Friday, December 31, 2010

Free Learning Videos - FreshDV

FreshDV is a site that I visit often to find out what is new in the world of video. Usually for at least the first half of each year (when new equipment is being introduced), they have regular updates. Their coverage of industry events such as the NAB show, CineGear and others is exceptional. For anyone wanting to learn more about film production, they also have a number of videos featuring professionals in the film industry that will give you some good insight into how others work. Currently they have series in the "Featured Videos" section on the roles of Assistant Director, 1st AD (Focus Puller) and Director of Photography.

Color Grading Your Productions

Color grading is an often overlooked step in the video production process. It is one really big thing that will take your projects from looking amateur to looking professional. Grading, or "color-correction" as it is also called, has a two-fold purpose. First, it is to improve the overall color and help each shot to "pop." Second, it is to create a unique look for your production when you want something different. Grading, the final step in the production process, should not be an afterthought, however. The best results come when you shoot your footage with the intention of grading, preserving the maximum amount of detail and information in your shots.

A couple of guys have a series of YouTube training videos called "Shoot Your Friends," and one episode is a quick overview of grading. The production value of their videos is not great (audio especially), but the content might be helpful. For more before/after examples of grading, take a look at the demo reel from colorist Gerry Curtis.

While grading is best handled by someone who specializes in that particular art, anyone can see improvement in the look of their videos by learning how to use programs they already have, such as Apple Color or even built-in tools available in editors such as After Effects, Final Cut, Premiere Pro, etc. The biggest thing is to leave yourself time (and money, if outsourcing) at the end of your production schedule to do proper grading. On several occasions, I have had to send projects out the door without a final color pass simply because I was up against a deadline. Planning ahead will give your productions the best chance at success.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Church Media Workshops

Just scheduled a couple of upcoming workshop sessions in Knoxville, Tennessee in April. These will be sessions targeted at church media directors and technicians and will be held on the campus of Crown College as a part of their annual Baptist Friends International meeting. Exact dates and workshop topics will be posted here once confirmed.

Truth For Today on NRB Channel


The NRB Network has just picked up the television program "Truth for Today." Dr. Neal Jackson, formerly on the syndicated broadcast "Rejoice In The Lord," approached me last year about creating a show from his preaching that could air on a national network. It was quite a challenge, especially considering the fact that their church is currently in a very narrow traditional-style building that does not allow for manned cameras on the sides and the fact that no one in the church has any previous experience in TV.

We purchased the new HD switching system from NewTek called the TCXD-300 and three NXCam cameras from Sony, routing everything via HD-SDI cable. With creative shot calling, some blocking instruction for Dr. Jackson, and training for the camera ops, director and editor, we were able to get a professional look for the program despite having only one manned camera.

Look for the "Truth for Today" program in February on NRB (National Religious Broadcasters). The NRB Channel is currently carried on DirectTV and should be added to the lineup on Dish Network and Time Warner Cable in the very near future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Great Northwest

As I sit in a Starbucks with my laptop pro working on a few video projects, I am strangely productive. I am on Whidbey Island, the largest of many islands in the Puget Sound north of Seattle--and the place where I grew up. It could be that Starbucks just feels more at home amongst the tall evergreens and snow-capped mountains of its birth. Maybe it's the fact that the weather here is much more my cup of tea (or cafe mocha, as the case may be) than that of my current home in Atlanta--and the light rain falling outside makes my corner of the coffee shop seem more cozy. Perhaps it is the more relaxed pace of this area in general, but I am definitely more productive.

Whatever the case may be, it is not a phenomenon unique to me. I have always been amazed at how many artists, authors and other creative types choose to live here and in similar places (Colorado, Maine, etc...) I often use voice-over professionals to narrate my productions, and a large percentage of them have chosen to hole up in this area as well.

If you can develop a good client base on your own, and one that spans the country, the advantage in this business of video production is that you can choose to base out of just about anywhere. Since the amount of time you spend editing is dramatically higher than the amount of time spent shooting, you might as well find a place that is comfortable and inspiring. Go shoot on location, then hole up for a few weeks. I am tempted to move back here every time I visit, and who knows--one day I might.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Online Screenwriting Software

For a year now I have been using a scriptwriting software called Celtx for doing my scripts. The $5 subscription each month allows me to share access to the scripts with up to five different people. This has been a great deal in my opinion, and other players are entering the marketplace. Scripped is a new program that also looks great at first glance. Take a look at the video and see if an online scriptwriting software is for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's My Turn Now!

I just spent a week of 20-hour days working three major project deadlines that I had to get out before leaving for Christmas vacation. Last night was an all-nighter, and thanks to 5-Hour Energy (soon to be a sponsor of this blog, I am sure) I stayed productive. Nothing like trying to keep track of encoding for seven versions each of nine different videos--and figuring out how to make a DVD menu system to support the choices--all at 4 o'clock in the morning!

But, it's over. Now I finally have a chance to rest, and I am on a plane. After about 20 minutes napping in the amazing comfort of AirTran coach seating, I could not pass up the opportunity to take advantage of the free wi-fi (special Christmas promotion). Two reasons, really. First, I thought it would be cool to blog from 30,000 feet. And second, after paying all the extra fees for checked bags, I figure it's my turn to stick it to them. So I will consume as much of their bandwidth (7k at a time) as possible, while alternately sipping ginger ale, hot tea and orange juice. If that doesn't do it, I know it's killing them to see me on my fourth bag of "Gourmet Pretzels." Gourmet!--they've got to be expensive, don't you think.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Learn Amazing Camera Moves!

Hot Moves is the latest instructional DVD from Hollywood Camera Work. The special Christmas sale is 30% off the already unbelievable price of $69. Their Master Course in blocking was my Christmas present last year and it was the best training in camera work that I have ever had. They thought of everything, and it looks like this course is no different. If you want to learn how to create camera moves that have the maximum impact, Hot Moves will be a great investment. Check out the demo and sample segments now.

And if you are looking for the perfect gift for the videographer you love, this would be it. Here's hoping my wife reads my blogs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Free Stuff - SonicFire Pro

SmartSound is giving away free software and a volume of background music for use in your productions. SonicFire Pro is a well respected program that tailors music to automatically match the mood and length of your video. While I have not used it myself, I have an editor friend who raves about it. It is not clear how long this offer will be good, but it looks like it is valid at least through Christmas.

Where Have All The Projectors Gone?

A bit nostalgic this morning as I think about where we are in just my lifetime. My 13-year old son really wants an iPad for Christmas, though he is well-aware he is shooting high. I think he put that on the list so that the Kindle a little further down the list will not seem like anything at all.

As I watch people with their iPhones and Droids watching movies and having face-to-face conversations across the country, I really cannot believe that all this has happened. I am not yet 40 years old, but when I was my kids' age, I remember technology a little differently.

Monday night was family night and we always got a movie. But instead of checking the DVR for recordings or renting from Amazon online, my dad would bring home a 16mm projector and a couple of films in canisters rented from the local library. These films would be things like Laurel & Hardy, The 3 Stooges, or Disney films including my favorites which starred live animals and all used the same amazing voice-over guy to bring it to life. Because my dad was a pastor, we would also occasionally get to review the latest film produced by Billy Graham or Bob Jones University--to see if it would be good for the church to view at the upcoming New Year's Eve service. As long as Dad could get it threaded properly and the bulb didn't give out, we would have a great night watching a jumpy picture and listening to equal parts projector hum and film soundtrack.

As I got into my teen years, technology advanced to the point that we would rent a VCR and videocassettes instead. The top-loading VCR weighed about the same amount as 16mm projector, but by the time I finished college and began teaching, things had really advanced.  I remember the class where I told my video students about the latest thing that was being discussed in the industry. It was "movies on a CD." We were all in awe of the fact that they had figured out a way to get that much information on something the size of a CD.

Things change fast, and if anyone thinks they know what is coming in the future, they are probably wrong. I can imagine the writers of the original Star Trek having ideas for some of the technologies included on today's smartphones, but deciding not to incorporate them because they were not believable enough. Instead they went with things that we were sure to have by now such as travel at the speed of light and teleporting (which Apple is working on as we speak, by the way). It is funny to think about what my kids reaction would be if I started setting up a projector and threading a film in my living room some evening. I fear their attention span would not hold out past the leader.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mpeg Streamclip - The Indispensable Tool

Mpeg Streamclip from Squared5 is a fantastic little file conversion program that is the secret weapon of almost every professional editor I know. It is often more capable than leading programs such as Apple Compressor and Sorenson Squeeze, despite the fact that it is a free download! There is no excuse for anyone who works with video to be without this tool. While no conversion software on the market can handle every file type, Mpeg Streamclip does most of them and very quickly. There is a version available for Windows as well as Mac platforms, so go get it now!

Digital Juice Production Bag

This weekend I rented equipment from someone who just purchased some bags from Digital Juice. The Production Bag and the Camera Bags are both a great value and seem to be very well-built. The Large Topload Camera Bag (looks similar to the bag above) was the perfect size for a NewTek Tricaster, and is about half the price of bags made specifically for the Tricaster. At $300, it is a great value and every bit as professional as bags from PortaBrace, Kata, etc.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Canon Tour with Philip Bloom








Philip Bloom is arguably the leading expert in using DSLR's for shooting video. Just announced yesterday is an upcoming seminar tour. Might be worth checking out...

Philip Bloom, DSLR evangelist, will be visiting 12 cities across the US and showing you just how to get the best out of your DSLR… Everything from camera setup to post workflow. He’ll also be covering the latest gear and cameras, including the new large chip video cameras.

This will not be your typical, dry, hotel seminar… This will be fun, entertaining, and of course educational. Come get involved! Our workshops are interactive and this is your chance to ask Philip directly the questions you’ve always wanted to.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Shooting HD for SD

One of the greatest things about shooting in HD is how beneficial it is for standard definition productions. First of all, after shrinking and cropping, the quality generally looks a lot better than what most DV-based cameras are capable of. The best thing about shooting HD for SD, however, is the amount of freedom you have in re-framing shots and in applying motion.

Since standard definition (DV) is 720 x 480 pixels and HD is 1920x1080 pixels, you literally have the freedom to choose any section of an HD image for use in your SD timeline. I have used this to great advantage in a number of ways. Here are a few examples from the Live In Charleston DVD we just completed.
   • A surprise appearance by Andy Leftwich, fiddler for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, was not working as well as we had hoped. The shot where he entered the screen alongside the young girl who was playing at the time was too soon to be an effective "surprise" moment. I was able to use a closer shot of the girl that did not include Andy. No loss of quality from "zooming in" and it looked great.
   • My camera operators during the shoot were not able to get super slow crawl zooms that were consistent. Instead of doing the slow zooms live, I just had them give me a wide shot, and I created the zooms in post production. The good news is, with a slow zoom, it is almost impossible to tell whether it was done in-camera or in post.
   • One locked down camera provided multiple angles. My shot of the pianist from behind was fairly wide and included the entire piano and artist. From that shot, I was able to extract a nice close shot of the keyboard and an additional medium shot in between. The low angle shot of a group of singers was also able to be used as a two shot (of my choice) where needed.
   • There were a number of other ways I made use of the extra resolution, including a few pan shots and a number of fixes to composition. I was also able to choose on a wide shot whether to zoom in to the artist or the screen behind him, which came in handy a couple of times.

There are a few drawbacks to using this technique, primarily the fact that when you choose a closer shot, the background remains the same as the focal length of the lens has not changed. This means that you will not get as narrow a depth of field as you would by zooming in-camera. The focus is also critical. If you did not have sharp focus in your original shot, then your image quality may be better without being cropped. Still, it is a very liberating feeling to shoot and edit with all the options that shooting HD for SD projects provides.

For those not sure how to make use of this technique, here is some quick instruction. Open an SD project in your editor. Import an HD clip. Most editors will resize the clip to a letterboxed size that fills the SD screen horizontally--somewhere around 37%. Using the sizing controls, set the clip anywhere between 51% and 100% that you desire and move the clip up, down, left or right as needed to find the perfect framing. As long as you don't exceed 100%, you will maintain full quality.

Shooting 1920x1080 HD for 1280x720 HD uses the same principles, by the way, but does not give quite as much room for adjustment.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Live In Charleston Promo

Live In Charleston with Greg Howlett

Shipping today is a new DVD project I directed and edited. It is a live concert by pianist Greg Howlett and a number of special guests. We shot the concert with three Sony EX-1 cameras and recorded directly to the SxS cards in each camera, transferring afterwards. Of course, we did have a feed from each camera to a switcher so that I could call the shots during the performance, but that was only used as a guide to be sure we had coverage. The program was completely recut in post. Additionally, we shot each song a second time (the following day) for closeups and creative angles--including low angle views and some dolly shots onstage. The second time through, we shot with just two cameras. Mistakes that were made musically during the concert were fixed selectively by "punching" in only where necessary, the same way you would do fixes in the studio.

Equipment used for the project included a Vintech 4-channel preamp (Neve knockoff) for the piano mics (Neumann TLM-103s) and vocal/instrument mics (Neumann KM-184 and Shure Beta 87--a poor choice in hindsight for the poor windscreen). Audience mics were AT-4033s and ran through PreSonus preamps. The audio was multitracked to Nuendo running on a PC and video was edited in Final Cut Studio on a MacPro.

The DVD's are available for purchase at

Have A Little Fun For Once!

I was going through my hard drives today trying to find a particular shot from an old project, when I stumbled across some comedy pieces I put together for my church a couple of years ago. Watching productions after putting them to bed for a while is always an enlightening experience (and probably one of the most helpful things you can do to improve your work) and I was a little nervous. I was relieved to see that they were in fact funny after all.

The biggest take-away was the fact that I can't believe the kinds of things we get away with during our annual missions conference. It is a fun time, and the highlight of the year for our church. There is always some ribbing of our guest missionaries--if you can call comparing them to Charles Manson "ribbing"--and they seem to enjoy it. The fact that it is balanced out with a heavy dose of appreciation for their calling and an abundance of gifts probably makes it okay.

Having been in well over 1,000 churches in the past 15 years, I can tell you that the kind of videos we produce at my church would never work in the majority of them. Not because the people would not enjoy them, but because the staff would be terrified to put themselves in silly situations for fear of losing the respect of their people. I think that is a shame, because the bond that is formed between the staff and the church members through this kind of thing is priceless.

I will never forget as a young preacher's kid visiting a friend's house on a Sunday afternoon. As we were eating dinner, my friend's older sister commented that she always assumed that my family ate mostly steak dinners and other fine foods. Truth was, meatloaf was about the fanciest we ever got. Church members, especially young Christians, often have misguided assumptions about the pastoral staff.

In short, I think it is good on special occasions to get the pastor and staff to have a little fun--and video is the perfect way to do it. Put them in a funny situation and exaggerate their personality traits a little. No need for a fantastic script or even a real plot. Just make them a special agent or a sports hero and everyone will eat it up. The end result will be a staff that is viewed as more approachable--which should be the goal if we want to have maximum impact in people's lives. We will talk about some specific ideas in future postings, but in the next day or two, I will post some of the missions conference videos we have done in the past.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Too Shallow?

I stood talking with a new friend during a break at the recent Adobe Roadshow in Atlanta. We were discussing the HDSLR revolution and specific benefits of the different Canon models, when I apparently uttered the unthinkable. A hush came over the previously noisy hallway and heads turned my direction when I said I prefer the 7D overall because the 5D tends to have too shallow a depth-of-field. I myself could not believe I had said it. Isn't this what we have always wanted? The glorious film-look and beautiful bokeh?

No one seemed to agree with me in the slightest. Nothing, it seemed, could have made me more unpopular with that crowd. Except maybe winning the giveaway everyone had come hoping to take home with them--a copy of the brand new CS5 Production Premium. When my name was drawn (and I never win anything, by the way), I was forced to take my prize and quietly slink out the back door.

My point about the Canon 5D MkII was not to demean it in any way. It is a fantastic camera and can produce amazing images. Because of the large sensor size, however, you have a few disadvantages when shooting traditional, non-stylized material.

Here I go again. There is such a thing as "too shallow." There are two things I have noticed in watching short films that have been shot on the 5D. First of all, there are almost always focus issues. I understand that focus-shifting/searching is a technique in modern films and has been used effectively by many DP's. But what tends to happen with the 5D is that when there is a lot of z-axis movement in the frame, the focus puller never seems to be able to find the "spot." What you end up with is long sequences that only find focus by accident every so often. This cannot be covered up in editing by quick cuts and close action. A quick blurry shot is still a blurry shot, and after a while the audience tires of seeing so much out of focus.

Granted, the skill of pulling focus is a difficult and specialized one on any film-style camera. The average video professional has never really had to develop that ability in the past, though I am sure they will become more adept in the future. But even the top Hollywood AC's cannot hit every mark every time, especially on Steadicam shots with tons of action. The fact that depth of field is extremely shallow can contribute to an increase in buzzed shots and retakes, resulting in additional production costs.

Another downside of excessively shallow depth of field is the loss of detail. Background elements are important for conveying additional information about the scene or the characters. Often the establishing shot is not on screen long enough for us to take it all in before being thrust into the closeups. When we are robbed of that info, the story may suffer. But even aside from that, many films start to feel flat when the background on every shot is nothing but a blob of soft colors. Beautiful blobs, of course, but blobs nonetheless, and not a whole lot more exciting than that muslin backdrop you used to use behind every interview. Some detail in the background is a good thing in order to feel like space exists on more than just one very narrow plane.

So, am I saying shallow depth of field is a bad thing? Absolutely not. I am simply saying that the goal is not always to achieve the shallowest we can possible achieve. Am I saying you should not use the 5D? Absolutely not. For many purposes, especially in a more stylized production, the look is perfect. It is also necessary for capturing wider angles. It would be difficult to shoot a feature film, for example, with only the 7D. The 1.6 crop factor makes it difficult to get the inside closeup and reverse needed on many shots involving dialogue. The colors also seem to be a little closer to the look of 35mm film on the 5D Mk II and its noise level is a little lower, not to mention the fact that its capability with stills is superior. And, of course, you can many times overcome the shallowness of the depth of field with a little extra effort and narrower apertures.

I love both cameras and, believe it or not, I love the look of a shot with shallow depth of field. But as with other tools, it all comes down to knowing how and when to use each one effectively. Now, pardon me while I slip out the back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Movie Treatment

We have completed the treatment for a new political action-drama feature film that will be produced in 2011. This treatment is seven pages long and will act as the guide for completing the screenplay over the next couple of months. The treatment will also be entered in this year's SAICFF Film Festival in San Antonio.

The story is by Jason Prisk and Monroe Roark and is about a man faced with the choice to love or hate his enemy. Through a myriad of difficulties, including a trip to the Sahara Desert, the loss of a close friend and threats to his own life by a corporation with dealings in the middle east, the hero learns what makes life truly fulfilling. The current working title is Finding the Way, and the target date for production is early 2011.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tenth Amendment Summit

Glassworks provided audio-video support for the first annual Tenth Amendment Summit in Atlanta, GA. The conference was sponsored by Candidate for Governor Ray McBerry, who is a well-known speaker nationwide on the subject, and also included speeches by Judge Roy Moore and the president of the John Birch Society. Judge Andrew Napolitano of the Fox News Channel was also scheduled, but his flight out of New York was canceled due to snow.

We were excited to be a part of this event, which turned out to be very successful. Candidates from 25 states were present for the summit to discuss Constitutional solutions to limiting the power and control of the federal government and returning that control to States and individuals.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 Update

Here is a list of some clients for whom we are currently working as we begin 2010.

• Catalyst International, Carrollton, GA
• Ascend Performance Materials, Pensacola, FL
• Ray McBerry for Governor, Atlanta, GA
• Leatherman Tool Group, Portland, OR
• Friends of the Saharawi, Western Sahara, Africa
• Bethel Baptist School, Hartselle, AL
• MoneyTrax, Inc., Melbourne, FL
• Bethesda Children's Home, Tlapa, Guerrero, Mexico
• Motion Picture "Flickers of Hope" (working title)