Video Artisan – a year in video film production

Video Artisan’s 1st birthday slipped past me unnoticed at the beginning of Feb. The fact that I’ve only just realised is testament to how busy, absorbing and enjoyable my first year back in video film production has been.

There’s been some significant milestones that’s for sure but none more so than picking up my first corporate video production commission derived purely from my own marketing efforts.  Having been into fishing in my youth part of the satisfaction comes from knowing you’ve set your bait out attractively enough for the fish to bite.  What comes next, the fight to land the fish, was satisfying in other ways.  Winning new business has the same stages – you attract, you engage and you land.

Video Film Production awards

Another significant milestone was winning an IOV award – funny enough for the film that I produced for Supadance which was the aforementioned first video production commission. Having been involved in organising these awards in previous years, and witnessing how much the award winners appreciated and benefited from the accolade, to be amongst the winners in my first year of business was amazing.  To add even more gloss to this I also picked up second place in the Documentary category for my Bees & Wasps short film.

IOV Award Winning Film - Best Open 2012
Left – IOV Awards Presenter, Philip Hilton – Right – IOV Executive Member, John De Rienzo

Throughout the year I’ve been shooting a film on the work of Eiger Safety, a rope access company who specialise in installing and testing a whole range of height safety systems. You’ll get a better picture of Eiger Safety, the original brief and the musical short video production from my previous blog here.  I’m also working on a longer-form interview based documentary about them at the moment too.  To convince the client that this was a good idea I shot a proof-of-concept interview with the MD and roughly cut it together for them. We’re going to shoot this for real soon but the proof version worked well and demonstrated the need.  It’s not publicly available, but as you’re interested you can see it here – using the password ‘ginger’.

Another year in video film production

There’s no sign of things slowing up for me at the moment. Right now I’m in the middle of two films – one for a commercial investigation company (Robertson & Co – which is still in the shooting stage) and another for BT Global.  The work for BT is ongoing, and so far I’ve been involved in three films for various divisions within BT Global.  I’ll be writing a longer blog about this work next week so keep your eyes open.

So, all in all a brilliant first year back in video production. I can’t help feeling that I should have done this years ago. My only regret is that I should have put a reminder in my Google calendar to celebrate my first year. Not a bad regret I guess?

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Eiger Safety promo video goes live

After a year in the making I was really pleased to get the Eiger Safety promo video signed off last Friday.

The making of this musical-short promo video

The brief for this promo video was very simple…. Create a 3-minute video, cut to music, that visually represents the range of services and products offered by Eiger Safety – which will be used as the opening audience-settler within sales presentations.  That sounds easy enough on paper – as does most other promo video briefs – but there were a couple of unusual challenges with this job.

Firstly, the very nature of Eiger Safety’s work would mean that I’d have to film pretty much wherever they work.  Whilst I’ve never knowingly suffered from vertigo I wasn’t absolutely sure how I would handle filming under these conditions.  I knew it would be safe, but it was clear I’d have to film over the edge of some pretty impressive buildings and structures.

Working on the edge for a promo video
Working on the edge for a promo video – walking the chains at Clifton

The second challenge was picking the right locations and activities that would accurately convey what Eiger Safety do.  Whilst some of their work involves regular testing and certification of height-safety systems (such as window cleaning eye bolts, latchways, roof hand & guard rails and abseiling points), the really impressive stuff is usually one-off installations and annual inspections.  This meant we were never going to be able to shoot this in one hit but rather spread the filming out to capture a typical year of Eiger Safety’s work.

Costing the Promo Video

Whilst we had a plan of around six sites and projects that Eiger Safety MD, Paul Jaffe, wanted to include he also knew there would be other projects that would come up over the year that he would just have to have captured on film.  However, by the time we had it in the can we’d covered fourteen different locations, some of which were visited more than once.

Corporate and business-based films are never easy to cost but this one was almost impossible to give an accurate total cost from day one.  To overcome this we agreed a daily filming rate along with an understanding that each filming day would increase post production time too.  We also agreed a significant initial payment with interim invoices to be issued when needed. This worked for both of us – giving him control over the budget and keeping me in pocket whilst the project progressed.

Filming at locations all over the UK
Filming at locations all over the UK – The Eden Project

Location, location, location
One thing I have learnt over the past year is that Eiger Safety get to see things from a very different point of view – literally. There are very few people who have access to the parts on buildings that they have to access in order to do the things they do. Sometimes they are working in places that have not been accessed for many years – sometimes since the building or structure was first constructed.

Whilst we are all at the mercy of the weather, when it came to filming this project we was more reliant on good conditions than others. There were some locations where we were prohibited to work if there was strong winds or icy conditions atop the structure.  The wind conditions are especially important and as we all know these can change quite rapidly and are almost impossible to predict.  This did result in a couple of abandoned filming days – in particular the footage shot on the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  When we did actually get to film there we had a brilliant couple of days but still had to constantly check wind speeds to make sure we were operating within the bridge authority’s regulations.

Whilst Clifton Suspension Bridge was certainly the most dramatic location, some of the most spectacular views for me were those that the guys at Eiger Safety get to see almost every day.  As the regular rope access company for many of London’s top hotels, office developments and structures, they get a view of our capital city like nobody else. There were some locations where I could have spent a whole lot more time just taking it all in.

Filming over the edge at the Dorchester Hotel
Filming over the edge at the Dorchester Hotel

Feet back on solid ground

With the short musical promo video now complete I’ll be turning my attention to a longer-form documentary version based around a studio interview I’ve filmed with Paul that will give the viewer a much better understanding of what they do and the requirements of those working on rope access.  This wasn’t part of the original brief but I think it’s a story that needs to be told and maybe of interest to a much wider audience.  I hope to get this out there in the next month.

But this is definitely not the end of my video work with Paul and the guys at Eiger Safety.  There will be other must-have projects they’ll need filming in the coming years – and I’m also certain they’ll want alternate-edit versions of the video to match the needs of prospective clients.   I’m also helping them to set up a new website with a blog and vlog to capture and share the more unusual views they experience.  I’m sure this will be something that will get a good social network following from those interested in views from height.

So…. not the end – not even the beginning of the end – but perhaps the end of the beginning of my work for Eiger Safety.  A big thanks to Paul and his main men, Illya (L) and Nasco (R), for putting up with me and my numerous retakes!  Thanks chaps – it’s been a privilege working with you.

Eiger Safety
Eiger Safety – Height safety systems & services that protect lives
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Filming in London – a rooftop view from Corinthia Hotel

We couldn’t have picked a nicer day for the final day’s filming in London for Eiger Safe atop one of the city’s most prestigious hotels –  the Corinthia. With sleet coming down sideways and almost freezing temperatures, I guess this illustrates that Eiger Safety work in all conditions to ensure safety of their clients – not to mention that Video Artisan work in all extremes to get the shoots that tell the whole story.

Corinthia Hotel
Filming in London atop the Corinthia Hotel

The job at hand was capturing the installation of a handrail systems which are installed on rooftops and high-level walkways.  This forms a major part of Eiger Safety’s work these days as well as their periodic testing and re-certification.

High-level filming always has its dangers – but even more so in wet, windy and cold condition. When you’re filming in London you are never too sure what the weather is going to throw at you so you’ve pretty much got to be prepared for anything – at any time of the year. Thankfully when you work alongside a company that’s made its name through reducing the risk of injury (or more serious consequence) you feel pretty confident that every measure has been taken to ensure you don’t get blown off a roof.

Rooftop view over London
A cold, wet and windy day rooftop filming in London

Eiger Safety are also no strangers to the demands of film crews having worked in all the major UK film studios and provided height safety services on many of the big blockbusting movies that get shot in the UK each year.  Over the years they’ve got up close and personal with the biggest stars of the screen when rigging them up with harnesses and flight-wire systems.  And yes they do have some stories to tell. : )

Filming in London is always a privilege and somehow the weather today made it even more special.  The only downside to the shoot was that it was the last location day for the Eiger Safety’s film.  I’m sure there will be other “special” projects they’ll need to record in the future but I’m now going to be concentrating on cutting a short piece set to music for them to use in sales presentations in order to illustrate the wide range of services they provide.  A little later on I’ll be filming an interview with MD, Paul Jaffe, that will reveal more about the company and the rarely seen world of the abseiling and height safety professional.

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Cine to DVD – achieving the best conversions

We’ve been getting more cine to DVD enquiries lately – as well as tons of VHS and videotape to DVD conversions.  There still seems to be reels and reels of cine film out there just waiting to be loved again so I thought I’d better update my conversion process to match the interest.

Cine to DVD
Cine to DVD conversions – time to update your memories

I’ve always tried to retain as much of the original film quality as possible during the transfer process.  I don’t claim to do a piles and piles of cine to DVD each year but the stuff I do carry out is done with tender loving care.  The final result makes the whole family archive viewing process much more enjoyable… just pop the DVD in your player and you’re off.  No more family arguments as everyone struggles to set up a screen, projector and then feed in sprocket-chewed cine film.  More often than not these days the client simply doesn’t have a working projector so those precious memories never see the light of day.

I don’t have the throughput to justify the highly automated frame-scanner converters but believe I still turn out a pretty reasonable job using the much-used projector and video camera system.  Basically, the film image is projected through a mirror set at 45-degrees and then on to rear side of an opaque screen – which is then filmed from its front side with a video camera.

I use a Canon DSLR as my capture camera which gives me a full HD video which is then edited, tweaked, cropped, compiled and then output to a standard definition DVD.  Capturing at full HD does give me the option of supplying it to the client in Blu-Ray format too – but the vast majority end up on DVD.

The results from this method can vary quite considerably depending on how the system is set up and the quality of the mirror/screen combination.  There are also some modifications to the standard projector that can be made to squeeze a little bit more out of the film stock.

Cine to DVD Projector Modifications

The vast majority of cine films that I convert are either Standard 8mm or Super 8mm (I can convert any gauge though).  The sprocket and frame size differ on these formats but a dual-gate projector can play both back happily.  Switching the projector between formats engages the correct sprocket gearing and alters the gate size within the projector so that the projected image has a nice and clean frame edge.  This is great for projection but the process also masks off part of the exposed image on the film.

Filing out these gate frames enables me to capture more of the original film content.  I can then crop the video files and re-frame the image in post production to ensure every little corner of the film is on screen.

Another modification to the projector that helps is to alter the quality of light coming out of the projector lamp.  These lamps tend to produce a very focussed source of light which is great for projection but not so good for cine to DVD conversions.  Diffusing this light source helps smooth out any hot spots and helps create a more evenly exposed image.

Projector
Converting a Eumig 502D for Cine to DVD – adding diffusion to the lamp

Projection Perfection

The really rudimentary method of cine to DVD conversion is to simply project your film image on a wall or screen and then film that with your video camera.  This has one major disadvantage as your projector will have to have a slightly different angle of approach to the wall/screen than your video camera (they can’t both be in exactly the same position).  The image will therefore never be truly square and your focus will vary slightly from one side of the image to the other.  You’ll also have to do this in darkness as your room lights will need to be turned off in order to get a clear image on the wall/screen.  It works, but it’s not brilliant.

You can of course buy a purpose made cine to DVD conversion screen – and they will help you to get a better conversion than the method above.  However, the cheap conversion screens have a fundamental flaw in that the mirrors are generally standard back-coated.  Light passing through the mirror will split when it hits the front surface of this glass – part of which passes through the mirror and back out to the rear side of the opaque screen and part reflected directly off the mirror front surface.  This causes a slight double-image to be projected on to the opaque screen and a conversion that isn’t as sharp as it could be.

Good quality cine to DVD conversion screens overcome this problem by using front surface mirrors.  All of the light from the projector therefore bounces through the light path as one image – giving a much sharper conversion.

Cine to DVD Black Box

Excluding light from the projected image is important too to help you capture the widest possible contrast.  Some of the basic converters have no light exclusion at all, whilst others acknowledge the problem but only provide minimal hooding over the front surface of the opaque screen.  A simple rule – the more light excluded from the front surface the better.

To get the very best quality conversions I’ve built my own cine to DVD black box unit as there didn’t seem to be an off the shelf solution that solved all the problems.  This includes a porthole suitable for most projectors, made to measure front surface mirror and opaque rear projection screen – all housed in a light exclusion matt black box with enough hooding to enable me to operate it in a fully lit room.

Cine Black Box
Cine to DVD Black Box – with roof taken off

The front surface mirror was specially made for me by Vacuum Coatings Ltd of Walthamstow who specialise in all kinds optical coatings and scientific mirrors (they provide the glass for Autocue too apparently).  They also hand-frosted the front projection screen for me too.  The box construction is MDF.

So now the system and process is all tested, tweaked and ready for the next cine to DVD job to come in.  I’m not the cheapest guy around for this service but I like to think I do a good job.  You can get it done a lot cheaper in fact, but I think those guys know their worth better than me so I won’t comment. ; )

For details on our cine to DVD pricing please click here.  If you are not sure how much film you’ve got please give us a call for a quote.

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Edius 6.5 – a serious alternative to the obvious

Video Artisan’s route to Edius 6.5

There’s plenty of choice these days in professional NLEs (nonlinear editing systems) and pretty much all of them will do the job at hand. My guess is that the professional market share today would probably place Adobe Premier at the top of the pile closely followed by Apple’s Final Cut. However, sitting behind these are some amazing NLEs – and in my view none more so than Grass Valley’s Edius.

New Edius 6.5 NLE
The New Edius 6.5 NLE at Video Artisan

It is true to some extent that editing systems are like football teams. Once you pick a team as a child (more often picked for you!) it’s is virtually impossible to switch allegiance later in life. It becomes part of who you are. Whilst NLE-choice doesn’t exactly follow this there is undoubtedly a certain amount of loyalty amongst users and it takes a fair bit of crappy development and bad PR for an NLE manufacturer to lose users to another manufacturer. It does happen – as per Apple and their introduction of FCPX (more on which later) – but once you have your head around the way an NLE works it’s hard to switch.

I guess this is a major part of my reasoning to upgrade my own, ageing Edius 4.6 editing system up to the latest version (Edius Pro 6.52 to be precise) housed in a shiny new and beefy PC. Over the years I’ve grown to love Edius. Whilst my old system didn’t have enough grunt to handle DSLR files natively (I had to convert the MOV files to Canopus HQ files to make them workable), I’ve rarely thrown something at the timeline that Edius has been unable to handle. Whilst other NLEs have caught up with Edius in this respect I still think it’s still hard to beat for its stability, simplicity and source compatibility.

The latest version has built on this reputation and on boot-up carries the legend… “Edius Pro 6.5 – Edit Anything”.

Why Edius 6.5 and not the obvious?

Even with my prejudices it would have been foolish of me not to consider the NLE market leaders. Over the years I’ve had a reasonable insight into all of them – and all have their strengths and weaknesses. But before you get that far one of the first questions for anyone facing this choice is… Mac or PC?

The computer platform has a bearing on your decision even though Premier and Avid (more on which in a moment) are true cross-platform solutions. FCP and Edius on the other hand are platform specific (Mac and PC respectively) but will work on opposing platforms under emulation software (BootCamp on a Mac and Hackintosh on a PC). However, I don’t know anyone who is doing this seriously – so your computer platform choice will narrow your choice either way.

Ruling out any Mac-only option was easy for me. I know this is going to upset a few Mac-heads out there but whilst they make pretty machines that work very well – Apple have demonstrated to me a complete lack of respect and understanding of their professional users. Whereas we all accept that the first editions of any upgrade can be a bit flaky to say the least, the first version of their latest software (FCP-X) was a complete and utter pile of poo and drove many of their users away to other systems. The initial omission of backward compatibility with projects created in previous versions of the software showed that they simply do not understand how this industry works and I doubt they want to understand it either. I think they’re far too involved in the consumer markets of iPhone/Pod/Pad/Tunes to set aside the kind of resources needed to support a professional product. I know that FCP-X has come on since then but that move alone told me that Apple wouldn’t be that interested in me as a user.

Furthermore, I also think that FCP is the least user-friendly of the bunch. If you look at any of the online support forums there’s a huge amount of user questions posted about some of the more basic functions of FCP. On the IOV’s forums there are probably four times as many threads about FCP as there are about any other NLE – despite the fact that it’s not the most widely used system. That either means that the majority of FCP users are either thick or too lazy to read the manual – or the system itself is not intuitive. I strongly believe it’s the latter.

Avid’s main strength is that it’s widely used in the broadcast and film industries. Whilst the entry price is very similar to the others if you opt for an ‘Avid Approved’ system its going to set you back a few bob (more than my budget allowed for). On the plus side, because they were one of the first NLE manufacturers to aggressively market themselves to the education market there’s a massive user-base who have learnt their editing craft at college or university using this NLE.

Though Avid is the system I have least experience with, to me it is still the nearest thing there is to an ‘NLE standard’. Cost of ownership and upgrade paths, and a poorer take up at my end of the market, did leave me feeling that I would be on my own and without the familiar surroundings offered by Edius 6.5.

Premier was a more difficult option to discard as it has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. My first NLE experiences were with the early incarnations of Premier so I know it quite well – and it fitted in budget wise. The entire suite of Adobe tools (PhotoShop, AfterEffect etc) work beautifully together and, to be honest, I’m not ruling out installing then entire Production Suite at some time in the future to run alongside Edius.

I guess you could say the old allegiances played a vital role in my final decision – and they probably did. However, I genuinely think that those allegiances have been formed through years of trusting Edius to do the business for me. Decision made!

Self-build or Specialist-build?

It was then a matter of making the choice between self-build PC or buying a turnkey solution from a specialist NLE builder. I didn’t take long over that decision. Whilst there was a considerable saving to be had in buying the bits and slapping them together I rather like and value the additional peace of mind and support offered though a specialist system builder. There are quite a few good companies out there who build turnkey NLEs but the one that always floats to the top for me is DVC in Hove. They have been around for yonks and have a mighty army of satisfied clients out there – and that doesn’t come about through building shoddy systems that are not suitable for use in a professional edit suite. They are also great listeners. I visited their stand at BVE North to spec up and price a system and was dealt with by Ringo (DVC’s famous super sales guy and technical guru) who listened intently to me talking about the type of productions I was producing, what I was shooting on, other applications I’d be putting the system to and how content would be distributed and stored.

I explained that the majority of my work would be short promotional films that were generally aimed at website distribution but equally likely to be turning out on DVD and/or Blu-ray. I also provide freelance editing services to other production companies and agencies so the system had to be just as comfortable in dealing with longer programme formats and able to ingest material from both analogue and digital sources. My NLE would need enough system storage to handle this without offloading projects to temporary archive. Speed and reliability were major ‘wants’ of mine – all of which had to be provided within my £2.5k budget.

Ringo instantly pointed towards a DVC Ivybridge System – and started adding on all the specifications and accessories that were needed for my requirements into his quote calculator. After a bit of pushing and shoving things around to match my spend, the final machine consisted of an Intel® Core™ i7-3770K Processor 3.5GHz with Hyperthreading (8M Cache, up to 3.90 GHz) running the Windows 7 Pro 64 bit operating system. With 8GB of RAM, 8TB of SATA HD storage and a 128GB SSD system drive – this little beast would eat it’s way through pretty much anything I cared to throw at it – with ease!

DVC helped do a few more tweaks to the standard packages to help the budget work – such as dropping the monitors (I’d use my current ones) and adding a Black Magic Design Intensity Pro card. This would add HDMI, component, composite and SVIDEO in and out to the already included Firewire, USB3, Network and plethora of memory card connections. With Edius at its heart this system really should be able to edit anything.

The Delivery

I opted for delivery rather than collection from their Hove offices mainly because I was being tight fisted. It was cheaper for them to ship it to me rather than drive there to collect – but I can see why some people prefer to collect and get a quick hands-on introduction session from the DVC guys.

With my Edius experience I was pretty sure I wouldn’t struggle too much with the software. But if I had been a complete Edius virgin the free training DVDs that are included with the system would pretty much have had me editing from day one. These films are produced by DVC’s MD, David Clarke (he who knows everything that needs to be known about Edius and NLEs) and take you through all the steps from capture through to delivery in a series of simple to follow tutorials.

I don’t mind confessing that I found even the basic stuff very worthwhile viewing. These include a general tutorial DVD on Edius 6 – plus an update DVD on the new additions and improvements of Edius 6.5. Thoughtfully DVC also installed copies of these on the system itself – with an easy to navigate HTML indexing system so you can quickly and easily study specific functions and processes of Edius.

With all these resources to hand there really is no excuse for not being able to get editing straight away. Nevertheless I’m like every other lazy person out there and often prefer to pick up the phone and ask someone rather than reading the manual (or in this case watching the video). This is where buying from a specialist system builder really pays off as I’ve already solved a couple of simple problems by making a quick call to Ringo. I’ve never been made to feel like I’m a pain, or told to RTFM – and on both occasions his vast knowledge has instantly pointed me to the solution.

Put to task

The system was delivered in a big cardboard box – which was duly ripped open and installed in the edit suite. I have a number of projects about to start and one which is about to go into its post production phase – but before all that I had to transfer over projects that were already under way on the old system so it took a good day to get everything networked and talking to each other nicely.

It was great to know that my old Edius 4.6 projects would work perfectly in 6.5 – with only some minor changes to Xplode transitions which are no longer supported. I’ve also got to re-link some media as I will now be working with DSLR files in the native format rather than the Edius HQ conversions that I needed on the old system. I think that’s a small price to pay though. I’ll also be keeping the old system connected up for a while as there’s bound to be things on there that I’ll be needing later (such as all the fonts I had installed that are not on the new system). And besides, the long term plan for the old system is to keep it networked and working doing transfers, encoding, uploading, archiving and copying. There’s no rest for the decrepit here at Video Artisan!

I guess this story isn’t over yet as I’m about to start putting the new system to proper use – but I have every confidence in it. I’ve also grown to have every confidence in Edius being able to do everything I demand of it – and every confidence in being able to lean on DVC should I hit any problems or need a quick chat.

I’m not sure any NLE user could ever want any more than having total confidence in their system – and I’ve got it. Lucky old me : )

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Video Artisan

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