In Defense Of ‘Good Enough’

For many people in the TV and video industry good enough is a dirty word. It suggests a lack of care or investment. I think good enough should be embraced. Knowing what is good enough for the work you’re doing allows you to invest time and money in the places that will benefit the most.

When embarking on a new project you should establish just what is good enough for that project – in terms of camera, lighting, sound, codec, editing resources. There is a sweet spot for these things that varies from project to project. If you’re making a web series to be distributed on YouTube then a Canon 5D, inexpensive lights and microphones are all good enough for the job.

Making those decisions about what’s good enough is important and it lets you spend your money (and time) wisely. Shooting 5K raw on a pimped out EPIC camera will cost more, take longer and not deliver a whole lot more value to your finished product – it’s way more than good enough. In choosing to over spec something like that you’re also taking resources from other aspects of your project that perhaps aren’t quite good enough.

We can critique DSLR cameras endlessly (and I have) – they have bad ergonomics, limited shooting time, problems with rolling shutter and moire, poor audio, and so on, but when it comes down to it they are very often good enough and that’s an important thing to consider.

In post-production I think good enough is possibly even more important. Usually there is finite time (thanks to a deadline) and/or budget with which to accomplish post-production, so knowing what’s good enough there is important to ensuring that everything can be completed within the time and budget available. If the opening titles aren’t quite as you’d imagined but are good enough then it’s probably a good idea to move on. If you manage to get everything good enough within the time and budget then you can always go back and make things better. However, if you’ve got one thing perfect and nothing else finished then you haven’t got a product.

If budget and time aren’t an issue – you’re doing it yourself on your own gear – then good enough is still important. If you can’t accept that your work is good enough to call ‘finished’ at some point then it will simply drag on forever, and more often than not, I think, over-editing a video kills it. Again, a finished project that’s good enough is better than a unfinished one.

Don’t think of good enough as settling for something inferior or imperfect, think of it as striking a perfect balance.


LG: So Fake It’s Scary

Someone at LG, or their agency, in the Netherlands had a great idea: Wouldn’t it be cool to replace the floor of an elevator with computer screens and then make it appear to fall away.

Yes, it would be cool. And it would make a great viral video, demonstrating that the screens are so good they appear realistic to people, at least momentarily.

It’s a cool video and it’s easy enough to believe, given how popular these sort of candid camera web ads are now. But immediately upon watching it my suspicions were raised… Firstly it didn’t make sense to me that they’d turn up to install the fake floor with all the monitors still in retail packaging – and when they were shown installing it there was no sign of a protective perspex cover or anything (the screens may look real, but they aren’t designed to stand on).

Then the video started. It looks good, but there’s a problem. Perspective. From a top angle we see exactly what we expect – and what I’d most likely put on it if I were doing it for real – a top-down perspective straight down the shaft. However the top view is not the only one we see…

There’s also an angle from the back corner, and that’s where if falls apart. Video monitors are 2D (even 3D ones) – the image you see doesn’t change perspective depending on your point of view (except in this cool demo), so from the corner angle we should still see straight down the shaft only it would be a bit skewed.

That is not what we see. Instead we get an angle that perfectly matched the lines of perspective from the lift at that angle. So it looks good on that camera, but isn’t the same as we saw from above. The perspective has changed which would suggest that the image was manipulated in post production, or mostly likely created entirely in post – it was a greenscreen.

To really illustrate this point I’ve taken a screengrab from the top angle and superimposed it on the corner angle, correcting for the perspective – that is what we should see from that camera, if the video were real.

So why do I care? I don’t really – advertisers get to decide what choices they want to make in their advertising, but this is the internet – people see things and they talk.

At some point there were at least a few editors and VFX people were involved in this. If I were one of those editors I’d have at least queried the clients about the tagline and presentation of this – generally the internet doesn’t take kindly to being misled like this. Maybe someone did? I don’t know – but I don’t really understand the reasoning behind presenting this concept as they have and then faking it. It could be done for real, and probably would elicit similar reactions – why fake it?

After writing this post I found a video on YouTube that makes the same observations. It, and some commenters on the original LG video, also points out the reflection of a greenscreen in one shot. Like I said, this is the internet – people see things and they talk…



Shooting Tips from the Edit Suite

This was originally posted in March 2011, but wasn’t initially restored after the site was lost in early 2012.  So here it is again, with some updates.

Before I decided that editing was the way I wanted to go, I was pretty keen on shooting. In fact at the age of about 16 I saved all the money I had a bought a second-hand Sony ENG camera (a DXC-325/EVV-9000 Hi8 camera, if you were curious).

I wouldn’t fancy myself as a cameraguy against a professional, but from my perch in front of my suite I’m not usually short of opinions on the footage I’ve been given – what wasn’t shot, what was shot wrong and, of course, what was done right.

So with that in mind, here are some various thoughts about shooting from my my cosy seat, miles away and days or weeks later.

1. Shoot More
I’m not saying I want more shots or extra takes (although sometimes…) – what I want is slightly longer shots. One of the biggest frustrations in editing is when a shot just isn’t quite long enough – either the action starts too soon, or the shot doesn’t carry on long enough afterward.

At film school we were introduced to the idea of a CYA (Cover Your Ass) shot – the idea being that you always try to hold the beginning and end of any camera move for at least 3-5 seconds. You get a shot at the start, a shot at the end and the move in the middle – three usable shots. Please, never stop rolling hard on the end of your camera move, not start the move immedately on roll.

2. Pickups/Cutaways/B-Roll
Everyone knows about shooting cutaway shots, get shots to illustrate the action and help cover cuts. However if I’m reviewing footage and find that the cutaways have been shot before the action they are intended to cover I know I’m going to be dissapointed.

Ideally cutaway shots should be filmed after the primary action/interview – this way you know what to shoot. Shots to illustrate what’s been spoken about, or the action that’s taken place in the main shots.

3. If You Love Something, Let It Go
It’s true in the film cliches, and it’s true in shooting. Sometimes you need to let things go. In this case specifically the thing I am talking about is any person or vehicle you’re following. If they never leave or enter the frame it makes it virtually impossible to cut the shots.

When tracking people or vehicles try to let them leave and enter frame a few times, it provides natural edit points and makes it possible to cut between the shots.

4. The Preset is Your Friend
This one is a little contraversial, and I’ve actually had a stand up argument with a shooter about this – but I’ll lay it out here anyway. Stop manually white balancing and use your camera’s presets. There, I said it.

Especially in multi-camera reality scenarios it seems impossible for operators using manual white balances to actually maintain the correct colour. Unless you’re in a very unusual lighting situation it usually seems best to simply pick a preset that best matches the lighting conditions and go with that. All modern NLEs carry reasonable colour correction tools, and in most cases a basic correction can be worked into the post production.

5. Know Your Format
This is a big one actually, but also a really complex one. But it’s very important and is overlooked surprisingly often. You have to understand the limitations, strengths and weaknesses of your camera.

As the number of camera and video and technologies has increased, so has the number of issues, workaround and gotchas you need to be aware of. Things like limited chroma sampling, rolling shutter, alias, moire, etc… You don’t have to be a format expert, but you need to understand how these issues practically impact your shooting.

6. Who Are You?
This is probably only really relevant to documentary and reality, but help us know who we’re looking at. In interviews people get people to tell us who they are – names and titles, and don’t forget any odd spellings.

Even if you’ve been getting proper signed release forms and paper work, that information is seldom on hand when we need it most. By having the information right with them in the footage it makes is easier for the editor to figure out who is who when need be.

In fact you may be able to do away with release forms entirely if you get the subjects to say who they are and affirm that they’re giving you permission to use footage of them (this is common in reality shows). Although you should check with a lawyer to make sure this is okay and get any specific wording you need to have subjects say. You’ll also probably want to sub out all those identifiers and save them somewhere safe.

7. B-Roll Audio
If you’re shooting b-roll or cutaway footage with audio (if not, why not? Even camera mic will do) then try not to talk while recording. Often the pictures can seem lost without a least a little of the sound that goes with them. If we see cars driving on a wet road we’d like to hear a bit of that atmos as well. (via 3pointedit)

8. Tape Etiquette
If you’re still shooting on tapes then there’s a couple of things that are important. Pre-roll (and post-roll) and continuous timecode. When capturing footage into an edit system we need to allow the deck time to properly cue the tape – this can be five seconds or more. If the timecode is broken then the deck will freak out.

So, if you’re shooting REC-Run timecode then we need a good 10 seconds of footage at the start before anything important (colour bars are traditional here), also at the end a few seconds post-roll after the important stuff stops. If at any point you rewind your tape to review a shot then you need to make sure the tape is cued back onto picture before you start shooting again – leaving a gap of unused tape (or old footage) will confuse us and may mean that what comes after it isn’t captured.

If you’re shooting Free-Run timecode (usually time-of-day) then this applies every shot really – try to give us at least five seconds either side of the main action of the shot. (via Tim Ward)

9. Buzz Track or Room Tone
Two terms for the same thing – basically just a recording of the sound of nothing. Wherever you are there’s a good chance there’s a lot of background noise (cars, birds, wind, air conditioning, whatever) – it is often really helpful for the editor to have a bit of that “nothingness” to fix up holes or transitions in audio. So record at least 15 seconds of nothing. Make sure no one is talking around the camera and make it clear the editor that what you’re doing (putting the boom mic or the soundie in the shot is a good visual identifier). (via Jeff Katz)

10. More…
I just know I’m forgetting things… And I suspect I hear feedback from others, so let’s consider this an open topic and I’ll try to update it in the future.


Colour Correction in Avid Symphony (Video)

As I detailed in my previous What is Avid Symphony? post, colour correction is the feature that most sets Symphony apart from Media Composer. More specifically it’s relational colour correction tools – but that’s a little hard to clearly explain in writing, so I pickup a microphone and screen capture software and made a video.

I try to cover the basics about what tools are present in the Avid Symphony colour correction toolset and demonstrate exactly how the relational colour correction tools can work and improve efficiency when grading within the Avid NLE, and even how they might offer advantages against traditionally more powerful grading applications like Resolve or Apple’s Color.

This is a pretty brief introduction, and obviously exactly how useful the features will be is going to depend a lot on the type and structure of your projects. If you have any questions, please let me know.

As a reminder – Avid is offering a very competitive crossgrade/upgrade offer on Symphony at the moment, if these features are something that might benefit your work then I’ve covered that offer and some other considerations in more detail in What is Avid Symphony?


What is Avid Symphony?

Avid is currently (until June 15, 2012) running a special upgrade/crossgrade promo on Avid Symphony. You can crossgrade your Final Cut Pro (V7 or before) or upgrade your old Avid (Xpress Pro, Xpress DV or Media Composer) license to a brand new Symphony v6.0 license for a meagre US$995. That is a $5,000 discount on the full price, and $2,500 discount on the Avid Media Composer crossgrade price.

Only five or six years ago an Avid Symphony system would have cost nearly US$100,000. So, what is Symphony? Why was it so expensive? Why is it so much cheaper at the moment? What’s different? And, crucially, should you buy it? Continue reading


Send Me to NAB

It probably won’t come as news to many but, as I write this, there is a fairly large event on in Las Vegas that is somewhat related to the topics I write about. Also to the work I do on a daily basis. The event, of course, is the National Association of Broadcasters Convention 2012.

I am not in Las Vegas, I am at home in New Zealand reading about the show, as I have for years, on the internet. However I want to go to the show next year, and I’m hoping you can help me (and hopefully I can help you in turn). I am attempting to crowd-fund my trip to NAB 2013. Continue reading


Have Autodesk Smoked The Competition?

From a post-production perspective Autodesk’s announcement of Smoke 2013 has probably been the biggest news of NAB 2012.

Smoke is an established product from Autodesk. Initially it was a high-end system running only on expensive turnkey Linux systems, then in 2009 they released Smoke for Mac – able to run on a fairly standard MacPro and at the new affordable price of only US$15,000. Of course that price seems crazy now compared to Apple Final Cut Pro X at only $300, Avid Media Composer at $2,500 and Adobe Production Premium at $1,700.  Also, while Smoke has a timeline and editing tools it was really a finishing suite, few people would choose to actually cut on the software. So Autodesk decided to go back to the drawing board… Continue reading