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October 8, 2015

7 things I learned by shooting video on a mountain

Camera Jib on top of ski slope

Epiphany On A Mountain

There are many challenges during a video production that you must over come (conflicting schedules, equipment failures, difficult talent, conflicting creatives…), but as professionals, we are able to overcome these and still produce great results with relative ease. Last winter while shooting safety PSA (Public Service Announcement) commercials for the U.S. Army in West Virginia, we experienced all the typical problems that plague production only this time 4,280′ up on top of a mountain! That is when I realized just how important and rewarding it is to work with so many creative professionals. That being said, here are seven important lessons I learned by shooting on top of a mountain:

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Shooting a PSA video on the edge of a ski slope comes with many challenges

 

1. Planning is everything!
We didn’t decide to shoot on a mountain on a whim. It took about two months of planning, coordinating and prep. We had to get permission from a lot of people including the resort coordinators, public affairs, our own safety people, ski patrol and even the trail groomers for help transporting equipment. Overall, everyone was incredibly helpful and eager to see the production succeed.

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Shooting on top of a mountain presented a lot of logistical problems like how do you get equipment up to the peak? Answer: CAT tractor! Photo by Marshall Amey

 

2. Wear the proper clothing
West Virginia is freezing in the winter (duh!). Before I left, I ensured that I had all the proper cold weather gear: gloves, goggles, beanie, coat, sweater, long johns, etc. I dressed in layers and brought hand/foot warmer for myself and a few extras for anyone else who needed it.

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Bundle up! It’s going to be cold.

 

3. Think safe, work safe
Working on a production set, it is easy to get hyper-focused on the task at hand and forget about your environment. When we were shooting on the edge of an icy, black diamond slope, I had to make sure I was always working safely and conscious of my footing and the equipment so we all wouldn’t end up broken at the bottom of the hill.

Camera shoots downed skier

Don’t worry, he’s just acting. 🙂

4. Look out for each other
Fortunately, we were working with experienced, union grips who encouraged safety, but it is always good to watch out for one another. One of our guys slipped on the ice, but was caught by another crew member before he injured himself. Nothing worse than get injured on a safety PSA!

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Here our associate producer and audio technician demonstrate the buddy system. Photo by Marshall Amey

 

5. Check the weather
This is very important because nothing can ruin a shoot like inclement weather. Our associate producer was glued to weather bug, national weather service and the weather channel. I recommend always having a weather app on your phone and also the weather station tuned on your radio in case you are out of cell range like we were. We lucked out and had beautiful weather the day of our shoot!

Sunrise over wintery landscape

This was our view at breakfast!

6. Get in good with ski patrol

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Our ski patrol guys pulled double duty as safety experts and talent. Here they are pretending to mend on our “hurt” skier’s leg. Photo courtesy of Marshall Amey

Our ski patrol guys were terrific! Sam was retired Army and Randy had been working ski patrol since he was young. They were great and really looked out for us.

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Now this is how I like to get to the set! 😀 | Photo by Marshall Amey

Plus, they were nice enough to run me down the hill on their sleigh and up the hill on the snowmobile. So much fun!

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Ski patrol giving me a ride back down the mountain to capture GoPro footage. Best ride ever! XD | Photo by Marshall Amey

 

7. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the moment
On set, we are always running to get ready for the next shot or focusing on capturing the shot at hand, but taking a minute to realize you are on top of the world looking out over a beautiful landscape is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is what reinvigorates my passion for video production and love for travel.

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Sometime you just have to stop…breathe…and enjoy the view | Photo by Marshall Amey

 

Not every video production is going to take you to extreme, exotic or even interesting places, but every now and then, you get to stand on top of a mountain and remember why you love your job. 🙂
To check out the finished commercial, visit the US Army Safety Center here!

October 6, 2015

Tech Tuesday: New GoPro Hero+ vs Hero4 Session

GoPro Hero4 SessionThe King of Action Cameras

There is no denying that GoPro has for a long time cornered the market on action cameras and that their name has even become synonymous with the wide-angle, “point-of-view” shot. Of course, in a market that has quickly become over saturated, there are plenty of competitors like Sony, Contour and Drift that make cheaper (and arguably better) video cameras, but GoPro’s long lineage, constant innovation, superb marketing and industry wide adoption maintains their stronghold. Now with their release of the Hero+ and Hero4 Session in their 2015 lineup, GoPro attempts to broaden their appeal to everyone in the market. So, which is better: the Hero+ or the Hero4 Session?

 

GoPro Hero4 Session

Hero4 Session: Small & Simple

Aimed at people who want an action camera with a smaller foot print, the Hero4 Session is 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the standard Hero. This is due to its completely redesigned waterproof body:

Two surfers dive under a wave

HERO4 Session is rugged and waterproof to 33’ (10m), eliminating the need for a separate housing. Its convenient, ready-to-go design makes it easy to get out the door quickly to capture and enjoy your session.

 

Also, they simplified the cameras operation with a single button press.

 

A single press of the shutter button powers on the camera and begins capturing video or Time Lapse photos automatically. A second press of the shutter button stops recording and powers off the camera. It’s that simple.

Female climber uses GoPro Hero4 Session

 

Though it doesn’t have 4k video like its series counterparts, it still packs a pretty good punch with 1080p60 video and 8MP still photos, however, so does the cost at ~$300. Not bad for video professionals, but this price puts it outside of the amateur budget.

 

GoPro Hero+

Hero+: Affordable With WiFi

Placed right in the middle of GoPro’s Hero lineup, the Hero+ is $100 less than the Hero4 Session and has the same 8MP stills and 1080p60 video specs. And unlike the entry model Hero, it has the same WiFi connectivity as the Session. The most notable difference is that iconic Hero body, which is not inherently rugged or waterproof. For this, you’ll have to use the supplied housing, which in my opinion, is perfectly fine for almost any user: amateur or professional.

Skydiver with a GoPro Hero+

 

Professional videographers may miss the Session’s Protuneâ„¢, dual mic and subtle picture adjustments, but as someone who has used these cameras extensively, I really don’t think that these are huge selling points for an action camera.

 

Snowboarder on the mountain

The Best Action Camera for You

Ultimately, your needs and budget will determine which camera is best for you, and with six cameras in GoPro’s lineup, you may find the others to be a better fit. If you want an action camera with a small foot print and customizable picture options, than the Hero4 Session is a great camera for you. However, if all you want is a camera you can stick most anywhere to get a creative angle, than get yourself the Hero+ and use the $100 you saved for some nice mounts.

 

Surfer girls take Selfie

Happy shooting!

 

* All photos are courtesy of GoPro and their affiliates.

September 29, 2015

Tech Tuesday – What does each video editing system excel at?

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Courtesy of Adobe Systems, Inc.

It all starts with a question…

Recently, I learned about a crowd sourced Q&A website called Quora that allows people to ask questions and have them answered by experts in the subject. Each question can receive many answers, but the best answers are “UpVoted” for priority. I love sites like these that allow people to get answers when Googling may not be effective. That being said, a question was asked “What does each video editing system excel at?” Having edited on almost every video editing software out there over the years, I thought I’d give this question a stab. So for today’s Tech Tuesday, I take a look at the top three video editing systems (Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro X) and give my perspective on what each one excels at.

 

What does a video editing system do?

Every editing program will provide you with basic capabilities such as trim, cut and add clips to a sequence. The higher end programs will have more features that allow you to create a polished video including adding graphics, adjusting (sweetening) audio and create transitions between cuts. There are plenty of high end editing programs to choose from but the most widely used in the United States are Final Cut, Adobe Premiere and Avid. Each one will provide you the tools to create your masterpiece, but how you get there will vary depending on the program.

 

Final Cut Pro X

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Courtesy of Apple, Inc

In 2011, Apple’s much anticipated redesign of their popular editing system, Final Cut Pro, was debuted to mix reviews. The program that was once set to be the new leader in professional editing systems confused its die-hard fans by releasing a stripped down product that was likened to a “glorified iMovie” or “iMovie Pro”. The simplified interface and tools showed that Apple was targeting the prosumers and amateur market more than professional film makers and production houses that had adopted Final Cut. At this time, many users either stayed with the prior version, Final Cut Pro 7, or switched over to Adobe Premiere, AutoDesk Smoke or Avid Media Composer. However, after many updates and plugins, new and former users are coming back to Final Cut Pro X.

Final Cut Pro’s biggest strength is the ability to bring in mixed format footage and integrate them on a timeline without having to render (Conform for Adobe users) them first. This saves time when having to edit in the field or on a tight deadline. However, since the program does not consolidate footage, it is easy to lose or un-link files, especially when archiving projects. Also, the new interface puts commonly used tools, transitions, effects, etc. easily accessible with one click buttons. This gives the program a more intuitive feeling. Finally, the new event library with the ability to scrub through footage without loading it into the preview window (a cross-over feature from iMovie) is a nice and quick way to scan footage before you load it. Overall, Final Cut users love the program’s intuitive layout, accessibility of common tools and media integration.

 

Adobe Premiere:

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Courtesy of Adobe Systems, Inc.

Prior to Final Cut X, Adobe was also working out bugs that it had with Premiere CS3 and took its cues from Apple on creating an intuitive interface, stable operating system, separate rendering program (Media Composer) and integrating their other programs including the popular compositing program, After Effects. Thus, the completely redesigned CS4 addressed many of the concerns professionals had with Premiere and set them up to take a large portion of former Final Cut users with CS5. The release of CS5 gave editors the intuitive usability of Final Cut combined with the seamless integration of Adobe’s powerful lineup of After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Adobe then made another giant leap by offering their programs on a subscription-based cloud platform, Adobe Creative Cloud (CC). Now, professionals, prosumers and amateurs alike could have access to all of Adobe’s up-to-date products for a low-monthly fee.

Like Final Cut, Adobe Premiere allows users to bring in various formats of video and combine them on a sequence, however, the program will want to “conform” the footage. The good news is that it does this in the background, but depending on your system, it can slow down the editing process. Otherwise, Premiere has an intuitive interface; quick access to transitions, effects and tools; a separate rendering program that allows editors to render in the background while continuing to work; and the biggest advantage, seamless integration between other Adobe programs.

Overall, Adobe listened to its users, saw what its competitors did well and created a product that addressed all these things while still playing up their strengths. In addition, by doing away with the high upfront cost in favor of a subscription based service, they effectively opened themselves up to everyone in the market for a solid editing system.

 

Avid Media Composer:

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Courtesy of Avid

Avid was the original non-linear editing system. Debuted in 1988,  it was “the biggest shake-up in editing since Melies played around with time and sequences in the early 1900s“. The system allowed users to non-destructively edit sequences and create EDL’s for processing houses to cut from. Even now, Avid is the most widely adopted editing platform in the industry. However, high cost, legacy operating system and archaic interface design limits Avid’s adoption by new users. In recent years, Avid followed suit with Adobe by offering Avid Media Composer as a subscription-based service and Symphony as a plug-in upgrade.

Despite some of their short comings, Avid is still an incredibly powerful system. The core of Avid is an exceptional media management system. Unlike Final Cut and Adobe, Avid likes all media to be “consolidated” into “bins” in Avid’s DnX format, otherwise, you will need to do a “video mixdown” at the end of your edit. This keeps all your footage in one place and prevents lost footage or broken links. Also, regular Avid users know about the “Attic” which is a backup copy of all projects in the system program folder that allows for easy recovery of archived projects.

When it comes to learning curve, Avid is notoriously unintuitive and as the saying goes “there is only one way to do it and that is Avid’s way“. However, once an editor learns “the way”, with a few keyboard strokes, they can edit a project quickly and efficiently. Plus, with built in 3D title generator, keyers, grading tools, etc., you don’t need to leave the program to create special effects, coloring or chroma keys. Once you master Avid, everything else is child’s play.

 

Which video editing system is the best?

In summary, each program will do just about everything the others will do and all will allow users to create professional looking edits. Honestly, when choosing an editing system, budget, project demands and personal comfort with the program are going to determine which program you adopt. Either way, the only real limit is one’s own creativity.

September 22, 2015

Tech Tuesday – The iPhone 6s: A Cinema Camera Revolution?

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“I started a joke…”

So it has been a long standing joke in the industry that every video production will soon be shot on the iPhone. And like with any good joke, there is a grain of truth in it. While working for the Army, I experienced times when a General or Colonel would rather shoot a ceremony or presentation message on their phone rather than have a me set up a camera with lights and a microphone. Were the results the same? No, but the convenience of having an adequate video camera in your pocket out weighed the time it took to set up for a professional looking (and sounding) video. But in the right hands, the iPhone was actually a decent tool for indie film makers and professionals alike. Check out this short film by Matthew Pearce that was shot and edited entirely on the iPhone 6:

 

 

Not joking anymore

With films like Tangerine getting high praise at Sundance Film Festival, the iPhone has wiggled its way into the box office. Now, Apple plans to secure their foothold in the cinematic game by releasing the new iPhone 6s with 4k video capabilities and a 12MP camera!

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The all new 12MP sensor reduces noise and creates a sharper image than the previous generation. Also, with built in image stabilization and cinematic autofocus, it is a great tool for the indie film maker.

Of course, this upgrade is not a complete shock. There were rumors of a major camera update back in May. However, adding 4k capabilities and the processor to actually edit the video, is pretty exciting. Apple claims that iPhone 6s’s A9 processor will be able to edit full 4k footage with the newly released iMovie for iOS. Here are the iPhone’s video specs:

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Boasting 4k and 1080p @ 120fps, the new iPhone 6s has impressive video capabilities

 

A Tool in the Right Hands

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Dominic, Dreamclip Films, records behind the scenes video of a Army commercial

So, will the new iPhone 6s revolutionize the film making industry like its predecessor? Quite possibly. The fact is that good films have always been driven by intriguing plots, interesting characters and engaging storytelling. The camera has always just been the tool for creatives to express these stories visually to an audience. With the iPhone 6 being a readily available, inexpensive tool with high-quality capabilities, we should expect to see even more young film makers using it to create the next cinematic classic.