Monday, January 31, 2011

Shane Hurlbut on HDSLR's

Shane Hurlbut is a Director of Photography who has worked on many major motion pictures including "We Are Marshall" and the latest "Terminator" film. He was the first big-name DP to embrace the HDSLR as a serious filmmaking tool. In this two-part interview, he talks about his experiences with the 5D MkII and where he sees the future of HDSLR's going. The interviewer is a bit painful to watch as he seems to have no clue about some basic video technologies (including not knowing the difference between the RED Scarlet and Epic cameras), but the information is good for anyone working in this medium. Here is a link to the interview on the Cinema5D website. For more about Shane Hurlbut, ASC, visit his IMDB page here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Software Training Podcasts

If you are looking for training in the major audio-video-design software programs, you can pay a lot of money and not learn as much as you will learn from the free podcasts offered by Creative Cow. This week, 9 of the top 40 software training podcasts were by Creative Cow (as listed by iTunes). In fact, they had three of the top 5 podcasts on the web. You might want to check out this great resource for broadening your skills in the software you use. The podcasts are available in SD or HD depending on the speed of your connection. Creative Cow offers a lot of other resources as well and I often use their forums when I have questions about anything A/V related. Their moderators are very knowledgeable working professionals who are usually quite helpful. I recommend the entire site wholeheartedly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Case Studies in Film Editing

Oliver Peters has an extensive list of behind the scenes articles about the post production process on a wide variety of films. His interviews and insight will be helpful to anyone wanting to learn more about directing or editing narrative films. Check it out.

Free Stock - Auto Repair

Here's a great clip for your next project that deals with auto repairs, assembly or just working with your hands. It might work well in a montage to represent industry, precision, progress or any number of things.

Download now.

NAB Show in Vegas

The biggest expo each year for anything audio-video related is the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas.

If you want to be there in-person for the unveiling of new products and be able to get hands-on with equipment from virtually every manufacturer, this is the place to be. In addition to exhibits, there are many learning opportunities in the various sessions and panels that take place during the week. Visit the NAB site.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Daybreak Quartet Video Shoot

This has been quite the diverse week for me. On Saturday, I worked on a script for a film. Sunday I worked with a live broadcast for our church. Monday and Tuesday I was in the recording studio engineering a trio recording. Wednesday I edited most of the day and then worked on a live sound situation in the evening. Thursday I became a photographer for half a day and then shot video the other half. Today I meet with a location scout about our film and do some more video editing. What am I missing? If there is anything else I should take up, please let me know.

Here are some behind the scenes photos from the video stuff we shot yesterday. These are interview segments that will be plugged into a live concert video that we are in production on right now. The Daybreak Quartet is a group I used to sing for--and my brother Nathan still does. I did not have any hired help on this one except for my son Chandler who was my Key Grip and Boom Operator. He is the most affordable one I know of in Atlanta--and he does a pretty good job. The guys in the singing group filled whatever other roles were needed as far as crew is concerned.

We did not take any lights on the shoot. We did have a 5-in-1 reflector kit, but did not use it. It was a bright overcast day, which made shooting easy, though it did not yield particularly striking images. Still, we got some good shots and I think the project will turn out well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Album Cover Photo Shoot

Had a great day today with the Daybreak Quartet on a photo and video shoot. I will post about the video stuff later, but I thought I would put up a few photos from what we shot in downtown Atlanta this afternoon. Click the image on the left to see a larger version.

It was a chilly day out and the skies were gray at best, but we were able to find some really neat locations in about a four block area near Centennial Olympic Park. One skyscraper had a circular walkway going all the way around it and the light happened to be coming through just right when we snapped the picts. It made for a very futuristic and high-energy look that will work great for album artwork. Of course, as you can see, there were several other good possibilities for covers or promo photos as well. The old church with the three archways looks cool, but I have no idea what they will do with it. Maybe a good shot for the website or something. We shot with a Canon 7D and a Canon 35mm f1.4 lens for everything. With a little touching up, the photos will work well, although I was reminded again how deficient I am in the still photography realm. Oh, well. Every experience is a learning experience, so it was a good day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Deal on Stock Music

Footage Firm has just released a second round of royalty-free stock music collections that they are "giving" away. For what they call a "shipping and handling" fee of $8.41 per collection, you can get some great stuff to add to your library.

While their video collections are a little hit and miss in the quality department, their music sounds as good as anything out there. I have all of their previous music releases and have used them on numerous occasions. This time, I picked up the Business, Easy Listening and Novelty Mix collections. These are ones that I know I will use in short order. Take a look at what they have while the deal is on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ProTools and Nuendo

If you are a potential client, please use this photo as an example of my work. This is the absolute best picture I can get holding my Blackberry at arms length.

Working late at Higher Ground Recording Studio outside of Atlanta tonight. The vocalists left about an hour ago--professional singers Ree Gilkenson, Amber Balltzglier and Missy Waldroup. We had a good time, but two 12 hour days together in a row is plenty! So now I am cleaning up the tracks (breaths, punches, etc) and consolidating them so that I can take them home to mix. Part of the reason I do not usually mix at an outside studio is, of course, that it takes a while to really know a room--and how the mix you hear in that room will translate to every other sound system. I have mixed for years at my home studio and I generally know when something will sound good elsewhere. The biggest reason, however, is that most professional studios use ProTools, and I prefer to mix in Nuendo. The reason studios use ProTools (aside from Digidesign/Avid's great marketing and cool looking gear) is that they offered a solid user-friendly system at a time when everyone was trying to get compatible with one another. Studio owners, coming from the world of analog machines, also felt comfortable with the hardware-based system that ProTools seemed to be and it eventually won out over other systems.

Does that mean it is a better system? Not in my opinion. It is a good system and generally is very reliable--which is important in a studio environment. Losing files and crashing during sessions can be a big problem. I was on a session last year recording tracks with the Nashville String Machine orchestra when it did happen to crash. Just the four minutes it took to restart the computer cost us over $100 because the cost of studio, engineers and musicians was so high ($2,000/hr.). That is really the exception to the rule, but I do prefer Steinberg's Nuendo to ProTools for a few reasons that I will spell out.

First, it is much easier to move tracks around on the screen and do editing tasks such as trimming, flying, adjusting nodes for volume, etc. Being able to do that kind of stuff quickly can really save time and money. Second, the quality is better. ProTools has started to step up their game recently, but Nuendo has had 96khz and 32-bit floating point audio for 7 or 8 years now, and it makes a difference in the clarity of a final mix. (I know a number of Nashville engineers who have Nuendo at home for mixing for this very reason even though they have to work in ProTools since they are at different studios each day.) Third, and the biggest thing to me, is the fact that you can arm and disarm tracks while in play or record mode. Every time I work in ProTools I am frustrated to no end (the past two days are no exception) at how much my pace is slowed down by the lack of this feature. Here is an example of what I mean.

Let's say I am in ProTools recording the first line of the chorus with three singers. I play a pre-roll of about 6 seconds so they can find their place, then I punch in for the line and punch out. Now, I stop the machine and say "Amber and Ree, I need to get just the first word again from you." After I have disarmed Missy's track, I start the pre-roll to do the take. In Nuendo, I would never have to stop the machine. I would simply start the pre-roll immediately and while I was giving them direction, I would be disarming Missy's track. By the time I finish talking, we are ready to punch in and we have our fix. Another thing I can do in Nuendo is fixes for multiple people in different spots. For example, I could have Amber's track armed for the first half of the phrase, then arm Ree's for the second half of the phrase--all while I am already rolling in record mode.

Now, this may seem like a small thing, but when working with professional background vocalists who are ready for fixes immediately, I would estimate that I lose 30-45 minutes of productive recording time each day by not having this option. In addition, I lose the singer's interest in the song when they have to wait so long to turn each take around. That is huge and the main thing I would love to see changed in ProTools.

There are a few other things I could talk about, but those are the big ones. Of course, there are some things I do like about ProTools, the biggest of which is the buffering that it does any time it starts rolling. If you are late on a punch, you can easily fix it because all the audio is there for you to access. So, that's my comparison as promised. Not very scientific, but I have used both systems for long enough now to have an opinion on the matter at least.

Audio Mixing for Video

Oliver Peters has an article about how he handles audio in his video projects. I don't necessarily think his process is best for every project, but there are times when this approach is needed. At the very least, you should be applying compression to your final export on every project, but on more complicated projects, you often need to approach the mix as you would in a recording studio.

This article talks about mixing in Soundtrack Pro, which is a good option. For even more control over the quality of your sound, consider a program such as Steinberg Nuendo. I have used Nuendo for more than ten years and cannot recommend it highly enough. In my next post, I will offer a comparison between it and ProTools. Whatever the case, the point is to give attention to the audio mix--realizing that you can only do very limited sweetening on the timeline in Final Cut, Media Composer or Premiere Pro. Read the article here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Casting Call!

We have open auditions on February 5th for this summer's production of "The Solomon Bunch." If you know people who might be interested in trying out for a role--especially those who live in the Atlanta area--give them a heads-up about the film. Visit the official website for more information. For those who are interested in being a part of the production team on this one, stay tuned to my blog and I will let you know who we are looking for.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cheap Reflectors/Diffusion

I remember when I finally came to the realization that controlling light was the key to getting good video. I did not have enough money to get a good 5-in-1 Reflector/Diffuser kit at the time, so I put together my own little collection of cheap alternatives. These included white sheets, silver dashboard reflectors made for cars, cardboard covered with tin foil and anything else I came across that could do the job. It got me through for quite a while, although I probably did not wow any of my clients with my professionalism.

My current 5-in-1 kit cost me about $100 and I use it on nearly every shoot in some manner or another, either as a bounce, in front of a light, as a flag, as a wind block for microphones, or any number of other ways. If you do not have one because of the cost, check out this option for only $12 through an Ebay seller. I have not used this set before, and I am pretty sure that it is an inferior product. But at this price, it could be disposable and still be a good buy. Here is an image to show what a reflector can do to add fill light to your subject when shooting in sunlight.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Free Stock - Kayaking in Portland

Here is your weekly free HD clip. This one works well as a generic city skyline shot or in a project about fitness or the outdoors. What's the catch? All I ask is that you tell a couple of other media types about my blog. Oh, and make this a daily stop yourself for practical audio-video news and tips.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Praise for Pixar

Here is a neat piece about Pixar and the huge success they have had over the past fifteen years. It draws an interesting comparison with their number one rival Dreamworks Pictures. The biggest takeaway is that it all comes down to having an imaginative and powerfully-executed story. Despite the fact that they are animated children's programs, the films produced by Pixar are among the best examples of story structure and character arc that you will find anywhere.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This Is My America - Patriotic Musical

Just uploaded a promo for the new release from Bible Truth Music called "This Is My America." I produced the accompaniment videos you see in the promo (produced the promo also). By the time all was said and done, it turned into quite a huge project as far as deliverables go, but it turned out well and they have a good product. Just hoping they don't decide to do another patriotic musical, because I have used every scrap of americana video that I have ever shot, purchased or found in order to get this one finished! Hint: Set the video quality to 480p for better quality viewing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Groundbreaking AF-100 from Panasonic

The video world is abuzz with talk of the Panasonic AG-AF 100. It is being sold now on pre-order and is already a successful product even before release.  As well it should be. If it lives up to its claims, it will be an incredibly useful tool for the independent filmmaker. This camera takes the good things about a video camera (XLR inputs, HD/SDI and HDMI outputs, ND filter wheel, viewfinder, anti-aliasing, etc.) and the good things about a DSLR (large sensor, large sensor, large sensor, etc.) and combines them into one unit. The only question is what will the 300 manufacturers of DSLR rigs do with all their inventory?

I am a little concerned that Panasonic has not made it easy for anyone to see its true capabilities. When the Sony EX-1 was at this same stage, there were dozens of videos created by top videographers that were available to watch and analyze. So far, there is very little to look at--and most of what is available is by shooters who were not able to use the camera long enough to even figure out the best settings. As far as I know, no one has yet shown how the compression looks either. The one "professional" production shot with the camera used an external 100mbs recorder, which of course looks great.

That said, I expect it to be a great camera, especially for the price ($5,000 body-only). It will be interesting to see what Sony counters with, though. They are releasing a camera next month called the PMW-F3 for around $13,000, and have promised a lower-cost model on its heels. We will keep you posted on that. The images from the F3 look fantastic, by the way.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Behind The Scenes - Artist Brian Neher

We are in the final weeks of editing on a project shot last fall for portrait artist Brian Neher. Since we needed absolute quiet for 8-10 hours at a time, we set up in a recording studio that was available at a very low rate--and used every inch of the place as you can see. It was a full week of shooting that yielded 6 DVD training videos for aspiring painters.

There were three Sony EX-1 cameras on set. Camera A was a wide shot of Brian and the painting he was working on. It was on a portable dolly so the opening shot could have a little movement. Camera B was close on the painting. And camera C was an overhead shot of the palette. Even though there were no exterior windows to balance to, Brian asked for daylight-colored lights to help with his accuracy in mixing colors. We lit to 5600k using a combination of Kino-flos, an HMI with a large diffuser in front and a couple of Lowell Rifa lights with daylight gels over the softboxes. The biggest challenges were that there was just enough room above the wall of the set to mount a couple of backlights so that the wall would be self-flagging, and the fill light needed to be in the exact place the Kessler crane was located. After some difficulty, we finally found a spot that worked without casting unwanted shadows or being too close to the subject.

We built the set, a small two-wall backdrop, the day before the shoot. Our original plan was to use wallpaper on the upper half of the set, but we could not get it to adhere to the plywood well enough at the seams. We ended up just painting it instead. Here are a few more photos. Click on them to see them at a larger size.

Calculating Video File Sizes

There was a time when figuring out how much space your export would need was easy. Now, with so many codecs, I have difficulty remembering what the total per minute is for most of them. There are some calculators you can install on your computer, but I have found that using VideoSpace Online is the better way to go for me. They do a good job of keeping it updated as new formats are introduced and it is clean, simple and free. While you are on their site, Digital Heaven has some other nifty free tools you might check out including some very comprehensive grid and guides overlays and a plug-in to keep your drives from going to sleep.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

After Effects Templates

Even if you know nothing about Adobe After Effects, you can still put its power to work on your projects. How? With templates. There are an increasing number of pre-designed templates available on sites such as DropDrop, Revostock, VideoHive, Pond5 and more. These come ready for customization, and though most of them do require at least a basic knowledge of After Effects, a new offering from Digital Juice is literally drag and drop.

The Ready2Go collection includes 40 different projects that are simple to use and easily customizable at a price that is hard to pass up. Most templates available online range in cost from $40 to $100. Digital Juice is packaging 40 for an introductory price of $249, a tremendous value. There is a good enough variety of styles that it should pay for itself over and over again. To find out more about this limited time offer, visit

UPDATE 1-21-11: Today Digital Juice revealed that they have this same collection available for Apple Final Cut Studio. Even better for those who do not own After Effects.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Free Stock - Bulldozer Drive-By

Another free HD stock footage clip. This one works great as a title background. Check this site often for new postings and for heads-up on other free stuff you may not have found on your own.

Download Now.

Interview Lighting DVD

I am often asked by those getting started in video what my recommendation is for a lighting kit. While I do point them in the right direction as far as some great inexpensive setups, the main thing I emphasize is that it is not the lights that matter--it is the knowledge of how to use them. A great DP can often get an awesome-looking setup using nothing but existing light and a reflector or two. At the same time, I have seen people with $10,000 worth of lighting turn out inferior work.

This DVD from Vortex Media will show you how use a relatively inexpensive kit to its full potential on single-subject interviews, the most common type of shot for almost every videographer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cheap Rental Houses

With the ever-changing world of large-sensor cameras, it is becoming difficult to know when to "pull the trigger" on a particular camera. Just when you think you have found the perfect solution, another new product is announced that has even better features. If you are needing a DSLR or other camera on just a few shoots a year, you might consider the rental houses that have popped up online recently.

Sites such as and ATS Rentals have a great selection of cameras, lenses and even accessories for super low rates. One of my favorites because of their great service is The Lens Depot. For less than $300/week, you can be shooting with a Canon 5dMKII, 7D or 60D and a number of super fast lenses that will yield amazing images. So far, I have not seen anyone offer true cinema lenses (such as the Zeiss Compact Primes) at discount prices, but I imagine someone may in the not too distant future.

In my experience, these discount places are actually easier to rent from than local rental houses as far as the paperwork goes, and the shipping process is quite painless. Give them a try for your next shoot--or just use them as a way to "try before you buy" a particular camera system.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Greatest Investment

It is easy as audio-video producers to get caught up in the race to bigger, better and more equipment. The fact is, however, that even the most basic equipment in the hands of someone with expertise will yield superior results. The key is to invest your time and money where it will have the biggest impact on your work, and often that is in education.

There are two worthwhile opportunities coming up that you might be interested in. The Filmmakers Intensive is a two-week course featuring some great instructors and a lot of hands-on training in film production. It takes place July 23rd-August 6th in Salem, Oregon and has a very strict acceptance policy. The Editor's Retreat on February 16th-20th is in New Orleans and is a time to learn from and network with some of the top editors in America. It includes a lot of free software including the full Adobe Production Premium. Neither one of these events is cheap, but may be a good investment for your future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Solomon Bunch - First Draft

Just finished the first draft of a screenplay for a new children's film entitled "The Solomon Bunch." This film will be in production this summer and should be on DVD by early next year. The project is designed to be a series of shows if this first one is a success.

Attached to the project already are Director of Photography Tom Pritchard, Composer Marianthe Bezzerides, DIT George Ordway, AD Christian LaRegina, Production Manager/Producer Sara Prisk and myself Directing.

"The Solomon Bunch" is co-written with Jack Gregory. Casting will begin in February.

Super Slow Motion

You have seen the beautiful super slo-mo replays in shows like Mythbusters and Time Warp. Renting a camera such as the Phantom that shoots 1,000 frames per second to get that same look in-camera will cost you over $3,000/day. There are some ways to cheat in post-production and get a look that is close, however, though not by using your standard retiming functions in Final Cut, Premiere or Avid.

Twixtor is a program that has been used by many professionals with much success over the last few years. They developed a way to essentially create new frames by using information from the previous and following frames to predict what the new frame will look like. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it is a worthwhile purchase. For those who already own Final Cut Studio, however, there is a technique that can be used without any additional software purchases. This tutorial will show you the process for getting amazing-looking 1000fps video using only Final Cut Pro and Motion. There are some limitations to what kind of footage this will work on, but it is certainly a good tool to have handy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Go Hawks!

What's worse than not being able to watch the Seahawks beat the Saints on Saturday? It is watching the game in a room full of people who are avid Saints fans. Now, normally this would be a lot of fun, but one of those people happened to be one of my best clients! Imagine my frustration as each time the Seahawks scored I had to say something like, "well, there is still a lot of time left" or, "man, they usually don't leave guys that open, the Saints must be just having a rough day." My one mistake was leaping from my seat and shouting when Lynch scored after his incredible run. Somehow I think I might be looking for work elsewhere. Oh, well. It was a great game--and maybe even worth it. I will be sure to watch them play the Bears, however, in the security of my own living room.

Stock Music for Churches

Needing original and royalty-free music to use in your church productions? This is a great deal you should not pass up. The best thing about the StackTraxx series is that it is customizable--meaning you can do a complete remix of each track, removing drums, pushing up strings, whatever you need. I have been using StackTraxx for years, and although the Worship series is fairly weak vocally, it still works great as music beds. The $169 special is only this month, so get it now.

Advice for New DP's

Here is a great article that was posted on for young or aspiring Director's of Photography. Probably the best takeaway is the idea that experience is the key. While study and schooling are important, there really is no substitute for actual experience on-set. Knowing how to assess any situation quickly and come up with the right solution is what makes one sought-after as a DP--and comes only from having faced similar situations in the past.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Creative Testimony Videos

Collide Magazine has an article about making your testimony videos for church use more effective. They link to several outstanding examples that will give you some great ideas. In fact, I would recommend watching them to any video producer who wants to learn how to tell a story effectively. Check out the other great stuff that Collide offers for the church media pro while you are there--especially their directory of free online media resources.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Great Deal on Stock Music

Finding just the right piece of music for each production is only possible when you have a huge selection to choose from. The best way to go is usually with an affordable online library that you can search and purchase only the tracks you need. However, a few companies offer collections at such low prices that you can't go wrong purchasing them as they will pay for themselves very quickly. Digital Juice and Footage Firm have some bargain-priced music collections that are great quality, and Stock 20 has a good collection as well, especially if you get it while it is on sale. Through the end of January, they are offering their whole royalty free (pay once and use it forever) collection for just $249 and if you purchase before midnight on the 5th, you save an additional $50. Might want to check it out and see about adding it to your toolbox.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Choir Monitors Ruin Mixes

One of the most difficult things to deal with in church sound is the choir monitors. There seems to be no really good way to do it. Tonight I was in a church in Florida that has a fairly large traditional-style auditorium. The monitors were a part of the center cluster hanging from a very high ceiling, and a couple of problems became apparent right away.

First, the monitor was heard throughout the auditorium. Because this church prefers a quieter mix in the mains, but the choir wants to hear the monitors at a fairly loud level, the monitor became the prominent source in the house. This is quite common in churches and results in a very boxy and indirect sound throughout the house. Clarity suffers and it just plain sounds bad. Unfortunately, this is one problem that is not fixed without some re-training of the performers. The only solution without bringing the monitors closer to the performers (such as with hotspots or ear monitors) or boosting the volume in the mains, is to run the choir monitors at a lower level. This forces the choir to pay attention to the director more closely--which may not be all bad. The choir will most certainly give you grief and tell you they CANNOT HEAR THE TRACK AT ALL, but it is worth weathering the storm. They will eventually get used to the lower volume and learn to sing along with confidence.

The second problem tonight came because the speakers were so high in the ceiling. The choir was singing with soundtracks that were played through the ceiling monitors. The singers were slightly behind the track because of the distance the sound had to travel to get to them. Their voices traveling to the microphones, which were quite high as well, added even more delay. By the time everything reached the audience, there was a significant delay in the vocals as compared to the track and it became distracting. The best solution here would be to get the monitors closer to the singers--and probably the mics as well. There are some speakers that do a good job of throwing the sound in only one direction, but a concern they do not address is the sound that is bouncing off the back wall or being picked up in the rear patter of the hanging mics.

Convincing the choir director and members that they really do not need as much monitor as they are currently used to is a necessary step toward better sound in the house. It is not easy, but it can be done with time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Free Stock - Marines Marching in Rain

Happy New Year! To start the year off right, I am posting the first of many free stock footage clips for you to download. These clips are from my AmeriClipsHD collection and will hopefully be useful in your productions. This one has been one of my top three best-sellers online and works great for anything patriotic. Download Now!