in… a rat.

The R.A.T. 5, specifically.  It’s a gaming mouse.


This device was designed for video gamers who like using a PC.  The extra buttons are intended for special moves (haduken, etc.) or commands that allow careful aiming or firing special weapons.  Great, right?  But useless in the real world.  Well, no.  I used the same driver to program one button to type 1-2-3-4-5-6 and another Shift-control-G.  Now, once I have things synchronized, grouping is a snap.  Because it even has an option for multiple modes, I have one for grouping, one for multicam editing, one for color correction, etc.

There are newer R.A.T. models, but this one is fine.  If you get the bluetooth one, get a white mousepad though.  It’ll help preserve the device’s battery life.


Lots Of New Tech Going On.

It’s been a while since I updated this so I thought I’d take a swing at it.  I have been very busy with projects lately and wanted to share some recent thoughts about tech stuff that has come up either as a result of these projects, or just concurrently.

First up, the T4i.  I recently picked up a Canon T4i to shoot video on, and of course as a still camera as I am an ex-shutter-bug.  It is brilliant, but not just for the price.  It’s just brilliant.  Let me explain why.

First of all, it takes all the same lenses as the more expensive Canons and Red cameras.  That means for projects where I want a full frame sensor, I can rent the pricey camera and use the lenses I collected for this one.  Bear in mind, I don’t have one of those crappy zoom lenses they often sell with the camera.  I own a 100mm, a 30mm and a 14mm, which of course you have to multiply by 1.6 to get the real measurement with this sensor, but you get the idea.  I can get better picture quality on any camera with a prime lens, and with these I can use them not only with the T4i but also with a Red Epic, 5D, etc.

Secondly, the T4i is fine for anything on the internet and most stuff for TV.  And truth be told, most stuff at film festivals.  People are much more forgiving about image quality than you’d think, and it makes sense.  For a long time, you’d turn on the news and see awful c. 2006 youtube footage broadcast in full HD.  Why?  It’d be like blowing up a postage stamp. All you get is big dots.  More importantly, the human eye can’t even tell the difference between 1080p and 720p if the screen is 42″ or smaller, so especially on a computer, there’s no reason to go for the bigger sensor unless you want really, really narrow depth of field, and then you’re spending money to make a change from the T4i most people won’t notice.

Third, it has better autofocus and a faster processor than ALL OF THE MORE EXPENSIVE CANON CAMERAS.  Nuff said.

Here are some examples of my still work with it.Morningside Park Thorns Riverside Cathedral Chained Gatehouse Playing Cards Avenue of the Americas at Sunset Wild Patridge

On another note, my iPod, when plugged into its native Apple charger, tells me it won’t charge with it.  It thinks the charger is some kind of third party peripheral.  Great.  So Apple is telling me to buy a new one even though this one is just fine, except for the software update they obviously used to sabotage it.  Nice work, jerks.

Windows 8 Makes a Break For It

What does this have to do with film?  Everything.

A while back, Microsoft introduced the interface for Windows 8 with its new smartphones and let’s face it, most people think an OS is the interface.  More recently Microsoft showed us what “proper” Win 8 will look like as a teaser for the next batch of PCs.  The truth is I don’t think most computers will upgrade to 8 since it relies on using a touch screen interface on a PC and most people don’t have touch screens on their existing workstations or laptops.  So 8 will exist mostly on future PCs.

And tablets, apparently:

For a long time I’ve said that the power technology has to influence media production is in increasing the reach of humans across distances.  If you have an AE on set loading media into a drive and transmitting it to the editor in a post house in another location, you’re using tech to save time and money.  Such an arrangement means your editor can spot problems while you’re still in the field, saving time planning reshoots.

So what exactly does this tablet mean?

Tablets have enormous potential as media production tools.  On one hand they can store media for review and some light editing (with the right software) so you can work on a plane or something.  Sony has recently demonstrated its new tablet can control other Sony devices.  I think the ultimate use of a Microsoft tablet is not just as a stand alone device, but as a control device for a workstation.

Some iterations of Avid software (like Curator) allow the PC to work like a terminal, letting the big server do the heavy lifting computations when pushing to a playout server or rendering a big movie.  Likewise, a tablet could be used as a terminal, like thereby allowing the editor to work on something from thousands of miles away, with no equipment.  Also, it could work like a fancy keyboard, with total customization to the keyboard allowed, enabling specialist configurations for editing, gaming etc.  The only thing that this arrangement leaves out is tactile feedback, which is handy when you’re touchtyping.  Sometimes you don’t want to cover the image with your hand because you won’t be able to see the image you’re adjusting.

So I applaud Microsoft for its first taste of the future in a while.  And when Microsoft wants people to test it out, I volunteer!  Gorilla glass is killer.

Pickman’s Model

I realized I hadn’t posted this here, despite making it live on Facebook and twitter. This film was made for less than $2K and you’d never believe it. It look amazing, due to some great actors and some clever use of cheap lighting, well planned shots (not to mention meticulous storyboards made after visiting the locations) and a soundscape crafted with an old fashioned tape recorder and some simple filters. Enjoy!

Pickman’s Model

I just finished editing Pickman’s Model, a film I directed in January but had to put off finishing because other work came first. Since I had a little break in my other work, I knocked it out and now it’s online and soon to be submitted to festivals.

I thought I’d go over how I made the film a bit in the hope it’ll help other film makers strapped for cash. I shot and edited the film for $1600US, and everyone (except the producer and I) were paid. I think that if you want to make a film that’s anything more than a 2 hour shoot, you need to pay everyone. I’ve tried it the other way and you wind up with resentful people who may fuck off at any moment. So, tip #1: pay people.  Still treat them well or the pay won’t mean much but you really should pay them.  I did own a bunch of equipment already but most of it was fairly old so it wasn’t like I had a Scarlet camera ready to go.

This HDV camera may not have the best sensor you can get nowadays but it's fine and with a little deinterlacing the video looks great. Most importantly, it's got XLR plugs (bottom right of shot) which means you can plug in professional sound equipment. The iVDR has a shoe which can attach to the shoe mount on top of the on camera microphone.

Aside from that though, the film was pretty spare. For example, it was shot on an old HDV camera I’ve had since 2008 (a Sony Z1U) then I transferred the video my iVDR after so I’d have two copies of everything just in case. Since I owned all this stuff, it didn’t cost anything. For sound I used an old Sennheiser mic (and by the way, it’s “mic” not “mike.” Mic is short for Microphone, not Mikerophone.) I’ve owned since 1998 and since XLR cables can plug into the camera I used, a lot of the audio could be recorded directly onto the tape on one channel while I used the on camera microphone to record to the other channel, just in case.

The Maxell iVDR is useful not only as a recording device (if you aren't shooting more than an hour or so) but also as a safe backup for tapes. More importantly, if you use it to back up your tapes you can also transfer its media faster than real time, which means you can have your editing platform ingest the media faster than tape, which is handy.

There were however moments when I needed to shoot at a distance too great to run cables to the camera, like when we shot on location in London and we had to contend with London traffic. For that, I resorted to an old standby: my Sony TC-D5 Pro II analog tape recorder, modified for crystal sync. Yes, I still own one. It gets great sound quality and analog cassette tapes are dirt cheap these days. All I had to do was use a clapper board like with film and pretend the whole thing was being shot on a Bolex. Since analog tape gets better sound than any digital format you can get for the price point, it worked beautifully.

Here's the tape recorder I used, which is brilliant even by today's standards, as it is plugged in to my computer right now. To input the recordings to the computer you need to plug in some accompanying equipment (out of shot) and then plug the whole thing into the line in on your computer so you can record it. It's better than transferring it to the video camera because the sampling rate it superior and the computer's ability to record that sampling rate is superior to the camera's inability to record at that sampling rate. Basically, if you record to a video camera, you're getting something like the sound quality you get from a CD, whereas this gets much better sound quality. Even if you plan to output to an iPod, it's a better starting point.

Okay, it’s not really that simple. To do this effectively you need to be super organized. I had sheets for camera and sound notes in my director’s book, including things like what tape, how many feet into the tape, sound quality, if there’s a dog barking or a bell ringing or anything like this. If you’re lucky, and in many places I was, you don’t need this, but when you do, it’s essential. And it takes only a couple seconds to do. I also made sure the clapper had all the same information on it about what tapes the sound and image were on, what shot we were shooting, in what scene and what take we were on. Then before I called action, we would have our production assistant (Eleanor Chalmers, who was amazing) call out to the microphone all the information on the clapper. If the shot was MOS (or “Mit Out Sound” meaning we aren’t worried about taking sound) the clapper has to be handled differently.  Obviously, there’s no need for a sync mark on an MOS shot.  For an MOS shot, when the clapper comes into frame, the clapper loader (in our case, Eleanor) would hold it with one finger between the striped sticks on the top. This way, when I’m editing, I know not to freak out when I can’t find the sound for the shot.

The reason for all this anal organization is so that in the editing room you have some idea of what you’re looking at. I can’t count how many times I’ve been handed a film that has been totally disorganized from the get go and been expected to work miracles. The biggest factor is always this sort of thing. If you’re organized as a director, your editor won’t want to murder you. If you are both directing and editing, you will be very happy in post if you’re a little more organized in production.

Last, there were the lights.

I couldn’t just bring my lighting kit to England, plug it in and have it work because, like most American appliances you plug in there, they’d just explode.  Instead of renting a kit there though, I got some industrial flood lights and spot lights used on a farm where part of the film was shot and, since they aren’t movie lighting, made them part of the diagetic lighting and mise en scène.  The only thing I needed to add to make them look really atmospheric was a £15 a day fog machine that came fog juice included.  It worked beautifully and the electrician was kind enough to lend me the use of his lights since they weren’t needed elsewhere (meaning they were free.)  Since most of the lighting was natural (sometimes augmented with a bounce card) I only needed to use the industrial lights as nondiagetic movie lights a couple times, like as eye lights and what have you.  For this, I used a little black wrap, which I’ve had for more than ten years.  Handy stuff and it never runs out, or so it seems.

So there’s the boring stuff.

In post, I had a lot of fun.  I recorded a lot of the street ambiance at night because even though you think day street noise is fine, it’s much louder.  We city dwellers just tend to filter it out in our heads.  This meant getting a lot of great, un-planned-for sounds like someone opening a gate, the whoosh of a truck’s diesel engine, the pitter patter of rain.  It was all lovely and even lovelier when I put it into the system and ran it through the appropriate filters to make it sound like it was in the same space as the action, or coming from down the street, or the next room or what have you.  When you forget what a sound actually is, you can experiment with it in ways you didn’t think you could at the time of recording.

Then there was the opening titles sequence.  I positioned my camera over a plastic bin that I’d lined with wet paper towel.  I lit the bin and dripped black ink onto the paper.  I made the recording as close to pure 2 tone black and white as I could, then I used the black as a matte key for the text coming up behind it.  I made sure the reds in the other high contrast moments were the same as the reds in the title and the rest was easy.

The last thing I had to worry about was workflow.  I knew that in some placed I’d want to do transitions using Adobe After Effects, but I didn’t know where or how yet.  I ran my workflow more or less the way I did it at ABC News when I worked with animators there.  First, I did the picture edit in Avid Media Composer 6.  This meant organizing the footage in Media Composer and editing it into a timeline.  When I decided where and how I wanted animation, I’d subclip that section of video from the sequence (this is all in the Avid software mind you) I’d separate the clips into their component parts and I’d export it as a no compression movie for Adobe After Effects.  I used After Effects to build the wipes and such not so much because it’s any better at that than Avid is, but because AE has a better keyframing interface and tweening for its masks is easier to handle than Avid’s.  Another aspect of Adobe I prefer to Avid is that when you want to export something, it creates a queue in the Media Encoder application, which means you can shut down the program you’re using to edit or work on something else.  Anyway, all this meant that while Avid was rendering color correction, etc. I could work on something in AE and export it all at the same time.  The workflow for making test DVDs and blurays was similar.

So those are the basics of how I made Pickman’s Model from a technical perspective.  For the creative side of things, go check my director’s blog in a few days when I’ll have written about that side of things.