Working as a freelance camera operator

freelance camera operator title

Media Simulation as a freelance camera operator

My introduction to Crown Media

Who says you get nothing back for your IOV Membership? Back in July this year, IOV Member and partner within Crown Media, David Bennett, posted an article on the IOV’s forums seeking freelance camera operators entitled, “Looking for interesting work?”. The headlines within David’s article which caught my eye were… “work around the world”, “we replicate TV news and current affairs”, “sometimes in relatively rudimentary conditions”, “preparing military organisation for media engagement in combat operations”, “Some jobs last a day – others more than three weeks”, “Interested?

I certainly was interested. After digging a little deeper into Crown Media’s website I made an approach and an email came back from Andy Reeds (the other partner within Crown Media) which included a more comprehensive guide to working with Crown Media, detailing the type of work I’d be expected to do, the remuneration and their expectations of me as a freelance camera operator. I also noticed that one of their regular freelance camera operators, Ben Bruges M.M.Inst.V., was listed on their website so I made contact with him to see what it was like working for Crown Media. I was hooked.

About Crown Media

Crown Media covers a variety of work, but their main activity is providing organisations with realistic media simulation. The majority of their clients are within the defence and emergency services industries, providing them with a real-world experience of working with media, in all its guises, within their regular training exercises. This doesn’t just stop at providing freelance camera operators, but extends to all areas of media including TV News, Print Journalism, Radio Journalism, On-line Journalism and Social Media.

The value Crown Media bring to their clients was obvious to me from the very start. The way organisations and their activities are portrayed in the media plays a vitally important role in forming public opinion and maintaining or improving their public support. Giving these organisations an appreciation of how their actions might be perceived, in both friendly and more hostile media, enables them to manage and facilitate the press more effectively and help ensure their actions are seen in the best possible light. This experience gives participants confidence, helps identify areas where they need further training, helps them to refine their messages and plans for dealing with the media and generally helps them cope and prosper in the most difficult of circumstances.

These are often sensitive situations which require a distinctive set of skills and experiences in order to deliver this service. Crown Media was established in 2006 and are able to meet these demands through the many years of experience of company’s partners; David Bennett being a trained print journalist and BBC TV reporter and Andy Reeds having spent most of his career in the British Army where he was heavily involved in public relations, media training and journalism.

The company now has large pool of specialist freelancers working alongside them from all areas of the media, working in small or large teams on assignments across the globe. Apart from media simulation the company also provides media training and consultancy for an increasing range of private and public sector organisations – including various national armed forces, NATO, blue-light emergency services as well as private companies looking to improve their in-media performance.

TV journalist

Working with a professional TV journalist

Cutting the mustard at Crown Media

Crown Media look for certain qualities within all their freelance operatives. Firstly, you’ve got to have a proven track record within your particular area of speciality. Secondly, you must be a first-rate team player. Whilst you will be expected to work under your own initiative, Crown Media place a lot of emphasis on being able to work within a team in order to deliver the product. You’ll also have to prove your ability to be able to work under pressure, often to tight deadlines and often in demanding situations outside of normal working hours. There’s no room for anyone being precious and you’ll often have to muck in even when there’s work to be done outside of your normal remit.

You’ll also need to sign the Official Secrets Act as there will be situations where operational security could be compromised. Further NATO security clearance and CRB disclosures are also required for certain areas of work, but in every case you will need to observe the company’s strict confidentiality policies at all times.

As a freelance camera operator and editor you’ll be expected to supply all your own technical and support kit. This means having a reasonably light but robust professional-level camera, enough battery power to keep you going all day, radio microphones, tripod/monopod, a portable editing system which can input and output to a variety of formats and enough media and storage to handle projects which might last up to 3-weeks at a time. You’ll also need to make sure you are adequately insured – for your kit, your travel and personal injury.

Dave and Mary wide

Working in demanding situations requires the right kit

The only kit you’ll be provided with is specialist PPE (personal protection equipment), which often means wearing a bullet-proof vest, combat helmet and survival suits on some sea-bound exercises. On some of the military exercises you’ll be embedded with the troops on exercise which means having to cope with the same weather and sleeping conditions as they are coping with. Assignment locations can range from the North American prairies in winter to the plains of Africa in summer, and you’ll be expected to come prepared for any conditions you may likely face – and includes items like bivvy bags, sleeping bags, bed rolls…

You are clearly warned that overnight accommodation can range from a reasonable hotel to sleeping rough, or in dormitory-type shared accommodation. It goes without saying that you can’t be overly fussy or expect your own living space. The work often results in many hours within the confines of vehicles, be that military or civilian, so there’s no point in applying if you suffer from motion sickness or claustrophobia.

The range of exercises you could be involved in can vary quite considerably – from computer-generated indoor simulations through to ‘live-rounds-in-the-field’ exercises. You’ll therefore need to be in good general health and able to cope with the physical challenges. They can last anything from one day up to three weeks – sometimes with little or limited contact with the outside world. If your business or family life dictates that you can’t be away for any length of time, then Crown Media work probably isn’t for you.

BATUS – My first Crown Assignment

OK, so I’d read and understood all the requirements and challenges of working for Crown Media but was still more than keen to offer myself up as a freelance camera operator and editor. They’d checked me out through my connection with the IOV and I’d supplied them with my CV and examples of my work. That whole process only took about 2-weeks to complete before I got my “Welcome to Crown Media” email. An offer of my first assignment came in shortly after, working as a freelance camera operator and editor for 15-days on Exercise Prairie Storm at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Alberta, Canada in October.

From what I have seen so far, most assignments are allocated by way of a notice email which gives the exercise name, location and date. It’s then up to you to say whether you are available to cover it or not. As a freelancer, whilst there’s no obligation to accept any Crown Media assignment, once you do accept it then nothing should stop you from fulfilling your obligation other than extreme circumstances beyond your control. I was actually away on holiday when the first notice email came through but managed to respond quickly, and the confirmation that I’d got the job came back a few days later. I have to admit, my emotions at this stage swung from extreme excitement to mild concern about what I’d let myself in for.

Even though I’d read and re-read all the information Crown Media had supplied I was still in the dark as to what I would be facing, or indeed what a typical day at work would be on this assignment. Thankfully they’d put me in touch with Steve Gravenor, an experienced freelance camera operator who has covered BATUS on many occasions. I was also introduced to the rest of the team working on this assignment – namely Graeme Bowd (Team Leader), Mary Green (Television Journalist) and Dave Pethick (another newbie freelance camera operator who had also applied to the original IOV forum article).

BATUS Team

Mary Green – Graeme Bowd – Dave Pethick – Kevin Cook

The contact with Steve was really helpful and removed any concerns I had about coping with the technical and creative requirements of my post. Steve also gave me some really useful tips on the undocumented challenges about working at BATUS, emphasising that the biggest of which would be coping with the many hours of downtime spent either waiting for an exercise to start or at the end of your working day.

To give you an idea, BATUS is located within an area roughly the size of Derbyshire amongst the many thousands of square miles of featureless rolling prairie. Steve drew a pretty accurate picture of ExCon (Exercise Control) where we would be stationed for 15-days, which consisted of a main control centre building, a canteen/cookhouse, a huge mast, helicopter pad and an accommodation block which was essentially a Portakabin arrangement containing our bedrooms (AKA our cells), ablutions and a laundry room. And that was it – other than an abundance of ground squirrel holes and a few boulders. There was no nightlife, no corner shop, no nothing really – and the only internet access was within the main building and canteen when it was open.

Our cell block at BATUS

Our cell block at BATUS

Graham and Mary were also really helpful in putting my mind at rest. Over the years Graham had been building up a list of essential kit needed for the assignment which proved invaluable and also highlighted a number of bits and pieces that I would need to acquire before travelling. Whilst I had some cold weather gear it was all a bit too brightly coloured for this type of work (you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb – or indeed a target!) so I had to factor in a trip to Go Outdoors to get a bivvy bag, self-inflating bedroll, mosquito head net and numerous other bits and pieces that would help me cope with any conditions I might find. On a previous October BATUS exercise Mary and Graeme had experienced -18 Celsius, but it could equally hit +20 so most of my case space would be taken up with “what if” weather clothing.

All the flights and transfers were arranged by the British Army via Crown Media, travelling cattle-class with BA from Heathrow to Calgary and then a 2 ½ hour taxi transfer south to BATUS. We didn’t need any special work permits as we were attached to the British Army, and both Dave and I were booked with additional hold luggage to cope with our video gear and masses of embedding kit. Whilst it was unusual for a team to include two newbie cameramen I found some comfort in this. At least I wasn’t going to be the odd one out and I dare say both of us took slightly more kit than we actually needed so there would be some spares should either of us lose or forget something vital. I’d met Dave before on a couple of occasions at past IOV events so we weren’t complete strangers, and we were familiar with each others work having both been recipients of IOV Awards.

After brief introductions whilst we waited for our departure, and Mary and Graeme sharing many of their Crown Media experiences, we were on our way. By the time we arrived at BATUS I think both Dave and I were pretty confident about what the next two weeks would bring. I suspect we still looked like wide-eyed newbies though. We spent our first night at BATUS base camp before being transported up to ExCon the following morning. It was, pretty much, as explained – nothing to write home about! Had we not had an unplanned three-day down period mid exercise that is where we would have stayed, however we did manage a day trip down to Medicine Hat (a 40-minute taxi ride away and the nearest major town to BATUS) and had a very welcome beer or two (BATUS is totally dry!). Not sure I’d bother with Medicine Hat again though.

Into Action

BATUS tank

Exercising at BATUS

I can’t go into too much detail, but BATUS provides the army with a virtually unrestricted environment in which to exercise troops in a number of scenarios. Whilst on this occasion this consisted of companies of foot soldiers undertaking various objective-led assignments, such as securing strategic mock settlements and helping the civilian populations in their own peacekeeping efforts, BATUS is also big enough to allow for mechanised and heavy artillery exercises. Whilst the British Army have fantastic facilities nearer to home, nothing compares to the freedom of movement and range of terrain offered by BATUS.

Divided into Blue Press and Red Press two-man news crews (with Graeme and Mary working as front of camera reporters), our task was to position ourselves within the target villages or alongside the troops as the exercise progressed and to film the action. This included interviewing soldiers as they worked and filming pieces to camera by the reporters. Blue Press team played the role of a more friendly news crew (akin to the BBC) and the Red Press adopted a more hostile position. These represent the two kinds of media found on a military operation, ‘Unilaterals’ and ‘Embeds’. Unilaterals roam the area reporting as they see fit and without reference to the military. Embeds agree to report within constraints laid down in an agreement negotiated between news editors and the MOD. This is known as ‘The Green Book’. The media give the military the right to vet their product to ensure that operational security (OPSEC) is not compromised in return for unique access. Part of the training is to see whether the military properly understand the differences and the implications for how they should manage these differing relationships.

The different roles played by Graeme (Blue) and Mary (Red) were immediately apparent, and as their camera operators we too were expected to take on a similar stance with our camera work – Blue Team being more cooperative and compliant than Red Team. It was fun, but at the same time you had to imagine the soldiers and their opposite combatants were firing real bullets (on this exercise they were firing blank rounds and electronically monitored a bit like laser paintball) and being subjected to real IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) – so you couldn’t just swagger through the battle scenes to get your best shot. The point is to give the troops a realistic impression of working with TV crews around them, and to experience the range and style of questioning they might experience in the real world.

Red Press

Working as Red Press with Mary

Apart from us playing our roles, each scenario included CivPop (Civilian Population) who were actors playing the part of people and local militia within the mock villages who were either thankful of the army’s attempts to help them or resistant to it. The atmosphere was therefore very close to what the soldiers will experience in the field, with everything going on around them ranging from human atrocities to political positioning – and on top of that there was us recording the story from our Blue and Red perspectives.

At the end of the exercise we were shipped back in army vehicles to ExCon where we started the editing process in our bedrooms – first capturing the footage, selecting a range of interviews and pieces to camera and then recording a voiceover with Graeme or Mary once they’d written their respective stories. These were then edited into short, 2 to 4-minute Blue and Red news packages, much in the style of a regular bulletin you would see on the TV news back home. In the meantime, the troops in the field would be tabbing (marching) on to their next exercise within the BATUS training ground and preparing for another exercise.

Every exercise is broken down into a series of missions. Every few days at the end of these missions (natural breaks in the exercise) the lessons identified during the training are fed back to the soldiers through a process known as an After Action Review (AAR). In our case the news packages reflect how effectively the troops had communicated through the media the operations that they were involved in. This was then briefed down to the youngest soldier in the unit so that they would better understand how their actions would appear to the public on television.

My BATUS Kit Choice

For my main area of work I’m still shooting on DSLRs, but these are simply inappropriate for this kind of work. They’re great for beauty shots but totally useless for run-and-gun news applications. Shoulder-mounted cameras are fine for general news work but too bulky for war zone environments where you need to be nimble on your feet and not overly fussed by the rough and tumble of trench and battlefield warfare filming and the damage it could cause to an expensive camera. However, you will need something capable of producing news-standard images and sound, so therefore something which you can easily connect XLR-type mics and radio mic systems to.

Shooting with the JVC GY-HM650

Shooting with the JVC GY-HM650

My JVC GY-HM650 was perfect for this, weighing just over 2Kg and being compact yet fully configured for professional audio and monitoring. Whilst much of the time you’ll be running in full auto mode, having the ability to quickly set things manually is ideal and, in some situations, vital. For my radio mic system I was using my Sony UWP-D11 system with a Sony ECM674 directional mic connected to the transmitter. A radio mic system is essential as you’ll often drift apart from your reporter, and they’ll also need a handgrip and wind gag on this to record in often windy outdoor conditions.

Even though Crown Media specified a lightweight tripod there was little opportunity to use one on this exercise. Further to Steve Gravenor’s advice I’d taken my Mogopod with me but ended up leaving it back in my room after the first couple of days. There simply isn’t enough time to use one, and all they become is another dead weight to carry around. This did mean that most of the time I was relying on the HM650 Optical Image Stabiliser, but the ever so slight picture degradation it causes and additional strain on the battery wasn’t an issue. On a couple of extremely long lens shots I’d also used my NLE’s shot stabiliser too.

For editing I’d took along my recently purchased Edius Laptop system which was built by DVC in Hove. I’m an Edius fan boy through and through, and it’s ability to suck in and spit out almost any format is a real advantage. Whilst it seems extremely antiquated, the delivery specification for the news packages used within the AARs was standard definition, 4:3 aspect ratio in Windows Media format. This was because the videos were used within a PowerPoint presentation and this format causes less issues for the guys handling the output. This didn’t matter a jot to Edius. Both Dave and I were shooting at 1280 x 720 50p, and whilst I was using this format throughout the entire editing process, and only outputting to the pillar boxed Windows Media format as the final button click, Dave was having to do some intermediate format changes using his Mac-based Premiere system – and then a Sorenson Squeeze to give him the final Windows Media file at the end. It all looked the same on the final output but I think Edius saved me a fair bit of time over the two-week period.

BATUS editing

Editing the news packages with my Edius laptop

Having decried the use of DSLRs for this kind of work I did take my trusty old Canon 550D out with me should I need it in an emergency. This also meant taking out my Tascam DR-60D audio recorder too as without it I’d have struggled to connect anything useful audio wise. Thankfully I didn’t have to call on it as, with hindsight, it would have been next to useless.

After Action Review

With only one Crown Media assignment behind me I can’t honestly say I know what it’s like to work as a freelance camera operator for them, but I have a much better idea and would certainly know what to expect from another trip to BATUS. With an extraordinary number of down-days and virtually nothing in the way of embedding with the troops, Graeme and Mary both said this was not your usual BATUS assignment, nor any way typical of working for Crown Media.

At this point I need to thank Steve Gravenor for one of his greatest tips, in that I needed to take plenty of things to do in my spare time, such as books and DVDs. His suggestion of taking the complete box set of Breaking Bad was spot on. Having not seen a single episode before I managed to watch all 48-hours of series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 by the time our taxi came to pick us up and take us to the airport. I think I might have gone a bit loopy had I not had this to fill in the blanks.

BATUS sunrise

Shooting a sunrise at BATUS in my downtime

As tame as this introduction might have been I’ve certainly got a taste to do more Crown Media work. The downsides are few as far as I can see, leaving aside the daily freelancers’ rates which are somewhat less than I would normally achieve in the corporate sector but comparable to BECTU rates. However, the experience was amazing and if Mary, Graeme and Dave are typical of the teams I will be working with in the future then I’m going to have a lot of fun and stand to gain a lot of experience from working with some extremely professional people.

Thankfully I’m not going to have to wait too much longer for my next Crown Media assignment to find out. Whilst out working at BATUS another opportunity was emailed out, this time working with a team of ten Crown Media people on a week-long exercise in Cornwall at the beginning of December. I don’t know much more about it other than the dates at present but I’ve been confirmed as part of the team – whoever they may be. Bring it on!

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V.

Note: Details about working with Crown Media are available from their website – www.crown-media.co.uk

Making your videotape to DVD conversions last forever

Videotape to DVD forever

How to make your memories last a lifetime or more!

A client asked me a great videotape to DVD question today…

“Which is the best way to ensure that my videotapes and cine films you’ve converted to DVD last as long as possible? They’re very precious family memories and I don’t just want these to last for a few years – but basically forever!”

First of all, I’m not talking here about how to create the best quality conversion from one media to another but rather advising a client on the best solution for ensuring longevity once analogue videotape to DVD (VHS, 8mm, VHS-C…) has been carried out.

If they wanted to know how to squeeze every last drop of quality out of their original material and digitize it into the best possible file type for storage or playback, that would be a whole different series of blogs!

Making your videotape to DVD conversions last forever

Once digitised on to DVD you can copy the disks as many times as you like, without further loss of quality. It’s quite a simple process on a PC and once copied there you can back-up the files to DVD or USB stick. I would personally do both.

Recordable DVDs are based on an organic material within a layer in the DVD being burnt with a laser; and through poor handling, storage, excessive light exposure, repeated playback and faulty playback machines, this layer can become corrupt over time. The solid state memory on a USB stick is more robust (albeit that you still have to care for it), but not currently so accommodating for playing back the media files they contain.

To further secure the data you could also back these USB sticks up to an online cloud storage facility. However, each DVD will contain up to 4.7GB of data, so this might take considerable time to upload.

What Video Artisan offer as a solution

In these situations we first suggest an additional DVD copy of each videotape transferred (at £2.50 per tape) and suggest these are stored away in a sealed box, in a dry and reasonably stable temperature environment (not the loft). Whilst the longevity of recordable DVDs is not actually known, stored in these conditions they should definitely last a lifetime.

Once converted to DVD (see prices here) we can then show clients how to copy the files to a USB stick, or offer to provide the whole service (supply of an 8GB USB stick and copying the video files to them) at an additional cost of £10 per converted tape.

USB and DVD

USB and DVD – belt and braces

Making these digital files last forever is then just a matter of the client (and everyone who comes after them) keeping on backing up or copying the digital files to whatever technology happens to evolve. That’s the hard part!

Movie Themes and Underscores – AKM Music Review

AK169 AK170  title

AK169 Emotive World & AK170 Nature Soundscapes

Copyright Free Movie Themes and Underscores – AK169 & AK170

I’ve had these two AKM Music copyright-free albums sitting waiting to be reviewed for a few weeks now. Whilst sharing similar characteristics, they do vary quite a bit in their application. AK169 Emotive World is, to me, a movie theme track album. Whilst there are tunes on there that could be used underneath narration I think this one is ideal when your looking for music to go on top and drive your visuals. AK170 Nature Soundscapes is more of an album of narrative underscores or possibly musical wallpaper when you want the images to tell the story in their own.

AK169 Emotive World

This album is all about big themes, mainly orchestral but there’s a few with a definite oriental feel to them. The first few tracks conjured up visions of big screen blockbusters but there’s also a smattering of tracks that could be used on corporates and commercials. Lots of voice effects here if you’re looking for some!

01 Main Theme – 3’16”
Medium slow, repetitive orchestral piece with swirling start and building with stabbing strings and voice effects. It conjured up a victory scene from one later Terminator films, with a hint of electronic FX here and there.

02 Black Wing – 3′
Back with the Terminator here. He said he would be! This could be used on the opening title sequence for the film or a scene where he rebuilds from being almost totally wiped out. There’s voice effects again on this one, with a slow beating of a huge timpani drum to create building tension. Nice dramatic ending to lead you into narrative.

03 Blue Moon – 2’36”
I was expecting something equally spacey on this but it’s an odd one. It starts with an electronic trumpet voluntary and gets all mixed up after that. There’s a horribly repetitive electronic stab which doesn’t seem to go away and eventually breaks into a chorus of electronic strings and odd sounding instruments (a bit like broken trumpets). Not my favourite.

04 Crisis of the City – 3’27”
Orchestral, menacing – with swirling electronic strings which create an image of desperation and destruction. Oh hang on, there’s another voice effect, this time a male choir giving it a ‘heave ho!’ type effect. This soon fades though and we’re back to this medium-paced big orchestral piece. Could fit equally well on a bank commercial as it could on a big blockbuster sci-fi or war film.

05 – Emotional – 3′
Poor attempt at a sad gypsy violin opening. If it was there to conjure up the emotions then it failed, and I’m not really sure where or how you’d use this one.

AK169 Emotive World

AK169 Emotive World

06 Kingdom of Children – 2’47”
Now they’ve got their electronic harp out and mixed that with what sounds like a young person’s voice effect and a harpsichord. It’s a simple tune this one, which makes it usable on all manner of films – especially those depicting kids.

07 Last Battle – 4’07”
Think of all the previous tracks and edit them together. Lots of voice effects, string stabs and big orchestral sound. Goes on a bit!

08 Morning – 2’19”
The rythym is building on this one with a big wind section chorus. I can imagine someone flying.

09 Ancient Drum – 2’12”
Hear them jungle drums man! Well it actually starts with a Japanese taiko drum and gong sound but soon breaks out into a wild tropical jungle beat. This could be a really useful track if you were looking to cut something at a really fast pace.

10 Osaka – 3’15”
Slow with a strong steady big-drum beat. Definite oriental feel about it, with chorus line played on a shakuhachi wooden flute. Orchestral strings build and finally lead you out as a solo.

11 Red Sky – 2’46”
Slow piano start, with orchestra sections dropping in one by one. And yes, you’ve guessed it, a choir of voices brought in for good measure. You can’t work out what they’re saying but it’s a feature that might preclude you from using the track. It ends on the piano, back on its own playing out it’s repetitive tinkle.

12 Santan – 2’09”
Indistinguishable from the last one really, but a bit more of a Celtic sound and without the voices.

13 Sky – 3’58”
Big orchestral piece with crashing cymbal sounds and horn sections. Eventually the voice effects come in and make you realise you’re on the same album. Could imagine this being used on a bank commercial.

14 Sunday – 2’03”
Violin opening sequence – obviously electronic but with a melancholy feel to it. Big drum and orchestral stabs and chorus pieces lift you up as the track moves along. No idea why its called ‘Sunday’.

15 Taiko – 2’08”
As the title suggests, we’re back with the Japanese Taiko drums this time but a lot less ‘jungle’ – more pure Taiko. A really useful track to have on hand if you are trying to get a really Japanese feel to something. Nice bamboo bashing to cut to.

16 Tear – 2’24”
So sad – so very sad! Reminded me a bit of Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when it started, but soon fell into the same orchestra and voice effect pattern of other tracks in this album.

AK170 Nature Soundscapes

An excellent mix of mood-creating and enhancing tracks to add to landscapes. Each track has at least three variations of the main theme including a short sting and alternative cut. Quite of a few of these would work really well as a background track to narration. Nothing will offend you too much, and some of the alternate versions are very different to the main, yet recognisably similar. This could make them ideal for a longer-form documentary.

01/02/03/04 Above the Clouds – 5’54” / 2’43” / 19″ / 12″
This would work well on a scene filmed from a drone over highlands, valleys and streams. A slow piano-led piece with highlights in flute and string.

05/06/07 Blue Lagoon – 3’39 / 3’09” / 14″
Again, quite a slow piece but has much more of an electronic feel to it. Wispy short electronic stabs and a twiddling keyboard underscore take you along. This is pretty non-specific, so could be used as a background for narrative quite easily. The alternate version (06) is a bit more electronic and less detailed – making it even more usable for a narrative underscore.

AK170 Nature Soundscapes

AK170 Nature Soundscapes

08/09/10 Deep Forest Sunrise – 4’19” / 3’16” / 25″
A little more upbeat this time, but still with an electronic sound which has swirling keyboard effects and a driving electronic beat. An occasional subtle voice effect breaks in and slows the whole thing down before breaking back into the beat. The alternate version is a lot more melodic and slow with a piano lead.

11/12/13 Navaho Plain – 2’45” / 2’45” / 22″
Think Native American prairie with a hint of Celtic tribe and you’ll have this one. Flute and swirling orchestral sounds will take you to a misty morning somewhere – with birds flying high over a silent landscape. The alternative version is very similar, but with a more pronounced flute sequence.

14/15/16 Rising Sun – 4’11” / 2’21” / 19″
This starts with an eerie distant drumming sound before breaking into strings and subtle flute. The beat then lifts with an acoustic guitar lead with a bit of a Spanish sound to it. The alternate version is a bit more reliant on the drum beat and has a bit more of an electronic feel to it.

17/18/19 The Moon Appears – 6’12” / 3’03” / 17″
This one starts with a constant, slow deep swirling sound with distant strings and wind instruments. You can imagine drifting over a sea of ice during the first part of this. Gradually more definition is added with tubular bells, big string section and voice effects. The rhythm kind of creeps up on you. Reminded me of Bladerunner in parts. Alternative version is much simpler and more flute than anything else.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon)

Note: 20% off either the CD or CD DOWNLOAD with this promo code ‘HDSLR1’. All AKM Music’s albums and single-track download music can be previewed on their website – AKMMusic.co.uk

Video Artisan – more than just Marketing Films

SliceStoppa marketing films title

Its not just marketing films now from Video Artisan

SliceStoppa box design

SliceStoppa box design

We’ve recently launched a series of short marketing films produced for SliceStoppa – but this project extended way beyond our usual sphere of film and video production. SliceStoppa’s Managing Director, Ian Joyce and fellow product designer, Gary Cant, approached us whilst the product was still in the design stage and engaged us to create the SliceStoppa logo, packaging, business stationery, photography and, in association with my colleague, Martin Baker, the company’s eCommerce website.

Like many companies, SliceStoppa knew that marketing films would play a vitally important role in getting their amazing golf training aid to market. Not only do marketing films lend themselves perfectly to demonstrating the unique selling features of products like SliceStoppa, but they also play a vital role in search engine optimisation. Producing a series of marketing films was therefore uppermost in their minds from day one. Furthermore, apart from direct sales from their own website (www.SliceStoppa.co.uk) the company also knew that wholesalers and retailers of their product would demand marketing films to include on their own websites.

Whilst Video Artisan regularly creates graphics and animated logo sequences for marketing films, this is the first time that we have been commissioned to design an original logo and branding for a business from scratch. The benefit of this was that we could design a logo that would work equally well on paper, online and on video from the outset. The benefit for SliceStoppa was that they could work with one local agency and know that there wouldn’t be any conflicts between differing agencies or design objectives.

SliceStoppa explained

SliceStoppa is a golf training aid that helps golfers to develop the perfect golf swing and approach to the golf ball. It can also be used for a number of other training drills to help with chipping, putting and removing leg slide on the downward swing. It can be used equally well on the driving range, practice tee, golf course or at home – and is suited to both left and right-handed golfers.

SliceStoppa in use

SliceStoppa – stills taken from marketing films

SliceStoppa is compact, impact resistant and incredibly easy to set up and use. Within minutes of introducing SliceStoppa to your regular golf practice you’ll see a vast improvement in your golf swing and will start hitting your golf ball further and straighter. It is available now direct from the SliceStoppa website at only £29.99.

The three SliceStoppa marketing films

The three marketing films were produced primarily for delivery from SliceStoppa’s website and are hosted on their YouTube channel (and also Video Artisan’s Vimeo channel). These consist of a general introduction to SliceStoppa, a short ‘teaser’ promo and a short film that explains what a golf slice is and how SliceStoppa helps golfers remove slicing and hooking from their game.

Introducing SliceStoppa

What is a Slice?

SliceStoppa Teaser

These marketing films were shot at three locations, including Topgolf at Chigwell, Ilford Golf Club and also outside the Video Artisan studio here in Loughton, Essex. Filming took around two days to complete and around three days to edit. Apart from one Action Camera shot on the teaser film, all material was shot using a Canon 5D DSLR. This is also the first instance where we have voiced the video ourselves too – but not until after the client had auditioned a number of voiceover artists.

Further Marketing Films

Within a week of being launched the initial interest in the product has been excellent and it has already been taken up by Groupon where it is selling really well. The website has also attracted interest from other golf retailers, golf professional and other specialist retailers. Once product sales increase SliceStoppa have plans to produce further marketing films to demonstrate the additional drills which the product can be used for.

If you have new or existing products that could benefit from marketing films, or you would like to hear about our complete marketing services, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Shooting a holiday lip-dub

It must be love lip-dub title

The story behind the Lip-dub

Just to prove this job of mine isn’t really work I decided to produce a fun video whilst on holiday this year. It’s a lip-dub or musical mime, performed by a group of friends and I whilst we vacated on the amazing island resort of Cayo Levantado just off the Samana Bay on the Dominican Republic. I’m not really sure why I’m sharing this with you on my business blog but I’ve had so many questions about how it was done, and why, so maybe this will satisfy everyone. To those that have not seen it here it is, and if you want to know more about how this lip-dub was produced please read on.

The Lip-dub motivation

First of all I need to quickly tell you the back story behind this holiday. When the website Friends Reunited was in its heyday, I signed up and made contact with a whole bunch of old school friends – some dating back to my infant school days. The usual reunions took place; starting off with tens of people turning up but gradually dwindling down to little more than a handful of us who reformed their friendships and have continued to meet up on a monthly basis ever since.

It was on one of these booze-fuelled nights out that we pledged that in the year we reached 50 we would all go on a special holiday together, with partners, to somewhere exotic. We had originally decided on a cruise and started a joint savings account to pay for it. Like many great plans for one reason or another this did not materialise. However, the whole idea was rekindled when one of our group, Karen, announced that she was going to get married to Paul (the couple in the penultimate shot of the film) and some bright spark suggested that maybe we should join them on their honeymoon – and the rest is history.

I’m not sure at what point I decided to shoot a film whilst we were away but it was certainly months before we left. This gave me time to think about what I wanted to create and to pick a song that would mean something to everyone involved. This isn’t the first lip-dub I’ve shot but it’s certainly the most detailed and most labour intensive – but I have to admit that I really like doing them. Most of my time is spent producing corporate videos for other people, with a precisely defined objective. This was produced purely for fun and as a memento for all of us of this very special holiday.

Lip-dub pre-planning and musical choice

There’s no doubt that the 7 P’s play their part in shooting a lip-dub (Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance). This doesn’t only mean having a pretty good idea about what you are going to film and making sure you have the kit to do it, but also making sure that everyone involved knows what’s expected of them.

Labi's digital remastered album

Labi’s digital remastered album

The track, ‘It must be love’ was certainly a favourite amongst us but probably more so in the version sung by Madness. That was our era and we’d all been away together before on a Madness weekend at Butlins. However, that version didn’t really lend itself to a lip-dub but the original by Labi Siffre certainly does (to me anyhow). Choosing a song that we were all familiar with was important, but even so I’d urged everyone in the months beforehand to brush up on the lyrics. That’s probably my first tip to anyone thinking of doing something similar – make sure your talent knows the words! This worked for me, well maybe not in one person’s case who had spent weeks memorising, ‘All you need is love’ – which only came to light when we started filming with the complaint that, “I don’t even like the Beatles Cookie!” You came good in the end though Deb! : )

I’d put together a rough shot list and shared this with the group. I knew I wasn’t going to stick to this religiously but my aim was to make sure they understood what kind of commitment was going to be involved. The last thing you’ll need is talent moaning about having you taking them away from their holiday pleasures just to get another shot. I also wanted to make sure they understood that I wanted each of them to perform the entire song as a solo – from start to finish. I knew there was one or two shrinking violets among them but, on the whole, we’re always up for a laugh and I knew none of them would back down from the challenge. I tried to make it fun too – which is also important.

By doing this I knew (or hoped) I could cut to at least one good solo performance at any point within the song. Here’s a split screen showing all of our performances – which shows just how good (or bad) some of our individual miming turned out. Please keep in mind, I only gave each of them one chance to do their solo – so keep an eye open for the occasional slip.

I also got the entire group to perform the chorus line a few times at a few different locations – plus shot various GVs around the hotel to use as cover shots should I be short at the editing stage. I also asked each of the group to bring a small, heart-shaped prop with them which would be used somewhere within the film. This gave me the chance to give a little purpose to the GVs by placing each persons’ prop within the frame (seen towards the end of the film).

The only other props were the inflatable guitar and ukulele, bought from eBay for a couple of quid before we travelled and kindly repaired by the pool attendant when the bass developed a split! I knew these would be needed on the musical break in the middle of the song and primed Steve and Paul that I would need them to give that section of the song a good listen to.

Lip-dub filming kit

Even though there was a filming job to do on this holiday it was still supposed to be a holiday, so I had to cut my kit list back to the bare essentials so that we could still fit a full holiday wardrobe in our suitcases. Still, there were some things over and above a camera that I knew I’d need (or want) with me. The full list included:

  • Canon 550D (running Magic Lantern software)
  • Lenses (Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 / Vintage Fujinon 55mm f.18 / Vintage Fujinon 200mm f4)
  • Variable ND filter (too little lighting was never going to be a problem)
  • Handful of Canon batteries and a charger (I could have taken just a couple)
  • RODE video mic (this was never taken out of the case)
  • Lightweight photographic tripod (a very old one – see later)
  • Pico Flex Dolly (love it – with all my heart!)
  • Magic Arms (a couple – but one would have done)
  • JVC Adixxion Action Camera (for underwater shots)
  • SD Cards (took 4 but only used one 32Gb in Canon and one 16Gb in the JVC)

This lot was dispersed amongst our main cases and our hand luggage but still kept us within our weight limits. Everything arrived home safely afterwards – except the tripod which was pretty much knackered before it went away but completely so by the end of the shoot having spent some of the time stuck in the sand and sea. I wouldn’t have been without it though as I knew I wouldn’t want shaky hand-held shots – especially on the solos. I also wanted to be in the group shots myself so the camera needed to stand on its own at some point. The tripod was left in our hotel room bin as we checked out and probably occupies landfill space now. Even though I knew this would happen it was still sad as I’d had that tripod since the late 80’s. Maybe a Dominican has picked it up and making good use of it now.

Lip-dub tripod

Using a tripod – an essential lip-dub tool

I’d decided on the Canon 550D because I knew it could give me the look and quality I was after and was no bigger than a stills camera that I would take away normally. Also, whilst we wasn’t too bothered about what people were thinking of us as we were filming, a DSLR attracts far less attention than a conventional camera. We were often shooting amongst other guests and didn’t really want to cause them any concerns or raise any questions.

Canon 550D

Canon 550D with Fujinon 55mm f1.8 lens

The lens selection also had to be considered. The Tokina 11-16mm wide was my go-to lens most of the time, giving me an effective lens length of 17.6mm to 25.6mm on the 550D’s cropped sensor. The 55mm Fujinon was going to give me the equivalent of 88mm – so I didn’t really have a natural field of view lens with me (which is normally around 50mm). In practice, this meant having to position the camera back a bit more than I usually would in order to get my framing right. The 200mm Fujinon was taken just in case I needed a long shot, and was used only once in the film on one of the heart-shaped prop shots (I leave you to guess which one).

The variable ND was a must as I like to play with depth of field and the 55mm Fujinon, with its f1.8 aperture, needs a lot of knocking back when run fully open. This lens does get softer at the open end with the ND filter pretty much at its strongest, but I still love it. The lens also would prove useful should I want to shoot anything in low light. I didn’t – but I’d rather have it to hand if the needed. I certainly wasn’t going to take any kind of lighting away with me.

I did take the RODE mic with me but it wasn’t used. All the guide audio was recorded via the Canon’s internal mic, which though totally naff under normal circumstances, in this case I knew that I was never going to use the recorded sound on the finished video. The RODE was there just in case I was tempted to shoot anything other than the lip-dub – which I wasn’t.

Pico Flex

Pico Flex Dolly

The only bit of kit that might be considered as self-indulgent was the Pico Flex Dolly, but part of the drive to create this lip-dub was to serve my own creative desires. I simple love what a bit of temporal parallax brings to a film and the Pico Flex gave me the chance to have a play with it. There’s only a couple of shots that made it into the final edit in which this was used, but I still love them and wish I could have used it more. All you need with the Pico Flex is a good surface and the hotel had lots of nice smooth tables and marble floors for me to play on.

Managing the shoot

To end up with just over three minutes of usable material meant us shooting a little pretty much every day. I don’t think it took over the holiday for anyone but rather became an entertaining side attraction and topic of conversation. By the end of the holiday everyone seems to be really excited at how it was going to come together and at no time refused to take part or be the object of my amusement.

The three set-up scenes in the film (Ricky the bird man, 7-in a bed and Feet in bed) were all thought about beforehand but tweaked a bit on the day. We did try and get all nine of us on the bed at the same time but we couldn’t quite fit. Still, the bed sizes at the hotel were pretty impressive. My only regret here is that I should have shifted focus and rehearsed the 7-in a bed shot a few time. But it was a holiday after all.

Whenever the performers were miming or moving to the music I used my Samsung phone to play the music to them – either through its speaker just off camera when the environment wasn’t too noisy or via headphones when it was. I kind of set a precedent with this on my own solo which was self-framed with my wife, Tiffany, left to press the camera’s record button. I think we got away with it, though in an ideal world it would have been better to have the phone and headphones out of shot all the time.

The underwater shots were taken on my new toy, the JVC Adixxion camera which is waterproof down to 5m. This was also used on a couple of group shots and I think it stood up pretty well against the DSLR. The pool shots, with everyone doing the heart sign with their hands (in case you’d not worked that out) probably took the longest to do as some of us were having buoyancy problems. I’m not sure if this was down to too much fizzy beer or lunch, but keeping yourself low in the water and posing to the camera seemed to be a struggle. I also used the JVC to shoot the final sunset shot as a stills timelapse.

At the end of each day I would review the shots so by the time we got to the last few days I was confident that I had enough in the can – and the edit was starting to take place in my head. I have to admit that I was gagging to cut it by then.

Editing the lip-dub

The editing took me a couple of days in total using my Edius 6.5 system – including file transfers and working through all the rushes. In total there was about a 90-mins worth of material which is a high shoot-to-edit ratio but much of this was down to overrun on shooting solos and off the cuff shots that, with hindsight, just didn’t work.

The edit process was quite straight forward, working the solos first and syncing them to the music track. I’d first roughly line-up the music with the ambient sound on those takes where the headphones were not used, and purely by sight on those were the headphones were used. The only tricky parts came on Mick’s solo (shot by the hotel sign) where my phone handshaked with the hotel’s WIFI system causing the music to momentarily pause, and on Paul’s solo where he dropped the phone half way through his performance. This wasn’t any great hardship though.

edit suite

The Video Artisan edit suite

Refining the edits will always have to be carried out as regardless of how well your performer knows the lyrics they will always be a frame or two behind the actual singer. Just slipping the visuals back a notch normally sorts this out for the entire song. You’ve also got to accept that there will be one or two words which are just wrong, a point demonstrated in my own performance in the split screen example above. These were, in the main, hidden within the edit.

The hard part of the edit was deciding when enough was enough. Since releasing the video I’ve found myself going back to the rushes and doing an alternate edit but only for my own benefit and nothing that I would release in favour of the first cut.

Releasing the lip-dub

The ugly question of copyright was on my mind at the very early stages of planning this lip-dub. Would I fall foul of YouTube’s harshest treatment of videos with copyright music on them and it gets totally removed? I didn’t want to leave this to chance so made an attempt to contact Labi Siffre direct to see if we could get his blessing on its release. That didn’t prove successful so I tried the other angle of contacting the record company who released the recording I used – namely BMG Chrysalis. This proved more painless than I’d expected. After a quick call they asked me to send them the finished video and back came a reply within the hour… “This is something that would fall under YouTube’s ‘user generated content’ blanket license with the music collection societies. Please go ahead!” It does mean that ads get served on the video but, if this in someway compensates the rights owners, then I’m happy.

The video was released on YouTube and Vimeo on the same day (though I know that the Vimeo version might be pulled as they don’t have the same agreements in place as YouTube). Within the first week it had been viewed around 600 times and it’s still rising. I’ve shared it all over the place, and so too have my holiday buddies who have shared it with their friends via Facebook. I’ve also emailed the hotel with it (they do get a fair plug) and included it in a TripAdvisor review of the hotel. On top of that I’ve also tweeted it to various people who have a connection with either the island, hotel group or Labi Siffre.

Thanks

There’s really only a handful of very special people I need to thank for their help and input on the making of this lip-dub and that’s my fellow performers… Tiff, Karen, Kim, Deb, Paul, Mick, Steve and Ricky. I’d also like to thank Labi Siffre for writing and performing the song which will forever remind us of a fantastic holiday shared with some amazing friends. It must be love! xx

Lip-dub cast

My lip-dub performers enjoying an evening meal