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Saturday, May 26, 2012

••◊ Planning a documentary, part 1

This weekend I thought it would be best to discuss planning a documentary shoot.  We shot part 2 of "Stronger" about a month ago now and I'm logging and transcribing nearly 400GB of footage.  It's a daunting task, but I'll discuss the value of that in the next blog post.

First, here's my personal checklist for just about any documentary shoot.
  1. A shot list.  I discuss this with my B-camera operator and direct them to what I want, so I can maintain a consistent style that can be edited together.  Even with cinema verite there has to be a vision.  I realize that I won't get exactly what I want because I can't be there to babysit every single frame.  Count on 20-30% of what you request being correct, unless you shoot it yourself, which is impossible a lot of the time.  Even  if you can shoot it, there's the strong possibility that you'll forget a shot or two and need one of those "bang head here" pin-up wall signs when you get to the edit bay.
  2. A list of interview questions.  I like to think about the response I want from the questions.  Is it an emotional response I'm after, or is this an authority I want to discuss factual information?  It makes a difference on how you phrase questions and what type of questions you ask.  When I first started out I just stuck to my list of questions because I didn't know how to interview someone.  With more experience I realized that the list is an outline for discussion.  Listen to your interviewee and follow what they WANT to tell you.  You'll get a more compelling interview that way.
  3. A map with phone numbers.  I always make up a map where I'm going and a list of people I may need to contact.  No explanation needed here.
  4. An equipment list.  Nothing is worse than being far away from home and needing just that one more doo-dad you left at home.  Make sure anyone travelling with you has their stuff on a checklist too.
  5. A meal plan.  An unfed crew is an unhappy crew.  I made an assumption about this on my last shoot and it turned out to be false.  We didn't eat until late.  It sucked. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

••◊ 500px

I was trolling around the Internet and found a site with truly inspirational images to share.  It's called 500px.com.  Check it out.

Monday, May 14, 2012

••◊ Noise reduction in After Effects, part 2

A while back I wrote about doing some noise reduction in After Effects to clean up footage I shot on the 5D mark II at ISO 3200-6400.  Yes, it was non-ideal but I didn't have any lights with me and wanted the shot.  Such is life.
I went back and cleaned up the footage a little more using a slightly improved configuration of noise reduction techniques; thus this blog post.  First let's start out with the original noisy image as shown below.  If you click on the image you'll see oodles (the technical term for it) of noise on the wall just to the left of his bicep.

In the previous blog post I mentioned blurring the CMOS chroma noise by using three After Effects...well effects (It sounds funny if you say "After Effects effects, no?)  We'll start with the usual chain: Channel Combiner with RGB to YUV, Channel Blur with green/blue linked and set to about 20-ish (generic starting point), and another Channel Combiner with YUV to RGB.  This creates a monochrome noise reminiscent of film grain.  Not bad, but not great.  Click on the picture below to see the change in noise, especially in that same section of wall.

Now we'll add the secret sauce to complete the recipe.  In the "Noise & Grain" group of effects there's an effect called "Remove Grain."  The trick with this is that the effect needs to be treated with kid gloves, otherwise you end up with the dreaded plastic alien skin and latex clothes with no texture.  Because the majority of the noise was already obscured with the previous three effects, I found that I could set the "Noise Reduction" parameter to 0.2 and avoid these issues.  See the picture below.

No, it's not a perfect solution.  I'll be the first to admit that.  However, it's a lot better than where the footage started off.  Detail in his skin and clothes is pretty much all still there.  The main issue I have with this configuration is that the video takes a long time to render out.  Hope this works for you as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

••◊ Another uber-ghetto production brought to you by...

This week's entry goes to the ghetto-fabulous world of home brew documentaries.  While Clarence and I were in Seattle we filmed a part 2 to my bodybuilding documentary.  The photo above was our general setup.  Please forgive Clarence's obsession with wide angle lenses.  For all I know he was actually about 1 foot from the microphone and using a 0.1mm lens.  I've stood beside him during model shoots and he complained that I was in the shot!

Speaking of microphones...I needed a shock mount, so instead of spending the $50 on a real one I just went up to the machine shop and made this quickly.  Notice the hair ties (expensive @ $3.50) that I used as shock ties?  The mic was "borrowed", mainly because it's been waiting for a pickup from the owner for the last couple months.  The XLR cable was also borrowed right before the shoot. 

Our lights consisted of three LED lights.  This was the only viable option, given that we had to pack them from home.  Don't you just love our ghetto-flag in the first shot.  It was the cover for the fold out reflector shown in the second picture.  We bent up a clothes hanger to hang it.  Worked like a champ.  I also hot rod-ed the key light to have an AC adapter input so I didn't have to use batteries!

This was the maiden voyage of Clarence's new on camera mic, the Tascam DR-05.  We set it up to gather some ambient room tone and it worked for the most part.  The recorder also ran around with the camera at the bodybuilding show.  Before we left for Seattle we calibrated up the audio levels to match with the camera and did a field test.  It's actually fairly decent in the right environment and with the right levels.  Not a shotgun by far, but what it does, it does well...and cheap.