Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two Types of B-Roll

Up until this past week I really only thought of B-roll (the non-subject matter footage in a video) one way.  It was a filler meant to add depth-- through contrasting visuals or supportive ones-- to the main footage.  It was a moving snapshot: the fidgeting hands of a speaker, the cut-away to what they're describing.  All of these are shot one way... as snapshots.

But in working on my current project, a promotional video for a local company, I realized that my footage needed to be much more.  It needed to tell a story, too.  To do so, I needed the footage to follow basic shot format: a wide establishing shot followed by close-ups and points of view. The sequence of shots needed to have the same continuity; I couldn't jump from an establishing shot to a close-up of an entirely different moment.  It needed to cut on the action.  The narration was in support of the b-roll, not vice-versa.

Not all B-roll requires this level of structure; often times, the simple "snapshot" does exactly what it's supposed to.  But now I'm on the lookout for times when the b-roll is the narrative, rather than the support.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Editor in Chief - Hilton Worldwid Anniversary Video

Tim from Hilton Worldwide approached me with an unusual project.  Okay, it was unusual in several respects-- first, that an international company based outside of Los Angeles, the film and video capital of the world, would reach out to a small videocompany in Oakland; second was the nature of the video itself.  They wanted to create a 50th anniversary tribute for Greg, one of their vice presidents, utilizing cell phone video greetings from employees all across the U.S.  From the outside it wasn’t so unusual... but lift the hood and you immediately see the problems.  Multiple “videographers,” using a variety of poor equipment, in a wide range of environments, producing a breathtaking spectrum of quality. What videographer could say no?

My first goal was to try and create some consistency in the video itself.  So I created a “best practice” guide for my crew of amateur camera people.  It looked like this:

It’s impossible, of course, to turn novices into experts with just a set of guidelines.  And there were dozens of “rules” I omitted (some to my downfall... such as “no vertical videos”).  To boot, some folks roundly ignored my guide, shooting from the hip, so to speak.

Step two was a framework for the responses.  Tim and I talked about the tone of the piece, who Greg was, his outstanding achievements, and work habits.  Tim wanted something filled with humor and appreciation.  Originally, there were to be eight pairs of people on camera.  I created sets of questions (no more than 4 per person), and we divided them across geographic regions.  The number of people quickly multiplied, as did the length of the piece.  Soon, I had over an hour of footage from 25+ individuals.  Audio levels ranged from barely audible to loudspeaker, and background noise from air conditioner hum to convention floor.  

The trick, then, was to construct as much “story” as possible among the different speakers.  I divided the video into topic sections, and focused my edits along common themes, letting multiple people tell the same story whenever possible.  No one was ever under the illusion that this was going to be a polished “showroom” piece.  But Hilton was thrilled with the final result; the rough edges were authentic and heartfelt rather than glossy.  The sentiment was exactly what they wanted to convey to Greg, and the “tone” said “Hilton.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Color Grading Slog Video - Without the Headache

For me, Slog profiles are both a siren and a curse.  I'm drawn to the promise of greater dynamic range and the protection from blow-outs; I'm demoralized by the difficulty of transforming Slog 2 and Slog 3 footage into vibrant, rich video.  Admittedly, I'm not the greatest of color graders; most of us aren't.  In fact, I suspect that much of the "stylized" color grading I see is simply an effort to cover up the fact they couldn't create a natural looking image.  I'm sick of green-hued images.  But I can't throw stones because I have the same difficulty-- even after 20 minutes of futzing with levels, color wheels, and contrast, I'm dissatisfied. So what the heck is wrong with Slog footage and how can I grade better and faster?

I don't have an answer to the first question.  The problem is probably me.  To give myself a break, photos are rarely as pug-ugly as Slog 3 images, and the tools in Lightroom and Photoshop are much much better.  But I have figured out a great way to quickly grade my footage to an even more satisfactory level than before. 

Personally, I think the Sony a7Sii color is a bit wonky.  Not all the time-- but sometimes there's a muted hue, and it's on full display when you color grade from Slog. So here's a technique I've discovered:
  1. Before shooting your footage, take a photo of the scene.  Make sure it's properly exposed, since your camera settings for Slog may be too far to the "right," i.e. slightly blown out for still photography.
  2. Now film in your Slog profile of choice.  Whenever you move to a different scene, take another photo.
  3. Import both the photo and the video into your video editor; I use Sony Vegas Pro.
  4. I believe all the major editors have a color-match function.  In Sony Vegas, open the Color Match FX to apply the photo color to the video. Be sure to tick the "match brightness" box.  It should look like this:

If you're unfamiliar with this tool, I'd suggest Google for a more complete explanation.  But quickly, the Source Image will be your photo (the color you want); I make sure the still image is on the Preview screen and then click "Preview" to capture it.  The Target is your video; I bring up the video on the monitor and hit Preview in the Target box.  The color adjusted image will appear in the Result section. 

This will get you 80% of the way there.  Typically, I use the Levels FX to bring the image into perfect exposure.  If you don't know how to use a Waveform scope, learn, because it's amazing.  And for a little extra punch I'll boost the overall saturation using the Color Corrector, and individual colors using AAV Color Lab.

Here's a before image of the footage:

It's the typical washed out footage of Slog 3.  Now here's the color matched and tweaked image:

The great thing is that this only took an extra 15 seconds during filming, and about two minutes of grading in post. After tweaking the levels and saturation, the resulting image is better than the original photo.

While I've known about the Color Match feature for a while, I only now just thought to apply it to my Slog footage utilizing a reference image.  It's really the same technique film photographers used to employ, taking a Polaroid to check exposure.