Post Shoot – Getting away clean
- The time between tear down and edit
You’re listening to the Video StudentGuy Show and I’m the guy, Paul Lyzun
In the previous episode I talked about the interview from the subject’s point of view. Now we’re at the point where the shoot is over. There’s a lot happening at once during this time. The subject is being thanked, maybe the interviewer is double checking his notes and talking to the DP or Production Manager, and everyone else is packing up.
Take the pulse of your crew
While you need to move quickly you also need to do it in an orderly and consistent fashion. If you’re in charge of production you need to pay attention to what everyone is doing. You’re not there to tell people what they’re doing wrong, you’ll just be looking at what is happening and considering if people are using good judgement, or not. You also need to mine your crew for their perspectives on how well or poorly the shoot went.
Now is the time to evaluate your success, not solely on the quality of the footage captured but how effectively people and processes worked. Everyone should care about how well they can do their job and they all have opinions about how well equipment worked, whether there were any difficulties or useful items that were missing. They can even offer a unique perspective on how well their job fit in the overall production process.
Check with everyone in your crew and make note of any problems that occurred with the equipment during setup, shooting or tear down. Any equipment failure should be noted so it can be corrected when you get back to your studio.
Is equipment being put away in boxes/bags/containers in a consistent way so that everything is accounted for? If someone were to look at it they would see it’s all there in a single glance?
Ideally there should be a checklist in every equipment case that has the day’s date and actual check-boxes. I know I’m sounding very OCD, but on tear down everyone is moving very fast, it’s easy to get distracted by other people and you can overlook some small piece of equipment. Checklists are also good for creating consistency in names used for equipment, particularly if some of your crew is new and unfamiliar with the names of specific tools that you use. Finally, a completed checklist is a quick and effective review tool for a final check before closing the lid on a case.
One last thing about putting equipment away; If you have the right kind of containers, the kind designed for the equipment they’re holding, then you should be able to put the equipment in them in a consistent fashion. Say we’re talking about lights. You have stands, lamps, power cables, scrims, gels. Maybe the lamps are different sizes, like one is 350 watts, another is 450 watts. All these pieces of equipment should be loaded in the cases so that when you open them up what you need first is on top or closest to you.
For instance, the light stands are closest, then the power cables, then the lamps are further to the back. Scrims and Gels aren’t scattered on the bottom, but are in specific pockets or at least in their own boxes or bags, again in a specific location in the case so that you always know where you look to find them or anything else.
Really, its not OCD, there can be a long period of time between shoots and you don’t want to discover after 3 months that you left an important part of your equipment behind somewhere.
Now I want to talk about media management. In a nutshell, this is about keeping track of which tapes or cards are being used for recording and which ones are full and need to captured to a drive.
Although I’m talking about this now, now that the shoot is over, this task needs to be managed during the shoot as well. Someone needs to own this job, whether they carry the title of media manager or not. I think it needs to be some one because only one person can see the entire picture. It’s no good to distribute this task across multiple people because things can get confused quickly.
Before you even leave your home base the Media Manager has to determine, through conversations with the interviewer and the Director of Photography, how many tapes or cards will be needed and then pad that a little to compensate for underestimated guesses and inevitable media failures. Erring on the side of caution is never a mistake and it’s important to remember that the price of recording media is cheap, cheap, cheap in comparison to running out of recording media before you’re done.
The media should be tested before you leave your base. Here I’m being OCD again, but if this is an important shoot you should record something on each card, play it back, capture it to a drive, test it again in the editing software and then reformat it and confirm that it is readable in the camera. Mark each card according to the camera where it will be used. Keep it simple, like camera 1, camera 2, etc. Include the date and time and location on the label if space allows.
If there are enough people in your crew, someone should record the time code for each camera with a note of the topic being discussed, or perhaps other major points. This action has a lot of applications but it’s really going to be helpful when it comes time to edit. Another use for recording time code as you shoot would be to check your footage for errors when it comes time to capture it to a drive.
If there’s any break at all in the shooting, even if you haven’t copied the media from the card to the computer you can still put the card in the computer and review the footage. You’re looking for things like the frame jerking unexpectedly because it hadn’t been locked down. Maybe there’s an object you didn’t see in the background, or some movement that’s distracting. You can also double check the sound, make sure it was recorded cleanly. Mostly you’re making sure that you have usable footage.
The great thing about capturing the time code as you shoot is that it will help you find specific things quickly instead of blindly scrubbing through the video on the computer. I mean, if we’re talking about a talking head, nothing really changes in the frame. Annotated time code can make it much easier to determine whether you’re looking at footage where the subject is talking about their childhood as opposed to their first job.
Where media management really gets tricky is when you’ve filled up the card and you need to replace it with an empty one. There a few things going on simultaneously that need to be watched so you don’t wipe the wrong card.
First, there’s the recorded card in the camera. Once it’s full, shooting needs to stop. I know, there are some video cameras that have more than one slot so that when you fill one card, it automatically switches over to the next one. This gives you the advantage of choosing when to stop the shooting. It’s tough if the subject is talking a blue streak about something important and in the middle you yell cut. You’re not going to get that energy back. At the same time you can’t swap out one card while the other is recording – that process is physical, it will move the camera. It may not seem so at the time, but you’ll see when you review the footage, so be careful so that as you approach capacity that you make the card transfer process as smooth as possible.
Once the card is ejected you have two options, one, store the card until, at a later time, you can capture it to a drive, or two, capture it to the drive then and there. I prefer the latter, but if you’re working alone, that may not be possible. My suggestion is, that if you need to put off media capture you should number the cards so you can keep track of them in the order they were used – number them like 2 of 5 and so on, so that before you pack up, you can quickly and reliably check that you have all the cards that hold data.
On the other hand, if you have the luxury of transferring your media to a computer during the shoot, then by all means do it. But you need to be organized, dare I say meticulous, as you go about downloading the media from your cards to a drive, and then wiping it on return to the camera.
Copying media from a card to a computer will take time, it varies according to the speed of your computer, so it is advisable to have a blank card available, immediately, to replace the one you pull out. The card going into the camera should be marked that it’s been downloaded and it should immediately be formatted. Generally this is accomplished quickly in the camera. I don’t recommend doing this in the computer. The computer will format it for reading on a computer, but not necessarily for your camera. The camera on the other hand formats the card so it can both record footage and be readable by computers.
Marking the card so it’s quickly identifiable by all as, either to be formatted or to be downloaded, is absolutely critical There is no retrieving of footage if you accidentally wipe a card. Use a piece of colored tape to indicate whether a card is ready to be recorded on or downloaded.
Test, test, test
Once the card is in the computer, I like to test the footage in the editing software even before I download it, then check it again, after capture, just to make sure it reads properly. Some cards allow you to copy the footage to the computer, others only allow you to capture through software, either your editing software or the camera manufacturer’s own proprietary software.
Be careful in copying files from the card directly to a folder on your computer. Some cameras create files in the card that help your editing software read and download the footage. These are non-video files which are easy to overlook. If they’re not available at the time you capture, even though everything is fine with the footage, the footage won’t play on your computer, nor will it be captured. So, either capture the footage directly from the card through the appropriate software or copy the entire card to your computer. I like to do both, first copy the entire card then capture, Do a little research in the camera manual and it should tell you. What am I saying, don’t count on the manual, check online and see what other people’s experiences are when capturing from your camera and learn the best way to do it from them.
I learned how to shoot when digital tapes were the standard recording medium and the process was to record to the tape, capture from tape to computer and then store the tape for archival purposes. With cards, there is no reliable archival process now, but I take the effort to copy the card whole and keep it on a separate drive. Despite the fact that hard drives aren’t archival, at least I have the footage in the original format. It gives me peace of mind and that’s what media management is all about.
So you’ve captured the footage, confirmed it reads properly in the editing software and now you format it right? Yes, but remember, not in the computer, in the camera. Put a piece of colored tape on the card that indicates that it is ready to be formatted and hand it over to the camera person.
If your role is dedicated to the media management process there is one more thing to do. Using the time code sheet that is being recorded, double check it and add notes to it by scrubbing through the media in the editing software. You’re going to need to do this at some point when you return to your base, so why not do it while the experience is still fresh and you have time. Along with nailing the time code to specific sections, you can enhance the comments and add notes about how useable the footage is. You could also use the shot list or storyboard to indicate which segments would cut well together. You’ll save the assistant editor a lot of time by pointing out where the good and bad footage is. Of course they’re going to review the footage in detail, but you’re still going to speed up the process by refining what is essentially a table of contents.
Once the shoot is done and everyone is packing up, or sooner if you have time, you should transfer your captured footage from the external drive to another drive. Is that really necessary you ask, how redundant do I need to be? Well, as media manager its your job that all the footage is safe and usable, I don’t think that traveling back to your base with duplicate drives in two separate vehicles is too much to ask.
Once you’re back at the home base you should make sure everyone who needs access to the media can view it as soon as possible, either through the server, or a an external drive.
For archival purposes, follow the rule of 3&3, that is, make 3 copies of all your footage, each one on a different media. That could be Mini DV or Digital Audio Tape, external drives, DVDs or the cloud. If you’re fortunate, you may have your own server that you can FTP to.
At least one backup should be kept on location locked away and the others should be kept safe in other locations, far away.
The last thing to make sure of is that all the cards are accounted for and in their protective cases before you leave the location.
Any cards with media that haven’t been downloaded should be kept in a separate location during transit and immediately downloaded and reformatted when you’ve returned to base.
Alternative Backup Options
I’ve been talking exclusively about digital media cards throughout and I just want to add that there are other alternatives. Of course you can use the cards once and then store them as archival media. It gives you the peace of mind of knowing you can go back to the source media at any time. You can also capture directly to an external drive that can be mounted directly to your camera. Pricey, but fast and compact.
I have to say I’m ambivalent about this process. On the one hand you don’t have the risk of losing your data through lost or accidental formatting of a card. But on the other, I don’t like the idea that all, all my media is on one device. Personally I would say buy larger cards if you want to record your footage in fewer pieces.
Finally, some cameras allow you to capture your footage in real time to an external computer via SDI. That’s also a pricy setup, but it simplifies the production workflow and in the end the shorter the workflow, the fewer errors are possible. And after all, that’s the goal, create a process that eliminates as many possible errors through efficiency and simplicity.
What a relief, we’re done with the shoot and the media has been captured. What now? Are we ready to edit? No, the Assistant Editor needs to organize the footage before editing can begin. While that’s getting started there’s something else that can be done that will really help accelerate the editing process: transcription.
What is a transcript? A transcript is the verbatim written copy of an interview, or any event where words are spoken. Ideally it is a literal copy, word for word along with notes in parentheses indicating sighs, burps, uhms and ahhs and other audible sounds from sirens outside the window to lights crashing down.
This document needs to have margins for annotations such as the time code and notes indicating specific content. These notes can be descriptions of actions in the frame or commentary of the usefulness of a particular segment such as connections to other parts of the footage that would fit well together. Simple comments would include good or bad with a short explanation.
Annotations that help you find things
There should be a time code at every location of a unique comment or change of topic. Furthermore, if there are multiple people being interviewed the time code should represent when each one begins speaking. Time codes don’t designate a range of time, only the beginning of a new speaker, new topic or significant event. Each occurrence of time code identifies an ending of one segment, thought or idea and the beginning of the next. Practically speaking you’ll get direction from the editor about what deserves to be noted with it’s appropriate time code.
If you’re doing the editing yourself, as well as the transcription, even if it’s just one individual you should be generous with your time code designations. The point here is to be able to quickly find every discreet piece of information. Otherwise, if the speaker in on a single topic for a lengthy piece of time I prefer to space out time code every 10 minutes at the most, but you can choose what works best for you on your own.
Think about the edit
The important thing to recognize about time code is that it is going to save you a boatload of time when organizing your footage and cutting. A good transcript is going to make it possible to find any word as quickly as a text search. Much faster than scrubbing through hours of interview footage, which visually contains little or no clue as to what is being said.
With accurate time code you’ll be able to find exactly the piece of video you are looking for, even if a particular comment or reference was recorded more than once.
Transcripts are also helpful in collaborative workflows. Certainly the Producer or Director (and I’m using the terms loosely here, referring to role, not the actual job title) would want a copy to become familiar with the material and provide suggestions on appropriate uses of specific clips.
Even an ad hoc conversation about a particular portion of the video between the editor and someone else might produce suggestions for alternate footage and here again the transcript can save a lot of time by identifying if it exists, where it’s located and confirm that it’s good footage, without wasting much time at all.
Budget your time
The last thing that I would say about transcribing your raw footage is that it is a time consuming, painstaking process which I know from personal experience grates on you because you can think of a zillion other things that you would rather be doing that would actually be getting things done. If you’re working alone on the edit it can really eat into your time and sap a lot of your energy and enthusiasm.
As an editor I already know I’m going to be really, really familiar with the footage as I go about organizing and cutting it and I might feel I can take a shortcut and do without it Some times circumstances require that I make do without a transcript. Still, be cautious about dispensing with this tool out of hand, there’s a tremendous amount of value here and it does save a lot of time during the edit, in particular it spares the need to go on a wild goose chase for some phantom piece of footage and in the process breaking your concentration and editing flow.
Let me suggest that you make some kind of accommodation at the least, a list of highlights of the footage with timecode. And as you use it, continue to annotate it. If nothing else it will help you get to know the material faster and certainly that’s vital once you begin editing.
Here are some examples, in no particular order, of relevant, searchable tags or content type you can use to identify your material:
- place in the story
- talent name
- quality of shot
- usefulness of shot
- type of shot
- talking head
And that’s enough for today. I’ve talked about media management, getting your equipment packed up efficiently and preparing for the edit by transcribing the footage. That puts us in the perfect position for editing, which I’ll talk about in the next two episodes. In the first I’ll explain the role of the assistant editor and producing the rough edit. That will include an overview of the basic tools and workflow within the video editing software.
In the second part on editing I’ll go into greater depth by reviewing more sophisticated ways to edit, working with effects and cleaning up the audio.
Thanks for taking the time to listen. If you have any comments on this episode please add them to the post. Any questions about the rest of the podcast you should send to my email, videostudentguy at gmail dot com.
I’ll talk to you later,