Archive for November, 2010

Getting the “Film Look” with a digital camera

November 30th, 2010

Digital Video Camera“We want the film look” says the client or producer. Many budget conscious filmmakers, notably students, independents, documentarians, and television networks, use low cost digital video cameras but desire the film look. We’ve all seen the scratchy, old timey film look applied after the shoot or used software to produce a supposed film look. But what exactly is the film look and what’s the best way to get it when you shoot digitally? How do you advise clients and producers?

What are your experiences? I would love to hear them.

As production and post overlap more and more in this area of perfecting a show’s images, these questions continue to crop up. The topic has been coming up in FCP and other users’ groups for awhile and here’s the common wisdom: To get the film look, shoot for it during – surprise – the shoot! Here’s how:

Understand film and digital cameras

Video is what the eye sees and film is what the mind sees.

Keep this axiom in the back of your brain when you shoot film style or advise others.

Film and digital cameras capture images in two distinct ways. Film capture is a photochemical process which produces the grain (texture, fullness) that we’re accustomed to seeing. Digital capture relies on electronic signals which result in non-grainy images that are cool and crisp and often described as harsh.

DSLR CameraSince the ability of digi-cams (both motion and the new DSLR still cameras that are starting to be used to shoot videos) to capture images that mimic film is continually improving, get the best digi-cam you can afford. As of this writing however, the best HD camera does not approach the look of 16mm film, let alone 35mm. So, to achieve a film look, address the differences between the two mediums using the following methods.

Six methods to achieve film look with digital camera

  1. Set the proper depth of field (DOF). Since video has an infinite DOF and film a shallow DOF, you need to narrow the DOF to approach film. Do this by allowing enough room to separate camera from the set, using film style lenses, zooming, adding a digital adapter, and changing the F-stop to widen the aperture.
  2. Light film style to avoid the harsh, cold video look. Go beyond “room lighting” and use key, fill, and back lighting in different scenes.
  3. Adjust the white balance to mimic the photochemical color timing possible with film.
  4. Be aware of how you block the camera – allow enough room for zooming – and talent – have them move forward is preferable to moving them sideways.
  5. Pay attention to what the audience’s focal point will be with every set up. What will they notice first? Catch in their peripheral vision? Gravitate to next?
  6. Finally, because sound is vital to viewers’ acceptance of visual images, record high quality audio to bolster your film image look.

Final word

With future technology this all may be moot, but for now, this is the best way to go.

Editor’s role, Technical & process

A thought, thankful, thinking Thanksgiving to all

November 20th, 2010

Time to pull away from the pie, the family, the game, the parade, the soldiers abroad and pull in here for a few videos: some fun, one mellow, and a couple about the true history of the holiday.

This first one – music and images – is George Winston’s Thanksgiving song. Imagine it with your own images edited in over the music bed and you’ll have even more to be thankful for.

Had to look though a lot of turkeys to find this gem:

Who will be the turkey – Thanksgiving theme – and well played by Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal.

To sober up, watch this humorous video that pierces the truth behind the Thanksgiving myth.

There are many more sobering historical videos online at YouTube. Here’s a straightforward one told from a native American perspective:

Fun & games

Lightworks emerges from the dark

November 20th, 2010

Lightworks ConsoleA nano of light years ago, Lightworks was neck-in-neck with Avid in use and popularity. They both pioneered NLE digital editing and shared the 1994 Academy Award for technical achievement. Lightworks was unique for its ergonomic console and is still used by Thelma Schoonmaker and other high profile editors as well as many editors in Canada, Europe, and Great Britain (its birthplace).

I have a special affection for the system because I trained hundreds of professional editors, assistants, post supervisors, and college students on it during the system’s heyday from 1994-1997. It was frustrating to see the product base shrink due to poor management decisions.

So it warmed my heart to see the announcement from EditShare – the system’s latest owner – last week:
Lightworks System Lightworks for FREE … just in time for the holidays!
It is with great pleasure that we take the first step in the roll out of Lightworks Open Source and deliver the free download to you! On November 29th, the free download will be available exclusively to those who have registered.

Lightworks developers have been working day and night to develop a variety of enhancements for the new NLE.

Final Cut Pro and Avid could use some competition, not that I’m under any illusions that LW will regain its former top spot. Avid gave away free software last year. And it’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Console- joke!). But it’s a start.

Please shed some light, Lightworks

I thought of you, my faithful readers, and sent the following email to EditShare on November 10:

Hi Friends,

Is it too late to register for a free download? If so, how do I do this? If not, will you be offering this again in the future? I am interested for myself as well as my blog readers.

Also, I would like any info you can provide for U.S. readers as I am updating my book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video.

Thank you,

Gael Chandler

Former LW trainer in Hollywood

So far no response. Don’t leave us in the dark, Lightworks! I will let you know if I get a reply. In the meantime, go here to read the full story and see all the features the new system offers.

Awards, History/research, Technical & process

We got that B-roll – Part 2

November 17th, 2010

Here’s the answer to yesterday’s pop quiz. But first, the quiz, in case you missed it and don’t feel like scrolling.

  1. Film: It’s part of the 16mm negative cutting method where negative camera rolls are edited and slugged on two different reels by the negative cutter for printing.
  2. Linear tape editor: A shot for the second half of a dissolve was labeled “B roll” on the EDL. During the online session it was pre-recorded on a dub tape. To make the edit, the dub tape was inserted in the B source deck was and rolled (played back) along with the shot from the A source deck to make a dissolve on the record tape.
  3. NLE: Generic term for second unit footage or background, filler footage.

Answer: #1 is correct. It’s originally a film term. However, its meaning has evolved over the years so #2 and #3 are also correct.

Fun & games

We got that B-roll – Part 1

November 16th, 2010

Time for some humor. But first, a pop quiz. Where did the term B-roll come from?

  1. Film: It’s part of the 16mm negative cutting method where negative camera rolls are edited and slugged on two different reels by the negative cutter for printing.
  2. Linear tape editor: A shot for the second half of a dissolve was labeled “B roll” on the EDL. During the online session it was pre-recorded on a dub tape. To make the edit, the dub tape was inserted in the B source deck was and rolled (played back) along with the shot from the A source deck to make a dissolve on the record tape.
  3. NLE: Generic term for second unit footage or background, filler footage.

See answer tomorrow. Now, roll video!

Fun & games

Meet Hot S*** Music Video Editor Dean Gonzalez – Part 2

November 12th, 2010

“What do you see as the start of the music video era?” I asked Dean. He believes it began with promos for the Rolling Stones and that then in the 80s every watched Michael & Janet Jackson’s “Scream.”  “There were a lot of bold, artistic voices,” he enthused. “Now, it’s not the artist, it’s the image.” He noted that budgets have skyrocketed although you create a low budget music video for a big band for 20K.

What influenced Dean’s music video editing?

“Music videos affect movies and vice versa,” he believes. “They feed each other.” Two movies that particularly influenced his editing: Man on Fire with Denzel Washington and City of God. “Music videos are like short films to me,” he explains. “That’s how I treat them. I make my music videos as cinematic as possible.”

How does he approach editing a music video?

To begin, “I listen to the song multiple times and learn to love it,” he reveals. And “I always try to find the best quality audio.”

As for the actual structuring and editing, “You have to create the arcs,” he states. “You have a path with the music and certain things have to hit at certain times.” He adds, “It’s good to cut off beat. I never try to do the same thing.

Dean’s knowledge of beats and rhythms comes from knowing music and being a drummer which helped his style, he says. He admits that, “It’s not fair to artist to cut music but sometimes you have to cut.”

He cuts on both Avid and FCP and on all formats: DV, DSLR, Red camera, etc.

Editing Green Day

Dean edited “Heart like a Hand Grenade” a feature-length documentary on the making of Green Day’s 2004 Grammy Award winning album “American Idiot.” The movie documents the group’s creative process. Here are the stats Dean gave me:

  • Shot SD single cam with no interviews.
  • 350 hours of footage
    • 1 month to load footage into editing system.
    • 1 year to cut
  • Up-rezzed to HD to finish

Dean informed me that the movie was ordered the way an album is created: writing, then rehearsal followed by studio recording and finally, a live performance with an audience. He remarked, “Sometimes a video organically creates itself.”

30 seconds to Mars video

For this HD video, Dean toured with the band for months. He had his own bus and three assistants. Each night they pulled selects. They also exported cuts as Quicktimes which took 3 hours. Here are the stats:

  • Single cam mostly except for dance numbers.
  • 60 concerts of B roll.
  • Footage on multiple formats: SD, HD, 2D and from DSLRs, DV cameras, etc.
  • Four 27Gb hard drives.
  • External hard drive for back up used four 2 Tb drives.

Dean’s biggest challenge was that he couldn’t watch the editing flow until he made the sequence Apple Pro Res.

Unfortunately this video was deleted from Vimeo.

Last word

Dean couldn’t be more jazzed about editing music videos: “When you get to work with and meet amazing talent you feel a part of their creative visions.”

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Sound & music editing, Technical & process

Meet Hot S*** Music Video Editor Dean Gonzalez – Part 1

November 9th, 2010

I had a riveting talk with Dean at an upscale bar and burger joint in Weho where he enthusiastically guided me through the thicket of videos he’s edited and explained his path to the cutting room. To say I was impressed by his attitude (energetic and friendly), what he’s done, and how hard he worked to get there would be an understatement. But let’s hear from the man himself.

Editing roots

The first and only member of his family to graduate from high school, Dean studied filmmaking in college. “Like everyone,” he confessed, “I wanted to be a director but then I found I really, really loved editing.”

He learned Avid and his way around the editing room at Columbia College in Chicago. Once he landed a job in LA as an assistant on an independent feature, he headed west with his gf.

Upon arrival in LA, he put all his savings into renting and apartment in West Hollywood while his gf took off to explore the city. The next morning when he showed up for the job, the AP reluctantly told him that the woman who hired him was no longer on the project and that someone else had been given the job. Later that week he located the gf who had taken up with another man and was doing heavy drugs.

Living on zip without a car, he got a job in Inglewood at a bicycle shop (he had repaired bicycles in IL), while pursuing editing jobs.

Route to music video editing

“I took every single job I could find. I probably edited 50-60 reels of [movie] hair stylists,” Dean said, adding, “I would do anything.”

He also landed an assistant job at a commercial house in Santa Monica. Immediately he began putting in tons of extra hours to earn a promotion to editor and soon he got it. “One of the things I most proud of from that time period,” he told me, “is helping my ex-girlfriend get off drugs.” [Dean is now happily married and has a young child.]

He cut many commercials which and was already headed toward cutting music videos when a potential client asked, “Do you have any golf spots [on your reel]? It was the “We heard you’re great and we want someone new and different but you haven’t edited exactly what we do” syndrome – my term. How often have editors heard this is many different contexts!

Eventually Dean transitioned to music videos and has done a bit of everything – features, docs, trailers – along the way.

So what videos has Dean cut?
Here’s an example – Matchbox Twenty’s “How Far We’ve Come” – which I like for its progressive political theme.

November 12 update: Vimeo pulled video from this site and Dean’s Myspace page and his version did not turn up the Web.

So here’s his Mercy trailer which outshined the movie IMHO. Hopefully we’ll see more and better from its director Scott Caan, son of James Caan.

I’ll talk about a couple more of Dean’s high profile videos in the next post but if you want to see some more of his work, go to his myspace page:

I especially like his Mercy trailer which outshined the movie. However, hopefully we’ll see more and better from its director Scott Caan, son of James Caan.

What’s unique abt cutting MX videos?

Dean observed that “With commercials and features everything is scripted, storyboarded and well planned out. On a music video you get a treatment. So you have to be very creative with the footage.” He also states that, “The director has the vision but you have more creative freedom to make something different than has the director has seen.”

What juices Dean about cutting music videos?

I asked and here’s his reply: “I find it exciting and daunting to create something without all the elements – to make a story out footage that isn’t always there.” He explained, “I love storytelling. I enjoy capturing the moments and seeing the story unfold.”

I agree. Because, really, when you think about it, music videos are documentaries. And that is the joy of editing all docs – pulling the story out, setting up the moving moments and letting them breathe, and presenting the subjects – human and otherwise – as truthfully as possible.

In Part 2: Dean outlines the history of music videos and what influences his editing. He also reports on the process of touring with 30 Seconds to Mars and cutting their music videos. We’ll also hear from him about how he structured Heart like a Hand Grenade, the documentary he edited about Green Day’s 2004 Grammy Award-winning album “American Idiot.”

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Sound & music editing, Technical & process

Inglourious Editors: A View into the Cutting Room
My article in MovieMaker mag’s Fall edition

November 3rd, 2010

Movie Maker Cover MovieMaker magazine, professes to be “The World’s Best-Selling Independent Movie Magazine.” So when the editor solicited me for an article for their Fall edition in exchange for ad space about my latest book (Film Editing: Great Cuts Every Filmmaker and Movie Lover Must Know), I accepted her proposition. I wrote and titled this extensive piece weeks before the untimely death of Sally Menke (see September 28 post), so it serves as a further tribute to her as the editor of Inglourious Basterds and all of Tarantino’s films.

Here’s a pdf of the article.

If you want to read a hard copy of the article, the new issue will be on newsstands this week.

Special offer
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If you’d like to subscribe to MovieMaker, its editor, Jennifer Woods, has offered a special rate of $8.95 for one year for www.joyoffilmediting readers.
To subscribe, click on:

Excerpt of article

Here’s the beginning of the article:

Inglourious Editors: A View into the Cutting Room

Whatever part(s) you play on a film – writer, director, actor, cinematographer, hair stylist, etc. – your work winds up in the cutting room in the hands of the editor. Since the editor takes your work – the raw material = the footage – and makes it into the product the audience will see, it’s important to know how editors think and why they make the choices they do. This article will unlock the door to the cutting room and look at a few of the ways that editors approach the footage.

What an editor sees

Editing, which it is often compared to sculpting, involves deciding what to put in and what to leave out in creating the piece. “Left on the cutting room floor” is a well known cutting cliché. How does an editor judge which shots and frames to omit and which to put in?

Immersed by a myriad of shots on a digital monitor, an editor addresses a lot of elements simultaneously: lighting, continuity, story, pace, emotion, shot angle, shot type, sound, and more. A huge factor driving the “in or out” decision is a question that’s never far from the editor’s consciousness: How much does the audience need to know? Viewers are savvy; they can get what’s going on in a second or two. Here are a few types of cuts that illustrate how quickly an audience takes in information: (see full article for more).

Editing & screenwriting, Editing practices, Editor’s role