The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production

The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and
DVD Production
Second Edition
The Videomaker Guide to Digital
Video and DVD Production
Second Edition
From the Editors of
Computer Videomaker Magazine
Introduction by Matt York, Publisher/Editor
Preface by Stephen Muratore, Editor in Chief
Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier
200 Wheeler Road, Burlington, MA 01803, USA
Linacre House, Jordan Hill, Oxford OX2 8DP, UK
Copyright (c) 2004, Videomaker. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Permissions may be sought directly from Elsevier’s Science & Technology Rights
Department in Oxford, UK: phone: (+44) 1865 843830, fax: (+44) 1865 853333,
e-mail: [email protected] You may also complete your request
on-line via the Elsevier homepage (, by selecting
“Customer Support” and then “Obtaining Permissions.”
Recognizing the importance of preserving what has been written, Elsevier prints
its books on acid-free paper whenever possible.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production / from the editors of Computer
videomaker magazine; introduction by Matt York, publisher/editor; preface by
Stephen Muratore, editor-in-chief.—2nd ed.
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 0–240–80566–6 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Digital cinematography – 2. Digital video – Handbooks, manuals, erc.
3. DVDs – Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Computer videomaker
TR860.V53 2004
778.59 – dc22
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 0-240-80566-6
For information on all Focal Press publications
visit our website at
04 05 06 07 08 09 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
This book is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson for his
commitment to pluralism, diversity and
community. He would be happy to see readers
of this book exercising freedom of the
electronic press.
Civil liberty functions today in a changing technological context. For five hundred years a struggle was fought, and in a few
countries won, for the right of people to speak and print freely,
unlicensed, uncensored and uncontrolled. But new technologies of electronic communication may now relegate old and
freed media such as pamphlets, platforms and periodicals to a
corner of the public forum. Electronic modes of communication
that enjoy lesser rights are moving to center stage.
Ithiel de Sola Pool
Technologies of Freedom
(Harvard University Press, 1983)
Matt York
Publisher, Videomaker
Video Gear
1 Camera Buttons and Controls
Dr. Robert G. Nulph
2 A Quick Guide to Video Formats
Larry Lemm
3 How DV Works: Technical Feature
Bill Fisher
4 Dissecting a Digital Camcorder
Scott Anderson
5 All About Lenses
Jim Stinson
6 Image Stabilizers: The Technology that Steadies Your Shots
Robert J. Kerr
7 Solar Panel Imaging: Secrets of the CCD
Loren Alldrin
8 Filter Features: Camcorder Filters and How to Use Them
Michael Rabiger
9 Dissecting a Video Editing Computer
Joe McCleskey
10 Editing Appliances: Cracking the Case
Charles Bloodworth
11 6 Ways to Optimize Your Computer for Video Editing
Joe McCleskey
12 Sound Track: Microphone Types
Robert G. Nulph
13 Putting Radio to Work: The Low-Down on Wireless Mikes
Larry Lemm
14 Blending a Sweet Sound: Audio Mixers
Jim Stinson
15 Tape Truths: All Exciting Overview of the Making of Videotape
Loren Alldrin
16 Resolution Lines
Bill Rood
17 An Inside Look at Cables and Connectors
Joe McCleskey
18 Try a Tripod: Some Valuable Features in the Three-Legged Race
William Ronat
Production Planning
19 Honing Your Ideas: From Concept to Finished Treatment
Stray Wynn Ponder
20 Budgeting Time
William Ronat
21 It’s all in the Approach: Creative Approaches for Video
Jim Stinson
22 Script Right: Video Screenwriting Tips
Stephen Jacobs
23 Look Who’s Talking: How to Create Effective, Believable
Dialogue for Your Video Productions
John K. Waters
24 Storyboards and Shot Lists
Jim Stinson
25 Budget Details: Successful Video Projects Stick to Budgets
Mark Steven Bosko
26 A Modest Proposal
William Ronat
27 A Word From Your Sponsor
William Ronat
28 Finding Talent for Videos
Randal K. West
29 Location Scouting: Be Prepared
Bill Fisher
30 Copyright: Legal Issues You Need to Know
Mark Levy
Production Techniques
31 Framing Good Shots
Brian Pogue
32 Shooting Steady
Robert G. Nulph
33 Make Your Move
Michael Hammond
34 Use Reflectors Like a Pro
Jim Stinson
35 Three-Point Lighting in the Real World
Robert G. Nulph
36 A Dose of Reality: Lighting Effects
Robert Nulph
37 Outdoor Lighting: What you Need to Know to
Shoot Great Footage Outdoors
Michael Loehr
38 Audio For Video: Getting it Right from the start
Hal Robertson
39 Outdoor Audio
Hal Robertson
40 Stealth Directing: Getting The Most Out of Real People
Michael J. Kelley
41 Sets, Lies and Videotape
Jim Stinson
42 Makeup and Wardrobe for Video
Carolyn Miller
43 Time-Lapse Videography
Tim Cowan
44 Move Over, MTV: A Guide to Making Videos
Norm Medoff
45 Practical Special Effects: A Baker’s Ten to Improve
Your Video Visions
Bernard Wilkie
Post-Production Techniques
46 Getting Started in Computer Video Editing
Jim Stinson
47 Computer Editing: 5 Phases of Editing
Jim Stinson
48 Overcoming Common Computer Editing Problems
Don Collins
49 Color Tweaking
Bill Davis
50 Basic Compositing
Bill Davis
51 The Art of the Edit
Janis Lonnquist
52 Title Talk
Bill Harrington
53 Adventures in Sound Editing: Or How Audio Post-Production
Can Make Your Videos Sound Larger Than Life
Armand Ensanian
54 In The Audible Mood: Sound Effects and Music,
Evocative, Legal and Inexpensive
Armand Ensanian
55 Dig ’m Out, Dust ’Em Off
Jim Stinson
56 Easy Copy
Jim Stinson
Television Distribution
57 Commercial Distribution: Mapping Your Way to
Financial Success
William Ronat
58 Public Access: Produce Your Own TV Show
Sofia Davis
59 Leased Access: A Unique Cable Opportunity
Sheldon I. Altfeld
60 PBS and ITVS: Fertile Soil for Independent Videographers
Alessia Cowee
61 Paths to Broadcast Television
Mark Bosko
62 Promotion Strategies: Fame and Fortune on a Budget
Mark Steven Bosko
63 The Demo Tape
Mark Steven Bosko
Internet Distribution
64 The Web: Little Screen, Big Opportunities
Carolyn Miller
65 Eleven Easy Steps to Streaming
Charles Mohnike
66 Squish! Shooting for Streaming
Bill Davis
67 A Step-by-Step Guide to Encoding for the Web
John Davis
68 Why and How Would I Get a Streaming Server?
Larry Lemm
69 Slide into “Thin Streaming”
Larry Lemm
70 Put MPEGs on Your Home Page
Joe McCleskey
Authoring DVDs and CDs
71 Getting Your Video onto a DVD
Matthew York
72 Burn Your Own: A Guide to Creating Your Own CDs and DVDs
Loren Alldrin
73 DVD Authoring Software: Special Buyer’s Guide
D. Eric Franks
74 Burner Basics: An Introduction to DVD Burners
Charles Fulton
75 DVD Flavors: What’s the Deal with DVD Compatibility?
Roger B. Wyatt
76 Step by Step Guide to Making DVDs
D. Eric Franks
77 Video Out: MPEG-2s for Me and You
Larry Lemm
78 Burning Down the House: Creating Video on CDs
Don Collins
79 Video Out: Make Your Own CD-ROM Videos
Joe McCleskey
Eight years since the publication of the first
edition, the editors of Computer Videomaker Magazine are proud to present the
third edition of The Computer Videomaker
Handbook. Like the first two editions, this
edition of the Handbook takes you from the
planning of videos all the way through the
final phases of their production. However,
this edition was assembled from materials
written more recently for Videomaker
Magazine. Most of the contents of this book
did not appear in the previous editions:
this really is a new book. Also, we couldn’t
send it to press without adding a section on
a very popular new development: DVD and
CD authoring. Following the speedy acceptance of DVD players in homes everywhere, videographers have developed a
zeal for delivering their videos to family,
friends and clients on DVD, videoCD and
CD-ROM. The last section of this edition
will fuel that zeal with the information
necessary for getting started.
As we did with the previous edition,
we have supplemented this book with a
companion Web page all its own. The
Web page contains links to streaming
video clips that illustrate various techniques discussed in the Handbook. If
the site holds a streaming video relevant
to a given chapter, you will find this icon
near the title on the first page of that
chapter. To access the page of clips, go to
When asked for a password, type “effects”
without quotation marks.
The Handbook can be read cover to
cover as a comprehensive course on the art
and science of videography. It can be used
also as a handy field reference: the simple
organization and index should make it
easy for you to find answers to your questions, and the glossary will define the
arcane terms of the art.
Affordable digital tools have made it
easier than ever before to create highquality video messages and deliver them
to ready audiences. Let this book be
your aid whenever you use these tools.
Whether you are a weekend hobbyist or a
practicing professional, the Videomaker
Handbook will help you use your talent
and your equipment to their fullest.
If you are new to making
video: Welcome!
Matt York
Publisher of Computer Videomaker Magazine
The craft of making video is an enjoyable
one. Whether video production is for you
a pastime, a part-time moneymaker or a
full-time occupation, I am certain that you
will enjoy the experience of creating
video. There are many facets to video production. Each brings its own pleasures
and frustrations, and each will stretch
your abilities, both technical and artistic.
Video is a wonderful communication
medium that enables us to express ourselves in ways unlike other media. Television is pervasive in our society today. The
chance to utilize the same medium that the
great TV and film producers have used to
reach the masses is an incredible privilege.
Video is powerful. Video is the closest
thing to being there. For conveying information, there is no medium that compares
with video. It overwhelms the senses by
delivering rich moving images and highfidelity sound. Having grown up with TV,
many of us lack the appreciation for its
power. Compared with radio or print, television profoundly enhances the message
being conveyed. For example, reading
about a battlefield in war can be less powerful than hearing a live radio report from a
journalist with sounds of gunfire, tanks,
rockets, incoming artillery fire and the
emotions from an anguished reporter’s
voice. Neither compares with video shot
on a battlefield.
It is amazing that you can walk into a
retail store, make a few purchases in a few
minutes and walk out with all of the essential tools for producing video. For less than
$2,000, you can buy a DV camcorder and a
personal computer and suddenly, you
have the capacity to create video that rivals
a television station. The image and sound
quality of a DV camcorder is better than
broadcast television as viewed on an average TV. The transitions and special effects,
available with any low-cost video editing
software package, exceed the extravagance
of those used on the nightly news.
There was a time when any message
conveyed on a TV screen was perceived
as far more credible than if it were conveyed by other media (i.e. print or audio
cassette). While that may no longer be as
true, video messages are still more convincing to many people.
Once a highly complex pursuit, video
editing is now just another software application on a personal computer. We all
realize that simply using video editing
software doesn’t make someone a good
TV producer any more than using
Microsoft Word makes one a good writer.
However, the ability to edit video in your
own home or office is so convenient that
it enables more people to spend more
time developing their skills.
One of the most rewarding experiences
in video production is getting an audience
to understand your vision. The time
between the initial manifestation of your
vision and the first screening of the video
may be just a few days or several years,
but there is no more satisfying (or nervewracking) feeling than witnessing an
audience’s first reaction to your work.
Video Gear
A guide to essential equipment: what to buy, how it works.
Camera Buttons and Controls
Dr. Robert G. Nulph
It’s easy for first-time camcorder owners to
be intimidated by all of the buttons and
controls that seem to sprout from every
recess and surface of a new camcorder.
Believe me, if you don’t know how to focus,
adjust your iris or when to select a different
shutter speed you are not alone. In this column, we will give all you beginners an
overview of the various buttons, controls,
dials and knobs common to camcorders.
Power, Eject & Record Buttons
Somewhere on the camcorder, there is a
power switch. This switch often includes
a save, standby or neutral position so that
the camera goes into a power save mode
when not recording, to preserve battery life.
If your camcorder goes into the standby or
save mode, simply push the standby button
to power it back up. Power switches sometimes have a “lock” feature that prevents
you from turning the camera on accidentally. To disengage this lock, press in the
power switch to move it. The power
switch might also be part of the switch
that changes the mode of the camcorder
from camera to playback VCR.
The eject button is also a standard feature
on all camcorders. This button, often colored blue, can be found most anywhere on
the camcorder. Usually they are located on
the side, top or bottom of the camcorder
near the tape door. By pressing this button,
you can eject your tape or open the tape
door so that you can insert your tape into
the tape carriage. On many camcorders, the
door opens and the tape carriage then pops
or slides out. If this is the case with your
camcorder, when loading the tape into the
camcorder, slide your tape into the carriage,
then let the camcorder pull the tape inside
before closing the outside door. This allows
you to make sure that the camcorder firmly
seats the tape into its internal mechanism.
All camcorders have a record button, of
course. This button is usually red and is
located where your thumb sits when holding the camcorder in your right hand. Some
camcorders also have a record button on
top or in the front for easier access when
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
using the camera with a tripod. The record
button starts and stops recording while in
camera mode. On some cameras, the record
button also acts as a record/pause button
when your camcorder is in the VCR mode.
The buttons, knobs or dials that control
the lens and the picture are perhaps the
most important controls on the camera. As
a beginner, you may tend to let the camera
do the work in Auto mode. However, as
you get used to your camcorder and do
more shooting, you may want to switch it
to manual so that you can take greater control of your focus.
The focus button or dial is usually
located on or near the lens but, on some
camcorders, it is on the side of the casing.
By setting the camera for automatic focus,
you let your camera do the focusing, sending out an infrared beam, computing the
distance and setting the lens. This sounds
great, but in practice, there are many problems with it. Anything that moves across
the lens will cause it to change focus and,
even though your subject may not change
position, the camera is constantly checking the focus and changing it. This constant check and rechecking of the focus,
causes your picture to drift in and out of
focus and is a major drain on your battery.
If you are not comfortable focusing manually, let the camera focus automatically,
then switch to manual. This effectively
locks the focus until you change it again.
Some camcorders allow you to hold the
manual focus button down so that the camera focuses using its auto function. Then,
when you release the button the camera
enters the manual focus again so that it
won’t auto-fluctuate (see Figure 1.1).
The zoom control is usually a couple of
buttons, a slider or a rocker switch on top
Figure 1.1 One good way to use the focus
controls (if you aren’t confident doing it
yourself) is to let the camera automatically
focus and then switch the focus to manual
(i.e. lock the focus).
of the camera. These buttons have the letters W for Wide (zoom out) and T for Tight
(zoom in). You can also think of these as
aWay and Towards. These buttons change
the focal length of the optical system,
which control how close or far away your
subject looks. The zoom can be a very helpful feature, but be careful not to overuse it.
Its primary use should be in setting the
image size before you begin recording; try
not to zoom during recording. Recorded
zooms often don’t look very good unless
your camcorder has a variable speed zoom
and you practice a lot using it.
Iris (Aperture)
Some camcorders have an iris or aperture
control dial (see Figure 1.2). The iris controls the amount of light that enters the
camera. By turning the dial, you can make
the image brighter or darker. Aperture
is measured in f-stops (e.g. f/1.8–f/16),
with larger numbers indicating smaller
openings. Some camcorders do not have
Camera Buttons and Controls
Figure 1.2 The iris controls the amount of
light that enters the camera. By turning the
dial, you can make the image brighter or
explicit iris controls and instead adjust
the overall exposure through some combination of iris and electronic amplification
Manual aperture control can be handy
when your subject is standing against a
bright background. The camera automatically reads the scene as being bright, so it
closes the iris, making your subject very
dark. By turning the iris control dial, you
can make your subject brighter (with the
background likely becoming overexposed).
Many cameras have an explicit backlight
button that may help you do this semiautomatically. You can avoid using the
backlight button if you watch your backgrounds and change your shooting location. Always try to place your subject so
that the background is a little darker than
the subject. You can usually make your
subject brighter by turning him so he
almost faces the sun. You can also reduce
the brightness of the background by zooming in on your subject.
Shutter Speed
Fundamentally, shutter speed controls the
amount of light coming into the camera,
with faster shutter speeds letting in less
light (see Figure 1.3). Faster speeds also
decrease the amount of blur for fast moving
subjects. This comes in very handy when
you slow the video down in your editor.
Figure 1.3 Stop Motion— Fundamentally,
shutter speed controls the amount of light that
is coming into the camera.
Without the shutter speed control, the
slowed-down video would show blurred
motion. By increasing the shutter speed,
the motion will be crystal clear, even if the
image is paused.
The one problem with higher shutter
speeds is that it decreases the amount of
light that enters the lens. If shooting outdoors at midday, this is not much of a
problem, as the sun provides a lot of light.
Indoors, however, you will have to add
light if you want to use the high-speed
shutter function.
White Balance
The white balance button is a necessary
feature on a camcorder. This button sets
the electronics of the camera so that they
see colors accurately (see Figure 1.4).
Surprisingly perhaps, different kinds of
light sources (fluorescent, the sun, incandescent bulbs) produce slightly different
colors of light. To use the white balance
button, point your camera at a white piece
of paper or cloth after you set up your
shot. Press the white balance button and
you’ll see an icon in the viewfinder blink
off and on. When the camera is white
balanced, it will stop blinking. Make
sure you white balance every time you
change position or light sources. Watch
out for a subtle, periodic cycling of automatic white balance under fluorescent
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 1.4 The white balance button is a
necessary feature on a camcorder. This button
sets the electronics of the camera so that they
see colors accurately.
Figure 1.5 Record Review—You might also find
a record review button that you can press to
check what you just recorded. When you press
this button, the camcorder rewinds the tape and
plays back your last few seconds of footage.
lights, especially when using slower shutter
not have to be in the VCR setting to do
this, making it a very handy function.
VCR Controls
Clicking Off
Most camcorders have basic VCR controls
built into them. These controls include
Rewind, Fast forward, Play, Pause and
Stop. You might also find a record review
button that you can press to check what
you just recorded (see Figure 1.5). When
you press this button, the camcorder
rewinds the tape and plays back your last
few seconds of footage. The camera does
We’ve cover the most common camcorder
buttons, but your camcorder may have a
few more buttons. Read over your manual
and experiment using the different settings. If you’ve had your camcorder for a
while, but have only shot in auto mode, it
may be time to take more control of your
camcorder. Have fun and enjoy making
springtime videos.
Sidebar 1
Direct Focus
On still cameras, the focus ring is often mechanical, and a turn actuates a direct change in the
position of the optics. On almost all camcorders, the focus ring is not mechanical. Instead,
the movement of the focus ring by your hand translates into an electronic signal that then
translates into the movement of the lens. This makes the focus ring seem mushy and unresponsive to changes.
Sidebar 2
Camera designers are faced with a dilemma: too many buttons can be baffling, yet too few
restrict a videographer’s freedom. Design engineers have attempted to solve this issue by
putting the most commonly used controls on the body of the camera and placing seldom-used
items in electronic menus. More advanced cameras tend to have more buttons, while simpler
point-and-shoot models tend to have more menus. If your camera doesn’t have a button that is
listed in this article, check the on-screen menu.
A Quick Guide to
Video Formats
Larry Lemm
There are lots of video formats in use
today. They come in a myriad confusing
names that all sound alike. If you’ve ever
wanted to find out the differences between
VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C and S-VHS-C keep
reading. If you’re curious about the distinctions between 8mm, Hi8, Digital8 and DV
then this guide to the video formats will be
very helpful.
For each type of videotape, there are
some important features to examine. First,
there’s the picture quality of the format,
which is expressed in lines of resolution.
The more lines of resolution you have, the
better your picture will look. Next is audio
dub. Audio dub is the ability to record
audio over existing video without erasing
the video portion. Next is the format’s
ability to resist generation loss, or the
video noise that occurs when you copy a
tape. Combine these features with factors
like tape length and size of the tape (and
camcorder) and you have a pretty good
idea of the features that differentiate the
formats. Let’s take a closer look at them
format by format.
The VHS Family
The VHS family is very popular. JVC
introduced it, and JVC still holds allegiance to the format. A good indication of
this is that JVC is the only company that
still makes an S-VHS-C camcorder.
VHS and VHS-C play in home VCRs, and
S-VHS offers good audio and picture quality. The recording methods of all VHS formats is very similar. There are separate
control, audio and video tracks on the tape.
Embedded into the video track are separate
stereo hi-fi audio tracks (see Figure 2.1).
These hi-fi tracks record superior audio as
compared to the linear audio track, but
since it is embedded in the video track it
cannot be audio dubbed. Let’s take a look at
each of these VHS formats.
This is one format that practically everyone knows and uses to some extent. VHS
is the big ole videotape that your home
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Tape Direction
Linear Audio Tracks
Video Tracks
(and Hi-Fi Audio)
Head Tracking
Figure 2.1 The VHS format family have Hi-Fi
stereo audio embedded in the video signal but
a monaural linear audio track is available for
audio dub while keeping video intact.
VCR uses, and for some technologicallyinhibited individuals, this is enough of
a reason to use a camcorder that records
in VHS. The simple ability to shoot a
tape and stick that tape right into their VCR
is the most important feature in these
peoples’ minds.
Almost every videographer will end up
using VHS for distribution copies, but
besides that last step in the video production cycle, professionals will avoid VHS
like the plague. You’d think that it might
be because of VHS’s large overall size, but
it’s really because VHS has a low overall
picture quality, maxing out at about 250
lines of resolution. VHS also has horrible
generation loss, making the editing of
VHS tapes a tricky endeavor for linear
S-VHS or Super VHS is an improved version of standard VHS. It looks similar
(with the only visible difference being an
extra slot in the tape case to verify that it
is a high-band tape), but it offers superior
video quality, and more editing flexibility.
S-VHS offers almost twice the video resolution of VHS. It’ll give you up to 400 lines
of resolution. Most S-VHS equipment also
supports S-video connections. S-video connectors keep the video signal separated
into grayscale (luminance) components
denoted as (Y) and color (chrominance)
components denoted as (C). This Y/C, or
S-video, signal has less generation loss
when making copies so it holds up better
in the editing process than standard VHS.
Finally, S-VHS supports LTC and VITC
timecode which is essential in linear editing and very handy for computer editing
if your system has machine control features. Unfortunately, you will find these
timecode features only on professional
This format is dwindling. JVC is only
company that currently makes S-VHS-C
camcorders. The format has the same pros
of S-VHS: better resolution, S-video connections and timecode, and the overall
size reduction of VHS-C. However, it has
a shorter maximum length of tape.
The 8mm Family
Once, one of the main complaints against
full-sized VHS was the size of the tape, and
the corresponding large size of the VHS
camcorder. So JVC introduced a reducedsized VHS and called it VHS-C (or compact
VHS). On the plus side, it could play in a
regular VCR with an adapter. By reducing
the size of the cassette, they also reduced
the length of time it could play. Size and
length are the most significant differences
between VHS and VHS-C.
Just as VHS is JVC’s baby, 8mm is Sony’s.
8mm offers the reduced tape(and camcorder) size that VHS-C enjoys, but without the short recording length that haunts
VHS-C. Many consumers complain that,
with this format, you have to be technologically minded enough to connect your
camcorder to your TV set to watch home
videos, or get an 8mm VCR specifically
for the purpose.
A Quick Guide to Video Formats
Tape Direction
PCM Audio Sector
Time Code Sector
Video, AFM Audio
and Tracking Sector
Head Tracking
Figure 2.2 8mm formats embed audio into
the video signal only which makes it
impossible to make an audio dub without
disrupting the video.
connections also like S-VHS, so the format
suffers less generation loss than standard
8mm. The format also supports timecode
(though not many models have this feature), which is essential for accurate linear
editing or nonlinear tape logging. The Hi8
format, as with 8mm, embeds the audio
into the video so audio dub is not possible
without disrupting the video. Bottom line:
if you want an inexpensive, good looking
analog picture, Hi8 does a good job with a
small camcorder.
Hi8 and 8mm tapes use AFM audio
which is embedded in the video signal in
a fashion that is similar to the hi-fi audio
track in VHS. In addition, Hi8 tape has a
PCM audio sector and a time code sector
(see Figure 2.2).
In many ways, 8mm is great for videographers that just want to shoot some video
of the family around the house and not
edit. It is small, so the camcorder won’t
break your back lugging it around. The
video quality of 8mm is about the same
250 lines of resolution that VHS offers. It
has roughly the same recording time. The
AFM audio on 8mm is mono, but it
sounds good to the ear. All in all, as long
as you don’t want to edit, 8mm is great.
If you do edit though, especially if you
do linear editing, 8mm shows its weaknesses. First, 8mm suffers from generation
loss when making copies the same as
VHS. Next, 8mm doesn’t offer timecode.
Worst of all, 8mm cannot do audio dubs.
Sony introduced Digital8 a couple of
years ago. This format falls in the 8mm
family, but also in the digital crew that
we’ll get to below. It’s here because it uses
Hi8 tape, but we’ll give it the full treatment below.
The Digital Crew
The biggest shift in video over the last five
years has been the digital migration. With
the plummeting cost of high-quality nonlinear editing gear, digital video is the
future. Right now, the two major players
on the digital front are the firmly established Mini DV and the somewhat established Digital8. And the experimental new
video formats of MiniDisc and DVD-RAM
are finding their way into camcorders.
All digital camcorders convert the image
into a series of ones and zeros instead of a
complex analog signal. There are no significant differences in the tape used between
analog and digital formats, which is more
than underscored by the fact that Digital8
uses Hi8 tape (see Figure 2.3).
Mini DV
Just as S-VHS is an improved version of
VHS, Hi8 is an improved version of 8mm.
It offers 400 lines of video resolution, like
S-VHS. Hi8 camcorders generally use Y/C
Mini DV is a solid video format. It offers
extremely high quality video and audio
and has virtually no generation loss. In
addition, the tape is so small that Mini DV
camcorders can be extraordinarily small
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Tape Direction
Sub-Code Area
Video Area
Audio Area
ITI Area
Head Tracking
Figure 2.3 Time code, date and time, reside
in the Sub-code Area. The Insert Track
Information (ITI) area is used for insert edits.
and portable, yet still offer long recording
Mini DV delivers up to 525 lines of
video resolution. On the downside, you’ll
occasionally experience artifacts with the
way Mini DV compresses video. It is
especially noticeable in patterns, but
also shows up in some high action shots.
The untrained eye may not catch these
blocky, “pixilated” artifacts as they flash
through the picture quickly, but after you
start to look for them, they may become
There are four parts to a Mini DV track:
video, audio, subcode and ITI (Insert and
Tracking Information). The video and
audio are self-explanatory. The subcode
holds timecode, date and time and track
numbers. The ITI holds information for
doing video insert edits.
For audio, Mini DV offers two modes:
a 16-bit stereo pair, or two 12-bit stereo
pairs (four 12-bit tracks total). The 16-bit
option offers better quality (on a par with
CD), while the 12-bit option lets you do
audio dubs later to the additional tracks.
Perhaps the most-important feature of
Mini DV is that it can use FireWire to transfer the digital bit stream directly to another
tape, or to a hard-drive for editing. Because
you are just transferring the ones and zeros
that make up the serial stream, you lose no
audio or video quality when you do it. That
means no generation loss. Any way you
slice it, Mini DV is top-notch for consumer
The consumer-friendly Digital8 uses many
of the same principals as Mini DV, but
writes that information onto more-common
Hi8 tapes instead of the specialized Mini
DV tapes. It also offers an easy upgrade
path for owners of current 8mm and Hi8
camcorders who want to be able to edit current stock of video on a computer. Digital8
uses a Hi8 tape, but records information in
a manner almost identical with that of Mini
DV. It also includes the FireWire port that
makes Digital8 NLE-friendly.
The video quality of Digital8 comes in at
the same 525 lines of resolution that Mini
DV has to offer. The biggest difference is that
Digital8 doesn’t offer the 12-bit audio mode
that supports audio dub (which is found on
the Mini DV). This isn’t very important if
you plan on using a computer-based editor
with your Digital8 because most NLE systems have multiple tracks for audio.
A big plus for the format is that you can
play Hi8 and 8mm analog tapes on a
Digital8 camcorder and by running it
through the FireWire port convert it to digital. This won’t change the original quality
of the video signal, but it will allow you to
bring your old analog footage into a computer editor with a FireWire port.
Mini Disc and Beyond
The future offers even more options for
digital video. Sony has a camcorder that
uses its Mini Disc as a storage medium,
and soon Hitachi will introduce a DVDRAM camcorder.
The Mini Disc camcorder stores video
in MPEG-2 video and offers four 12-bit
audio tracks. Perhaps the most striking
feature of the only Mini Disc camcorder is
that it has built-in editing. This could be
an ideal format for the Web videographer.
Hitachi will soon introduce a DVD-RAM
camcorder. This uses a removable DVD
disc that stores ultra-high quality MPEG-2
video. Expect long recording times, high
video quality and Dolby Digital 16bit audio.
A Quick Guide to Video Formats
So Many Standards
A healthy and competitive technological market is to blame for the diversity of video formats we have today. As
camcorders get smaller and cheaper and
have better video quality, we still hold on
to the older, larger formats because they
too have their own advantages. Before
shopping, take stock of your needs.
Whether you need an inexpensive cam to
help you start shooting or a feature-rich
one that supports editing well, you will
find there is a camcorder for you.
Sidebar 1
DV vs D8
Face it. If you want to edit your video after you shoot it, then you need to take a hard look at
a digital camcorder. Let’s take a head-to-head comparison between Mini DV and Digital8.
Picture quality. Mini DV and Digital8 have nearly identical picture quality when used in
camcorders with similar optics and CCDs. However, there are no 3-CCD Digital8 camcorders.
3-CCD camcorders split the video signal up into its component Red, Green, Blue (RGB) parts
giving superior color separation which means more when it comes to picture quality than
lines of resolution do.
Advantage: Mini DV (When used in 3-CCD camcorder)
Audio quality. Mini DV supports either two 16-bit or four 12-bit audio tracks, while
Digital8 only has the two 16-bit. However, both formats have excellent sound.
Advantage: Tie
Video flexibility. Both formats allow for cloning (making an exact digital copy), via
FireWire to transfer video information. Digital8 can also play analog Hi8 tapes (and encode
them through the FireWire port).
Advantage: Digital8
Audio flexibility. When using the four 12-bit audio tracks, Mini DV supports audio dub,
while Digital8 does not.
Advantage: Mini DV
Cost of operation. Mini DV tapes are generally a bit more expensive than Hi8 tapes, but
can record a few more minutes of video.
Advantage: Digital8 by a little
Camera cost. Digital8 cameras have a much lower price than Mini DV on the intro level, so
it’s less cost prohibitive to get into Digital8 video.
Advantage: Digital8
Sidebar 2
Format Categories
Another Way to Sort Out the Format Differences
Consumer camcorders can be classified into three categories that don’t necessarily coincide
with their format. They are:
1. Standard grade analog including VHS, VHS-C and 8mm.
2. High grade analog including S-VHS, S-VHS-C and Hi8.
3. Digital including MiniDV and Digital8.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
In general, the main differences between standard and high grades of analog camcorders are
image and audio quality. High grade formats noticeably increase image resolution and audio
fidelity over standard grade.
The digital formats record a digital signal that significantly increases resolution over high
grade analog. Overall, increased image quality, combined with a greater diversity of features,
will generate higher price tags among the different format categories.
How DV Works:
Technical Feature
Bill Fisher
Ladies and gentlemen, step right up!
Inside this tent you’ll have a remarkable
opportunity to get closer than ever before
to digital video, otherwise known as DV.
I’ll give each of you an unusual close-up
look at the mechanics of DV, at the various DV formats on the market and at the
reasons DV can do so much, so well. So
follow me into the tent of wonders!
Look—the journey is already beginning.
We’re now shrinking, small enough to
penetrate the inner workings of a DV camcorder. Let’s enter through the lens housing and start exploring.
Light, Sound and Current
As we move through the zoom lens, note
that at this point, digital video is a lot like
analog video. Light and sound enter the
camera through a lens and microphone
and then a computer transforms the real
world into electronic signals.
Digital and analog part ways fairly soon,
however. The tiny silicon charge-coupled
device (CCD) at the end of the lens barrel
uses hundreds of thousands of pixels to
make DV look incredibly sharp and clean,
with around 500 lines of potential resolution (or more, in three-chip pro cameras).
From Analog to Digital
Next we come to the circuit boards, which
do an enormous amount of the work of
making your DV footage look and sound
fantastic. The software coding and computer components contained in the
boards produce a digital replica of each
moment of video and audio in the analogto-digital conversion process. There is
also circuitry that works in reverse, for
playback on your television. It’s the “digital” part of DV that puts this technology
head and shoulders above consumer analog video formats. Digital video is pure
data, not analog signals, allowing pristine
and endlessly repeatable transmission of
high-resolution data through an all-digital
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Doing the Math
All consumer digital video formats (Mini
DV, Digital8, DVCAM and DVCPro) utilize
the same basic data format and data rate
(25 Mbps) to encode and decode 30 fps
NTSC video data.
● Sampling. DV
encoding hardware
samples each frame of video for luminance (brightness) and chrominance
(color) information. It uses 4:1:1 (Y:U:V or
YUV) sampling for this operation (see
Figure 3.1). The hardware scans each line
of every 720 480 video frame, taking
four pixel samples of luma information
(Y) for every one pixel sample it takes of
chroma information (U and V). That cuts
down on extra data and also provides the
right mix of luma and chroma detail to
satisfy our eyes, which are more sensitive
to brightness (luma) than color (chroma).
Compression. The DV brain then mathematically compresses each resampled
frame of video to speed throughput and save
storage space on tapes and hard drives. This
is accomplished with a 5:1 DCT (discrete
cosine transform) mathematical algorithm
that discards as much unnecessary image
information as possible while retaining
much of the quality of the original image.
well. An audio sample rate of 48 kHz
(with a 16-bit depth per sample) produces
a single track of high-fidelity digital stereo
audio (2 channels). Alternately, a 32 kHz
sample rate with a 12-bit depth yields
two stereo tracks (4 channels total), one
of which can be used for voiceover
Vital data. All of this pristine but
compressed digital information is bundled with additional vital pieces of generated data. This information includes time
code, time/date information and digital
pilot tone signals to replace the conventional control track of analog video,
which the DV format lacks.
● Error correction. Also added to the
data mix are error correction bits. Digital
video data travels in tiny packets and the
DV hardware adds unique codes that verify and correct corrupted data bits.
● Audio. A separate sampling process
takes the audio signal (after preamplification) and turns it into data as
Figure 3.1 4:1:1 Sampling—DV Encoding
hardware samples each frame of video for
luminance (brightness) and chrominance
(color) information taking four pixel samples
of luma information (Y) for every one pixel
sample it takes of chroma information
(U and V).
Express Delivery
The whole package is finally bundled in
data packets compliant with the DV standard. Every one of these packets—each
the size of a single DV track—contains
four independent regions: a subcode
sector for time code and other data, a
video sector, an audio sector and a sector
for insert editing and track data (see
Figure 3.2). These packets move at a rate
of 25 Mbps (megabits per second), which
translates to roughly 3.5 MB of disk storage space per second of DV video.
Figure 3.2 10 Tracks, 1 Frame—Each frame
of DV video is made up of 10 tracks, each of
which is divided into four subsections.
How DV Works: Technical Feature
Where the Action is
We’ve seen the brains, but now we’ve
come to the brawn—the spinning drums
that record data onto the tape and read it
off. The drum that houses the heads is
a polished metal cylinder that’s angled
in the cassette compartment and rotates
at a very high rate. Rollers hold the
tape against the drum’s grooved surface,
where a number of electromagnetic heads
make slanted swipes across the surface of
the tape, recording tracks of data that correspond exactly to the DV packets
described above.
Everything about this system is microscopic and is measurements are in microns,
or thousandths of a millimeter. In fact, the
record heads are so small, the tracks are so
narrow and the data they contain is so
densely packed, that a minute of digital
video—about 200 MB of information—
occupies less than two meters of tape. Put
another way, a DV cassette can hold about
13 GB of digital information.
The Skinny on Digital Formats
Everything up to this point is common to
the 25 Mbps Mini DV (DV25), Digital8,
DVCAM and DVCPro formats. When it
comes to recording to tape, however, manufacturers have developed several different ways to store the data (see Figure 3.3).
Mini DV tape comes in a 55 mm wide
plastic cassette to fit consumer camcorders. The tape itself is 6.35 mm wide
and is coated with metal that was
deposited using an evaporated processing
technique (ME) (see Figure 3.3). It moves at
a rate of about 19 mm per second, with a
track width of 10 microns. The typical 60minute Mini DV cassette is about 70 m
long and stores around 13 GB of data. The
closely-related standard DV tape (designed
for use in VTRs) is the same tape format,
but comes in a cassette that’s twice as big
and holds as much as 180 minutes of tape.
(Panasonic) formats are modified DV25
Surface Prep Layer
Metal Evaporate
Figure 3.3 Physical Format—Metal
Evaporated (ME) Mini DV tapes have a
number of physical layers protecting the
important data layer.
for the professional market. They use a
wider track pitch for greater reliability
and move the tape past the heads much
faster. Both formats offer as much as three
hours of running time on a single cassette.
The DVCPro format has several other
pro-level features. DVCPro tapes use a
metal particulate (MP) process instead of
ME. Unlike Mini DV and DVCAM, DVCPro
can use optional linear tracks at the top
and bottom edges of the DV tape to record
analog time code and audio information.
The Digital8 format also has idiosyncrasies. Larger than Mini DV tape,
Digital8 records onto 8 mm and Hi8 tape.
The key difference is that in a Digital8
camcorder, the tape moves twice as
fast as in its analog relatives, and the signal is digital. The Digital8 format is
backward-compatible with the analog
8 mm format. That’s a big plus if you have
a closetful of legacy 8 mm gear and tapes
(see Figure 3.4).
Most of what you’ve seen here applies to
digital VTRs as well. Decks use the same
processing system as camcorders to understand analog and digital signals. Where
decks differ from, and usually outshine,
camcorders is their mechanical robustness
and their multiple digital and analog
input/output capabilities. These units also
offer format cross-compatibility: many DV,
DVCAM and DVCPro decks can play back
all of the different tape formats.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
25Mbps DV Tape Formats
Pitch (microns) Tape speed (in mm/sec) Cassette dimensions (mm)
66 × 48 × 12
66 × 48 × 12
95 × 63 × 15
98 × 65 × 15
Figure 3.4 All consumer digital video formats utilize the same basic
data format and data rate (25 Mbs) to encode and decode 30 fps NTSC
video data.
Output and Beyond
Parting Advice
We conclude our tour at the camcorder’s
FireWire connection. And that’s appropriate, because FireWire is a big part of DV’s
success. FireWire is a data transfer protocol like USB or Ethernet. FireWire moves
dense packets of data at extremely high
rates, and that makes it perfect for moving
DV data between camcorder and computer. The DV/FireWire one-two punch
has created a real revolution in consumer
video, enabling all-digital desktop video
As you leave this tent of wonders, make
sure to remember that all DV equipment,
from the most economical camcorder to
the most elaborate high-end VTR, makes
use of basically the same computational
brain. And as for the many differences,
don’t worry about the underlying technology. Whether your DV comes in the form of
a pro camera with a giant lens, a portable
deck with an LCD screen or a palm-size
camcorder for travel, there’s a digital heart
in all of these devices.
Sidebar 1
FireWire, like DV, is an international standard (IEEE-1394) that technology manufacturers
have agreed to abide by in the interest of compatibility. But that doesn’t mean that everyone
agrees on what to call the standard. Apple Computer, which played a large role in developing the technology, named it FireWire and Sony dubbed their version i.LINK.
Sidebar 2
Anyone who’s used analog formats has seen dropouts and other signs of signal loss resulting
from faults on the magnetic tape or from recording problems. When it comes to longevity,
expect analog tapes to last at best 15 years before they start to degrade. Error correction built
into DV eliminates many dropouts, but what about longevity? Since DV tapes use magnetic
material to record data, you’ll see gradual deterioration of these signals, too, though error
correction can make up for some loss. Fortunately, it’s easy to make perfect backup clones of
DV tapes via FireWire.
Dissecting a Digital
Scott Anderson
Dooley may be a little crusty, but he’s the
kind of guy you can trust with your camcorder. So when mine broke, he was the
man to fix it. This was the perfect chance
to learn the inside story about this amazing piece of technology, from the moment
that the light hits the lens to the final TV
output (see Figure 4.1).
“There’s a lot of technology crammed
into this little thing,” said Dooley, who
actually seemed to glow when he talked
tech. “It has lenses, motors, gyros, microphones, a clock, a tape deck, a computer
and a TV. Not to mention a dozen input
and output jacks. It’s a robot-operated
entertainment center in the palm of
your hand. So, how did you break it?”
he asked.
“I didn’t break it; it just stopped working,” I said, somewhat defensively.
“Well, let’s crack ‘er open,” Dooley
replied. “And don’t worry, I won’t hurt
your baby. Now hand me that tool kit.”
I passed him a large kit containing
everything from a basic screwdriver to a
space-age remote control. In a few seconds
he had the back off the camcorder and
was pulling its guts out.
“Here’s where it all starts,” he said,
holding up my precious zoom lens. “The
lens is one of the most important, and
expensive, parts of the camcorder. No
amount of electronic wizardry can make
up for a crummy lens.”
He pointed at two small gray cylinders
alongside the lenses. “See these? These are
little motors to control the autofocus and
the zoom,” he said. “Essentially, this is a
sophisticated robot eye that responds to
what the camcorder brain tells it to do (see
Figure 4.2). Yours has an optical stabilizer
built into the lens; a squishy prism that uses
a tiny gyroscope to keep the image steady.”
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a
chip the size of a postage stamp on a tiny
circuit board.
Shaking Hands with My CCD
“That’s the CCD,” he said, “a chip that
converts light to electricity. These things
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 4.1 Video out—this greatly simplified diagram may give you some idea of the complexity
of getting a picture from the world at large to a place where we can see and edit it.
Figure 4.2 The lens—more than just glass for
concentrating light, modern camcorder lenses
have complex servos and gears for zooming
and focusing.
have been around for almost 25 years, but
they keep getting better. It’s a grid of tiny
light sensors that engineers call photosites and computer-folks call pixels. The
new ones are more sensitive for low-light
situations and have more pixels for higher
resolution. The more light that hits a
photo-site, the greater the voltage output.”
“But won’t that just give you black and
white? How do they see in color?” I asked.
“Well, there are basically two ways, but
they both work by splitting the light into
red, green and blue,” Dooley said. “One
technique uses prisms to split up the light
and send it to three different CCDs. That’s
hot stuff, but expensive and bulky. Your
camcorder just has one CCD, and it puts
different-colored filters over the pixels,”
he said, handing me a diagram of a colored grid (see Figure 4.3).
“But this thing is mostly green,” I
replied. “Won’t everyone come out looking seasick?”
“Actually, the eye sees better in the green
part of the spectrum, so that grid works
great. But if you think about it, this technique cuts into your resolution. You need
to combine three mono-colored pixels to
get one colored pixel. Software helps to
smooth things out, but the more pixels
you can get in your CCD, the better your
final resolution. Typically, a camcorder
has 300,000 to 500,000 pixels, but some
new ones have a megapixel (1 million
pixels). You could shoot HDTV with that
kind of resolution.”
“I want one!”
Dissecting a Digital Camcorder
Figure 4.3 The retina—the CCD records the
light that is focused by the lens in discrete
“Save your money, bud,” Dooley
growled. “Most megapixel CCDs are just
for still images and HD cams ain’t cheap.
Now pay attention. These CCDs are
scanned just like a TV, pixel by pixel, row
after row. The output creates a varying
voltage that travels through an analog-todigital converter. Can you guess what that
“Converts analog to digital?” I asked
with a smirk.
“You’re smarter than you look, pal.
That digital signal gets stored in what
they call a memory buffer, which is really
just like computer RAM,” Dooley said.
“Once you have it in the buffer, you can
use all kinds of software tricks on it. Some
camcorders even throw in digital special
effects, but I see yours doesn’t.”
“Naw, I like to do my effects on the
computer,” I said.
“Your camcorder uses optical stabilization, but some camcorders also use this
buffer to stabilize the image,” he said.
“The software finds a feature and tries to
keep it nailed down. If the camera shakes,
the software electronically moves the
image in the opposite direction to cancel
the motion. That uses up some pixels
around the border though, which dings
your resolution a bit. The image is also
used to determine exposure. There are at
least two ways to do that. One electronically changes the amount of time that the
CCD is allowed to gather light. The other
way is to control a physical iris with
another tiny motor.
“Your camcorder also uses this digital
image to focus,” he continued. “It has
software that checks on the contrast of the
image and controls the focusing motors.
As long as the contrast increases, it will
keep shifting the focus. But as soon as the
contrast starts to go down, it knows it just
passed the sweet spot, and it backs up a
notch for perfect focus. There are other
focusing methods; the most common uses
an infrared beam. It just measures how
long it takes light to bounce off your subject and then calculates the distance from
that. It works just fine, but other infrared
sources can fool it, like candles or fires.
“Finally,” he went on to say, “another
software program compresses the image by
a factor of five before it gets saved to tape.”
The Tape Deck
Dooley reached into the camcorder and
pulled out the tape deck. I fervently hoped
he knew how to put that thing back.
“That brings us to the tape deck part of
the camcorder,” he said. “Here, tiny write
heads spinning at high speed lay down
the digitized image track, along with the
captured audio. The heads are little electromagnets, and as the pixels are read out
of the buffer, the signal magnetizes the
tape (see Figure 4.4).
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 4.4 The head—the play/record head
spins at a high rate of speed and is divided
into a number of horizontal tracks.
Figure 4.5 In and out—the interface between
the analog world and the camcorder is most
often bi-directional on many modern DV
“That’s really the end of the camcorder
story,” Dooley said, “except for how you
get the video out again. For that, you need
to read the tape back. This is just like the
write process in reverse. The tape goes by
the read head and every little magnetic
spot on the tape converts back into bits of
data. This is digital data, which is very
robust stuff. Since a bit of data is binary—
on or off—it’s difficult to swamp it with
noise. Even if noise does manage to
destroy a bit, there are extra bits reserved
for error-correction, which means that
you can count on a reliable, 100-percent
perfect recording and playback. It is this
fact that makes digital so remarkable. No
matter how many times you copy it, there
is no generation loss like there is with
analog video.
“On the way out, the video image is
again stored in the buffer. Now, you can
run it into a computer with a FireWire
connection and edit it if you want. But if
you just want to display it on a TV, you
need to convert the digital image back to
analog, the only thing a typical TV can
handle (see Figure 4.5). What do you suppose they use for that, my friend?”
“A digital to analog converter?” I
“Right again, genius. That same circuit
can also send a signal to the LCD viewfinder
on your camcorder. It’s interesting that
although both CCDs and LCDs come from
the computer world, they are both usually
wired for analog inputs and outputs. So,
your digital camcorder is really a hybrid,
with a lot of conversion going on between
the analog and digital worlds.”
“Pretty soon, you can expect a fully digital signal path, which will give even better results. In the end, you’ll still need to
convert to analog for standard viewing,
but soon, even the TVs will be digital.”
Dooley surveyed the entrails of my
camcorder strewn across the table. “Well,
that about sums it up,” he said. “Except
for one thing. Your camcorder has something you don’t see very often.”
Dooley held up the tape unit. “This
thing seems to have a toaster in it. Or at
least someone must have thought so.
Otherwise, why would there be a piece of
bread in the cassette holder?”
“What?” I yelped. “No way, unless the
twins got into it …”
“You should keep your kids away
from this thing, Anderson. Hand me the
Dooley fiddled around a bit and then
triumphantly plucked out a hardened
chunk of bread squished into the shape of
a DV tape. “It should work a whole lot
better now,” he said.
Dissecting a Digital Camcorder
Sidebar 1
Quality Issues
The Lens
Lens quality. This is the most important part of your camcorder and usually the most
expensive. It doesn’t matter how many lines of resolution you have if the image is out of
focus. Premium optical coatings do a better job of preventing color fringing and reflections.
Zoom. An important aspect of a lens is its zoom capacity. Modern optics are computerdesigned and incredibly complex. Keep in mind that big zoom ranges may sacrifice optical
quality and speed, and long zoom settings will require a tripod or an image stabilizer.
Stabilizer. Optical stabilizers let you use those zoom settings to the max, and they don’t
sacrifice CCD resolution the way electronic stabilizers might.
Speed. Faster lenses capture more light, so you can take shorter exposures. This is especially important for shooting sports events and low-light situations.
The Microphone
We tend to concentrate on the video parts of a camcorder, but the audio is just as important.
Fortunately, audio is much easier and cheaper to deal with. Audio data is just a fraction of
the size of the video data.
It’s difficult to put a high-quality microphone on such a small object. Nevertheless, camcorder makers have done a decent job within a tight budget and even tighter spaces. If you’re
looking for better quality, look for an input jack for an external microphone. Then you can
hook up whatever you want, including remote mikes.
There are two things to look for in a CCD: the resolution and the sensitivity. The resolution
depends mostly on how many pixels the CCD has, but is reduced somewhat if electronic
image stabilizing is used. The more CCD chips you have, the better. For sensitivity, choose a
low-lux CCD that can see well even in low light conditions.
Sidebar 2
WARNING! Don’t Try this at Home!
The Editors of Videomaker do not recommend opening your camcorder’s case under any circumstances. Doing so will certainly void your warrantee, and may cause permanent damage
to the camera or personal harm to you. We recommend that you always (and only) have your
video camera repaired by a trained professional.
All About Lenses
Jim Stinson
Without passing through a lens, the light
falling on your camcorder’s CCD would be
as empty of information as a flashlight
beam. The camcorder’s lens converts
incoming light from a gaggle of unreadable
rays to an ordered arrangement of visual
information—that is, a picture. It’s the
lens, then, that makes video imaging possible. Without it, your camcorder would
record an image of blank white light.
All videos are successions of individual
images, each made by forcing light to form a
recognizable picture on a flat surface. You
can do it with just a tiny hole in the wall of
a darkened room, but it’s easier to use a lens.
A lens does far more than just render
light into coherent images; it also determines the visual characteristics of those
images. For this reason, every serious videographer should know how lenses work and
how to use them to best advantage.
A Little Background
As long ago as ancient Greece, people
noticed that when they put a straight pole
into clear water, the part of the pole below
the water line seemed to bend. The mathematician Euclid described this effect in
300 BC. But it wasn’t until 1621 that the
scientist Willebrord Snell developed the
mathematics of diffraction. Diffraction
is the principle stating the following:
when light passes from one medium to
another—say from water to air or air to
glass—it changes speed. And when light
hits a junction between two media at an
angle, the change in speed causes a change
in direction.
Lenses, which refract light in an orderly
way, were perhaps unintended side effects
of glass blowing: if you drop a globule of
molten glass onto a smooth, plane surface
it will naturally cool into a circle that’s flat
on the bottom and slightly convex on
top—an accidental lens. Look through this
piece of junk glass and behold: things
appear larger.
Now, hold the glass between the sun and
a piece of paper and you can set the sheet
on fire—but only if the glass-to-paper distance is such that all the sun’s rays come
together at a single point on the paper.
All About Lenses
At some unknown moment somebody
thought, “Hmmn, if it works with the sun,
maybe it’ll work with other light sources,
too.” In a darkened room, this someone
held the glass between a piece of paper
and an open window. Sure enough, at a
certain lens-to-paper distance, a pinpoint
of light appeared.
But then a bizarre thing happened.
When the experimenter slowly increased
the glass-to-paper distance, an actual picture of the window appeared, small, to be
sure and upside down, but so detailed
that they could see that tree outside,
framed in the opening. (You can try this
yourself with a magnifying glass.)
Back to the Present
If you’ve ever seen a cutaway diagram of a
modern zoom lens, you have a grasp on
how far we’ve come from that first accidentally dropped blob of glass.
The camcorder zoom may contain a
dozen pieces of glass or more. Some of these
permit the lens to zoom, some make the
lens more compact by “folding” the light
rays inside it, and some correct inescapable
imperfections called lens aberrations.
But since you didn’t sign up for an
advanced physics seminar here, we’ll pretend that the camcorder zoom is a simple,
one-element lens. We can do this because
the basic idea is exactly the same: when a
convex lens refracts light, the light’s rays
converge at a certain distance behind the
Lens Axis
Optical Axis
lens, forming a coherent image on a plane
still farther back.
The plane on which the focused image
appears is the focal plane; the place where
the light rays converge is the focal point,
and the distance from the focal point to
the axis of the lens is the focal length.
Note: contrary to common belief, the focal
length is not the distance from the lens to
the focal plane.
Your camcorder’s image-sensing chip
sits at the focal plane of the system,
behind the actual lens.
Notice also that Figure 5.1 shows an additional measurement: maximum aperture,
or, in plain language, the lens’ ability to collect light. Get comfortable with lens aperture, focus and focal length, and you’ve got
everything you need to know about camcorder lenses. So let’s run through’em.
Open Wide
The aperture of a camera controls how
much light enters the lens. In one way, a
lens is just like a window: the bigger it is,
the more light it admits. But a lens isn’t
quite as simple as a window, because the
amount of light that gets in is also governed by its focal length (the distance
from the lens to the focal point).
For this reason, you can easily determine maximum aperture—the ability of
a lens to collect light. Use this a simple
formula: aperture focal length divided
by lens diameter.
Focal Point
Lens-to-subject Distance
Figure 5.1 The geometry of a simple lens.
Focal Length
Focal Plane
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
For example: if a 100 mm lens has a diameter of 50 mm, then 100 divided by 50 is 2.
The lens’ maximum aperture is 2, expressed
as “f/2.” Lens apertures are “f stops.”
Since the amount of shooting light
varies from dimly lit rooms to bright sunshine, all lenses have mechanical iris
diaphragms that progressively reduce the
aperture in brighter light. Your camcorder’s
auto exposure system works by using this
diaphragm to change the lens’ working
aperture. In other words, the iris is changing the effective diameter of the lens.
These changes occur in regular increments called “stops,” as noted. Each onestop reduction in aperture size cuts the
light intake in half. Most consumer camcorders fail to indicate these f stops. But
some units—as well as most familiar singlelens reflex film cameras—indicate f stops
by a string of cryptic digits: 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4,
5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22.
Why use these peculiar numbers to
label f stops? Simple: long ago, lenses
with maximum apertures of f/2 were very
common, so f/2 became the starting point.
F/1.4 is the square root of f/2; and if you
look at the other f stop numbers you’ll see
that each is a multiple and/or root of
another. (Some figures are rounded off:
f/11 is not precisely a multiple of f/5.6.)
Just as confusing, these strange numbers
appear to work backward. As the f stop
number gets bigger, the aperture gets
smaller. F/22 is the smallest common aperture and f/1.4 (or even 1.2) is the largest.
Why should you care how big the hole
is in your camcorder lens? Because the
working aperture has important effects on
image quality and depth of focus. For critical applications, lenses create better
images in the middle of their range of apertures. But for videographers, the crucial
concern is the effect of aperture on focus.
Lookin’ Sharp!
Before we can explain how aperture
affects focus, we need to see what focus is
and how the lens does it.
To start with, remember that the focal
plane is the one and only plane on which
the light rays create a sharp (focused)
image. If you look at Figure 5.1 again,
you’ll see that the subject, the lens axis,
the focal point and the focal plane are all
in a fixed geometrical relationship. That
is, you can’t change one without affecting
the others. You can’t move the lens closer
to the subject without changing the path
of the light rays. And if you do that, you
change the position of the focal plane.
In Figure 5.2a, the subject is a long distance from the lens, and its image appears
sharply on the focal plane. Since the camcorder’s CCD is on that plane, the recorded
image is in focus.
Figure 5.2b shows what happens when
you move closer to the subject. The geometry of the light rays moves the focal plane
forward away from the CCD. The result?
When the rays do hit the CCD they no
longer form a sharp image. You’re out of
The solution: change the position of the
lens to compensate for the shift in subject
distance. As you can see from Figure 5.2c,
doing this returns the focal plane to the
CCD’s position and the image is back in
focus again.
This is exactly what happens in your
camcorder lens. Lens elements move forward and backward to focus the incoming
light on the CCD. Most camcorder zoom
lenses feature internal focusing: the
lenses move inside a fixed-length lens
barrel. Most still cameras use external
focusing: you can actually see the lens
grow longer as its front element moves
forward for closer focusing.
What’s In Focus?
If you adjust the lens to focus on a subject
near the camera, then the distant background will often go soft. That’s because
every lens at every aperture and focusing
distance has what’s called a certain depth
of field. Here’s how it works. Strictly
speaking, the lens focuses perfectly only
All About Lenses
Distant object forms a
sharp image on the focal
plane at the CCD.
When the camcorder is
closer to the object, the
image is out of focus
because the focal plane
is now in front of the
Increasing the lens
distance from the
CCD moves the focal
plane back to the
CCD and brings the
image back in focus.
Figure 5.2 How (and why) a lens’ focus is changed.
on one plane at a certain distance from it.
Objects receding from that plane—or
advancing from it toward the lens—are all
technically out of focus.
But in reality, objects up to a certain
distance behind or in front of this imaginary plane still appear sharp to the
human eye. This sharp territory from in
front of the focal distance to behind it is
depth of field.
Two factors govern the extent of the
depth of field: 1) the focal length of the
lens and 2) the working aperture. Since
we’ve already covered aperture, let’s see
how it affects depth of field.
Each drawing of Figure 5.3 represents a
picture made with the same lens, at the
same distance from the subjects, and
focused on the same person, the woman.
The only variable is the aperture. As you
can see, the higher the f stop, the greater
the depth of field.
In Figure 5.3a, the stop is very high
(f/22) and all three subjects are sharp. In
Figure 5.3b, the aperture widens to the
middle of its range (f/5.6). Now the depth
of field is more shallow and the man and
the tree are at its front and back boundaries. They’re starting to lose sharpness.
Open the aperture all the way to f/1.4
(Figure 5.3c) and the depth of field is
quite narrow. Though the woman remains
sharp, the man and the tree are just blurs.
Once again, the higher (smaller) the
f stop, the greater the depth of field, and
vice versa.
As noted above, depth of field is also
governed by the focal length of the lens.
But first, we need to see what that geometrical abstraction focal length really means
to practical videographers.
The Long and Short of It
The focal length of a lens affects three
important aspects of the image: angle of
view, depth of field and perspective.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Depth of
At high (small) lens apertures, depth of field
is deep.
So while 12 degrees is a narrow angle,
9 degrees is also a narrow angle, though
slightly more extreme.
As a videographer, you exploit the differences in lens angle of view all the time.
For example: shooting a birthday party
you may zoom out to your widest angle,
to include more of the scene when the
small room won’t let you move the camcorder farther back from the action.
Going Soft
Depth of Field
At medium lens apertures, depth of field is
reduced. Foreground and background are now
slightly soft.
Depth of
At low (large) lens apertures, depth of field is
quite shallow. Foreground and background are
now very soft.
Figure 5.3 Lens aperture affects the depth of
field (all shots made at the same focal length
and focused on the woman).
The angle of view gives the lens its
In Figure 5.4, a wide-angle lens (here an
angle of 85 degrees) includes a great deal of
territory. A normal lens (here 55 degrees)
is less inclusive; and a telephoto lens has
a very narrow angle of view indeed (here
12 degrees). So, at any distance from the
subject matter, the wider the lens angle,
the wider the field of view.
Incidentally, the angles selected for
Figure 5.4 are only typical examples.
Each category—wide, normal and narrow
(telephoto)—includes a range of angles.
Earlier, we noted that lens aperture affects
depth of field. Now let’s see how lens
focal length also affects depth of field.
As you can see in Figure 5.5, the wider
the angle, the greater the depth of field.
In bright sunshine, a wide-angle lens
will hold focus from a couple of feet to the
horizon. At the other extreme, in dim
light a telephoto lens may render sharp
subjects through only a few inches of
depth. Notice that we include the light
conditions because aperture and focal
length working together always govern
depth of field. But the rule is, at any aperture, the wider the lens angle, the greater
the depth of field, at any distance from
the subject.
Take special note of that last phrase, at
any distance from the subject. When some
photographers can’t get enough depth of
field they think, “Hey, no problem: I’ll
increase my depth of field by going wideangle.”
Wrong! If you widen the angle you will
increase depth of field, but you also
reduce the size of the subject in the frame.
To return it to its former size in the wideangle view, you must move the camera
closer. What’s wrong with that? There’s
one last rule of focus we haven’t mentioned yet: at any focal length (and any
aperture too), the closer the lens is to the
subject, the less depth of field in the image.
See the problem? Moving closer to compensate for the smaller image effectively
wipes out the depth gained from going
wide-angle. It’s a wash.
All About Lenses
Wide-angle lens
Normal lens
Telephoto lens
Figure 5.4 Lens focal length affects angle view (camera is the
same distance from subjects in all shots).
Depth of
Depth of field is comparatively deep.
Here, the man in the foreground and
the background tree are also sharp.
Depth of
Depth of field is not as deep. Now the
foreground and background objects are
somewhat soft.
Depth of
Shallow depth of field. Foreground and
background objects are now very soft.
Figure 5.5 Lens focal length affects the depth of field (all shots made at the same aperture
and focused on the woman).
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
We said that widening the angle
decreases the subject size, and that leads
us to the most dramatic effect that focal
length has on the image: perspective.
Perspective and Focal Length
Perspective is the depiction of apparent
depth—a phantom third dimension in a
two-dimensional image.
In the real world, even people with
only one functional eye can gauge distance, because the farther away objects
are, the smaller they appear. Moreover,
they diminish in size at a certain rate
because of the geometry of the human
optical system.
But other optical systems, such as camcorder lenses, may have very different
geometries, and objects may shrink much
faster or slower than they do in human
vision. The perspectives of different lenses
depend entirely on their focal lengths.
As you can see, wide-angle lenses exaggerate apparent depth.
Objects shrink quickly as they recede.
Normal focal lengths imitate the moderate
perspective of human vision (which, of
course, is why we call them “normal”).
Telephoto lenses reduce apparent depth.
Background objects look much bigger and
the space between them and the foreground appears compressed.
As the ground plans beside the drawings in Figure 5.6 show, you have to move
the camera in order to achieve these different effects. As you change from wideangle to telephoto, you must pull back so
that the reference figure in the foreground
(the man) remains the same size and in the
same position in the frame. If you simply
zoomed in from the first camera position,
you would instead get the effect shown in
Figure 5.4.
Wide-angle lenses can deliver very dramatic results. People and vehicles moving
toward or away from the camera appear to
Wide-angle lens
Objects shrink rapidly
(Camera is repositioned
as they recede;
to keep the man at the
distance between
objects is exaggerated. same size and position in
every shot)
Normal lens
Object size and
apparent depth
correspond closely to
human vision.
Telephoto lens
Objects shrink slowly
as they recede;
apparent depth is
Figure 5.6 Lens focal length affects relative object size and apparent
depth (man, woman and tree are all the same height).
All About Lenses
hurtle past. A roundhouse punch swoops
toward the lens like an incoming meteor.
But since they exaggerate depth, wideangle lenses have drawbacks as well. Get
too close to people’s faces in wide angle
and their noses will grow to elephant size.
On the opposite side, telephoto lenses
can make great compositions on the
screen by stacking up pictorial elements.
For instance, if you want to dramatize
congestion and pollution, get an extreme
telephoto shot of a freeway at rush hour,
viewed head-on. Because you’re squeezing a mile’s worth of cars into 100 yards of
apparent depth, you make a bad problem
look ten times worse.
Telephoto shots are great for suspense.
Near the climax of Ferris Buehler’s Day
Off our hero must make it home through
neighborhood backyards before his parents arrive. In one suspenseful telephoto
shot, Ferris runs straight toward the camera—and runs, and runs, and runs—without seeming to make any progress. It’s
the telephoto focal length lens, of course,
that compresses the distance he’s actually
What’s What Here?
So far we’ve talked about wide-angle, normal and telephoto focal lengths without
actually naming any. So what’s a wideangle lens, anyway: 8 mm, 28 mm, 90 mm,
200 mm? The answer: all of the above. For a
full-size VHS camcorder, wide angle is
8 mm; for a 35 mm still camera it’s 28mm;
for a 4 5 studio view camera it’s 90 mm;
and for an 8 10 behemoth it’s 200 mm. In
other words, the perspective delivered by a
certain focal length lens depends on the
size of the image it creates.
If you draw a picture of it, it looks like
another dose of geometry; don’t worry, it’s
really just common sense. The image created by a lens has to fill the camera’s
frame, right? But the frame is rectangular
and the lens is round. That means that the
lens diameter must slightly exceed the
diagonal of the frame.
Conveniently, lens designers discovered long ago that for any size format,
“normal” perspective is produced by a
lens focal length slightly greater than the
frame diagonal. That’s why a 15 mm lens
is normal on a camcorder with a half-inch
chip, but a 35 mm still camera takes a
50 mm lens instead. (On the larger camera
a 15 mm lens would be an ultra-wide.)
What does this mean to you and how do
you interpret the lens markings on your
camcorder? To understand the answer,
you need to know what your camcorder
lens is and how it works.
Unless you’re using an older style, C-mount
lens camera, or a surveillance camera discarded from a convenience store, your camcorder comes with a zoom lens. A zoom
lens allows you to shift between focal
lengths without changing lenses. In addition, it possesses two critical characteristics:
You can set the zoom lens at any and
every focal length between its extremes.
That means, if your camcorder lens ranges
from 8 to 80 mm, you could, theoretically,
set it at a focal length of 43.033 or 78.25 mm.
The zoom lens remains at the same
focus throughout its zoom range. Focus
on your subject at any focal length and the
subject will stay in focus if you zoom in or
out. Note: some inner focus lenses do not
have this capability.
Okay, so your zoom lens is marked, say,
8–80 mm. What does that mean? What’s
wide-angle, normal and telephoto in that
8 mm would be wide-angle, about
15 mm would be normal and 80 mm
would be telephoto. But regardless of
what’s normal for a given lens, the smaller
the number (8 mm in this case), the wider
the angle. The larger the number (here
80 mm), the tighter the angle.
Today many compact cameras use
1/3-inch CCDs, so their zoom lenses feature
shorter focal ranges. In this format, a normal
focal length is around 10 mm, a wide-angle
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
setting would be 5 mm, and a strong telephoto would be 50 mm.
For example: the Canon XL1 Mini DV
camcorder has a 16 : 1 zoom that ranges
from 5.5–88 mm. By contrast, the Fujix
H128SW Hi8 camcorder’s 12 : 1 lens ranges
from 4.5–54 mm. Both have 1/3-inch CCDs.
As you can see, knowing what focal
lengths mean can affect your choice of
camcorder. The Canon offers you a longer
telephoto; the Fujix a wider wide-angle.
But to interpret the numbers, you have to
start with the size of the CCD. 10 mm is a
“normal” focal length for a 1/3-inch CCD,
while 15 mm is considered normal for
a 1/2-inch CCD. Once you figure out
your normal focal length, you can roughly
calculate wide-angle and telephoto lengths
as percentages of normal:
35 percent of normal: extreme wide-angle.
50 percent of normal: wide-angle.
70 percent of normal: mild wide-angle.
200 percent of normal: mild telephoto.
400 percent of normal: telephoto.
500 percent of normal: long telephoto.
As you can see, even the simplest lens on
the simplest camcorder is a miracle of modern optical technology. A long, long way
from that accidental glop of molten glass.
Image Stabilizers:
The Technology that
Steadies Your Shots
Robert J. Kerr
If you want steady pictures, use a heavy
camera. Unfortunately, today’s VHS-C
and 8 mm camcorders fly in the face of
this general rule of thumb; they’re so
light, the slightest external vibration can
affect the quality of their images.
Enter the image stabilizer. Developed
specifically to address this problem, these
nifty gadgets now grace many small, lightweight camcorders. In this chapter, we’ll
examine the types of image stabilization
systems and how they work.
A Short Stability History
I suppose that even the cave artists back at
the dawn of pre-history had trouble freezing images of fast-moving antelope in
their minds before they attempted to draw
the beasts accurately on their cave walls.
Portrait painters, too, have dealt with the
problem of fidgety subjects; perhaps even
famed Civil War photographer Matthew
Brady cursed the artillery shells shooting
past him during his long exposures.
Getting a steady image has been a problem for artists, photographers, cinematographers and videographers for as long as
these arts have been practiced.
In the earliest days of photography, the
size and weight of the camera and the
long exposure time made the tripod
de rigeur; it was the only way to achieve
steady images. As film speed increased,
so did portability; cameras such as the
hand-held Kodak Brownie brought
portable photography to every family. The
relatively wide-angle lens further reduced
the sensitivity to small camera movements. Still, the motion to depress the
shutter trip lever required a steady hand
for a steady picture.
That was then, this is now. Today’s very
fast film and electronic flash make steady
still photographs the rule.
On to the silver screen. The first cinematographers also used heavy cameras
mounted on tripods. Later, the shoulder
supported 16 mm cameras also proved
heavy enough to provide steady images—
if the cinematographer stood still.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Filmmakers got around this limitation
by mounting cameras on automobiles and
airplanes to capture moving shots. They
laid down dolly track, much like train
rails, to allow smooth camera movement
in action scenes. In the 1970s, Garret
Brown invented the Steadicam™, a stabilization device cinematographers on the
move used to keep shots steady via an
elaborate counter balance. Again, the success of the Steadicam™ depended on its
significant mass.
The story was much the same for early
television cameras, whose weight and
size also required tripod mounting.
Resourceful engineers developed massive
camera mounts that panned and tilted
effortlessly and glided smoothly across
studio floors.
With the late 1970s came the introduction of lightweight battery operated
videotape recorders. Getting steady video
pictures with these early models—shouldermounted or hand-held—was a problem.
A problem aggravated by addition of the
zoom lens with its telephoto capability
some time later. Various “body brace”
mounts appeared on the market for those
who wanted to improve the steadiness of
their videos, but the light weight of the
cameras made them very sensitive to body
or other external motion.
The next major coup: the appearance of
the solid state electronics color camera for
broadcast news gathering. This 25-pound
shoulder-mounted camera could be held
reasonably steady at moderate focal lengths
of the zoom, but required great stamina on
the part of the cameraperson. Not to mention that long focal length shots were a
real problem.
The Steadicam™ mount developed for
the movies could be used for video cameras, but television applications proved
infrequent. Advances in solid state electronics made studio cameras smaller and
lighter; the addition of housings and
heavy zoom lenses kept them heavy
enough to provide smooth operation.
Enter the 1980s and the rapid growth of
the portable color camera/recorder and
camcorder industries. Light weight was a
priority; the introduction of the CCD camera chip made VHS-C and 8 mm video
cameras smaller than ever. The palmcorder
overtook the steadier, larger shouldermounted models; its small size—coupled
with a zoom lens—made steady pictures a
problem. Fortunately, the same technology also supplied the microcircuit
advances needed to provide the solution.
About this time, Garret Brown invented a
smaller, lighter version of his Steadicam™
stabilization device. The ever-popular
Steadicam JR™ helps to stabilize the
images of camcorders weighing less than
5 pounds. It completely isolates the camera from rotational body movements,
thanks to a delicate balancing system featuring a low-friction gimbal between the
camera and the support handle.
This device, although useful, is not one
you’d carry with you on vacation. It will
fold to a shoulder mount configuration,
but is best applied to specific shooting
problems you can plan in advance. When
properly deployed, the Steadicam JR™
can yield steady video pictures.
Not too long ago, numerous manufacturers including Panasonic, JVC, Hitachi,
Sony and Canon introduced different systems that reduce image jitter problems.
Unlike the Steadicam JR™, these systems
are integrated into the camcorder itself
and do not employ any external hardware.
There are two main image stabilization
systems: optical stabilization and electronic stabilization.
The All Electronic System
The electronic system operates by first
reducing the area of the CCD chip from
which the video image is read (See Figure
6.1). This smaller image then increases in
size to fill the whole screen. The exact
area scanned then shifts electronically to
compensate for unwanted external movement of the camera. Since this system
does not actually sense the movement of
Image Stabilizers
Figure 6.1 Electronic image stabilization.
the camera it must sense camera shake
from the image only. The trick is to tell
camera movement from movement of the
Some manufacturers use a motion
detection method based on fuzzy logic.
How much to compensate for movement
is a decision based on comparing the two
images. An image freezes in computer
memory and divides into numerous quadrants. A processor compares the differences between the individual quadrants
of the frozen image and the current image.
If all quadrants change in the same direction, the processor deduces that camera
between the current and stored images.
The area of the CCD being scanned then
shifts in the opposite direction to cancel
the movement.
Changes in fewer than all quadrants
indicate subject rather than camera movement and no compensating action occurs.
If quadrant analysis indicates that both the
subject and the camera moved, fuzzy logic
calculates the image shift needed just to
compensate for the camera movement.
One criticism of this system: the loss in
image quality brought about by reducing
the number of pixels used to create the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
picture. This loss is noticeable to varying
degrees on most camcorders, virtually
invisible on others. By the time the video
signal goes to the tape and back, especially on standard 8 mm and VHS models,
image loss is negligible. Most videographers will find the added stability to be
worth the tradeoff.
Optical Image Stabilization
Optical stabilization operates very differently from the electronic system. Instead
of sliding an undersized image around the
CCD camera chip, the optical system corrects for camera movement before the
image reaches the chip. This way, the full
resolution of the CCD occurs at all times.
The result: no image degradation.
The key optical component is a variable
bend prism. As light passes through a prism,
it bends in the direction of travel. The
amount of bending—known as refraction—
is a function of the angle at which the
light strikes the “in” side of the prism, the
relative angle of the “exit” side and
the refractive properties of the prism
Refraction is what you see when you
look at an object at the bottom of a pool or
Recording without compensation
Incident light
Recording lens
Variangle prism
Recording with compensation
Incident light
Optical axis
Incident light
Figure 6.2 Optical stabilization system.
stream. If you look straight down on the
object, the light reflected from it passes
straight through the surface of the water.
No bending or refraction occurs, and you
see the object in its actual position. If you
view the object in the pool or creek from
an angle, thanks to refraction you’ll think
the object is considerably higher than it
really is. If you’ve ever been spear fishing
you’ll know what I mean. Try to spear fish
from above the water, and you’ll have to
aim the spear below the spot where you
“see” the fish.
Back to the prism. When you think
prism, you probably think about how it
breaks up light into the color spectrum.
Like how raindrops make a rainbow. You
see the rainbow because different colors
of light bend by differing amounts as they
pass through the prism.
Rainbows may be pretty, but they’re not
so desirable in image stabilization systems; to eliminate any potential rainbow
problems manufacturers choose prism
materials carefully and restrict the angle
of refraction to no more than 1.5 degrees.
The prism used in the optical stabilization system is a unique variable angle
design consisting of two glass plates
joined at the circumference by a flexible
bellows. A silicone fluid with controlled refractive properties fills the space
between the lenses (see Figure 6.2).
When the two plates are parallel, light
passes through undisturbed. If, however,
the plates contract at any point on the
perimeter, the light path bends away from
the compressed area. Thus the system can
actually steer the optical image by manipulating the prism.
The next step: how the system can tell
when to perform such steering.
The optical system requires two motion
sensors, one for pitch (tilting up and
down) and the other for yaw (panning
side to side). The sensors amplify and
process the motion signals to determine
where and how to move the image. The
results convert to electric current applied
to two drive actuators, one for pitch and
one for yaw. These actuators adjust one of
Image Stabilizers
the glass plates in the prism relative to the
other, directing the image back to its
proper position on the CCD sensor.
Field Testing the Two Systems
The easiest way to show how effective
these two image stabilization systems are
is to test them under adverse conditions.
In this case, the test consisted of video
recorded on a road of moderate roughness
by one camera equipped with electronic
image stabilization and then by a second,
fitted with optical stabilization.
I did the videotaping from the passenger side of a car, while my business partner drove. We completed one complete
trip over the test course for each camcorder. We used a medium telephoto zoom
setting to exaggerate the effects of camera
motion. Then we brought the tapes back to
the studio and compared results.
Both systems provided extraordinary
improvement in the stability of the image.
With either type of camera, shots of the
cars ahead of us stayed steady in the
picture—even as the dashboard of the test
vehicle shifted up and down at the lower
part of the picture. Certainly video
from moving vehicles proves much
more usable when you engage the image
The optical system makes no use of
video information, so it cannot wrongly
interpret moving objects as camcorder
motion. The same is not true, of course for
the digital system. The question was, how
well would its fuzzy logic compensate for
an actual moving subject combined with
camera pitch and yaw? The answer: fuzzy
logic did an excellent job; road images
remained steady—even when the car
dashboard bounced up and down in the
lower part of the picture.
Being almost completely mechanical,
the optical system experiences some
inevitable delay as its components move
and adjust. This makes it somewhat
slower to respond to quick jolts, but this
does not adversely affect normal operation. A happy by-product of the mechanical system: its remarkable smoothness.
The electronic system is very fast, and
tried to compensate for even the most
instantaneous bumps in the road. Some
image jump occurred, as though the electronics eventually gave up on fixing the
jump and instead started fresh with a new
An interesting test result with both systems pan or tilt actions, with the stabilizers
engaged, the movement of the image in the
viewfinder lagged behind the camera
movement, or “floated.” The effect is only
noticeable when moving the camera while
looking in the viewfinder; I didn’t notice it
when viewing the recorded videotape. This
simply tends to demonstrate that two dramatically different approaches provided
almost exactly the same satisfactory result.
Cynic that I am, I tend to view a lot of
“features” on the higher priced camcorders simply as opportunities for the
video department salespersons to move
customers to higher priced models.
Not so, however, for the two image stabilizers described here. They work, and
prove very useful in many situations, particularly hand-held “shots of opportunity.”
And So
Image stabilization is a feature well worth
having, particularly on today’s small,
lightweight camcorders. Use it, and your
images will be easier to watch; shoot handheld telephoto shots without it, and—well,
just try it. You’ll see what we mean.
Solar Panel Imaging:
Secrets of the CCD
Loren Alldrin
Buried deep within your camcorder lies a
fabulous image sensor that sets it apart
from most other image-capturing devices.
This image sensor is called a charge-coupled device—that’s CCD to you and me.
If you’re like most videographers, you
probably don’t know much about this hidden treasure. And that’s a shame.
Knowing the hows and whys of CCDs can
help make your videography more effective. It can help you differentiate one
model from another and decide which
camcorder to buy. Moreover, CCD sensors
benefit from some of the fastest-advancing
technology in camcorders; know the
future of sensors and you can peek into
the very future of camcorders.
The Short Explanation
Defining the CCD is, uh, simple: a CCD, or
interline transfer charge-coupled device, is
a tightly-packed array of tiny photo-diodes
consisting of silicon oxide and alternating P and photosensitive N semiconductor
regions on an N-type substrate. Every
1/60th of a second, a transfer pulse triggers
a vertical transfer CCD lying between pixel
rows to sweep accumulated charges out to
the horizontal transfer register (H-CCD)
and output amplifier. Newer designs
employ an additional P embedded photodiode to improve signal-to-noise ratio by
controlling irregular dark currents (see
Figure 7.1).
Don’t worry—that definition went over
my head, too. Try this: imagine a huge
grid made up of rows of solar panels. Each
square-foot panel sits atop a small battery.
Only a few inches separate each panel
from those to its north and south. About a
foot of space lies between one column of
panels and the next; within that space
you’ll find a small pathway running next
to each column, as well as along the bottom of the grid. The grid encompasses
hundreds of panels in each direction,
stretching for about 1/4 of a mile on a side.
When light strikes the panels, they
charge their individual batteries. Panels
exposed to more light charge faster, while
Solar Panel Imaging
Figure 7.1 Three-chip designs from Sony and
Panasonic use three CCD sensors arrayed
around a light-splitting prism.
those in the dark build up little or no
charge. After a given period of time, tiny
trucks drive down between the vertical
rows of panels to measure each battery’s
charge. The trucks then quickly discharge
the battery they’re measuring and move
on to the next panel. When the trucks
reach the end of the row, they dump their
information onto a conveyor belt. This
belt carries the data from the panels back
to a central station. It’s here that high-paid
managers combine the individual measurements, evaluating the electrical output of the grid. Their final report looks a
whole lot like a video image.
To relate this rather loose analogy to an
actual CCD, first we need to reduce the
size of the solar grid by a factor of about
75,000. Most of today’s CCDs measure a
mere 1/3-inch from corner to corner, and
even smaller 1/4-inch designs are on the
In our little analogy, solar panels serve
as the individual pixels. Today’s sensors
actually boast hundreds of thousands of
these pixels, etched onto the top of a silicon wafer by chemical and photographic
processes. The machine tolerances and
cleanliness required for making sensors is
truly superhuman; most CCDs come from
completely automated factories where
humans play minor supporting roles. A
tiny speck of dust, harmless enough to us,
can actually shut down the CCD manufacturing process.
The batteries represent the buildup of
charges in the pixel. Since CCD pixels are
photosensitive, they create a charge in
proportion to the light striking them. Lots
of light makes for a greater charge, while
darkness leaves them with little more than
the small random charges we call noise.
Smaller pixels gather less light and generate weaker charges; a principle manufacturers must address to produce smaller
chips and pixels. More on that later.
The trucks mimic the action of the vertical transfer registers, electronic roadways that carry charges out of the active
sensing area of the CCD. These registers are
necessary because the record electronics
do not read charges directly from individual pixels. Instead, charges move en masse
down the vertical transfer registers until
they reach the edge of the chip.
The conveyor belt is like the horizontal
transfer register, which unloads the
charges from its vertical counterpart. The
horizontal transfer register carries charges
off the CCD along the edge of the sensor.
Their destination: the amplifiers and specialized circuits that process the signal
before recording (see Figure 7.2).
The high-paid managers represent the
camcorder’s record electronics, processing and modifying signals for recording
on magnetic tape. Specialized chips combine color and brightness information
into one signal, boost its level and then
send it on to the record heads.
Generating a final report on the status
of the solar grid could take hours—
depending on the speed of the trucks and
whether or not those high-paid managers
get stuck in an important meeting. In a
camcorder, however, videotape records a
“final report” from the CCD sensor sixty
times per second. If only our government
worked that fast.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Output amplifier
Horizontal transfer register
Figure 7.2 In a standard CCD sensor, pixels feed charges to vertical transfer
registers. These in turn feed the horizontal transfer register. From there, signals
move through an amplifier to the record electronics.
Sensor Overload
When a solar panel receives too much light,
it overcharges its battery. The truck tries to
read this abnormally high value, only to
cook its tiny charge meter in the process.
When the truck gets to the bottom of the
row, it picks up a new charge meter, but
until then severe damage can occur. All the
readings it currently holds, as well as all
subsequent measurements, are wrong. They
all read maximum on the charge meter.
Something similar occurs when a given
area of a CCD receives too much light. The
vertical transfer register overloads, muddling all the charges for that row. This creates a bright, vertical smear in the image,
extending out above and below the
offending spot. You’ve probably seen this
before, especially when shooting a bright
spot of light against a dark background.
This type of image smear is unique to
CCD sensors. Metal oxide semiconductor
(MOS) sensors read each pixel directly,
doing away with the need for vertical
transfer registers and their associated
image smearing. Regardless, MOS sensors
have fallen out of favor with manufacturers, probably due to higher manufacturing
costs. New CCD designs address the bleed
problem, resulting in chips less prone to
Shutter Shenanigans
Though you’ve heard the term high-speed
shutter tossed about; there’s actually no
such component in the lens/sensor
assembly. This term comes from the sensor’s ability to mimic the effects of a film
camera’s fast shutter speed. In a film camera, opening the shutter’s blades for a very
short period of time exposes the film to a
brief snippet of light. Thus a film camera
can freeze even the fastest motion.
To understand how this works in a video
camera, let’s go back to the solar panel
scenario. In just minutes, it will be time to
measure the grid. But instead of letting the
Solar Panel Imaging
panels finish gathering a complete charge,
the trucks sweep through the grid to discharge all the batteries. When the trucks
return to collect measurements, the panels
have been charging for just a few minutes.
Output is lower, but management can still
get a picture of the grid’s status.
This is what happens with a camcorder’s
high-speed shutter. No mechanical blade
assembly snaps open and shut; instead, the
camcorder gives the pixels less time to
charge before whisking their signals off to
the recorder. If you select an extremely fast
shutter speed, say 1/10,000th of a second,
the pixels charge up as usual during the
first 99 percent of the record cycle. Then,
just 1/10,000 of a second before recording,
the sensor discharges the pixels. What’s
recorded on tape is a brief slice of time,
representing only the last tiny bit of the
record cycle. Since most subjects don’t
move very far in 1/10,000th of a second, a
high-speed shutter freezes the action.
Whereas a single frame of an airplane propeller made at 1/60th of a second might
show a blur, a single frame of the propeller
made at 1/10,000th could show it standing
still, each blade distinct.
Two matters to keep in mind when
shooting with a high-speed shutter:
1. Lighting. Since pixels have so little
time to charge, the intensity of the light
must be greater to produce a usable
image. The higher the shutter speed, the
brighter the light required. Shooting at
1/10,000th of a second requires strong
daylight. A more conservative setting of
1/2,000th of a second still requires sunlight or strong indoor lighting.
2. Depth of field. Because it needs
more light, high-speed shutter forces the
camcorder’s iris to open up. This in turn
reduces depth of field, a boon to creative
videographers whose camcorders lack
manual iris control.
If you want to soften the background
behind your subject, reduce your depth of
field by increasing shutter speed.
Some camcorders offer a slow-speed
shutter, which has the exact opposite properties of high-speed. Slow-speed shutter
delivers an image in less light, though
much more image smear results. If you’re
shooting a stationary subject in extremely
low light, slow-speed shutter may deliver
an improved image. At the very least, you
can use it as a unique special effect.
Here’s how it works: The trucks servicing our solar array still sweep through the
panels to gather readings; they simply
don’t discharge the batteries completely
before reading the charge. This allows the
panels to build up a greater charge, boosting the resulting values. Since the batteries retain some residual charge, each
reading includes some values from the
previous cycles. In the same way, a camcorder in low-speed shutter mode allows
the pixels’ charge to build up for longer
than just one record cycle. It effectively
“averages” the light, making fast-moving
subjects smear and bleed.
Shrinking CCD Panels
Let’s say that the owner of the field that
contains the solar array wishes to sell off
some of his land, leaving the panels with
about 40 percent less area. We can’t
reduce the number of panels, so there’s
only one solution—make them smaller. To
pack the same number of panels on our
now-shrunken plot of land, we must cut
them down to just over 7 inches per side.
We buy new, smaller trucks and a shorter
conveyor belt and fire up the new array.
The managers are not happy.
Seems the scaled-down array now puts
out about 40 percent less energy. These
are lean times, and a cut in output simply
won’t do. The high-paid managers hire a
few high-paid engineering consultants to
increase the panels’ sensitivity.
There you have it: the plight of the
shrinking CCD. Like a tiny solar panel, a
pixel’s output is a function of its surface
area. Shrink the pixel, and its sensitivity
suffers. When sensitivity falls, so does the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
camcorder’s low-light performance and
resistance to video noise. But manufacturers can’t ignore the benefits of smaller
sensors—they achieve the same depth of
field with smaller lenses. Smaller lenses
in turn make for smaller camcorders, and
smaller camcorders seem to sell better.
The solution: the microlens. Basically a
tiny, translucent bubble formed over each
pixel, the microlens gathers incident light
that would have otherwise missed the
pixel’s active sensing area. CCD makers
form microlenses into the CCD itself,
increasing the effective area of the pixel
without actually making it any larger.
Thanks to the microlens, 1/3-inch CCDs
are now a reality. This microlens technology is so effective, in fact, that a 1/3-inch
sensor with microlenses may outperform
the larger 1/2-inch designs—like realizing
even more output from our solar array after
placing a glass canopy over each panel.
Another way to offset the effect of
smaller pixels is through better amplification. Noise is an enemy to any kind of
electrical signal, and smaller signals are
the most prone to it. Amplifying a signal
just as it leaves the pixel reduces noise
and strengthens output. At the time of this
writing, manufacturers are experimenting
with a new type of CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensor
invented by NASA/JPL called the APS
CMOS (Active Pixel Sensor) that places
an amplifier at each photosite.
These technologies have led to sensors
a scant 1/4-inch across—a big step toward
the next generation of ultra-compact
Smaller or Better
The same technology that allows sensors to
shrink allows advances in the other direction as well. If pixels offer improved sensitivity at a smaller size, then CCD makers
can pack more pixels on the same size chip.
Once manufacturers increase the pixel
count of a given sensor, they face a tough
decision. They can use the additional
pixels for a higher resolution video image,
or they can employ them for special image
effects at the standard resolution.
Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) is a
good example of such an effect. An
increase in pixel count from 410,000 to
470,000 allows the camcorder to use just
the central 90 percent of the chip for
imaging without resolution loss. Move
this region in opposition to the camcorder’s movement, and you reduce shake
on handheld shots. Whereas previous EIS
schemes resulted in an inevitable loss of
resolution, this system shows no noticeable softness of the image.
Color Blind
Some of you may remember from your high
school science class that solar panels
respond only to the amount of light striking
them, not the color of the light. In the same
way, CCD pixels are colorblind. So how
does a camcorder record a color image?
Camcorders with a single CCD sensor
use a mosaic color filter placed over the
pixels. Imagine a huge stained-glass window lying over our solar panel array. This
window alternates panes of color—either
red, green and blue or their complements,
yellow, magenta and cyan. Each solar
panel sits directly under a colored pane,
and responds only to that color of light.
When the managers tally up the charges,
they make note of each panel’s color.
By tracking which pixels see which color,
a camcorder extracts both a luminance
(brightness and detail) and chrominance
(color) signal from a monochrome sensor.
Color filters are relatively easy to add to a
CCD, though they compromise both color
and brightness portions of the video signal.
Because there are a limited number of pixels responding to a given color, chrominance has only about one quarter the
resolution of the luminance signal. Placing
a colored filter over the pixels also reduces
their sensitivity and low-light performance.
There are better, albeit more expensive,
ways to coax color information out of
Solar Panel Imaging
monochrome sensors. The best system is
the one professional cameras have used
for years—three sensors, or chips, with
one sensor devoted to each of the three
primary colors. Just behind the lens, a
precision-made prism splits the incoming
light into its red, green and blue components. Some manufacturers use an array
of dichroic mirrors to sift the light; these
coated mirrors reflect only a certain color,
letting the rest pass.
Because there’s no color filter clouding
the sensors in three-chip designs, resolution does not drop. With a chip “specializing” in each primary color, hues are very
accurate and natural. The result: a better
picture than a single CCD can deliver.
Future CCDs
The trend toward smaller CCDs will most
likely die with current 1/4-inch designs.
Sensors of this size will work with incredibly small lenses, making the transport
and tape medium itself the biggest obstacles to further camcorder downsizing.
Manufacturers will undoubtedly continue in the other direction, toward larger
sensors with increased resolution. Chips
with pixel counts approaching one million
allow for special effects and electronic
stabilization without resolution loss. The
advent of HDTV and the growing popularity of today’s 16:9 formats will drive the
market toward ultra-high resolution sensors. HDTV cameras already have 2/3-inch
sensors with over two million pixels.
Advances in sensors drive other areas
of the video market as well. Camera resolutions are already much greater than
those of camcorder transports. As sensors
evolve far beyond the recording ability of
camcorders, consumers will push for new
video signal formats. Sensor evolution
shows no sign of slowing. As long as
there’s a sun in the sky sending light to
CCD pixels and solar panels alike, better
sensors will be here to capture it. The
future of sensors is bright indeed.
Filter Features:
Camcorder Filters and
How to Use Them
Michael Rabiger
Although widely available, filters aren’t
used much on camcorders—probably
because they are not fully appreciated.
Consider this: what other camcorder
accessory helps you to soften picture contrast, reduce depth of field, change color
intensity, shoot day-for-night, cut through
haze, create star or flare effects, control
reflections from glass or water, darken the
sky, compose vignettes—even create fog
where none exists?
Filters allow you to do all of this—and
at very little expense.
Filter Principles
Filters for videography operate on two
different principles. One type uses subtraction, permitting some colors of light to
pass through while absorbing others.
To determine what color a filter passes, hold it up to white light: its color
is the color of light it conducts. What
isn’t conducted is absorbed, along with a
certain amount of heat traveling with the
The second type of filter uses the principle of diffusion, allowing all light to
pass but intentionally modifying how
it emerges. The low contrast filter, for
example, takes bright illumination from
image highlights, dispersing it into shadow
areas without significantly changing image
Colored filters were in use even before
color film. In black-and-white photography a red or orange filter blocking blue
light darkens a blue sky, rendering a cloud
formation into a dramatic white sculpture
against an inky heaven. On sunny days,
when indirect or “fill” light contains blue
sky light, an orange or yellow filter can
darken shadow areas by discriminating
against their blue content.
If you are shooting video for eventual
black-and-white, or taping a nightmarish
color sequence, consider color filtering.
You can use a color monitor to test your
ideas before you shoot.
Filter Features
Kelvin Conversion
Most color film emulsions render colors
accurately under one of two main sources
of light. One emulsion balances to daylight, assumed to be 5,400 degrees on the
Kelvin scale; the second balances for studio lights at 3,200 degrees Kelvin.
Daylight color temperature fluctuates
depending on the time of day and location
on the globe. It rises to 10,000 degrees
Kelvin on a mountaintop, and plummets
to a ruddy 1,800 at sunrise or sunset. You
can check source-light color temperature
with a color temperature meter.
The Kelvin Scale involves the concept of
heating a black object. As its temperature
rises it emits the progression of colors—
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo,
and violet—that emerge from a prism
used to split white light into its component colors. You can memorize the “roygbiv” sequence by remembering that
colorful character Roy G. Biv.
Light also exists above and below the
visible spectrum. Infrared lies below the
threshold of visibility, while ultraviolet
shines above it. Unfortunately, both photo
emulsion and video image chips pick up
ultraviolet light, requiring a UV blocking
filter at all times.
In white balancing a camcorder, you
adjust its electronics to treat a particular
light source as if it were white. This
makes human flesh come out true to life.
Film emulsions don’t offer a white balance control, so an image shot under nonstandard light must be color corrected
to render colors truly. Professional video
cameras feature built-in color correction filters to maintain white balance under
different lighting conditions. Colors remain
consistent from location to location.
On consumer camcorders, filters can be
attached to the lens itself. The most common filter is #85 orange; it converts daylight, with its heavy blue content, to
match the high orange content of tungsten. Like most filters, the #85 is usually
lens-mounted, converting all light entering
the camera. It allows shooting in daylight
with a tungsten white setting.
The fluorescent conversion filter will
correct an image shot under fluorescent
light to, say, 3,200 degrees Kelvin. It’s of
limited use unless you know what type of
tube is in use. Even then, the gas discharge tube’s broken spectrum can make
for a sickly greenish cast. The videographer should white balance under fluorescent light, but is helpless if the space
contains an assortment of tubes.
Light Mixing
In both film and video, adding 3,200
degrees Kelvin movie lighting to an interior scene already lit by daylight means
trouble. You are shooting under mixed
color temperatures; they’ll probably
appear as strange orange-covered shadow
areas on a face otherwise nicely colorbalanced. Or you’ll display a normal foreground with a lurid blue world out the
When you need to boost light levels in a
daylit room, filter the window so incoming daylight matches the 3,200 degrees
Kelvin of the supplementary lighting.
Location film units generally tape large
sheets of #85 gel to the windows, usually
on the inside so air movement doesn’t
cause the gel to waver.
Another approach to color correction
uses blue #80A heatproof filters over
tungsten light to produce 5,400 degrees
Kelvin light matching incoming daylight.
This is less practical because of “filter factor” loss—too much precious light gets
lost in the filter itself. The #80A’s filter
factor is two stops, meaning only one
fourth of the light’s output gets through.
You need to open your camera’s iris two
additional stops to achieve the same
The #80A and #85 are just two of a
number of color conversion filters allowing savvy videographers to unify diverse
lighting sources.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Color, Contrast and Fog
If you want to shoot video with subtle and
consistent scene coloration, your best bet
is to balance the camera, then use a weak
blue or yellow lens filter. Remember to set
your white balance control to manual, or
the auto white circuitry will sabotage
your efforts.
Sunrise filters can enhance nature; a
blue filter can simulate nighttime shooting,
a process called day for night. Shoot either
late or early in the day when there’s sunlight and long shadows, and underexpose.
Remember to turn on the car headlights
and streetlights and put lights in windows. Or just shoot at night.
UV filters screen out ultraviolet tight,
invisible to the human eye but recorded
on video as haze. UV filters also serve as
good protection for the front of your lens.
It’s cheap and easy to replace a UV filter
compared to lens repair.
A neutral density (ND) filter, like gray
sunglasses, reduces all colors of light
equally. A filter with a factor of .3 reduces
light transmission by one stop; .6 reduces
transmission two stops. ND filters usefully cut a len’s light intake when the
scene is very bright or you want to force
the lens to work at a wider aperture to
produce a restricted depth of field. (See
Figure 8.1.)
Low contrast filters use very fine etchings on the glass to create light dispersal
within the filter itself. White light redistributed from highlights is scattered
throughout the image. This raises light
levels in shadows and lowers the overall
contrast between highlight and shadow, at
small cost to picture resolution.
The low contrast filter reduces the characteristic look of video—hard contrast
and saturated colors—and produces a
softer “film” look with de-saturated pastel
A diffusion filter softens the image, giving it a soft, dreamlike look to your scene.
Fog filters are strong diffusion filters.
They make the image look as though shot
through mist or fog. (See Figure 8.2.)
Figure 8.1 By reducing the amount of light
that reaches your lens, a neutral density filter
can change the depth of field in your shot.
However, when something moves
nearer the camera in genuine fog, the
image clears—not so when using a filter.
Nylon Glass
An inexpensive and extremely reliable
diffusion filter is a nylon stocking. Just be
sure to empty the leg out first. My father, a
makeup man often hard-pressed to generate glamour in superannuated actresses,
used to speak dryly of close-ups “shot
through a sock.”
Another easily produced filter is a sheet
of thin optical glass smeared with petroleum jelly. This produces a misty image
with flares around highlights known as
halations. You can limit the effect by
keeping the center clear and lightly treating the edges of the frame only.
A softnet filter—fine netting laminated
between clear glass—creates soft diffusion
Filter Features
Figure 8.3 A star filter puts stars into your
shot wherever there’s a point of light.
Graduated, Spot and Split
Figure 8.2 Diffusion filters can add a
“dreamy” look to your shot.
and lowered resolution without highlight
halations or lightened shadows. Softnets
come in black, red, and skintone for
enhanced effects. A white softnet acts
much like a low contrast filter.
Star filters, which are pronounced diffusion filters, produce the four or sixpoint highlight star effects so dear to glass
and jewelry advertisers. (See Figure 8.3.)
Star filters are ineffective in panning
shots unless you’re a fan of alarming
psychedelic effects. And you can’t rotate
the filter unless prepared not only for
stars, but rotating stars.
Graduated filters are half clear, with a soft
transition between. A graduated neutral
density filter lined up on the horizon can
cool a hot sky. The clear lower half leaves
the land unfiltered, so the filter functions
like a tinted-top car windshield. A graduated color filter used on a static shot can
make the sky a rich violet. Of course, you
can’t tilt the shot up or down without giving the game away.
Graduated filters can also operate vertically. You might line the filter so its dark
half reduces the light entering through a
doorway, creating consistent lighting
throughout the whole scene.
A center spot is a heavy diffusion filter
with a clear spot in the middle. This effect
is useful for nostalgia shots or drawing
attention to the spy in the cafe.
Split field filters are those lenses that
divide the field of view into two separate
focal lengths, like bifocal glasses. This
enables deep focus shots by dividing and
thus extending the effective depth of
field. You can use the fields horizontally
or vertically by rotating the lens. Disguise
the telltale dividing lines with a horizon,
doorjamb or other eye-distracting compositional factor.
The polarizing filter (Figure 8.4) is
another axis-sensitive filter particularly
useful for landscape shots. It can reduce
the light-polarized glare thrown off by
water, plastic and glass surfaces—but not
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 8.4 A polarizing filter allows you to
control bright reflections.
metal. It consists of a light-polarizing material that rotates until its polarity opposes
the incoming reflection.
The polarizing filter can also effectively
darken a blue sky by tuning out much of
the blue light refracted from skylight
moisture droplets. It works best when the
lens-to-subject axis is about ninety degrees
to the sun.
in position. This allows rotation of axisdetermined filters like stars.
The dedicated do-it-yourself type can of
course improvise something. Tiffen makes
square filters that fit the Cokin “P Series”
filter holder, but this range of pro filters
can cost the proverbial arm and a leg.
A holder can also grab custom vignette
slides, such as keyhole or binocular
shapes for what-the-butler-saw movies,
and gunsight or periscope masks for those
with warfare in mind.
In most stores, only circular screw-in
filters are available to videographers, and
must be ordered for a specific lens diameter. Changing is slow and fiddly. If you
acquire a wide-angle lens adapter, you’ll
require a whole new set of larger filters.
You’ll handle your filters quite a lot,
so consider durability. Gelatin is optically
the best material—thin and inexpensive—
but it scratches and buckles easily, ruined
by a single fingerprint.
Be aware that if you sandwich filters
together, you tend to produce rainbow
refraction circles called Newton’s Rings.
Manufacturers make the most common
combinations. Gel laminated inside glass
is durable and easy to clean, but can be
susceptible to moisture. Dyed-in-the-mass
glass filters vary in consistency and are
expensive; semi-rigid thermosetting resin
is a light and scratch-resistant material
and optically as good as glass.
In Conclusion
Mounting Filters
We arrive now at a major problem in consumer video—the mounting of filters.
Professional cameras use a matte box,
an adjustable filter holder with an
extendible lens hood bellows. The device
holds square or round filters securely in
front of the lens. No matter what lens you
use or how much it rotates or extends, the
standard filter adjusts and remains solidly
Filters are an easy and inexpensive way to
improve your camcorder footage. As such,
they’re the perfect upgrade for camcorder
owners who want to improve their work
without emptying their bank account.
One final note of caution: filters come
in a variety of price ranges; don’t assume
that a cheaper one is necessarily a bargain. As with most videography gear, you
generally get what you pay for. Caveat
Dissecting a Video Editing
Joe McCleskey
Ever wonder what exactly makes a video
editing computer work? Ever want to
know what separates the ordinary, gameplaying, document-creating PC from the
kind that can easily pump out hour-long,
professional-looking home videos? No
matter if you already own a video editing
computer or plan to buy one—it still pays
to know exactly what makes this special
breed of machine tick. We’ll discuss PCs
here, since they are much more dissectible than Macs, but the concepts are
the same.
In this article, we’ll take apart a typical
video-editing computer piece by piece,
much the same way you might have
taken apart a hapless frog in junior high
science class. Why? To help you troubleshoot problems, increase performance,
and make more informed purchasing
So without further introduction, let’s
put on our rubber gloves, grab our scalpels,
and get busy (see page 44).
Editing software is the interface between
your ideas and a finished product.
Software used in video editing covers a
wide range of different types and capabilities, including nonlinear editing, photo
and graphics manipulation, audio editing
and special effects creation, to name just a
few. Once you’ve got the basic system
together, the software provides the means
to make your video dreams a reality. It’s
what you’ll spend the most time learning
to operate—and the most time blaming
when things don’t work properly—so
don’t skimp here; be sure to find the software that works best for your needs.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
The CPU (central processing unit) is the heart of any computer. A computer can really do only two things: 1) perform
calculations and 2) move or copy information. The CPU
does these things; in essence, it is the computer itself on a
single chip. A video editing computer needs the fastest CPU
available for rendering. Some use two or more CPUs; video
editing machines greatly benefit from an added CPU to share
the task of rendering video files, even if the software doesn’t
explicitly support multiple CPUs.
The motherboard holds the CPU, connecting it to the other parts of the
machine. The part of the motherboard that ships info back and forth
between the components is called the bus. Video editing machines
require motherboards with fast bus speeds in order to handle the
immense flow of information that takes place while editing. Faster bus
speeds result in faster rendering times. Also located on the motherboard
are places to connect peripheral devices—hard drives, video capture
cards, FireWire cards and memory. In video editing machines, the motherboard should have a number of open PCI slots for peripheral devices;
lots of room to expand RAM; connections for high-speed hard drives; and
a bus speed of at least 100 MHz.
RAM (random access memory) is a computer’s temporary storage place for
information. It’s the place where the software stores and moves pieces of
information for processing. A video-editing computer typically has lots of
high-speed RAM available—at least 256 MB for starters, but often more
than a gigabyte. Both speed and quantity of RAM will have an effect on the
rendering speed of your computer: The more, and the faster, the better.
Video Capture/Fire Wire Card
To edit video on a computer, you need some way to get the
video from the camera or VCR onto the hard drive. This is
the role of the video capture card (or, more commonly, the
FireWire or IEEE 1394 card). A digitizer card can take an
ordinary analog video signal and digitize it (change it to a
series of ones and zeroes). A FireWire card allows transfer of
digital video from a digital camcorder or VCR to the hard
drive. Video capture cards vary widely in price and performance, but the only real concern with a FireWire card is
whether or not it works and continues working—the resulting video will look exactly the same as it did when you shot
it, regardless of the quality of the FireWire card. Some capture cards have special hardware that improves rendering
speed and performance during editing.
Hard Drives
The hard drive of a computer is the place where information gets stored
in the long term. (Contrast this with RAM, which stores information only
until you turn off the computer). When you capture a clip, it writes onto
the hard drive. Note that editing computers should have two hard drives—one for the operating system and software, and another solely for
video and audio capture and storage. The separate video/audio drive
should be the largest, fastest drive you can afford, should spin at 7,200
RPM and should minimally support a true sustained data transfer rate of
at least 5 MB per second in order to handle the rigors of video editing.
And always remember: the amount of storage space on the video capture
drive directly relates to the length of video clips you can work on at any
one time. You can never have too much space and good drives can be
found for as little as $1 per gigabyte.
Editing Appliances:
Cracking the Case
Charles Bloodworth
Editing Appliance. Its name evokes images
of refrigerators, dish washers, microwaves
and toasters. Turn it on, stick in some
video, set the timer and wait for a finished
project. Well, almost. While they are relatively easy to use, these boxes are anything
but simple. Inside they are more like highpowered computers than kitchen gadgets.
What exactly is an editing appliance? If
you’re a regular reader, you’ll probably
recognize names like Casablanca and Avio
from Draco Systems and Screenplay and
Sequel from Applied Magic. With the
entry-level prices for these devices now
below the $1,500, editing appliances have
become extremely attractive to first-time
editors and budget minded pros. Many
people are still confused about just what
appliances are and how they do what they
do. In this article, you’ll get to know the
anatomy of an editing appliance as we
perform an appliance dissection.
Pull the lid off any editing appliance
and you’ll find some pretty ordinary computer parts, a hard drive and some specialized software. Like computers that can
process video, editing appliances have
CPUs, memory, capture/compression
hardware, one or more large, fast, hard
drives and editing software. They also
have connectors for input and output
devices. Some have “slots” for smart
media cards, some have CD-ROM drives
and others rely on floppy disk drives to
allow software updates and effects plugins. Let’s take a look at each of the major
pieces one at a time and see how they
work together to make an editing appliance tick (see Figure 10.1).
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is
the heart of any computer system. Many
of the editing appliances use processors
that may seem rather slow compared to
the state-of-the-art CPU technology in
your home computer. Not to worry though
the CPUs that come in editing appliances
are more than sufficient for the task at
hand. Remember, unlike a PC or Mac,
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 10.1. Inside the Box: (1) Cooling Fan—Keeps the CPU cool; (2) CPU—The brains
that make the box work; (3) RAM—Short term storage of operating system programs;
(4) A/V Inputs/Outputs—Ports for getting video in and out of the editor; (5) Main Board—
The “central nervous system” connecting all the components; (6) Power Supply—
Harnesses juice to power the box; (7) Chasis—The frame in which it all resides;
(8) Hard Drive—Stores digital video for random access editing.
which must do everything for everyone
(including running Windows, creating
spreadsheets, word processing, playing
games, balancing checkbooks and accessing the Internet), an editing appliance
only has to do one job: edit video. Editing
appliance manufacturers strike a balance
between the CPU’s cost and performance.
And while the CPU speed can factor in
on the rendering times of transitions or
special effects, many editing appliances
now provide real-time or near-real-time
rendering that works independently from
the CPU.
Memory comes in many forms and is just
what its name implies. An editing appliance
stores its programs, data and video in various types of memory, including both
volatile and non-volatile memory.
Volatile, like its name suggests, is not stable. You lose its content when you turn off
your computer. Random access memory
(RAM) would be one example of volatile
memory. Non-volatile memory usually
resides on a disk or hard drive and you
retain its content even when you power
down your computer. The storage capacity of a computer’s hard drive would be
an example of non-volatile memory.
A PC running Windows, for example,
requires tens of megabytes of RAM to
function smoothly, but an editing appliance needs only a few megabytes of memory. Some use as little as four megabytes
of RAM. But, as we’ve already seen with
the CPU, what might be inadequate for a
Editing Appliances
PC may be more than enough for an editing appliance.
Hard Drive
Unlike most general-purpose computers,
appliances use hard drives primarily to
store the compressed digital video. With a
PC, the hard drive quickly fills with applications and data that have little or nothing to do with your video editing tasks.
Windows and the Mac OS both consume
huge amounts of disk space. Video editing
and special effects software also eat up
large amounts of storage space. Most editing appliances conserve valuable space by
storing their operating system and editing
software in one form or another of ROM
(Read Only Memory) and by only storing
data related to the user’s preferences and
projects on the hard drive. This not only
allows the system to maximize the performance from the drives, but it also allows
the operating system and application software to be available almost instantly
when you turn on the appliance. One
notable exception to this is the original
Casablanca, which holds its operating
system on the removable hard drive.
Capture and Compression
Capture and compression hardware is
essential for any form of digital video processing. Capturing video in a digital format
is the first step to working with it in the
digital domain. All current consumer editing appliances require compression hardware because of the huge amount of space
that video storage requires. Uncompressed
video can take from anywhere between 2to-100 times the storage space that compressed video would. Codecs (compressor/
decompressors) solve this storage limitation. There are a variety of different Codecs
that work in different ways. But all of them
essentially squeeze the incoming digital
video data into a more compact form so the
hard drives can keep up.
All of the appliances on the market accept
analog audio and video inputs. RCA and
S-video video connections are standard
issue. If you use a Mini DV or Digital8
camcorder, you can get an optional IEEE
1394 DV input on a Avio, Casablanca, or
Sequel or Screenplay, to allow you to
transfer the digital video from your camcorder to the appliance in its native DV
form. Although they Sequel and Avio also
offer optional DV inputs, but they do not
store and manipulate the video in the DV
format. Instead they “transcode” the data
into their own native format. This allows
more storage space for high resolution DV
video, but compromises image quality
slightly. That’s not to say that the images
look bad by any means. Many viewers
won’t be able to detect a difference. Those
who examine each frame closely may see
a digital artifact or two.
Draco’s Avio uses MPEG-2 compression
while Applied Magic’s Sequel uses
Wavelet compression technology. The
details of the two compression methods
are beyond the scope of this article. It’s
the high quality video and manageable
data rates that concern us here. You won’t
get the same quality of transfers you get
with a higher-end system like Draco’s
Screenplay, but the images created by the
Avio and Sequel will look provided they
are shot well.
Editing Software
Each appliance comes with its own editing program that is made and installed by
the manufacturer (see Figure 10.2).
Proprietary software sets appliances apart
from PCs. While computers can run a
wide variety of software applications,
editing appliances run only the editing
program installed at the factory. You won’t
be installing Adobe Premiere or Apple’s
Final Cut Pro on one of these babies. As
such, the interface and its ease-of-use are
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 10.3 Disc Us— Applied Magic’s
Sequel has a CD-Rom drive for installing
software upgrades.
Figure 10.2 The proprietary editing interfaces
are designed to be user friendly like Applied
Magic’s Sequel (above) and Draco’s Avio
key factors for anyone considering an
editing appliance.
What is the advantage? Because the
appliance’s operating system runs only a
single program, it yields a system that can
render effects and transitions in real
or near-real time, using much less expensive hardware than a PC that has similar
Other Inputs
An appliance isn’t a sealed black box,
however. While each model has its own
method, they all offer some procedure for
upgrading the on-board software and
adding additional effects and transitions.
Methods vary from CD-ROM drives to
floppy drives to SmartMedia slots (see
Figure 10.3). As appliances gain popularity, the number of available add-ons and
plug-ins will likely increase. The software
upgrade process could hardly be easier.
With the Avio, for example, you simply
plug in the SmartMedia card before you
turn the unit on, and when you apply
power the updates are implemented automatically. It’s hard to imagine anything
much easier than this.
Last Look
And so, you have had a peek inside the
typical editing appliance. While its parts
are similar to those inside a high-tech
computer, you cannot think of editing
appliances as computers in the sense that
you have become accustomed. Essentially,
an editing appliance is a computer with a
single purpose: editing video. And while
it performs just one function, it does its
job extremely well.
6 Ways to Optimize Your
Computer for Video Editing
Joe McCleskey
Computers that are capable of editing
video are quite common in today’s marketplace, so much so that one entire computer
platform—the Apple Macintosh—has made
video editing a prominent feature on all of
its computers. Affordable desktop video
has become almost as common as the
word processor or spreadsheet.
Even so, there are a number of tweaks
you can perform on today’s off-the-shelf
video-editing computer that can greatly
enhance the performance of your
machine, resulting in fewer crashes, faster
rendering and smoother video playback.
Though developed over the years by
experts in the computer editing field out
of necessity, these system tweaks are very
easy for novice video editors to perform
using today’s operating systems.
In this article, we’ll look at a number of
simple things you can do to your computer to change it from a typical workaday desktop computer into a lean, mean
video editing machine. We’ll cover simple, no-cost performance tweaks as well
as some more high-end, cost-intensive
solutions for creating a high-performance
video editing machine that professionals
would be proud to own.
Dedicate Your System to Video
Dedicating your computer to video-only
is probably the most important piece of
advice we can offer, because a computer
system dedicated to video editing will
have far fewer problems and conflicts. It’s
also the most difficult to achieve, because
not everyone has the money to invest in a
separate computer system just for editing
video. If you must use the computer for
other tasks, or if it’s a shared computer,
you should set yourself up as the computer’s administrator, if you can, and
enforce healthy rules and permissions on
other users—or even on yourself, if need
be. The goal is to keep the computer from
acquiring all of the random junk it tends
to acquire when people aren’t paying
attention to keeping it error-free. It is possible to run a healthy computer for both
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
video editing and other purposes, but it
requires more forethought and care.
after. To get the added performance that
video editing machines love, go all the
way and purchase a hardware RAID.
Install a Video Capture Drive
Buy more RAM
The hard drive that came with your computer may be able to store 80 GB or more.
Even so, your system will be much happier if you invest in a hard drive that’s
dedicated to video storage. A separate
video drive affords the luxury of regular
formatting, defragging, and all-around
housecleaning between projects, which
will greatly improve performance by providing a clean slate to work on each time.
Also, keeping your system files and software installations separate from your
video capture drive will help keep your
software and operating system running
smoothly. And finally, can you ever really
have too much storage space?
If you can afford it, consider getting a
RAID for your video editing computer.
They’re not cheap, to be sure, but they can
solve problems of massive storage size and
performance all at once. Caution: though
many newer operating systems offer a
simple way to create a software RAID, this
solution is not what video editors are
Unless your system has the maximum
amount of RAM you can put into it—and
if it’s a newer system, that’s a lot of
RAM—consider purchasing more. Video
editing can potentially make use of about
as much RAM as you can install, and both
system performance and system reliability are enhanced when you install more.
It’s one of the least expensive ways to
upgrade your system and see very real
results in terms of performance. Today’s
video editing computers often have 1 GB
or more, but 256 MB is often sufficient.
Perform Regular System
System maintenance is a simple way to
keep your system running smoothly. Start
by defragmenting your dedicated video hard
drive between projects (see Figure 11.1).
Watch for critical software and driver
Figure 11.1 Defrag—Monthly defragmenting of your media
hard disks is an easy way to maximize performance.
6 Ways to Optimize Your Computer for Video Editing
patches and updates online. You might
even consider completely re-installing the
operating system once a year or so. In
both the Windows and the Mac world, it’s
a good idea to make use of a drive maintenance utility, such as Tech Tools or Drive
10. These offer simple diagnostic and
maintenance utilities that can tell you if a
drive has a problem, as well as help you fix
problems with performance or reliability.
Disable Unnecessary Programs
Capture drives provide better performance if you enable Write Caching (see
Figure 11.2). This can provide a smoother
flow of information from the video capture device (FireWire or digitizer card) to
the hard drive. In Windows, you can often
locate the drive’s Device Properties in the
Control Panel’s Device Manager and
enable Write Caching. Unfortunately, this
is not universally true or even a possibility
on all drives or systems.
Whether you have a Mac or a Windows
machine, your computer automatically
runs a number of programs when it starts
up, and keeps those programs running in
the background. As you install more and
more software on your computer, there’s a
likelihood that you’ll have more of those
little programs running in the background.
Each one takes up a little bit of system
resources and compromises performance
(see Figure 11.3). Virus checkers are a good
example. They do provide a much-needed
service, but if you can keep your computer
off a network and off the Internet, and keep
from installing any questionable software,
you may not need a virus checker on your
video-editing computer. Other programs
that run in the background that are often
overlooked include instant messaging applications and file sharing software. Bottom
line: keep only those programs running
that are necessary for keeping your operating system running smoothly and disable
all others.
Figure 11.2 Write Caching—Write Caching
provides a smooth, uninterrupted flow of
information from the video capture device
(FireWire or capture card) to the hard drive.
Figure 11.3 Task Manager—Keep only those
programs running that are necessary for
keeping your operating systems running
smoothly and disable all others.
Enable Write Cache on
Your Capture Drive
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Determine Your Needs
If you primarily edit home videos, you’ll
probably only want to worry about optimizing system performance on an as-needed
basis. In other words, if it isn’t broken, you
probably don’t need to fix it. If, on the other
hand, you intend to pursue videography as
a business, you’ll undoubtedly want to keep
your machinery in excellent working order,
optimized and maximized in performance
in every way that your budget will allow.
This will not only save you heartache and
frustration, it’ll save you time and money
and could make the difference between
success and failure.
Sidebar 1
Making the Most out of Mac OS X
Does OS X really offer the stability and power of Unix with a friendly Mac interface? Many
video editors applaud the OS X solution, especially now that Apple ships all of its Macintosh
desktop computers with dual processors (that’s “faster render times” in English). Even so,
there are a few things every OS X user should know in order to get things running as
smoothly as possible.
● Don’t set up your system to dual-boot with OS 9.X. This is probably the hardest pill to swallow, because not every piece of hardware and software has caught up with OS X. We are confident, however, that all of the major players will soon be on board. Consider building a new,
sleek system from the ground up, software and all, and make it 100 per cent OS X compliant.
● Turn off animations. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Dock animation, which
makes program icons appear larger as you move the mouse pointer over the Dock. Turn this
and other animations off using the System Preferences application.
● Select programs that address dual processors. Apple’s Final Cut Pro software will make
use of both processors in a new desktop Macintosh, but not all software will. Check to make
sure yours does before you make a purchase. This will make the extra money you pay for a
dual-processor Mac worth the investment.
Sidebar 2
Making the Most out of Windows XP
It’s a great new look and feel for Windows, but is it right for video editors? The answer is “it
depends.” XP is a major improvement over Windows 98 (or 95), but you are probably OK if
you are running 2000. If you keep the following pointers in mind, you’ll have much better
success at creating a finely-tuned computer for video:
● Upgrade all of your drivers to the XP-compatible version. This includes drivers for your
motherboard, peripherals, monitors, video display adapters and video capture cards. Many
manufacturers have now released XP-specific drivers, but if you have hardware from a company that hasn’t done so, consider taking the opportunity to upgrade that piece of hardware.
● Give your video editing software priority. XP allows you to give certain software applications priority for processor and memory usage. Doing this for your video editing programs
may speed up rendering time and minimize crashes.
● Turn off visual effects. XP makes use of enhanced animation effects for such mundane
operations as opening and closing a window. Turning these off will make more system
resources available for video editing and playback.
Sound Track:
Microphone Types
Robert G. Nulph
Has the selection of microphones offered
by your favorite electronics store ever
overwhelmed you? Have you stared in
awe at the vast array of silver or black, big
or small, expensive or cheap microphones
available to you? Have you wondered
about HiZ versus LowZ, dynamic versus
condenser, cardioid versus omni-directional
or shotguns and lavaliers versus handheld
and boundary mikes? Throughout this column, we will take a look at impedance,
the two major ways microphones work,
microphone pickup patterns and microphone styles. So sit back, relax and proceed through this quick look into the
sometimes confusing world of microphone choice.
HiZ and LowZ
Before you choose the style of microphone you’d like to use, you have to know
what impedance of microphone is compatible with your camcorder. Your system
might require a HiZ microphone input.
Impedance is the resistance to the flow of
electrical current in a circuit or element.
We measure impedance in ohms, a unit of
resistance to current flow. The lower the
impedance, the better the microphone or
recording device.
Most older consumer camcorders have
a high impedance (HiZ) microphone jack
meant to be used with high impedance
microphones. These microphones range
in impedance from 600–1400 ohms. HiZ
microphones are very sensitive and
require very little amplification, which is
why less sophisticated consumer equipment is designed for them. They are, however, susceptible to hum and electronic
noise and can be used only with a very
short microphone cable.
Low impedance microphones, with an
impedance level of 100–600 ohms, have
become the norm in video production.
Even much of today’s consumer equipment now has low impedance inputs
to allow you to use professional microphones. Using these professional microphones with low impedance gives you two
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
advantages: (1) They are not as affected by
electronic hums and noises that can be
caused by fluorescent lighting or electric
motors and (2) you can use long cables without worrying about outside interference.
If you buy a microphone and plug its
cable into your camcorder and nothing
happens, it may be due to an impedance
mismatch. If your camcorder requires a
HiZ microphone and all you have are professional mikes, don’t despair. You can
purchase an inexpensive LowZ to HiZ
transformer. Plug your microphone cable
into the transformer and the transformer
into your camcorder. You should now be
able to use any professional microphone
with your system. Now that we’ve gotten
impedance choice out of the way, we can
move on to the other mike variables.
Inner Workings
Most microphones fall within one of
the two major families: dynamic or capacitor (condenser) microphones. The dynamic
microphone has a fixed magnet, a diaphragm that moves when sound hits it,
and a coil attached to the diaphragm. When
the diaphragm moves, the coil moves, making changes in the magnetic field. These
changes generate voltage through the
microphone cable to the recorder, amplifier or speakers (see Figure 12.1).
Figure 12.1 Dynamic Mike—In a dynamic
mike, a vibrating diaphram moves a magnet
and coil past one another to create an
electrical signal.
The dynamic microphone has a number
of attributes that you need to take into
account when deciding on the type of
microphone you need. This type of microphone is extremely durable. Dynamic
mikes can tolerate wide temperature
ranges and humidity as well as take a
great deal of abuse. I have seen them
dropped, banged around, used in the dead
of winter, in the high heat of a tropical
rain forest and even (believe it or not)
used as a hammer (not recommended), all
without affecting the mike’s ability to
record high quality audio. Dynamic mikes
are also fairly inexpensive. Good quality
dynamic microphones like the Shure
SM58 costs around $200. Lower quality
dynamics run as low as $77. Even the
extremely good dynamics rarely cost
more than $350.
Another attribute of the dynamic mike
is its ability to provide a warm, rounded
sound for vocals and yet take the abuse of
recording high impact sounds such as
drums and screaming voices. Many lead
singers in rock bands use the hand held
dynamic because of its ruggedness and its
ability to pick up a wide range of sounds
from screams to whispers. However, the
dynamic microphone has a less accurate
sound reproduction than the condenser.
A final advantage of the dynamic is that
it requires no outside power. Plug it into
your recorder or sound system and go. No
batteries or power supplies needed. In
video work, the dynamic microphone is
ideal for on-camera interviews, recording
very loud sound sources and crawling
around the toughest terrain.
The capacitor or condenser microphone
uses variations in voltage within a capacitor. The capacitor, which is capable of
holding an electrical charge, is made up
of two parallel plates, one fixed and one
moving, separated by a small space. When
sound waves hit the movable plate, it
vibrates and causes a change in the
amount of voltage held by the capacitor.
This change in voltage is sent down the
wires to be recorded or amplified through
speakers (see Figure 12.2).
Sound Track: Microphone Types
Figure 12.2 Condenser Mike—A condenser
mike uses changes in capacitance in the
element to turn soundwaves into an electrical
The condenser microphone has a number of attributes that are important for the
videographer to consider. The condenser
mike is not so rugged as the dynamic,
and the more expensive models are downright delicate. They range in price from
around $100 for a basic condenser to
well over $5,000 for a high-end studio
mike. Although the condenser is usually
more expensive, its frequency response
and true sound rendering make it ideal
for the videographer seeking the best
You will have to consider one other
attribute when purchasing a condenser
microphone: its need for an additional
power source. A battery, or AC power
source can provide this additional “phantom” power. If you have a mixing board
with phantom power built into the inputs,
it will supply power to any mike you plug
in. You can purchase a condenser microphone and begin using it right away.
However, if you plan to plug a phantompowered microphone into your camcorder, you’ll need to purchase a phantom
power unit to supply juice for your mike.
Fortunately, most microphones that you
would use for field production have a battery space built-in. You just have to
remember the batteries.
Figure 12.3 Pick it Up—Microphones come
with various pick-up patterns. You need to
know how to use the one you have.
Pickup Patterns
Whether you choose either a dynamic or
condenser microphone, you must also
decide the best pickup pattern for your
production. There are four primary
pickup patterns to choose from: omnidirectional, cardioid (or unidirectional),
hypercardioid (or shotgun) and bidirectional (see Figure 12.3).
The omnidirectional microphone picks
up sound in every directionfront, back and
sides (see Figure 12.3a). This microphone is
good if the sound source comes from a wide
variety of directions and is moving from
one side to another in front of the mike.
The cardioid or unidirectional microphone picks up sound primarily in a heart
shape from the front of the microphone,
including a little from the sides, but does
not pick up from the back (see Figure
12.3b). This pickup pattern is excellent
for voice mikes and miking musical
The hypercardioid microphone picks
up only sound from the front and is very
directional (see Figure 12.3c). You must
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
point it at the sound source to get a good
pickup. This type of pick-up pattern is
excellent for isolating sound sources like
bird calls, individual actors talking in a
drama, or isolating one voice in a sea of
The bidirectional microphone picks up
sound from two distinct sides of the mike
(Figure 12.3d). You would use a mike
with this pickup pattern primarily to
record two voices talking into the same
microphone. You can also use it as part of
the MS Stereo Miking Pattern discussed
in last month’s Sound Track column.
You can find all of these pickup patterns
in a variety of microphone styles. Some of
the more expensive microphones even
have switches that enable you to choose
multiple patterns from a single mike.
Styles of Microphones
After you make the choice between
dynamic and condenser, and select an
appropriate pickup pattern, you have to
choose what style of microphone to use.
This choice is entirely dependent on the
type of production you are doing and
whether or not you want to see the mike
on screen. The major types of microphone
styles are: handheld, shotgun, lavalier or
lapel mike, boundary or PZM (Pressure
Zone Microphone) mike and parabolic
The handheld microphone is just that,
a microphone that you hold in your hand.
This mike is usually flat black or metallic
and generally has either an omnidirectional or cardioid pickup pattern. It
is ideal for direct addresses to the camera
by your talent. It looks good and the talent
can handle it quite easily. It is the mike of
choice for TV news reporters, singers,
politicians and talk-show hosts.
The shotgun microphone is a long
slender mike that usually has a hypercardioid or even a supercardioid (extremely
focused) pickup pattern. You would primarily use this microphone in field production, mounted on a suspension mount
at the end of a long fishpole. The boom
operator that manipulates the fishpole
keeps the microphone out of the frame
about 18" from the talents mouth so that
they can pick up a consistent voice level.
You can use this mike to record sound
effects and other sound sources because it
picks up sound only from the direction it
is pointing, cutting most of the sound
from its sides and back.
The lavalier or lapel microphone is a
very small microphone that the talent can
wear on his or her lapel or some place
near his or her mouth. You can hide these
microphones in costumes or weave them
into an actor’s hair. If you ever get bored
during a live play or musical, try to find
the mikes on the main actors. Costume
designers and makeup artists are very
ingenious in finding places to hide the
mikes and power packs. Lavaliere microphones usually have an omni-directional
or cardioid pickup pattern and closely
mike a single talent. You can also use the
omni-directional lavalier to mike various
acting areas by hiding them in plants, furniture and other set pieces. Just be careful
that the talent doesn’t touch or bang into
their hiding place. You will definitely
hear it.
The boundary microphone is a fairly
new style of mike that has really made a
name for itself lately. This mike is
mounted on a flat surface and usually has
an omni-directional pickup pattern.
These are great for miking conferences
where you have a flat table with people
sitting all around. You can use them
extensively as stage mikes (not placed
directly on the stage where footfalls
would create heavy interference) to
enhance theatre sound levels; or use them
to record a group of people in a closed
environment like a class or seminar.
The parabolic microphone is for longdistance audio pickup. This extremely
directional microphone looks like a small
handheld satellite dish which reflects all
of the sound to a center-mounted microphone. This mike is primarily used to
record the sound at sporting events or to
Sound Track: Microphone Types
Figure 12.4 Mike Types—Different mikes work better in different shooting situations,
you may need more than one in your kit.
pick up the sounds of wild animals. Both
this microphone and the shotgun microphone are ideal for picking up middle
to high frequency ranges but are not suitable for high quality, total range sound
Microphone Accessories
As with all equipment, once you find the
microphone you want to use, you have to
accessorize. A friend of mine who runs a
recording studio is constantly explaining
the need for the strange looking ring with
what looks like panty hose stretched over
it. This is an extremely important microphone accessory called a windscreen or
more precisely, a pop filter. He places the
mesh surface in front of the microphone
so that the talents’ breath does not pop the
microphone when they say words with
hard “P”s and “B”s (see Figure 12.5).
Windscreens come in a variety of
shapes and surfaces. If you ever see a
microphone with a gray or other colored
foam ball covering its end, you are seeing
one type of windscreen. Another popular
windscreen used with shotgun microphones is a zeppelin or blimp (these
names coming from their resemblance
to the early 1900s aircraft). These windscreens completely enclose the microphone and are attached directly to the
fishpole or mike stand. If you see someone using a big hairy microphone
outdoors, he is using a blimp with a windjammer cover. This cover is extremely
effective when you are shooting in windy
Shock mounts or suspension mounts, are
another extremely valuable microphone
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
microphone. Soft elastic materials like
rubber or nylon suspend the mike so that
the sounds created by your hands rubbing
the fishpole or something hitting the mike
stand are not heard. It is extremely important that you use a suspension mount
when using a shotgun on a fishpole.
Mike Check
Figure 12.5 Things That Go Pop–A pop filter
reduces the intensity of popping Ps and Bs in
accessory. Suspension mounts prevent
sounds traveling through the mike stand
or fishpole from being picked up by the
When buying microphones and accessories, the kind of equipment you buy
will depend on the type of production
you do. Look at your needs and compare
them with the instruments described
above. There is a microphone designed
for every type of production. It is up to
you to decide what your production
requirements are and the microphone that
will best fit your audio needs.
Putting Radio to Work:
The Low-Down on
Wireless Mikes
Larry Lemm
There are a few different types of wireless
microphone system setups. They all require
three separate parts to make them all work
as one: a microphone, a radio transmitter
and a radio receiver (see Figure 13.1).
Some wireless systems have hand-held
microphones with built-in transmitters.
Others use lavalier microphones with
small transmitter packs strapped to a person’s belt. These are very popular and
provide a discrete method of miking a
subject. It is important to note that a moderately priced wireless microphone often
won’t have the same frequency response
range as a moderately priced wired microphone. Some of the frequency range is
Modulated signal
via airwaves
to recorder
The Basics
sacrificed in the transmission from transmitter to receiver. This signal loss may
not be noticed when miking a person
speaking, however, because the human
Cable signal
A wireless microphone system can be a
videographer’s best friend or worst
enemy. Learn a how wireless microphone
systems work and you’ll be able to choose
and use the best system for your needs, so
you can get the best audio possible.
Figure 13.1 The transmitter modulates the
signal coming from the microphone onto a
radio frequency carrier wave and transmits it
through the air. The receiver demodulates this
signal back into a form your camcorder can
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
voice falls in the middle of the frequency
Wireless microphone systems operate
in two different radio frequency ranges.
These acronyms, also used in TV, will
probably seem familiar. The FCC licenses
wireless mikes to operate between 150
to 216 MHz in the VHF (Very High
Frequency) spectrum. It also licenses
operation between 400 and 470 MHz and
again between 900 and 950 MHz in
the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) spectrum. Much lower frequency, and usually
much cheaper, mikes, operate between
41 and 49 MHz where they are subject
to interference from all kinds of other
VHF wireless microphone systems are
generally less expensive than UHF systems. Much like VHF TV stations, VHF
wireless mikes have less range and power
than their UHF counterparts.
Your Own Tiny Radio Station
Using a wireless microphone system
presents some potential dangers. On a
densely-populated shoot, where several
other videographers are using wireless
mikes, you may encounter interference
with another mike operating on the same
radio frequency. With more and more radio
devices in use, it’s more and more likely
for that to happen. Most wireless systems,
however, offer a few different channels to
work with, so hopefully you’ll notice that
type of interference before you roll tape.
The next type of interference, multipath
interference, is an inherent flaw of using
radio frequencies (especially indoors),
and often requires wireless microphone
manufacturers to double-up on the electronics in a system (see Figure 13.2).
Multipath interference occurs after a
transmitter sends out a radio signal. Some
of the signal goes directly to the receiver,
but other parts of it bounce around and
sometimes hit the receiving antenna with
just enough delay to cancel out the signal
or cause interference. Multipath interference is the reason developers had to come
up with diversity and true-diversity wireless systems.
A wireless microphone system’s transmitter pack is essentially a tiny radio station.
The mike attaches to a tiny transmitter,
which has a tiny antenna and a tiny
power supply (in the form of a battery).
This usually means tiny signal strength
too, which is why your signal won’t
stretch across town like a high-powered
radio signal. Instead of calculating your
range in miles, the range of the tiny radio
station within your wireless mike is measured in feet. And it’s usually less than a
few hundred feet for VHF and less than
1,000 feet for UHF.
On the other end of this cozy little
microphone system is the receiver. It
works much like a car radio, except it
only tunes into the channels that your
transmitter uses. For most videographers,
wireless systems that use small batterypowered receivers are often favored over
larger table-top systems that cannot attach
to a camcorder.
Breaking Up is Easy to Do
Figure 13.2 Multipath interference results
from the transmitter’s signal bouncing off
objects in the environment. When a signal and
its delayed reflection enter the receiver, they
may be recorded at a reduced quality- or may
result in no signal getting recorded at all.
Putting Radio to Work
Truly Diverse
On the Level
What’s diversity to a wireless microphone? Well, there are two answers, and
both are aimed at eliminating the effects
of multipath interference.
A true diversity system has two antennas,
each leading to a separate receiver. A kind
of switcher monitors these two for signal
strength and makes sure the strongest of the
two is sent out to the recorder on a momentby-moment basis (see Figure 13.3). A good
diversity system does this quickly and
seamlessly, introducing no static or switching noise into the signal.
On the other hand, we have “ersatz”
diversity mikes. From the outside these
look like the true variety, as their
receivers also have two antennas. The difference, however, lies within. If you
cracked one open, instead of finding two
receivers and a switcher, you’d find that
both antenna wires lead to the same
receiver (see Figure 13.4). The single
receiver receives the signals from both
antennas all the time. This type of system
is not as effective as the true diversity
type at eliminating the effects of multipath interference.
The last thing you should understand
about a wireless microphone system is the
receiver’s output. There are three types of
outputs: mike level, consumer line level
and professional line level.
Small, portable systems that attach onto
your camcorder and plug into its microphone jack use mike-level outputs. The
output of consumer line-level units, however, measures 10 dB and the output of
professional line-level receivers measures
4 dB. Be sure to add the correct attenuation and adaptation to either of the latter
before trying to plug the output into your
camcorder’s mike jack.
Consider a wireless system that has
mike-level inputs that you can strap
onto your camcorder and go to town.
You may consider a more expensive
wireless microphone system, designed
with musicians in mind. But you may
also need a soundboard to use one of
these to best results. No matter what
type of video you make, understanding
how wireless mikes work will help you
be a better shopper and a better video
Figure 13.3 A true diversity receiver contains
two antennas, two receivers and a switcher.
Figure 13.4 An “ersatz” diversity system has
two antennas, but only a single receiver.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Wireless Audio Advice
Here are several tips for getting the best sound from any wireless microphone system:
● Keep it close. Keep the distance between transmitter and receiver as short as possible.
Every wireless system has its limits. The shorter the transmission, the stronger the signal.
● Don’t stray too far. The goal of a wireless microphone is usually to unhook your talent
from cables. You may be able to accomplish this with an extremely short distance between
microphone and receiver. Try putting the receiver near the talent, just out of the camera’s
view, and run a longer cable to the camcorder (wherever it may be).
● Reposition the receiver. If you just can’t get a clean signal, especially indoors, try moving
the receiver. RF signals bounce around in strange ways, and a movement of just three or four
feet could make a huge difference.
● Reorient antennas. Sometimes, simply cocking an antenna can reduce dropouts (that’s why
antennas are usually hinged). Try laying the receiver’s antenna horizontal instead of vertical,
try a 45-degree angle or try spinning the receiver itself 90 degrees.
● Watch those batteries. Wireless systems eat batteries quickly, and can get rather flaky as
the battery voltage drops. If all else fails, try new batteries.
● Try a different environment. If all else fails, you may need to try a completely different
shooting location. Some locations are not friendly to wireless systems, while the room down
the hall may pose no problems. As a rule, wireless microphones fare better outdoors than in.
Blending a Sweet Sound:
Audio Mixers
Jim Stinson
You’ve got your camcorder; you’ve got
your VCR. What you might want next is
an audio mixer. That’s because a good
soundtrack is crucial to quality video, and
an audio mixer gives you greater control
over the soundtrack. The trick is to get the
right one.
In this chapter, we’ll review what a
mixer does and how to choose the best
mixer for your particular needs. You’ll
learn how to find the unit that delivers
the features you want at a price you can
Audio Mixer Basics
Though a big professional unit comes with
more intimidating knobs, sliders, buttons
and displays than the cockpit of a 747,
audio mixers are really straightforward
critters that perform two basic tasks:
1. They balance the volume of sound
elements—camera sound, music and
narration—coming in from several
different sources and blend them into a
single audio program.
2. They process sound elements by
adjusting their volume, timbre and
perceived location.
Why bother to balance and process sound?
First, because effective sound editing contributes powerfully to any video program.
(Hollywood’s known that for over 60
years; that’s why they give Oscars for
sound.) Audio mixing improves sound
clarity by balancing elements so that the
important sounds dominate the track. The
process can intensify the drama of your
images with realistic effects, and enhance
the mood of your images with music.
Another reason for building creative
audio is that the process itself is so satisfying. Enhance your video with a sophisticated audio track, and you’ll fall in love
with the creative challenge that is audio
editing. In short, audio editing is fun.
Audio mixers come in a wide variety
of flavors and prices. You can work with
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
two mono channels or with 48 stereo
channels—or more. You can pick up a
simple box for 50 bucks or shell out the
price of a Mercedes for a unit as big as a
pool table—or spend any amount in
between. You can twiddle a couple of
simple knobs or play arpeggios on an
instrument with more bells and whistles
than the collected works of Spike Jones.
But mixers with eight channels or fewer
are most likely to meet the needs (and the
budgets) of prosumer videographers.
Mixers fall into four different classes:
production, DJ, studio and audio/video.
Each class includes a number of units
with a range of features and prices.
On-Site Production
Production mixers are different from the
rest in one crucial way: they’re designed
to mix sound elements during the actual
videotaping rather than during postproduction. In other words, they record
mixed sound on the original camera tape,
not the edited assembly tape. (All professional video crews use production mixers—
usually run by the person who wields the
mike boom.)
You can use all production mixers
during the editing phase; just remember
that many of them offer fewer features
than those units made expressly for postproduction use.
Disco Meets Video
A number of vendors offer audio mixers
designed primarily for the disc jockeys
hosting most contemporary parties, banquets and balls.
These hard-working artists have special
needs. A disc jockey wants to:
Fade from one music source to another
one in real time, using a cross-fader
Prepare the next piece of music privately by listening to it through headphones patched to the cue channel.
Detonate soothing and tasteful sound
effects like machine guns and sirens,
either with built-in digital effects or
with a pre-programmed sampler.
Dip the levels of music and machine
guns together while performing voiceover announcements via the mixer’s
talk-over feature.
What’s any of this got to do with video
post-production? Lots, when you think
about it. Like running a disco, video
sound editing is often a real-time operation. Since you must record your final
composite audio in a single pass, you are
often juggling several sound sources at
once. You may want to mix from one
sound source to another, so a cross-fader
control would simplify the task. You may
need to locate the next sound effect
or piece of music while recording, so
a cue channel would let you audition
a source without recording it. You may
want to lay down perfectly synchronized
sound effects, so a sampler that stores
effects and puts them at your fingertips
would sure help.
And if you’re adding narration, it
would be great to have a talk-over function that would consistently dip both
music and ambient sound to a preset level
whenever you began speaking.
With all that said, however, a DJ audio
mixer can work beautifully in video
production—if you already have one. But
if you’re buying a new, full-featured
mixer, a studio unit might be preferable.
In the Studio Audio
In general, studio mixers tend to offer
more versatility in input/output functions
and signal processing.
Those mixers tend to cost more than the
others discussed in this chapter do, but as
with most audio equipment, you get what
you pay for.
The most basic advantage of these mixers is simply better sound. They are
designed for audio alone, so they offer the
Blending a Sweet Sound
most in audio quality. The manufacturers
of these units tend to be more careful
about such considerations as audio noise
and shielding.
They also offer more in the way of
versatility—stereo line inputs, mike and
phono inputs, analog or digital VU meters,
equalizers, cueing channels, cross-faders,
and so on.
Still, you may prefer to trade some
advanced features for convenience and
lower cost. Maybe you should check out
an audio/video mixer.
Audio/Video Processing
Audio/video mixers combine video and
audio processing functions in one piece of
hardware. In the video department, they
mix A and B rolls and often supply special effects ranging from simple color
wipes to elaborate digital processing. If
you can live with their usually limited
audio processing abilities, A/V mixers
offer two big benefits:
They put both audio and video functions under your fingertips in the same
place and using the same style controls.
Some compare in price to stand-alone
audio mixers with similar features.
For example, some A/V mixers include
two audio inputs for line and mike signals. That means you can mix original
camera sound with music and narration—
which is as much as many videographers
need to do.
Some even offer video fades and
wipes—something you can’t expect from
any audio mixer, no matter how expensive.
And if you want to go upscale a bit, you
can get fancier audio/video features, such
as stereo inputs and cross-fade controls
between A and B rolls.
Here are two simple ideas for getting
around these limitations.
FIRST TRICK: Premix unsynchronized
tracks. Audio tracks fall into three types:
1. Those you must perfectly synchronize,
such as original camera sound with
2. those that should be closely but not
perfectly synchronized, such as narration and music and
3. those that are unsynchronized, such as
atmospheric background tracks including surf, traffic and restaurant chatter.
If you have four tracks—camera, narration, music and background—but only
three audio inputs, you can premix all but
the camera audio to make an audio subassembly tape, and then make a final mix
of this tape and the camera.
This is a practical solution, because the
generation-to-generation quality loss in
audio signals proves much less obvious
than in video.
SECOND TRICK: Daisy chain processors. If your mixer does not have a built-in
equalizer or limiter, and it also lacks a
send/return capability, simply patch your
signal processor between the source and
the mixer.
For example, background traffic noise
can often ruin your on-camera interviews.
To reduce that noise without affecting your
narration or music channels, connect your
video source’s Audio Out to a graphic
equalizer and then patch the equalizer’s
Line Out to your mixer’s Source In.
Or, if you want to equalize the entire
audio program, connect the graphic equalizer between the mixer and the assembly
record deck.
Decision Time
Two Sound Tricks
Many audio mixers have few channels
and even fewer sound processing features.
As you can see, choosing the right audio
mixer for you means deciding what you
want to do with it, how you want to do it
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
and what you want to pay. To help make
those decisions, here are some general
If you have not yet performed much
sound mixing, start with a simple, inexpensive unit. Then, if you enjoy the
process of audio editing and feel the
results are worth your effort, you can
move up to more versatile equipment.
If you are an experienced sound editor
and know your current and future audio
needs, get the best and most versatile
mixer that will meet those needs and
still suit your budget. One more time:
high-quality sound is well worth the
And whichever route you take, remember that sound is not a post-production
chore but one of the most creative aspects
of video production.
Give it the care and imagination it
deserves. You won’t be sorry.
Tape Truths:
All Exciting Overview of
the Making of Videotape
Loren Alldrin
Ask any videographer about the craft of
video, and you’ll likely get an earful. Try it
sometime—grab any videographer and ask
about the topic of your choice. Be it lighting
scenes with glowbugs, shooting from atop a
moving train or even audio production with
8-track cartridges, chances are you’ll find
you have an expert on your hands.
Then, slyly, slip in a question about
videotape. Don’t make it too hard. Start
with something simple like, “What is the
difference between grades of videotape?”
or “How is videotape made?” You’ll probably get a different response altogether.
You’ll probably get silence.
Surprisingly few videographers know
what separates one brand or grade of tape
from another. This is largely the fault
of tape manufacturers, who’ve introduced
a slew of confusing buzzwords and
acronyms in an attempt to create some
distinction for themselves within the market. The result is that videotape, the very
medium of our visual expression, has for
many years been the victim of numerous
half-truths and marketing ploys.
Fortunately, the essential nature of that
thin black ribbon is not hard to comprehend. The more videographers know
about the materials and manufacturing of
videotape, the better informed their buying decisions will be.
Advances and Variations
On a basic level, all magnetic tape is the
same. Whether audio, video or computer
data tape, there’s still that thin layer of
magnetic particles covering a flexible
mylar backing. By passing this thin ribbon
over an electromagnet, information is
stored and retrieved.
A tape’s magnetic particles number billions per square inch and function like
tiny bar magnets. Though each particle is
physically anchored in the tape’s coating,
its magnetic polarity is free to change and
swivel when a magnetic force is applied.
Before recording, the particles are
oriented randomly. During recording, the
video heads arrange the particles into
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
patterns dictated by the changing voltage
of the video signal. These patterns are then
picked up by a playback head; amplified
and processed to become the video image.
Improvements in videotape over the
years have been dramatic, keeping pace
with advances in hardware. Today’s tape
offers frequency response and noise levels
that match or exceed the decks and camcorders they enter.
This doesn’t mean further advances in
tape manufacturing are impossible. On the
contrary. The closer tape manufacturers
come to the perfect tape, the closer we get
to realizing the full potential of video gear.
There are many variations in the tape
manufacturing process, because there
are many different manufacturers. Each
puts a personal twist on methods and
materials, hoping to achieve an edge in
the market. Considerable research and
development is invested in tape manufacturing, with special attention directed
toward high performance—and high
priced—formulations. Capturing the dollar of the uncompromising video purist is
quite the competitive industry.
Secret Formulas
While videotape may appear simple, it’s
actually the culmination of years of audio
and video research.
From the early days of magnetic audio
recording on thin metal wire to the first
rust-covered tape with paper backing, magnetic recording technology has steadily
advanced. Today’s manufacturing techniques benefit from the latest research in
physics, chemistry and electronics, yet the
basic methods resemble those of yesteryear.
The actual magnetic medium in videotape starts out suspended in a liquid
known as a binder. Where binders were
once simple glue holding the magnetic particles in suspension, today they’ve become
a complex molten brew of adhesives, lubricants, cleaners, solvents, dispersion agents
and static-controlling compounds. Each
manufacturer has its own blend of binder
ingredients, and jealously guards the
details of its exclusive mixture.
To this hi-tech soup are added the
actual magnetic particles. Mixed in liquid
form in large sealed vats, the binder and
magnetic particles are computer-monitored
for temperature, humidity, pressure and
time. When conditions are perfect, the
binder is applied to the tape’s base film,
bonded by chemical action. The tape is
then passed through large ovens where the
binder is dried and hardened, the magnetic
particles suspended and dispersed evenly
on the surface of the tape.
Initially, the magnetic particles are oriented randomly in the binder, scattered
through the liquid like pigment in paint.
Yet the physical alignment of the particles
is crucial to efficient magnetic recording.
To orient the particles in the same direction, the tape is passed through strong
magnetic fields as the binder hardens.
The more uniform the dispersion and orientation of the particles, the better the
tape performance. Early techniques used
a single magnetic field; today manufacturers achieve improved uniformity by passing the tape through two or more fields.
A smooth finish on both surfaces of the
tape is crucial. This is accomplished by
compressing the tape through large, polished rollers under extreme pressure.
Called “calendaring,” this deceptively
simple process affects the noise level, friction and overall stability of the tape.
At this point the tape is still in large
rolls, each many feet wide and weighing
thousands of pounds. Before being loaded
into cassettes, it must be slit to the desired
width and wound onto large “pancake
rolls.” These are then placed in automatic
tape loaders, which add a small section of
leader and wind the desired amount of
tape into the cassette. Pancakes are also
sold to cassette duplicators, who load the
precise length needed into shells before
A high degree of precision and cleanliness is necessary throughout the entire
manufacturing process. The tape must be
slit within microns of the desired width to
Tape Truths
insure smooth operation in VCR or camcorder. It must be properly loaded into a
well-designed cassette, or jamming and
breakage will occur. Specks of dust or
backing material picked up at this stage
will manifest as dropouts or clogged
video heads.
Making the Grade
The star of every tape is the tiny magnetic
particle, solely responsible for picking up
and carrying the video signal. Particle
size, composition, density and distribution play a large part in determining a
tape’s performance, and these are the
areas where tape manufacturers concentrate most of their efforts.
Early videotapes used magnetic particles that were relatively large. They were
easier to formulate, disperse in the binder
and distribute evenly along the tape. But
the size and relatively sparse distribution
delivered limited frequency response and
high noise levels.
In the old days, ferric oxide was the
most common magnetic material used;
cobalt was added to the particles to stabilize and improve their magnetic properties. Chromium dioxide—chrome—was
employed by some manufacturers.
Early research was devoted to reducing
size and increasing particle density.
Particle size decreased steadily, but manufacturers soon discovered smaller particles were more difficult to disperse
evenly in the binder. New binder formulations and application techniques were
then developed in response, causing
videotape performance to improve dramatically. Longer, elliptical particles were created for even greater magnetic densities.
Today’s formulations benefit from
smaller, needle-shaped magnetic particles
that can be packed incredibly tight on the
surface of the tape. New production technologies allow particle orientation to be
controlled with a high degree of precision.
Greater magnetic density is one of the
major differences between the different
grades of videotape. High-grade tapes use
smaller particles in a greater concentration than normal-grade cassettes. This
results in improved S/N ratios, better frequency response and a greater amount of
magnetic retention. High-grade tapes cost
more, as they require more expensive
materials and stricter manufacturing
methods. Extremely high-grade cassettes
are usually manufactured in much smaller
quantity, a factor contributing to their cost.
The difference in performance between
normal and high-grade tapes is often dramatic, with the latter delivering greater
detail, truer colors and less noise. Some
high-grade tapes, when recorded in the
slower EP speed, will outperform normal
tapes recorded in SP. Multiple generations
hold up better on high-grade tapes: thirdgeneration high-grade tapes may look better than first-generation normal-grade.
Super-VHS formulations take high-grade
even higher, using even smaller and more
densely packed particles. More magnetic
energy can be stored at a higher frequency,
as required by the format. Manufacturing
tolerances are even more stringent than for
high-grade cassettes, with quantities considerably lower. S-VHS tapes command
the highest price of any half-inch format;
they also deliver the best performance.
Some videotapes are labeled “hi-fi,”
promising increased audio performance.
In reality, most manufacturers feel the relatively few hi-fi tapes purchased don’t justify producing a special hi-fi formulation.
Instead, manufacturers may use a different
sort of selection process for determining
tapes with optimum noise and dropout
figures. Other manufacturers simply adorn
a high-grade tape with the “hi-fi” logo to
increase sales. According to tape manufacturer Scotch 3M, virtually all high-grade
tapes deliver excellent hi-fi performance.
Heavy Metal
In the ’90s, a slightly different particle formulation appeared under the aegis of VHS
tape manufacturers JVC and Maxell. Called
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
magnetite, this cobalt-doped material offers
a 20 percent increase in magnetic potential
over standard cobalt ferric oxide. Magnetite
was first researched over a hundred years
ago, but found to be too unstable for magnetic recording. JVC and Maxell have
succeeded in encasing volatile magnetite
in a sheath of stabilizing material, and
have begun using it in all grades of VHS
Metal particle tape (MP), common in
consumer-level 8mm formats, uses normal
manufacturing methods with magnetic
particles of a different composition. Based
on an iron molecule, MP formulations
deliver dramatically higher performance
than standard cobalt ferric oxide tapes.
This allows high quality pictures to be
recorded on tape with significantly less
surface area than half-inch formats. While
MP formulations could conceivably be
used in VHS and S-VHS formats, the magnetic powders involved cost quite a bit
more than cobalt ferric oxide. Whether the
resulting difference in quality would justify the cost to consumers is questionable.
Many professional formats, including digital video systems, use MP formulations.
A more recent advance in videotape
technology, metal evaporated tape (ME),
uses a different manufacturing method to
deposit magnetic particles. Instead of
being carried in a binder and painted onto
the tape, ME magnetic particles are vaporized from a solid and deposited onto base
film. Inside a vacuum chamber, an electron beam heats metal to thousands of
degrees. Inside the chamber the metal
vaporizes, adhering in an extremely fine
layer to the specially prepared base film.
A protective coating is then applied to the
magnetic layer. The result is a smooth,
thin, densely-packed film of pure magnetic particles.
Due to the extreme purity of the magnetic layer, ME tapes deliver performance
many times that of standard VHS formulations. No binder is used, allowing the
individual particles to mesh with a density approaching solid metal. While early
ME tapes were known to suffer from
dropout problems, newer methods have
reportedly reduced dropouts to levels
comparable to other formats. ME tapes
therefore represent the pinnacle of consumer tape manufacturing, and it is the
technology used by the various DV formats.
Advances in tape manufacturing have
affected all grades of tape, with today’s
least expensive name-brand VHS tapes
offering much higher performance than
normal-grade tapes of the past. Ultrahighgrade tapes available today deliver video
quality unobtainable even a few years ago
(see Figure 15.1).
Frequency Response
As with most forms of manufacturing,
making videotape involves tradeoffs and
compromises. Advances in one area create
challenges in another. But tape manufacturers continue to believe videographers
will choose whoever promises a better
One area of tape performance caught in
compromise is frequency response—the
range of frequencies a tape is capable of
capturing and reproducing at the same
signal level. Wide frequency response
guarantees the tape will accurately reproduce the entire spectrum of video information. This characteristic relies in large
part on the size of the magnetic particles,
with smaller particles generating better
luminance detail through extended highfrequency response.
Unfortunately, such small particles
don’t do as well with the lower frequency
color information. The result is a crisp,
detailed image with compromised color
Using larger particles extends low frequency response and delivers better color
reproduction, but high-frequency detail
suffers. One solution involves using two
different magnetic layers, the lower using
larger particles for optimum low-frequency response, the upper incorporating
smaller particles for optimum luminance
detail. This method, used in Fuji’s Double
Tape Truths
0 µm
0.2 µm
5 µm
8mm 120 MP 8mm 120 ME
10 µm
15 µm
20 µm
Magnetic Layer
Backing Layer
Figure 15.1 Videotape thickness.
Coating videotape line, is said to offer
broad frequency response and reduced
noise levels.
An ultra-smooth magnetic surface provides better signal-to-noise ratio by
improving the contact between video
heads and magnetic media. At the same
time, a smoother surface also increases
friction between tape and head/transport
assembly. The solution lies in integrating
advanced lubricants into the binder to
reduce friction, insuring the heads enjoy
an easy trip over the tape’s surface.
A completely different challenge arises
at the back of the tape. Here, friction is
actually an ally to smooth, consistent
movement of the tape through the transport. Coating the backing with layers of
carbon increases friction and makes it more
uniform, insuring the transport drive surfaces get a good bite on the tape. The carbon also serves to control static buildup, an
enemy of any kind of recording.
Tape Strength
Binder composition presents tradeoffs as
well. It needs to be solid enough to hold
the magnetic particles in proper alignment but flexible enough to not impede
tape travel or shed oxide. Early binders
were deficient in preventing magnetic
particles from flaking off in the transport,
which reduced the life of the tape as well
as the hardware. Modern binders are considerably more durable and flexible, some
nearly eliminating oxide shedding completely. A number of manufacturers use a
multi-layer binder, with a slightly different composition on each layer. This
allows a more rigid binder to be used on
one level, with a more flexible composition above or below it.
One of the most obvious tradeoffs in
videotape manufacturing is the relationship between tape thickness and durability. Longer record/playback time is a
significant purchase point for many videographers; manufacturers have scrambled
to be accommodating by fitting more tape
into cassettes. The convenience, however,
comes at a price.
A videotape’s tensile strength is determined by the thickness and composition
of the base film. Longer tapes require a
thinner backing, which can compromise
tape resistance to breaking and stretching.
Temperature extremes, poorly designed or
maintained tape transports, even frequent
play/rewind cycles can put significant
mechanical stress on a videotape. Even
though some manufacturers claim to have
developed stronger, thinner backing layers, shorter tapes still have a better chance
of surviving such rigors.
In addition to snapping or stretching
the tape, mechanical stresses can also
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
cause small sections of magnetic material
to shed off the backing. Visible as fleeting
white lines knifing through the video
image, dropouts spell disaster—or at
least frustration—for the video producer.
An otherwise perfect shot can be rendered useless by just one poorly-timed
Selection Confusion
The actual performance difference between
brands of tape within the same grade may
be hard to measure and even harder to see.
All tape manufacturers face the same tradeoffs and compromises, and all have experienced advances and setbacks at roughly the
same pace. Unless scrutinized in a side-byside comparison, with all other variables
eliminated, it’s hard to determine one
tape’s superiority over another.
Other factors add to the confusion.
There is no industry-wide standard for
judging tape performance; instead, each
manufacturer measures videotape against
its own “reference” tape. Most manufacturers use a high-grade tape, but each reference is a little bit different.
The bottom line is this: when comparing tapes between manufacturers, the
numbers mean very little.
Comparing different grades of videotape requires hardware up to the task. If
you expect to see a dramatic difference
between normal and extra-high-grade
tape on your $189 VCR and twenty-yearold TV set, you’re dreaming. The hardware is simply not capable of tapping the
increased potential of the higher-grade
tape. Perform the same comparison on a
high-end VCR and monitor and the differences will become obvious.
Sometimes, differences between batches
from the same manufacturer are greater
than those between brands. Computerassisted quality control has helped
eliminate inconsistencies between manufacturing runs, but there’s still some variation. Batches of binder and magnetic
material may differ slightly; the large
sheets of base film may possess slight surface deviations. Fortunately finding yourself the victim of a “bad batch” is
becoming a rare phenomenon.
The key to avoiding substandard videotape is to find a brand that offers consistent
results and stick with it. Many videographers swear by a given brand of tape,
touting its merits with almost religious
fervor. The more you understand about the
materials and techniques that go into tape
manufacturing, the less you’ll feel at the
mercy of chance when selecting videotape
stock. For every pound of advertising jargon, it’s the ounce of fact that should guide
your decision-making.
If a manufacturer comes out with a
promising new development, don’t be
afraid to give it a try. Remember that most
manufacturers offer a free replacement
policy if you’re not completely satisfied
with the videotape. Don’t be afraid to
return a tape riddled with dropouts, offering poor video performance or emitting
questionable noises.
Lastly, use your new knowledge of
videotape to turn a critical eye to manufacturer claims. Analyze cassette boxes,
brochures and advertisements with an eye
to gleaning fact from fiction. Beware of
“breakthroughs” that are nothing more
than marketing hype. Yet be ready for
legitimate advances that could have a real
impact on the quality of your video productions. They do happen.
Resolution Lines
Bill Rood
With video equipment manufacturers
increasingly engaged in spec wars over
lines of resolution it seems appropriate to
investigate those figures, what they mean
and why they’re so often misleading.
Knowing how to measure resolution will
help you make a smart purchase the next
time you look for a camcorder, VCR or
Much of the confusion centers around
the use of the term “lines.” Lines of horizontal resolution should not be confused
with scan lines. In America, the National
Television Standards Committee (or NTSC)
television system mandates that the television picture will consist of 525 vertical
scan lines, each scanning from left to right
on the screen. This fact does not change, no
matter how sophisticated the video gear.
So when a manufacturer boasts that a
device features “400 lines of resolution,”
the reference is not to vertical resolution,
or the number of scan lines. What’s under
discussion is horizontal resolution, or,
more specifically, horizontal luminance
resolution. The chroma resolution in the
NTSC system is as little as one tenth that
of the luminance, depending on the particular hue. So for our purposes, I’ll discuss only luminance resolution.
When a Line Is Not a Line
While the number of scan lines is fixed
and can be counted, the number of “lines”
in the term “lines of horizontal resolution” is in fact strictly a unit of measurement. There are no actual lines you can
count, except with a special test chart (see
Figure 16.1). You can put your face right
up to the picture tube and see the scan
lines, but you can’t see lines of resolution.
We should actually refer to horizontal
luminance resolution as “video frequency
response.” It’s expressed in megahertz
(MHz), usually with a tolerance, just as with
audio equipment. Unfortunately, consumer
video equipment manufacturers apparently
believe this too complicated for the average
consumer to understand, so they use the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 16.1 Horizontal resolution test chart.
Credit: Thomas Fjallstam.
Measurements stated in lines also sound
more impressive than those expressed in
megahertz. Three hundred lines sounds better than three-and-a-half megahertz.
So how does this frequency response
differ from vertical resolution? You can
measure video frequency response by
examining just one of the 525 scan lines,
provided you are displaying a test signal
of vertical bars. The frequency response of
the entire picture should be the same on
every line.
As an example, let’s examine one scan
line of a black-and-white picture. As the
scan line traces from left to right, we’d see
that the brightness of the line at any given
point is a function of the picture content
at that point. If the picture consists of a
white picket fence against a dark background, the line would start off dim, then
brighten as it reproduced one of the pickets. It would go dark as it passed between
pickets, then brighten again when it hit
the next one. And so on. This sequence
would continue until the end of the line.
What happens if we make the pickets
on the fence closer together? The line still
must switch between light and dark, but
faster. In effect, we’ve upped the frequency
of the input signal we’re trying to reproduce. At some point, a given piece of gear
cannot make the changes fast enough; thus,
we arrive at the limits of its resolution. As
the pickets got closer, they would begin to
appear less bright. Finally, you would no
longer distinguish a picket from its neighbor. The black and white pattern will melt
into a neutral gray.
Specs Game
So how do we measure video frequency
response, or obtain horizontal resolution
For equipment handling video signals
in a purely electronic form, use a test signal known as “multiburst”. This signal
contains a series of bursts, nothing more
than white/black/white transitions. Tiny
picket fences, if you will, each higher in
frequency than the one previous. When
viewed on an oscilloscope, each burst
should offer the same amplitude.
Resolution Lines
Figure 16.2 Resolution and frequency response test charts.
Credit: Earl Talken.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
If the signal drops off as the frequency
rises, you know you’re seeing highfrequency response roll-off. The frequency
of each burst is fairly standard; usually
0.5 MHz, 1 MHz, 2 MHz, 3 MHz, 3.58 MHz
and 4.2 MHz. The beauty of this method is
its extreme precision, with no sloppy
For devices which pick up or display
images, like cameras and monitors, virtually the only way to determine horizontal
resolution is to display a special resolution chart (see Figure 16.2). This chart features little wedges: a series of converging
black lines on a white background. As
the lines come closer together, you
again begin to encounter a point where
the change from black to white to
black occurs so quickly the lines become
Along the outer edge of the wedge at
regular intervals are line numbers, reading 200, 250, 300, 350, 400 and so on.
This is where “lines of resolution” comes
from. As you might guess, it’s a rather
inexact method at best; the scale is quite
coarse, and open to interpretation as to
where exactly the lines blur together. It
also doesn’t take into account the fact that
while black/white/black transitions may
be visible, they may appear at a substantially reduced level, indicating highfrequency roll-off.
Unfortunately, this method is used to
spec virtually every piece of consumer
video gear, be it camera, VCR, disc player or
whatever. This means you should take any
stated resolution spec with a grain of salt
the size of Nebraska. There’s much room for
error, interpretation and fudging.
Lines to Megahertz
Approximately 80 TV lines equals 1 MHz of
video bandwidth. So a piece of equipment
rated at 300 lines would feature a video frequency response of roughly 3.75 MHz. This
is all well and good, except the 300 lines figure most likely came from observing the
wedge pattern, and may be less than accurate. Also, it’s impossible to tell by this
method if the response is flat at 3.75 MHz,
or even if there’s any response at all.
With an off-air broadcast, video frequency response cannot rise above
4.2 MHz. Using the above formula, we
could then say that TV broadcasts feature
336 lines of resolution. The reason for the
limit? The design of the television transmission system from way back when. It
places the audio carrier at 4.5 MHz; picture
information must vanish by that point.
Most TV broadcasts originate from digital video, stored either on hard drives
or from digital videotape, such as D-1.
These machines also master virtually
everything seen on pre-recorded home
video, from VHS, to DVDs. These digital
masters are a “full” 480 lines of resolution, or 6 MHz of “flat” video frequency
response. Unfortunately, the best resolution figure you can hope to see from broadcast is 360 lines—80 “lines” 4.5 MHz.
Until all manufacturers come clean and
start stating horizontal resolution in terms
of megahertz, and within a certain tolerance, we’ll never have a reasonable standard with which to compare products.
Until then, read the specs if you will,
but don’t make judgments based upon
them alone.
An Inside Look at
Cables and Connectors
Joe McCleskey
Visit any place where video editors work
and you’ll likely find more than your
share of cables: S-video cables, audio
cables, power cables, composite cables,
headphone cables, microphone cables
and cables for cable TV reception, among
others. And if the cables aren’t confusing
enough for you, there’s a whole host of
connectors to go with them, with names
like BNC, DIN, RCA, phone, phono, XLR
and stereo mini-plug.
In this chapter, we’re going to take an
in-depth look at some of the cables commonly used for video. We’ll take a look
inside the four main cable types that
home video producers deal with: composite (RCA-style) cables, S-video cables, RF
cables and DV (IEEE 1394) cables.
Composite Cables
Composite cables are perhaps the most
commonly encountered cable type in
consumer video. They often come in the
box with home VCRs and camcorders.
Sometimes, they come in groups of three
attached cables—one with yellow RCAstyle connectors for video and two with
red and white connectors for stereo audio.
Also included in this category are those
cables that have yellow, red and white
plugs on one end and a mini-plug connector on the other end. This type of cable
often comes packaged with miniature
camcorders that make use of the single
connector on the camera body. (See
Figure 17.1.)
Often, video gear (especially professional video gear) will have BNC (bayonet
nut coupling) connectors for composite
video. The chief advantage of the BNC
connector is its ability to lock in place
with a push and a twist; this prevents
connections from wiggling loose, a common problem with the typical RCA-style
On the video side, these cables carry
composite signals, so called because the
signal is a composite (or mixture) of all
black-and-white and color information
contained in the video signal. They
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
To send both chrominance and luminance information together on the same
cable, the two signals must be mixed
together in a process known as modulation. The modulation of the signals—and
subsequent de-modulation at the other
end—is what makes the composite video
signal highly susceptible to generation
loss (the tendency of a signal to degrade
whenever you make copies of it). The
only type of video cables that are more
susceptible to generation loss are the RF
cables used for cable television and
antenna hook-up.
RF Cables
Figure 17.1 Composite cable and composite
usually consist of two wires running parallel to one another down the cable; one
wire (power) corresponding to the tip of
the connector and the other wire (ground)
corresponding to the outside ring portion
of the connector.
Why aren’t these cables just called
video cables? Because they actually carry
two separate signals that are composited
into one. Inside your camcorder and/or
VCR, the black and white (luminance)
information is dealt with separately from
the color (chrominance) information.
Back when television technology was
black and white only, the only type of
video signal a television had to cope with
was a black and white signal. When color
came along later, it was dealt with as
another layer of information on top of the
black and white signal, in order to make
color TV signals compatible with existing
black and white televisions.
RF cables gave cable television its name.
The ubiquitous RF cable can be found
mostly on television sets and VCRs, as
well as a few old-school camcorders. RF
stands for radio frequency. The name
is appropriate because this is the cable
most commonly used to transfer radiofrequency signals from an antenna to the
VCR or TV set—or even from the cable TV
station to your house.
RF cables are generally made of coaxial
cable, a cable that carries two metal leads,
one inside the other. The two wires do not
carry two different signals; instead, they
carry the power and ground for a single
signal, with the ground (outside) cable
providing limited shielding from radio
interference. (See Figure 17.2.)
The RF cable (sometimes referred to as
an F cable) provides the best means of
long-distance signal transfer. This is why
it’s most commonly used to connect cable
TV stations to clients; with a heavily
shielded cable and amplifiers in far-away
neighborhoods, it’s possible to send an RF
signal miles and miles without serious
degradation. However, it is the worst solution for making copies or editing. Here’s
why: remember how we told you that
composite video signals mix the color
and black-and-white signals into one?
Well, the RF cable does this one better:
it carries audio along with the mixed
An Inside Look at Cables and Connectors
Unfortunately, you can’t just whip up an
adapter to connect composite cables
directly to RF cables without a modulator,
because RF cables transmit signals differently than composite cables.
In short, you should only use RF cables
for viewing video and use some other
type of cable for copying and editing.
Figure 17.2 RF cable and RF input.
color/black-and-white video signal. This
means that problems arising from
modulation/demodulation of the signal
are multiplied in RF cables. Generation
loss accures at a much faster rate and even
second-generation copies tend to have
an abundance of video noise, audio noise
and bleeding colors.
Camcorder enthusiasts who have television sets without composite video inputs
(yes, they do still exist) must find some
way to connect the video outputs of their
camcorder to the RF-style connectors of
their TV. VCRs usually provide the
needed connections, but for some who
still have older VCRs without video connectors, the RF-to-composite connection
may require a separate inexpensive
device called a modulator, readily available at consumer electronics outlets.
One obvious way to solve the modulation
problem that composite video and RF
cables present is to leave the color and
black-and-white information separate and
send them down a pair of wires in the
cable. That’s what S-video or Y/C, cables
accomplish. (In video technical parlance,
Y is the symbol for luminance and C is the
symbol for chrominance.) Because S-video
cables do not carry two signals modulated
into one, they provide a very robust means
of editing and copying video.
Looking at the end of an S-video connector (See Figure 17.3), it’s easy to see
that it consists of two pairs of wires
instead of a single pair. One pair of wires
(power and ground) carries the color
information, while another carries the
black-and-white information.
S-video connectors are found only on
high-bandwidth cameras and VCRs.
You’ll find them on S-VHS, Hi8 and DV
equipment, but not on 8mm or VHS gear.
More and more televisions are coming
equipped with S-video connectors, but
they are far from universal.
S-video cables do have some minor limitations. The most prominent is perhaps
the length issue: when the cable goes
beyond twenty-five or thirty feet, you
notice significant degradation of the signal. For this reason, they are not the best
solution for long-distance cable throws.
There are devices (called line amplifiers)
that can solve this problem, but they usually add a significant amount of noise to
the signal.
There are adapters that convert Y/C signals to composite, but beware: because
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 17.3 S-Video input.
composite signals are modulated, the use
of such an adapter negates the benefits of
the S-video connection. In fact, it may
make the problem worse. Inside these
adapters is a small ceramic filter that
de-modulates the composite signal before
sending it down the S-video cable. This
demodulation is the same sort of thing
that adds noise to a composite signal. The
use of an S-video-to-composite adapter
just adds one more place where the signal
can degrade when it’s copied.
S-video connections work best when
used throughout your entire system. In
other words, you won’t get all the benefits
of S-video technology if you use composite video cables between, say, your special
effects generator and your record VCR,
with S-video cables everywhere else. It is
possible to safely connect a monitor to the
output of your record VCR with composite or even RF cables. Because they sit
outside the main signal stream, these
cables won’t affect the quality of your
final product one bit.
The cable types we’ve dealt with so far are
all similar in that they’re designed to
carry analog signals. IEEE 1394 or FireWire or i.LINK, is special because its main
purpose is to carry digital signals. Thus,
you’ll find FireWire connectors only on
equipment that’s designed to handle digital signals. In the consumer video market,
this equates to Digital8 and Mini DV camcorders and VCRs.
Briefly, the difference between analog
and digital signals is this: analog signals
carry a continuously varying voltage,
which corresponds directly to the type of
signal that analog VCRs and televisions
were designed to interpret. Digital signals,
on the other hand, consist of long strings
of numbers in binary notation (zeros and
ones). Because digital signals only consist
of two values—zero and one—they’re
much more resistant to noise and other
forms of signal degradation. This means
that it’s possible to copy, say, twenty generations of DV or Digital8 footage without
noticing the slightest loss of picture quality.
It’s important to remember that although
the DV and Digital8 formats are the most
prominent applications of FireWire technology to date, in essence FireWire technology
has nothing to do with digital video. It’s just
a way of transferring digital data from one
location to another at a high rate of speed.
FireWire is a serial data protocol, number
1394, approved by the IEEE (Institute of
Electricians and Electronics Engineers).
FireWire connectors come in two basic
types: the six-pin connector, agreed upon
as a standard in the mid ’90s, and the
smaller four-pin connector, which has
become most prominent on digital camcorders and VCRs. While one connector
type will not fit the other, both are interchangeable for all other purposes, which
means it’s possible to have a FireWire
cable with both types of connectors, one
at either end. (See Figure 17.4.)
Like S-video, FireWire connections
must remain throughout the signal stream
for users to reap all its benefits. In order
to get copies or edits without a hint of
generation loss, you must use FireWire
connections throughout your system.
Unfortunately, there are currently no
titlers with FireWire connections, and only
one special effects generator (Videonics’
MXPro DV). FireWire connectors are
An Inside Look at Cables and Connectors
Making the Connection
Figure 17.4 FireWire cable and FireWire
becoming quite popular on home computers, which have reached a point where they
have plenty of muscle for video editing.
FireWire’s primary drawback: cable
lengths are limited to 15 meters (about
45 feet).
One final note about cables: in general,
it’s best to buy the highest quality you can
afford, to insure the stability of your system and keep generation loss at bay.
When purchasing cables, video editors
are faced with a wide array of options.
Even if you just want a simple yellowtipped composite video cable, you still
find yourself faced with a plethora of
types from which to choose. Some boast
greater shielding; some even come with
built-in hook-and-loop cable ties to help
you organize your workspace; some add
gold tips. While gold certainly is an excellent conductor, it’s usually the case that a
gold-tipped connector is an expensive
and unnecessary addition to a quality
cable. More often than not, an ordinary
nickel-plated connector will perform
identically to its gold-plated brethren and
gold plating has a tendency to flake off in
To summarize: whenever you’re making
analog video connections, use S-video
cables if at all possible to minimize generation loss. If you can’t use S-video cables,
use high-quality composite cables. Avoid
using RF cables for anything but viewing
video on a monitor. And if you have two
or more pieces of video equipment with
FireWire connectors, then by all means
use FireWire and avoid the ill effects of
generation loss entirely. With all this in
mind, go forth and cable your system with
Try a Tripod:
Some Valuable Features
in the Three-Legged Race
William Ronat
Few pieces of video support equipment
are as useful as the tripod. Simple in concept, elegant in function, the tripod has a
long history of bringing needed stability
to the world of photography.
In pre-video days, tripods served still
and motion picture cameras. As far back
as the 1860s, people like Matthew Brady
were lugging tripods onto battlefields to
help steady huge still camera equipment.
And before tripods became popular for
image gathering, they supported the surveyors’ levels used to map out the countryside.
Why, you may wonder, a tripod? Why
not a monopod, or a quadrapod, or an
octopod? This question doesn’t require an
Einstein to answer. One leg: camera falls
down. Two legs: camera falls down. Three
legs: camera stands up. Four legs: one
more leg than you need.
The triangle is one of the most stable
configurations for a support device. Ask a
karate expert, or an offensive lineman. Or,
for that matter, a tree.
Why a Tripod?
I know what you’re thinking. “What do I
need with a tripod? It’s just one more
thing to tote around.”
Maybe you’re right. If you have a steady
hand, and/or a lens stabilizer, you may
never encounter a situation requiring a
tripod. But if you shoot professional video
and work with heavy equipment, you
know that working hand-held for any
length of time can get darned uncomfortable. Just try holding your hand on top of
your head for a couple of hours to simulate the experience.
Aside from avoiding pain, tripods are
handy if you want to be in your own shot.
Say you’re shooting a news story for a
cable access show and you want to do a
stand up. This is the shot where you
appear on camera, looking solemn, finishing up with, “for Cable Access, this is
John Smith, reporting from Bosnia.”
Using a tripod, you can stop somebody
passing by, make him or her stand in the
Try a Tripod
spot where you’ll be standing when you
talk to the camera. You can then compose
the shot using this surrogate John Smith.
Lock down the tripod. Take the passerby’s
place and say your piece.
Three S Theory
A tripod’s purpose can be described in the
famous Three S Theory, which I just made
up. Tripods keep it Steady, keep it Straight
and keep it Smooth.
Put a camera on a tripod and it will be
steady. It won’t bob, wave or float, assuming it’s locked down. It will sit there like a
rock until you get ready to move it. That’s
Keeping your shot straight is a little
trickier. Let’s say you’ve set your camera
on the tripod so your shot is looking out
across a flat desert. The horizon is that
line where the sky meets the earth. In a
standard shot, the horizon should be kept
parallel to the top and bottom of your
frame. Cancel this if you’re trying for the
Dutch angle so popular in the old Batman
TV shows, where everything is tilted. It’s
possible for a shot to start out looking
straight, horizon parallel to the top of the
frame. But when you pan, the horizon
will start to go downhill.
This happens because your tripod legs
stand in such a way the camera isn’t level
to the horizon. Your tripod is sitting with
two legs on either side of the front of the
camera; the third leg points behind the
camera, and is shorter than the front two
legs. Even though your shot looks level
when the camera’s pointed straight ahead,
when you pan, the camera begins to lean
in the direction of the third leg.
Or, as I like to put it: look out, the
world’s tilting.
On the Level
Some tripods come with a leveling bubble, a handy gizmo that is nothing but a
bubble floating in liquid.
You position the bubble either inside a
circle or between two lines on a tube. By
moving the bubble to its correct position
your camera becomes perpendicular, relative, I think, to the gravitational pull of
the Earth (but don’t hold me to this). The
result: you can pan your camera 360
degrees, the horizon staying straight in
the frame.
You can position the bubble by raising
or lowering the tripod legs or by adjusting
the tripod’s head—if the head attaches to
the tripod with a claw ball. The latter
allows you to loosen the head and position the leveling bubble without touching
the legs. A nice feature.
The last S in the Three S Theory is keep
it Smooth. The part of the tripod responsible for this action is the head. Some
tripods don’t have heads: cameras attach
directly to the tripod. But on more sophisticated tripods the camera attaches to a
plate, the plate attaches to a head and the
head attaches to the tripod.
Using smooth resistance, a head helps
make camera movement smoother. This
resistance, known as drag, is usually
adjustable. With a small amount of drag
the camera pans or tilts easily. Add more
drag and moving the camera becomes
more difficult.
If you don’t want the camera to move at
all, you engage the locks. There are separate drags and locks for both the pan and
tilt functions of the head. If you want a
pan but no tilt, you can lock the tilt control and the camera will only pan. And
vice versa.
Heads and Legs
Heads come in two flavors: fluid head and
friction head.
A friction head creates resistance by
pushing metal against metal. A fluid head
floats on a bed of oil or some other viscous fluid. Friction heads aren’t as
smooth as fluid heads, but they’re also
cheaper, which is the way things usually
work in this world.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Tripod legs generally extend by telescoping. This is necessary to position a
tripod level on a hill or stairs. With
tripods that extend you can get your camera high up in the air, useful when you
must ascend to eye-level with NBA players. Some tripods have a center column
that cranks even higher.
A word of caution here, if you get up
too high, your camera, tripod and everything else can tip over. So put a sandbag
in the center of the tripod to make it more
Some tripods allow the legs to straighten
out until the head is resting almost on the
ground. Good for low shots. Good angle
for your remake of Attack of the Fifty Foot
Female Mud Wrestler, featuring a point of
view shot from the terrified town’s perspective. Coming soon to a theater near you.
With a nice smooth floor you may be
interested in tripod dolly wheels.
What’s a dolly? That’s a movement of
the camera and tripod. These moves can
take the camera around the subject, or the
camera can follow people at the same
speed as they move. They require your tripod to have wheels or they require you to
place your tripod on a wheeled device.
These shots are very pretty, but they’re
also very difficult. If you don’t have a
smooth even surface every little dolly
bump will translate into a very big video
Wheels are handy, however, as transportation. Just leave your camera, extension cords, a grip bag and a light attached
to the tripod and roll on to the next location. Sure beats carrying them.
Another feature you may want is quick
release; a plate or shoe attached to the
bottom of the camera. The plate fits into
the head to secure the camera. But if you
want to go hand-held in a hurry, you flip a
switch or push a button to immediately
release the camera.
If the head screws into the bottom of the
camera, it will obviously take a lot longer
to turn, turn, turn the knob to get it off
again. Most professional model tripods
feature quick release.
The Envelope, Please
Before leaving the subject of tripods, we
should explore the Steadicam™. You may
say, “Say, that’s not a tripod!” And you’d
be right. But it performs some of the same
jobs, so we’ll give it a glance.
The Steadicam JR™ is a system that balances your camera so completely the image
seems to float on air. It eliminates shakiness, allowing a camera operator to walk
up stairs or run along the ground without
applying objectionable jiggle to the image.
It’s a slick little system, creating videos that
look like feature film.
But a Steadicam™ is not the same as a
tripod. Although it has a stand, you can’t
lock it down on a shot. Also, some people
think a Steadicam™ is like a gyroscope,
forcing your shot to remain horizontal.
Wrong. There’s a bubble level on the monitor to show the operators when the shot is
level, but it’s up to the operator to keep it
there. My conclusion: Steadicams™ are
great tools, but should supplement a tripod, not replace it.
If you’re in the market for a tripod, shop
around. Try the model before you buy. As
you test drive the tripod think about the
three Ss: keep it Steady, keep it Straight,
keep it Smooth. If you watch your Ss, you
should be O.K. And if at first you don’t
succeed, try another tripod.
Production Planning
Every minute spent in planning saves ten in execution. Here’s help in getting yourself
Honing Your Ideas:
From Concept to
Finished Treatment
Stray Wynn Ponder
See video clips at
If you’re like most videographers you
probably have more project ideas than
you can shake a camcorder at. So with a
little talent and the right equipment, you
should be able to produce top quality
video work, right?
Right. Then why do so many great ideas
fizzle out somewhere between that first
blinding spark of inspiration and the final
credit roll?
The answer is simple: before the lights
come up, before the cameras roll, even
before you write the script, you must take
two essential steps if your video is to find
and follow its true course:
Step One: clearly define your concept.
Step Two: write a concise treatment.
A concept nails down your program’s primary message, and the manner in which
you will deliver it to your primary audience. Later, as you navigate the winding
curves of production, you’ll think of the
concept as your destination. A treatment
is a written summary of the video’s purpose, storyline and style. It will become
your road map. These tools will help you
maintain solid and continuous contact
with the video’s intended direction every
step of the way.
These are probably the most overlooked
steps of pre-production, but if you conscientiously pursue them on every project—
no matter how simple—you’ll save time
and add polish, propelling your work to
new horizons of quality.
Developing the Concept
How does a concept differ from a raw
idea? Let’s look at a couple of ideas and
watch how they change as we develop
them into concepts:
1. The Trees of New England; and
2. Car Repair.
Each of these has possibilities as a video
project; but if we were to pick up a camera,
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
or to start writing a script at this point,
we’d suffer a false start. Before we can set
out on our creative journey, we need a
clear understanding of our destination.
Admittedly, many ideas don’t deserve
to survive. Who among us hasn’t pulled
the car off a crowded freeway to jot down
a “great idea”—only to read it later and
find that great idea somewhat less than
Take our first idea: The Trees of New
England. This sleeper might die right on
the drawing board. Why? Because, for the
videographer trying to earn a buck, it
lacks profitability. And for most hobbyists, it involves too much time and effort.
The visual effect could no doubt be stunning, but who would purchase (or finance)
a video about trees when public television
carries a variety of nature shows that feature similar subjects every week?
To succeed in the marketplace, your
work must effectively deliver a primary
message to a primary audience. To prove
worth the effort, The Trees of New England
would have to distinguish itself from similar programming through style or content to
appeal to existing markets. Another option:
The Trees of New England could deliver
its message in a way that would captivate
audiences in a new market niche. Note: if
you can see a way to make money with this
tree idea, please feel free to run with it.
You may find yourself shelving many
ideas that survive this kind of initial
scrutiny; these ideas typically lack some
element necessary to a profitable video,
such as reasonable production costs or a
viable market. Or through research you
may discover that someone else has
already produced your idea. That’s okay;
you can always generate more ideas.
Don’t get too caught up in creative decisions during these first stages of exploration. In the process of transforming a
germ of an idea into a viable concept,
necessity will make many decisions about
a project’s direction for you.
How about our second wannabe video—
Car Repair? This one offers a multitude of
development possibilities. But remember,
you can’t please all of the people all the
time. Avoid the temptation to create a
“do-all” video. As producers, we always
want the largest audience we can get—up
to a point. Create a repair program that
appeals equally to master mechanics and
interior designers, and you’ll get a show
without a specific destination. In other
words, your project could end up running
out of gas in the wrong town.
Your first move: define the audience.
Let’s find a target group who could use
some information about car repair.
Brainstorm A-comin’
Here’s where brainstorming becomes
indispensable. There are as many ways to
brainstorm an idea, as there are people, so
there are no hard and fast rules. Basically,
you need to distract the left (logical) side
of your brain so that the right (creative)
side can come out to play.
Here’s what works for me: I speak my
thoughts aloud, no matter how silly they
sound, while bouncing a rubber ball off
the concrete walls of my basement office.
This technique gets the creative hemisphere of my brain churning; my subconscious coughs up ideas from a well much
deeper than the one serving my logical
hemisphere. I write down the more coherent mutterings on a dry erase board as
they erupt. All in all, it’s probably not a
pretty sight, but you’re welcome to adapt
this method to your own brainstorming
Here’s a condensed version of my brainstorming session for the car repair idea. I
flip the ball. It hits the floor, the wall and
then slaps back into my hand.
“Repair,” I say to myself, as I continue to
bounce the ball. “Maintenance … mechanics … men … women … children …
women … smart women … independent
women … car maintenance … where’s
the need? … when would they have the
need? … college! … BINGO!
Honing Your Ideas
When young women go away to college,
they no longer have Mom or Dad around
to watch the oil level and check the belts.
The same is surely true of young men, but
I decide to target women as the larger of
the two potential audiences. Should I go
after both in hopes of selling more tapes?
Absolutely not. Since the buying characteristics of the two groups will be different,
I must tailor the style of the production to
one audience or the other.
Through brainstorming, the original idea
“car repair” has now become its simpler
cousin, “car maintenance.” Do we have a
real concept now? Not yet, but we’re getting
there; we know our target market and our
message. Still to be considered: the production’s style, or the best manner in which to
convey our message. This will eventually
encompass shooting style, lighting style,
acting, wardrobe, makeup and dozens of
other factors. For now, however, we’ll break
style down into two parts: 1) getting the
viewer’s attention; and 2) keeping it.
Hook, Line and Profit
A hook is the attention-getting element
that yanks viewers away from their busy
day, and into our product. The need for a
good hook is the same in every communication medium, whether it’s an advertisement, a popular song or a training video.
Human beings are frenetically busy creatures; you must seduce them into giving
their attention away. After delivering this
interesting hook and convincing them to
look our way, we must follow through and
give them a storyline that will hold their
interest for the duration of the program.
There are a number of ways to engage and
keep the viewers’ attention:
Shock value
Visual stimulation
Glitz and glamour
To decide which combination of elements
will work best for our car maintenance
video, we need a better understanding of
our target market: 18 to 22-year-old
females needing to perform simple car
maintenance themselves. As with many
aspects of concept development, most of
our decisions are made for us as we discard what will not work—which leaves us
with what will.
My gut says to skip shock value in a
program that deals with cars. Self-interest
is definitely an important consideration
for a young lady who is both: 1) trying to
assert her independence for the first time
(ego self-interest); and 2) living on a budget (financial self-interest).
Visual stimulation? Our target group
comes from a generation accustomed to
the kaleidoscopic imagery and lightning
fast cuts of beer commercials and music
videos. Let’s use this one.
Glitz and glamour are obvious shoo-ins
for this age and gender. Comedy can be an
excellent tool for communicating many
subjects, as long as you execute it well.
Let’s keep humor in mind, too.
Simply being aware of these tools is not
enough. More important is an understanding of the ways they will impact our target
audience. If we can effectively use one or
more of them in our production (and our
marketing package), we may just have a
moneymaking project on our hands.
To recap: we need an eye-catching (visually stimulating) presentation that offers
college-aged females something they
clearly need (self-interest) in a manner
consistent with their accepted versions of
self-image (glitz and glamour). If we can
discover ways to enliven this delivery
through the use of comedy, all the better.
Even if we are unable to meet all these
criteria, we must be aware of them, so at
the very least we avoid working against
the psychology of our target audience.
More ball bouncing is probably called
for at this point to help us predict how
we’ll apply these general ideas to our
intended audience. But rather than put
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
you through that again, I’ll just tell you
what I came up with for our sample project: A Young Woman’s Guide to Minor
Car Maintenance. The package resembles
that of a concert video or a compact disc
more than an instructional videotape
jacket. Lots of neon colors surround a
snazzily dressed college-aged woman,
who leans confidently over the open hood
of a small automobile. Her posture says, “I
have the world by the tail, and so can you
if you take a closer look at this.”
The back of the jacket explains that
you’ll need no tools to perform most of
the tasks covered in the program. These
tasks are simpler than you ever thought
possible, even fun once you give them a
chance. Best of all, you’ll feel an exhilarating new sense of independence after
you master these simple skills.
Writing the Treatment
We’ve come a long way from the original
idea. By asking the right questions, we’ve
developed a potentially viable concept.
We understand it in terms of:
to whom the video speaks,
how the video will speak to them and
what the video will say.
Now we can write a treatment, which will
help us pursue our project without losing
sight of our concept. By clearly defining
our direction in this way, we can hold true
to our original vision for the project.
Depending on the complexity of a production, its treatment may be long or
short. Some in-depth treatments resemble
scripts; others simply document mood
changes and/or visual effects, with technical annotations along the way. Regardless,
the treatment should always move the
reader chronologically from the beginning
to the end of the program.
There’s no established manuscript format for a treatment. Just try to tell a story
in as readable a way as possible. The
treatment for our car maintenance video
might begin like this:
Project Name: A Young Women’s Guide
to Minor Car Maintenance
Statement of Purpose: The main goal of
this project is to provide information about
basic car maintenance to female college
students under the age of twenty. These
young women face the full responsibilities
of car care for the first time in their lives.
In the interest of hooking and keeping
the attention of the target audience, we’ll
present this information in a series of
three music videos. Cuts will be as short
as possible. A different actor/musician
with a distinct personality will demonstrate each automotive maintenance task.
Most important, the tasks will not be
overly technical in nature. Our audience
needs to understand only the basics of car
care: how to check belts, check the oil and
other fluid levels, change a tire, fill the
radiator, replace a burned-out fuse and so
on. The frequent use of common-sense
metaphors will remove any feelings of
intimidation this subject may arouse in
The video jacket layout resembles that
of an album cover rather than an instructional videotape. The songs contained in
the program will be remakes of popular
rock-and-roll songs, with lyrics pertinent
to the mechanical tasks.
The opening credits emulate the digitalanimated effects common to music video
TV stations. These lively visual effects are
choreographed to heavy guitar and powerful drums. The monolithic CTV (Car
Television) logo vibrates in time with the
Cut to a perky female vee-jay who says,
as if continuing a thought from before the
latest station break, “We’ll hear more of
the latest tour information soon, but first
let’s take a look at this new release from
Jeena and the Jalopies…”
Honing Your Ideas
Cut to close-up of female lead singer in
the middle of a concert. We hear the giddy
cheering of a large crowd as she introduces the next song. Her tormented
expression prepares us for a tale of love’s
cruelty; but when she speaks, it’s about
how her car has done her wrong. The
hand-held cameras circle like vultures on
the fog-drenched stage. Her dead-earnest
performance mocks the lyrics, which
seem comically out of place.
Cut to a dressing room interview with
Jeena. “Yeah,” she says, “almost every
song I write is taken from my own life. I
hated that car. (She takes a drag from her
cigarette.) “And I loved it. Know what I
mean?” Music from Jeena’s live performance fades up as the camera holds on
her face.
(Music continues.) Cut to Jeena standing next to her car, a late model import.
She wears the demeanor of a child
instructed to shake hands with an enemy,
but stubbornly refuses to do so. She casts
occasional guilty glances at the camera, but
refuses to look at the car, with which she is
obviously quite angry. “My old car wasn’t
like this,” she claims, shaking her head.
“I could see the dip stick—easy. Check
the oil and be done with it. So, you know,
easy.” Video dissolves to a memory
sequence of Jeena opening the hood of an
older automobile.
That gives you an idea of how the
beginning of our treatment might read. It
paints a much more complete picture
than the words Car Repair. This video
will probably be around 30 minutes in
length; its treatment will run about ten
pages, typewritten and double-spaced. If
that sounds like a lot of writing, compare
it to the amount of money and work
required to reshoot even one minute of
More Treatment Tips & Tricks
Some productions, like our car maintenance video, will involve fairly hefty budgets financed by outside investors. The
treatment then becomes a sales tool for
communicating the project’s value to
potential investors.
Depending on the type of video you’re
producing, other uses for a treatment
Seeking client approval,
giving a “big picture” of the program to
the technical and creative staffs and
making sure that you can arrive at your
Perhaps the most important benefit of
writing a treatment comes as a result of
the writing itself. In moving from the general concept to the specific steps to develop
that concept, your treatment will pass
through many incarnations. Problems will
crop up at this stage of the video’s development; you’ll solve them by revising
the treatment. In overcoming each of
these obstacles on paper, you will save
yourself from facing them later on the
shoot itself.
Production Planning Tools
Videographers have traditionally used
several tools to help them navigate the
circuitous pathways of production. In
filmmaking, there’s the storyboard, a
comic book style layout of sequential
drawings that tell the visual story of a
movie. Some videographers use storyboards as well; but for many low-budget
productions storyboards prove too expensive a luxury.
This is certainly true for our car repair
video. For this production, our treatment
must do the storyboard’s job—by creating
compelling, descriptive images with words.
The treatment must clearly map out the
avenues we’ll travel without necessarily
describing every fire hydrant and blade of
grass along the way.
A general rule of thumb: gear the
sophistication of your treatment to the purposes it must serve. If you need to impress
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
the board of trustees at a major cable network and feel you are out of your league
in terms of writing skills, hire a freelance
writer to prepare the treatment. The earlier in the creative process you bring this
person in, the more benefit you can gain
from his or her experience.
Don’t sell yourself short, though. If you
feel reasonably sure that you can tell your
video’s story from the beginning to the
end, in a readable way that your colleagues will understand, do it.
Planning Counts
The worst mistake: skipping these crucial
planning steps altogether.
Even the simplest video can flounder if
you neglect the proper planning process.
The meticulous development of concept
and treatment allows you to cut and polish your rough project. The goal is to move
into the later phases of the work with a
crisply faceted jewel that will withstand
the rigors of scripting and production.
Budgeting Time
William Ronat
Let’s say that you’ve planned a location
shoot at a restaurant so you can get some
shots for a production. You told the owner
you would be there at 3 p.m. Suppose you
have some other shots to do in the morning at several locations. If you didn’t prepare a schedule, you have no idea how
long any of them will take. Each shot will
undoubtedly take longer than anticipated,
you forgot to allow for travel time, the
crew is hungry (don’t forget time for
lunch!) and when you finally get to the
restaurant, you are two hours late. The
owner now has to take care of the dinner
crowd and you’re out of luck.
You didn’t get into video to become a
bureaucrat. You bought your camcorder
and gear to watch your visions materialize, to breathe life into ideas, to create a
piece of truth where moments before
there was merely air. These are laudable
goals. The problem, however, is actually
achieving them. And that takes planning.
Your time is valuable. Spend it like you
would spend money. To make sure you get
the most value from your effort, you have
to do some preparatory work before your
finger hits the Record button. There is a
saying in the biz, “Everything takes longer
than it takes.” That means that no matter
how well you plan, something will happen
that you didn’t anticipate.
You can minimize the pain by doing
your homework. Many professionals
spend as much as 90 percent of production time in the planning process. Alfred
Hitchcock was famous for planning his
films in such minute detail that he found
the shooting process dull. He had already
seen the movie in his head and the rest
was mere mechanics. You may say, “Hey,
I don’t want to be bored when I’m shooting,” to which I say, “Is your name
Hitchcock?” All right, then.
In the Beginning
If you’re serious about choreographing a
video production from start to finish, you
will need a script. It doesn’t have to be an
elaborate document. In fact, it can be an
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
outline scribbled on a napkin (although
they have a habit of disappearing during
lunch). Just make sure that the script
helps you understand what needs to be
shot and it will do the job.
Work with “split-format” (audio/video)
scripts and “film-style” scripts. Splitformat scripts are ideal for short projects,
like 30-second commercials or industrial
videos, while film-style scripts lend
themselves to dramatic productions. You
can easily use your word-processing program to set up a table and create a script
that looks like Figure 20.1a. The same
script done film-style would look like
Figure 20.1b.
If you plan to write for the film industry, this format must be absolutely perfect
or your manuscript will be tossed without
a second look. There are software programs available that can make this process
easier (See the Film Script Software
Shot by Shot
Once you’ve written your script, you can
begin to plan like a pro. First, break the
script down into shots. In our example,
we have three shots: one, a mailman
walks up; two, close-up of a dog, and
three, the dog attacks the mailman. Now
it’s time to create the next document in
our bureaucracy of video, the production
Using the schedule will help you during planning in many ways. You will
know approximately how long it will take
to shoot shot sequences, what props and
equipment you will need, how many crew
members to bring and when to break for
lunch (see Figure 20.2).
It can be helpful to take the split-format
script table we illustrated earlier and add
some more columns to it. As you can see,
planning is all about detail. The script
should tell you everything about each
Figure 20.1 Shot lists can be formatted in any
word processing program. The top example is
typical of a video production, while the
bottom is more commonly used for film.
Figure 20.2 While you shoot, keep your
shooting schedule with you (along with
the script). And stick to it.
Budgeting Time
shot. Using this information, you can create a production schedule to illustrate
how much time it will take to achieve the
script’s needs. The far-right column indicates times for each shot. Here are some
rules of thumb to help you put numbers
like this to your own schedule.
your shots. Some shots take longer and
some are done in a heartbeat. But by consistently using 30/15, your schedule will
even out by the end of the day.
Stop or I’ll Shoot
The first shot of the day always takes
the longest to set up. People need to get
into the rhythm of the shoot, people are
still groggy and equipment needs to be
checked and prepared. Because of this,
try to schedule your most difficult shot
first. The rest of the day becomes is a
downhill slide.
The first shot in a new location takes
longer than the rest of the shots in the
same location. If you use lighting gear
or other special equipment such as
wireless microphones, you probably
pack them away carefully as you move
from place to place. This means unpacking them at each new location. But after
you are set up, each shot will take less
time, because you are ready to go.
Complex shots take longer than easy
shots do. This is common sense, which
does, occasionally, have a place in video
production. If you set up a shot that
involves moving the camera, changing
the focus and having the talent juggle
bowling balls all at the same time, it will
take longer than a static shot of a flower.
Don’t ask why, it’s a mystery.
Wide shots take longer than closeups.
This is true, because there is usually
more going on in a wide shot. Not
always, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
It takes time to change locations. Besides
tearing down and setting up equipment,
you have to move it to the next shooting
location. If this is across the county, you
have to allow for the time that it will
take to get there.
Shots either take 30 minutes or 15 minutes to capture. For scheduling purposes,
you can usually assign these times to
Once you have a script and production
schedule, you’re ready to shoot, right?
Nope. You need to create a shooting
Shooting schedules look a lot like production schedules except for one crucial
difference. All shots from one location are
grouped together. This simple phase can
potentially save you more time than anything else in this article. Why is grouping
shots so important? Because returning to a
location not only wastes time, it also
sends a signal to your crew that you are
not in control. And that’s a real confidence buster. Let’s say you are shooting at
a location and trying to remember all the
shots you need in your head. You finish,
strike the equipment, get in the vehicle
and start to drive away. Then it hits you.
You didn’t get the closeup. Arrrgh! Turn
around, unload everything, set up the gear
and get the shot. Now look at your crew’s
faces. Do they love you for the extra effort
that you have just caused them to endure?
Or are their faces black with smoldering
hatred? If this scene is repeated over and
over, a volunteer crew will probably not
return for more. And a professional crew
will not trust your judgement on other
aspects of the production.
Now you have a script, a production
schedule and a shooting schedule. Keep a
copy of each of these documents in a single notebook when you go into the field
(see Figure 20.3). You will probably work
mainly from the shooting schedule. Crossoff shots as you finish them and keep
track of the best ones by writing down the
time-code number next to the shot on the
shooting schedule. This will help you
find the shot when you sit down to edit. If
your recording device doesn’t have time
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 20.3 Electronic PDAs can also help
you manage your time and take notes.
code, you can note which tape (or digital
media) the shot is on and the amount of
time that has been used on that media.
This is not as precise as time code (where
each frame has a unique number) but can
be helpful.
Keep a copy of your script with you
in the field; just carrying the shooting
schedule is not enough. On the shooting
schedule, the shot’s location is the most
important element, but you often need to
know how the shots are going to work
together in the real script. This way, you
won’t shoot two shots that are too similar
to each other (a head-to-waist shot of the
talent, for example) and try to edit them
together later. Such an edit can make the
talent appear to jump from place to place
(which was fine on Bewitched, but might
not be the effect you’re looking for).
Put it All Together
If you have done your homework and
kept good notes during shooting, your
editing process should go much more
smoothly (see Figure 20.4). This is harder
than it sounds, because working in the
field can be like being in battle, with
problems and unforeseen obstacles flying
like bullets. (You’re trying to get audio
while in the flight path of the airport; or
you need blue skies and it’s starting to
rain.) However, let’s pretend we live in a
perfect world and all has gone well.
Figure 20.4 Better planning of your
shoots will ultimately save time in
post-production editing.
Editing is like putting together a jigsaw
puzzle. If you know where all the pieces are
before you start, you will save yourself a lot
of trouble, which translates into time. If you
create a simple show with straight cut edits,
you can figure that each minute of finished
program will take you about an hour of editing time. If you plan to use wipes and special effects, double the estimate. If you want
to experiment while editing, triple it.
Make sure you have everything you
need when you go into an edit. Will you
use a voice talent to narrate the show?
Have it done before you start. Are you
identifying on-camera interviewees with
titles? Make sure that you know how to
spell their names.
Taking a video from start to finish is a
big undertaking. It’s best to know what
you’re getting into before you invest your
money and time. With a good plan, you
will not only have more fun during the
process, you will have a good chance of
actually getting the darn thing done—and
that’s the best plan you can make.
Budgeting Time
Sidebar 1
Quick Tips
To plan effectively, you need to create the following:
Script — Put on paper what you are trying to achieve.
Production Schedule—Break the script down into shots and plan what props, talent and
time each shot will need.
Shooting Schedule—Similar to the production schedule, but with the shots grouped by
Sidebar 2
Film Script Software
Software programs are available to help you create film-style scripts. (Scriptware also does
split-format.) These programs automatically format the page and can even help break the
script down into a shooting schedule. Here’s a sampling of some of these programs.
Final Draft
16000 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 800, Encino, CA 91436
(818) 995-8995
Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000
Screenplay Systems
150 East Olive Avenue, Suite 203, Burbank, CA 91502
(800) 847-8679
Page 2 Stage
Windward Studios
1127 Barberry Court, Boulder, CO 80303
(303) 499-2544
Cinovation Inc.
1750 30th Street, Suite 360, Boulder, CO 80301-1005
(800) 788-7090
It’s all in the Approach:
Creative Approaches for
Video Productions
Jim Stinson
Some informational programs use gimmicks like butter on popcorn, to hide the
bland taste of the subject matter: “Hi! I’m
Percy Peatmoss, and we’re gonna meet
some exciting lichens!” (Suuure, we are!)
Though spokes-mosses like Percy went
out with 16 mm projectors, promotional,
training and educational programs still
need what you might call a presentation
As the term implies, this is a systematic
approach to laying out the content of a
program. Mr. Announcer on the sound
track, Julia Child behind the cooktop, the
talking head in the interview—each of
these is a presentation method, deliberately selected because it’s well-suited to the
program’s subject. What are some of these
presentation methods and how do you
select the right one(s) for your show? Step
right this way, folks; the tour starts here.
When you come right down to it,
there’re only a few basic presentation
methods: documentary, interview, expert
presenter and full script. As we look at
each method in turn, remember that most
informational videos use them in various
A documentary purports to capture and
display a subject as it really is, allowing
viewers to draw their own conclusions
from their impressions of the material. In
some programs, they’re assisted by narration or commentary, while in others
the edited footage appears to speak for
itself. (We say “purports” and “appears”
because no documentary is a truly passive, neutral pipeline of information. For
more on this, see Liar, Liar! in the October
2000 issue of Videomaker or at www.
The documentary method works well
where you want to convey a free-form
impression of your subject. Beautiful
Downtown Burbank, Recreation in Bigfoot
County, Where your Sales Tax Goes—
these are good subjects for documentary
Its all in the Approach
The most rigorous documentary form
(represented by the films of Frederick
Wiseman) uses no verbal commentary to
organize the presentation and point the
message. The entire effect comes from
the selection and juxtaposition of shots. To
the newbie, this may seem like the easiest
form of program (“Hey kids, let’s showcase
Fillmore High!”) but it is in fact, the hardest to do successfully. Without the guidance of voiceovers and titles, the result is
often an inexpressive jumble of footage.
That’s why many professional documentarians (notably Ken Burns) use multiple
voices on the sound track—often a mix of
narration, dramatized voices and interview
quotes. This method is easier because it
allows you to comment on the footage as
you display it. However, juggling multiple
audio sources is a sophisticated process.
For fail-safe simplicity, try mating documentary footage to voice over narration.
By scripting a single stream of commentary, you can control your presentation
more precisely.
Figure 21.1 Single & Dual Interviews—
Single interviews, the most popular form in
professional TV show, look spontaneous,
but dual interviews are easier to manage.
Interviews offer ways to get variety into
your presentation, especially if you
include several people. Interviews are
great for subjects that are essentially verbal and require some expert input.
As the sidebar, Pictures, Words or
Titles? explains, some topics are difficult
to visualize. No matter how many photo
albums you have, they don’t display family history, but only moments from that
history. For the actual narrative, nothing
beats Great Grandmother on the sound
track. Other good interview subjects
include Our Corporate Five Year Plan
(interview with the CEO) and Coping with
Depression (interviews with sufferers and
therapists). As these examples suggests,
interview programs come in different flavors: single, dual and multiple.
The single interview doesn’t look like
a Q&A session, but like spontaneous conversation by the subject (see Figure 21.1).
The interviewer is never seen or heard,
and the questions (dropped on the cutting
room floor) are phrased to elicit statements rather than answers (“Tell us about
the Boston branch of the family”).
Because they omit the overhead of questions, single interviews are the most popular form in professional programs.
However, the dual interview is easier to
manage. In this form, viewers see the
interviewer and hear the questions.
Replies can be free-form in this approach.
For example, “Where were you born?”
“Cleveland.” is fine in a dual interview,
but the answer would be meaningless in a
single interview. Two-person interviews
also offer built-in cutaway material in the
form of the interviewer.
A more complex interview form is multiple voice. Using man-on-the-street
vignettes or short sessions with the many
people connected with the topic, you
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
weave together a composite audio track
that adds richness and variety as well as
information. If people you know have
some performing ability, you might try
dramatized “interviews” with historic figures or people otherwise unavailable. Be
cautious, however, because voice-only
acting is a highly specialized skill and amateurish results sound frankly embarrassing.
Expert Presenter
If you’ve watched a David Attenborough
nature video (“The vegetation [wheeze]
here at 15,000 feet [gasp] is, understandably [rattle] sparse.”) then you’ve seen an
expert presenter. This method has many
things going for it. First, the expertise of
the spokesperson lends authority to the
whole enterprise. Secondly, he or she can
often be relied on to flesh out a skeletal
content outline by ad-libbing material
(see Figure 21.2).
The expert is best in the field—whether
that field is a studio cooking show kitchen
or a construction site or the Sonoran
desert. If that isn’t possible, you can establish the expert on camera in interview
mode and then shift his or her remarks to
voiceover narration.
The simplest approach is commentary:
the experts react to whatever is presented
to them. At its best, this method elicits
priceless observations that would never
occur to a script writer. At worst, it delivers
the DVD prattle of movie directors reacting
off-the-cuff to screenings of their films.
One step more formal is the demonstration, anything from a construction project
to a science experiment to a cooking
show. A demo is more clearly sequenced
(by the steps in the project or recipe) but it
still offers ample opportunity for ad-lib
expert commentary. A demonstration format works best when the project can be
completed at a single place in real time
(except for the 45 minute baking period)
and when the personality of the presenter
adds interest to the show.
A popular variation seen on home
repair, gardening and cooking shows is
the dual (and sometimes dueling) expert
format pioneered by Siskel and Ebert.
This approach combines the virtues of the
expert and interview methods, especially
if one of the presenters serves as prompter/
straight man to the other.
The next level up is a full-fledged lecture, either scripted or ad-lib. Since even
the most dynamic expert is still just a
talking head, it’s good to cut away as
much as possible to visuals of the subject
matter. In fact, a project like this often
starts with the taped lecture; then appropriate visuals are scripted and shot after
the fact.
Sometimes, the effect of a lecture can be
created by a skillful one-person interview.
The questions select and sequence the
material, and then drop away, leaving a
seamless narrative.
Figure 21.2 Expert presenter—the expert
presenter lends authority to your subject
and can ad-lib to expand on outlined
program material.
Its all in the Approach
Full Script
An expert isn’t necessary when reading
narration that’s been fully scripted. There
are several reasons for going to the trouble
of a wall-to-wall script. In some cases
there are issues of legal or technical accuracy. You don’t want to misrepresent
details of Employee Benefit Packages or
Self Administration of Insulin, and the
best way to avoid doing so is by writing
down (and getting approval for) every
image and word.
In training and similar how-to programs,
you want the clearest camera angles and
the simplest language possible. In highly
controlled situations like this, you’ll want
every sentence written and every setup
storyboarded (see Figure 21.3).
A scripted program can use any mixture
of presentation forms, including an oncamera spokesperson, a voiceover narrator and superimposed title buildups. You
can even use interviews if the questions
are closely coordinated with the script.
(In real world situations, the script is
often revised after the interviews are completed, in order to bring it into line with
whatever was said.)
Full scripts and/or storyboards are
almost always prepared for professional
commercials, infomercials, video press
releases and training programs, for one
Figure 21.3 In some situations you may want
to script the narration for your talent in clear
simple language.
overwhelming reason: the client. Most
people and organizations are reluctant to
spend good money unless they can see (or
at least think they can see) what they’re
As we’ve seen, the presentation method
chosen depends first of all on the nature
of the topic. But real-world constraints
also play a large role. What if you don’t
have an expert? Worse, what if you do
have an expert who’s a droning bore but
still wants to be in the program? In situations like this, you need to know the alternative methods available to you and their
suitability to your topic. We hope this little survey has helped.
Sidebar 1
Pictures, Words or Titles?
Different types of information want different presentation media. Some things are impossible
to describe but easy to show; others are the opposite. Here’s a quick rundown on choosing
the best medium for each type of content.
● Pictures. If you can show it, do so. Images should always be your first choice, when
appropriate, because video is inherently a visual medium. Through slow or fast motion, split
screen shots and other formal devices, the medium can also display things in ways that can’t
be seen in real life.
● Words. If it’s an abstraction, then talk about it. “Good citizenship” can be shown by
examples (voting, picking up litter) but the concept itself is impossible to visualize. That’s
where narration does its best work.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Words also work well for summarizing because they deliver meaning so efficiently. “Your
one-stop transmission and tire service since 1966” takes five seconds to say. You could show
transmission work, tire installation and maybe a wall plaque proclaiming “Founded 1966”
but these visuals would be time-consuming and lame.
● Titles. Titles make wonderful labels and organizers. Cliche that it is, a bulleted agenda
that builds up line by line (via PowerPoint or titling software) is still the best way to orient
(and periodically re-orient) viewers to the content of the program.
If the list is short, you can also display all the lines at once, color-highlighting whichever
one is the current topic.
Combo Platters
Different viewers have different learning styles, visual, aural or textual; so try to deliver
important points in at least two ways, or even three if necessary. For example, you could
cover one step in a construction project like this:
Visual: big CU of tab A inserted into slot B.
Aural: NARRATOR (V.O.) Now insert tab A into slot B.
Textual: Subtitle supered over the shot: “Insert Tab A in Slot B.”
When delivering information redundantly, avoid varying its form. If the narrator says, “Now
complete the assembly of the sub-widgit,” viewers have to make a mental connection
between this line and Tab A and Slot B. This effort can be distracting or even confusing.
Script Right:
Video Screenwriting Tips
Stephen Jacobs
See video clips at
Even the best videographers often balk
at writing scripts. Take my friend
Mike Axelrod. A video computer programmer since graduating from college,
Mike recently quit work to return to
As a film buff who’s created a few
videos with friends, he decided to combine his two interests and major in computer animation. He signed up for a
required screenwriting course and experienced no difficulty in writing individual
scenes three to five pages long.
Then he learned the second half of the
course required completion of a screenplay for a fifteen-minute film, fifteen to
twenty pages in length. The news left him
“Fifteen to twenty pages! I’ll never
write something that long,” he howled.
“I’m not a writer!”
Well, maybe not. But good video begins
with good writing. In this chapter, we’ll
show how even non-writers like Mike can
put together a serviceable screenplay.
Videographers as Storytellers
Some people think writing is a talent
reserved for those lucky enough to be
born with it. This is not necessarily so.
Writers who seem to have come from the
womb pen in hand are the exception, not
the rule. Most have to work at it. In many
ways, writers are no different from videographers. Both are people trying to communicate specific information, a story, a
particular point of view.
When you pick up that camcorder and
press the little red button, you start to tell
a story. Whether you’re shooting the science fiction epic of your dreams, documenting a wedding for the 300th time or
producing a thirty-second public service
announcement for the local Red Cross,
you’re still telling a story.
So before you begin you should first
consider what message you are trying to
convey, and to what sort of audience. If
you don’t know what you’re trying to say
or whom you’re trying to reach, you’ll
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
have a hard time getting your message
You may begin with the goal of writing
a screenplay for an introductory videotape on washing machine maintenance;
suddenly you find yourself showing the
viewer how to make a washing machine
from scratch. Or you write something for
an experienced group of professionals,
then find yourself explaining the basics.
In fiction, the routine Hollywood script
features an easily identifiable protagonist,
the hero; and an equally transparent antagonist, the villain. The hero confronts a problem and spends much of the film working
toward a solution. The antagonist seeks to
block this progress. Along the way the hero
inevitably undergoes a change in character.
Some films slightly alter this formula.
Director Barry Levinson has said his film
Rain Man was a real challenge because
the protagonist of the story, the autistic
Raymond, by definition couldn’t experience a change in character. It’s his brother
who must change.
Outline and Outpouring
For some people, outlining is extremely
beneficial. Others find it gets in the way
of the actual writing, another little task
aiding and abetting procrastination. Some
projects are more conducive to outlining
than others. The larger the project, the
more likely it will benefit from some prescribble structuring.
Beginners should definitely outline. It
helps you understand where the story’s
heading. Does outlining mean the formal,
Roman numeral structuring they taught
you in elementary school? No. Think of it
as simply jotting down a temporary table
of contents. Once that’s complete, you’re
ready to start writing.
As a videographer, you try to avoid situations where you must edit in-camera. You
know the more footage you shoot, the
more you repeat shots and obtain different angles, the more you’ll have to work
with during editing. It’s not unusual to
read about professional film directors
with raw footage ratios of 20 to 1.
As a writer, you should give yourself
the same freedom. Begin by throwing anything and everything down on paper. This
isn’t always easy to do. But if you criticize
every sentence as you write it, you may
not finish the first paragraph. Let it all out
first; you can edit and revise later.
Show, Don’t Tell
Writing for video is different from other
types of writing in two important ways:
1. The lengthy description and dialogue
that distinguish some writing is
notably absent here. When writing for
video, you need to show things, not
talk about them. So skip those long
passages of narration. Instead, use different camera angles and shots of the
same scene to highlight the features of
the landscape you wish to emphasize.
Don’t use long sections of dialogue to
explain anything. Show it.
2. Screenplays happen in the here and
now. They describe the action as the
viewer will see it unrolling across the
screen. Use active voice and present
tense. For example, write, “John looks
into the mirror, then does a double
take. There’s a second head growing
out of his neck. He screams in terror
and blacks out…”
Don’t write, “John looked in the mirror,
then did a double take. He saw a second
head growing out of his neck. He screamed
in terror and blacked out…”
Or, “We see our John look into the mirror and do a double take. His reflection
shows a second head growing out of his
neck. We hear him scream and see him
slump to the floor. He’s blacked out…”
NOTE: These examples are based on an
actual film, How to Get Ahead in
Advertising, in which the main character
does indeed wake up one morning to find
a second head growing out from the side
of his neck. As they say in Hollywood,
you can make a movie about darn near
Script Right
Relevant Questions
As your script nears completion, ask yourself the following important questions:
Does every single scene in the script
a) advance the action and/or b) develop
the character?
Do all scenes, dialogue and narration
serve a legitimate purpose? Does the third
scene featuring John arguing with his new
head show us anything new about them,
or did you just like the dialogue?
If you’ve shown the viewer how to
remove the left front tire of a ‘58
Thunderbird, do you really need to show
removal of the right front? Where else can
you cut? Where should you expand?
Remember: you want your dialogue or
narration to sound natural. That’s a hard
one. A good way to check your writing for
a natural feel is to put it away for a few
days, then reread it. Does it still sound
right? Read it aloud. Do you stumble,
fumble, fall? Then your actors or narrators
will as well.
Finally, ask a few trustworthy and literate friends to read your work with a kind
and constructive critical eye. You don’t
have to take their advice, but you should
at least consider it, especially when the
same problem is identified by more than
one critic.
Writing is rewriting. Put your ego aside
and polish your work. Once you’re satisfied that it’s as good as you can make it,
it’s probably ready to go.
Script Requirements
It’s not enough to write a good script. You
also have to format it according to screenwriting conventions. There are two main
scriptwriting formats. Fictional scripts, or
scripts with a lot of dialogue, use a format
that evolved from the theater. Documentaries, industrials and other productions
which match narration to the visuals typically use a split page, two-column format.
There are a number of variations within
these two categories (see Figure 22.1), but
all will fall under one type or another.
In the theatrical format, scenes are
numbered; it’s best not to number your
scenes until you complete your final
draft. Manually renumbering scenes can
grow tiresome.
Number the pages in the upper right
hand corner. When a scene crosses over
from one page to the next, place the notation “continued” at the bottom right corner of the first page. Mark the top of the
second page with the scene number and a
“continued” notation.
It’s important that the finished screenplay follow the general visual format,
allowing for simple identification of scene
location, direction and dialogue. For
example, the first time Dan’s name appears
in the script his name is set in capital letters. The second time it isn’t. This makes it
easy for the reader to keep track of new
characters. When indicating dialogue,
character names always appear in caps.
Technically, each time the camera moves
it inaugurates a new scene; we have three
scenes now, rather than just the one.
Some screenwriters also capitalize all
audio cues—TYPING, TICKING—for easy
With documentary and industrial
video, you are frequently more interested
in matching certain visual information
with spoken word audio. That’s why it’s
easier to format this type of script in two
columns. The description of the visual
information goes in the left column and
the audio information goes in the right.
As with the dramatic screenplay, these
types of formats vary slightly from script
to script. In some, a thin third column to
the left indicates shot numbers. Other
variations use an abbreviation for the shot
as part of the description.
It’s a Wrap
Yes, learning to write can pose a challenge, but take a look at Mike. He gritted
his teeth, put his stuff down on paper, and
found he actually enjoyed himself.
The fifteen-minute film he was assigned
to write turned into three five-minute
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 22.1 Samples of theatrical and dual-column scriptwriting formats.
sections for a feature film script he vows
someday to complete. He scored himself
an “A” in the course. Most important, he
engaged in work he felt good about, and
gained a new perspective on his capabilities. Now it’s your turn.
The Complete Guide to Standard Script
Formats: The Screenplay by Cole and
Haag, ISBN: 0929583000, CMC Publishing
Inc., $18.95.
Writing Tools for Videographer:
The TV Scriptwriter’s Handbook by Alfred
Brenner, ISBN: 187950510X, Sicman
James Press, $15.95.
There’s a wealth of help out there for script
writers, from how-to books to formatting
software. Below we list some of the most
popular writing tools. For more, contact
The Writer’s Computer Store 1-800-272-8927
The Elements of Screenwriting by Irwin R.
Blacker, ISBN: 002861450X, MacMillan
Distribution, $9.95.
Scriptwriting Tutorial
WritePro; for DOS, Windows or Mac, eight
lessons, $199.
How-To Books
Script Formatting Programs
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field, ISBN: 0440576474,
Dell Publishing, $13.95.
Final Draft, for Mac or Windows, $249.
Screen Writer 2000, for Mac or Windows,
Look Who’s Talking:
How to Create Effective,
Believable Dialogue for
Your Video Productions
John K. Waters
A script is a story told with pictures—but
silent pictures they’re not. Since 1927,
when the debut of The Jazz Singer transformed “moving pictures” into “talkies,”
dialogue has played a crucial role in making successful films and videos.
But with everything else you worry
about as an independent videographer—
maintaining your equipment, getting the
shot, getting paid—dialogue may be low
on your list of concerns. Still, you don’t
want to underestimate its power.
Good dialogue works hard. It keeps
things moving, ties individual segments
together and unifies your piece. On the
other hand, bad dialogue discredits your
work, destroying your credibility and ultimately costing you your audience.
Whether you’re shooting independent
features, corporate image spots, local TV
commercials or your sister’s wedding,
what your subjects say can make the difference between an amateur show and a powerful piece of professional videography.
Here’s how to make sure what they say
What is Dialogue?
Any time you put words into the mouths
of your on-camera subjects, you are writing dialogue. That definition includes
hosts, commentators and spokespersons,
as well as actors playing parts.
The primary purpose of dialogue is to
move your story forward. It accomplishes
this by revealing character, communicating
information and establishing relationships
between characters. It can also foreshadow
events, comment on the action and connect
For example: in my script Sleeping Dogs
Lie, the hero, Ray Sobczak, is a reporter
working on a story that is annoying some
very important citizens. Here, a local
politico delivers a veiled warning.
What happened to you?
Zigged when I shoulda zagged. How’s
the campaign going?
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Oh, I just love spending obscene
amounts of my mother’s money—and
what your paper charges for ad
space is truly obscene.
Something tells me your mother can
afford it, Mr. Bockman.
My father, who could also afford it
when he was alive, was
Mr. Bockman. Call me Jamie.
Okay, Jamie. Think she’ll win?
(ignoring him) How’s the story coming?
Which story is that? (Jamie gazes out
at the cluster of downtown buildings
and the hills rising behind them.)
Salinas is growing, Ray. Over a
hundred thousand at last count. But,
underneath, it’s still a small town.
This exchange probably won’t go down in
history as the most memorable in films,
but it has many earmarks of good dialogue.
It tells us something about the characters:
Jamie is rich, has an ambiguous attitude
toward his mother’s campaign for mayor
and has well-informed connections;
Sobczak is tough, and won’t let a bump on
the noggin keep him from getting the story.
It foreshadows future events: people are
watching. And it moves the story forward:
this encounter gives Sobczak an idea,
which leads him—and the story—in a
new direction.
Keep It Lean
The above example also demonstrates another important quality of good
dialogue: brevity. Good dialogue is a lean
exchange between people, composed of
short phrases. On paper, it looks like lots
of white space; big blocks of type are definite warning sign that you are overwriting
your dialogue.
“The good stuff is a dance of two and
three-liners between characters,” says
scriptwriter Madeline DiMaggio. “It’s a
bouncing ball that keeps your audience
When it comes to writing dialogue,
DiMaggio knows what she’s talking about.
She has written over 35 hours of episodic
television for shows ranging from Kojak to
The Bob Newhart Show to ABC’s After
School Special. A former staff writer for
the daytime soap opera Santa Barbara, she
is also a teacher and the author of How to
Write for Television.
DiMaggio says the kind of close-tothe-bone dialogue you want for your
videos comes only through rewriting (See
Figure 23.1.), “It doesn’t happen on the
first pass,” she says. “At first your dialogue
is cardboard—and that’s the way it should
be. It’s only later, when you go back and
take five lines down to two-and-a-half, and
then two-and-a-half lines down to one, that
you find the real gems.”
DiMaggio says she plays a game with
herself during her rewriting process: if
she can whittle a piece of dialogue down
to four lines, can she cut it to two? If she
can chop it to two, how about one?
“If script writers were doctors,” she
says, the best ones would be surgeons.
“Cut, cut, cut!”
Make It Sound Real
A tried and true technique for developing
your ear for natural-sounding dialogue is
to surreptitiously tape conversations and
then transcribe them later.
I do this especially when I’m writing about types of people I don’t know
well. Ethical questions aside, this has
worked well to awaken my sense of how
people talk.
Look Who’s Talking
Figure 23.1 Rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again is key when writing dialog.
The first thing I noticed when I began
doing this was how fragmented conversations are. The following is an example
from my files.
MAN #1
MAN #2
That’s because of the, you know, holiday ‘n stuff, and her car was there
and everything, but…
MAN #1
Hey, what’s up?
What a piece of *#@*!, man, that car…
MAN #2
MAN #2
I dropped by the place. Thought I’d
say hi, but nobody was, you know…
Yeah, and, you know,
I left like, a note.
MAN #1
MAN #1
I was over there yesterday and…
MAN #2
… home. You know?
MAN #1
Nobody? Man, I…
On paper, this conversation looks like an
exchange between two orangutans, but
they sounded perfectly normal. That’s
why, unless you’re making a documentary, you can’t just transcribe tapes of real
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
conversations and use them raw in your
scripts. And even documentaries require
judicious editing.
“If you went out to a coffee shop with a
tape recorder,” DiMaggio says, “and went
home and put what you recorded into a
script, it wouldn’t work. Good dialogue
isn’t actually real. It just gives the illusion
of reality.”
DiMaggio says one of the best ways to
learn how dialogue sounds is to record
“That’s how I got to know Santa
Barbara,” she says. “There were so many
characters, and they all had their own
voices! I would audiotape the show and
then listen whenever I was driving. When
you cut off the other senses, your ear
becomes much stronger.”
DiMaggio also recommends audiotaping
shows to develop an ear for genre dialogue.
“Comedies, mysteries, dramas—it’s an
incredible way to learn,” she says.
Good dialogue also has a spontaneous
quality, as if your characters were speaking their lines for the first time.
“When the dialogue is stilted or too
formal,” says corporate video writer/producer Susan O’Connor Fraser, “the audience just laughs at it. When they start
doing that, you’ve lost them.”
O’Connor Fraser is the creative director
for Tam Communications in San Jose,
California. She’s been writing and producing videos for Fortune 500 companies
for the past 15 years. Her company produced a reality-based show on paramedics in San Jose, which aired on the
local ABC affiliate.
“I don’t think corporate video is that
much different from features,” O’Connor
Fraser says. “Dialogue is dialogue, and
every story has its own reality. Star
Wars has a reality, and so does a corporate sales presentation. Everything must
play and be believable within its own
According to O’Connor Fraser, one of
the most common dialogue errors she sees
is characters addressing each other by
name too often.
“I’ve seen it done in every passage,” she
says. “It’s, ‘Well, John … Well, Lisa… What
do you think, John…I’m not sure, Lisa.’
It’s just not real.”
She says reading your script aloud is
one of the easiest ways to spot dialogue
errors. (See Figure 23.2.)
“You’re writing for the ear. So you need
to find out how it sounds. You don’t need
actors, though they are a wonderful luxury. Just read it out loud with a friend, or
by yourself while you’re sitting at your
computer. You’ll hear many of the problems right away.”
Stay in Character
When I write, I become the characters I’m
writing about. This is pretty easy when
I’m writing about thirtysomething white
guys from the Midwest. But what about
when the character I’m writing dialogue for is a New York cop, or a Southern
doctor, or a black female Vietnam veteran
with a Harvard MBA, two grown children
and a neurotic obsession with alien
You simply cannot write dialogue that
rings true unless you acquaint yourself
with the kind of people appearing in your
video. This is where real world research
is essential. I’m talking about stuff you
can’t find in the library. But that doesn’t
mean that you have to spend a week on a
fishing boat in Alaska or infiltrate the
local Jaycees to get the right slang and jargon for your script, though those are tried
and true approaches.
“If I don’t have any personal experiences in my own life I can draw on,” says
O’Connor Fraser, “I track down the kind
of person I’m writing about and take them
to lunch.” In her corporate work, she
tends to deal with a limited number of
“types,” mostly from the high tech world;
after 15 years she knows them well. But
she still checks her “voice” with face-toface interviews—especially when she’s
writing a script for an on-camera presentation by a company executive.
Look Who’s Talking
Figure 23.2 Read your script aloud to make sure it sounds natural.
“When I go out and interview a president or vice president who will be on
camera,” she says, “I listen very carefully,
so I’m really hearing them talk. I don’t
want them to sound like they’re reading
from the inside cover of an annual report.
I want them to sound very natural and
comfortable, as though they were talking
across the table from someone.
“Interviewing your clients is also one
of the best ways to pick up the buzz words
of their professions. Listen closely and
make a list of unfamiliar words or phrases.
Ask for clarification so you understand
them in context. When you sit down to
write your script, your list will prove
Many writers just write the dialogue as
best they can and then give it to someone
from that character’s walk of life to read.
DiMaggio says she works on her dialogue,
“until I’m not ashamed of it,” and then
turns it over to a person with whatever
special knowledge her characters would
have. In her TV movie script, Belly Up, for
example, one of her characters was a man
who gambled on the golf course.
“I wasn’t about to take up golf to hear
how guys gamble on the golf course,” says
DiMaggio. “So I sent the script to my
brother. He gambles on the golf course all
the time. In five minutes he told me
things I couldn’t possibly know unless I
was out there. I made some changes in the
script and all of a sudden it sounded
absolutely real. One producer told me I
wrote like a man, which, under the circumstances, I took as a compliment.”
In one of my own scripts I created a
character who was a professional crop
duster, but I had never met a crop duster
in my life. So I picked up the Yellow
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Pages, and a few lunches later I knew
everything I needed to know to create a
believable character. (And I now know to
call them agricultural aviators.)
Go for Subtext
Syd Field, author of several well-known
books on scriptwriting, including the now
classic Screenplay: The Foundations of
Screenwriting, calls dialogue one of the
“tools of character.” That’s because what
people say says a great deal about them.
But what they don’t say often says more.
The best dialogue is not only about what
your characters are saying, it’s also about
what they’re not saying. This is subtext.
“Subtext is what’s happening beneath
the surface,” says DiMaggio. “It’s the key
to truly great dialogue.”
Examples of subtext abound in films
like the 1944 film noir classic, Double
Indemnity. One scene in particular comes
to mind, in which insurance salesman
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) puts the
make on a client’s wife (Barbara Stanwyck).
They fence back and forth in a conversation about cars and speeding, but driving
is the last thing on their minds.
Subtext enlivens good writing everywhere—even commercials. We’ve watched
that couple in the Taster’s Choice commercials meet, woo and bed in Paris—all
while talking about coffee.
Subtext probably isn’t as important
in most corporate video situations; still,
you ignore it at your peril. Human
beings talk around things. Dialogue that’s
too “on the nose” won’t sound natural.
Even the dialogue in infomercials has
Figure 23.3 Congratulations! It’s a script!
Look Who’s Talking
Write the Right Voice Over
Voice-over narration isn’t really dialogue,
but many of the same principles still
apply. This is especially true if the narrator is a particular character, as in the case
of a host, or one of the actors, such as
the Holly Hunter character in The Piano
or Walter Neff, who narrates Double
You write voice-over narration like you
write dialogue—for the ear. It should
sound conversational. Even if your narrator is an omniscient voice, that voice must
conform to your audience’s expectations
of human communication.
“When I’m doing voice overs,” says
O’Connor Fraser, “I still get a character in
mind and write for him or her. Of course
this is really important if the narrator will
ever appear on-camera, but I do it even if
they won’t. That way, the voice is consistent throughout.”
Voice-over narration can be even harder
to write than dialogue. “If you think dialogue has to be lean,” DiMaggio says,
“voice overs have to be the best of the
best. It has to be very, very thrifty. The real
gems. Otherwise it turns into an excuse
for failing to write good exposition.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Writing authentic, believable dialogue is a
special skill; it takes practice. But with
some effort and more than a little patience,
you’ll get it. (Figure 23.3)
“You have to realize that the script you
write today won’t be as good as the script
you write next year,” says O’Connor Fraser.
“And that’s okay. I’m a much better writer
now than I was a year ago. I learn something with every script I write.”
“We’re all students, really,” says
DiMaggio. “No matter how long you do
this, there’s always something to learn. I
think that’s the good news. It’s one of the
things that keeps this work interesting.”
In the end, creating good dialogue
is more about listening than it is about
writing. Once you begin to hear the
rhythms of human conversation, the dialogue you write for your videos will
improve dramatically.
So keep your ears open.
Storyboards and Shot Lists
Jim Stinson
Some DVDs (Shrek and The Matrix, for
example) now include sample storyboards—shot-by-shot sketches drawn to
visualize the action of key sequences—as
bonus material. As you study these slick
drawings, you’ll notice that most frames
are remarkably close to the actual shots
they predict. Back in Hollywood’s glory
days, most directors (with Hitchcock a
notable exception) rarely worked with storyboards; today, however, they’re everywhere. Should you be using them too?
That’s what we’re here to discover. We’ll
start with a look at what storyboards do.
Storyboards Visualize
Basically, pre-designed storyboards in
pencil or marker predict what shots will
look like. Why not just invent shots as you
actually shoot? Here are three reasons.
First, storyboards let you test complicated setups cheaply on paper instead of
expensively on location. Suppose your
script says, “He unrolls the treasure map
before him and she gasps as she sees
where the gold is buried.” But when you
draw a high-angle insert of the unfolding
map, you realize there’s no way to get
“she” into the frame (see Figure 24.1a). So
you try a new angle: over her shoulder
(see Figure 24.1b). By moving the camcorder to center her face and refocusing as
she turns into profile, you can get both
her relation to the map and her reaction to
it; and you haven’t wasted half an hour on
a setup you’d eventually discard.
Secondly, you can check your coverage
of a sequence and preplan your video
camera angles for variety, continuity and
rhythm. Suppose you sketch three shots
of the male talent digging up the treasure
chest (see Figure 24.2a). Hmmm: though
the sketches are from different viewpoints, they’re all neutral-height medium
shots and are too repetitive. OK, substitute a point-of-view (POV) closeup of the
emerging chest (Figure 24.2b) and change
the last shot to a low-angle closeup of his
greedy expression as he reacts to the chest
(Figure 24.2c). In 10 minutes of doodling,
Storyboards and Shot Lists
Figure 24.1
you’ve improved a sequence from ho-hum
to dynamic.
Finally, storyboarding is essential for
planning special effects. Say you want to
establish a “pirate ship” by compositing
stock footage of a three-master riding offshore with our hero in the foreground (see
Figure 24.3). A sketch will guide your
placement of the camera and the actor so
that he’ll relate properly to the scene.
Storyboard Vision
So far, you’ve been created storyboards for
your own use, but storyboards also communicate your vision to others. Verbalizing image ideas is always chancy, so it’s
better to show what you have in mind
In the professional world, storyboards
are essential for communicating with
clients, first to pitch concepts and then to
preview the live action. Never forget that
visual imagination is like a sense of humor:
many people lack it, but no one will ever
admit it. The client may nod and smile as
you verbalize your vision, but yelp, “You
never said you’d do that!” upon seeing the
footage, even if that was precisely what you
promised. Prevent that scenario—put that
promise in sketches instead of words.
Incidentally, you should have a professional artist draw storyboards for clients.
Even though you were hired to shoot, not
draw, your amateur scribbles will likely
cast doubts on your professionalism.
(Hey, whoever said it was fair?) If you
don’t have a client to impress, don’t
worry about the quality of your thumbnail
sketches. As long as they communicate to
yourself and your crew, they do the job.
There are two ways to do storyboarding
nowadays, either draw them on paper or
build them on a computer.
Paper and Pencil
To make a board from scratch, draw
between six and 12 rectangles on a virtual
sheet of paper (any word processor or
paint program’ll do it for you). Make the
horizontal/vertical ratio 4 to 3 (4:3) for
conventional video or 16:9 for wide
screen. Leave enough space to write
under each frame. Some people pre-print
“Frame #,” “action,” “audio,” etc., but
you don’t have to be that formal. Print out
a large quantity of these blank boards.
Using simple lines and stick-figure subjects, sketch each setup in a frame,
observing just a few conventions. Indicate
subject movement with arrows in the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 24.2
frame. Show zooms by sketching the wideangle position, drawing a box around the
telephoto position within it and adding
diagonal arrows to show whether the
movement is in or out. For pans or tilts
between two distinct compositions, show
each one as a separate frame, with an
arrow between frames to link them.
The notes written below each frame
should contain some or all of the following:
Frame number
Sequence (“27”) or sequence/shot (“27B”)
Action (“John runs past; exits frame
Storyboards and Shot Lists
Figure 24.4 You don’t need to be an artist. Use
a simple paint program to convey your ideas.
Camera instructions: (“No pan”)
Dialogue: (“JOHN: Come back here with
that map!”)
Other audio: (“SFX: bullet ricochet”)
planning, because you can import digital
photos and write extensive commentaries.
However, they can be cranky and limited
in drawing the shots of your particular
show. Though they might seem to allow
non-artists to build presentation-quality
boards, the skill needed to customize their
generic components is substantial.
Visual effects: (“Bluescreen for ship
Shot Lists
Figure 24.3
Computer Boards
If you’re deft with a mouse (or are fortunate enough to own a pad and stylus), you
can sketch boards directly on your screen.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is with
the draw tools in Corel Presentations or
Microsoft PowerPoint. This approach
makes frames easy to add, insert, delete or
modify (see Figure 24.4).
A second method is to make individual
sketches in the draw/paint software you
favor, then use a graphics organizer to
print them as sequential thumbnails. The
ThumbsPlus software lets you add extensive notes under each image.
A third route is a publishing package
like Adobe PageMaker. You can build a
template page of blank frames, then either
draw in each one or import an outside
graphic or even location photo.
This brings us to commercial storyboard
packages. As the sidebar suggests, they can
make wonderful organizers for production
Think of a shot list as the writing on a
storyboard, without the pictures (see
Figure 24.5). Though simple lists of shots
don’t let you pre-test potential setups, they
do allow you to systematically verify that
you are covering every angle you need.
Often shot lists are just quick and dirty
notes that help you remember everything
you need in a particular sequence. You can
also cull a shot list from a fully-written
script if you separate video into separate
columns (or paragraphs). Just build a
word processor macro that will strip out
everything but the scene number and the
visual description.
On the other hand, a shot list built in a
database program (such as File Maker Pro)
can be the most versatile production tool
in your kit. Design a database using some
or all of the fields suggested in the sidebar, using each shot as a separate record.
By creating report forms with different
fields and sorts, you can build a working
document for everyone from the director
to the wardrobe person.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 24.5 A coordinated shot list that matches your storyboard will make
your job much easier.
Sidebar 1
Storyboard Software
Commercial software is available for storyboarding but it suffers from problems that are very
hard to overcome.
Most packages work by supplying a pre-drawn set of backgrounds, a grab bag of props
(guns, flower pots, cars), and a repertory of characters. By selecting, placing, rotating and
scaling these components, you can make very professional looking frames.
The trouble is, they can almost never illustrate your video. The script may say, “The old
duchess sweeps into the palace banquet hall.” but the software inventory lacks both an old
woman (let alone a duchess) and a palace hall; and the drawing tools for building same are
rudimentary, to put it kindly.
True, you can import custom backgrounds from programs like Bryce and characters from
3D modeling software, but expect to spend at least an hour per frame building these hybrid
images. Do the math on a three-page board of 12 frames each and decide if this method is
really time-effective for your project.
On the other hand, these packages can be useful in production planning if you import digital stills from location scouting and make notes in the fields provided. Shotmaster from the
Badham Company ( is particularly versatile this way.
Bottom line: Storyboard packages have their uses, but don’t expect them to draw what you
can’t draw for yourself.
Sidebar 2
A Shot List Database
Start your database by treating each shot as a separate record. Then add fields for every
important aspect of production planning.
Storyboards and Shot Lists
An Extensive List
A fairly complete set of fields might include the following (separate but related fields are
grouped together):
sequence, shot number and take
interior/exterior and day/night
camera setup
audio (production, reference track, special effects)
special equipment (like a dolly)
shot content
talent 1, talent 2, talent 3 (etc., for as many actors as will ever appear together in a single shot)
key prop (such as a rented vehicle), other props
day, date and start time
Plus any other production details you want to keep track of.
A Director’s List
To create a director’s shot list, build a report containing these fields:
sequence, shot number and take.
camera setup
shot content
Then sort the list by sequence, setup and only then shot number. You’ll get a sequence-bysequence list of every shot organized by setup.
Budget Details:
Successful Video Projects
Stick to Budgets
Mark Steven Bosko
Creating and adhering to a realistic budget
is important to the success of any videographer’s project.
But just how do you compute that magical figure, arrive at an amount low enough
to attract investors but large enough to get
the job done? It’s not easy. Thousands of
people labor in Hollywood as budget wizards; not even they get it right always. So
many variables and details can go wrong
or astray; it’s impossible to plan for every
contingency. Most often, you just have to
Still, in this chapter we’ll offer a number of useful guidelines vital for budget
preparation. Videographers who absorb
these lessons will at least have a reasonable grasp of the basics of financial
Reasons for Budgets
Video budgets both attract investors
and allow you to exercise control over a
Since the budget is the foundation of
any presentation to investors, it should be
specific and accurate.
Realism is also a good idea. It’s an
admirable goal, applying LucasFilm-like
effects to a dry-cleaning commercial, but
hardly feasible when the video must come
in at $499.
Most projects begin under-budgeted
and under-scheduled. It’s easy to understand why. A project will certainly seem
more attractive to investors if you can convince them you’ll finish the video for less
money in less time than the competition.
But this shortsighted method of easy
financing will eventually cause you
Projects under-scheduled and underbudgeted leave you with only two options
once the show begins 1) the project goes
over budget, or 2) the quality goes into the
Say you tell a client $300 will do to create a training video. Then, during shooting, rain pours down; you must shut down
the shoot and pay talent for a second day.
Budget Details
You’ve now spent an extra $50, money
intended for post-production. So will you
skip the original scoring, budgeted at $50,
choosing instead to give the client canned
tunes? Or jettison the spiffy title effects
for hand-lettered cards?
Sticking adamantly to an unrealistic
budget forces you to continually compromise. This leads to a loss of quality.
There’s a minimum budget for every project, a certain amount necessary to produce
a video meeting reasonable standards of
quality. Determine your video’s destination, then calculate the smallest amount
of money needed to reach it. If the available financing is less than this figure,
change the project.
Keep budgeting until you have a video
you can afford to make.
Step by Step
It’s important to give equal emphasis to all
stages of production, from writing and principal photography to music and editing.
It’s easy to get excited about the shooting stage of a video project. Here is the
place for lights, camera, action. Just don’t
make the mistake of creating an excruciatingly detailed budget for production only
to carelessly slop but a few dollars to post
production. You’ll pay dearly.
Become familiar with the functions and
costs associated with every step of the
production process. Talk to the people
responsible for the script, the shooting
and the effects. Without such intense
research, you may neglect such costs as
B-roll tape, music copyright fees and
catering charges.
Actual working budgets vary in size.
Major Hollywood studio budgets may end
up as two-inch-thick tomes, while an
independent thirty-second cable spot can
come in a tiny one-pager.
Regardless of size, most every budget
consists of two sections: costs above-theline and below-the-line. The former
includes cash for producer, writer, director and talent. These costs are usually
fixed, set amounts. Below-the-line costs
include everything else associated with
production. Each line item contains many
separate details contributing to the total
cost. I’ll examine each in an attempt to
explain what makes building a budget so
Over the Line
The first above-the-line item concerns screenplay and story rights (see
Figure 25.1). If your production uses an
adaptation of existing work, you’ll have to
purchase the rights. These can be costly
for a known, popular author’s work, or
nonexistent if the story comes from a
rookie simply seeking screen credit.
Unless you come up with it yourself, you
will have to pay someone some amount
for either an idea or an actual screenplay.
Even for thirty-second commercials,
people get paid to write scripts.
Hidden above-the-line costs can
include photocopying, script breakdowns
and rewrites, copyright registration and
legal fees associated with purchasing
The producer is the one who generally
runs the show; and, yep, often expects
payment, too. A producer is responsible
for finding story, actors, crew, equipment,
locations, props, wardrobe and investors.
This requires an enormous amount of
time, even for a small, one-day shoot. A
producer’s talent lies in the ability to
make and keep contacts; that’s what
they’re paid for. Obvious expenses
include phone charges, travel expenses,
lunches, postage, contracts and legal fees.
In Hollywood, the director is paid for
overall vision. On smaller productions,
the director may be you, the camera operator or even the client. With very low budgets, you can skip this item; there isn’t
enough discretionary cash available to
afford a director.
Talent includes lead actors, supporting
cast, stunt people, voice-over artists and
models. In budgeting talent, keep in mind
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 25.1 Checklist of costs.
daily or hourly rates. These usually vary
according to how often the person works.
As an example, you might hire talent
from the local actors’ union for $200 a
day, $150 for two days or more. Read the
small print; often contracts demand that
two or more days be worked consecutively. If you work your talent on Monday
and Wednesday, you’ll spend $400, not
the planned two-day rate of $300.
For details on this intricate subject,
consult Ralph Singleton’s indispensable
book, Film Scheduling.
Under the Rainbow
In an ultra-low budget affair you may
spend little or no money above the line.
But every production—large or small—
incurs production expenses.
Depending on circumstances, production staff may or may not require significant expenditures. When the local car
dealer hires you to shoot a thirty-second
spot, you discover the script calls for a
night shoot requiring a two-camera setup
and live sound. What began simply now
demands additional camera operators,
lighting people, sound recorders and
probably three or four grips to jockey
cables and equipment.
On the other hand, your sixty-minute
documentary on the mating habits of waterfowl requires only you and your camera.
Obviously, a project’s length bears little
relation to total costs. It’s the script details
that matter.
Budget Details
On most projects, regardless of size, the
key staff members are the camera operator, sound recordist, lighting technician
and makeup artist.
Support positions include dialogue
director, script supervisor, electricians,
dolly operators, boom operators, art director, costume designer, model builder,
prop maker, set decorator, hair dresser,
special effects technician, carpenter,
painter, still photographer, animal handler, security, first-aid crew and publicist
(see Figure 25.1).
Set operations, like staff, can demand
either a large or small chunk of cash,
again depending on the project. If you
already own a camera, lights and sound
equipment and all your locations currently exist; operation costs may be few.
No need to buy or rent gear or build sets.
If your video seeks to portray a sci-fi
world, get ready to dole out the dollars.
The set builder needs wood, the wardrobe
manager gold lamé, the makeup artist
latex and the gaffer colored gels. The set
operations segment of this budget
requires great detail; include every imaginable associated cost.
It’s not neurotic to include such costs as
the tissues actors will need for their noses
during chilly outdoor shoots. It’s these little
things that throw a project into disarray.
Don’t overlook such “obvious” items as
nails, screws, bolts and glue; gasoline for
automobiles and generators; rentals and
permits; duplicate sets of clothing; bottles,
cans, books and plants; and, of course, tape.
Again, talk to your people; learn what
they require. Sometimes it’s not a bad
idea to ask your support staff to create
their own budgets; these you can incorporate into your final estimate.
Postage and telephone fees can add up
quickly. It’s amazing how many longdistance calls people make in the middle
of a production. And if you’re on the road
with a cellular, cash outflow can grow
quite frightening. Same for postage and
shipping expenses. If your client lives in
another town and insists on dailies, you’ll
go broke if you haven’t budgeted properly.
To cast and crew, the most important
cost is catering. Believe me, you don’t
want to face down fifteen hungry people
with nothing but a jar of peanut butter
and a loaf of bread.
Post-production Funds
The last formal segment of the budget
concerns post-production audio and video
Those who own their own editing
equipment will find costs fairly minimal.
If forced to rent, the prices can get steep.
Don’t underestimate the amount of editing time. This will depend on such variables as length of script, timing, client
approval and number of effects.
If you’ve shot footage for a thirtysecond spot requiring only five or six
edits, an hour may be enough. If that same
spot requires a rapid assault of images
and sounds, you may spend two or three
days in the edit bay.
You usually reserve editing time by the
hour, day or week, with price breaks for
longer periods. Other post production
costs include music, graphics and titles
creation, special visual effects, dubbing,
time coding, audio mixing, looping,
sound effects and extra tape.
A final cost to consider is the promotional expense associated with selling and
marketing. Final product should be presented in a professional form. All videos
properly labeled and packaged. You don’t
want to hand a client a VHS copy in a
cardboard sleeve with masking tape
crookedly proclaiming the title on the
spine. A nice hard-shell package with a
printed label is the only way to go;
include these costs in your budget.
If you want your production to reach the
masses, think about full-color packaging
costs like artwork, layout and printing.
Any worthwhile marketing effort includes
mailing promotional copies to potential
distributors and buyers. Estimate photocopying, postage and duplication costs.
Don’t forget advertising. Magazines,
radio, TV, billboards, classifieds, flyers,
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
telemarketing, direct sales, door-to-door,
conventions and trade shows whatever
form you plan requires cash. Obtain
quotes for ad rates during the time your
ad will appear. Remember, your commercials will probably air more than a year
after you’ve assembled the budget.
Because so much can go wrong, add a
10 percent contingency amount. This
allows for unpredictable events, and lets
investors know you’re handling the project in a professional manner.
It’s not easy to create budgets. It’s
harder yet to stick to them. But with a little preparation, forethought and diligence
throughout the production, you could
still find change in your pockets when the
credits roll.
A Modest Proposal
William Ronat
Your phone rings. On the other end is a
potential client. You like potential clients,
as they represent potential profits. (Okay,
so maybe you’re not a professional videographer at this point. Stick with us anyway; as your skills and your reputation
grow, you just might get such a call one
The conversation is pleasant enough,
with the potential client giving you a nebulous description of his potential video
project. Then it’s your turn. “What’s it
going to cost?” asks the potential client
That’s the problem with some potential
clients. They want to know exactly what
you are going to do before you do it. And
they want to know exactly what it will
cost before they even know what they
want to do.
Here’s how I handle such a question.
“Look,” I say, “every video project is different. It’s like asking how much a house
is going to cost before you tell me what
kind of a house you want to build. How
many rooms does the house have, does it
have a water view, how many acres of
land? Ceramic tile? A swimming pool?
You see?”
“Ah, of course, I see perfectly,” says the
potential client pleasantly, “But how much
is it going to cost?”
“A million dollars,” I reply.
Learn to Earn
This is the time to get some details on
paper, usually in the form of a proposal. A
proposal is simply a document that outlines what the video is going to accomplish. How you plan to make it happen,
and an estimate of what it’s all going to
cost. Ahhh—we’re back to the cost issue.
How can you come up with an accurate
estimate of a “potential” video? By learning everything you can about the project.
Who will be watching the final video—
CEOs of corporations or first graders at
the local elementary school? How long is
the video? Will you need to shoot on
Digital Betacam or is S-VHS acceptable?
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Are you and your crew going to have to
travel to Istanbul or will everything be
shot locally?
Be sure the client understands what he
or she is getting. If your price is for shooting and editing, then let the client know
that scriptwriting will be an additional
expense. Or if you do take the job from
start to finish, then outline all the steps
(selecting talent, scouting locations, production scheduling, shooting, editing, and
dubs). Make sure the client understands
that your price includes these items only.
Before you state a price for the project,
see if you can find out what the client’s
budget is. It may be more than you
thought, which gives you the freedom to
add more elements to the production. On
the other end of the spectrum, the budget
may be so small that it’s not even possible
to accomplish what the client wants. It’s
better to learn this sad fact early, before
you invest your valuable time.
Set the Parameters
Once you state a price, the client will try to
hold you to it. Client-human nature is to
lock you into a price and then add complexity that will cost you more money. “Did
I forget to mention that you could shoot on
the warehouse floor only between 3 a.m.
and 5 a.m.? Must’ve slipped my mind.”
This is why you want to be specific in
the cost estimating process of your proposal. If you tell them exactly what they
are getting for the price you are quoting,
the client won’t be able to add on more
complexity without that price going up.
On simple jobs, I usually break my estimate down into two parts: 1) the Treatment
and 2) the Estimate and Authorization.
Earlier, we looked at how you should
ask questions to learn about the client’s
project. With the information you learned
through your questions, a natural method
of creating the video will probably pop
into your head.
For example, a client might be a builder
of million-dollar homes. The client wants
to show off the many features of the
different models. Your treatment might
look like this:
Classical music plays as the camera floats
past the house with a breathtaking wide
shot. The scene dissolves to a closer shot
of the front of the house. As the camera
floats forward, the front door opens and
the camera (who is the viewer,) is greeted
by a butler. This butler (a professional
actor) proceeds to give the viewer a full
tour of the house.
The treatment can be as simple or as
complex as you like, as long as it serves the
purpose of telling your client what the
show is going to look like. If the client likes
the concept and agrees on the price, you
are ready to move into scripting. If there is
something the client doesn’t agree with,
you know it before you discuss money.
Also, if the clients love your idea, they’re
more likely to go with you than one of your
competitors. Of course, the client can
always steal your idea and use another
company, anyway. The unfortunate fact is
you can’t copyright an idea.
Author, Author
The second part of the proposal I send to
clients is the Estimate and Authorization.
On this sheet, I try to be as complete as
possible, putting down my best guesses on
what each part of the video will cost. There
are two schools of thought on this. A
buddy of mine, who also produces video,
only tells his clients what the total cost of
the production will be. He has found that
some clients try to lower the price by eliminating parts of the video (“Look, we can
save $200 if we re-use a stack of VHS tapes
from home…).
Whatever method you choose, the important item is the last line on the page. This is
where it says:
Authorization: _______________
Date: _______
Have the client sign and date your document and you can get started.
A Modest Proposal
Does this document protect you from a
client who wants to rip you off? Nope. But
neither do multi-page contracts. I know of
a disreputable fellow who has run up
thousands of dollars worth of video production bills (though not with me, thank
goodness), refused to pay, been taken to
court, ordered to pay by the judge, and
still refused to pay. The last I heard, he
had left town—without paying.
If you don’t have a good feeling in your
gut about potential clients and you think
they might be in the sleazy category, back
off. Talk to other people in the community
who have worked with these people. Are
your fears legitimate? A little homework
can help you avoid major headaches.
So why get a signature? Honest people
(the ones you want to work with) stand by
their promises. But even these folks sometimes have short memories. (“I never
agreed to that.” “But you signed this document saying you did.” “I did? I’ll be
darned.”) Leaving a paper trail helps
everyone remember these little details.
What Do You Propose?
Often, a proposal is much more than just a
few descriptive paragraphs with a cost figure attached.
A proposal may become a long, involved
chunk of paperwork, which explains in
detail how you will create a specific video
project. It is sometimes written in response
to a Request for Proposal (RFP). Government agencies and other large corporations
often send out RFPs when they need specific services, be they video production or
bomb shelter construction. What they get
back from an RFP is a mountain of proposals, each explaining why the proposer is the
best choice to provide that service.
How can you get in on the fun of responding to an RFP? One way is to team up
with a larger company which is responding to an RFP that calls for a video as a
part of a larger contract.
For example, I once worked on a project
where a company was creating a simulator
for the Navy to train catapult officers on
aircraft carriers. These officers stood on a
simulated deck and looked at a large
screen television showing F-14s, A-6s and
other aircraft preparing to take off. The
production company I worked for was the
subcontractor responsible for capturing
the aircraft on videotape.
As a subcontractor, the video company
was only responsible for responding to a
small part of the RFP. But it was important
that the Navy was as comfortable with the
information presented in the video portion of the proposal as the rest. If you can
convince large companies in your area
that you are the person to handle its video
requirements, they might call you when
they need a video subcontractor.
If the RFP is for the production of a
video program, you could respond as the
primary contractor on the job. But be
aware that these RFPs go out to dozens of
companies at the same time. If you don’t
feel that yours is the right company to do
the work outlined in the RFP, you may
want to save your energy for a project you
can handle.
Why not respond to every RFP you can
find? Because creating a proposal is a lot
of work. You could conceivably spend all
your time writing proposals and never
win any of them.
For Example
What kind of information do most agencies
expect to see in a proposal? The following
is the actual wording of the proposal format from an RFP from the State of Florida.
1. Table of Contents.
2. Tab 1. Executive Summary—Include a
synopsis of the proposal prepared in a
manner that is easily understood by
non-technical personnel.
3. Tab 2. Certification and References—
the proposer shall provide a list of not
less than three (3) nor more than five
(5) different previous clients during
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
the past 3 years as references. This part
shall include the dates of the previous
projects and the name, title and
telephone number of a responsible
employee of the previous client who is
familiar with the project. The proposer
must include a certification that in the
previous project it was the original
provider of the services.
4. Tab 3. Resumes of Individuals Proposed
to Work on this Contract—the proposer
shall include resumes of the individual
it proposes to assign to this project,
specifying relevant educational and
work experiences, and shall designate
which individual will be the producer/
director responsible for the coordination of work efforts of the other personnel assigned to the project. Availability
of each individual shall be described,
as well as the estimated number of
workdays of commitment from each.
5. Tab 4. Description of Creative and
Technical Approach—The proposer
must provide a description of how it
will produce the video programs. This
description shall include the proposed
production schedule of the estimated
working days required to complete
each part of each program, the degree
of involvement by the Division, and
the geographic location where the production will take place. It should also
include general information about the
talent (estimated number of professionals, semiprofessionals, and extras)
and a general description of the proposed use of narrative, dramatics, animation and graphics.
6. Tab 5. Description of Video Equipment—
The proposer must supply a list of
production and post-production equipment intended for producing these
7. Tab 6. Work Sample—The proposer
must supply a sample in VHS format era
previous instructional or training video
program with production values similar
to those offered in response to the RFP.
The work sample will be evaluated for
both production quality and creative
treatment of the subject matter.
You Get the Idea
Also requested by the RFP were a Cost
Proposal Form, a proposal Acknowledgment List and a Sworn Statement on
Public Entity Crimes. If you think filling out
one of these puppies sounds like more work
than you are now putting into entire video
projects—you may be right. This is why you
should feel you have a pretty good shot at
getting a contract before you go after it.
The sample above, from the State of
Florida, was an extremely well written
RFP. A video expert was called in to give
the writer advice on how a video is put
together. But sometimes an RFP is written
requesting strange or unworkable video
solutions. It doesn’t matter. You must
respond to these requests as they are,
even if they are bizarre.
Responding to request for proposals is a
skill. You have to answer every question,
dot every i, cross every t. If you don’t,
your proposal can be thrown out for noncompliance. It’s harsh, but true.
If you can find someone who has dealt
with RFPs before, it might be worth it to
“partner” with them. It doesn’t really matter
if this person knows anything about video;
that’s your job, as long as they understand
the language of responding to proposals.
Check with local business groups to see
if they know of any retirees who used to
work for a corporation. These people
might have been exposed to proposal
writing and they might be willing to help
you learn how. They might be happy to
pass on their knowledge to a new generation. If you can’t find a real human to give
you advice, check your public library for
books on proposal writing.
Is responding to an RFP worth the trouble? Winning a contract can be extremely
lucrative. But it isn’t easy. If you think
you can fill the requirements, I propose
you give it a try.
A Word From Your Sponsor
William Ronat
You have a great idea for a TV Show. Now
all you have to do is produce it and wait
for the accolades and money to roll in.
Right? If only it worked that way.
Unfortunately, it takes money to put a
show on the air. It takes money to shoot and
edit a show and it takes money to buy the
airtime so that the audience can receive it
on their TV sets.
We can assume, then, that to go through
this process you need . . . money. You can
supply this money yourself if you have it,
or you can find benefactors, patrons, or as
we often call them, sponsors.
Sponsors might fund you for several reasons. They might take this step 1) because
you look like a nice person who needs
help, 2) to make money as a result of good
publicity or the advertising value they
receive from your show, or 3) because
they’re relatives and have more money
than sense.
Addled relatives may be the best solution, but if you come from a family of
poorly financed underachievers you will
probably opt for an individual or business
looking to make a buck. This is best. If a
sponsor fails to prosper from your efforts,
he will simply not fund your next project.
A disgruntled family member may very
well disinherit you.
On With the Show
You should pre-qualify potential sponsors
before you contact them. What do I mean
by pre-qualify? Find out the answers to
questions such as these: will my potential
sponsors be receptive to the idea of
financing a TV show? Do they have the
budget for such a project? Does the content of my show “fit” with the business of
these sponsors?
The more you know about your sponsors, the better. If you approach a cigarette
manufacturer to finance a show about
lung cancer, you may not have much luck.
Don’t waste your time (or the time of the
potential sponsor) by setting yourself up
for failure. Rejections are mentally debilitating. Avoid them.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
What kind of show might a sponsor pay
to have produced? You can look to the
television networks for the most prevalent
type: one that attracts viewers who may
buy the sponsor’s product.
We call daytime dramas soap operas
because companies like Proctor and
Gamble—soap manufacturers—sponsor
these shows. Traditionally, these shows
were watched by the person in the household most likely to make the soap-buying
Sporting events find sponsors in beer
breweries, athletic shoe makers and car
manufacturers, among others. Toy companies basically own Saturday morning
children’s programming. In fact, many of
the shows have ties to specific toys and
vice versa, an odd symbiosis. Think about
who will want to watch your show and
then match a business that has a product
to sell to this audience.
Another type of show that a sponsor
might pay for is the infomercial. Demonstrating a product can be an effective selling method. Door to door vacuum cleaner
salesmen knew this technique. Throw
some dirt on the floor and then use the
product to clean it up while the customer
Infomercials often go the same way.
These shows are basically a long commercial for a product, but are disguised to look
like a talk show or a news magazine format
show. The channel-surfing viewer might get
hooked before realizing he or she is being
sold. If a sponsor can take direct orders
(from an 800 number or through mail-ins)
an infomercial might have appeal.
If one of your local stations is part of a
home shopping club network you may be
able to create a local version of their programming. Then, for X number of minutes
(which you or your sponsor would buy)
the station would be selling your sponsor’s product instead of pots and pans or
ceramic dolls.
If your goals include more intellectual
pursuits, you may be able to get a sponsor
for a drama or documentary if the quality
of your show is superior. The leadership of
a potential sponsor’s company may understand that a fine drama adds to the quality
of life of everyone. Or maybe they recognize that supporting a popular program
could help change their “unpopular” status with a certain slice of the viewership.
Either way, the arts get funded. Without
speculating on motive, here are two examples of corporations which sponsor artistic endeavors: the long-running series of
dramas under the banner The Hallmark
Hall of Fame and Masterpiece Theater
sponsored in part by Mobil Corporation.
Psst, Buddy, Wanna Buy a TV Show?
How do you approach potential sponsors?
First you have to find them. This means
doing research to learn which companies
in your area would even consider funding
your show. But just because you have a
great idea and your potential sponsors are
the perfect candidates to benefit from it
doesn’t mean they will do so. You have to
sell them on the idea.
Being in business, you have probably
had to ask a bank for money. That’s not an
easy process, is it? You probably had to
create a business plan and outline your
life’s history. Then you had to prove to the
bank that you are a good risk and that the
bank would get the money back that you
wanted to borrow.
When you ask a sponsor for money, prepare your case as well as if you were asking a bank for a loan. You are asking a
sponsor to risk capital without collateral
or any guarantee that the sponsor will get
the money back. How receptive will the
potential sponsor be to such a plan? That
depends on how good a plan it is.
It won’t be easy to get an appointment
to discuss a sponsorship. You will have to
determine who the appropriate contact is.
It may be a marketing person inside the
company or the company may have an
advertising agency, which would handle
such a project. You may have to explain
your way through several layers of people
before finding the right contact. You may
A Word From Your Sponsor
be ready to collapse by the time you reach
the decision-maker, but this is the point
where you must be your most convincing.
Be professional. You are conducting a
business transaction. Dress and act appropriately. You may feel that you are an artist
and should enjoy creative freedom—even
in your choice of dress—but torn jeans
and a ratty T-shirt may give a potential
sponsor the wrong impression.
Prove the worth of the idea. You know
your idea is a winner, but the decisionmaker may not. Start at the beginning and
take the potential sponsor through a stepby-step explanation of who the audience
will be, what style you will use and why
being associated with the show will be
good for the sponsor. Don’t try to do this
off the top of your head. Make notes and
practice in front of the mirror. If you lose
the potential sponsor during the initial
pitch they’re probably gone for good.
Prove that the audience exists. If you
plan to air the show on Channel X at 8 p.m.
on Friday, get backup data from the television station that shows demographically
who makes up the audience in this time
period. Salespeople at the TV station need
this information to sell commercials to
their clients and will share it with you if
you tell them your plan for purchasing a
chunk of airtime.
Prove that the audience will watch.
This is a tougher assignment. You can’t
really prove this point, but you can make
a good argument if you do your homework. Show ratings for similar shows in
similar time periods. Get as much hard
data as you can. Facts often sell better
than enthusiasm.
Prove to the sponsor that they will receive
R.O.I. (Return On Investment). If 100,000
people watch your show and 1% of them
buy the sponsor’s product (a Rolls Royce
Motorcar, for example) at an average price
per car of $100,000, the sponsor will gross
$10,000,000. (Actual numbers may vary.)
Prove that you can do the job. Have you
ever done a TV show before? What was it?
If not, have you ever done similar jobs
before? Do you have a demo tape showing
some samples? Can you give potential
sponsors a warm, fuzzy feeling? You may
have thought proving your competence in
the video production field was the only
step you needed in order to land a sponsor,
but as you can see it is merely one of
many important steps.
Because each show is different you will
run into different obstacles for each of them,
but if you can’t go through the steps mentioned above with confidence, then you can
go back to step 1. You remember step 1: look
for a rich but not overly bright relative.
The acid test is this: is your idea good
enough that you would use your own
money to produce it and buy the air time
if you had the money? If the answer is no,
then why would you expect a sponsor to
say yes?
Johnny on the Spot
Instead of finding one sponsor to fund
your entire operation, you may instead
want to sell pieces of time within your
show. The sponsors can then use this time
to run promotional spots about themselves. You’ve heard of these; we call
them commercials.
You will still have to convince sponsors
of the worthiness of your show, but
because the amount they are spending is
smaller, the decision may be easier for
them to make. On the other hand, you
will have to sell many different sponsors
instead of one, which means your job will
be more difficult.
There is also more risk for you because
you will be buying the airtime and then
recouping that money by selling commercials. Let’s say you will run your show on
The rate that a cable company can charge
you for their airtime is based on a formula
created by the FCC. The formula is tied to a
cable company’s markup and number of
subscribers. For example, say your cable
system buys HBO for $4.00 per month per
subscriber and they turn around and sell
it for $10.00 per month to their customers.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
But only 25% of the potential subscribers
actually order HBO, which has an effect
on the formula:
$10.00 subscriber fee
$4.00 cost of programming
$6.00 mark up
X.25 percent of subscribers purchasing
a premium channel
$1.50 implicit value of the premium
channel, per subscriber, per month
These numbers are for a premium channel. For a channel included in the basic
package, the cost would probably be
closer to $0.50 per subscriber. But remember, that’s for the whole month. If you only
want an hour of time, you would divide
that by 720, the number of hours in a
month. The answer is $.00069 per subscriber per hour. If your cable system
reaches 100,000 households you would
pay $69.00 per hour. The cable system
can also add fees for billing and collection, marketing and studio services, so ask
for an estimate to be sure you are getting a
good deal.
On top of that cost is the money you
spend on production, promotion of your
show, etc. If the total expenditure is $1,000
per week and you have room for 20 commercials, you would sell each commercial
for $50 to break even. But you want to
make a profit, and there will be times
when you won’t be able to sell all the commercials in a show. So you need to charge
enough to make up for this shortfall.
Supply and demand will have an effect on
how much you can get for your spots. If the
sponsor’s target market loves your show
and you can prove it, the sponsor will pay
more. If nobody watches your show, you
won’t be able to give your commercial
space away. But, hey, that’s business.
Landing sponsors can give you the
opportunity to create some great television.
But before you start knocking on doors,
be sure that your idea is as great as you
think it is. Do your homework, back up
your theories with facts and get your ducks
in a row. Then, assume your best professional demeanor and go get ‘em. It’s not an
easy gig, but you should be used to that by
now. As you know, in video, nothing is
ever easy. And that’s the way we like it.
Finding Talent for Videos
Randal K. West
As you increase the production level of
your videos, you will arrive at a brandnew challenge—acquiring talent. How do
you identify potential personnel for your
videos and how do you evaluate those
people to ensure they are the correct
choices for your projects?
For the purpose of this article, let’s
group talent into two general groups:
models and actors. We’ll define a model,
not as a person with the potential to
appear on the cover of Vogue, but as
someone who will appear in your video.
An actor, on the other hand, will probably
have a limited acting requirement and
will appear to either deliver dialogue or at
least convey some type of emotion.
Securing a model merely involves finding someone who has the appropriate
look for your piece and is willing to be
shot. Many times, the best way to cast a
“young mom” model, for example, is to
just go find a genuine young mother and
convince her to appear in your project.
Locating and evaluating an actor who will
actually need to deliver lines and convey
some emotion is a little trickier.
The Project
Let’s suppose that you, as the member of
your local service organization who owns
a Mini DV camcorder and a computerbased editing system, have been asked to
create a video that publicizes your
upcoming club-sponsored Kids Day. The
purpose of the video is to highlight what
will take place on Kids Day and to
encourage local businesses to get
involved. You need to script this project
and then secure a host or hostess to be the
on-camera talent and to lead the interviews. Then, find a couple of older folks,
a young couple, a high-school student and
a few kids to enact short scenarios depicting what will happen during Kids Day.
These scenarios will be loosely scripted,
but you’ll probably let the actors create
some of their own dialogue to try to keep
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
it sounding more authentic and less
Finding the Talent
Talent can be uncovered in a variety of different locations. A local community theater
is an obvious choice, but local choirs,
churches, community organizations, service clubs, high schools and community
colleges also can provide potential thespians (see Figure 28.1). You can also post a
message on an appropriate bulletin board,
but actually contacting someone with some
authority and explaining what your project
involves is a better approach. Perhaps that
person could solicit volunteers or, better
yet, allow you to visit the group and create
some enthusiasm for the project to actually
get some people to commit to an audition.
The local newspaper may also be a
good resource: perhaps a columnist will
put a mention in the paper that you have a
project and are looking for talent. Many
schools have video classes and clubs, and
you may also be able to locate a few
videographers-in-training to help you as
crewmembers for your shoot. Of course
the classifieds are a very direct way to get
the word out. Announce your auditions
about two weeks before the actual audition date and either have everyone arrive
at a given time, (a cattle-call audition) or
provide a phone number and have the
individuals call and then assign each of
them an audition slot. I prefer the latter
Organizing the Audition
I was once asked by Hal Prince, the wellknown Broadway director, how I held my
auditions, and I told him that I executed a
very formal, “Go stand on the white mark
and await instructions” audition. After
the talent approached the mark, a stage
Figure 28.1 Where to start?—local community theaters, local choirs,
community organizations, service clubs, schools, community colleges,
Finding Talent for Videos
manager would tell them to begin. Two
minutes later, unless I indicated otherwise,
the stage manager would say, “Thank you
very much,” and off they went.
“Why do you audition that way?”
Mr. Prince asked. “Well, because that’s how
I’ve always been auditioned,” I answered.
He went on to explain that he didn’t agree
with establishing an even more terrifying
environment than was already created by
the act of having to audition. He explained
that when folks auditioned for him, it was
in a room where he greeted and spoke with
the people, putting them at ease before they
ever read. This strategy gives you a better
chance of seeing what they might actually
bring to your project, he explained. I have
held informal auditions ever since, and I
think it has much more effectively allowed
me to gauge how well someone will perform (see Figure 28.2). So, when you hold
an audition, find a comfortable room where
you can meet each person and keep it
casual (see Figure 28.3).
Videotape your auditions to gain more
insight into your applicants, but talk with
them first (see Figure 28.4). Tell them all
about the project, find out about their
experience and then shoot the audition.
Auditions should last about 10 minutes
per person, but if this is your first set of
auditions, allow 15 minutes so you don’t
feel rushed.
Evaluating Potential
How do you determine whether your
church pastor or your bank president will
be a better host for your program? And
what should you look for in a host, anyway? Well, an ideal candidate would be
someone who has a pleasant voice, good
Figure 28.2 Initial comfort—keep the
atmosphere warm and relaxed for that
important initial interview.
Figure 28.3 Scripted interview—script reading is important, but
actors can reveal a lot in the interview process as well.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 28.4 Taped auditions—playing back
recorded auditions will refresh your memory
and help with deliberations.
timbre, good diction and has a certain
vocal presence or command. Someone
who possesses an interesting or uniquebut-pleasant appearance is also a consideration. You can make these initial
evaluations before ever deciding to audition the applicants. If they meet these criteria, bring them in. If your project has a
script, have them read from it, but shoot
part of an informal interview as well.
When actors read, their attention focuses
down and they concentrate on just reading the material. When you interview
them, you get much more of a sense of
how they will shoot (how comfortable
they appear on camera), as well as a
clearer example of their personalities.
When actors are on stage, they act with
their body, but when actors act on television, they act with their eyes. So, shoot
parts of the interview close enough to
really capture the actor’s eyes. Shoot part
of it wide enough to see the whole body,
too, so you can evaluate whether the person shows any overt signs of stress, such
as tearing at cuticles or a consistently
twitching foot (see Figure 28.5).
Hopefully, you will find people who put
more into their auditions than just proving
they have mastered the ability to read.
They should seem to “own” the verbiage
and make it their own. A more experienced
Figure 28.5 Wide and tight—shoot both wide
shots and closeups during the audition.
applicant will adopt a plan of attack with
your material and immediately identify
any humor or any point resembling a climax or a twist in the script.
Considering our example, producing a
video about Kids Day, the chance for these
types of more sophisticated acting moments
are probably limited, but an actor may
well ask you what type of tone or style
you are looking for in the read. An easy
way to place the read in the more low-key
category is to tell the talent you want
more of an FM-radio sound. An AM-radio
sound is more energetic. If you want them
to go way over the top, just tell them you
are looking for a “used car” or a “monster
truck” read, which tells them you want all
the shouting and yelling they can muster.
If you are having them perform a “dryread,” and they ask for a few moments
with the material, give it to them. Anytime
you can provide the written material
Finding Talent for Videos
to actors before their appointments, you
will likely get better reads from them. In
addition to actual excerpts from the
script, you should also include a short
description of the project and the purpose
of the role for which they will read.
If your video involves performing a
demonstration, (cooking pancakes or
making balloon animals might be two key
components of Kids Day), determine
whether just inquiring about ability or
actually requiring the actor to perform the
demonstration is appropriate. For example, if you are looking for someone to
cook pancakes in your video, simply asking whether they have ever flipped a pancake is probably enough. If you want to
know if they can actually make animals
out of balloons, (a bit more of a refined
skill), you should have some appropriate
balloons available and just let them make
you a puppy or a hat.
If you are filling roles of a couple (husband and wife, mother and son), it’s a
good idea to have them read together to
see how they interact.
If you plan to use a teleprompter, have
the talent actually read the material off
the prompter. Some actors are very good
at not looking like they are reading. But
teleprompters throw some actors for a
loop and they not only look like they are
reading, but they just look uncomfortable.
The best protection against getting a dayof-the-shoot surprise is to have them read
off a prompter at the audition.
Paying the Talent
Do you need to pay your talent? Maybe.
If you expect the host of your program
to memorize the script and perform it
on-camera, offer this person a small token
payment for the time they will have to
spend memorizing the material. They may
tell you that they are doing it for the experience, but a small payment on your part puts
you in a better position. You can expect the
material to be correctly memorized.
If your project is for a non-profit cause,
such as Kids Day, people will probably volunteer. If your actors will wear standard
street clothes, ask them to provide their
own. If the clothing involves any special
attire, (a uniform, a tuxedo, a formal dress),
plan to provide it. Ask women to wear regular daytime make-up and not evening
make-up, (unless you want them to appear
“made-up”). Have powder available at the
shoot to powder the bright spot off a bald
head or a sweaty brow, but men don’t usually need to wear any make-up aside from
clear powder you apply to reduce shine.
Promise all the people who are cast that
they will get a copy of the end product and,
if the project has credits, that they will
appear in them. If the shooting requires
people to miss a meal, you should feed
them and provide some light snacks, water
and juice for the talent during the shoot.
Giving Talent a Try
Now that you have thought though the
process of putting talent into your next
video, it’s time to go cast your Kids Day
project. Remember, most of your talent
will be doing their first video work, so be
patient and sensitive to their needs and
you’ll do fine.
The only way to get comfortable coaching performances from actors is to do it,
and then keep doing it. Just jump in, and
you may find that recruiting and shooting
experienced actors to serve as talent greatly
improves the quality of your videos.
Sidebar 1
Where to start? Local community theaters, local choirs, community organizations, service
clubs, schools, community colleges, churches.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 2
Directing Tips
1. Keep it simple. Don’t tell actors more than they need to know. Communicate succinctly
and give them specific suggestions.
2. Reassure your actors. Explain that this is not live television and that you will simply
shoot until you get takes that work for everybody. Nobody will ever see the takes that
don’t work.
3. Don’t act like Cecil B. Demille. Don’t get caught in the trappings of video and start making
a big fuss about shooting. Keep the environment non-intimidating and friendly.
4. Put the actors at ease and keep the set warm and a little loose and you’ll probably get
stronger performances.
Location Scouting:
Be Prepared
Bill Fisher
We’ve all had that unforgettably disastrous
shoot, where the tape ran out or the
battery died at exactly the wrong moment,
and we vowed never to let it happen
again. But there’s one kind of readiness
you might not have thought of, and it’s as
essential as spare tapes and batteries.
We’re talking about scouting locations, a
vital pre-production step that will help
you meet almost any challenge when you
shoot video in the field. Here are several
tips that will help you as you scope out
potential video shooting locations.
1. Know your script. Choose a site that
matches the setting of your story. This is the
first rule of location scouting. As you set out
to evaluate locations, you’ll likely face
countless possibilities: natural areas, historic sites, distinctive buildings, urban
landscapes and waterfront settings, to name
a few. Remember, above all, that you have a
story to tell. Choose a location that lends
itself to the story you want to produce. You
should never be bound by your locations.
Locations are simply raw materials. You
need to know what the script demands
before you can select a suitable location.
2. Scout at the right time. Be aware
that locations can change. It’s wise to
check your spot on the day of the week
and the time of day that you’ll be taping:
these factors can produce surprisingly
large changes on the suitability of a location (see Figure 29.1).
Figure 29.1 Synchronized light—when
scouting an outdoor location visit the site the
same time of day as the scheduled shoot in
order to monitor the angles of the sun.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Automobile traffic and noise, visitors to
recreation and entertainment spots, and
tourists at scenic or historic areas (to name
just a few examples) all come in waves
that vary dramatically based on the time of
day, the day of the week and the season.
3. Look at light. Churches, ballrooms,
restaurants, auditoriums and homes generally feature low amounts of available
lighting. Check light levels by shooting a
few seconds of test footage with your
Solutions for poor lighting might be as
simple as scouting out window blinds
and curtains that can be opened to add
daylight. In some cases you may wish to
bring in lights or ask permission to
replace the bulbs in accessible light fixtures with brighter-burning units.
4. Follow the sun. Outdoor lighting
conditions can be as challenging as those
indoors; exterior illumination changes all
day long. As you’re scouting locations, pay
attention to whether a given spot is in full
sun, partial sun or full shade. Bright sun
can be harsh on people’s faces, and lightcolored surfaces can blow out in full sunlight, causing automatic camcorder lenses
to underexpose shots. Partial sun can be
tricky, as well; today’s camcorders, though
sophisticated, can have trouble handling
the high contrast in this situation.
Ultimately, you may find that fully shaded
locations or overcast days produce the
most consistent results (see Figure 29.2).
5. Check for power supplies. Many
outdoor locations are far from power
sources and even some indoor locations
can pose AC challenges, so multiple camera batteries are always a good idea. But
you’ll still need to evaluate your power
options at any location.
How will you power your lights? What if
you do end up draining all your batteries?
Is there anywhere to plug in the charger? Is
the spot remote enough to make a carlighter AC adapter a good idea? In a location that does have power, you may be able
Figure 29.2 Examine exposure—pay
attention to whether a given spot is in
full sun, partial sun or full shade. Bright
sun can be harsh on faces, and light
surfaces can blow out in full sunlight.
to plug in, but you’ll still need to think
about the system’s pre-existing load and
whether or not you can get to the fuse
(breaker) box in case something blows.
6. Listen. Clean, high-quality sound
is critical in making a video that rises
above the ordinary, and it’s silence that
ensures you get the location sound that
you came for.
The whooshing of traffic, the white
noise of moving water, and the echoes of
voices and movements can all get in the
way of high-quality audio. As you scout a
location, check for any of these conditions
by listening to your camcorder’s microphone pickup through headphones. Test
your wireless mike at the site as well, listening closely for interference.
7. Examine the elements. Sun, rain,
wind, snow, heat, cold—all can help or
hurt, depending on what you’re hoping to
Location Scouting
capture on tape. So, it’s critical to check
the forecast as you’re scouting.
Video cameras don’t like rain, salty
beach air or moisture from waterfalls.
Smeared lenses and water or salt inside
the tape transport can spell disaster.
Bright, hot locations with lots of sunlight
can also be a problem: black and gray camcorder bodies absorb the sun’s rays and
can cause overheating when left exposed.
A beach or patio umbrella can help protect
your gear from the elements in both sun
and rain.
Cold temperatures can drain batteries
and make you and your helpers uncomfortable very quickly. Plan to keep equipment warm by storing it inside a coat or
car until you’re ready to shoot, and by
wrapping it in a spare scarf or jacket
while taping. And watch out when bringing cameras back into warm interiors from
the frigid outdoors: this can cause significant amounts of moisture to condense
inside both optics and electronics.
8. Decide where to set up. Make sure
that there’s adequate space for you to set
up all of your gear, so that you’re able to
get the shots you have in mind. A small
shed may seem like the perfect location
for a shoot, until you realize that there
isn’t enough room to position your gear.
You may have plenty of room in a large
space like a church or an auditorium, but
you may not be able to roam freely. As
you scout your locations, verify that you
can physically get to the spots you intend
to shoot from.
9. Get permission. Be aware that you’ll
need to secure permits and other legal
permissions to shoot at certain locations.
As you’re looking at a location, do a legal
reality check. Have you chosen a street or
sidewalk location that will impede traffic? Do you plan to shoot on someone
else’s property? Cemeteries, malls, grocery stores, corporations and businesses
are all private property. Many owners will
be happy to accommodate you if you ask,
but if not, you’ll need to choose another
location. It’s better to get permission in
advance than to have a shoot interrupted
by the authorities (see Figure 29.3).
10. Evaluate the area. Check on communications: Is there cell phone reception
in the area you’ve chosen to shoot? How
about a nearby pay phone? If you’re driving a long way, have you planned for a
Search the area for quick food stops to
satisfy you and your crew in the midst of a
busy schedule and double-check the
address of a local electronics store, just in
case you need to replace a cable or adapter.
One day, something will go wrong; it’s
inevitable. But when you’ve scouted out
the backup possibilities at a location, you
can take most obstacles in stride.
Figure 29.3 Take heed—don’t trespass or
otherwise overstep your bounds. Pre-arrange
permission to shoot before you show up with
your crew.
Figure 29.4 Note it—carry a pen and paper
with you, and take notes on each location
you scout.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
11. And finally, take notes! When you
sit down to evaluate a location after a day
of exploring, you’ll be glad you have scouting reports to refer to (see Figure 29.4). In
your scouting expeditions for a shoot, in
your daily travels, on your family vacations, and in your mind’s eye, you’ll come
across countless locations and changing
conditions, each of which will be unique
and potentially important to you. Write
them down, take still photos or shoot a
little video with a running audio commentary. Note the time of day, the quality
of the light, the sounds in the air, and
the things you felt. One day you might
Sidebar 1
Location Scouting Kit
Be sure to remember the priceless places you’ve found with this list for a location scouting kit:
Notebook (or PDA) with writing implement for field notes
Still camera for creating location archive photos
Camcorder with headphones for recording test video and audio
Compass for checking sunrise/sunset, wind direction, etc.
Watch for time-sensitive observations
Maps especially for remote locations
Cell phone just in case
Sidebar 2
Top Locations and Their Quirks
You’re practically guaranteed to visit one of these locations sooner or later. Here is a list of
things to look out for.
School auditoriums: poor audio, large space, hard to get close to action
Churches: low lighting, echoing sound, hard to be unobtrusive
Parks and natural areas: changing weather, difficult gear transport
Urban centers: background noise, high traffic and pedestrian presence
Beaches: wind noise, salt air, sand contamination, direct sun
Outdoor events: competition for space, poor audio, crowd noise
Legal Issues You
Need to Know
Mark Levy
That diminutive encircled c symbol © can
be a powerful force for you—friendly or
frustrating. The people who create copyrighted works that you may want to use in
your own productions include performers,
composers, movie makers, still photographers, writers and artists. To understand
the limits of your rights and the rights of
others, you should know at least a bit
about the copyright law.
What is a Copyright?
United States Copyright Law has its origins
in the Constitution, which secures exclusive rights to authors for their writings for a
limited time. People who create works that
we all enjoy and appreciate should be compensated for their talent and hard work.
The copyright law, officially known as the
Copyright Act, ensures that we all do
the right thing: respect the effort, as well
as the intellectual property, of others.
The copyright law has been updated
over the years to reflect new technology.
The updates or revisions to the law expand
the definition of “authors” and “writings,”
among other things. Nowadays, an
“author” can still be a writer, but an author
can also be the person who creates works
that our Founding Fathers could never
have envisioned. Here are just a few
developments that didn’t exist in 1790,
when the Copyright Office was established: photographs, sound recordings
(from Edison wax cylinders to vinyl LPs
to 8-track tapes to audio cassettes to CDs
to MP3s), movies, soundtracks, software,
and, of course, video productions on tape,
laser disc, DVD or streaming Internet video.
Over the years, Congress also expanded
the term of copyright enforceability. At
the turn of the last century, you could
secure copyright protection for 28 years
and you could renew it for another
28 years. After that, your work entered the
public domain, so anyone could copy or
modify your work without your permission. As of 1978, however, law protects
your work for 70 years after your demise.
Until recently, the term was actually your
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 30.1 You’re covered—copyright law
provides copyright protection for any
completed work.
life plus 50 years, but when Sonny Bono
served in the House of Representatives, he
helped extend copyright protection for “I
Got You Babe” (as well as all other works,
of course) for an 20 additional years.
Another major and relatively recent
(1978) development in the copyright law
provides copyright protection for any
completed work (see Figure 30.1). The
copyright notice (© your name year of
creation) was required on all works and it
is still recommended, but not mandatory.
You are also strongly encouraged to register your work in the Copyright Office, but
that action is also not required, unless
you intend to enforce your rights in court.
For information about copyright registration, access the Library of Congress and
the Copyright Office Web site www. or contact an
intellectual property attorney.
A good, conservative rule of thumb is
that you should assume that a work is
protected by copyright if it had been created after 1922, as all works created
before that are now in the public domain.
For example, older photographs, paintings, books and sheet music are available
for your use without permission from the
author. Copyright law protects a musical
performance recorded after 1922, even
if the score was composed before 1922.
You can contact the U.S. Copyright Office
to find registered material. Copyright
Office personnel can conduct a search, for
a modest fee.
Wedding Bells
What do you do if you wish to use a copyrighted work? Producing a wedding video
is one typical situation. Frequently, the
couple may want you to include copyrighted material, often a favorite song
performed by a favorite artist. As the producer, you can be liable for the copyright
infringement. In fact, the copyright owner
can bring a legal action against you, personally. If you do decide to go ahead anyway, you may need an agreement with
your client (who should be wealthy
enough to survive such a lawsuit) to
indemnify you for a copyright infringement action. Clients would be foolish to
enter into such an agreement, and you
would be foolish to obey the client’s
instructions if you don’t get indemnification. Indemnity does not free you from
responsibility or liability, however.
Exclusively Yours
The Risk of Infringement
A copyright is an exclusive right. That
means you have the right to exclude all
others from copying your work or from
making works derived from your work.
The other side of the coin, of course, is
that you do not have the right to copy
another person’s work (music, screenplay,
images) without permission, unless the
work is in the public domain.
The law is specific about what constitutes copyright infringement. Except for
unusual and egregious situations, the
government doesn’t normally police and
enforce copyright law. It is up to the copyright holder to find copyright violations
and bring a lawsuit against the infringers.
Songwriters routinely use certain societies
Figure 30.2 Who to ask—societies or guilds such as ASCAP and BMI can
help you get permission to use a copyrighted song in your production.
or guilds, such as ASCAP and BMI, to
find violations. These organizations send
undercover representatives to random
nightclubs, restaurants and catering halls
to police their members’ works. If the
establishment does not have a license to
play or broadcast the musical work, it may
be fined or it may become the defendant in
a lawsuit. As a videographer, you may
need to get copyright permission even
for live or recorded music played at an
event you videotape. Ask the musicians or
disc jockeys whether they obtained a
license to play such music at the event
(see Figure 30.2).
If found guilty of copyright infringement, under the criminal portion of the
law, or liable, under the civil portion, you
may face a penalty of five years imprisonment and up to $250,000 in damages.
Willful infringement is clearly more serious than unintentional infringement.
Once again, as video producers, even if
the law weren’t so serious, we have an
ethical duty to respect people who create
original works. Stealing another artist’s
work is tantamount to stealing their car,
their instruments and, literally, their
What is the likelihood of being caught
using someone else’s copyrighted work?
Generally, not very high. In the real
world, professional wedding videographers often use copyrighted music without permission. One important aspect of
prosecution is the demonstration of real
commercial harm to the copyright owner
as a result of the infringement, which is
likely to be miniscule in the case of a
wedding tape distributed to 10–50 people. But every once in a while, someone
in the music or publishing or movie
industry decides to make an example out
of a low profile person or non-profit organization. Don’t let it happen to you.
Cheap and Easy
You may find that getting copyright permission is cheaper and easier than you’d
thought. In fact, it might be as simple as asking for it (in writing) (see Figure 30.3).
Explain why you need the material and
how you will be using it. (See the Sample
Request sidebar.) The difficulty arises
where the respective rights of a bewildering
array of people and organizations overlap.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 30.3 Put it in writing—you may find that getting copyright
permission is cheaper and easier than you’d thought. In fact, it might
be as simple as asking for it.
For example, in order to obtain permission
to use all or part of a top 40 record, you may
have to contact the composer, the performer, the publisher, or the professional
association(s) representing any or all of
them. You may need performance rights,
publishing rights, reproduction rights,
mechanical rights (for copying and using
audio/visual works), film rights, electronic
rights (for use on computers or the Internet),
translation rights, adaptation rights for
altering the work or making instrumental
arrangements, or even broadcast rights.
Of course, you may obtain the right to
use the work, but only if you pay a substantial fee. In general, unless you are making a major motion picture, attempting to
obtain a license to use copyrighted materials might not be worth the effort.
Do the Right Thing
Creating your video productions is stressful enough without having to worry about
copyright infringement and the penalties
associated with it. Choose to do the right
thing: a) avoid potential problems by using
works that are out of copyright or create
original works by yourself or with friends
and relatives; or b) belly up to the bar and
obtain permission from the copyright
holder to use the work. It might be less
expensive and easier than you think.
Sidebar 1
Sample Request for Permission to Use Copyrighted Material
Dear [Mr./Ms. Copyright Holder]:
I am producing a 30-minute wedding video for the family of a bride and groom and wish to
include in the video your song, “Fools Rush In.” Your song is the bride’s favorite song and
has great sentimental meaning for her. I will distribute the video only to a handful of friends
and relatives, and will not offer it for sale or broadcast.
I respectfully request permission to use your song or parts of it in my video production, on
a non-exclusive, royalty-free basis. If you agree to this request, kindly sign and date the
enclosed duplicate of this letter and return it to me in the self-addressed, stamped envelope,
also enclosed.
If you have any questions about my use of your song or would like a copy of the finished
video, please let me know. My clients and I greatly appreciate your cooperation.
John Smith, video producer
Sal Songbird, songwriter
Date: _____________
Sidebar 2
License to Use Music from Composer/Performer
I, ______________ [insert composer’s name], hereby grant a non-exclusive, worldwide, fully
paid-up, irrevocable license to ______________ [insert video producer’s name] to use my
song, “[song title]” or portions thereof in his/her video production, entitled, “[video title],”
which may be sold, leased, displayed or broadcast by __________ [video producer] with no
further accounting to me.
Signature of composer
Date: ____________________
Production Techniques
Tips for capturing the highest quality video and sound.
Framing Good Shots
Brian Pogue
The images you record are the building
blocks and foundation of your video productions. As your foundation, some thought
and planning should go into how your
shots are composed. A well-composed
shot grabs and holds your viewer’s attention. It also influences the mood of the
scene or the comfort level of the audience.
When done right, the composition will
not draw attention to itself. Instead, it will
instill a sense of normalcy and stability.
On the other hand, a poorly composed
shot will have the opposite effect. It will
distract the audience, or worse, make a
scene entirely unwatchable.
In this article we’ll give you some basic
composition guidelines that experts use
as their foundation, as well as some common pitfalls you should try to avoid.
The Rule of Thirds
A basic rule of composition is the rule of
thirds. This guideline gives you ideas on
where to place your subject within the
frame. Though your tendency may be to
position your subject dead center on the
screen, the rule of thirds will give you a
more compelling picture.
First, imagine that two vertical and two
horizontal lines divide your viewfinder
into thirds. (Think of a slightly elongated
tic-tac-toe board). The rule of thirds suggests that the main subject in your shot
should fall on one of the points where
these imaginary lines intersect. The resulting image will be much stronger than if
you simply place your subject in the
crosshairs (see Figure 31.1).
When videotaping a person, that person’s eyes are your main focal point.
Whether using a wide shot or a close up,
compose the shot so that the person’s eyes
fall on one of the uppermost imaginary
intersections. The intersection you choose
depends on which direction the person is
looking. Frame someone looking screen
left on the right third of the screen. This
places the subject slightly off center and
builds in another element of composition
called “look room.”
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 31.1 Eye liner—keep the eyes on the
upper-third line, even if you loose the top of
the head or hair.
Look Room, Lead Room
and Head Room
Look room is the space that you leave in
front of someone’s face on the screen. This
space gives the person room to breathe, as
well as gives the impression that the person is looking at or talking to someone just
off screen. If you don’t leave enough look
room, your subject will appear boxed-in
and confined (see Figure 31.2).
Be aware that the amount of look room
necessary is dependent upon the angle of
the subject to the camera. A person looking directly toward the camera will
require less look room than someone shot
in full profile.
Moving objects such as cars require a
similar buffer called “lead room.” Allow
extra space in front of a moving car so that
the viewer can see that it has someplace
to go. Without this visual padding, the
car’s progress will seem impeded.
Head room is another element you
should consider when framing your subject.
Headroom is the amount of space between
the top of someone’s head and the top of the
frame. If you leave too much space, the person will appear as if sinking in quicksand. If
you don’t leave enough room, the person
will seem in danger of bumping his head.
By positioning the subject’s eyes on the top
third imaginary line, you will be building in
the proper amount of headroom.
Figure 31.2 Look room—the top image
doesn’t leave any look room. The framing in
the bottom image is much better.
When considering head room, be sure
the shot is loose enough so that you see
part of the subject’s neck or the top of the
shoulders. If not, you’ll end up with what
looks like a severed head on a platter.
However, don’t be as concerned with
cutting off the top of someone’s head.
Viewers do not perceive this as abnormal
as long as you frame the actor’s eyes
where they should be.
The Background
Many composition pitfalls lie in the subject’s environment. Trees and phone
poles, vases or pictures on walls may all
cause problems.
Be aware of lampposts, trees or other
such objects that are directly behind your
subject. A flagpole protruding from the
top of an actor’s head looks ridiculous, as
does a vase that may seem balanced on
Framing Good Shots
someone’s shoulder. Likewise, a power
line running through the frame may
appear to be going in one of your subject’s
ears, and out the other. Steer clear of any
such visual distractions (Figure 31.3).
Even if these objects are not directly
behind your subject, they can still cause
problems. A lamppost running vertically
through the middle of the frame will not
only disrupt the balance achieved by the
Rule of Thirds, it can also isolate or boxin the subject. It may also take away the
look room that you’ve built into the shot.
Be aware of these background objects, and
work to avoid them whenever possible.
Framing Using Objects
While objects in the background can cause
problems, objects placed in the foreground
can lend a hand. This technique can add
depth and character to your shot.
Try using something in the environment to obstructed part of your shot (see
Figure 31.4). Place a piece of furniture in
your foreground and shoot past it by framing it to the extreme right or left. You can
shoot through open doors, where the
doorjamb frames the edges of the screen.
Be careful, however, not to over-do it.
Using the environment to frame your
Figure 31.3 Watch the background—poles protruding from your subject’s head can be
distracting. The receding lines in the shot on the right add depth.
Figure 31.4 Natural frames—look for object (natural or artificial) in the
environment that act as natural frames.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
shots should not be so blatant as to distract from what is happening in the scene.
The Ultimate Goal
Good composition is a means to an
end. When it’s done well, the audience
should not notice it. Instead it should
help create a mood, or at the very least, a
sense of normalcy and stability. The next
time you watch a movie, pay attention to
how the cinematographer frames the
shots. You’ll notice that they use the rule
of thirds as their foundation, and build
from there.
Shooting Steady
Dr. Robert G. Nulph
Shooting steady video is perhaps one of
the most fundamental skills of good video
production. If your camera isn’t steady,
your shots will be difficult to watch
(unless you provide a healthy dose of seasick pills). In this column we will take a
look at various ways you can shoot good
solid video every time, no matter the subject or the situation. We’ll start out with
the fundamentals of shooting handheld
video and move towards more sophisticated electronically-aided methods for
keeping your video smooth and steady.
Shooting Fundamentals
Shooting handheld video is perhaps the
most difficult way to capture images on
tape. No matter how steady you think you
are, even your breathing can make the camera move and shake. If you find yourself in a
situation where you must shoot handheld,
there are a few things to keep in mind.
One of the most important things to
remember about camcorders and their
lenses is that zooming emphasizes movement. The closer you zoom, the more your
movement is magnified. Because of this,
when you are shooting handheld video,
you should get as physically close to your
subject as you possibly can and zoom out
as far (wide) as the camcorder’s lens will
allow. This will give you the steadiest
shot possible.
The second step towards good handheld
shots is maintaining good posture. Keep
your back straight; legs shoulder width
apart; knees slightly bent and your elbows
close to your body. If you are handholding
a small camcorder with an LCD screen,
hold the camera with both hands in front
of your body, elbows tucked into your
sides. If shooting from the shoulder, tuck
your elbow into your side and use your
right hand and arm for support, while
your left hand controls the focus and iris.
If you have to move while actively
shooting, do so slowly and as smoothly as
possible, keeping your subject composed
well in the shot and maintaining good
solid posture throughout the move.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 32.1 Rock stable—if you find yourself
in a situation where you don’t have a tripod,
any solid surface can act as a camera
platform. Set your camera on a rock, fence
post or parked car, or lean up against a tree or
the edge of a building.
The World Around You
If you find yourself in a situation where
you don’t have a tripod, any solid surface
can act as a camera platform. Set your camera on a rock, fence post or parked car, or
lean up against a tree or the edge of a building (see Figure 32.1). Use a table or chair to
steady your shot. If shooting on the beach,
lay some plastic down and steady the camera on the sand, or set the camera up on the
steps of the lifeguard tower.
When using a solid platform to shoot
from, you will most likely have to tilt the
camera to get the best shot. Once again,
objects around you might be useful: credit
cards, cardboard, newspapers, pencils,
even gum wrappers can be used to stabilize your shot. Once you compose your
shot, press the record button and take
your hands away.
Every videographer should own a good
tripod (see Figure 32.2). A tripod lets you
shoot solid, steady video with little effort.
There are, however some things you need
to keep in mind when using a tripod.
Always set your tripod and camera up so
that one of the three legs is pointing
towards your subject. This will create a
Figure 32.2 Required equipment—every
videographer should own a good tripod.
A tripod lets you shoot solid, steady video
with little effort.
space for you to stand in between the
other two legs. If you know you are going
to pan in one particular direction a lot,
point the front leg of the tripod halfway
between the farthest left and farthest right
your subject will move so you won’t have
to walk around or step over one of the
back legs.
When adjusting the height of your tripod, use your subject as your guide,
instead of setting it at a level that makes
you feel comfortable. Set your tripod up
so that the camera, when completely horizontal, is pointing at the neck of your subject. Unfortunately, this might mean that
you will find yourself in some uncomfortable shooting positions, but that’s a small
price to pay for better-looking video.
If you do not have to move the shot and
the subject will not be moving, lock down
the tripod, press the record button and let
go. If you do need to move, position yourself with the camcorder so that you are as
solid and comfortable as possible and
slowly move in the direction you have
planned. Always plan and rehearse camera movements before making them.
A monopod is like a hiking stick with a
camera mount at the top (see Figure 32.3).
Monopods are primarily still-camera tools,
but can be quite handy when you must be
Shooting Steady
stabilizers are so smooth you can barely
tell the camera is not sitting on a tripod.
One note of caution: if you are considering buying one, try it out first to see if it
will work with your camcorder.
You can create a flying camera support of
sorts by mounting your camcorder onto
your tripod or monopod and lifting it off the
ground, using the weight of the legs to act as
a counterbalance for the camcorder to keep
it upright. This will not produce anything
close to the results you’d get from a precisely engineered and finely balanced flying camcorder support, but you may be
pleasantly surprised at the look of the shots.
Image Stabilization
Figure 32.3 Fly right—handheld
counter-balanced supports allow
you to move freely while shooting
and produce gliding, shake-free
mobile and you still need to shoot steady
video. You will often see camera operators on the sidelines at football games or
other sporting events using monopods.
The monopod is lighter and more manageable than a tripod. While the monopod
prevents vertical movement of the camcorder, it does nothing to stop the horizontal or tilting movement.
Flying Supports
If you have a little extra cash in your
pocket, you might want to check out one
of the many types of flying camera supports on the market. These handheld
counterbalanced supports allow you to
move freely while shooting and produce
gliding, shake-free video. The most famous
flying camera support is the Steadicam
and the brand name has become a shorthand for the entire class of products.
Beyond simple handheld devices, you
can get complex vests and harnesses that
will help you hold the camera during long
shoots. The professional gliding camera
Image stabilization is the video engineers
gift to amateur videographers. Your camcorder’s built-in image stabilizer seeks to
smooth out handheld video, minimizing
camera shake. Image stabilizers are found
in most camcorders today. There are two
types: electronic and optical. Optical is
generally better, and is typically found on
higher-end camcorders. Although they
can be quite handy if you find yourself in
a situation where you must shoot handheld, they do have a couple of limitations.
First, electronic image stabilization can
reduce the overall number of pixels on
the CCD that are used to capture an image.
This can result in a general softening of
the picture (see Figure 32.4). Second,
when the stabilizer is used during a pan,
the smooth pan might jump slightly from
one point to the next as the stabilizer tries
to correct your intentional movement.
Still, image stabilization, both electronic
and optical, can be a shotsaver when
shooting handheld.
Keep It Steady
There are times to move the camera and
times to hold it still, but, unless you are
trying to create an earthquake effect, there
are seldom times when shaky video is
good video.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 32.4 Oversized CCD—electronic image stabilization can reduce the overall number of
pixels on the CCD that are used to capture an image. This can result in a general softening
of the picture.
Sidebar 1
Time is of the Essence!
You should never handhold shots that demand rock solid video. Long interviews, cutaways
of objects with vertical or horizontal surfaces, and steady landscapes should never be handheld. Moving subjects, shots with camera movement already built into them, such as pans
and tilts and shots where the camera physically moves from one place to another can easily
be handheld. Always plan your movement and move steadily and in one direction.
Make Your Move
Michael Hammond
Unlike our counterparts in still photography, those of us shooting video have a
wonderful advantage—motion. With some
imagination, a steady hand and a good tripod, you can take your viewers on a great
visual ride. Let’s review a few creative
moves that you can all use to add interest
in your videos. Keep these in mind as you
plan your next project and work them in
where they seem to fit.
Movin’ on Up: The Pedestal
The pedestal move is a great way to add
some vertical action to a scene. It allows
you to create some anticipation with a
viewer, to add a greater sense of height
and importance to a subject and to link
more than one subject in a single shot.
A pedestal move involves moving the
entire camera vertically (see Figure 33.1).
The move is named for the adjustable center post found on many tripods. Unlocking this center post allows you to raise the
camera while the tripod legs remain in
a fixed position. Not all tripods have a
pedestal that allows you to make a nice,
smooth move. In some cases a tripod isn’t
practical, so you may make this move as a
handheld shot.
The trick is to keep the vertical movement
as steady as possible and to set your
viewfinder before you start shooting. If
you’re working with a camcorder that has a
flip-out LCD screen, by all means use it. Try
to position the screen so that you can keep
the framing in sight throughout the entire
shot. If, for example, you’re shooting a person’s foot and moving up the body to end on
the face, here’s how to approach it. Frame
up a nicely composed shot to start and
check for clear focus. Since you’re starting at
almost ground level in this example, begin
from a bended knee position with the camera directly in front of you, albows resting
just above your knees. Slowly life the camera with your arms and then begin to stand
as you rise up through the shot. Keep your
elbows tucked in as close to your body as
possible, and practical, to help keep things
steady until you reach your end position.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
This move could be great at a wedding
to reveal a bride’s dress. An example of
linking subjects with this move might be
starting on a full-screen shot of a house
For Sale sign and then doing a pedestal
up to reveal the home behind it.
Keep on Truckin’:
The Truck Move
Figure 33.1 Pedestal- a
pedestal move involves
moving the entire camera
In a trucking move, you, the tripod and
the camera pick up and move to the left or
right. This move is great for following, or
creating a stronger sense of action. Let’s
say you’re shooting someone jogging. If
you just pan the camera to follow the runner, you’d need to be on a pretty wide
shot and there would be a pretty significant change in the backgrounds and perspective as you follow the subject left or
right. It also isn’t as dramatic. Set up a
trucking shot and you’ll see the difference. Choose a distance from the runner,
let’s say you want to keep him full-body
throughout the shot, and set up alongside
of them with good focus. Unless you’ve
rented or purchased a Steadicam or some
other kind of stabilizing gear, if you actually jog beside the subject yourself the
video will likely be unusable. You need
some wheels! Without going to great
expense, you can use an automobile, a
wheelchair or a child’s wagon to provide
your motion (see Figure 33.2). Whatever
you choose, be sure you have a partner to
get you moving and keep you safe and stable while you’re shooting. If possible,
start moving the camera first, then cue
your subject to start running. Settle on a
comfortable speed and nice framing. Lead
room is important in trucking shots. Give
the subject some space between his or her
nose and the edge of your frame so it
looks like you’re leading them and not
trying to play catch-up. If you don’t like
the profile you get from trucking right
alongside the subject, pick up some speed
and get ahead a bit. This allows you to see
more of the runners face and changes up
the background for some interest.
Make Your Move
Figure 33.2 Truckin’—in a trucking move, you, the tripod and the
camera pick up and move to the left or right. Without going to great
expense, you can use an automobile, a wheelchair or a child’s wagon to
provide your motion.
Taking Flight: The Flying Camera
The flying camera move gives you an
opportunity to take your viewer on a ride.
Think of this as taking on the point of
view of an insect moving in and around
subjects. I started using this type of move
when my oldest child was a toddler. Fly
around at kid-level to make the viewer
more an active part of the child’s world. Of
course, it works for shooting adults, too.
Let’s say you want to capture some treasured moments of a child eating in a highchair. You might hold your camera at your
waist with arms tucked into your stomach
for stability. Begin the shot from behind
the child, showing someone feeding the
little one, then arc around the chair to the
front. For more action, you could begin
with the camera held high, coming down
and around the chair. The opportunities
with this one are endless. Picture a table
with a great spread of food. The camera
starts high, taking in most of the table from
above, then sweeps camera down and
runs the length of the table, flying past all
of the treats. For a smooth move and good
focus throughout the move, it works best
with the lens zoomed out wide.
Guud Eeevening:
The Hitchcock Zoom
This move is one of the most dramatic,
and it requires a bit of practice. Alfred
Hitchcock made use of this camera move,
and the film Jaws used a similar version of
it. When done well, this move gives the
appearance that the main subject is stationary as the background crashes in or
flies away. Set the shot up by framing the
subject with the lens zoomed out wide
(see Figure 33.3). Begin to dolly away
from the subject as you simultaneously
zoom in to keep the subject the same size
in the frame. The optics of the lens provide a unique look. Timing is important
here in matching the dolly speed with the
zoom, but when it all works it leaves a
very dramatic impression with a viewer.
Try the reverse, as well, by dollying in
while zooming out. Great moves with
powerful results.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
1 × zoom
5 × zoom
10 × zoom
Figure 33.3 Hitchcock Style— dolly away from the subject as you simultaneously
zoom in to keep the subject the same size in the frame. This move gives the
appearance that the main subject is stationary as the background crashes in or
flies away.
Walkin’ the Walk:
The Walking Shot
This is a favorite of mine because it’s easy
to execute and adds zip to a normally dry
shot. Rather than a static shot of your subjects walking, move with them. For a shot
of two people passing by from behind,
hold your camera about waist-level with a
wide lens and begin to walk ahead of your
subjects. Cue your subjects to start walking and overtake you, entering the frame
from behind, one on either side, and continue walking away (see Figure 33.4). The
reverse of this would be for you to begin
walking backwards, cueing your subjects
to walk toward you, passing you on either
side as they exit your shot. You can give
this last one an even more interesting perspective by zooming out as you walk
Figure 33.4 Walking on by—begin
walking backwards, cueing your subjects
to walk toward you, passing you on either
side as they exit your shot.
Make Your Move
Sidebar 1
Easy as 1-2-3
Unlike still photographers, videographers can move their cameras to create action or cover
several focal points in a single shot. This means your composition—what you choose to
include in a shot and where you choose to put it—will change as you move. It may help to
think of every move that you make in three distinct parts.
1. Beginning composition. This is where the shot begins. Choose carefully what to include
in your scene and how to arrange it all for good balance. Identify this composition before
rolling tape.
2. End composition. This is where the camera comes to rest. Again, identify this composition before you start recording and try to achieve a good overall balance in the shot.
3. The bridge. This is the camera move that connects the beginning shot with the end position. Practice the moves you intend to do as much as possible. Work to make the move
smooth, maintaining good composition and focus. You may shoot a move several times
adjusting the speed of the bridge for editing options.
Sidebar 2
Shoot Like an Editor
This old adage is good to remember while shooting. It’ll be of great help during editing if you
think through all of the possible uses of what you record as you plan your shots. This means
if you’re doing a camera move, record it several times at several speeds. If you’ve recorded
some fast moves and a few slower versions, you’ve covered your needs for whatever pace
you use in the final production. It’s always a good idea to record a version of the shot without a camera move, just in case. You may find when editing that you don’t have time for a
camera move after all, and trying to freeze a shot—extracting a still frame from a moving shot—
may not provide the quality you’re looking for.
Use Reflectors Like a Pro
Jim Stinson
Reflectors are so versatile, useful and
simple that professional videographers
deploy them even in high-rent productions. Advanced amateurs may know how
to use reflectors for outdoor fill light, but
that’s only their most obvious application.
So let’s conduct a quick flyover of professional reflector techniques, both outdoors
and in.
First, lets take a quick taxonomy of
reflector species. Reflectors are either rigid
or flexible. Rigid reflectors may be faced
(in order, from brightest to softest) with
shiny aluminum, matte aluminum, wrinkled aluminum or white paper. Paperfaced reflectors are usually foamcore: rigid
Styrofoam sandwiched between paper
surfaces and available at any art or craft
store. (Tip: pay the modest premium for
one-inch-thick boards. They far outlast
thinner ones.)
Flexible reflectors are usually cloth
spread across thin metal hoops that can
be folded for storage. Fabrics may be
metallic for greater reflectivity or plain for
a soft, diffuse effect. They come in white
or sometimes gold, for reasons detailed in
the sidebar.
Which to choose? Flexible reflectors are
light and easily stored, but they’re unstable in any breeze, making their light
waver visibly on-screen. Hard reflectors
are cheap to buy (or easy to make for
almost nothing) but they’re bulky and
rigid, making them difficult to transport
and store away.
Since these critters are most often used
in wide open spaces, let’s see how to
employ reflectors outdoors as key, fill, rim
or background lights. (NOTE: For simplicity, we’ll describe everything via a clock
face metaphor, with the subject at the
center and the camcorder at six o’clock.)
Reflector Key Light
With the sun shining, why make your primary light a reflector? Often the sun’s in
the wrong position or the subject’s standing in adjacent shade. In fact, the sun can
become a gorgeous rim light, outlining the
Use Reflectors Like a Pro
Figure 34.1 Below the shot—start by
placing your subject with the sun behind
them (between ten and two o’clock).
Then use a white reflector placed
between four and eight o’clock, close to
the subject and just below eye level,
to fill in nose and chin shadows.
Figure 34.2 Key reflector—more often,
we’ll use the sun as the key and the
reflector for the fill, with each light
source placed between three and nine
o’clock, though I personally limit the arc
to four to eight on our clock face.
subject’s head and shoulders and separating them from the background.
Start by placing your subject with the
sun behind them (between ten and two
o’clock). Then use a white reflector placed
between four and eight o’clock, close to
the subject and just below eye level, to fill
in nose and chin shadows (see Figure 34.1).
If you want to get fancy, use a reflector on
either side, with the key unit closer, so the
subject is lighter on that side.
A reflector key light also works well
when the subject is in the shade. Bounce
the light in, moving the reflector in or out
until it is two to three times as bright as
the ambient shade light creating the fill.
to fill nose and chin shadows. Too high a
position delivers a Hitler moustache effect
and too low creates a vampire. If the sun is
at seven to eight o’clock, you can often get
a nice effect with the reflector all the way
around to three o’clock, filling the subject’s profile.
Every type of reflector can and should
be used for fill. For closeups, a diffuse
white card looks most natural, but its
intensity is too low for the throws
required in longer shots. If you’re shorthanded, have subjects aim a white card,
held below the frame line, up at themselves for their closeups. It often works
When higher intensity is needed, bring
in the aluminum or metallic fabric models. They have enough punch to keep the
reflector out of camera range and still
work effectively. Always try to use the
softest version that will deliver enough
fill, starting with a metallic fabric model.
Using aluminum reflectors for key or
fill light requires care, because they throw
a hard, narrow beam and they can make
subjects squint unattractively. Make sure
Reflector Fill Light
More often, we’ll use the sun as the key
and the reflector for the fill, with each
light source placed between three and
nine o’clock, though I personally limit the
arc to four to eight on our clock face (see
Figure 34.2). As always, place the reflector
just slightly below the subject’s eye level
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
you place them far enough away to reduce
their intensity.
Reflector Rim Light
Those hard aluminum surfaces are perfect
for rim-lighting the subject, especially
when the sun is between four and eight
o’clock. Place the reflector very high and
opposite the sun or as nearly opposite as
possible while staying out of frame.
Rim lighting works best when a second reflector is delivering fill light, as
described in the previous section. If the
sun is close enough to six o’clock and low
enough in the sky, fill light may be unnecessary, but the golden glow of rim light
might look wonderful.
When the subject is in shade, rim lighting doesn’t work, unless the protected
spot is just outside a sunny area. A hard
aluminum unit in the sun can often
bounce light off a second hard unit in the
shade and back onto the subject’s hair and
Figure 34.3 Versatile sun—the sun produces
plenty of light for a reflector to be used as a
fill or light.
shoulders. That’s what bright aluminum
reflectors are for: very long throws of relatively narrow light beams. In bright sunlight, I’ve seen hard aluminum units set as
far as 100 feet away, from which position
they can spread a broad, diffuse light on
subjects without hurting their eyes (see
Figure 34.3).
Reflector Background Light
Suppose you have a subject in the sun
with, say, a shaded building wall as background. That makes for great facial exposure, but often a boring background. To
spark it up, fill in the backing with one or
more hard aluminum reflectors (softer
models are too low-intensity to work)
(Figure 34.4a).
Here, the keys to success are angle
and distance. If the wall is parallel to
12 o’clock, behind the subject, try to get
the reflector as close as 11 o’clock
(sun angle permitting) to rake the background with an oblique wash of light
(Figure 34.4b).
If you have the resources, aim multiple
reflectors at different areas of the background (I’ve used three or four). With care,
you can produce a variegated and interesting wash of light that looks quite natural.
Or you can go a step further and use an
improvised cookie. A cookie, short for
“cukaloris” (a word lost in the mists of theatrical history), is a stencil pattern of
leaves, bars or whatever you like that is
placed between a spotlight and a surface.
Cookies create interesting light and shadow
Hard aluminum reflectors throw a concentrated light beam that you can place
cookies in front of them to create surface
patterns. To control the effect, move the
cookie closer to the reflector for softer
edges or farther away for harder ones.
Because of the large surface areas of
reflectors, the cookies must be much
larger than those used indoors with spotlights. Outdoors, I sometimes improvise
Use Reflectors Like a Pro
Figure 34.5 Indoors—if you’re working
with just one spotlight, use it as a key light
and place a large, white card out of frame
on the opposite side. The result is a very
soft natural looking fill light.
Figure 34.4 Background—suppose you
have a subject in the sun with, say, a
building wall as background. That makes
for great facial exposure, but often a boring
background. To spark it up, fill in the
backing with one or more hard aluminum
reflectors (softer models are too low-intensity
to work).
and use a dead branch with leaves still on
it. Even if the leaves move in the wind,
the effect on the background is quite
Reflectors Indoors
Reflectors are not as versatile indoors
because the light sources they depend on
aren’t as powerful as sunlight. Even so,
you can easily use them to make one light
do the work of two.
If you’re working with just one spotlight, use it as a key light and place a
large, white card out of frame on the
opposite side (see Figure 34.5). The result
is a very soft, natural looking fill light.
You can even soften the naturally hard
spot beam a bit with spun glass diffusion
(e.g. a furnace filter) and still put out
enough light for the reflector.
Even if you have more spotlights, you
may want a softer look to your lighting
design. To achieve it, turn the lights away
from the subject and bounce them back in
with reflectors. In this application, metallic cloth or crinkled aluminum types
work better than ultra-soft white cards.
Carrying this to its logical conclusion, I’ve
seen studios with 8 8 foot white walls
on roll-around stands that make jumbosized reflectors delivering window light
quality soft illumination.
So there’s a quick rundown on reflectors. Once you see how versatile they are,
you’ll realize that reflectors aren’t lights
for poverty-stricken productions: they’re
versatile tools that pros use all the time.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 1
Going for Gold
Foamcore, cloth and even some hard reflectors can be colored gold instead of white. Hoopand-fabric units are sometimes two-sided, with one side gold and one side silver.
Gold reflectors are very useful for warming up the light they throw. Here are just a few
ways to use them:
To simulate the magic hour look of sunset.
To counteract the naturally bluish cast of open shade.
To warm up one light source (also useful in creating day-for-night effects).
To add glamour to closeups, either as fill light or as a warm rim light on hair and shoulders.
The most economical way to acquire a warm reflector is by buying a piece of tinted foamcore.
Instead of true gold, try a lighter yellow color to start, then experiment until you find what
suits your needs.
Sidebar 2
Zoom In
A telephoto lens is excellent for closeups. Not only does it flatter human faces, but it
includes less background, letting you sneak reflectors as close as even the eleven o’clock
Three-Point Lighting in
the Real World
Dr. Robert G. Nulph
Three-point lighting is familiar to anyone
who has been reading Videomaker for a
while. You’ve read about it, seen pictures
and understand it—in theory. In this
months column I’ll take you with me on a
typical location shoot, from the time I
choose my equipment until shooting begins.
The Situation
I was recently called to do an interview
featuring a corporate CEO who worked in
a big, beautiful corner office with huge
windows and a desk large enough to field
a pee wee football team. Behind the desk
was a long shelf that ran under the windows and was full of awards, family pictures and knick-knacks. The CEO was a
personable guy with large glasses and
shiny bald head. I had one hour to setup
and complete the interview.
Preparation always begins at home. I
started with my favorite interview key
light, a large soft light. This light is a fluorescent soft light that has the capability to
change out lamps so that you can light for
an indoor or outdoor color temperature.
Since I would utilize three-point lighting
techniques, I’d need a backlight and a light
to fill in the shadows. For the backlight, I
chose a Lowel Tota. This small light, as
well as its tripod and other mounting
equipment, easily fits in the Caselite’s
carrying case. I also tossed in some blue
gels and a gel frame just in case I wanted
to change the light’s color temperature, a
couple of diffusion gels to add some softness to the light and some neutral density
gels to reduce the intensity of the light if
To my accessory bag I added some
gaffer’s tape, a piece of foam core, some
clothes pins, a few scissors clamps, an
extra light stand, extra lamps (bulbs), an
extension cord, a couple three-to-two
prong electrical outlet adapters and a
small compact with neutral colored face
powder and some handkerchiefs (see
Figure 35.1).
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 35.1 Pack, man—I packed gaffer’s
tape, foam core, clothes pins, scissors, clamps,
an extension cord, electrical outlet adapters
and a small compact with face powder.
Figure 35.2 Light 1—I positioned my soft
light as the key light, to the right of my
camera about three feet away.
On Location
When I got to the office, my first concern
was deciding where to put the camera and
dealing with the windows. I decided to
close the vertical blinds that covered the
window behind his desk and partially
close the blinds on the window to the left
of his desk. I did this for two reasons. First,
the window behind the desk provided
an interesting blue striped background
behind the CEO during the interview. With
the blinds completely shut, the outside
light shaded the seams between the blinds
with a light blue, adding a nice touch of
color to the scene. Second, the light coming through the partially closed blinds at
the side of the office provided a subtle blue
tint to the fill light on the left side of the
CEO, again adding a bit of soft, dramatic
color. Closing the blinds let me control the
light as well as the overall color temperature of the light in the room.
The physical space was my next concern. Because the desk was so massive, I
decided to use just a corner of it, providing a surface for the CEO to rest his hands
if needed, but not showing enough of
the desk to create too big a separation
between the CEO and the audience. I also
made sure that the camera could see a
group of family pictures behind and to the
side of the CEO’s chair, adding a personal
touch to the scene.
Figure 35.3 Light 2—I clamped the small
Tota light onto one of the metal strips to hold
up suspended ceilings.
Light 1: The Key
I used my soft light as the key light, positioned to the right of my camera about
three feet away (see Figure 35.2). I then
raised the light so that it was at about a
forty-five degree angle above his head
pointing directly at him. The soft key
light cast a smooth, even glow on the CEO
and the set.
Light 2: The Back
I then set up my back light directly across
from the key light, behind the CEO’s chair
(see Figure 35.3). Using a scissors clamp, I
clamped the small Tota light onto one of
Three-Point Lighting in the Real World
the metal strips used to hold up suspended ceilings. I then ran the cable along
the ceiling, fastening it in place with some
gaffer’s tape. This light, positioned about
forty-five degrees above and behind the
CEO, provided a light on the back of his
head and shoulders to separate him from
the background.
Light 3: The Fill
It was now time to consider the fill. At
this point, I asked the CEO to take his
place in his chair so that I could see the
effects of the two lights I had already
placed. After adjusting the back light so
that no light was shining on the top of his
head, I looked through the camera’s viewfinder to see what I had accomplished.
The light coming from the side window
was adding a little too much blue to the
scene so I decided to fill in the left side of
his face with light reflected from the backlight with a three by four piece of foam
core (see Figure 35.4). This light diluted
the blue from the window and filled in
some of the shadows created by the key
light. If I had wanted to create really dramatic lighting, I would have moved my
key light further to the side and reduced
the intensity of my fill light, making the
camera-left side of his face darker than
the right.
Taking Care of Small Problems
Looking through the viewfinder, I immediately saw the two problems I knew I
was going to have to contend with: glasses
and a bald head. The head was no problem. I pulled out the makeup powder and
after a few jokes, I patted down his forehead and the top of his head, reducing the
glare tremendously. The powder not only
absorbs any perspiration there may be, it
also gives the skin a matte finish. The
glasses are a bigger problem. I first had
him tilt the glasses down by slightly lifting the back of the earpieces. This helped
a great deal. I then moved my key light a
bit further to the side and a bit higher,
watching the glare on the glasses until it
disappeared. Some might ask, “Why go
through all of this trouble? Just have him
take his glasses off.” Most people that
wear glasses all of the time just don’t look
like themselves if they take them off. If a
CEO is making an address to the troops,
he wants to look relaxed, comfortable and
like himself. It’s worth the effort.
Once I fixed the glare, positioned the
family pictures perfectly in the viewfinder
(also checking for glare in their frames)
and checked my talent one more time, I
positioned myself to the left of the camera
so that my eyes were at the level of the
lens and began the interview, having the
CEO look at me instead of the lens.
A Few Notes About the
Overall Experience
Figure 35.4 Light 3—I decided to fill in the
left side of his face with light reflected with a
piece of foam core.
Remember, three-point lighting will make
them look good, but it is your attitude and
how you work with them will make them
feel comfortable. In the end, the better
they look, the better you look.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 1
Dramatic Intensity
Keep in mind that when doing interviews, you want to use a soft light as your primary light
source, unless you are trying to create a very dramatic look and want to see every wrinkle in
your talent’s face. In that case, you would use a small, intense light to create a hard light with
sharp shadows.
Sidebar 2
Any time you find yourself shooting an interview in someone’s office or home, use the time
while you set up wisely. Engage your subject in conversation. Tell them what you are doing
and how you will conduct the interview. Go over the first few questions with them as you
position your camera and hang your lights. I really try to get to know my subjects in the time
that I am setting up. I find it makes the interview process go a lot easier.
Don’t be afraid to ask your subject if you can move things around. I have yet to ever come
across someone who wouldn’t let me rearrange their office. Explain to them what you are
doing and why. Most of all engage them and make them feel like the whole interview process
is fairly pain free and fun.
A Dose of Reality:
Lighting Effects
Robert Nulph
See video clips at
The firelight flickered against the cabin
wall, warming the cool blue light of the
full moon filtering through the tattered
curtains. Suddenly the ominous blue then
red flash of police lights filled the small
room and Carson knew his game was up.
Suddenly the director yells “Cut!” and
the camera pulls back to reveal two
Hollywood flats painted to look like cabin
walls and a squadron of techies moving a
myriad of lights and other equipment to
new locations. Nowhere in sight in the
cavernous sound stage is there a squad
car, a full moon or a flickering fire.
For years Hollywood and independent
filmmakers as well as corporate video
producers have used lighting techniques
to make us believe things exist that aren’t
really there. You can too! It is all a matter
of collecting the right lighting instruments and accessories and adding a large
dose of imagination. Mix them all together
to give your scene a large dose of reality.
Throughout this chapter, we’ll look at a
variety of ways to bring reality to your
scenes. It is all in the power of lighting.
Mr. Sun and Mr. Moon
It’s a good idea to always plan the outdoor
and daylight shots first for your productions, because you have more control of
indoor lighting than you do over the
weather. All you need to make sunshine
or moonbeams is a small, powerful light
source and some colored gel. You can create sunshine, even at night, by placing a
powerful light (1000 watts or so) outside
your window. (It is not advisable to do
this if it is raining.) Make sure you place it
at an angle similar to that of the sun at the
time your scene takes place and is out of
the camera shot. It works best if you use a
small, intense light to create the light of
the sun or moon because you want to imitate their qualities. If you think about it,
the sun and moon are very small intense
lights that throw very hard shadows. A
big soft light will not do the trick.
To recreate the sun, you have to determine what time of day your scene is taking
place. If your scene is in the early morning, you may want to place a single blue
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 36.1 Shine a light through a set of mini blinds to imply the existence of a window.
gel in front of the light. For midday, use no
gel and for evening, use a yellow/gold,
orange or red/orange gel, going towards
the red as the day progresses. A light shining into a hard gold reflector and reflected
through the window makes a fabulous
evening light.
To recreate the moon, place two Color
Temperature Blue (CTB) gels together in
front of your light. Dim the lighting in the
room to pick up the color of the moonlight and create the feeling of nighttime.
If you are creating the sun or the moon
on a sound stage or other big room, you
can also create windows through which
they can shine. Place a window frame just
out of camera shot so that its shadow falls
across the floor and the background wall.
Set up window blinds (Figure 36.1) and
let the light filter through the slats. You
instantly have a wall with a window.
Cars and Cops
With a little mechanical skill and a good
sense of pacing, you can easily imitate car
headlights, city streetlights, the flashing
lights of a squad car or a searchlight being
used to find the bad guy. You’ll also need
a couple of small, focusable lights that
you can gel.
One of the easiest, yet most effective
lighting effects you can use is the imitation
of a car’s headlights. Using a four-foot long
2 4, mount two narrow beam lights about
two feet apart. Slowly sweep the beams of
light at an angle across the darkened back
wall of your set. Instant car lights. If you
are shooting a scene in a car at night, you
can use the same technique both for cars
passing you from the other direction as
well as those coming up from behind.
In the same driving scene, you can
imitate the passing of city streetlights,
by rhythmically passing the beam of a
powerful flashlight over the hood of the
car, avoiding the camera lens. A flashlight works well because its lamp has a
yellow color temperature and should look
different from the lights you are using for
If your characters get in trouble with the
law, you can fill the car or house with
flashing blue and red lights by rhythmically passing a double or triple blue gelled
light then heavily gelled red light past the
background or interior of the car. The
Lowel Omni light has a comfortable soft
rubber grip that allows you to move it
around without being burnt. Focus your
light’s beam to the tightest setting possible
and pass first the red then the blue past the
set. You can flash the set, tilt the beam
to the floor and pass it again. With two
people, it is a bit easier, but one person
can handle it. Take the gels off one of the
lights, put on a yellow gel, widen the focus
on the beam and you have just created a
A Dose of Reality
If your scene occurs on a city street or
in a seedy motel room, you can add the
pulse of a red neon light. Reflect a diffused red-gelled light onto the background or into the interior of your car. By
turning the light off and on or moving a
flag to cover the light occasionally, you can
imitate the stuttering of an old neon sign.
Add a few sound effects and your characters are infor a long and dramatic night.
Living Rooms
Fireplaces, televisions and lamps that you
see used in video and movie scenes more
often than not, don’t really work the way
we think they do. You can create it all
through the magic of lighting.
If your character is supposed to be
watching television yet you don’t see the
front of the set, you can create a very
believable TV light. Get an old TV set,
remove the picture tube and tack a double
CTB gel to the front. Inside, place a lighting
instrument that has a good quality switch
on its cord. Quickly turn the light off and
on; pausing at times for longer lengths of
both light and dark. A television is never
always bright so the flickering makes it
look more realistic. Of course, you could
always plug in an actual TV set, but hey,
that would be too easy.
If your character is sitting before a warm
fire, you can create the effect by setting up
a small, diffused light, angled up from
floor level. In front of the light, hang inch
wide strips of red, yellow and orange gels
on a broomstick. Gently shake the gels in
front of the light to create the feeling of
firelight movement, as in Figure 36.2.
Another method uses a round wheel (like
an old bicycle wheel) covered with various orange, red and yellow gels cut with
holes and layered to provide a variety of
combinations and the occasional flash of
real light. Turn the wheel slowly in front
of the light to create the movement of the
flame. Again, add sound effects and bake
to perfection.
For lamps that you will see on the
screen, the first thing you need to do is
Figure 36.2 Red and yellow gel strips waving in front of an
orange-gelled light create the illusion of firelight.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
remove the regular bulb. A sixty-watt bulb
will cause the lamp to glow on camera
and look much brighter than it should.
Place a 15-watt bulb in the lamp to provide a soft internal glow and supplement
the light with a diffused 600-watt or more
lighting instrument. Be sure to flag the
light so that its beam does not fall on the
lampshade of the light you are trying to
use. If you place the lighting instrument
just off-line from the real light, you can
light your character in a warm glow that
will look like it is coming from the lamp
beside them.
Water Water Everywhere
Sometimes, the script calls for water ripples reflecting in your characters eyes or
on her face. Often, it just isn’t very convenient to set up lighting to get this effect
using a real water source like a creek or
lake. Don’t worry, it is really a quite simple
effect to recreate. All you need is a deep
pan like a roaster or a painters roller pan.
Carefully break up a mirror into two to
three inch pieces and place them in the
bottom of the pan, face up. Cover the mirrors with about three inches of water.
Shine a small, intense light into the water
so that the light reflected from it falls onto
the face of your character. (See Figure 36.3.)
Gently lift one end of the pan up and down
to create a soft ripple effect. You should see
Figure 36.3 Light reflected off of water and
broken pieces of mirror create a shimmering
pool side effect.
water ripples in your characters eyes. If
your scene occurs at night, add a CTB gel
to your light. Add a few seagulls, some
water sounds and your ready for a day or
night in paradise.
Always be aware of the world around
you. Look at the light that makes up our
world, its reflections its colors and the
shadows it casts. If it occurs in the real
world, you should be able to re-create it
for the camera. A bit of knowledge, a dose
of imagination, and a touch of lighting
magic can create any reality you wish.
Outdoor Lighting:
What you Need to Know
to Shoot Great Footage
Michael Loehr
How do you light the outdoor scenes in
your videos? Do you plan and stage each
shot carefully to make the most of the
sun’s glow? Or do you just switch to outdoor white balance, call out “Action!”
and roll tape?
Even if you choose the latter, chances
are your videos still look pretty good.
Today’s camcorders work well enough in
daylight to make very acceptable pictures,
even with no attention to lighting.
Maybe that’s why videographers don’t
worry too much about outdoor lighting.
Perhaps they think making the best use of
sunlight requires expensive instruments
and tools they can’t afford. Perhaps they
just never learned the tricks of managing
sunlight in a video project.
That’s where this guide can help. In this
chapter are some of the popular outdoor
lighting techniques. They can help subjects look more natural on video, and
improve the overall look of your projects.
You’ll learn what tools and gadgets you
need to make the most of sunlight. You
can build many of them with inexpensive
stuff from art supply and hardware stores.
We’ll even teach you how to create the
illusion of a dark night in the middle of
the afternoon.
So start taking advantage of what may
be your greatest asset as a videographer:
the sun.
Principles of Light
The fundamental principles of good lighting apply whether you shoot video indoors
or out. However, sunlight presents unique
challenges to videographers. On almost
any given day, there is more than enough
light outside to shoot a scene. At first, an
abundance of light seems like an asset.
However the hundreds and thousands of
lumens cast by the sun can actually cause
problems for your camcorder. Not technical problems, but aesthetic ones.
At its brightest, the sun can shed more
than 10 times the light of one typical
indoor instrument. When it shines
brightly, it also casts very dark shadows.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
In video lingo, the difference between
these light and dark areas is commonly
called the contrast ratio, or contrast range.
Our eyes can compensate for the high
contrast range of a bright day. Our camcorders, however, don’t react as well.
They require a much lower contrast range,
especially to capture detail accurately. (Of
course, our eyes also see better when we
lower the contrast range, which is why we
often wear sunglasses on sunny days.)
On bright days, the contrast range is
usually too high for your camcorder to
make good pictures. If you shoot without
any lighting equipment or assistance, the
sunlight won’t flatter your subjects. Dark
shadows may leave unpleasant or unnatural accents on facial features. Your
images may also look washed out.
A high contrast ratio also affects your
camera’s automatic iris feature. You may
have noticed that when the auto iris is on,
its position changes constantly while you
As you move into a shadowed area, the
iris opens to allow more light into the
lens. As you move back to the bright
areas, it closes again to avoid overexposure. That means you might get even, natural lighting from one angle, and harsh,
overexposed lighting from another. The
constant movement of the iris makes
maintaining continuity between different
camera angles difficult. It’s also very distracting mid-shot.
The goal of outdoor lighting design is to
lower the contrast range without damaging the natural look of the subjects and
the outdoor setting. You want a lighting
setup that looks the same to your camcorder, no matter where you put it. To do
this, you need to brighten the dark, shadowed areas, and perhaps even lower the
overall light level, depending on how
brightly the sun shines.
Tools and Tricks
If you’re shooting indoors and need more
light, the standard practice is to plug in a
light and point toward the dark areas.
Outside, you do practically the same
thing, only with different tools.
You only have one light source—the sun.
It doesn’t need extension cords or power
outlets. Even better, it will usually give you
more than enough light to work with.
All you must do is redirect some of that
excess light toward the shadowed areas of
your set and your subjects. The best, most
affordable tools for redirecting light are
reflectors and diffusers; they will point
light in different directions, and alter the
way it falls on a subject. Light will bounce
off a reflector, and pass through a diffuser.
Learning to use reflectors is easy. Their
behavior is somewhat constant, given the
fact that light bounces in predictable angles.
Reflectors vary, however, in three ways:
1) how much light they reflect, 2) how
large an area their reflection covers and
3) the color of light they reflect.
Foil or mirrored surfaces reflect the
most light over a small area. Pure white
surfaces usually cover larger areas, but
with less light. Some reflectors have a
gold foil surface; these bounce light with
a warm, rich quality that really flatters
skin tones.
Diffusers filter direct beams of sunlight,
spreading them evenly over a large area.
Like reflectors, they’re easy to use and
fairly predictable.
A material’s porosity and transparency
determine its diffusion characteristics.
Dense or very cloudy materials allow less
light to fall onto the subject. Highly
porous materials allow more.
Diffusing sunlight is probably the most
effective technique for taming unpleasant
shadows and reducing contrast. It does an
excellent job of brightening dark areas,
while retaining much of the outline and
To use a diffuser, simply suspend or
position the material between your subject and the sun. Where you place the
material and how you angle it depends on
the look you want. To create shadows on
the face, place the diffuser close to the
subject and off to one side. To spread light
Outdoor Lighting
Figure 37.1 To control excessive contrast
from the sun (a) use an overhead canopy of
diffusion material (b).
evenly and minimize shadows, place the
diffuser above and away from the subject,
angled down slightly as in Figure 37.1.
Experiment with the diffuser to determine the most effective position for your
particular scene. No matter where you
put it, your camcorder will make better
pictures with diffused light.
There are, however, a few drawbacks
to using diffusion. It simulates the light
you might see on a slightly overcast day,
especially when you suspend the diffuser
overhead. This lighting tends to be flat—
some subjects may look bland under diffused light.
One solution: bounce more sunlight
toward the subject. This highlights the
subject and slightly increases the contrast
Or you can abandon diffusion altogether and bounce light around the scene
with reflectors instead. By using reflectors, you can maintain the look of a summer day and still reduce contrast.
Position the reflector to bounce excess
sunlight toward shadowed areas, as in
Figure 37.2. This lets your camcorder use
more incoming sunlight without washing
out your subjects.
If you’re shooting at midday, unpleasant shadows may appear on your subject’s
face. The simplest solution is to move your
subject out of the direct sun, if possible.
(See Figure 37.3.)
Another solution is to use a reflector.
Try putting the reflector below the subject’s face; this should help eliminate the
shadow. Be careful to avoid the “monster
look,” however. Strong light from below
the face is a classic horror film technique,
hence the name. Unless you want your
subject to look frightening, make sure the
reflected light flatters the face. Reposition
the reflector as necessary to eliminate the
monster look.
One last tip: videographers on the go
may prefer reflectors to diffusers. Diffusers
can sometimes be cumbersome to set up.
Reflectors offer better portability, and still
solve many outdoor lighting problems.
Simple Solutions
Other very effective and inexpensive outdoor lighting techniques involve simply
staging a scene in the proper place with
respect to the sun.
You’ve heard the saying that the sun
should always be behind the camera when
you shoot. True enough, but it doesn’t tell
you whether the sun should be to the left,
the right or directly behind the camera.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 37.2 When shooting in direct sunlight
(a) a simple reflector can bounce light back
into dark areas to improve contrast (b).
Many videographers default to the center
position, where the sun sits directly
behind the camera. This is a bad idea for
two reasons:
1. It puts the sun in the subject’s face,
which almost guarantees squinting
eyes in the shot (See Figure 37.4) and
2. the shadow that you and your camcorder
cast is likely to wind up in the shot.
You can avoid these rookie moves by
adopting an outdoor version of the classic
Figure 37.3 If you must shoot during the
day, try to get your subject out of the sun
(a) and into the shade of a building (b) or a
tree (c).
Outdoor Lighting
Figure 37.4 Direct sunlight hitting your
subject from the front causes squinting eyes.
three-point lighting setup, which is used
to add more light to indoor shooting
In the three-point setup, one light
serves as the main or “key” light. It provides most of the light for a scene. It’s
positioned to light one side of the subject,
angled approximately 45 degrees horizontally from the subject.
A second, less intense light shines on
the opposite side of the subject. Called a
“fill” light, it balances the shadows that
define contour and shape. It’s often somewhere between one half and two thirds as
bright as the key light.
Sometimes a third light adds backlight.
A backlight separates the subject from
what’s behind it, and provides shoulder
and hair highlights on people.
Here’s how you can adapt this threepoint setup to outdoor lighting situations.
Instead of standing with the sun directly
behind you, change your position so that
the sun shines from behind you over either
your left or right shoulder. In this position
the sun becomes a key light, shining light
on one side of the subject’s face.
This takes the light out of your subject’s
eyes and lowers the chance of your
shadow appearing in the shot. When the
sun shines at an angle similar to a key
light, the shadows will fall away from
you and the subject, and hopefully out of
the shot.
You can also add a very inexpensive fill
light by just using another reflector. Once
you’ve established the sun as the key
light, either clip a reflector to a spare light
stand, or have an assistant hold a reflector
near the subject on the side opposite the
sun. Rotate the reflector back and forth to
bounce light onto the “dark” side of the
subject. Move away to lessen the intensity, closer to raise it.
If you have another spare reflector, particularly one with a foil surface, you can
simulate a backlight. Stand just off camera
behind your subject, on the side with the
key light. Point the foil side toward the
sun and rotate it until the reflection lights
up the back of your subject. Presto!
Instant backlight.
Occasionally you will encounter outdoor settings where the background is as
brightly lit as the subject. This is another
aesthetically unpleasant situation.
When the subject and background are
both very bright, they conflict with each
other, creating an image viewers will find
difficult to watch for very long. To solve
this problem, you must highlight the
foreground subject. Instead of trying to
reflect more light onto the foreground, try
shadowing all or part of the background.
The technique is subtractive lighting, or
“flagging.” It involves using a card called
a “flag” to block sunlight from hitting certain areas. You can buy ready-made flags
from video stores, or build your own from
black foam boards. In a pinch, a reflector
will work as a flag, but black foam board
is better. The reflector’s white surface
sometimes bounces light where you don’t
want it.
To shadow the background, position the
flag behind the subject, just off camera on
the key light side. Angle it so that it casts
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
a shadow on the background. You may
need to move the subjects away from the
background to avoid casting a shadow on
them as well.
Position Problems
Because the earth rotates in space, the
sun’s position, intensity and color balance
change through the course of a day. This
can create problems for uninitiated videographers. Understand these changes, however, and they can become tremendous
If you shoot a series of scenes during an
entire day, you’ll notice the lighting
changes from scene to scene. Shadows
gradually change position, density and
direction, and the contrast range changes.
Color temperature also changes throughout the day.
For example: a scene shot very early in
the morning will have long horizontal
shadows, a slightly orange glow and a
lower contrast range. A scene shot in the
same location at midday will have dark
vertical shadows and a much higher contrast range.
You will experience difficulty when
you try to edit these scenes together.
Differences in shadow placement and
color balance will reveal that you shot the
scenes at different times. (See Figure 37.5)
A diffuser is an excellent way to prevent such problems. Diffusing sunlight
hides the movement of the sun across the
sky, and disguises the time of day. Sometimes the earth’s atmosphere provides its
own diffusion in the form of cloud cover.
If the forecast says the clouds will hang
around all day, you may not need to set
up a diffuser at all.
Many projects call for dramatic use of
light and shadow to convey specific
moods or emotions. If yours is such a project, avoid using diffusion; it lessens the
impact of shadows. Also avoid shooting
in the middle of the day, when shadows
make subjects look less than their best.
Instead, shoot your footage either late in
Figure 37.5 Shooting in the evening or early
morning results in a soft light (a). Mid-day
sun is brighter and harsher (b).
the day or early in the morning, when the
shadows are most flattering.
When the sun is near the horizon, its
color temperature is different from when
it’s high in the sky. At noon it casts a
white light high in color temperature,
usually around 5,600 K (Kelvin). Your
camcorder’s outdoor filter works best with
this type of sunlight.
At dawn and dusk, however, the sun is
lower in the sky, and its glow is a warm,
golden-orange color. Videographers often
call this period the “golden hour,” since
Outdoor Lighting
it usually lasts right around an hour.
Its color registers much lower than the
5,600 K light of midday—usually around
3,100 K.
Consequently, your camera may react
differently when switched to the outdoor
setting. If you white balanced early in the
day under regular 5,600 K light, the video
will turn more and more orange as the
evening progresses. If you don’t want this
look, simply white balance your camera at
the beginning of every shot.
While this change in color temperature
may prove inappropriate, it can also be
perfect for certain types of shots. The
golden hour’s long shadows and warm
lighting make it an ideal time to shoot
dramatic or romantic scenes.
Be aware that the moment only lasts a
short time. You can extend the golden hour
a little by reflecting sunlight off a goldsurfaced reflector. However, once the sun
either disappears in the evening, or reaches
a 45 degree angle above the horizon in the
morning, the golden look will be difficult
to maintain. If you know exactly when the
golden hour will happen, you can plan to
take advantage of it on your next project.
On very rare occasions you may need to
add artificial light to make an outdoor
scene suitable for shooting. This is most
common when shooting under either very
dark clouds or heavy shadows. In these
cases it may be appropriate to use your
indoor lighting instruments instead of
reflectors to light a scene.
Remember, the color temperature of sunlight is much higher than that of indoor
studio lights. To use indoor lights outdoors, you must put a blue gel in front of
them. Also be aware that indoor lights
shine a very small amount of light when
compared to the sun. You may need two
or even three instruments to light a subject adequately outside.
Night Lights
Shooting outdoors at night can be trouble
for professional and amateur videographers
alike. Even with low-light camcorders, it’s
still very difficult to get good pictures
without adding artificial light.
To solve this problem, use a technique
called day-for-night shooting. It involves
shooting a carefully staged and controlled
scene during the day, making it look as if
it were shot at night.
Day-for-night shooting isn’t easy, and it
isn’t always effective. To make it work,
you must create an illusion of nighttime
that will fool your audience. To do this,
pay close attention to how your eyes see
at night.
Pay close attention to colors. At night
our eyes don’t see colors as well because
of the lower light level. The same is true
for our camcorders. Dress your subjects
in muted colors to keep the color intensity down.
If your camcorder has a monochrome
mode, consider using it instead of the
color mode; this will help reduce the
amount of color in the scene. Some editing VCRs have chroma controls or monochrome switches, which can also mute
color intensity.
Consider buying a blue filter for your
camcorder. This helps create the illusion
of moonlight by turning sunlight blue.
Most video stores carry a selection of filters to fit your camcorder. Be sure to get
one that fits your model’s lens.
When combined with the other techniques, the blue filter greatly enhances
the nighttime look.
If there are any ordinary lights in your
scene—car headlights, porch lights, window lights—switch them on. Indeed, before
you shoot you should turn on any and all
lights normally on at night.
You also must know how to disable
your camcorder’s auto iris and auto white
balance circuits—if it has them. When
activated, an auto iris circuit lets the optimal amount of light into the lens to make
With day-for-night shots, you want
to limit the light entering the lens. You
can only do this when you turn off the
auto iris.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
The same applies to auto white balance.
If active, the feature will try to get an
accurate white balance, even with the
blue filter on the lens. The goal is to fool
the camera and ultimately the audience,
so switch off the auto white balance.
With the circuits off, white balance the
camera without the blue filter. Place the filter on the lens, and manually close the iris
until a small amount of light enters the lens.
Let enough light through to distinguish
your subjects, but not any more than that.
The result is the nighttime look: a
grainy bluish image with muted colors
and contrast. If your editing VCRs allow
it, try lowering the black level and raising
the luminance during post production.
This increases the contrast enough to
match what our eyes typically see at
Wrap It Up
Enhancing your outdoor shoots with
reflectors and diffusers is more art than
science. The techniques reflect personal
preference as much as rigid rules.
So use reflectors and diffusers to
express your own visual ideas more effectively. The best way to learn is to experiment with them.
Stage a simple scene outside, and then
create four or five different moods by just
changing the lighting design. This’ll teach
you how sunlight works, how to make the
most of your tools and how your camcorder reacts to sunlight.
Experiment, too, with different materials and techniques. You may discover a
style that becomes the signature element
in your videos.
Audio For Video:
Getting it Right
From the Start
Hal Robertson
So, you’ve bought a shiny new digital video
recorder and you’re blown away by the
image quality. But what about the audio?
Audio is possibly the most overlooked element in video production. That’s too bad
because audio quality can make or break
any video project, regardless of budget.
You may be able to fix some things in
post-production, but why go to all the trouble when you can get it right the first time?
This article explores 10 tips for gathering
the best possible audio on your next shoot.
Some are common sense tips, but many are
hard-earned lessons from the field.
Plan Ahead
When shooting on location, a smart videographer scouts the site before the shoot,
looking for ideal lighting and backgrounds to produce the best image possible. For your next shoot, scout with
your ears too. Listen for traffic noises,
machinery, animals and aircraft—anything that might ruin the audio during the
shoot. Depending on your topic, some
background noise may be acceptable or
even desirable. Just make sure you can
hear your subject over the ruckus.
Use an External Microphone
Unless you have a high-end professional
camera, your built-in microphone is
absolutely worthless for anything more
than your 3-year-old’s birthday party.
First, the microphone is built into the
camera’s body, and is very sensitive to
noise from zoom, focus and tape drive
motors. The second problem is a matter of
distance. Even though you can zoom in
on a subject from across the room, the
microphone is stuck 20 feet away. Trust
me, you need an external microphone.
Choose the Right Microphone
for the Job
OK, I’ve convinced you to use an external mike, but what kind? There are four
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
basic types: handheld, lapel, shotgun and
boundary (see Figure 38.1).
Handheld mikes, typically used by news
reporters, add a newsy feel to your video.
Directional handheld mikes minimize
background noise while non-directional
mikes collect the audio flavor of the scene.
News anchors and sit-down interview
participants often use lapel, or lavaliere
microphones. They are useful anytime
you want to get close to the source, but
minimize visual impact.
Shotgun microphones, highly directional and often used on TV shows and
movie sets, usually suspend from a boom
or “fishpole.” Shotgun mikes typically
hover just out of the video frame and
point directly at the subject.
If you shoot legal or corporate video,
the boundary microphone could be your
new best friend. Boundary mikes turn an
entire table, wall or floor into a pickup
surface. Unfortunately, their incredible
sensitivity is a double-edged sword. They
clearly pick up voices from every direction but also amplify shuffling papers and
air conditioner noise equally.
Use a Windscreen
You’re familiar with the effect of wind
blowing into a microphone. The resulting
rumble masks all but the loudest sounds,
making the audio useless. Subjects speaking close to a microphone also produce
small blasts of wind from their mouths. One
of three basic windscreens will minimize or
eliminate these problems altogether.
Foam windscreens are the most common since they are inexpensive, and work
great for both handheld and lapel microphones (see Figure 38.2). Although shotgun mikes also use foam windscreens, the
pros usually use a special type called a
zeppelin. This special-purpose windscreen gets its name from its shape. It
looks like a long, skinny blimp. Porous
cloth or fur typically covers the mike and
blocks the wind, while letting sound
through unharmed. A shotgun microphone mounts inside the zeppelin where
the entire mike is protected from audiowrecking wind noises.
When you record the narration for your
next video, consider using a hoop-style
windscreen to improve the sound quality.
Hoop screens are usually about six inches
Figure 38.1 A. Boundary Mike—also PZM,
lies, flat on a table or surface and is typically
used for miking people sitting around a table.
B. Shotgun Mike—Usually has a highlyfocused pickup pattern and best at gathering
sound at a distance or in a noisy
C. Lapel Mike—is very small and can be
hidden on or around the subject to completely
conceal its presence.
D. Handheld Mike—comfortable to hold in
the hand, it is commonly used by television
newscasters, singers, public speakers and
talk-show hosts. It’s ideal when you want the
talent to directly address the camera.
Figure 38.2 Screen test—a simple foam
windscreen can do wonders to minimize
outdoor gusts and plosives in the voice.
Audio For Video
in diameter and covered with one or two
layers of fine mesh cloth. Recording studios worldwide use this type of windscreen on critical vocals, and you can too.
Position Microphones Properly
Some simple attention to microphone
placement can make a dramatic improvement in sound quality. Take the shotgun
mike, for example. Its extreme directional
characteristics and high sensitivity make
it great for picking up audio from a distance. But point a shotgun up at your subject from the ground (instead of overhead),
and you might pick up birds singing in the
trees or the 3:30 flight to Albuquerque.
Misuse of lapel microphones is just as
easy. Ideally, they are worn on the outside
of clothing, attached to a lapel, tie or shirt.
However, hiding lapel mikes under clothes
minimizes wind noise and visual distractions (see Figure 38.3). This location guarantees a muffled sound and the sound of
cloth rubbing on the microphone. If wind
is the problem, try positioning your subject
with their back to the wind. If cosmetics
are the issue, try a smaller microphone, a
less distracting location or a shotgun mike.
get the AGC working in a similar range to
the previous take, making your edit point
more consistent. The second method is
to turn the AGC off. This only works on
certain camcorders, but if yours has this
feature, use it. You can adjust the audio
level manually for consistent sound, take
after take.
Monitor With Headphones
If your camera has a headphone jack, buy
a pair of good headphones and keep them
in your camera case (see Figure 38.4). The
next time you shoot, you will hear exactly
what the microphone hears, making mike
positioning easier. You will also catch bad
connections, dead batteries and background noise before you commit it to tape.
This is an absolute must and will save you
much frustration and embarrassment.
Learn to Deal With AGC
Automatic gain control, or AGC, is built
into virtually every camera on the market.
This seemingly magic circuit constantly
monitors your incoming audio, then
keeps the loud sounds from getting too
loud and the soft sounds from getting too
soft. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?
It’s not a bad idea, but problems crop up
later during editing when you try to
match clips from different takes. One take
will be loud and strong, but another will
be softer with more background noise.
Now what are you going to do?
There are a couple of solutions. First,
have your talent re-take the material,
starting before the break point. This will
Figure 38.3 In or out?—it may be tempting to
conceal a lapel mike in the clothing; however,
it will cause the audio to be muffled and the
sound of rubbing cloth to be picked up.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 38.5 Hooking up—with a variety of
cables, adapters, and spare batteries you’ll be
prepared for every audio occasion.
Figure 38.4 Listen in—always use
headphones when using an external mike.
Get Connected
Audio cables and adapters are a necessity
for the videographer—just make sure you
have the right ones before you shoot (see
Figure 38.5). Wireless mikes often need
jumper wires to connect the receiver to the
camera. Professional microphones use
three-pin XLR connectors that won’t plug
into most consumer and prosumer cameras. For these mikes string together several
adapters or, buy an interface box. If you’re
connecting to a sound system or other
audio equipment, bring every adapter you
own to the shoot. You’ll need them.
Get In Close
Regardless of your microphone choice,
the closer you get it to the subject, the
cleaner your audio will sound. Position
the handheld or lapel mike a little closer
than you previously had. Boom in as
close as possible with the shotgun. This
technique also reduces background noise
and further improves your audio.
Bring Spares
Spare cables, spare adapters, spare microphones and spare batteries. This tip will
save your skin in an emergency and give
you some creative freedom. Perhaps you
get to the shoot and discover your single
lapel microphone won’t work because
there are two subjects speaking. Your
spare shotgun or handheld microphone
will work even better and you’ll look like
a very smart cookie.
Take these ideas to heart and your next
video production can sound match
the sound of a professional studio. In a
future article, we will explore how to create professional sounding audio in the
edit suite.
Sidebar 1
An Audio Horror Story
Last year I shot a video for my church in a city park. I scouted the site and found a great location for audio and video. What I failed to notice was the railroad behind a wall of trees on the
east side of the park.
Audio For Video
The day of the shoot threatened rain, so we had to work quickly. Unfortunately, we had to
stop shooting twice for a passing train—destroying 20 precious minutes of clear sky. We got
the video done, but we also got wet packing the equipment back to the car. Lesson learned.
Sidebar 2
Watch With Your Ears (or Listen With Your Eyes)
Still not sure what type of microphone is best for your next shoot? Broadcast TV shows offer
a valuable and free resource of audio examples to help you decide what microphone to use.
News broadcasts provide the perfect opportunity to listen to the differences between lapel
mikes (anchors) and handheld mikes (field reporters). Close your eyes and carefully listen to
the variety of audio sources.
Most sitcoms and dramas offer a chance to examine the sound of a shotgun microphone in
action. If you listen closely, you’ll begin to notice when the mike isn’t pointed exactly at the
Outdoor Audio
Hal Robertson
Ah, the great outdoors. It’s a video
shooter’s dream come true. Loads of free
lighting, gorgeous backgrounds and
breathtaking scenery—what more could
you want? At least visually, shooting outdoors is a wonderful idea. For audio,
however, an outdoor shoot presents a new
set of challenges. Learning to deal with
these challenges is a combination of the
right tools and a knowledge of all the variables. Grab your walking stick and camcorder and join us on a hike through the
backwoods of outdoor audio.
It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature
If you plan to shoot outdoors, rest assured
you’ll have to deal with less than ideal
weather conditions from time to time. Of
particular concern are the detrimental
effects of rain and snow on your precious
(i.e. expensive) audio and video equipment. Wet weather and electronic gear
mix like oil and water, so you’ll do well to
prepare for the worst.
First, and most important, is to keep the
water out of your camera. Surely you’ve
seen the advertisements in the back of
Videomaker for rain slickers made specifically for cameras. These are excellent
accessories for those who shoot outdoors
on a regular basis. The occasional outdoor
videographer, however, can make due
with a simple plastic trash bag. Cut a hole
for your lens in one corner of the bag and
a hole for the viewfinder in the other corner.
You’ll still have easy access to the controls from underneath, although it will be
difficult to use a flip-out LCD and certain
viewfinders. It’s not as waterproof as the
rain capes with watertight lens holes, but
a trash bag might be sufficient in a light
Zipper sandwich bags come in handy
with your audio equipment (see Figure
39.1). A wireless microphone transmitter
pack doesn’t like the wetness any more
than your camera, so keep it dry too.
You’ll need a knife and some gaffer’s tape
to complete the task, but the finished
project will keep your transmitter dry and
Outdoor Audio
Figure 39.1 Bag it—zip up the delicate
electronics in a sandwich baggie in extreme
away from the repair bench. Wired microphones fare better in the elements, but it’s
still a good idea to keep the connectors
dry with a simple wrap of electrical tape.
The same applies for battery doors.
Exposed microphones—whether handheld, shotgun or lapel—are more of a
sticking point. It’s never a good idea to get
a microphone wet, regardless of type or
application. For a quick outdoor shoot, a
simple foam windscreen will keep the
microphone dry enough, but extended
shoots require measures that are more
drastic. While you can cover your microphone with the same bag as your camera,
the audio will suffer. Not only will you
hear the drops of rain falling on the plastic, the covering will dramatically change
the quality of the sound. Honestly, there
isn’t a simple fix for this problem. There
are professional windscreens that make
notable improvements, but the price may
be out of reach for many casual shooters.
If you’re using a lapel microphone, it’s
possible to secure the element under your
talent’s clothing or even under the brim of
a hat. These are extreme measures and
will negatively affect the sound quality,
but it’s a reasonable tradeoff if the alternative is to abort the shoot.
Although not specifically audio related,
it’s a good idea to avoid rapid shifts in
temperature and humidity—your audio
and video gear won’t like these changes and
Figure 39.2 Do not eat—silica gel packs in
your camera bag can absorb moisture.
may rebel. Condensation (when moving
from cold to warm environs) will produce
everything from random glitches to a
complete shutdown to fried circuitry. You
can minimize these effects with two simple
techniques. First, place several packs of
silica gel in your camera case to absorb
excess humidity (see Figure 39.2). Second,
when moving from a cool environment to
a warm one, give the equipment several
minutes to acclimate. You’ll eliminate the
embarrassment of an equipment failure
and save wear-and-tear on your gear too.
The Windscreen is Your Friend
Whether you shoot in wetness or not, every
outdoor shooter has to deal with wind
noise. Uncontrolled, wind noise can render
your audio useless and there is no way
to repair the damage in post-production.
Regardless of the audio you capture outside, your microphone needs a windscreen.
The most common type of windscreen
is made from open-cell urethane foam
(see Figure 39.3). Although available as an
accessory for virtually every type of microphone, some microphones come with the
windscreen permanently installed. The
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Noise Source
Figure 39.3 Foam fun—cheap foam covers
can help eliminate wind noise.
windscreen’s task is simple—keep the wind
out of the microphone. Foam windscreens
vary in their ability to accomplish this mission, but they’re inexpensive, readily available and work well in many situations.
In more extreme conditions, you’ll need
a professional windscreen—often called a
windsock or zeppelin. These windscreens
differ in size and construction, but most
often use a special cloth stretched over an
open frame. The microphone is enclosed
inside the frame and the cloth blocks the
wind from entering. The completed
assembly looks something like a blimp,
hence the zeppelin reference. The windsock is effective at eliminating wind noise,
but costs a good deal more than the common foam windscreen. In addition, the
length and diameter of your microphone
factor into the design of the enclosure. For
shooters in brutal wind conditions, the
addition of a fuzzy fur cover to the windsock can eliminate the detrimental effects
of wind noise up to 60 miles per hour.
Dealing With Background Noise
Whether outdoors means mountain streams
or traffic jams, you have to deal with
unwanted noises in your audio. These
may manifest themselves as simple, random
interruptions or as a constant roar that all
but obscures the sound you want to
record. In any case, there are weapons at
your disposal to minimize these effects.
Figure 39.4 Block it—if you’re shooting a
subject using a handheld or lapel microphone,
position him with his back to the noise. His
body will block a great deal of noise and can
make an impractical set-up feasible.
Figure 39.5 Aim for the mouth—it is
important to point directional microphones
The simplest technique is to use natural
barriers to block the noise. If you’re shooting a subject wearing a lapel microphone,
position him with his back to the noise.
His body will block a great deal of noise
and can make an impractical setup feasible (see Figure 39.4). You can exploit other
barriers such as buildings, rocks and trees
to similar effect. When using directional
handheld or shotgun microphones, utilize
the built-in null points to your advantage
(see Figure 39.5). You can leverage this
knowledge of pickup patterns by placing
Outdoor Audio
the microphone where it will pick up the
maximum amount of sound you want and
a minimum of the sound you don’t.
On the other hand, you are shooting
outdoors and your viewers associate certain sounds with being outside. If the area
you’re featuring contains colorful audio,
capture several minutes of sound on tape
after the shoot. Back in post-production,
you’ll have a way to cover abrupt edits and
scenic shots that don’t have acceptable
audio. Properly blended, these patches will
sound perfectly natural, plus you’ll have
another soundscape for your audio effects
library. It is better to have the option to add
ambient noise back into the mix in post
than to try and remove it.
Shooting in the great outdoors can be
challenging, but some preparation and
practice will have you ready to tackle those
projects, and you’ll have some impressive
audio to show for your efforts.
Sidebar 1
DIY Windsock
Professional microphone zeppelins or windsocks can cost several hundred dollars and aren’t
worth the cost for casual use. A few dollars and a trip to the fabric store will supply most of
what you need to build a simple windsock. First, pick up a small roll of fiber batting—the
type used to fill quilts and blankets. Next, buy some costume fur with a nap of one inch or
longer. Installation is simple. First, wrap some batting around your microphone, securing it
with rubber bands. Then, do the same with the fur if you’re shooting in strong winds. This
setup will likely thin out the sound, but wind noise won’t be as much of an issue.
Sidebar 2
Listen Closely
Most shooters know to monitor their audio with a pair of headphones, but monitoring outdoors adds some complexity. Many camcorders offer skimpy headphone amplifiers, so you
have to make the most of every milliwatt. Start with a pair of sealed-cup (circumaural) headphones. These will block outside sounds and allow you to concentrate on what’s coming
through the microphone. Several manufacturers offer excellent sealed-cup models, but try
them with your camcorder before buying if possible. As you sample several brands, you’ll
discover that some headphones play much louder than others. Find the best tradeoff of
sound quality versus volume and you’ll have an audio reference that will serve you well in
every circumstance.
Stealth Directing:
Getting The Most Out
of Real People
Michael J. Kelley
It must have been Take 30, but we weren’t
quite sure because we were no longer
using a slate, nor did we stop tape in
between takes, for fear of losing the little
momentum we had gained. The talent
was a beautiful young woman who had
volunteered for the part. She was wellcast by the bank’s producer. Her considerable knowledge of the subject matter
meant that she had her lines down, but
her lack of experience in front of the camera made this training video laborious to
capture. Even worse: The experience was
completely humiliating for her, the performance was indeed embarrassing and
she would very likely never again volunteer for a shoot. It can be difficult to coax
an agreeable performance out of an amateur, but it can be done.
Be Realistic
Professionals know that to deliver a compelling performance, the talent must be
comfortable not only with the script, but
also with being the center of attention,
where lights, microphones, camera and
production crew all hang on every move.
This alone is a tall order for most people:
Remembering lines is one thing, but
putting it all together with eye lines
(where the talent should direct their
gaze), blocking (where the they should
stand and move) and interacting with
other players and props in a well-timed
and natural way reminds us all why the
really good actors deserve the big
bucks. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s not easy to deliver a believable performance.
Using real people is a calculated risk.
The successful director manages an exercise in stealth, regardless of the size and
scope of the production environment.
Most of the management techniques that
typically apply to pros can be tossed out
from the beginning. From pre-production
coaching to the first rehearsal, all the way
to the last shot, the director of amateur
talent is most successful when being
downright sneaky.
Stealth Directing
Figure 40.1 Ready off the set—ready the talent off of the set, preferably
in an environment which is both familiar and relaxing.
Tread Lightly
Standard techniques, such as on-camera
rehearsals or calling for “places, lights,
camera, action,” just don’t work. The
pressure while waiting on the set is generally too much for amateur talent to bear,
so much so that, while the shot is prepared technically, the stealthy director
can best use the time to ready the talent
off of the set, preferably in an environment which is both familiar and relaxing
(see Figure 40.1).
Aside from any artistic or technical
prowess, the director is equal parts coach,
baby-sitter, mentor, friend, psychologist,
boss and dentist (as some “teeth” can be
extracted more painlessly than others).
The director is also much like a valve,
constantly bleeding off pressure while
developing an acceptable flow. Finally
and always, the director is also a good
writer (able to adapt scripts in a heartbeat), editor (able to adapt to new sequences as they occur), and actor. You, as the
director, must invisibly manage your own
pressures sufficiently to give every attention to the fragile talent. Normalizing the
talent’s pressures is the your primary task,
for, without an acceptable performance,
all of the rest is but a drill.
It’s crucial that you be so well-organized
that your manner is relaxed and friendly,
stress-free and even playful. Much of this
has to do with doing your homework and
providing ample time for the scene to be
captured. Advanced preparation really
pays off here, and a flexible production
timetable which is able to cope with surprises, delays and unanticipated bits of
serendipity is a must.
For most people, being in front of a
camera is an exciting experience, complete with ego attachments, unfounded
expectations, vain fantasies and delusions
of grandeur. Given a little extra time, a
clever director can use all of that energy
to great advantage.
Call Talent Last
It’s best if the set is fully prepared before
the talent ever arrives (see Figure 40.2).
Stagger your call times, call the talent in as
late as possible, and, by all means, do not
over-rehearse your talent. Repeat your technical run-throughs separately until they are
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 40.2 Last call—it’s best if the set is fully prepared before the
talent ever arrives.
consistently on the mark. This is where the
sneaky part starts: With the talent arriving
fresh and full of anticipation, the director
should focus all attention on the talent, perhaps assigning a production assistant
specifically for the talent if possible. The
whole crew should be welcoming and
relaxed. This first impression cannot be
over-estimated. Setting an inclusive stage
makes every difference, so always provide
the time for the talent to be fully introduced to the crew and the environment.
Prep Off the Set
Next, get the talent off the set. Applying
makeup, tending to hair and wardrobe, or
even wiring a concealed mike may make
the talent feel important, but it also ups the
pressure. These tasks are all best accomplished off-set. It’s also a great time for the
director to distract the talent by casually
discussing the shot and how the talent will
deliver their part (see Figure 40.3).
Show Time!
With the crew in position, the tape cued
and everyone at the ready, escort the talent
to the fully-lighted set. As the director
leads the talent through their blocking, perhaps even giving an example of how lines
are to be delivered, the crew is on full alert,
keenly watching for the roll cue which may
be as subtle as a silent nod or a flick of the
hand. With the talent slowly and carefully
massaged into place, the director should
casually call for a rehearsal; that’s often the
cue to roll tape too. No tally lights, no calls
for “Action!”, no extra pressure.
If all goes well, you may have your shot
finished before the talent even knows
you’ve started. Recording “rehearsals”
sometimes yields the freshest, least selfconscious delivery. Of course, many performances improve with a little work and
encouragement from you, but even when
conducting interviews, you’ll find that
the best performances come from talent
that is fully prepared in advance of ever
reaching the set and is then gently coaxed
through short segments with as little
hoopla as possible.
After all, real people are often very talented, attractive and capable, if only the
director and producer take the time to
conceal the pressures of the process and
prepare for what may be the performance
of a lifetime.
Stealth Directing
Figure 40.3 Off-set application—applying makeup, tending to hair and
wardrobe, or even wiring a concealed mike may make the talent feel
important, but it also ups the pressure. These tasks are all best
accomplished off-set.
Sidebar 1
Craft-Services Prep Pays Off
A thoughtfully catered table can offer needed liquid refreshment and nourishment. Find out
your talent’s preferences ahead of time and provide meals which are appropriate for the time
and length of the production day. The talent may be a strict vegan or allergic to the almond
torte you specially prepared. You want to fuel the performance, while calming the performer,
so have choices. Snacks of fresh fruit are always crowd pleasers. Carefully regulate the use of
sugar and caffeine, and save the champagne for when the shot’s in the can. Whatever you do,
give the talent plenty of water, but don’t let them use ice, as it may constrict the vocal chords.
Sidebar 2
It’s in the Eyes
Interview subjects are usually experts in their fields, but most experts aren’t performers, so
it’s up to you to give the talent every encouragement. Choose your questions carefully. Don’t
put your expert on the spot, and, if an answer is difficult, move along and come back to a
rephrased version of the question later on. Your body language is very important: Attentive,
upright posture and focused eye-contact, coupled with an open, pleasant smile and nods of
encouragement, will all help your talent to feel relaxed and conversational. Have them
tell their stories to you in their own words, and have the stealth camera crew there, almost
invisibly capturing every nuance.
Sets, Lies and Videotape
Jim Stinson
When you think of movie sets you probably imagine structures built from scratch
on Hollywood sound stages—structures
that need too much big-time money, skill
and space for most videographers.
True, full-scale sound stage sets can
cost thousands or even millions of dollars,
but professional videographers routinely
“build” effective video sets that cost little
or nothing in under an hour or even a very
few minutes.
But wait, you say. I shoot weddings (or
family events or vacations or training guides
or business conferences), so I don’t use sets.
Oh, yes you do. If you move a distracting picture, fill a dull corner with a ficus
plant, pull a desk away from a wall to
remove a shadow—in short, if you change
the shooting environment to improve the
look of your video, you’re creating a set,
however modest in scope. And if you
know the tricks of the trade, you can make
more elaborate sets—whole new environments, in fact—with a minimum of time,
effort and expense. This chapter explores
those tricks of the trade.
To show you what we mean by a “set,”
let’s start with a quick review of the various
Types of Set
We begin, of course, with the classic builtfrom-scratch sets you find on a Hollywood
sound stage. I don’t recommend that you
construct one of these, even if you do
have some place to put it. Real sets are
heavy, expensive and time-consuming to
build. Interiors are generally finished in
actual drywall (though it’s much thinner
than normal), complete with taped and
“mudded” seams and full paint jobs.
Windows, doors and moldings are real.
In short, a set requires all the building
and finishing skills you need for a real
room. A more practical alternative: a sort of
location set—a part of an actual environment that you can customize for your video.
For instance, I once needed four offices
for an industrial video I was directing. We
couldn’t work in the maze of cubicles
Sets, Lies and Videotape
where the client’s actual personnel toiled
without disrupting operations, so we
commandeered a large conference room.
Once emptied of furniture, what we had
was a 25-foot square room with wood
paneling on one wall, draped windows
opposite it and neutral-toned painted
walls at either end.
Perfect! By arranging furniture in one
corner, I made an office with windows to
the left and a painted wall at the rear. The
opposite corner yielded the painted wall
on the left (with different artwork) and the
fancy paneling to the right. Upscale furnishings turned this corner into an executive office. The third office set used only
the full expanse of the painted wall, again
dressed with different artwork and a potted plant.
And the fourth? We obtained two panels of the modular office dividers used in
the client’s actual offices and set them up
at right angles inside the conference
room. By propping them up on wooden
boxes (called “apple boxes”), we raised
them high enough so that the camera
could not see over their tops and reveal
where they actually were. And since we
videotaped the actors seated at their
desks, the camera did not show that the
divider tops were abnormally high.
Improving Reality
More often, you don’t have to create a set
from bare walls; you just want to customize an actual location to fit your needs.
A desk is a desk, after all. Put a “GO,
PANTHERS!” poster on the wall behind
it and you have a principal’s office. A couple of medical school diplomas and it’s
a doctor’s office. A performance chart for
Acme Industries and it’s an executive
The relatively low resolution of video
makes improving reality all the easier.
Countless sets have been constructed or
enhanced with nothing but pieces of foam,
glue and spray paint. A cheap poster hung
behind a window in the set wall becomes
a beautiful view. Some TV news studios
dot their sets with photo-copies of equipment to look more impressive. Our saving
grace is that the video camera is not that
discerning, particularly in the consumer
realm, and especially from a distance.
Often you create a set by subtracting
items as well as adding them; that is, you
frame off unwanted elements so that they
never appear on screen. Once, for example, I needed to shoot into the corner of a
room with a door in one wall. The trouble
was, the adjacent wall was actually an
archway into a much larger room. But I had
three feet of solid wall before the arch
began, so I made sure that my camera never
panned quite far enough left to reveal it. As
a result, the background “became” two full
walls of a small room.
Major Principles
This example demonstrates an important
principle of set making: if it’s not in the
frame, it doesn’t exist. Remember that the
sets you build or the locations you use
need only be finished as far as the camera
will reveal.
The flip side of this principle is: if you
can’t see it, you can’t tell that it’s not
really there. I once shot a scene in what
seemed like a large and busy restaurant. It
was actually a wall with a door in it—plus
just three tables, three actors and video
crewmembers as extras.
Imagine the door screen on the right
and the three tables to the left of it, along
the wall. We put upscale paintings on the
wall, added the tables with snowy white
linen and bentwood chairs, lit the area to
simulate intimate down-lights and installed
the crewmembers as patrons.
Action: over-the-shoulder of the maitre d’
as two diners come in the door. He greets
them, picks up two menus (from a tacky
orange crate beside him but out of sight of
the camera), gestures left and escorts them
to the far left table as we dolly past the
other “diners” to hold them. Add ambient
restaurant sound in the editing process,
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
and voila! a blank wall becomes a complete
restaurant populated by scores of staff and
As long as we’re talking about principles, here’s another biggie: the world on
the screen has no fixed geography. For
example, the two sides of a door are not
always the same door. I taped my diners
as they walked down an actual street,
turned and entered an actual restaurant.
In editing, I then cut from that exterior to
the shot of the diners entering the restaurant set. By matching the action of the door
opening—actually two different doors—
I “attached” the set to the real exterior,
which, in fact, was 10 miles away. In addition, the actual restaurant exterior helped
sell the reality of the set.
For another video I zoomed in on a window high up on a great glass skyscraper.
Then, in my location office set, I placed a
pane of glass in front of the camera, deliberately lit to show light reflections. A
piece of fabric hanging behind the glass
on one side simulated office drapes.
Then my actor stood behind the glass,
staring pensively down at the “city” below,
then turned and walked away, revealing
the office behind her.
When making a cut from the exterior
zoom shot to this shot, I effectively placed
the office inside the skyscraper.
Making Do With Less
Sometimes you can get away with a very
small shooting area. In the video with the
four offices, an actor in one of them makes
a phone call. I placed the actor who
answered that call in a swivel chair in
front of a painted wall on which I’d hung
a framed print. This wall was in a littleused office corridor.
I then framed loose head-and-shoulders
profile shot of the actor as he answered the
phone. There were no desks, no cabinets,
no other decorations; the actor had to hold
the telephone base on his unseen knees.
But by rocking and swiveling gently as he
talked, he sold the idea that he was sitting
in a complete office.
You tend to think of a video set as falling
behind the actors, but it can be very useful
to place it in front of them instead. I once
needed a shot in the stacks of a library, but
it was impractical to create long rows of
six-foot-high shelves full of books. Instead,
I placed a three-by-four-foot open-backed
bookcase on a table five feet out from a
blank wall and filled most of it with books.
The spines of the books faced the wall.
Next I positioned the camera on the far
side of the bookshelves so that it faced
the books, which filled the entire frame.
Strategic gaps in the ranks of books let the
audience see parts of the wall beyond.
The actor walked on-screen between the
wall and the book case, paused with her
face framed in one of the gaps between
books, selected a book and walked out of
the “library stacks.” For that scene, threeby-four feet of set was all I built.
If you can, though, choose a room that
gives your set the most “throw.” Throw is
the distance from your camera to your
subject, and it’s crucial for achieving certain visual effects. If you want the compressed, flat look of a long zoom setting,
you need to get your camcorder back from
your subject. A 10-by-10 room won’t
allow you this option.
Remember that you’ll never be able to
make a wide shot in a small room look
like a wide shot in a large room, but it’s
easy to make a large room look small.
Moving Outdoors
We tend to think of sets as indoor critters,
but you can make them outdoors as well.
Just remember the two key principles: if
it’s not in the frame it doesn’t exist, and in
the world on the screen there is no fixed
To illustrate the first principle, I once had
to show a vigorous senior citizen playing
golf. The trouble was, we had to videotape
her at her home, far from any golf course.
Sets, Lies and Videotape
Here’s the sequence of shots I made on her
front lawn, to solve the problem:
cropped grass. A woman’s hand enters the
shot, deposits a golf ball on a tee and
exits. CUT TO:
WORM’S EYE ANGLE (sky and tree
branches fill the screen): the woman
wearing a golf outfit, eye shades and golfing gloves, enters the shot and addresses
the camera with a club, as if it were the
ball on its tee. CUT TO:
CLOSE-UP (an out-of-focus hedge fills
the background): The woman raises her
look from the ball to the distant, off-camera
green. She swings. CUT TO:
HIGH-ANGLE CLOSE-UP: the ball being
whacked solidly out of the shot. CUT TO:
CLOSE-UP: The woman follows the ball
(off-camera) as it sails (presumably) toward
the green. She smiles at the result and
walks out of frame.
See? Because the telltale details of her
residential neighborhood were never in
the frame, they didn’t exist.
I warped screen geography to solve a
problem in another program, in which a
passing citizen comes upon a bank robbery.
As the bad guys rush out of the bank,
the passerby looks around, spots a phone
booth, runs to it and calls the police.
Just one hitch: there was no phone
booth anywhere near the bank exterior. To
solve the problem, I put the citizen in the
foreground, watching the perps in the
He looks off-screen right, sees something and rushes out, screen right.
Pause, while the felons clear out of the
shot; then the citizen runs back in from
screen right. An hour later and three miles
away, I centered a phone booth in full shot.
The citizen rushes in from screen left,
enters the booth and makes his call. Then
he runs back out the way he entered, screen
In editing I inserted the phone booth
sequence into the bank shot, between the
point at which the man leaves and the
later point at which he returns. The effect:
to move the phone booth next door to
the bank.
The Frankly Artificial Set
So far, we’ve talked about sets that work
hard to convince you that they’re actually
offices or restaurants or golf courses. But
other sets are just, well, sets. News, game
show and talk show sets are examples of
video environments that make no attempt
to disguise themselves as something else.
Like other studio sets, these are probably too elaborate for modest productions.
(Imagine trying to build the set for
Jeopardy!) But you can use two simple
alternatives to create “frankly studio” sets.
Your first option is a seamless paper
backing. Available on rolls from photo
supply houses, seamless paper comes in a
wide range of sizes, colors and patterns.
Simply hang the roll high in the air and
pull down as much as you need to create a
“wall” behind your performers. If you select
a chromakey blue color seamless, you can
use properly equipped special effects generators or computer editing systems to
replace the blue color with matted-in images
(like the TV weather reporter’s maps).
The simplest set of all is no set whatever.
Instead, you create your set by lighting the
actors and furniture in the foreground and
leaving the background dark.
This works best when 1) you can
exclude ambient light from the shooting
area and 2) your camera permits manual
exposure control.
For simplicity, we’ve discussed ideas
for sets one at a time, but you can combine
several of them.
For instance, one of my video students
wanted to insert an actor into an actual
event. Happening on a serious auto accident on a busy boulevard at night, he’d
taped it with the Hi8 camcorder he carries
It was perfect for the public service video
he was making on safe driving. Now the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
trick was to place his on-camera narrator at
the accident scene.
Here’s how he did it. He took the actor
to another busy boulevard, where the
ambient background sound was similar,
but shooting was safer because of wide
sidewalks. He placed the actor under a
streetlight so that the camcorder’s auto
exposure system would reduce the background to darkness.
Then he positioned an assistant just out
of frame, holding a battery-powered
revolving light. As the actor read his lines
in medium shot (down to the waist), the
revolving light splashed his face with an
intermittent red glare. Intercut with shots
of the real accident, the narrator seemed
to be standing beside a police car at the
In faking his narrator into the scene, the
director used the following principles:
1. If it’s not in the frame it doesn’t exist
(the technician holding the light),
2. if the videographer says it exists outside
the frame, then it does exist (the police
car) and
3. screen geography is not fixed (combining the accident and narrator locations).
If you keep these fundamental principles
in mind as you plan and shoot your programs, you can put together almost any
set you like.
Makeup and Wardrobe
for Video
Carolyn Miller
Though many people equate makeup and
wardrobe with high-budget Hollywood
productions, even the most modest video
can greatly benefit by simple, inexpensive
attention in this area. Wardrobe and
makeup (this includes hair, as well) are
closely tied to the whole look and style
of a piece. They help tell the story and
offer important visual clues about the
characters—whether they are actors,
spokespersons or interview subjects.
They can subtly but significantly enhance
your presentation—or, if you haven’t
done your homework—seriously undermine it.
Even if you intend to shoot your subjects in all their raw, unblemished
uniqueness, disregarding these “vanity”
concerns can turn your searingly honest
piece into an unintentional comedy. Do
you really want your audience distracted
by a bald head that gleams like a light beacon, by patterns on shirts that take on an
animated life of their own, or by clanky
jewelry, jarring color schemes, or faces
that look like floating heads? If not, then
you’re going to have to devote some time
to makeup and wardrobe.
Planning Ahead
Like every other aspect of making video,
it’s a good idea to think about wardrobe
and makeup well in advance of production. As you envision your completed
video, ask yourself what overall look
you’re striving for (for example, glamorous, upscale and sophisticated; or hip,
young and wacky). Clothing style, colors,
makeup and hair should all support this
look. Susan Stroh, a Los Angeles based
pro who over the years has worn many
hats on industrials and documentaries
(producer, director, script supervisor,
writer), calls this “image positioning,” a
term that is borrowed from the world of
corporate marketing.
Even if you’re using real people in your
video, as opposed to actors, you’ll want to
make sure they are dressed in a way that
fits their role in the piece. You probably
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
don’t want your CEO to be wearing jeans,
or your auto mechanic in a suit and tie.
But then again, your concept may call for
exactly that. Just make sure you convey
your vision to your subjects.
Joan Owens, a veteran Hollywood documentary producer, director and writer (TV’s
“Hunt for Amazing Treasures” and
“ZooLife with Jack Hanna”) feels the goal of
documentaries is to capture people as they
usually are, in clothing that reflects the flavor of their specific world. “Sometimes
people want to make a good impression for
the camera,” she notes, “and dress more
elegantly than they normally would.”
Joan encourages her subjects to wear
appropriate clothing, and also makes sure
they have wardrobe changes for all the
scenes they’ll be in. For instance, while
making a documentary about the recovery
of a Civil War submarine, one of her subjects needed an outfit for an on-camera
interview and a very different type of outfit for a scene on a fishing boat to re-create
an event from the past—and both scenes
were to be shot on the same day.
Sometimes, though, you’ll want one of
your performers to wear the same outfit
throughout the shoot. Joan points out that
Jack Hanna, as host of his wildlife series,
always wore a safari jacket. It not only
clearly reflected the theme of the series,
but also made it easier to mix and match
scenes in the editing room.
Special Considerations
One important wardrobe consideration is
whether or not you’ll be shooting chromakey scenes, to electronically “transport”
your talent to a different set. If your
chroma-key background is blue or green
(sometimes called “shooting bluescreen” or
“shooting greenscreen”) you want to make
sure your talent is not wearing the same
color garment. Otherwise, there will be a
gaping hole in the talent’s clothing, filled in
electronically by the chroma-key set.
You should also scout your locations in
terms of your overall wardrobe approach.
You’ll want your talent to be dressed in
colors that will harmonize with the set
and not clash with it. And outfits should
be thematically appropriate to the environment, too. For instance, if one of your
locations is a rough-hewn hunting lodge,
your talent will look better in a casual
suede jacket than in a tailored business
During the planning stage, also give
some thought to the physical appearance
of your on-screen personalities. If you’re
aware of facial features that may present
special problems—acne scars, closely set
eyes, a very round face—you’ll want to
make sure you’ve got items in your kit
that can handle this. It doesn’t mean,
though, that you should attempt to turn
them into something they’re not.
Greg Braun, a Chicago-based Director of
Photography who owns his business, G.B.
Productions, specializes in high-end work
for major corporations and has strong
views on this subject. “I’m not trying to
re-create the person in any way,” he states
emphatically. “But I do want to enhance
their appearance—to make them look
their best.”
If you realize you’re going to be faced
with makeup challenges that are beyond
your abilities, it may be necessary to call
in a professional. This may be especially
true if you’re doing a fictional piece. Both
makeup and wardrobe can be extremely
demanding in fictional dramas, particularly stories set in a different era. In projects like this, specialists can be a big
asset. This doesn’t have to be as expensive
as it sounds, as long as you’re resourceful.
Producer-director David Phyfer, based
in Geneva, IL., has a number of ideas
about how to get assistance without
spending a fortune. His company, Stage
Fright Productions, makes educational
and children’s videos on less than lavish
budgets. David suggests that community
businesses might help out. A local store
might offer clothing, costumes or shoes in
return for a scene set in their shop; a beauty
salon might provide hair or makeup services on the same basis. You might also be
Makeup and Wardrobe for Video
able to get wardrobe items in return for
guaranteeing product placement in the
video, or an on-screen credit.
Wardrobe Dos and Don’ts
Once you’ve decided on your wardrobe
approach, you’ll want to go over it with
your talent, since in most cases they’ll be
using their own clothing. Here are a few
examples of what your talent should not
fabrics that wrinkle easily, like linen
baggy clothes (they make people look
heavier than they really are)
shiny or noisy jewelry; dangling earrings
silk (it rustles, causing sound problems,
and shows sweat stains quickly)
hats, unless necessary for the identity of
the character (they cast shadows)
fabrics with tight patterns, like checks,
stripes, herring bone and hounds tooth
(they create an unstable, vibrating,
jumpy effect called a moir pattern)
clothes and shoes that display brand
names or commercial logos
outfits in the latest style (fads will
quickly date your video)
deeply saturated colors, especially red
(video doesn’t handle them well and
they tend to bleed when duplicated)
bright white or extremely dark colors.
This last point deserves special attention.
While it’s true that video cameras are able
to deal with sharp contrasts in tone better
than formerly, it’s still challenging to light
someone wearing bright white or very
dark clothes. White, for instance, picks up
all the light, and to compensate, faces
tend to be underexposed.
Joan Owens recounts an incident illustrating the problem with white. She was
writing a documentary set in an exotic
foreign locale, and the cameraman shot a
great scene of the American ambassador
riding a motorcycle through the city
streets wearing a white tee-shirt—“a wonderful Marlon Brando image.” But when
the footage came back, everything was too
dark, virtually unusable, to compensate
for the white shirt.
Extremely dark colors are equally difficult, and sometimes create bizarre effects.
Los Angeles producer-director Bob
Silburg, who’s done hundreds of PSAs
(Public Service Announcements) and
short videos, ran into this problem with a
PSA featuring Jack Lemmon. The subject
matter was quite serious, so he’d asked
his star to wear a dignified navy blue
blazer. Unfortunately, the office they were
shooting in had dark walls, and as a result,
Jack Lemmon “…looked like a floating
head without a body.” Luckily, Bob was
able to solve the problem by tweaking the
For wardrobe colors, David Phyfer recommends pastels and pale shades—light
blue shirts and gray jackets, for instance.
“Avoid sharp contrasts between dark and
light,” he advises, “and pull your colors
together as much as possible.”
When it comes to fabrics, natural
materials like wool and cotton shoot much
better than synthetics. Susan Stroh, for
one, pays close attention to fabrics and
textures, believing they help convey the
message of the video—tweed and corduroy for an earthy look, for example, and
damask for a luxurious look. She feels
simple clothes work best for women, and
are the least distracting. She prepares a
detailed wardrobe checklist for her talent,
and instructs them to bring duplicates, or
near duplicates, of shirts and blouses, in
case of spills or stains.
For most productions, it’s a good idea to
have talent bring three completely different outfits, including shoes and accessories, to provide ample choices. Men
should bring a selection of ties, and
women might be asked to bring some
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
On the Set
Most women in your cast will probably
apply their own makeup and do their own
hair. They should be encouraged to strive
for a natural look, which works best for a
video camera, unlike heavily exaggerated
makeup, which works better for the stage.
A good foundation is important, because
it covers blemishes and evens out color.
But if a woman is inexperienced in applying it, watch out for makeup lines around
the eyes and jawline, where the foundation leaves off and the skin begins. You
might also need to add some blush to
emphasize her cheek bones or chin, or
eyeliner to make her eyes look larger.
Though men need makeup, too, some
are uncomfortable with the idea and even
professional actors rarely apply their own.
Greg Braun, who shoots many top executives, is careful to make sure none of their
subordinates are nearby while he’s doing
their makeup—the last thing they want is
an audience. And he jokes a little to put
them at ease. “This is what made Charles
Bronson so handsome,” he might say as he
dabs on the foundation. He works fast,
completing the job in two to three minutes. Bald heads—”chrome domes”—are a
common challenge. He uses a fat makeup
brush and loose powder to remove the
shine. Greg carries three different shades
of powder and three shades of foundation
to cover the range in skin tones.
Once your talent is made up, dressed
and ready to go, don’t forget to check
them out in a color monitor before you
shoot. You’re sure to catch things you
hadn’t noticed with your naked eye—
smudged mascara, a crooked collar, or a
moir effect on a tie. But after you’ve
made the necessary adjustments, don’t
think your makeup and wardrobe duties
are over. As you shoot, be alert for wrinkled shirts, bunched up jackets and faded
lipstick. Fly-away hair and glint from buttons and eyeglasses are extremely common problems. And then, always, there is
facial shine—oil and sweat brought on by
the heat and tension. But before you add
more makeup, blot off the moisture and
oil with a tissue. Otherwise, you might get
caking and streaks.
For fly-away hair, experts recommend
spraying your hands with hair spray and
lightly patting the hair, rather than spraying the hair directly, which can result in
an unnatural “crispy” look. Shiny buttons
and jewelry can be dealt with easily with
dulling spray, although be cautious with
costume jewelry, which could be damaged by. Eyeglasses are a tougher problem.
Dulling spray could ruin them, and there
aren’t any other good substitutes. You
might have to take care of the glint on
glasses by lighting adjustments or re-positioning the talent.
Finally, pay close attention to continuity, making sure wardrobe and makeup
and consistent from scene to scene.
Carelessness here can give your video a
sloppy look. If possible, have an assistant
keep notes as you shoot. Is there always a
hanky in that pocket? How is the scarf
draped? Is there a lock of hair tucked
behind the right ear?
Clearly, there’s a great deal to consider
in terms of makeup and wardrobe, and
some of it is quite minute. But each detail
contributes to the overall quality of your
production. Yes, your mother may have
tried to convince you that beauty is only
skin deep. But when you’re making
videos, the visual appearance of your performers is hardly a superficial matter.
Time-Lapse Videography
Tim Cowan
If you’ve ever watched a scene on television or in the movies where clouds race
overhead at a supernaturally fast rate, or
where a flower appears to blossom in seconds, then you’ve witnessed a cinematic
technique known as time-lapse. Often used
to compress the apparent passage of time
on film or video, time lapse consists of
recording a few frames of film or tape,
pausing for a certain amount of time, then
recording a few more frames, and so on.
When the sequence is played back, it
appears that the action recorded is happening much faster than it does in real life.
In many ways, time lapse is similar to
animation, using the technique of taking a
succession of very brief shots to create the
illusion of a steadily moving sequence.
However, instead of fooling your mind’s
eye into thinking that a collection of still
images are moving, time lapse compresses
a lengthy event into a short span of time.
If you’ve ever wondered how you can
perform this feat with your camcorder,
wonder no more; this chapter will explain
the process in detail, from setting up the
shot to using the final footage in your
existing video productions.
Before You Begin
There are several ways to achieve a time
lapse effect with video, depending on
how smooth you’d like the final product
to be, what equipment you have and how
much time and effort you’re willing to put
into it. However you choose to do it, there
are a couple of constants you should be
aware of.
For smooth recording, be sure your
camcorder doesn’t move at all during the
sequence you’re shooting. Otherwise,
your footage will come out looking jumbled and unwatchable. This is best done
by mounting your camcorder securely on
your tripod and tightening the pan and tilt
screws to make sure the camcorder doesn’t
move (known as a “locked down” tripod).
It’s a good idea to switch the microphone off while recording a time lapse or
animation sequence. If you don’t, you’ll
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
end up with a quick snatch of many random noises on your soundtrack. Disabling
the mike can be done fairly simply if your
camcorder has an external microphone
jack; simply stick an adapter that’s not
connected to anything into the socket and
your camcorder mike will automatically
switch itself off.
It’s probably wise to switch over to
manual focus while shooting a time-lapse
or animation sequence. If you don’t, your
camcorder’s autofocus will “hunt” for
what it thinks to be the prominent feature
in the shot to focus in on. If anything
within range of the auto focus momentarily becomes more prominent than what
you intended to shoot (i.e., a bird flying
past while you’re shooting the clouds), it
could spoil the entire sequence.
If your camcorder can manually override its automatic light meter, you’ll
probably want to switch over to that as
well. First make sure the manual level
it’s set on leaves enough light for your
shot but not so much that it violently
overexposes. It’s also a good idea to make
sure, before you even start shooting; that
the light you’re shooting with highlights
what you’re recording. After all, you wouldn’t want your time-lapse sequence of a
flower growing to be shot in silhouette,
would you?
Most importantly, keep a close watch
on your camcorder. If you’re shooting out
on the street, there’s always the risk your
camcorder could be stolen or damaged by
someone passing by. Even if you’re in
your own backyard, there’s a chance your
camcorder could get jostled by a child or
pet, or simply pitch over lens-first due to
uneven weight distribution.
Calculating Time Lapse
Figuring out the length of time needed for
either a time-lapse or animation sequence
is pretty simple, once you know what you
and your equipment are capable of. Since
NTSC video always plays at 30 frames per
second (fps), a single time lapse/animation
shot of, say, 1/5th of a second will go for
six frames. Five of those shots will equal
thirty frames—one second of your completed video.
Let’s say you want a 30-second time
lapse sequence of clouds going by, and
you’ve decided that one shot every halfminute will give you the desired effect.
Assuming the five shots a second mentioned above, that means that 5 (shots per
second) times .5 (minutes of real time) per
shot times 30 (seconds of video time for
the sequence being shot) equals 75 minutes
of shooting time.
Being able to calculate the amount of
shooting time needed has a number of
uses. If you’re shooting outdoors with battery power, for instance, it’s vital to know
just how much time you’ll need to get the
sequence you want, or if it’s even possible
given your batteries. Even if you don’t
need to calculate for battery time, it’s useful to know just how long it will take in
real time to get the sequence you want.
Shots Per Second
You may have noticed that I’ve gone to
some trouble to distinguish between
“frames per second” and “shots per second” when talking about time-lapse and
animation videography. That’s because, as
I said above, NTSC video always plays
at 30 frames per second, no matter what
images you may have playing during that
time. Ideally, the closer you can come to
30 shots per second the better, since your
results will look a lot less choppy.
While a second doesn’t seem like much
time, it plays havoc with the smoothness
of a time-lapse or animation effect. This is
because both video and film rely on something called “persistence of vision” to
convince you that a long string of still pictures is moving. Since your mind can’t
assimilate a series of fast-moving still
images, it assimilates them instead as one
continuous moving picture. The instant
this collection of images slows down to
the point where you can mentally register
Time-Lapse Videography
each single picture as such, the illusion’s
If you’re using time lapse simply to
show the passage of time (for instance, a
shot of people setting up before a play or
concert), then one shot per second will
probably work perfectly fine. On the other
hand, if you’re hoping to do a sequence
where a smooth flowing of the shots is
essential (as in an animated sequence)
then you’re probably not going to be satisfied with anything less than 10 shots per
second, and 15 or even 30 shots per second
would be even better.
smooth as 30 or even 15 shots per second,
it’s still surprisingly effective.
One last technique that may or may not
work for you is to utilize your camcorder’s edit search feature if it has one.
What you do is record a couple seconds of
video, utilize edit search to get to the
beginning few frames of the last shot, and
then repeat until you’ve gotten what you
want. Keep in mind, though, that this is
an extremely labor-intensive process, and
difficult to do if your camcorder’s edit
search function can’t jog search.
Post-Production Time Lapse
In-Camera Time Lapse
The easiest way to perform time lapse or
animation is by using a camcorder with
an interval timer function built in. Using
these camcorders is very easy—you simply
mount them on a locked down tripod,
switch the interval timer function on and
the camcorder does the rest. Depending
on which model camcorder you have,
interval timers can record as little as
1/10th of a second (3 frames) or as much
as a full second of video each time.
If your camcorder doesn’t have an interval timer feature, you can still do a reasonably effective in-camera time lapse or
animation sequence—provided your camcorder has flying erase heads (most models manufactured during the last five
years do) and you’ve got the patience for
it. Set up your camcorder on a tripod,
engage and then immediately disengage
the record feature, wait for the amount of
time you want between shots, and then
repeat the process until you have the
sequence length you want. To ensure that
the camcorder doesn’t shake when you hit
record, you might want to use your camcorder’s remote if it has one.
Depending on how well your camcorder responds to your pushing the
record button twice in rapid succession,
and how fast you are on the trigger, you
could get individual shots of as little as
10 frames (3 shots per second). While not as
If you want a bit more control over what
your final product looks like, you might
choose not to record time lapse in real
time; instead, you can attempt it in postproduction instead. The advantage to this
is that you can experiment with the time
between shots to find what works best far
more easily than you can “out in the
field.” The disadvantage is that for a
decent sequence, this requires a great deal
of time and some fairly high-end editing
First, you’ll need some footage that you
can edit your time-lapse sequence from.
Place your camcorder on a locked down
tripod, just as you’d do if you were shooting an in-camera time- lapse sequence,
and roll tape normally for as long as
you’ve calculated you’ll need for your
Remember the technique utilizing edit
search on camcorders mentioned above?
Well, it also works if you’re using a VCR
with edit search; jog shuttle and flying
erase heads as a record deck. What you do
is record a couple of seconds of video,
engage the edit search, then utilize the jog
wheel to creep back to a few frames right
after the first frame of the last shot. It’ll
require a little practice to figure out just
how far you’ll need to advance the tape to
leave just one frame, and a great deal of
patience, but you can get 30 shots per second time lapse or animation this way.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
If you’re using an edit controller to run
your playback and record decks, how
close you can get your cuts to each other
will vary depending on the quality of
your setup. Controllers that utilize LANC
or Panasonic 5-pin edit control protocols
for playback control and infrared remote
for recorder control probably won’t be
able to get much better than one or two
shots per second. This is due to these edit
controllers’ inability to respond quickly
enough for the extremely short cut-ins
and cut-outs that time lapse and animation require.
Controllers that use LANC or Panasonic
5-pin protocols to control both player and
recorder can get much closer—10 shots
per second, if your playback and record
decks are calibrated properly. By contrast,
a professional editing setup utilizing time
code and frame-accurate decks can give
you true 30-shot per second accuracy—if
you’re willing to pay for them.
So What Are You Gonna Do With It?
Okay, I’ve told you a couple ways to do
time-lapse or animation recording, and
I’ve even covered why the more shots you
record per second, the better it’ll look. But
what’s it really good for?
I’ve already mentioned the most popular use of time lapse, compressing a
lengthy event like clouds rolling by or
people setting something up. So what else
can you do with this technique?
Stop Motion Animation. This is the sort
of animated sequence where an object
that doesn’t normally move, like clay or
an action figure, appears to be in motion.
You’ve seen this a lot on television and
in the movies, like those “California
Raisins” commercials where clay models
of raisins dance around and sing, or the
original King Kong, where Kong was an
articulated doll that appeared to be a fully
moving giant gorilla.
To perform stop motion animation,
you’ll first need to create a space where
you can set up your lights, camcorder,
tripod and whatever you’re going to animate. The advantage to this is that, once
you’ve gotten everything set up, you can
easily control the lighting and background so that all you need to worry
about is animating your object.
Once you’ve gotten your object where
you want it to start, turn on your camcorder and take your first shot. Remember
that, for the animation to be smooth,
you’ll probably want to get at least 10
shots per second, and 15 or 30 would be
even better. Then move your object
slightly and take the next shot, and so on
until you finish your sequence.
Keep in mind that for animation to look
convincing, the audience has to get the
impression that they’re seeing the process
of motion. For instance, if you’re animating an action figure throwing a punch,
you can’t simply have your first shot with
the figure’s fist up, and the next with the
punch fully thrown—you have to have
the fist moving forward with each shot so
it looks like it’s getting there. To help you
get some idea of how things move, it
might be a good idea to watch a video of
something you’d like to animate one frame
at a time so you can see how it looks in
real life before you try animating it.
Pixillation. A sort of variant version of
both time lapse and stop-motion animation, pixillation is the process whereby a
person seems to move in unusual ways.
The music video Sledgehammer utilized
pixillation so that Peter Gabriel appeared
to slide around the room and even at one
point seemed to be hovering above the
To accomplish this, have your performer stand in one position while you
take your first shot, then move forward
slightly and stand still again while you
take your next shot. If you continue this
long enough, the person will appear to
move across the room without walking.
Make sure that whatever movements your
performer makes from shot to shot aren’t
too radically different from each other, or
the sequence won’t look like a smooth
Time-Lapse Videography
Computerized Time Lapse
Performing time lapse or animation
sequences utilizing a nonlinear editing
system is surprisingly simple. Unlike
videotape, digitized video can easily
record one frame at a time. You simply lift
the frame off your digitized video file,
drop it onto the editing software’s timeline, and look for the next frame you’d
like to use. Once you’re done, you save
the results, turn your VCR on, and “print”
your edited file to videotape.
Amazing as this nonlinear capability is,
I think I’d better interject a few words of
caution. First, the output quality of some
older non-linear boards has often been
described as “roughly VHS quality,”
which means that it isn’t quite as good as
VHS—you may notice some artifacting,
which is what they call it when things
that should be round seem to have little
squares in them. Second, video files take
up a lot of hard disk space—about 10–15
megabytes per minute of highly compressed video. Third, if you’ve got a lot of
other boards or peripherals on your computer, there’s a chance your computer will
freeze up on you from time to time.
Of course, if you’re one of the lucky
ones with a miniDV camcorder, and a
non-linear editor on your FireWireequipped computer, you can create very
high-quality time-lapse video.
your camcorder. Take one frame using the
single-frame option, wait for a specified
period of time, and take another frame,
continuing until you have enough footage
for your needs. If your movie camera has
the option of manual override of the automatic light meter, it’s probably a good
idea to utilize that so that your frames
don’t become darker or lighter abruptly.
It’s also a good idea to use Kodachrome 40
film instead of Ektachrome G, since the
former is less grainy.
While it’s harder than it used to be to
process Super-8 movie film, Kodak can
still do it. Your local camera store should
have mailers for sale that cover the cost of
processing and return postage in the purchase price, or check out Kodak’s Web
site. You simply stick the appropriate
postage on the mailer, drop it in the mail,
and wait for about two weeks. After you
get the film back, you can either transfer it
to video yourself if you still have your
Super-8 movie projector and one of those
film-to-tape transfer units, or you can
have the job done professionally at your
local camera or video store.
While this method requires both more
money and a few more steps than any of
the direct-to-video methods recommended in this article, it’s worth considering if the effect is important to you; say,
for a title sequence you intend to use
more than once. It’s obviously not to be
used casually; still, you’ll probably get
smoother results this way.
You Could Always Cheat…
You might want to consider shooting a time
lapse or animation sequence on an old
Super-8 movie camera. Most Super-8 movie
cameras have a single-frame option built in,
which will guarantee a much smoother
effect than you’d probably get with a camcorder or lower-end editing equipment.
Some, like Minolta’s better Super-8 cameras, even have an automatic interval timer.
To utilize a Super-8 movie camera for
time-lapse photography, you once again
set up your camera on a locked-down tripod, just like you would if you were using
All It Takes is Time
Once you’ve gotten the hang of time lapse
and animation, you’ll start to come up with
a number of ideas on your own. The great
thing about these techniques is that they
don’t require a lot of expensive equipment
that you wouldn’t use for anything else—
even high-end editing equipment, should
you choose the post-production option,
will be useful for all your videos. All time
lapse or animation takes, really, is time—
and the results will certainly be worth it.
Move Over, MTV:
A Guide to Making
Music Videos
Norm Medoff
See video clips at
On August 1, 1981, Music Television
went on the air and changed the world of
video forever. Now, years later, MTV—as
Music Television is better known—has
spawned several new music channels,
and the making of music video has
become an art form all its own.
On MTV networks, music videos are
expensive Hollywood-style productions
shot with multiple 35 mm film cameras
and featuring snazzy special effects, big
name bands and exotic locations. But you,
too, can produce great music videos—
right in your own hometown.
All you need is a little money and a lot
of creativity.
camcorder. You just shoot many takes,
which will provide different angles of
the same action—as opposed to multicamera shooting, which records several
angles of the same action during one take.
Big-budget music videos often use
fancy—read costly—transitions requiring digital video effects generators and
expensive editors. But you don’t have to
use such transitions; you can produce
an excellent music video using cuts to
connect shots.
You don’t have to pay a band to perform
in your music video. No matter where
you live, you should be able to find a
local band interested in promotion. A
music video gives a band valuable experience, both in making music videos
and exposure to wider audiences. Your
music video could also help the band of
your choice secure concert dates or
even a record contract.
Shooting live performances is not as difficult or expensive as you might think.
Keeping Costs Down
If you find it hard to believe that you can
make a quality music video on a small
budget, consider the following points.
Since you shoot music videos “film
style,” you can do it with only one
Move Over, MTV
Professionals employ a sophisticated
and expensive camera dolly on a special
track that allows the camera to move
around performers; you can make do
with an old wheelchair or shopping cart.
The good news is all you really need to
make music video is a camcorder and the
ability to perform insert edits. An insert
edit allows you to add video to a sound
track already on the tape. More on this
Getting Started
Before you do anything, determine how
you’ll exhibit your music video.
If you make it for private use only, you
can select any music you want—no worrying about copyright and clearance. But
if you plan to air your video on local cable
or broadcast television, or even enter it in
a contest, copyright becomes an issue. If
you don’t own the copyright on the music
you use, you must obtain clearance.
This can be both time consuming and
expensive. First, you have to contact the
American Society of Composers, Authors
and Publishers (ASCAP); the people there
will direct you to the Harry Fox Agency in
New York (212-370-5330). This agency
will try to arrange clearance for you to use
a particular song.
You can avoid this hassle altogether by
using your own music or finding local
talent to perform their own music. If you
don’t know any musicians, check out the
local bars, which often feature up-andcoming bands and/or solo performers.
These musicians can give you permission
to use their music for your video.
Try to obtain recordings of potential
performers. In most cities, you can buy
CDs or cassette tapes featuring a sampling
of local performers. Such recordings can
help you choose both a group and a song
for your music video.
HINT: when listening to the music, focus
on the visual imagery that pops into your
mind. Often the music
conjure up any useful
surprised if the song
best visual imagery is
like most.
you like does not
images. Don’t be
that inspires the
not the one you
Once you’ve selected your music and performers, you can begin the bulk of your
work, pre-production. In this phase of the
operation, you will do the following:
devise a creative approach; write a treatment; make a storyboard; create a beat
sheet; select a crew and record the song
for lip sync purposes.
The creative approach. This is the fun
part, where you generate the images for
your video. There are three stylistic ways to
proceed: illustrative, interpretive and performance. Illustrative video is the narrative
approach that illustrates the story the song
tells. Interpretive video uses the images you
deem appropriate for the music, whether
they relate to the lyrics or not. Performance
video is just what the name implies—the
musicians performing the song.
Many music videos combine all three
styles of shots: illustrative, interpretive
and performance. Resist the temptation to
try one method and exclude the others.
An all-performance video may rely too
heavily on the musician’s ability to be
entertaining. An all-interpretive video
may confuse viewers. And an all-illustrative video may tax both the resources of
your performers—can they really act out
the story?—and your budget.
Some music dictates the style. For
example, instrumentals tell no specific
story, so the most effective approach is
often an interpretive one where the
images create a mood or evoke an emotional response. Country songs often tell a
straightforward story, facilitating an illustrative approach. Rock music gives you
the most options; many rock videos are
all attitude—with little or no regard for
viewer orientation.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
The treatment. Now that you’ve developed a creative approach, take the time to
write a treatment or overview of your
video. Simply describe in a few paragraphs what will happen in the video: the
story, the characters, the mood. A treatment provides a convenient way of
explaining the video to your performers
and crew.
The storyboard. This step is crucial.
The storyboard provides a visual record of
the individual shots that will make up
your video. Draw a series of rough sketches
depicting the people, places and objects
needed for these key shots. Put them in the
order you intend to shoot them. Or use a
Polaroid camera to snap the subjects and
objects in the desired locations.
The beat sheet. Next, combine your
storyboard with a beat sheet describing
the music on paper. Match shots to appropriate sections of the music. Knowing
what visuals you want and when you
want them in your music video is the key
to your pre-production planning. It’s also
the way the video professionals stay on
The crew. You may want to do all the
work yourself. That’s a lot of juggling:
arranging lighting and special effects,
directing talent and playing an audio version of the song while the performers lip
sync. But you will be able to do a better
job if you plan on a crew of at least two
other people, one to act as a grip and
audio assistant and one to shoot while
you direct. If you don’t know anybody,
ask the band members if you can borrow
their assistants or (known as roadies).
The recording. At this point, you
should prepare a recording of the song
you’ll use as the sound track for your
video. Not just any recording will do;
you’ll need an error-free version of the
song on a safe and dependable recording
medium. A CD is probably best, especially if you can take a CD boom box with
you on location.
The next best sound source: a hi-fi version of the song—VHS hi-fi or Hi8 will
do. This method creates some playback
problems; you’ll need an appropriate video
playback machine and sound system.
A reasonable compromise: a good copy
of the song on audio cassette to play while
on location through a good quality boom
box or a portable sound system.
Quality is critical, because the performers must lip sync to this version of the song.
Be wary of cheap audio cassette players
suffering from speed variations or muffled
sound. If you use battery power, keep
plenty of fresh batteries on hand.
Slow audio recordings can adversely
affect the band’s performance—not to mention cause horrendous editing problems
later on.
Shoot It Right
Now it’s time to shoot the raw footage for
your music video. There are two ways to
accomplish this task.
The In-Camera Shoot
If your camcorder has a flying erase head,
you can insert the visuals onto a videotape that already has a copy of the song.
To get the song on the videotape, you
can record the song at a live performance
using a microphone mixer.
Or, record the audio using line output
from a CD or audio cassette player into
the line input of your camcorder or VCR.
At the time of this recording, you will also
record video, so try capping the camcorder and letting the picture appear
black. This blackbursting of the tape
records the video control track you’ll use
to perform the insert edits later on.
The next step: record video over the
audio track with a video insert. You can
record the entire music video shot by
shot. This “editing in the camera” technique gets the job done without extra
equipment or editing systems.
WARNING: this technique is not as simple as it seems; only use it if you can’t
Move Over, MTV
edit. It may not work with every camcorder. If your unit doesn’t give the performers a few seconds of audible preroll
at the beginning of a video insert, they
won’t be in sync with the music when the
recording starts.
If your camcorder does not give an
audible preroll, try to find a VCR that
does. Plug your camcorder’s video output
into the VCR and do the inserts there.
If that doesn’t work, you can always
insert interpretive video segments over
those out-of-sync parts at a later time.
Editing in the camera will also mean you
continually record onto one tape: your
master. One serious mistake—like rewinding too far before you reshoot a given
scene—and you have to start all over.
Shooting For The Edit
If you have access to any kind of editing
system, you should “shoot for the edit”—
that is, plan your shots to provide plenty
of material for the editing process.
Shoot scenes either in sequence or out of
sequence, depending upon logistics. One
easy way to organize your shoot: have the
band perform the whole song in different
locations or with different backgrounds
and costumes. Tape three or four different
versions of the song, and then mix and
match shots from different versions. Shoot
several takes of the lead singer singing the
particularly dramatic parts of the lyric; be
sure to get some extreme close-ups or
unusual camera angles of the entire band.
Keep close-up shots of the singers short;
the lip sync may not be exact.
You can minimize time and travel for
the band by cutting performance shots
with location shots that help to emphasize
the mood of the music, as in Figure 44.1.
Experiment. Rent a fog machine to create a dream-like setting. (Ask your local
theatrical or video production house
where you can rent one.) Try fog filters for
your camera lens. Place your lights in
unusual places, like lighting from the side
or below the performers rather than from
above. Use colored gels over your lights or
very narrow beam lights.
The shooting style of many music
videos today incorporates vigorous camera
movement and canted camera angles
you may want to try yourself. Also common are combination shots taped while
the camera is moving, i.e., zooming while
The usual rule of holding shots long
enough for the audience to grasp what’s
going on also may not apply. Quick cuts—
including cuts in the middle of pans, tilts
and zooms—abound in music video. Most
shots last two or three seconds.
Tracking your footage is the key to success when shooting for the edit. Keep a
video footage log. By the end of the shoot,
you should be able to consult your footage
log to determine whether you’ve got the
shots you need.
Don’t leave the set/location until you’re
satisfied that you’ve shot it all. Check
over your storyboard. Did you get every
shot listed there? Review the key shots.
Shoot them again if you’re not satisfied.
Time to Edit
Once you have all the shots that you need,
it’s time to edit. If you have access to your
own editor or one owned by a friend, go
in with your storyboard, beat sheet, shot
log and tapes and edit at your leisure.
If you plan to rent an editor or edit
suite, the procedure is quite different.
Here time is money, so plan all of your
edits on paper before you enter the edit
suite. Note: with the advance of nonlinear
editing, you’ll be able to experiment with
more sophisticated editing techniques
without paying an arm and a leg.
If you prepared a proper storyboard
and beat sheet, you can review all of your
raw footage, log it with your comments
and your desired edit in and edit out
List the shots you want, the order you
want them in and their exact location
relative to the music. Such organization
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 44.1 Add cutaways to shots that match the feel of the song for a true music video look.
is particularly important for editing illustrative videos. Interpretive videos cut
you much more slack; their looser flow
allows you to put together seemingly
unrelated shots without destroying the
overall effect.
Be prepared to make 60 to 100 edits (or
more!) for a four-minute rock or country
Move Over, MTV
video. Let the rhythm of the song suggest
the pacing of your shot changes; shots and
edits should match the tempo of the song.
Try changing some shots on the beat of the
music. You wouldn’t want to do this on
every beat, but it can prove effective,
especially when it marks a noticeable
change in tempo.
If your edit system includes a special
effects generator or can perform some digital effects, experiment with transitions.
Try some fancy wipes or digital effects
like page peel or tumble.
Once your video is ready, make at least
one copy of your edited master for viewing
purposes. Keep the master in a safe place.
Break the Rules
Making music video is an art, not a science. Remember the conventions, but
don’t let them get in your way.
Go ahead and break framing, composition, exposure and transition rules—if it
helps communicate your vision.
And by all means—have fun!
Practical Special Effects:
A Baker’s Ten to Improve Your
Video Visions
Bernard Wilkie
See video clips at
Most videographers fall into one of two
groups. First, the snapshotters—people
who record scenes until their tapes are
full, then view the disconnected events
using the search button. Second, videographers and pros, who edit their tapes and
employ all the techniques and processes
necessary to obtain professional results.
It’s not that people in the first group are
unimaginative. They may not want to
assemble their pictures or lay down
soundtracks, but often they do wish to
add variety to their videography. Thus
this chapter can serve snapshotters as well
as the more advanced. This list of special
effects may also remind the experts that
simple solutions can be the best.
Deep Water
Children mucking about in the pool occupy
many tapes. However, all the action commonly occurs above water.
More exciting footage is possible
with an underwater periscope, enabling
videography beneath the surface. Camcorders become underwater cameras without
the need for expensive blimps or aqualung
The periscope is simply a rectangular box
with a sheet of glass cemented into the bottom of one side. It contains two mirrors,
one at the bottom, one at the top. Surfacecoated mirrors provide better pictures, but
even ordinary mirrors will produce good
Set up the periscope poolside and record
events above or below water while holding the camera and peering through the
viewfinder in the usual manner. Weight
the device to overcome its natural buoyancy. Clamp it to something solid, like the
pool steps. Those going to sea can mount
the periscope on a boat or sink it into the
water for shots of marine life.
Another trick to improve waterside
close-ups involves the simple trick of
placing a shallow tray filled with water
and broken pieces of mirror below the
picture. Ensure that the sun’s reflections
fall on or around your subjects. Then tickle
Practical Special Effects
the surface of the water with your fingers.
Voila! The ripple effect says your subjects
are waterside though they may really be
nowhere near water at all.
Sound Skills
Sound is perhaps the greatest special
effect of all.
The videographer seeking to create the
atmosphere of a shopping mall need only
shoot characters looking into a store window. Sound effects added later will provide the essential ingredients—children
calling, skateboards whirring, the voices
of people walking by, a distant police
For the best location atmosphere, shoot
scenes where you can capture the best
and most interesting off-camera sounds.
When on vacation, don’t always aim for
peace and quiet. If you want footage of
your family on a foreign railway station
platform, wait for the moment the train
pulls out.
When creating a drama, always think
sound. Sound can often say more than
pictures. Imagine a scene with two people
watching TV. Suddenly they react to the
sound of squealing tires on the road outside. The sound of the crash that follows
has them leaping towards the window.
The skillful use of sound effects has
fooled viewers into believing something
horrific really did occur.
Bet you didn’t know you can create a
simulated echo using a length of garden
hose and a funnel. Just stick the funnel in
one end of the hose. Place both ends close
to the microphone of a cassette recorder.
Then speak. The effect is certainly weird.
Different lengths of hose produce different delay times. This contraption is useful
for adding echo or creating monstrous
outer space voices.
An even better echo results from linking funnel, hose and mike to one input
channel of a stereo recorder while using
the other channel and a second mike
Mirror Dimension
Video pictures are two-dimensional, with
height and width but no depth. This fact
is used repeatedly to fool viewers.
The scene outside a window may be
only a painted backcloth, but who can
tell? A photograph of an object can look
the same as the real object. Use photos
when you can’t acquire the real thing—a
priceless museum exhibit, for example.
Photographs, or even photocopies, can
simulate multiple items such as meter
dials or control panels.
The fifty-fifty semi-coated mirror, or
beam-splitter, is a most useful piece of
videography equipment. Used to superimpose one picture over another, it works
because half the light passes through the
glass while the other half reflects back
from the surface.
Often employed to produce ghostly
apparitions, it also has other, less spectral,
uses. For instance, superimposing captions
over pictures. With the mirror placed at a
forty-five degree angle to the lens, illuminate the words as they appear. This technique can create opening titles, or overlay
words or arrows on a demonstration video.
Superimpose graphics with a box housing the mirror and shielding it from stray
light. Stand the rig in front of the camera.
Light the caption from front or back. If lit
from the front, place the lamps to either
side, To remain in focus, the superimposed material must lie approximately
the same distance from the camera as the
main subject.
Used with a spotlight, plain mirrors
stuck to a revolving drum provide a strobe
effect. Two stuck back to back simulate
the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
Gun Fun
It’s not unusual to see a TV actor, chest
riddled with bullets, stagger and fall to
the ground. If he seems to move awkwardly
it is probably due less to his supposed
wounds than to the fact he’s trying not to
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
trip over the operating wires running up
his trouser leg.
This effect, using small explosive
squibs secreted under clothing, is too
complex and dangerous to discuss here.
But there do exist safe alternatives,
which, if used imaginatively, can appear
as convincing as those in the movies.
You can use a bicycle pump for bullets
in the chest. Record as a separate closeup,
for it works only with a short tube close to
the pump.
Suck some fake blood into the tube and
seal the end with a small piece of tightly
stretched party balloon. Hold the balloon
in position with several turns of a rubber
band. Placed under thin cloth, the pump
will rupture the diaphragm, flipping the
cloth realistically and producing a spatter
of gore.
For continuity, shoot the garment on
a stuffed sack. Then remove and place
on the actor. A limp balloon containing blood and worn under a garment
will produce a spreading stain when punctured by a spike attached to a ring worn
by an actor. The flow will increase by
keeping the hand in place and pressing
A rat-trap set up behind scenery can
punch out a piece of wall or knock a hole
in a door. The hole must be pre-made,
filled with appropriate material to disguise its true nature. Insert a captive peg
from behind. When struck by the trap the
peg ejects the filling, leaving a hole.
Rat-traps can also simulate a bullet hitting a mirror. Protect the front with a sheet
of rigid plastic and cover the back with
self-adhesive vinyl. This is essential to
produce a really good shattering effect;
without it the glass just breaks.
A bicycle pump with some talcum powder in the barrel will produce a convincing spurt of dust from rocks or concrete.
Use energetically and apply a good ricochet effect on the soundtrack.
No bullet effect will impress without
realistic sound. Conversely, a poor effect
can often pass with a professional soundtrack liberally sprinkled with gunshots.
Smoke and Flames
This can be a touchy area; as always,
Videomaker does not recommend you
endeavor to create sequences involving
fire, smoke or explosions without assistance from experts.
Movie and TV producers often rent an
empty house or store when they need to
create an outdoor fire sequence. To record
in a studio is too impractical and too
However, property is property, so these
big fire scenes are rigidly controlled to
ensure they don’t get out of hand.
In many cases fire can be simulated
without actual flames. At night, backlit
smoke rising from behind a building suggests it’s on fire. Rooms powerfully lit,
with smoke pouring from the windows,
imply a house afire. Stretch a clear plastic sheet behind the window and pump
smoke up underneath it. This ensures maximum effect at the window while preventing too much smoke from filling
the room.
But the fact there’s no flame doesn’t
guarantee total safety. Always ensure
crew and artists have a clear exit to the
outside. No one should have to stumble
around in thick smoke and darkness.
Smoke, of course, is essential for all fire
sequences. Much depends on the sort of
smoke used. In moviemaking there are two
types: pyrotechnic, and machine-made. Of
the two, only the smoke machine is controllable. Pyrotechnics, once lit, will burn
to a finish.
You can rent smoke machines; those
who don’t know where to look should
contact a local theater or TV studio.
Smoke from reputable machines should
cause no breathing problems, even when
discharged indoors. Pyrotechnic smoke is
appropriate only for exterior work or in
places where it won’t be inhaled.
Movie studios produce controlled
flames by igniting propane. The gear usually consists of a fireproof and crushproof
hose with a shut-off valve and pressure
reducer. At the business end is a length
Practical Special Effects
of copper tube terminating in a sort of
flattened funnel.
You can smatter small areas of flame
around a set by using absorbent material
treated with a dash of kerosene, burned
on metal sheets or fireproof board. With
the appropriate amount of smoke this will
simulate the aftermath of an explosion.
House Mess
Many videographers must shoot in their
own homes, which can cause problems
when trying to capture scenes of dirt and
degradation. Fortunately, it’s usually possible to obtain materials easily cleaned up
at the end of the day.
Freely spread sawdust, dry peat, coconut
fiber, Fullers Earth, rubber dust and torn-up
paper; all will disappear beneath broom or
vacuum at the end of the shoot.
It’s not easy creating convincing scenes
of mess and filth. The camera has a habit
of prettifying even the nastiest setups. It’s
therefore often necessary to exaggerate the
dirty scenes.
For oil, food or paint spills, pour liquid
latex onto a sheet of glass or metal. When
set, spray paint the mess with any color.
Peel off to provide a movable puddle;
place where required.
Dead and dried vegetation often complement this sort of scene. Torn plastic
sheeting sprayed nasty colors and
wrapped around pipes, faucets and radiators also looks good.
To make metal appear rusty, wipe with
a smidgen of petroleum jelly. Then blow
cocoa atop the grease.
Cobwebs are great for dirty scenes, produced by spinning liquid latex in a special device called a cobweb gun. These
guns are for rent, the fluid available from
TV and theatrical supply houses. Spin
webs over a collection of objects bunched
close together for the best effect. Cobwebs
won’t straddle open spaces; string thin
cotton across voids. Blow talcum powder
onto cobwebs to make them visible. Don’t
apply to absorbent surfaces.
Caption Making
Electronic devices to produce lettering for
videos are now available, either as separate equipment or as integral camera circuitry. Stick-on or rubdown letters come
cheap and offer a variety of typefaces.
Even magazines and newspapers will produce usable opening titles.
No one wants to engage in the laborious
chore of cutting round letters with a stencil knife. But if you cut the letters or words
as rectangles from white paper you can
stick them to a white backing, the joins
between painted over with white artist’s
paint or typing correction fluid. Photocopied, the joins disappear.
You can apply rubdown lettering or
reusable vinyl stick-ons to a sheet of
glass and place over various fancy papers
or illustrations. You can also place
the glass in front of three-dimensional
objects like flowers or coins. Tabletop
captions are simple to produce and offer
more variety than stereotypical electronic
A tracing paper screen and a slide projector are also useful for graphic backgrounds. You need not project slides onto
a flat screen; you can project them onto
textured surfaces like rumpled cloth,
rough plaster or piles of snow.
Interesting animations can result by fixing the lighting, the camera and the lettering to a common mount in which loose
objects such as marbles, sea shells, sand,
sugar or liquids are free to move around.
When you tilt the rig, the camera perceives no movement of the backing; meanwhile, the loose objects react strangely,
defying gravity and moving in a random
and seemingly unpremeditated fashion.
President Matte
Miniatures are models placed in front of a
set to extend the scenery or provide an
effect unobtainable by other means.
Mattes perform a similar task, but are
simply flat paintings on glass.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
This is an over-simplification, because
there also exist creatures like “hanging
miniatures” and “traveling mattes.” But
these characters would take us into deep
technical water, and we’re interested here
only in the simple stuff.
Say the action occurs in the oval office
of the White House. They won’t let you
tape there, and a re-creation would eat up
your entire budget. So go for the special
You may have to hire a table and some
chairs—pretty safe stuff, because who,
after all, recalls exact details of the White
Sensibly, you’ll video your fake president against an easily-obtainable neutral
wall. But at some point you’ll have to
show the room, or at least a convincing
One option is a matte. If you can procure a talented artist, take a large pane of
glass, mount it on legs and position it
between Mr. P and the camera. With constant reference through the camera
viewfinder the artist can paint the oval
office, leaving a hole in the middle to perceive Mr. P, his desk and the back wall.
Suppose you don’t have such an artist.
So get a photo of the scene, blow it up, cut
out an area where Mr. P will sit, and, if
your photo is black-and-white, add some
color washes. There. The White House.
Miniature Quixote
Let’s try a second example: the story of
Don Quixote, the man who tried to kill
Unable to take your unit to Spain,
you’ll use plaster-of-paris, sawdust, sand,
cardboard and other materials to construct a baseboard model of a sandy plain.
On the horizon position a model windmill
with motor-driven sails. Finally, mount the
model on a rig supported from one side
only. Put in a sloping floor in the studio
and cover it with sawdust and sand. At
the back paint a ground row to provide
the horizon.
Finish up with three components: the
sky backing, the main scene on the floor
and, sticking in from one side with its
supporting leg out of vision, a model of a
sandy plain and the windmill. Make sure
everything lines up and adjust the lighting to insure a complete blend.
When using a miniature, join the model
to the set along natural boundaries—
hedges, woods, roads—where the foreground, which we see as the background,
will blend unnoticed.
Don Quixote will stand on the opposite
side of the set from the windmill, pointing
towards the background and yelling,
“Kill! Kill!” He’ll look at the distant windmill, which in fact sits right in front of
him. Keep him stationary: if he strolls
across the set he’ll pass behind the model
and expose the trick.
If you’d like to try a matte shot, paint
on a board a simple sky and set it up
where it will cover a busy background.
Make sure the bottom of the board lines
up with the top of a wall or some similar
feature. Shoot it. The effect can be quite
Cardtoon Creations
Children exposed to television since birth
accept everything on the screen without
question, and quite often without interest.
So why not give them the chance to participate as creative artists?
A cardtoon is the electronic counterpart
of the puppet theater, where little figures
move around on sticks. Recording the
cardtoon technique on video gives youngsters the opportunity to design their own
characters and write their own scripts.
After the show they can sit back and view
the results.
Unfortunately, video cameras don’t work
in the same way as the movie cameras that
film Disney cartoons, so the action and
movement must take place in real time.
This is accomplished by cutting characters
from stiff card and articulating them with
tiny rivets and paper hinges.
Practical Special Effects
Animation comes from fixing the various parts to hidden sticks or incorporating cardboard levers hidden behind parts
of the background.
A simple example involves a picture of
the sea, drawn as repeating lines of stylized ripples. Suddenly, up leaps a fish,
attached to a cardboard lever and rotated
between two layers of the wave pattern.
Still at sea, imagine a pirate ship sailing across, pushed or pulled from one
side. Or a diver surfacing from beneath
the waves.
All videography is a combination of
long shots and close-ups, so we’ll have to
see the faces of the pirates onboard ship.
You can make them speak using a simple
up-and-down movement of the jaw. It’s
the eyes moving that most give the characters expression.
A few versions of the same heads—left
and right profile, large and small—will
result in a really satisfying cardtoon.
You can usually manipulate the parts
by hand, though certain creatures may
have to move faster than your digits can.
In these cases you can employ thin dressmaking elastic as pulling springs.
really there; backlit smoke that looks like
fire is but one example.
Take a look at movie scenes set in the
countryside. The trees and the dappled
sunlight through the leaves say we’re in a
wood, but the effect is truly produced by
shining a lamp through holes cut in thin
plywood sheets.
Look at the two people in the front seat
of a studio automobile. We know the vehicle is moving because the background is
receding—achieved via chromakey—but
the scene would look dead if it weren’t for
the fact that shadows continually sweep
across the faces of the actors. A spotlight,
some plywood, flags on broom handles and
some keen staff to wave them about and we
achieve the effect of an auto in motion.
For night shots sweep a hand-held lamp
from front to rear.
The prison scene looks a lot more sinister
if a spotlight, trained on the floor, shines
through a cutout silhouette of iron bars.
Many of these effects cause the autofocus to hunt. Switch to manual whenever
this occurs.
Give Them a Try
Trick of the Light
Light, like sound, is too often taken for
granted. It can suggest things which aren’t
Does any of this sound like fun? It is. Just
remember, you’ll never know unless you
get out your camcorder and do it yourself.
All it takes is a little imagination.
Post-Production Techniques
How to edit all that footage you’ve got “in the can” with precision and style.
Getting Started in
Computer Video Editing
Jim Stinson
The best video editing programs bend over
backward to help you learn them. You
get paper manuals, digital references, CDROM tutorials, training videos, sample projects, and hot links to Web-based assistance.
One or two fuddy-duddy companies even
offer phone numbers answered by humans.
Sooner or later, these helpers can teach you
everything you need to know about operating their editing software. But not one of
them teaches you how to make a video.
All those dandy training aids are like
the book packed with your Acme Giant
Carpentry Kit, which explains how to use
every tool in your shiny new chest, but
doesn’t teach you to build so much as a
breadboard, let alone a lawn chair or a
house. The sad result is that too many
folks who made boring incoherent video
with their camcorders and VCRs now use
editing software to keep right on making
boring, incoherent programs. The only
difference being that these are now digital
boring, incoherent programs.
The cure? For starters, our Web site
( offers dozens of
articles on video production techniques,
with a lot of emphasis on editing, including [title] on basic techniques. To put these
techniques into context, it helps to understand the basic principles that underlie
them. With these fundamental principles
and the editing techniques they support,
you can tap the power of your computerbased editing system to make programs a
pro would be proud of.
Cutting to the chase, here are those
basic editing principles:
1. Structure. Without a coherent organization, a video is not a program but only a
jumble of shots.
2. Simplicity. The better the content, the
simpler its presentation tends to be and
3. Brevity. No matter how fine your program may be, no one else is as fascinated with it as you are.
4. Pace. Viewers can digest an image faster
than you think. Throw them new ones
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
5. Variety. Even at a dizzy pace, too much
of the same thing is deadly; and “too
much” happens a lot sooner than you
might expect.
With our list of principles in front of
us, let’s look a bit closer at each one in
Your show is a failure if viewers respond,
“And your point is . . . ?” Every video
needs some form of organization to give it
purpose and direction. Programs like
training videos have their subjects, and
often their structures, built right in; but
what can you do to organize Susie’s 16th
Birthday or Thanksgiving at Grandma’s?
One approach is to give the program a
working title that announces a theme, like
The Great Driver’s License Birthday or
Grandma’s Goes Vegetarian. All of a sudden you have built in organizers to guide
your shooting and editing.
Even if you don’t think up a theme
before you shoot, you can often find one
when you edit. Were your vacation skies
gloomy and gray? Call your video A Good
Trip in Bad Weather and start each
sequence with a visual reference to leaden
skies or pouring rain. The repeated motif
will help tie your show together (see
Figure 46.1).
Editing a similar travel project, I noticed
that, quite by chance, I kept appearing in
different chapeaux: an Outback stockman’s hat, a trucker’s cap, a floppy fishing
sun model, etc, etc. In the finished show, I
made a freeze frame of the first appearance of each new headgear with a supered
title like, Hat Quest Continues or Is This
Finally the One? This corny running gag
provided all the structure my modest family video required.
Digital newbies are subject to two fatal
temptations. First, because they suddenly
Figure 46.1 Structure—Make sure your videos have a clear purpose and
Getting Started in Computer Video Editing
have the technical capacity to make a feature movie, they think they can make a
feature movie. As a former high school
teacher, I can’t tell you how many student
epics I’ve babysat that were planned
to look like Gladiator and ended with
amateur actors duking it out on a volleyball court.
Any video more ambitious than a weekend snapshoot is work. It can be fun, satisfying work like, say, a hot tennis game,
but hard work nonetheless. If the projects
you plan are too complex, the resulting
videos will be disappointing or not even
finished. So begin with simple program
concepts and work your way toward more
complex efforts.
The second digital tempters are bells and
whistles: all the zippy transitions, whizzbang special effects and multiple video/
audio tracks just begging to be played
with. Resist their entreaties. Making digital
whoopee may be a blast for the editor but
the results are often confusing, irritating,
boring or all three at once for the viewer.
Instead of showing off your new digital
tricks, use formal elements strictly in support of content. After all, that content is the
reason for your show’s existence. Your
audience can see better digital fireworks
during breaks on the six o’clock news.
Make it snappy. How snappy? As a rule of
thumb, five minutes tops. For one thing,
short plus simple equals practical: you’re
far more likely to finish shooting and editing short projects than long ones. For
another thing, your viewers are more
likely to remain alert and receptive, not to
mention present.
What if you shot five hours of tape on
your Hawaiian cruise? Sorry. No matter
how much it kills you, cull it down to five
minutes. All right, maybe ten, but no more
than that because you may take it as an
iron law that no one else on the planet is
even ten percent as interested in your
footage as you are. Give viewers only
the very best of the very best of those
Figure 46.2 Brevity—Keep it short. Short videos will be more satisfying
to you and your viewers.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
five hours and they’ll be pleasantly surprised and lavish in their praise. Forcefeed them as much as you yourself want
to see and you’ll say aloha forever to that
group of viewers (see Figure 46.2).
in a row. Hey, who cares about when you
did what. Move the wind surfing to after
lunch, to provide a relief from the speed
of the shopping sequence.
Even if your Hawaiian epic is as fast as a
war canoe, it can still act like Novocain if
it’s nothing but, well, fast. Pace is not synonymous with speed. Pace concerns both
the rate and the rhythm of your program
material. Just as a succession of similar
sentences grows boring, a string of similar
shots feels dull and mechanical.
So if you assemble a lightning montage
of Hilo shopping, follow up with a
leisurely survey of lunch. Then perhaps a
brisk anthology of the afternoon on a
black sand beach and a languorous, tropical sunset. In this respect, a well-paced
video is like a musical composition, constantly varying speed and energy.
But, you protest, we went wind surfing
right after shopping; that’s two fast sections
The virtues of variety go beyond pacing.
It’s good to shuffle subject matter as well
as sequence intensity. Here again, the
trick is to free your mind from the realworld chronology of the original events
and re-sequence them to deliver a fresh
topic every couple of minutes (see
Figure 46.3).
That’s right: every two minutes or even
less. In a typical ten-minute program, I’d
like to see between five and seven
sequences. Does that seem way too short?
Study commercials to see how much content can be delivered in 30 seconds.
By now, the underlying moral should
be obvious: to keep your audiences interested in your shows and coming back for
more, make your videos short, sharp and
lively. And keep in mind that the awesome
Figure 46.3 Variety—Divide and shuffle your subject matter to
keep things interesting.
Getting Started in Computer Video Editing
capabilities of your new digital system
should operate in support of not instead
of solid content.
The Hawaiian vacation’s easy because
there’s so much to do; but what if you’ve
backpacked the Great Smoky Mountains
instead? Hike, camp, hike, camp, hike. In
fact, a hiking vacation offers an amazing
variety of subjects, but it’s up to the director to find and tape them.
Sidebar 1
Computer Editing: The Concepts Behind the Principles
This piece focuses on the principles behind all editing techniques, but don’t forget that video
editing is based on other concepts as well. Understanding these concepts can help you learn
your new system more quickly and use it more productively.
Random Access. You can instantly find, view and process anything at any time in both
your source material and your program.
Computer Filing. Because your materials are data files on a hard drive, they must be managed as systematically as any other computer files.
Multiple Display. A project’s ultimate display form (essentially, computer, TV or Web) has
important effects on both its technology and its aesthetics.
Additive Editing. Because your materials are in discrete pieces, you work by adding them
to a project that begins as an empty page or timeline.
Multi-layer Audio. Computer-based audio is such a powerful tool that it demands as much
attention and creativity as video.
Computer Editing:
5 Phases of Editing
Jim Stinson
Computer-based video editing seems cursed
with enough tools for a Sears hardware
department and a learning curve steeper
than Everest. To cope with this complexity,
most of us plod through half a tutorial, read
random bits of a manual, futz with a few
simple projects, and basically fool around,
while our expertise grows like moss on a
tree trunk, though not quite that fast.
To speed things up, we need to cut our
way out of the trees, climb that hill over
there, and look down on the whole forest.
From this perspective we can see that the
tangled thickets of post production in fact
have a design, an evident pattern of operations. Post production falls into five
major phases: organizing, assembling,
enhancing, synthesizing and archiving.
By understanding this work flow, we can
flatten the learning curve and get a grip on
the whole post-production process.
As we do this, keep two major footnotes
in mind:
For simplicity, we’ll pretend that you
complete each phase in order, before
progressing to the next one. In realworld editing, you may be working in
several phases at once.
Though the five phases of post production are more obvious in hard drive-based
editing, they’re relevant to tape-based linear cutting as well.
With the fine print out of the way, let’s
start with phase one: organizing.
In an earlier sermon from this pulpit, we’ve
harangued you on the importance of organizing your material before you start editing
(see November 1999 issue or read the article
online at so let’s
just review the material in fast-forward.
Classify each and every piece of video
and/or audio material.
Identify it with a slate if it doesn’t
already have one. Slate with codes (like
Computer Editing
“27A3” meaning sequence 27, shot A,
take 3). Avoid descriptive slates
(“helnngcu”) because they won’t make
sense a week later.
Log it in a shot database (typically part
of editing software packages) with a
description. A really big project might
need fields for slate (27A3), angle (CU),
content (Helen reacts to news), quality
(ng), and notes ( bad framing; 1st half
OK). A short program might get away
with a single field (27A3 CU Helen NG).
Locate it by adding tape roll number,
in/out-point (time code address or control track time), and file name (as stored
on your hard drive).
Stash it. For larger projects, establish
a separate bin or folder for each
sequence, plus bins for music, effects
and other wild audio components. (Of
course, this last step doesn’t apply to
linear editing.)
How compulsive should you be about
organizing? In direct proportion to the
complexity of your project. If you blew
half a roll of tape on a family picnic, hey,
go ahead and wing it. But if you’re staring
at ten, 60-minute cassettes on a feature
intended for Sundance, you’d better classify every blessed shot (see Figure 47.1).
Figure 47.1 Organize—Log each shot into a
database and use coded file names for your
With your building blocks labeled and
stowed, the next step is to assemble them
into a program for your video. Every single piece of your video must be selected,
sequenced, timed and transferred to the
master you’re constructing.
In digital post especially, selecting
shots is often a batch operation. It’s easier
to pick and mark all the shots you want
transferred, and then let your software do
the job for you.
Typically, sequencing, timing and
transferring go together. Few editors will
stick the unclipped shots in order on a
timeline and then trim them all to length.
Most people choose a shot, spec its inpoint to match the previous shot, and lay
it in. Personally, I like to leave the outpoint open until I have the following shot
roughed in. Then I experiment until I find
the perfect cut point and set out-point 1
and in-point 2 at the same time.
In linear cutting, transferring is a discrete step because you have to determine
in- and out-points before copying the
source shot to the assembly tape.
Enhancing means touching up shots by
improving, conforming, or downright
redesigning them. I recommend that you
do this after assembling the show.
Otherwise, you might get so hung up on
minute shot adjustments that you lose
sight of the overall design.
Improving video usually involves exposure, contrast or color balance. There’s not
much you can do with grainy gain-up originals (though you can tweak the color saturation a skosh) but contrast is definitely
tunable, especially with underexposure.
Often those inky shadows do have details
lurking in them. If your software permits,
use a tone curve adjustment to boost dark
areas without brightening highlights.
Even when a shot’s quality is already
good, it may not match the shots around it
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 47.2 Enhance—Most editing programs
let you adjust contrast and color balance to
improve your shots.
Figure 47.3 Synthesize—Stack and blend
audio and video layers to sweeten you
because it was recorded at a different
time you know: sunny one day and cloudy
the next. That’s where conforming comes
in. (In film, it’s called color timing.)
Working shot by shot, you ensure that
everything in a sequence looks the same
(see Figure 47.2).
Redesigning means changing the basic
character of a shot: turning straight color
into a sunset glow or pure black and
white, applying slo-mo or strobe effects,
adding all kinds of digital filters, or flopping shots for screen direction.
If you’re making a commercial or music
video, you may stylize the color across
the whole program to create a unique special effect.
And let’s not forget audio. You improve it
by optimizing volume and equalization, conform it by matching level and perspective
from shot to shot, and redesign it by altering speed, pitch and presence. Inherently
more plastic than video, audio can be
molded into just about anything you want.
background and music and double that
number for stereo. Mixing audio to synthesize a final sound track is one of the
most creative and satisfying jobs in the
post production process (see Figure 47.3).
With digital post, the same flexibility
has come to the visual tracks as well as
audio. Multi-layer visuals include transitions, composites, superimpositions, multiple screens, graphics and titles.
All transitions (except for fades to/from
a color) involve multiple images. Extend
the middle of a dissolve and you have a
superimposition, with two half-strength
images sharing the entire screen. Place
picture in picture and you get multiple
screens (or carve the frame up into as
many images as you like). Super a transparent bar or square and you’re bringing
graphics into play; and with text, you’ve
got titles working as well. Finally, you can
chromakey a new foreground into a background, or vice-versa; and with a good
plug-in matting program you can combine
all the elements seamlessly.
If this sounds like quite a list, consider a
single moment that you might see on TV
any time: as Mr. Announcer intones off
screen, “Up next: today’s weather on News
at Six,” the following things happen:
Audio is also more susceptible to synthesizing: stacking multiple layers of material and blending them into a single
program strand. In editing, it’s common to
have two tracks each of dialogue, effects,
A cube tumbles on screen to end as a
1/4-size window.
Computer Editing
The window shows the weather person
in front of a chromakeyed map.
A “smoked glass” rectangle fades on to
fill most of the screen.
A color bar sweeps in across the bottom
of the screen.
The numeral 6 pulsates in a square to
the left of the bar.
“Channel 6 Weather” fades up on the
color bar.
The whole schmeer fades to black for a
commercial break.
Today, these multi-part syntheses are so
ho-hum that we have to enumerate their
parts to remind ourselves of how complex
they really are.
In linear editing, storing the finished program is automatic because the assembly
tape is the archive (such as it is). In digital
post, however, you have only a virtual
video until you’ve output it in final form;
and that final form may involve multiple
decisions about recording methods,
media, protocols and display standards
(see Figure 47.4).
First decision: analog or digital? Digital
storage wins hands-down if the only issue
is permanence through perfect duplication. But for a short-term program that
will need many copies (like a video press
release) an analog master may offer easier
mass duplication.
If you do go analog, what’s your display
standard? NTSC, PAL or SECAM? And
don’t forget that each standard has its subsets for different countries. If digital,
which codec (compressor/decompressor):
DV, MPEG, MJPEG, etc… and again,
which flavor? If you’re streaming to the
Web, you also have to cope with screen
size and frame rate.
Finally, what’s your storage medium?
Until recently, some kind of tape was the
only answer. But with DVD-RAM burner’s
down to $300, maybe you want to choose
a disc-based medium with its advantages of capacity, compactness and random
Figure 47.4 Archive—Store your edited master on the best media you
can to ensure the longest possible shelf life.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
access. The moral here is that the archiving process that was once automatic now
requires a number of thoughtfully considered decisions.
Organizing, assembling, enhancing, synthesizing, archiving. Okay, fine; but what
are these abstractions really good for?
Basically, they take a complex and shapeless process and impose a kind of order
on it an order that helps you keep it all
straight. Obviously, no one is going to
think, “Having duly organized and
enhanced, I will now proceed to phase
four: synthesize.”
But as you edit, you can operate more
confidently if you have an intuitive grasp
of the organization that underlies the
post-production process.
Overcoming Common
Computer Editing Problems
Don Collins
Computer editing has become extremely
popular. It provides flexible and powerful
editing that lets anyone with an artistic
eye create professional-quality video.
You can undo, redo, add scenes, delete
transitions, change titles and create nearly
anything you can imagine, almost instantaneously. And it just keeps getting better
as computer editing equipment becomes
faster, more robust and easier to use.
However, there are still some pitfalls
and hazards that every video editor will
encounter that can make editing frustrating at best and a nightmare at worst.
Luckily, for most of the irritating nuisances that crop up, there are solutions.
Here are a few common problems that
computer editors experience, and some
suggestions for troubleshooting them.
Although we use Adobe Premiere to illustrate the examples in this article, the principles taught here apply to most editing
programs. If you’re having trouble performing certain tasks in your editor, keep
reading, this article just might have the
answer you’re looking for.
Reversed Transitions
You just placed a cool crossfade between
a shot of the sunrise and a closeup of a
frying egg, sunny-side up. You render the
clip and when you preview it something
weird happens: it shows a brief glimpse of
the egg then it fades to an even briefer
shot of the sun; then it cuts back to the
rest of the egg clip. What happened?
You have inadvertently reversed the
transition. In Adobe Premiere, and other
timeline-based editing programs, you
need to set the direction of each transition
effect. For instance, if clip A precedes
clip B, your transition effect must be set to
start with clip A and end with clip B. If
the effect is reversed, from B to A, the
software will cut from clip A to clip B at
the start of the effect, perform the fade
from B to A, then cut back to clip B (see
Figure 48.1a). It’s a common error and one
that is easily remedied.
To fix the problem, double click the
transition on the timeline to open an
options window. Once opened, you can
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 48.1 Wrong Way!—A reversed
transition effect (a) won’t play properly (note
that the arrow points the wrong direction). To
fix it, double click the effect icon and edit the
properties (b). When placed correctly, the
arrow should show the signal flow from clip A
to clip B (c).
click on the arrow that reverses the order
of the fade (see Figure 48.1b). Clip A
should be on the left hand side and clip B
on the right. You can also check the Show
Actual Source box, which shows an icon
of the actual clips to help you visualize
the sequence.
Black Frames and Razor Remnants
A random black frame or single frame of
video created by a razor tool can mar an
otherwise perfect video. Black frames
occur when two clips placed next to one
another on the timeline are not pushed
together all the way. The result is a flash
frame of black between the two clips.
Razor remnants are single frames of
video inadvertently created when using a
razor tool. When using the razor tool to
trim a clip, you may inadvertently leave a
single frame of video on the timeline that
cannot be seen. It is easy to unknowingly
slice a single frame off the head or tail of a
clip when using the razor. The single
frame that is left can cause a few problems. It can create a flash frame that plays
as a glitch, or, if you remove the larger
portion of the clip without deleting the
loose frame, it can prevent you from placing a clip on the timeline.
If there are only one or two frames of
black or stray video, you may not detect
them when you preview your project. One
way to scan for random frames is to use
the Zoom tool to change the time units on
the Construction window to view single
frame increments on the timeline. Then
you can quickly scroll across your project
to check for stray frames. Be careful
though, if you view your project in increments as great as one second, extraneous
black frames and razor remnants can go
If you do find any, zoom in to the
1-frame mode so you can delete the extraneous frame or extend a clip to bridge the
black gap. You can also use the multitrack
selection tool to move all of the subsequent clips to shore up a gap caused by a
black frame.
Loss Due to Computer Crash
Without a doubt, frequent crashes are one
of the most frustrating aspects of computer editing. Although they are becoming less frequent as both hardware and
software improve, they still happen and
they happen at the worst times. Our
advice: save often. Preferably after each
solidified edit or group of moves you
make. That way, if (when) your program
freezes, you’ll be covered.
Overcoming Common Computer Editing Problems
Some software have automatic save
functions built in. If you choose to use the
auto save, use it wisely, because with each
save you forfeit all those handy levels of
undo (32 max in Premiere). Many times
retracing your editing steps with undos
can unsnarl your production and help
you learn from your mistakes. So in some
situations you may want to hold off on
saving until you have completed a task
successfully. But once you have done
that, save, save, save!
Mismatched Audio Levels
One of the most common causes for audio
problems is assembling clips with different audio levels. This usually happens
when you’ve shot in different locations. If
you need to edit two people conversing in
an airplane hangar, with footage shot outdoors on a mountaintop and an interview
taped in a living room, you’re going to
have three different sound qualities and
levels. It can also occur if you are editing
footage shot in the same location on different camcorders using different microphones.
Editing software gives you control over
audio as well as video. You can adjust the
levels of an entire clip or segments within
it. You can even add EQ and effects to
your audio tracks (see Figure 48.2). When
you place the mountain top clip next to
the living room clip, you may need to
adjust EQ and/or cross fade audio from
the two scenes to make the change in the
audio tone smoother for the viewer.
By clicking on the bottom of the audio
track, you place handles that you can then
raise or lower. To adjust the level of an
entire clip, select the sound clip, go to the
Clip menu, then select Gain and enter a
value from 0 to 200%. Simply matching
the lines that represent the audio levels of
your clips is not enough. Because clip levels in your software are relative to the
level at which each clip was captured,
they are not reliable for balancing one clip
with another.
Figure 48.2 Fine Tuning—There are
many tools in the pull-down menus
that give you control over your audio.
You can equalize it, for example, by
entering the clip menu, going to
Filters and choosing Equalize.
If all Else Fails . . .
Creating professional-quality video with a
computer is becoming easier and more
affordable than ever. Still, it’s not automatic; we’ve covered just a few of the
common errors inherent to computer
video. Luckily, most of them are quickly
overcome. For answers to more specific
problems, consult your manual or contact
tech support.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 1
An Ounce of Prevention…
One of the best ways to avoid editing mistakes is to visualize your final edited video before
you start shooting.
See the big picture. Run through your video from opening to the final credits in your mind.
Know what shots you are going to take and visualize the transitions between shots and scenes.
Plan your shots. One of the best ways to prepare for your edit is to create a storyboard. It
can be as simple or as detailed as you want. The important thing is to know where you’re
going so that when you’re in the edit suite you aren’t missing any key shots.
Keep a shot log. By keeping a log of your shots, complete with time code in-and-out points
and a comment area for grading each shot, you’ll be way ahead of the game. That way,
when you’re capturing your footage to your hard drive, you will know which shots to keep
and which shots to skip. Keeping a shot log not only saves a tremendous amount of time,
but valuable hard drive space as well.
Sidebar 2
Managing Your Project Area
One of the most challenging aspects of editing is maintaining an organized workspace on
your computer monitor. The most common editing errors occur because editors can’t find a
clip, don’t see their transition or filter windows, miss an edit mark, confuse tracks, mistake
clips and otherwise screw things up because the project area was cluttered. Here are some
tips to help you keep it clean.
Collapse the timeline to gain more horizontal space—especially if you’re using only two
tracks of video and two tracks of audio.
Minimize seldom-used windows and adjust the size of those you do use regularly.
Play with the timeline’s measurement units. For precise editing, use the 1-frame mode. For
rough edits and placement of clips, try the 1-second marker. And to gain a global view, use
the 1-minute measure to view your entire project.
Use short, descriptive file names for your clips.
Adjust the size of the file icon on the timeline and clip bin.
Color Tweaking
Bill Davis
When we make video, our goal most of
the time is to get lifelike images up on the
screen. We chase natural skin tones, good
exposure and proper white balance like
racing dogs after mechanical bunnies.
But if you watch what’s happening in
the movies or on TV, you’re probably
already aware that sometimes, realistic
just isn’t good enough, particularly when
it comes to color.
We accept daytime scenes awash in
exaggerated hyper-golden sunlight and
nighttime sequences bathed in green or
blue. And we even see the use of hybrid
scenes, where some of the footage is
processed in black and white while other
elements retain their colors.
The Countdown of Basics
The first thing to understand about the
basics of video color is that at the base
level, every television signal is actually a
combination of two separate signal components—one for black and white information, the other for color.
In the beginning, all TV signals were
exclusively black and white. It wasn’t
until years after TV sets started to appear
in homes that engineers added a color
component to the broadcast signal.
The black and white part of the signal is
referred to as luminance and given the
engineering shorthand, “Y,” while the
color signal is known as chrominance and
given the designation “C.”
The standard yellow RCA video plug
mixes these signals together into a composite. S-video cables, on the other hand,
are sometimes referred to as Y/C cables
because they keep the luminance and
chrominance signals separated. If you
look at the end of an S-video connector,
you can see a number of separate holes or
pins used to carry the signals.
This split makes it a snap to take a color
TV signal from your camcorder and translate it into black and white. All that your
software has to accomplish is the elimination of the color portion of the signal.
Diminishing the chrominance signal relative to the luminance yields a reduction
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
of color intensity and creates a muted pastel look. Many editing applications have
basic chrominance or saturation controls
to adjust this aspect of the video.
But to dive into the more exciting
aspects of colorizing your video signal, we
also need to break things down further and
delve into the three primary components
of your signal’s color: red, green and blue.
Engineering RGB Space
Color television is said to reside in the
RGB color space. It is this arrangement of
mixing and matching three basic colors to
create the entire pallet of colors the TV
can display, that makes it a snap to manipulate the color of your video footage.
Most editing software programs allow
you to change the balance of the three
primary colors on a global, regional or
even pixel-by-pixel basis.
Editing applications usually have some
basic color manipulation tools, accessible
through a panel in the main program or as
a plug-in. As you manipulate the colors,
you can increase or decrease parameters,
such as the amount of red, green or
blue applied to your selected part of a
picture. You can also alter brightness and
contrast, creating a washed-out feel of
pastels, or a hyper-real environment,
where you deliver suppressed midrange
tones and the most extreme dark and light
components of your original signals to the
To Boldly Go
Normally, these controls need to be handled with a light touch, since they can
dramatically alter the look of your video.
Remember, the beauty of working in a nondestructive video-editing environment is
that a return to reality is always as close
as an “undo” command.
Special-effects filters and plug-ins can
often modify colors in interesting ways.
Just like the filters photographers have
long attached to their lenses to change the
image characteristics of their shots, the
video filter is simply a way of changing
one or more channels of information to
create a different look for your video. In
most situations, it is better to apply filters
in post-production, since you cannot
undo on-the-lens glass filters if you don’t
like the results.
Many filters have presets for popular
color schemes such as sepia—a color
effect that alters your footage with a
yellowish-brown cast reminiscent of oldtime photographs.
Beyond these kinds of simple presets
are direct controls such as tint, which you
can quickly apply as a global colorcast of
your choosing to your footage. All those
trendy colorized commercials, where the
world is awash in a slightly green tint are
examples of manipulating color information. You can simulate these effects with
your color control tools.
But a note of caution. Look closely at the
colorization examples in broadcast work.
You’ll notice that while the environment
around that fancy sports car often looks
surreal, the people still look pretty realistic. To achieve that kind of sophisticated colorized look, you need to be careful
about maintaining healthy skin highlights
and other reality checks rather than just
slathering everyone and everything with a
greenish wash.
That’s where the power of channelspecific effects comes in. Look closely at
your editing interface and you may discover that you can apply color corrections
to narrowly-defined parts of your image.
Filters and Mattes
The real fun begins when you combine
basic image manipulation with the power
of masks, mattes and layers.
If you’ve ever watched a music video,
where a brilliantly-colored character
danced through an otherwise black and
white world, you’ve seen the power of
multi-layer mattes and filters at work.
Color Tweaking
Shots like these stack two or more synchronized layers of the same footage on
multiple video tracks. Then, a moving
matte applied to the dancing character isolates it from the rest of the scene. The layer
with the foreground figure remains in color
while a desaturate filter, which removes all
the color information, applies to the background footage.
A word of warning: pulling a quality
moving matte out of a single video clip
without advance planning is just about
impossible unless you are willing to go
through and paint a matte for every frame
of your video (30 of them for every second
of footage). But if you have the time and
patience (or a team of highly skilled
animators), there’s nothing to keep you
from going in and isolating a character by
re-shaping and moving a manually-created
matte to follow the character. Don’t forget
to tweak the softness or blur the edges of
the matte to make it appear more natural.
The Adventure Begins
There’s literally no limit to this other than
your creativity and imagination. So, the
next time you’re watching TV, pay special
attention to how the producers use color
tinting, layers and mattes to produce eyecatching images.
Then, consider that many of those
same capabilities reside right in your
own editing application, awaiting your
Sidebar 1
Alpha Channel
The separate RGB portions of video are referred to as channels. Some formats also have a
fourth channel, called the Alpha Channel, used to specify transparency. If your editing application allows you to view the Alpha Channel, it usually appears in grayscale with black
being 100 percent transparent and white being 100 percent opaque, although it is very easy
to reverse this. The flexibility of editing software even allows you to select a specific color or
range of colors to set as the Alpha Channel.
Sidebar 2
TV Can’t Show it All
A typical computer monitor uses over 16 million colors to draw a picture on your screen.
This includes the video-preview window in your editing application. The standard color television picture in the United States is composed of only about 2 million colors. This means
that the wonderful color modifications you see on your computer monitor will likely not look
the same on a television. When doing any computer generated modifications to your video,
you must test your adjusted video on a television before declaring your movie complete.
Basic Compositing
Bill Davis
Compositing is the process of layering
multiple on-screen elements—video, still
images, text or graphical elements—into a
single on-screen image.
A classic example of compositing that
many people would instantly recognize is
the title sequence for the nationally syndicated series Baywatch. The show’s graphic
designers specified that video clips and
graphic elements be combined into multiple layers with images appearing behind,
in front of and even within large block
letters spelling out the show’s title.
But a composite doesn’t have to be anywhere near this complicated. In fact,
many of the composites seen in video are
really just two separate video images combined into a single screen presentation.
These simple composites (and even some
not-so-simple ones!) are well within
the reach of anyone with even the most
basic computer-based video production
Before we look at ways to create your
own simple composites, let’s take a look
at some basic compositing terminology.
Talkin’ the Talk
In compositing, the term layer refers to a
plane of video or graphics. A good way to
visualize layers is to imagine them as
pages stacked on top of each other on
your computer desktop.
In most editing programs these layers
correspond to the program’s video tracks.
The lower tracks appear further back on
the screen, and each higher video track is
stacked in front.
Another important concept to compositing is the use of mattes (pronounced
“mats”). Mattes are the electronic equivalent of cutting a shape out of a piece of
cardboard and holding the results over
a picture. If you use the hole in the
cardboard as the matte, the background image shows through the hole. If
you use the cutout piece, you block the
background picture with the shape of
the cutout. Electronic mattes work the
same way.
Most videographers are familiar with
wipes as a way to replace one picture with
Basic Compositing
another when editing between scenes. In
compositing, a slowly or partially executed wipe can create the same effect as a
Alpha channels are a way to make an
image or an area of an image so that it is
partially transparent. You can also use
alpha channels to define picture borders
so that they transition smoothly from
opaque to transparent. An alpha channel
matte uses shades of gray to represent the
amount of transparency between the foreground and background images.
With feathering, an automated alpha
channel process, the edges of an image are
gently transitioned from opaque to transparent to avoid a hard line of transition
between the image and content on an
adjacent layer.
Okay, now that you’ve got some of the
basic terminology down, let’s look at
some examples of simple composites.
Down to Basics
Sometimes beginners get confused when
they try to execute a composite by simply
stacking two scenes on top of one another
in their timeline. The result is typically not
a composite but a regular single image. The
problem is that, if both scenes are “full
screen,” the picture on the highest track
will totally block any scene behind it.
In order to create a composite, the picture closest to the screen must be manipulated to allow the scene (image) behind
(or below) it to show through.
There are dozens of ways to do this. The
foreground image can be moved partially
aside, cropped, shrunk or made wholly or
partially transparent. In one of the computer editing world’s most useful tricks, you
can create a matte that allows all or part of
the background picture to peek through the
foreground layer (see Figure 50.1).
Figure 50.1 Blending scenes—by making the first layer of
video semi-transparent, the second layer becomes visible.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
That’s exactly why mattes are such an
important part of compositing. They allow
one track to show through to another in
precisely the way you want.
Familiar Effect, New Twist
By using the same transitions you typically use between scenes, but freezing
them in a state of partial completion, you
can create simple video composites.
How many times have you seen the
traditional split-screen used to bring
together two sides of a telephone conversation in a classic movie? That’s a basic
composite. All that’s needed to create this
kind of scene is to set your transition controls to execute a common wipe and set
the start and stop values to take place at the
same physical location (see Figure 50.2).
By the way, when you plan to do this kind
of effect, it’s important to pay close attention to the framing of your two shots
when you shoot so that you leave plenty
of negative space in the areas that will be
covered by the other shot.
A cross-dissolve, stopped when half completed, is an equally effective form of simple
composite. It results in a dreamlike combination of the entering and exiting scenes.
Again, you’ll need to pay special attention to the framing of your picture when
you record each scene. If you do, this simple type of composite can communicate
some pretty powerful emotions.
Imagine an establishing shot of a woman
washing dishes at the kitchen sink, then
move to a head-and-shoulders shot framed
with her looking out the window. Now
partially dissolve in a scenic shot of a
cruise ship sailing the blue waters of the
Caribbean! The resulting composite clearly
suggests that her thoughts are far away
from getting the silverware clean.
Other classic “switcher effects” are equally composite-friendly. Take the picturein-picture, for instance (see Figure 50.3).
Figure 50.2 Half-Wipe Composite-Programs like Adobe Premiere allow you to stop a halfcompleted wipe by setting start and stop values to take place at the same physical location.
Basic Compositing
With multiple tracks easily accessible in
most of today’s editing software, it’s a snap
to composite two scaled-down pictures
onto one master shot. If the master shot is a
traditional head-and-shoulders close-up,
you can use soft-edge oval mattes on two
additional shots (placed on higher tracks
than your head-and-shoulders shot) to position a pair of “good conscience” and “bad
conscience” characters over your main subject’s shoulders. You’ll have shades of the
“devil-and-angel” gag that’s been a staple on
the Conan O’Brien late-night TV program.
This is also a great place to use the
“edge feather” feature that most modern
computer editors provide. Instead of ovalshaped insets with hard edges looking like
a pair of antique photos, a softly feathered
edge will help to integrate the two mattes
into the overall composite image.
All Keyed Up
To take the same multiple-picture composite idea a step closer to professional, spend
Figure 50.3 Classic PIP—the picture-inpicture is one of the most commonly-used and
easily-achieved composite effects.
some time investigating your software’s
chromakey and lumakey capabilities.
A chromakey occurs when you tell your
software package to take all the pixels of a
particular color and replace them with the
live video from another shot. Traditionally,
the colors used for chromakeys are either
bright green or bright blue—two of the
basic colors that form a typical RGB video
In blue-screen or green-screen compositing, video scenes are recorded with the
characters appearing in front of an evenlylit green or blue surface, then the software
replaces the key-colored pixels with live
video or a computer-generated background
(see Figure 50.4).
Keying is one area where you need to
experiment in order to get good results
(see Shooting for Chromakey sidebar), but
once you achieve a decent key shot, a
world of creative options emerges.
For amateur weathercasters or kids who
want to suspend their model spaceships
over a field of stars, chromakeying or
lumakeying can be just the ticket. An effective chromakey setup can take those competing angels in the above example and
matte out the backgrounds to let them float
over the master shot, without the background oval shapes spoiling the effect.
A close relative to chromakeying is
lumakeying, which pulls mattes using
brightness rather than color values. A
somewhat dark scene with one character
appearing in a bright white T-shirt could
be a likely candidate for a lumakey composite. Using this technique you can do
anything from simply turning the T-shirt
the precise color you choose to something
as wild as allowing a shot of ocean waves
Figure 50.4 Angel-key—use a chromakey to achieve a seamless and realistic composite.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
breaking on the shore to replace the area
of the T-shirts. Creatively, the sky’s literally the limit.
And that’s the real magic of compositing. It frees you from the need to show
your audience only what your camera can
record at one moment in time. Composites can be simple and realistic, or
invoke multiple layers of live video,
motion graphics, titles and effects.
Have Some Fun
Now that you know some of the secrets of
compositing, watch for examples in the
shows you see on television. You can
expect to find scores of good examples in
the openings of network entertainment
programs and even in nightly local newscasts. But what you might not expect is
that many of the seemingly sophisticated
effects you’ll see are not far from the capabilities of your own NLE program.
All that’s required is that you master
the tools you already have! So whether
your goal is to get your audience to
believe that two or more composited elements are actually part of a single scene,
or just to have some fun with this cuttingedge technology, compositing is a creative
joy. So dive right in and let the fun begin!
Sidebar 1
Basic Compositing Terminology
Layer: A plane of video or graphics. Imagine them as pages stacked on top of each other on
your computer desktop.
Tracks: In most NLEs layers correspond to the program’s video tracks. Lower-numbered
tracks appear further back on the screen.
Matte: The electronic equivalent of cutting a shape out of a piece of cardboard and holding
the results over a picture.
Wipe: A way to replace one picture with another when editing between scenes. In compositing, a slowly or partially executed wipe can create the same effect as a matte.
Alpha channels: A way to encode an image or an area of an image so that it is partially
Feathering: An automated alpha channel process in which the edges of an image are gently
transitioned from opaque to transparent.
Sidebar 2
Shooting for Chromakey
The key to effective chromakeying is always the lighting setup you use. In order for a chromakey to be effective, the key background must be illuminated evenly without hot spots or
harsh shadows. The pros typically use color balanced fluorescent arrays or large “scoop”type fixtures with plenty of diffusion in order to make the light hitting the key background as
even as possible.
The Art of the Edit
Janis Lonnquist
See video clips at
When Oliver Stone turned over the massive
amount of raw footage that became JFK,
editor Joe Hutshing knew it would be a
challenge. “I wondered if it could even be
watchable,” Hutshing says. “It was so
incredibly complicated. It was like looking at a schematic for a TV set and then
imagining actually watching the TV.”
From the mountain of raw footage, to
the first five-hour cut, to the final threehour-and-eight-minute editing masterpiece, Hutshing had to make decisions,
consider choices and re-examine goals.
This is editing.
Editing systems may range from sophisticated digital suites with all the bells and
whistles to basic single-source systems
consisting of a camera, TV and VCR. Still,
the functions of editing remain the same:
1. to connect shots into a sequence that
tells a story or records an event,
2. to correct and delete mistakes,
3. to condense or expand time and
4. to communicate an aesthetic.
Whether you’re creating a Hollywood feature film or tightening a vacation video,
the challenge is to take raw footage, and
within the limitations of equipment and
budget, transform it into something compelling and watchable.
Shooting With the Edit in Mind
Editing may be the final step of the production, but to make a truly successful
video, you need to begin making editing
choices in the concept stage. What will
the overall look of the piece be? The
mood? The pacing? Will you cut it to
music? What kind of music?
There are several techniques that will
help you plan. Prepare a shooting script,
a storyboard or—if it is not a scripted
production—an overview for your program. This will be the blueprint for your
A shooting script lists the action shot by
shot, along with proposed camera angles
and framing.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
In a storyboard, actual sketches illustrate each scene. It’s a good opportunity to
see what will work before you shoot it.
An overview should include: the
chronology of shots as they will appear in
the video; approximate timing for each
shot; and information about accompanying audio, graphics and titles for each
Next, prepare a shot sheet. Make sure it
includes every shot listed in your script
or overview. Get several shots of each
item on the list.
“You need a variety of shots,” says
Kevin Corcoran, vice president of Pacific
Media Center in Santa Clara, California.
“In a basketball game, for example, you
get shots of the crowd, shots of the scoreboard, shots of the referee, shots of the
environment. In action that’s typically
long and drawn out, you need to consolidate information. You need to have
images to cut to in order to make it look
Even in scripted productions, Corcoran
recommends getting a variety of shots.
“I always try to get a wide shot and a
head and shoulders shot for each block of
text,” says Corcoran. “Who knows what
you’ll find when you go into an edit?
There may be something that bothers you
with continuity in the background of a
wide shot. Now you have a place to go.”
While Joe Hutshing had massive
amounts of material to edit for JFK,
Corcoran says the more common problem
is too little material.
“Often there are large sections to be
removed and no smooth way to cut,” says
Corcoran. “This is especially true when
you’re editing on a two-machine, cutsonly system. Ideally, you will have some
other framing, another angle, a reaction
or some other activity happening in the
environment. If it’s a person at a podium
talking, you need an audience reaction
shot or two or three. You must have cutaways to consolidate a half-hour speech
without jump cuts.”
You also invariably end up with footage
you can’t use, often due to the unexpected
appearance of objects on tape that you
never noticed during the shoot. Once,
when editing the “dream house” segment
of a TV program, I discovered a power
supply right in the middle of the kitchen
floor. Nobody saw it in the field and every
sweeping pan—all wide shots—included
the ugly box. Other than featuring a
dream house with no kitchen, we had no
option but to use the embarrassing piece
of footage.
“There will always be things in shots
you don’t see when you’re shooting,”
Corcoran says. “Things reflected in mirrors or windows, things in dark areas of
the picture. It’s important to change your
framing to avoid having problems like
this in the edit.”
If you will edit your video to music,
select the music in advance and time
zooms and pans accordingly. If this isn’t
possible, shoot a slow, medium and fast
version of each camera move. In general,
shots should be five to 15 seconds in
length. Know the pacing and shoot
You’ll enjoy a lot more options in your
edit sessions if you aren’t desperately
“fixing it in post.” Taking the appropriate
technical precautions saves you from
having to scrap otherwise good footage
due to lighting, audio or other technical
“In an event, things will only go
wrong,” Corcoran warns. “In weddings,
for example, the light is nearly always
bad. A camera light is essential, especially
if you don’t have gain control. And you’ll
need a lot of batteries for that light.”
Good lighting greatly enhances the
quality of your videos; invest in a lighting
seminar if you need more information. As
a rule, the brightest spot in your picture
should be no more than 20 to 30 times
brighter than the darkest spot or you’ll be
editing silhouettes.
You’ll have trouble in your edit if you
don’t white balance several times during an
event. This is particularly true during weddings, which may move from bright sunlight, to a dimly lit church, to fluorescent
The Art of the Edit
lights in a reception hall. If you don’t white
balance, the shots won’t match—you may
end up dissolving from a well-lit scene of
groomsmen decorating the getaway car to a
blue, blue reception.
Production Pains
Production can be exhausting, with long
days of hard physical labor, but it’s vital
to stay alert.
On a particularly grueling corporate
production a few years ago, a camera
operator, who was also monitoring audio,
removed his headset during a break and
forgot to put it back on. Our talent, the
president of the corporation, removed his
lavaliere microphone to stretch, and sat
down on it for the remainder of the production. Try to fix that in post.
Mikes can fall down, batteries can die, a
cable can go bad. Without headphones,
you may not know until it’s too late.
“If you know from your headphones
there’s no hope for that microphone,”
Corcoran says, “You can unplug it and let
the camera mike try. It’s going to be better
than what you’ll get otherwise. Nothing
can kill a production faster than bad audio.
Wear your headphones all the time.”
For most productions, steady images
make the most sense. Always use a tripod.
Hand-held looks, well, hand-held. There’s
a trend right now to overuse this technique, but avoid the cinema verité, or
“shaky cam” look unless you’re after a
strobed look or the effect is actually motivated by something in the script.
Be sure to allow for preroll. When you
switch a camera from the stop mode to
record, it rolls back several seconds before
it achieves “speed” and begins taping.
Allow five seconds, 10 to be safe, before
cuing the talent to begin speaking or executing your shot.
Unless your edit system is very precise
(plus or minus two frames) you will have
trouble editing to the word, so make sure
that you have two seconds or more of
silence before your talent begins.
This is better than saying “action” to
cue the talent: if the narration begins too
quickly, you may end up losing two seconds of narration in edit to cut out your
cue. Instead, count “five, four, three”…
and cue talent after a silent count of two
and one.
With high-end systems, you can encounter a similar problem. If the tape is
checked and action begins too soon, you
won’t be able to back up over the break in
control track to execute the edit.
To allow time for a good transition,
instruct your talent to fix a gaze on the
camera for two seconds before and several
seconds after a narration. A quick, sideways glance for approval, a swallow or a
lick of the lips before or after speaking
may be difficult to edit out.
If you don’t have control over the talent’s
timing and delivery—or example, when
shooting a training session or wedding—
your cutaways and reaction shots will be
critical to mask cuts. Remember to shoot
In the Frame
Good framing and composition are vital
in achieving aesthetically pleasing video
that is cohesive and makes sense. A wellcomposed shot provides viewers with the
information needed to follow the story. It
reveals, through spatial relationships, the
comparative importance of individuals and
objects, and the effect they have upon each
other. It focuses attention on details, sometimes subtly, even subliminally. Good composition can also disturb, excite and/or
heighten tension if the script calls for it.
You can’t fix poor framing and composition in post. A lack of head room will
make your subject seem suspended from
the top of the TV monitor. Framing a shot to
cut at the subject’s ankles, chin, hands or
hem line is an uncomfortable look that
doesn’t allow “closure,” a process in which
the mind fills in the missing elements.
Remember the rule of thirds: place
important elements in the top or bottom
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
third of the screen. In a closeup, place the
eyes at the one-third baseline. In an
extreme closeup, the eyes are at baseline
of the top third, the mouth is at the baseline of the bottom third, and, through closure, the chin and forehead are filled in.
Distracting or inappropriate backgrounds are nearly impossible to work
around so pay attention to every detail
when you shoot. In one production, a
children’s singing group performed a
number in front of a blackboard. In the
edit, I noticed one little girl standing
directly in front of a large letter “M”—
creating the look of two perfect, pointed
ears. Again, saved by the B-roll.
Sometimes even balanced and thoughtfully composed shots don’t cut together
well. For example: if you’re editing an
interview or dialogue, cutting between
head shots of the interviewer and guest,
you need the heads angled slightly toward
each other (to imply the interaction of the
two) and off center, leaving “look space”
or “nose room.” Without look space, your
interviewer will appear to address the
edge of the TV screen. Centered, we have
no sense of the spatial relationship of the
two. They could be sitting back to back.
Similarly, maintain “lead room” for your
subject to walk, run, bike or drive into.
Walk the Line
One production basic that can cause
major consternation in the edit suite is
“crossing the line.”
Let’s say you’re shooting a parade passing in front of you, from left to right. A
politician waves from a passing float, her
back to you. You dash across the street
and resume shooting, getting a great shot
of her smiling face. When you go to edit,
however, you’ll find that you crossed the
line: half of your parade marches left to
right and the other half marches right to
left. Cutting together footage from both
sides of the line will create a bizarre montage where bands and floats and motorcades seem to run into one another.
Respecting the line is especially important in shots that track movement or where
geography, such as movement toward
a goal post, is critical to the viewer’s understanding of the action.
Camera angles also play a role in the
viewer’s ability to interpret and believe the
action. Let’s say you want to show a child
trying to coax a kitten from a tree. First we
see the child looking up. We cut to the kitten cowering on a branch. We cut back to
the child. The scene gains impact with
the right camera angles. We see the child,
framed left, looking up. Cut to a reverse
angle shot looking down at the child, over
the cat’s shoulder, with the cat framed
right. The camera angle duplicates the cat’s
line of vision. Cut to a low angle shot of the
cat from the child’s point of view. The
edited sequence is fluid and believable.
There are two kinds of continuity you
should monitor for successful editing.
First: continuity of the environment. A
made-for-TV movie has a scene in which
a man speaks to his doctor. He wears a
shirt with the collar turned up. Cut to the
doctor. Cut back to the man, and his collar
is flat. Cut to a two-shot and the collar
turns up again. Productions on all levels
are full of goofs like this one. To avoid
adding blooper footage of your own, pay
close attention to detail both in production and in the edit.
For the best possible editing situation,
you also need to watch continuity of
action. If your talent can give you numerous takes with identical blocking, you’ll
have lots of editing options. Cuts-only editing is at its best when you can achieve a
multicam look by cutting to different framing on action. Look for the apex of the
action—the full extension of the arm, the
widest part of the yawn, the clink of glasses
in a toast—and use that apex as the marker
to cut to a new angle of the same action.
Motivate It
Transitions should occur only when motivated by something in the story.
The Art of the Edit
A cut is the instantaneous switch from
one shot to another. The most common
transition device, it duplicates the way
we see. (Just try panning or zooming with
your eyes.)
A dissolve is the gradual replacement of
one image by another. Use it to show a
passage of time or create a mood.
A wipe is a special effect of one image
pushing the other image off screen. With
digital technology, the options are nearly
endless. A wipe can erase, burn, fold, kick
or flush the first image from the screen.
Wipes signify the end of a segment and
the complete transition to a new time,
place or concept.
A fade is the gradual replacement of an
image with black or vice versa, used primarily to begin or end a program or video
Creative editing, using a variety of transitions, is still possible on a cuts-only system. If you can’t fade in or dissolve, begin
your shot out of focus and gradually make
the image clear. A very fast pan—15 frames
or so of light, color and motion flying
across the screen—is almost as effective as
a dissolve. Allowing your subject to exit
the shot ends a scene with the finality of a
wipe. Cutting to a static shot, such as a
close-up of a flower, a sign or a building,
defines and separates scenes.
For greater insight, learn from the pros.
Rent a well-done video and create an
overview and shot sheet.
There are also seminars and many
excellent books available on framing,
composition and technique. For an indepth study of media aesthetics, look
for Herbert Zettl’s Sight, Sound and
Motion. Of course, editing is a practical
as well as an aesthetic skill. On to the
Editing Systems
Practically speaking, editing is simply
copying selected video from the source
tape to the edit master or record tape. A
wide variety of systems and methods are
Single-Source Editing. You can perform single-source editing from your camcorder to your VCR. Your owner’s manual
will include complete directions; basically, you control the edit by pressing
PLAY on your source deck (camera) and
RECORD on the record deck (your VCR),
pausing and releasing as you go. The transitions are cuts only.
This type of editing becomes frustrating quickly. As the editor you must locate
edit points, manually set preroll, start the
machines at the same time and react at
precisely the right moment to control the
edit. Frame accuracy is usually a problem. If you hit RECORD too soon, you suffer video noise between edits. Too late,
and you lose frames on the edit master.
Expanded Single-Source Systems. The
first investment single-source editors usually make is an edit controller. Most edit
controllers allow you to shuttle to locate
scenes, to mark in and out points, to read
and display frame numbers either from a
pulse-count or time code system such as
These editors perform the preroll function automatically and start the machines
together. Many systems give you: 1) the
option of insert or assemble edit, 2) the
ability to “trim” add or subtract a few
frames without resetting in and out points
and 3) the ability to preview your edit.
Some perform audio or video only edits
and interface with a computer to store an
Edit Decision List (EDL).
You can also expand single-source edit
systems with an audio mixer, a switcher
and character generator.
Multiple-Source Systems. These give
editors the capability of A/B Roll Editing.
The typical system consists of two or
more source VCRs (A and B), which supply material to the video switcher or computerized editing control unit. There, the
material is edited, combined with effects
and sent to the record VCR. Audio from
the source decks is also mixed and sent to
the record VCR.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Multiple-source systems allow an editor
to connect two moving video sources with
dissolves, wipes and other transitions.
In nonlinear systems, every frame is
stored in digital form and is instantly
available to the editor. Once you’ve designated an edit and transition on the computerized EDL or storyboard, the computer
executes the edit instantly. You can grab a
scene from anywhere in your source
footage without waiting for a tape to cue.
Experimentation becomes effortless.
As you move up to the more complex
systems, do your homework. Read product reviews before you make the investment. Find out what peripherals you need
for basic operations and efficient editing.
Investigate the availability of classes
and users groups in your area. Is there a
local production facility that rents a suite
featuring the same system? You may need
a back-up plan if your system goes down
and you’re facing a deadline.
Advanced Editing Systems. These systems feature Digital Video Effects (DVE),
better compression, exciting animation,
special effects, pro titles and more. They
are revolutionizing editing, providing
greater options, accuracy and speed.
The ramping of capabilities means a
ramping of complexity; you’ll need education and practice to get up to speed. The
systems are relatively expensive and the
technology is constantly changing. It isn’t
easy to know when to make the investment. Some videographers complain that
editing functions have not been designed
with editors in mind; they’re waiting for
upgrades to correct this. Others have found
systems that meet their needs well, and are
using them to produce amazing programs.
Again, do your homework. If you can,
rent a suite and actually do an edit on a
given system before you buy.
The Final Cut
It’s pay off time. You planned ahead, you
paid attention during production, and
now you can relax.
Why? Because editing is going to be
great fun. Enjoy.
Title Talk
Bill Harrington
You’ve created the perfect video, great
lighting, clean audio and beautiful editing. But be careful. All your hard work
can be overshadowed if you are not careful with your titles. Titles, also called CGs
(short for character generator), are the
words you see on the screen. But adding
titles is more than typing words onto your
video. Good titles look balanced on screen
and add to the message. Bad titles are like
an out of tune instrument—they make the
whole orchestra sound bad.
When it comes to making great titles,
there are a few rules to follow. Just like
making good video, it takes a certain
amount of planning, knowledge and a lot
of experimentation. An eye for composition doesn’t hurt either. Here are some
basic concepts you can use to enhance
your titles.
Location! Location! Location!
Watch network television tonight and see
if there is logo in the bottom corner of the
screen. It’s not there by accident. The big
guys understand that when it comes to
the video screen, every pixel is a precious
piece of real estate. In real estate, location
is everything. We read from left to right,
top to bottom. The bottom right corner of
the screen is the last thing you will read.
That logo stays imprinted on the mind,
and when the friendly folks at Nielson ask
you what station you watched, you can
remember quite easily.
You can use that same knowledge to
your advantage when you build your
titles. The corners of the screen are the
most powerful place for small informational graphics like logos or names. They
also work well because titles placed there
are less likely to interfere with the action
in your video.
If you want to make a major statement,
then place a title in the center of the
screen, demanding your audience to take
notice. This is where you would typically
find the title of a program. Placed in the
center of the screen, the title becomes the
most important thing on the screen. More
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
My Big Movie
Safe Title
My Big Movie
Figure 52.1 Safety first—remember to observe the safe area whenever you’re creating
important than even the video that plays
beneath it.
Play it Safe
There are some places that you really cannot put titles, though. Most CG software
now has a safe title reference built in (see
Figure 52.1). These lines represent recommended limits to where you place your
titles within the viewing area. Any titles
outside of the safe title zone risk being
unreadable due to the cropping and curvature of the TV screen. Keeping your
titles within a safe title area is not an
absolute, but you reduce the effectiveness
of your titles if they are outside of the safe
title zone.
Lastly, the text on the screen has to
work with everything else the audience is
seeing. Your subject’s name won’t look
good superimposed over his face. It has to
balance with the video you’re using. If
you interview a vet about his WWII memories and he’s on camera left, try putting
the title on the right to balance the overall
The Font is the Message
Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how
you say it. This applies to the fonts you
use for your titles. Graphic designers can
spend years learning about font theory,
but you don’t need a master’s degree to
understand that the font—the actual shape
of the letters—sends a message to the
viewer. Does the text look like ancient
Greek writing or is it more futuristic?
There are thousands of fonts available,
and the font you choose will have a direct
impact on the final product.
Let’s say you videotaped a local Christmas
pageant and want to add a graphic as an
introduction. A font that has a cowboy feel
wouldn’t make any sense. Unless the name
of the pageant was Christmas on the Prairie,
such a font would just confuse the viewer.
A Christmas pageant screams for something with a holiday feel. Scripted letters
would look nice and would convey the
holiday spirit more effectively.
Look to the video itself for clues as
to what font to use. The font you use
should tie into the theme of the video
(see Figure 52.2). Don’t overwhelm your
Title Talk
not. That would be more appropriate for a
Halloween project. Christmas colors—
like reds, greens and whites—would work
Adding color can be a tricky task. Video
tends to have problems with certain colors,
particularly shades of red. The concentration of chroma/color tends to bleed across
the screen. If you must use red, try adding
a thick black outline to contain the bleeding. Remember, colors will look brighten
on TV then they do on your computer.
Make your reds and greens slightly darker
than you’d like them to appear on tape.
Many titling software applications have a
“safe color” mode that will warn you
against using a color that will over-saturate
the video. Yellow tends to be the easiest
color to read (next to white) and is often
used for video titles.
What Did That Say?
Figure 52.2
audience with a lot of different fonts
either. Stick to just one or two. If you need
two separate lines of text to stand out
from each other, try making one line bold
or italicized rather than changing the font.
Now We’re Styling
The style of a title is the sum of all the
specific attributes that give it a particular
look. The font plays a crucial role, but so
does the color, edge, shadow and framing
of the text. These characteristics, or the
lack of them, also contribute to the message
you are sending. For example, lighter colors tend to be easier to read and seem happier, while darker colors can add a more
urgent or even ominous tone to the title.
Color is a great tool to reinforce the
theme of the project. Let’s go back to the
Christmas pageant title. Should you use
black and orange for your text? Of course
After learning all of the different ways to
present your title, you still need to ask the
most important question, what will your
title say? First, determine if you need
graphics at all. Your titles should be limited to only those that advance the story
in some way. Video artists often use titles
extensively to add a poetic layer to their
work, however graphics with no real purpose tend to irritate the viewer more than
anything else.
How long should a title stay on the
screen? Rule of thumb says that a title
should stay up long enough for the viewer
to read it aloud three times. Any shorter is
too short. Any longer and your viewers
may become distracted by the presence of
the title. Obviously, the longer the title the
longer it must remain on the screen. A
person’s name may remain on the screen
for as little as two or three seconds, a
graphic spelling out a five-sentence quote
may need to stay on the screen for thirty
seconds or more. Of course, there are
exceptions to every rule. If you have the
quote read by a narrator, you can take it
out after he has read it through just once.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Putting it all Together
Great titles don’t just happen, they take
knowledge, planning and a lot of experimentation. Like good video, the better you
plan your project the better off you are in
editing. Titles are no exception. Remember,
your titles are written in video, not in
stone. When you’re building your titles,
look at them critically. Do they make sense
visually? Is your spelling correct? Do they
add to the message? Don’t hesitate to
experiment with your titles. Try something different. If you go too far and the
visuals just don’t work, you can always
change them before going to tape.
When it all comes together well, the titles
compliment the video and vice versa. This
seamless integration of titles and video can
make a word worth a thousand pictures.
Sidebar 1
Glossary of common titling terms
Font: The shape and style of the letters. There are thousands of fonts available; each unique
font can send a different message.
Border: The border of your font is the edge surrounding the letters. Changing the size or color
of the border can have a dramatic impact.
Shadow: Separate from border, the shadow can either attach to the letters or not. Shadows
can be solid or have a degree of transparency.
Justification: Where the words are in relation to the screen: left, center or right.
Kerning: The spacing between the letters of a word. Some fonts are not consistent with their
spacing and may need some manual kerning.
Leading: The spacing between lines of text.
Safe Title Area: The area of a video screen where titles are easily read and without distortion:
roughly the inner 60% of the screen.
Sidebar 2
Shadows & Outlines
Whether or not your text has a soft drop shadow or a hard outlined edge can add a subtle difference. Soft shadows and outlines communicate a softer message, while hard edges often
imply boldness or urgency.
Sidebar 3
TV is the Key
Want to make better titles? Watch more TV! Study the titles that you see on television, note
the colors, fonts and styles that are used and try to copy them when you build your own
Adventures in
Sound Editing:
Or How Audio Post-Production
Can Make Your Videos Sound
Larger Than Life
Armand Ensanian
See video clips at
Imagine the tape you made of your kids’
last campout. It’s got some crickets on the
sound track. At night, didn’t those crickets seem to chirp louder as campers grew
quieter and the sky grew darker?
When Bobby started telling Billie Jo the
story of the cricket that ate sisters, didn’t
those chirpings seem even louder to her?
With some equalization, reverb and creative mixing of your original sound track,
you could let your viewers hear those monster crickets the way Billie Jo heard them.
Sound editing can turn commonplace
video events into adventures that seem
larger than life. With some simple electronic equipment—some of which you
may already have on your stereo system—
you can polish up any raw sound track.
Here’s how.
Know your Sound
To make good video, you need to understand light; likewise, to make good audio,
you will need to understand sound.
Webster defines sound as “mechanical
vibrations traveling through the air or
other elastic medium.” How many times
these vibrations occur in a second is the
frequency of the sound. A tuning fork
vibrating back and forth 1,000 times per
second generates sound with a frequency
of 1,000 cycles per second or Hertz (Hz). If
it vibrated 200 times per second, we’d hear
a frequency of 200 Hz.
Variations and combinations of frequencies account for all the sounds we
hear. At best, the human ear can recognize
frequencies between 32 and 22,000 Hz.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
We can perceive frequencies below 32 Hz,
but as vibration, not sound. This range
deteriorates with age or abuse. It is not
uncommon for senior adults to top out at
9,000 Hz, while losing all low-frequency
sounds below about 150 Hz.
People with ear damage will adjust sound
to match their deficiency. For example, a
sound engineer at a rock club may set up
the PA to produce ear piercing highs to
compensate for such a loss of his high frequency sensitivity. So if you plan to use
the services of a studio, make sure your
sound engineer can hear.
The interaction of two or more frequencies creates a third sound called harmonic.
Harmonics, also known as overtones, give
sound its life, allowing the human ear to
distinguish one voice from another. Poor
recordings reduce or eliminate harmonics,
turning sound into an unintelligible mess.
Good recordings recognize the harmonics of a sound track, and enhance them—
with the help of some snazzy audio
post-production devices.
microphone signals and high-level line
inputs, such as those arriving from VCRs,
cassettes or CD players. Output will be
mono or stereo, depending on your VCR.
Mixers have sliders, or faders, that control volume for each channel. A master
fader controls overall volume. Mixers will
also feature all or some of the following:
attenuation, equalization, cue sends, pan
pots, solo switch, monitor control, Volume
Unit (VU) meters or Liquid Element
Displays (LEDs) and echo/reverb.
Attenuation cuts down high input signals to prevent overloading.
Equalizers allow precise tone adjustment of selected frequency ranges.
Cue sends can send the signal to the
video tape, headphone or monitor speaker.
Pan pots control the spatial position
between right and left stereo channels.
The solo switch “listens” in on any
individual channel without interfering
with the recording process.
Monitor controls adjust headphone or
speaker volume. We’ll look at echo and
reverb later.
The Mixer
The Equalizer
The single most important tool for audio
production is the mixer.
A mixer’s number of input channels
determines how many different signals—
read sounds—you can work with simultaneously. You need at least two for mono
recordings and four for stereo. More inputs
allow you to control more sound sources.
Remember that the tape speed and
audio recording format will determine the
frequency response of the recording
medium. A VHS tape recorded on the linear track at EP speed may yield a frequency response no higher than 7,000 Hz.
So stick with hi-fi audio if possible.
The first step is to hook up the right
cables to the proper inputs and outputs.
Do not scrimp on cables, because bad connections can create a lot of buzz and
noise. A good mixing console will allow
an input signal to be either mike or line
level. This compensates for low-level
An equalizer (EQ) is the most common
piece of signal processing equipment. It
allows you to divide the entire (human)
32–22,000 Hz audio spectrum into separate bands you can adjust independently.
With an EQ, you can raise or lower the
levels of these bands to change the tonal
characteristics of a sound, reduce noise
and even create certain audio effects.
Many mixers have a simple EQ built-in,
allowing you to adjust high and low frequencies independently. This is fine for
broad tonal changes, but for more control,
you’ll need a graphic equalizer. Though a
handful of mixers offer this level of tonal
control, most graphic EQs are external
Whereas simple EQs use knobs—one for
treble, one for bass—graphic equalizers
have vertical sliders that show the amount
of correction you applied to each band of
Adventures in Sound Editing
frequencies. Thus you can tell, at a glance,
what the graphic EQ is doing to the audible spectrum. Hence the term graphic.
Think of the graphic EQ as a vastly
expanded bass/treble dial. The more sliders, the greater the selective control.
Say you have some music on your
soundtrack that sounds flat and unexciting. Try boosting the 100 Hz and 10,000Hz
sliders, while lowering the 1,000 Hz to
500 Hz sliders. The graphic pattern on the
equalizer will look like a suspension
bridge—what you’ll hear is rock concert
If you’re working with classical music,
you may need to elevate the middle frequencies to bring out specific instruments. And Aunt Trudy’s squeaky voice
may require you to slide down the high
and upper midrange frequencies.
Hooking up a stand-alone EQ is easy—
simply connect it between the source output and mixer input. Or, if you want to
alter your whole sound mix, place the EQ
between your mixer and record deck.
and virtually inaudible the next. The difference between these very loud and soft
sounds is the dynamic range.
Changes in dynamics, at least within
reason are good. It’s the dynamic range of
a recording or vocalist that coveys realism
and power. Streisand’s vocal style is
dynamic, my grandmother’s isn’t.
But when recording sounds, too much
dynamic range can be a problem.
Thankfully, there’s help available from a
nifty device called a limiter. A limiter
reduces instant signal peaks, such as a
loud scream or feedback from an electric
guitar. A limiter allows you to set a maximum signal level; the unit holds all sound
under that limit.
A compressor works somewhat like a
limiter, though its effects are less dramatic. Radio stations use compressors to
maintain high signal levels without fearing distortion. The small sacrifice in realism may be worth it if you plan on taping
loud live concerts or monster truck rallies. Good production mixers have limiters built in, for controlling sounds at the
time of recording.
On the Level
In the world of audio post-production, the
strength or “level” of an audio signal is as
important as the way it sounds. We have
our ears to tell us that a sound is tonally
correct; for clean recordings we need something to tell us about the signal’s level.
VU meters and LEDs monitor the levels
so you can prevent overloading and distorting the signal. VU meters use a unique
scale calibrated in decibels (dB), which
measure actual signal strength.
VU meters boast an ascending scale of
values that start with negative numbers.
Instead of being at the bottom, zero is near
the top of the range. Why? Because zero dB
indicates a full-strength signal. This way
it’s easy to remember that if a signal strays
much above zero, distortion may result.
Sometimes, simply setting a record
level based on the VU meter isn’t enough.
Some sounds jump wildly from loud to
soft, making them distorted one second
Sound loses energy as it moves through
the air. Sound strength drops 6 dB every
time you double the distance between a
mike (or ear) and the sound source. This is
why good microphone technique includes
moving the mike close to the sound source
during live shooting or narration dubbing.
Sound waves bound off walls and hard
objects. Echoes are bouncing waves that
follow more than 1/20 second after the
original sound; reverb is repeated reflecting waves that sound almost continuous.
Post-production electronics can simulate both these effects. Echo and reverb
units can run the gamut from simple tape
loops, playing back what you record immediately, to sophisticated digital reverbs simulating rooms of all shapes and sizes.
Reverb units bring fullness to sound.
With a reverb you can make a three-piece
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
band playing in the basement sound like a
major concert hall event. Reverb emulates
the sound of a big hall. But watch out—
too much reverb will make things muddy.
Reverb also adds authority to a narrator’s voice. Rock and roll’s ultimate DJ,
Cousin Brucie, uses a lot of reverb.
Reverb, particularly when applied to
drums, can make a band sound bigger
than life on tape. Now you know how
rock bands maintain the ambiance of the
concert hall on recorded media.
Once it’s on tape, you can’t eliminate
reverb easily from a recording. That’s why
recording engineers add it later for maximum control. Use sound-absorbing dampeners—rugs, blankets, egg cartons—in
small studios whenever recording to capture a clean dry sound. Then employ electronics in post-production to simulate
real room resonance.
Digital delays are similar to reverbs.
They electronically delay the input signal
for a selected amount of time. You can
produce echoes of extremely short duration. Use digital delays to double a vocal,
and you can make it sound as though two
people are singing together. And, if you
take one output channel from the delay
and run it through an EQ, you may even
make it sound like two different people.
The possibilities are infinite.
Phase shifters delay the incoming signal slightly, causing the delayed signal to
partially cancel the original. This causes
whooshing sound effects—good for planes,
trains and other speedy objects.
Going for the Take
Okay, you’ve got your mixer and your
equalizer. Now you must decide which
sounds you need for the mixing session.
Much pre-recorded material is available, but you may want to experience the
thrill of creating you own sound effects
(SFX) like they did in the old radio
shows. Crumpled cellophane, for example, makes good rain or eggs frying. But
keep in mind you only have two hands to
work with and will need them for the
mixing board. If you can, have an assistant with you during a mix.
Say you’re audio mixing a wedding
tape. You can “sweeten” up all your location audio through use of both technique
and equipment. You may need to clean up
and equalize the live audio vocals a bit.
You’ll also want to work on the sound
from your outdoor segments—selectively
equalizing background noises or reduce
them manually during spoken passages.
That waterfall, for example, near the wedding party blocked out some of the vocal
interaction. An EQ can help, as well as a
touch of reverb on the vocalists’ voices.
When possible, record musical interludes preceding the ceremony—such as a
soloist’s number—on cassette rather than
relying on a room mike during the shoot
itself. If the bride doesn’t object, the artist
may have a professionally recorded tape of
the same material you can use to replace
the live track. After all, we are not focusing
our attention on the soloist unless there are
a lot of close-ups requiring lip sync.
In almost any kind of production, consider using background or “wallpaper”
music track for continuity. It will fill in
those silent gaps often associated with live
footage. One cheap trick; try an inexpensive keyboard with built-in rhythm sounds
as background. Use the individual slider on
the mixer to boost the volume of the background gently during these silent periods.
If you’re relying on pre-recorded music,
find selections that don’t clash with the
theme of your video. For a wedding, don’t
use anything overly aggressive or dynamic;
instrumentals are a safe bet. You may wish
to sprinkle in some sound effects like ambience or laughter. Stock music of applause
and laughter may follow special introductions at the reception.
By now you will have run out of hands.
Starting the CD player just in time while
cross fading from the live track to an overdub makes this a job for an octopus. Pro
studios use computer sequencers and
remote controls to help. It is best to try a
few dry runs before actually recording
Adventures in Sound Editing
onto the final tape. While practicing, send
the mixer output to a cassette recorder so
that you can listen later. It is very difficult
to be objective while working the mixer.
With most projects, you’ll find it challenging at best to audio edit the entire
length in one pass. Use cuts and scene
breaks in the video for audio transitions
and segues. Have an assistant keep records
of tape count and time passed as editing
cues. Have them act as audio directors,
coaching you through the moves.
Complicated editing may require sound
recording the output to a tape recording
before laying it on the videotape. A minimum of two output channels will be sent
to corresponding tracks on a tape recorder.
You may use the individual left and right
channels of a stereo cassette recorder for
two-track mono recording. This is ideal for
adding narratives that may require numerous takes. You can then mix the two-track
master directly onto the video. You’ll have
control over each individual channel.
Successive generations do add noise,
but what a small price to pay for such
flexibility. You can also add noise suppression or filters for the final mix-down.
Four, eight, twelve, sixteen and twentyfour track audio recorders are available at
recording studios for complicated mixes
of numerous audio elements.
It takes a lot of practice to learn proper
audio mixing technique. Even a small
video switcher/audio mixer demands
a lot of attention. The results, however,
are light-years ahead of what you produce
In The Audible Mood:
Sound Effects and Music,
Evocative, Legal and
Armand Ensanian
Imagine Popeye without toot toot, Casablanca without As Time Goes By, Jaws
without bum BUM bum BUM bum BUM.
The soundtrack is the very lifeblood
of a video, setting the mood and enlivening
each scene of your work.
The trick is to find the right set of
sounds to accompany your video. The
options are many, from creating sound
effects yourself—a la old-time radio—to
buying mood music from a music library.
In this chapter, we’ll explore these
options, and discuss the legal and financial ramifications of your choices.
The Copyright Challenge
The availability and affordability of a simple special effects generator (SEG) with
built-in audio mixing has prompted many
videographers to try adding music to video
during editing.
It’s harmless fun, attaching a favorite
song to a tender moment between mother
and child, a hot rock tune to fast-paced
footage at the track or some Benny
Goodman to Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th
anniversary party tape. After all, you’re
not planning to make thousands of copies
for distribution. What are the chances that
the composer, publisher or lyricist of the
songs will ever see this tape, anyway?
Slim at best; no one’s going to bust you for
borrowing a tune or two for personal use.
The trouble begins when you turn pro
or even semi-pro.
Every serious videographer will eventually land a real-world assignment: a wedding video, local commercial or contest
entry video. Whatever the application,
you cannot use someone else’s work without permission in any video offered for
sale, profit and/or distribution. Music is
like photography, sculpture or any art you
can hold in your hands. Yet the fact that
you can’t hold it in your hands makes
music ripe for theft by otherwise lawabiding citizens.
You needn’t stoop to theft. You can buy
great sound effects and music for your
videos from a number of sources. The first
In The Audible Mood
is the most expensive. It involves buying
the rights, for one-time use, of a pop song
performed by a noted artist.
Your clients will request this sort of
thing often. After all, most clients can
only relate to what they know and hear on
the radio. You’ll have to explain that you
simply can’t use the pop song without
getting permission from the artist’s representatives first.
This means the artist’s publisher or
licensing agency, such as the American
Society of Composers, Authors and
Publishers (ASCAP). You’ve seen the
name on almost every record, cassette
tape or CD you own. ASCAP operates like
a big collection agency, collecting fees for
the use of their artists’ material. It’s a fair
system that keeps artists from getting
ripped off—but it’s an expensive one for
The price you pay for one-time use
rights of a pop song depends on how you
distribute the tape. Radio stations, TV stations and local bars with a jukebox pay
agencies like ASCAP a blanket fee.
This fee may range from thousands of
dollars for a radio station to a few hundred dollars a year for that jukebox. (For
more info, call ASCAP in New York
Unless you expect your video to make a
big profit, paying for rights to use a hit
tune may be unwise. There are cheaper
ways to go.
One way is to create your own music. If
you’ve the talent and the time, this is a
worthwhile option. You can use your
desktop video equipment to make music;
MIDI interfaces to Macs and PCs provide
the musically inclined with unlimited
creative potential.
Software and sound cards can produce
digital sound that rivals the best CDs.
Some even come with hundreds of digital
sound samples, ranging from pianos to
Despite all this automation, you’ll still
need to have a musical ear, something
that’s not included. If you don’t have
an ear for music, find local musicians to
participate in your production. They’ll
have both the equipment and the ear you
need. You’ll find, however, that the more
people involved, the longer the process.
Just make sure all parties sign an agreement transferring the rights to use the
material over to you. Handshake deals
don’t carry the weight they once did.
The simplest solution, and perhaps the
best bang for the buck, is to buy the music
from a music library. The quality of the
material will be as good as or better than
you’d expect. You have heard music library
soundtracks all your life. Commercials,
opening scenes to sport events, TV news
shows and presentation videos all use
music made to augment video productions. In fact, most of the music is so
much like what you hear on the radio that
it’s often easy to persuade clients to use
music library tracks. Moreover, much of
what’s available was written and composed by award-winning musicians; the
quality is first rate.
You’d be surprised at how well music
libraries categorize music . . . broadcast
promotional, broadcast show theme, corporate imaging, corporate icon build, credit
roll, documentary, events such as weddings birthdays and anniversaries, industrial presentations, news and information,
movie soundtrack, retail presentation,
retail promotional, sound-alike, sports/
action and underscore—to name a few.
All of us have a good sense of what
these many categories sound like. Just
watch some TV or look at a promo tape at
the local travel agency. Still unsure?
Music libraries will gladly send you a
tape or disk of material for approval for a
specific tune; some even offer sample CDs.
There are many ways to buy music from
music libraries. The traditional method
charges per needle drop. This means
you pay only for a specific selection of
music used from their records, tapes or
CDs. The term comes from the days of the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
phonograph, but applies to tapes and CDs
as well. Most large music libraries will
help you find exactly what you need.
Computer databases allow quick searches
from tens of thousands of titles.
The dollars add up quickly here, but
you may obtain a very distinct tune, for a
one-time production, that’s not available
from any other source. This is ideal for
videographers who don’t produce a lot of
videos, but who need a unique style of
music when they do.
Music library charges for needle drops
depend mostly on the extent of use. For
example, the charge for broadcasting the
same music on the same video will vary,
depending on whether it’s broadcast in
Smalltown, USA or Metropolis. Determined by the number of viewers, needledrop fees may range from $150 for a
network TV broadcast opening title to
only $50 for a local TV program. The only
other cost: $20 for leasing the CD that contains the material. You make your choice
from the CD, report the piece of music
you will use and pay for it.
There are other methods of dealing with
music libraries. You may buy a production-blanket where you pay only for the
music for a given production. Typically
you select a CD with a variety of musical
themes from a library, and use as much of
it as you wish, provided you restrict that
use to that production. Costs depend on
the size of the project and distribution,
but average in the hundreds of dollars.
Annual-blanket fees allow you to buy
licensing rights to a group of CDs for
unlimited use during a given year. Popular with high-volume videographers, radio
and TV stations, fees from reputable large
firms are around $1,000 for a group of over
a dozen or two different theme CDs for the
year. You can also sign multi-year contracts
with CD upgrades.
The best value: a buy-out library. Here
you pay a one-time price for a CD, or set of
CDs, that contains the music you need.
You may use the CD as often as you wish,
for as long as you live. You can better
appreciate this deal when you know that
you can purchase buy-out libraries for as
little as $5 per sample tape from small
independent producers advertising in the
back of magazines.
But cheap can also mean poor quality.
Listen to sample disks and tapes before
you buy.
Sound Subscription
You may want to subscribe to a library
service. Here you receive a CD every
month or two, and have the option to
keep it for a one-time fee. Beware, though:
you may soon find yourself way overstocked, and stuck with soundtracks
you’ll never use.
It’s like that videotape collection you
started a few years back; despite the variety you always seem to stick with a few
favorites. A variation on the subscription
theme: lease the entire contents of a
music library for a term, such as a year,
and receive new CDs every month or two
to add to that library.
One last note of caution: music libraries
are licensed to individuals or production
companies. Borrowing a library CD from a
friend, and then putting your name on the
finished product is a direct violation of
Stay honest. It’ll pay off in the long run.
Dig ’m Out, Dust ’Em Off
Jim Stinson
Sooner or later, you’ll come upon that
drawer awash in color print packets, that
carton bulging with slide boxes, that crate
stuffed with round rolls of movie film and
you will feel regret and a sort of mild
guilt. All those precious records. All that
effort and money. And you never look at
Why? Because there has never been a
quick, convenient way to do so. Sure, you
can arrange prints in albums, but for
slides or movies you have to haul out the
projector, wrestle with the screen, load
the trays or thread the film and round up
a patient if unenthusiastic audience.
So you don’t, and there your family pictures sit, year in and year out, in mute but
eloquent reproach.
But now that you have a camcorder,
you have a way to turn your photographic
archives into video programs that are as
exciting as they are easy to show. You can
transfer your movies, slides and prints to
tape. And in doing this you can enjoy the
fun and satisfaction that truly creative
work delivers, because you aren’t just
copying materials, you’re transforming
them into video programs.
So this chapter offers a bundle of tips to
help you copy photo materials to video.
We’ll start with suggestions that apply to
all video copying, whether the source
material is movies, slides or prints. Then
we’ll cover transferring movies and slides.
The chapter that follows this one concludes with a look at the challenge of
videotaping photographic prints and
other artwork.
General Tips
Here, then, are tips that apply to all types
of video copying.
Copying with a Monitor. First, always
use an external monitor to set up and
check your work. It will give you a far
more accurate image than you can obtain
from any camcorder viewfinder, and in
copying it’s essential that you frame your
originals precisely. You can run a cable
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
from most camcorders to a monitor
through composite or S-video jacks.
Adjust the monitor to show color, brightness and contrast as accurately as possible.
If you can’t generate color bars and set
up your monitor on a vectorscope, use a
good quality store-bought video as a reference standard. Once you figure out how
the tape should look, you’ll be able to use
it to dial in almost any monitor.
I set up my monitors with a commercial
exercise tape. It has high video quality,
carefully lit flesh tones for many skin colors and bright but realistic colors.
Rely on your monitor as you check
and adjust focus, composition and color
Controlling Color. Color balance is critical in copying. Usually you want to match
the colors of the original, but sometimes
you need to change the original colors to
correct them or create special effects. To
help control color, make sure you set the
camera’s white balance correctly. Most
modern movie and slide projectors—as
well as the lights on pro copy stands—use
lamps with a color temperature of 3,200 K
(degrees Kelvin). That is exactly the color
temperature of your camera’s “indoor”
white balance setting, so set your camera
to indoor—or “incandescent”. If the color
balance seems off when viewed on your
well-adjusted external monitor, warm the
light or cool it with photographic color
compensation (CC) filters obtainable at
photo stores.
For more color control, run the image
through a color processor before recording it. To do this, don’t use the “corder”
part of your camcorder. Instead, just run
the video signal out of the camera section
to a color processor. From there, run the
signal to a VCR.
Then, using your camcorder as if it
were simply a camera, record the
processed image directly on the VCR.
Steady as She Goes. Since a still image
shows no movement of its own, it reveals
the least little bit of camera shake; so be
sure to set up your camcorder on a sturdy
tripod. Here’s a cheap trick if you need to
set your camcorder securely on a table or
other flat surface. Obtain a bolt threaded
to match the unit’s tripod socket and use
it to secure your camera to a simple plywood base plate. Recess the bolt into a
single piece of plywood, or put small feet
on either side of the bolt.
If your camera has a remote control, by
all means use it. You’ll find many camera
on/off buttons on the handgrip, so pressing them will no doubt jiggle the camera.
Using the record/pause button on the
remote guarantees jitter-free images. On
some camcorders, you can even control
the zoom, add titles and engage autofocus
from the remote. Perform photo transfers,
and the infrared remote becomes your
best friend.
Keeping Things Quiet. Your final program will probably have sound—narration, music or both—but when you’re
recording you don’t want to pick up projector noise or other ambient sound. To
prevent this, disable your camcorder’s
microphone by inserting a plug into the
external mike jack. The trick: use a plug
that’s not connected to anything. I find
that a mini-to-RCA converter plug works
fine with my camcorder.
On the other hand, you may wish to use
the video soundtrack as a notepad to record
data about your pictures as you transfer
them. (“That’s Aunt Florrie and the film
can says Lake Runamuck, Summer, 1956.”)
When you assemble this raw footage into
your final program, you can use these vocal
notes to help create your final narration.
These tips cover all types of copying.
Now let’s look at copying movies and
slides, beginning with some suggestions
that apply to both media.
Copying Projected Images
First of all, decide whether you want to
use conversion hardware or simply record
Dig ’Em Out, Dust ’Em Off
the projected image off a wall or screen.
You’ve seen film/slide transfer systems—
arrangements of screens and mirrors that
let you set up projector and camcorder at
right angles and videotape the projected
While these can be quite useful, they
sometimes limit your flexibility in selecting which portion of the image you want
to record. It may be better and cheaper for
you to project the original images onto a
white surface and aim your camcorder
directly at that surface. To make highquality copies with this front-projection
Make sure that projector and camcorder
are perfectly level and that their lenses
are at the same height.
Place projector and camcorder as close
together as possible, at equal angles to
the screen. This will keep the image
borders rectangular and the pictures
Use a smooth, white screen—never a
beaded movie screen. I find that the
white back of a poster printed on glossy
stock works fine. Almost any high-quality
white paper will work. Don’t be afraid
to try many types of papers—after all,
they’re cheap.
Place the screen as far away as you can,
while still getting an acceptably bright
image (use your external monitor to
check). The farther the screen from the
projector and the camera, the shallower
the angle between them—and the
smaller the chance of picture distortion.
Put it too far away, and the camcorder
may try to compensate for the dimmer
image by cranking up its gain. The
result: a grainy image.
By setting up your copy operation like this
you can make high-quality transfers and
retain better control over the images. If those
images are 8 mm or 16 mm films, you’ll need
to make a few extra adjustments.
Copying Movies
Movies are simple to copy to video because
the screen proportions of the two media are
the same: 4 to 3. Simply adjust your camcorder lens so that the projected image fills
the frame and you’re in business.
But movies are also hard to copy
because of differing projection speeds.
Your camcorder, of course, records thirty
frames (images) per second. Film, on the
other hand, runs at 24, 18 or 16 frames per
second. The trouble is, these are only
nominal speeds, and none of them
matches the 30 fps of video. As a result, an
unpleasant flickering effect often marks
video transfers.
Fortunately, most film projectors have
speed controls that you can use to vary
the actual number of frames per second.
The best way to use the speed control is
to change the film projection speed gradually while eyeballing the effect on your
monitor. When you’ve found the best setting for your video outfit, leave the projector at that speed and transfer your
You can also stop many projectors so
that they project a single frame as a still
image; you can transfer these frozen
moments to video. The problem is, once
the movie film stops in the projector gate,
it’s protected from the hot projector lamp
by a thick glass heat filter that degrades
the quality of the image. If you have a
good four-head video system you may get
better results by transferring the movies in
real time, displaying a selected frame as a
video still and then re-copying that.
A final tip: because of the magnification
required of tiny 8 mm film images, they
often show dirt, fuzz and fingerprints.
Clean movie film by pulling it gently
through a fine, lint-free cloth saturated
with film cleaner bought at a photo store
(or with carbon tetrachloride).
Never use a water-based solution; film
emulsion is industrial Jell-O and you can
guess what happens when it’s soaked
in water. Also, be sure to clean the gunk
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
out of the projector’s film gate—that’s the
pair of metal plates holding the film as it’s
Copying Slides
Whether you use rear-screen or front-screen
projection, copying slides is much like
copying movies. But copying photographic
transparencies can be trickier because their
shape does not match that of a video screen
in two crucial ways. First, slides orient vertically—portrait—as well as horizontally—
landscape. Secondly, even horizontal slides
will not fit a TV screen because the ratio of
their sides is three to two instead of four to
three (see Figure 55.1). So, in transferring
slides, you must compensate.
TV frame
Figure 55.1 Copying slides can be tricky due
to their shape.
Timing Your Slide Transfers
A slide will sit there on the screen until
you advance the projector tray, so how
long should you roll tape on each photo?
I find that between 5 and 20 seconds per
image is ample, depending on how much
there is to see. Clearly, you don’t need as
long to look over a simple road sign as
you do the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. If
you doubt that 20 seconds is longer than
anyone wants to stare at even the most
visually interesting slide; try it, you’ll see.
Pre-Programmed Slide Shows
Many dedicated slide photographers
show their programs on two or more projectors, dissolving between them with a
programmer unit controlled by pulses on
an audiocassette. The cassette also carries
a synchronized sound track.
By far the easiest way to transfer slides
to video is by creating a complete program in this manner, plugging the cassette
player audio into the camera’s line-in jack
and recording the program in real time.
Another advantage: your complete program is first generation video! The big disadvantage: you can’t compose your video
frame for each slide.
But whichever way you choose, you’ll
end up with video footage that you can edit
into a program you’ll be proud to show.
Easy Copy
Jim Stinson
Video is probably the most convenient and
effective way to display precious movies,
slides and photographic records. The preceding chapter showed you how to transfer
movies and slides to video. Now we’ll look
at the fascinating process of copying photographic prints and other forms of flat art.
To transfer flat art to video, you’ll need
a copy stand, copy lights and suitable
backgrounds on which to place your subjects. You can put these elements together
cheaply and easily.
Your Basic Copy Stand
A copy stand simply holds the camcorder,
lights, and artwork (see Figure 56.1) Stillcamera copy stands, available at better
photography stores, aren’t always suitable
for video, however. Many video lenses
won’t focus close enough at the camera-tosubject distance imposed by copy stands
intended for 35 mm cameras. You’ll often
get better results by assembling your own
video copying stand.
glass platen
Figure 56.1 A copy stand.
In building a stand, consider how to
orient it. You can use your tripod as camera mount for a horizontal stand, but
holding the artwork in place vertically
can be a nuisance (see Figure 56.2).
On the other hand, a vertical stand requires you to build a special mount for your
camcorder, since it’s usually impractical
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 56.2 A horizontal stand using a
Figure 56.4 A rig set at about 30 degrees
works well.
Figure 56.3 A vertical stand requires
you to build a special mount for your
to shoot straight down from a tripod (see
Figure 56.3).
I find it’s best to compromise. A rig set
up at about 30 degrees from horizontal
lets you use your tripod, but still prevents
photos from sliding off their backgrounds
(see Figure 56.4).
Elemental Light
Now that you have a place to shoot your
photos, you need to light them. Rig your
lights on either side of your artwork support, at 90 degrees from each other and
Figure 56.5 Lights placed at 45 degrees
off lens axis won’t reflect into the lens.
45 degrees from the artwork and camcorder. Since the angle of incidence
equals the angle of refraction (as you
recall from high school physics), lights
placed 45 degrees off the lens axis will
not reflect into the lens (see Figure 56.5).
What kinds of lights? If you copy nothing
but black and white originals, a pair of
fluorescent shop lights work great and
cost very little. You can’t use them for
color, though. They may seem to match
daylight white balance, but they really
Easy Copy
don’t and the mismatch will be visible
when you copy color prints.
For color, use halogen (quartz) lights,
whose 3,200-degree Kelvin color temperature exactly matches your camcorder’s
“indoor” or “incandescent” white-balance
setting. (Never use standard household
bulbs. Their lower color temperatures create a slight orange cast.)
For inexpensive halogen lighting, buy a
couple of clamp-on work lights and fit
them with halogen PAR floodlights.
Or modify a halogen work light -the
kind with two heads on an adjustable
floor stand- for a better and more versatile
lighting setup.
If you’re at all handy, you can modify
one of these work lights for use as an allpurpose video light. Or dismount its heads
and rig them as individual copy lights.
Simply replace their electrical cords with
plugged power cords, add a junction box to
the lamp yoke, and remove the lamps from
their yoke to use them with your copy
stand (see Figure 56.6).
If you don’t care to mess with electrical
modifications, you can buy these same
halogen heads as individual work lights
that squat on low feet.
With camcorder and lighting in place,
you need a way to support-and displayyour photos or artwork
A Little Background
For simply copying drugstore color prints,
you may not need a background for your
artwork. Instead, simply set your rig so
each print fills the frame. But to transfer
images that don’t fit the 4-to-3 video proportions, you need a background to fill the
rest of the frame around them.
For an “invisible” background, you can
place your photos on black cloth or cardboard. But this is rarely successful since
bright copy lights invariably bring out
some backing texture, resulting in tattletale gray on your screen. It’s better to back
your artwork with a dark, pleasing color
like burgundy or rich blue.
Textured backgrounds (like burlap,
monk’s cloth, or velvet) contribute even
more. The 45-degree lighting accents the
background texture, adding dimensionality to the shot. For variety, try inexpensive
dining table place mats. They come in a
wide range of colors, patterns, and textand they’re just the right size.
Perfectly flat prints and artwork are rare,
so you may need to press them against
their backing with a platen—a simple pane
of glass. Professionals use “optically flat”
glass free of imperfections, but you’ll do
well enough by checking the glass sheet for
ripples and distortions before you select it.
Be careful—glass is notoriously reflective and hard to light.
Overcoming Problems
Figure 56.6 A work light modified for
use as an all-purpose video light.
To light materials for copying, you must
cope with reflections and excess heat
from the lights.
To defeat reflections from a glass cover
or from glossy color prints, make sure to
set your lights at the recommended
45-degree angle. If that doesn’t work, try a
polarizing filter on the camera lens.
To completely kill reflections, some
professional copiers use polarizing gels
on the lamps as well.
Heat from your lamps can cause problems. Halogen bulbs put out enough of it
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
to damage delicate artwork if positioned
too close. Fortunately, two 500-watt halogen lamps throw plenty of light on the
subject from four or five feet. (Be careful
how you handle hot lamp housings.
Professional gaffers wear gloves.)
But you need to keep the lights as close
as you prudently can, to increase “depth
of field”—the zone behind and (especially, in copying) in front of what you
focus on that’s still acceptably sharp.
In copying, you’re usually working
with your zoom lens set at its longest
focal length and focused at its shortest
distance. Both reduce depth of field to the
minimum. Since the size of the lens opening also affects depth of field, you need
lots of light to achieve the smallest possible aperture.
As an experiment, I aimed a camcorder
at a copy surface and held a ruler at right
angles to that surface. I studied the resulting image on a monitor to see how much
of the ruler remained sharp as its markings got farther from the plane of focus. In
ambient room light the depth of field
extended less than 1/4-inch from the
plane of focus. But when I turned on two
500-watt halogen lights the zone of sharpness jumped to over an inch.
You need as much depth of field as possible for two reasons. First, despite your
best efforts, your camcorder may not be
absolutely at right angles to your artwork.
Part of the art will be soft if the depth of
field is too shallow.
Second, you need a bit of focus leeway.
In copying, you often have to focus by
moving the camcorder instead of by
adjusting the lens. You generally have
your lens set at its closest focus, and can’t
adjust it any further. To fine-tune the
focus you have to move the camcorder
slightly instead.
Why not get around the problem with
your lens’s macro setting? Many camcorder lenses offer macro capability for
close work, and yours may be fine for
I tested the same camcorder with it’s
8–80 mm zoom and 4-foot minimum
camera-to-subject distance and found that
at 80 mm, the minimum field was 2.25 by
3 inches—small enough to copy walletsize pictures.
When I switched to macro (which operates only at the winde-angle end of the zoon
range), the minimum size was almost the
same, but the lens hood was now only half
an inch from the artwork! Needless to say,
this makes lighting the art impossible.
In shooting photographic prints a color
processor patched between camcorder
and recording VCR can be indispensable.
You can color-correct age-faded photos.
Typically, elderly color prints that have
been exposed to light show a sickly
magenta cast. Adjusting color balance can
reduce this somewhat. And color adjustments can improve the originals: pump
up the orange glow of a sunset or enhance
the blue-white of snow. Add a slight sepia
tone to black and white prints for an oldtime effect (but don’t overdo it—it can
look hokey). Or set the colors to zero to
guarantee black and white originals don’t
take on a color cast when viewed on a
color monitor.
The Copy Session
Changing camcorder distance, focus,
lighting, backgrounds, and such can be
tedious, so the best procedure is to gang
all similar artwork together. Sort photos
by size, and then by portrait (vertical) or
landscape (horizontal) orientation.
Sort by proportion, too: prints from
35 mm originals are usually 3 to 2; instamatic or Polaroid prints have different
proportions. The more originals you can
copy before you have to change the setup,
the faster the process will go.
One nice thing about copying is that
your finished programs can be first generation video. To do this, I create a complete
music track, dub it to an assembly tape,
and then load the tape into a VCR.
Next, I set up my camcorder to copy
photos and cable it to the VCR. Using the
video insert mode, I record the camera
Easy Copy
signal, timing it to the music as I would
any editing element.
For stereo hi-fi sound and/or narration,
copy the finished tape, relaying the music
and adding voice-over narration. The
final program tape will still be only second generation.
What’s in Store?
The exciting future of video copying is
already here! You need only a desktop
computer, a card that accepts and outputs
NTSC video, and a software package for
retouching images.
You import a photo from your copy camcorder to your computer, which digitizes
the video signal from NTSC. You take all
the time you need to revise and improve
the picture to your taste, reconvert it to
NTSC and export it to your VCR.
You can remove Junior’s acne; improve
color, brightness and contrast; erase cracks
and spots from that priceless family
daguerreotype. Software packages will
combine photos, mix photos and artwork,
and “morph” a person into somebody (or
some thing) else!
All the hardware and software you need
for a “Digital Darkroom” is currently
available and—with the rapid decline in
prices—widely affordable. But even without computerized retouching, you can use
your skills to pull those wonderful photos
out of dark drawers and dusty albums and
put them up on the screen where everyone can enjoy them.
Television Distribution
Broadcasting your programs through cable and over-the-air TV.
Commercial Distribution:
Mapping Your Way to Financial
William Ronat
See video clips at
Making video means working with
motion, sound, color, words, composition, light—all combined in a maximum
creative effort. That’s fun.
Many have produced enough video to
get good at it. This means putting in long
hours planning, shooting and editing programs. That’s work.
When you work for a company, you
expect a paycheck when you finish your
work. That’s reasonable.
When you work for yourself, however, you
can expect to work just as hard to sell your
product as you did to make it. That’s life.
Fun and Profit
To sell your product, several things have
to happen. People have to know your
product exists. They have to decide that
the product is something they want. Then
they have to pull their money out of their
pockets and hand it to you.
This exchange can take the form of tickets
at a theater, credit card information over
the phone, money from the advertisers running commercials on your show or checks
from all those networks buying your product. It all boils down to this: you get paid.
That’s what you want. You may travel
many paths to this destination. You can
sell directly to the consumer through
magazine ads or direct mail; you can work
through a distributor; you can sell your
program to broadcast TV: or you can buy
airtime from a cable company, and then
sell commercials during your show.
The path you choose (Figure 57.1) depends on your product and, to some extent,
how deep your pockets are. Being in business involves taking risks, which means
you sometimes have to shell out some
cash before it starts to flow back to you.
Is It Good?
The first step in the process is to take a
long, very critical look at your product.
Is this a show that other people will want
to watch? Would they pay money to watch
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
intellectually compelling and technically
flawless (congratulations). Now you’re
ready to distribute that perfect video. Let’s
start with the cheapest way to do it—by
Birth of a Salesman
Figure 57.1
it? Would you? Ask your friends to watch it
and tell you what they think. Now do the
same with your enemies. That should give
you a nice range of viewpoints.
Is the target audience large enough to
justify the production costs? You can produce the greatest video ever on Growing
Beans in Sandy Soil, but if this subject
doesn’t appeal to enough people, then
you may not get your investment back—
even if every potential member of your
target audience buys your product. You
have to believe strongly in your product—
just make sure you can justify that belief.
Your next consideration: production
value. Producing on consumer-level equipment will work for some uses, but if you
plan to sell your show to a broadcast or
major cable network, you may want to
work with professional gear. Also, use the
best crew and talent that you can afford.
If your show is perfect, except for the
lighting, or the audio, or the on-camera
spokesperson’s delivery, you could be in
trouble; one of these flaws alone could
flag your project for rejection.
Let’s say that (based on your long and
successful track record) your product is
This method seems fair and natural to most
people. You worked hard on your video;
it’s only right that you should enjoy all the
profit from this effort. Remember, however,
that this also means assuming all the risk
and fronting all the money for the advertising, postage, dubbing costs, shipping and
so on. Also figure in time and effort for
answering inquiries about your product, as
well as packaging and addressing these
packages when you do make a sale.
Let’s say your glorious video details the
proper maintenance of inboard marine
engines. Is this program any good? You
think so. Your friends think so. Even your
enemies admit to liking it. But these opinions won’t do you much good when it
comes time to sell. What you need is a
Check all the magazines covering your
subject (Inboard Boating Illustrated, Marine
Engine World and so on) and read them.
Do they review books or videos of interest
to their readers? If they do, write a professional cover letter to the editor of each,
describing your show in a straightforward
manner. (If they don’t, send out letters
(Figure 57.2) anyway; your product may be
good enough to set a few precedents.)
Don’t hype your product at this point; journalists don’t like that approach. Also send
along VHS dubs of your program for the
editors to pass on to their reviewers.
Don’t expect replies, unless you also
enclose a SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped
Envelope) in each letter. If you want your
dub back, then send a SASE with enough
postage to cover its weight.
Getting a review is not a quick process.
The reviewer has to view your show, write
up the review and get the review to the
magazine. Depending on the publication,
Commercial Distribution
zine, how much space your ad takes up and
how many colors appear in the ad. As you
might expect, the price goes up as readers,
colors and space requirements go up. If you
run an ad run more than once (which you
almost always have to do to have any
impact), the amount per issue goes down.
Magazines often offer breaks for running an
ad three times (3) or six times (6).
Figure 57.2
it may be two to three months from the
point the review reaches the editor’s desk
until it actually gets into print.
If the review is favorable, your show has
just taken a big step toward legitimacy. A
major publication (Inboard Boating
Illustrated, no less) has complimented
your show in print. This tells your potential buyers that your program is for real,
that you did not just fall off of a turnip
truck and that the video is worth spending
their money to see.
Another way to lend legitimacy to your
tape is to have an expert introduce the
material. You can also put the expert’s
picture on the cover of the tape’s package.
Potential buyers see their favorite inboard
engine expert on the tape and say to themselves, “Hey, I trust Joe Inboard. This tape
must be good.” Of course, Joe Inboard will
probably ask you to pay for his image, or
he may even ask for a piece of the action
(such as a percentage of the profits).
If Inboard Boating Illustrated uses a rating system (four little boats equal excellent,
and three little boats equal good), then you
have a perfect element for your next step in
selling your product—advertising in the
magazine. In your display ads, you’ll feature “FOUR BOATS—Inboard Boating
Illustrated” as prominently as possible.
The cost of your ad will vary according to
the number of people who read the maga-
Once the ad runs, the orders start to pour in.
But how do you get them? Do customers
order by credit card over the phone (any
time of the day or night)? Or do they send
you a check? Do you wait for checks to
clear before you send customers their
tapes? What if the check bounces? Which—
if any—credit cards will you accept? What
about a money-back guarantee?
You can avoid some of these headaches
by working out a deal with a fulfillment
house. I once used a service from a company that made dubs of my show and kept
them on hand. The company provided me
with its 800 number, which I used in my
ads. My customers placed their orders
with this company. The company performed a number of services for me:
recording the pertinent customer information,
accepting credit cards,
waiting for checks to clear and
sending out the videos, using a preprinted
slip sleeve that I provided.
At the end of each month, the company
sent me a statement telling me how many
units sold during that time, along with a
check—minus the fees they charged for
their fulfillment services.
This is a good, convenient service; but
it does mean additional expense. Also,
fulfillment services typically require the
assurance that they make a minimum
amount of money per month, which
means selling a minimum number of your
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
videos each month. If the total falls below
this, you may pay a penalty.
Direct Mail
Another method of reaching potential customers is direct mail. You get direct mail
from advertisers at home all the time; you
probably think of it as junk mail. But it’s
only junk if the ad is trying to sell you
something you don’t want. That’s why you
must make sure that the people you mail
your ad to are the people who want your
There are companies that sell lists of
business names, preformatted on sticky
labels for easy use. These lists break down
according to type of business, number of
employees, region of operation and so on.
Be selective, and you can buy the right list
for your target market.
Also, Inboard Boating Illustrated probably sells its subscriber list to advertisers.
Consider buying subscriber lists from
appropriate publications.
Once you buy the right list, find a local
company that handles large mailings. This
way, you won’t have to stuff any envelopes.
If you’ve ever licked more than twenty
stamps at a sitting, you’ll know this service
is worth the expense.
When you determine the price of your
program, remember to figure in the advertising costs. For example, if you buy a list
of 10,000 names from a magazine, print
up 10,000 ads and stuff 10,000 stamped
envelopes for your direct mailing, you’ve
shelled out some serious money. The
direct mail industry considers a one percent response rate “good;” that’s 100
orders from a mailing of 10,000. So you
could lose money if you don’t charge
enough for your product.
There are public libraries, college
libraries, high school libraries and more.
Most have videotape departments stocked
with a variety of videos; especially popular are how-to programs.
Check out the magazines covering this
market: Booklist (you won’t find it at the
newsstand, it goes out directly to librarians); School Library Journal; Library
Journal; and Wilson Library Bulletin.
Each of these publications reviews videotapes, so getting a review is a good place
to start.
The local video rental store (Figure 57.3)
is another option. One method would be
to walk in, ask to see the owner and try to
sell the show then and there. But this
would be much like trying to teach a pig
to sing. It wastes your time and annoys
the pig.
Rental stores buy their programs almost
exclusively from major distributors that
publish catalogs every week. One is the
Major Video Concept catalog (800-3650150), which boasts lots of four-color ads
for Hollywood features. One page advertises foreign films and other videos.
Libraries & Video Rental Stores
After you’ve fully exploited the inboard
boating market, exploit libraries.
Figure 57.3
Commercial Distribution
When you distribute a product, such as a
videotape, there is a certain amount of
infrastructure that has to be in place. You
must let the customer know that the product is available, you must be able to take
orders and fulfill them. This is true whether
you have one product in your line or a
thousand. Obviously, this infrastructure is
less expensive per product if you have a
thousand products. This is why there are
companies called distributors.
In the early years of the motion picture
industry, there were no major film studios. The people who owned the theaters
needed product. Viewers didn’t ask for
much, they would watch a man petting a
dog or a horse running down a road and
be happy. But they always wanted more.
Finally, the people who owned lots of
theaters and thus needed the most product decided to make their own movies.
That’s how the major studios were born.
Distribution was the key.
For video, there are hundreds of small
specialty distributors. One distributor
might serve a market of gardeners. Every
few months the distributor sends a catalog
to these gardeners featuring all the books
and videos on pruning and planting. The
gardener can pick out several and order
all of them at the same time. Convenient.
You can usually find a list of distributors at your local library. Books listing all
the video products available for the current year often include a list of distributors for ordering purposes.
The names may not tell you much
about the distributors. So before you send
out copies of your program to distributors,
call the companies and chat with the
owners about your product. Even if these
people show no interest in your video,
they may recommend distributors who
When a distributor decides to handle
your show, you’ll negotiate a contract. You
won’t sell the show, but rather license it.
This means that while you still own the
material, the distributor will receive a percentage of the retail price of product sold.
This could be a healthy percentage, like
75 percent. Or it could be less, depending
on how good a negotiator you are and how
much the distributor wants the product.
When negotiating remember that the
distributor is paying for advertising, fulfillment, storage and so on; you assume
none of the risk. These services are worth
The Big Screen
You’ve always dreamed of seeing your work
on the big screen. This means selling your
work to film distributors—not an easy sell.
Major film festivals are a good place to
show off your work to distributors. Events
such as the Berlin Film Festival and the
Sundance Film Festival are places to see
and be seen by “the players”. Before you
can enter your show, however, check the
entrance requirements. Pay particular attention to format. If you shot on video, you will
have to transfer the master to 16 mm or
35 mm. Expect to pay a couple of thousand
dollars for this process.
There are many video festivals as well.
Entering and winning prizes for quality
and great content can’t hurt your chances
of interesting a distributor in your show.
And the price of a dub for your entry will
be less expensive than a 35 mm film print.
Seeing your work “on the air,” either on
a broadcast or a cable station, is always a
thrill. Again, there are many avenues you
can take to reach this goal.
Vid News is Good News
Many local news shows encourage
videographers to be on the lookout for
newsworthy events. (Figure 57.4.) Even in
large markets, a news director has only a
limited number of crews to cover the station’s area. Given the improved quality of
consumer gear, stations are more likely to
get footage of dramatic events as they
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 57.4
happen if a quick-thinking videographer
happens to be on the scene.
The value of the footage depends on its
newsworthiness; most stations pay $50 to
$100 for short news pieces. You can
expect a lot more if you get the Loch Ness
monster, Bigfoot or some natural or manmade disaster on tape.
If you live in an area which has a lowpower television (LPTV) station or a small
cable company, you might be able to get
on the air by forging a partnership. If the
station or company doesn’t have a production arm, make yourself useful to
them by offering to: (1) cover city council
meetings, (2) produce promotional spots,
and (3) shoot public service work.
Could you do this out of the goodness of
your heart? You could, or you could offer
to do all this work in exchange for airtime
on the channel, say an hour a week.
On the Air
Now you own an hour of airtime; how do
you profit by it? There are a number of
ways to boost your bottom line. If you live
in an area that attracts lots of tourists, create a show that reviews restaurants, profiles interesting people and recommends
local hot spots. Sell 30-second spots on the
show to some of these same businesses.
Figure 57.5
Then produce the 30-second spots for them,
charging for production services.
Or take your hour of airtime and sell it to
a syndicator. The syndicator will then fill
the time with an infomercial or an entertainment program, commercials included.
Or you could run a telethon and ask for
donations from viewers in order to keep
your telethon on the air. (If you succeed at
this one, be sure to tell me about it.)
Leased Access & Satellite Time
If you have a great programming idea and
live in an area where the cable company
carries more than 36 channels, you may be
able to lease your own time. The Cable
Act of 1992 requires cable operators to set
aside a certain percentage of their channels
for lease by independent programmers.
This sounds good; but some cable companies hesitate to sell time to independents, and others charge too much when
they do. Contact your local cable operator
(Figure 57.5) and ask about its leased
Commercial Distribution
access policy; be ready to fight for the
time that is legally yours.
If national exposure appeals to you, try
a satellite TV network such as Channel
America. Channel America is a 24-hour
satellite channel affiliated with 110 full
and low-power TV stations and cable
affiliates in the U.S., reaching some
25 million households.
On-air hours are open to programming
in the following categories: Talk, Events,
Emerging Sports, College Network,
Nostalgia, Travel, Lifestyle, Talent Showcase, Outdoors, Hunting, Fishing, Financial
Opportunities, Your Money, Music Across
America, New Age, Hobbies, Crafts and
Collecting, International and Health and
Airtime on Channel America isn’t free,
however. And the satellite channel won’t
pay you for your programming. There are
ways around these financial obstacles,
however. Say you’ve reformatted your
inboard marine engines video; it’s now a
half-hour show with breaks for commercials. Approach national inboard engine
manufacturers; ask them to buy the time
on Channel America for your program, in
exchange for exclusive commercial time.
Of course, they would also pay you for the
Destination Distribution
Distribution paths are many. Some
involve risking your money; some involve
spending your time; and others involve
sharing your profits with others.
The key is to find the ones that work for
you and your video. Persevere and you
can sell your show.
All it takes is a little effort and a little
luck . . . and a great product.
Public Access:
Produce Your Own TV Show
Sofia Davis
You can have your own TV show. It’s
easier than you might think and best of
all, it’s absolutely free! How, you ask? The
answer is public access.
Public access television is noncommercial airtime made available to the
public, free of charge. The only requirement to utilize public access, it that you
live in the community where the show
will be produced. Most public access facilities offer training in shooting, audio
and editing, and provide all the equipment
you’ll need.
While the law no longer requires that
cable companies air public access programs, a certain percentage of cable revenue in any market must go to the host
city or municipality. A portion of this
money goes towards public access television, so most markets (even small ones)
have a public access channel and a modest
Does producing and broadcasting your
own public access TV show sound enticing to you? This article will tell you how
to get started.
Getting Started
The first step is to contact your local public access station and sign up for an orientation class. Most facilities have ongoing
seminars and continuing education to
help you increase your production knowledge. If you have questions during a
shoot, a staff person is usually available to
help you (see Figure 58.1).
Once you finish the orientation and get
tested on the equipment, you’re ready to
produce your show. Usually, you must
submit a finished program to the public
access facility before it airs so someone can
view your tape and make sure it fits the
station’s guidelines. Once approved, you
will receive a time slot for your show to air.
Remember, your program has to be noncommercial; that means you cannot say or
show phone numbers, dates of events,
prices or store names within the show
itself. You can put phone numbers at the
end of the show, typically for no longer
than 10 seconds. Anything longer than
that is considered advertising.
Public Access
Figure 58.1 Teach me—you often need to be trained to use the
equipment this is a great opportunity to learn.
Figure 58.2 Equip me—the gear at the station might be ancient or it
might be the latest and the greatest.
Everything You Need
If you have no experience with video or
TV production, public access can be a
great place for you to start. At most public
access stations everything is provided for
you—a studio for shooting, editing facilities, digital video cameras for location
shooting, computer editing systems, microphones and audio cables, dressing rooms
and more. This is a big help for a beginner
or a person that does not have equipment
(see Figure 58.2).
Although most studios now have wellmaintained digital equipment, this is public access, so don’t necessarily expect
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
cutting-edge equipment. They will, however, provide everything you need to
shoot and edit a program.
Other producers are usually available to
crew for you, and in turn, it is expected
that you will crew for them. Most facilities have a book that lists people who are
certified and available to work on a production crew.
Different Time, Same Channel
Depending on your city, you may have to
wait for a time slot before your program can
air. And, you don’t always have the option
of choosing the time slot you like.
Typically, you will not have a time slot
for more than 13 weeks, so it can be hard
to build an audience to follow your program. You may be on Saturday at 8 p.m.
and then moved to Wednesday at 7 a.m.
Your 8 p.m. audience will wonder where
you went. You cannot advertise the move
in advance, because you won’t know
where you’re going until the move has
been made. There is typically nothing you
can do about this. The facility has to make
space for new producers.
If you are in a facility that has a lot of producers, you may be asked to go off the air (if
your show has been airing for a period of
time), to give new producers a chance.
The Golden Rule
Each station will have it’s own rules and
regulations about the use of equipment,
crew and timeslots. Check with your local
access station for specifics. However,
there is one guideline to which all public
access programs must adhere: You cannot
make any money from the show.
The station staff will watch your show
carefully. If they find that you’ve produced
a commercial show, you can be banned
from having a show, or using the facilities
and editing equipment.
You’ve Got Access
The opportunity is there for you to take
your own program to the airwaves. Despite
some restrictions and scheduling irregularities, managing your own public access
time slot is a wonderful opportunity.
Sidebar 1
Since your show is non-commercial, insurance is not required. You do not have to have
Errors & Omission Insurance to produce a show.
Sidebar 2
Public Access Hints
Take as many educational classes as possible.
Crew for everyone you can. If there are people that are particularly experienced, crew for
them; you will learn a lot.
Volunteer to help edit someone else’s show. Sit in with them to learn how they edit and
Follow the rules of the facility. Most provide these services free; if you had to pay for it,
it could really cost you. Therefore, be respectful of the rules.
Leased Access:
A Unique Cable Opportunity
Sheldon I. Altfeld
Broadcasting your program on leased access
cable, an opportunity offered by most U.S.
cable systems, can be an extremely costeffective way to launch new programming
concepts or sell products. And best of all,
leased access can actually provide you with
a revenue stream.
The practice has been used successfully
by videographers and producers in a wide
variety of programming concepts, including how-to’s, infomercials, travelogues,
talk shows, children’s programs, comedy
shows, restaurant reviews and local
music videos, to name just a few.
The Federal Communications Commission got the leased access ball rolling
when it established the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. The legislation
compelled cable operators of systems with
more than 36 channels to set aside 10 to
15 percent of their stations for commercial use.
“Leased access,” the act stated, “is aimed
at bringing about the widest possible
diversity of information sources for cable
Locally produced infomercials tend to
be the most popular form of leased access
programming because of their moneymaking potential. The process for getting
your program on leased access is rather
Leased Access and Public
Access—Two Separate Animals
It is important not to confuse leased access
with public access. Public access is one arm
of a three-part federal program that mandates each cable system to provide public
access, educational access and government
access programming. Cable systems allocate
these non-commercial channels to serve
their communities. Leased access, on the
other hand, offers a commercial programming channel, or channels, to enable producers time to display their programs. The
only restrictions are programs deemed
“inappropriate for the community standards, due to gratuitous sex, violence or
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
The Cost of Leased Access
Let your Advertisers Pay for It
Leased access on-air time is extremely
reasonable. Generally, the cost is approximately $100 per half-hour for leased
access time on larger cable systems, and
as little as $10 on smaller systems (see
Figure 59.1). The cable system is permitted, however, to charge different rates for
different time-slots (as is common in
broadcast television), so the time for a
program carried in peak-time would be
more expensive than one in off-peak.
You may also be required to provide
proof of a $1 million general liability insurance policy (and possibly a $2 million
errors & omissions policy) naming the
cable system as co-insured. Once that policy is in place, your insurance agent can
add each additional cable system you work
with as a rider for a very nominal fee.
Since you are paying for the time on the
cable system, you are at liberty to sell
advertising for your program. Aside from
the leased access time and perhaps a few
operational fees, the cable system generally does not take a percentage of your
advertising revenue.
Let’s assume that you’re producing a
show about gardening, and you’re going
to lease broadcast time on your local cable
system. Potential advertisers, who would
include nurseries, gardeners, flower shops,
tree-trimmers and landscapers should
offset your broadcast costs. Not only could
you charge them an advertising fee, but a
production fee as well, since most small
businesses haven’t already produced a
commercial. You’ll provide the service of
creating one for them (see Figure 59.2).
You might take out an ad in a local
newspaper to promote the fact that your
program will be on XYZ Cable at suchand-such a time. Mention the advertisers
in the ad. It will act as another incentive
for them to buy their advertising time
from you.
Also, contact the cable operator about
placing cross-channel promotional ads for
your program, where they’ll promote your
show on other channels.
The general rule-of-thumb to determine
how much to charge for your advertising
is to take the total expense of producing
Figure 59.1 Such a deal—leased access on-air time costs only about
$100 per half-hour on larger cable systems and as little as $10 in
smaller markets.
Leased Access
Figure 59.2 Ad Dollars—when you lease cable time for a show, you
can sell ads to offset the cost. If your client doesn’t have a
commercial, you can create one charge a production fee too.
your show and divide that figure by the
number of 30-second spots you have
available to sell. That will tell you how
much to sell each ad for in order to break
even. Add 15 or 20 percent to determine
your basic ad rate.
Many leased access producers maximize their profits by purchasing time
(and selling ads) for the same program on
several cable systems in their area. And by
running the show on additional cable systems, the advertising rate can be reduced
and the profit-per-spot can increase.
Don’t Forget the Quality
One of the most important aspects of producing leased access programming is the
overall production quality. Unlike public
access, which generally features “talking
heads” in a very bland setting, with a
wilted plastic plant in the background,
leased access programs reflect the reputation of the videographers and producers
putting the programming together. Like
everything else a professional does, the
leased access programs need to be professional. Decent production values are crucial—not only for the advertisers, but for
the audience as well. Remember that what
people see on television with your name on
it is your only real promotional brochure.
Get the Format Right
The cable system may accept your program
in 3/4-inch U-Matic, BetacamSP or a digital format, so check with the system to
determine which format they prefer. It is
highly unlikely that a cable system will
accept a VHS tape, as the quality would
not generally be up to acceptable engineering standards. While digital formats that
record high quality images are becoming
the format of choice for producers, many
cable stations still do not accept submissions on Mini DV or Digital8. Many stations do, however, provide a large format
record deck so producers can transfer their
footage to the proper format for broadcast.
Producers should discuss format requirements and tape transfer options with the
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
cable company up front. Also, when you
bring the tape to the cable system, it needs
to include everything in it—program, commercials, credits etc.
Leased access can open a whole
new medium for videographers. As cable
television becomes more diversified and
digital set-top boxes begins to offer consumers literally hundreds of new channels, leased access enables entrepreneurs
the opportunity to be an integral part of
an exciting and ever-growing industry.
Sidebar 1
The Down Side of Leased Access
Some cable operators present leased access producers with obstacles in order to buy time on
their systems. Some common roadblocks include:
Expensive (and required) $1 million general liability insurance policy premiums.
Arbitrary program schedule changes.
Refusal of some systems to make any leased access time available.
Exorbitant fee charges for tape playback, tape changes, viewing of tapes for indecent content, etc.
Since the FCC mandated leased access in 1984, every cable system is obligated to accommodate producers. Friendly negotiations with the system will generally overcome most hurdles
and establish long-term working relationships between the entrepreneur and the cable operator.
Sidebar 2
A 20-minute Half-hour
The total running time of the average half-hour program is actually 28:30; with 90-seconds
used by the cable system for its own internal promotion. The standard format for a 30-minute
show that includes commercials would look something like this:
Opening Tease
Segment I
Segment II
Bye Bye/Credits
Leased Access
Sidebar 3
Trying to Create a Network out of Leased Access
The good news is that nearly all of the 12,000-plus cable systems in the United States have a
leased access channel. The bad news is that the cost of getting a program on all of them
would be astronomical.
Imagine buying leased access time on 100 cable systems for a 30-minute program. At an
average of $50 each, it would cost $5,000. Believe it or not, most cable systems are still using
3/4-inch U-Matic tape. At $12 each and you’re looking at another $1,200 expense. And
finally, add $1,500 for shipping and your cost thus far is $7,700.
The premium for the requisite general liability insurance policy runs abound $5,000 a
year, and add approximately $150 per system for each system named as co-insured.
So, to establish a “network” of 100 cable systems, you can figure on spending nearly $28,000.
And by the way, you still have to employ a staff to sell advertising for your 100-system
Fertile Soil for Independent
Alessia Cowee
See video clips at
If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your
video production on television or bringing
your vision to a broader audience than
friends and family, now is the time and
PBS is the place. PBS—both independently and through its liaison with ITVS—
offers unparalleled opportunities for
videographers with unique vision and a
compelling story. You’ll find a surprising
number of opportunities with ongoing
series (such as Frontline, American
Masters, POV, and American Experience),
limited jointly-curated series (like Digital
Divide and Independent Lens) and one-offs
(stand-alone, independent films). This article will help you evaluate whether your
project is PBS/ITVS material and show
you how to break into this ever-expanding
PBS, ITVS and You: The Time
is Now
PBS has a strong tradition of working with
independent producers. It’s a common
misconception, but PBS is not a television
network. Instead, it is a membership
organization made up of independent public television stations around the country,
funded, in part, by the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting, a private corporation
created by the US Congress in 1967. PBS is
available to 99% of US households and
strives to reach all portions of the population with quality, accessible, relevant
programming. Pat Mitchell, PBS President
and CEO, says key components of the PBS
mission are “to inform, to inspire and to
Independent producers frequently challenge convention and provide in-depth
analyses of complex topics. PBS makes
available programming designed to spur
discussion and active community involvement in social issues. Their goal is to provide thorough examination of a story,
theme or issue, including all conflicting
points of view.
The Independent Television Service
(ITVS) was created in 1991 in response
to demand from independent media
Figure 60.1 Acting as guide and gateway into the public television arena,
ITVS links independent producers with public television programming
producers and community activists for
programming by and for diverse, underrepresented audiences (such as minorities
and children) not adequately served by
the networks or by PBS.
Acting as guide and gateway into the
public television arena, ITVS links
independent producers with public television programming opportunities (see
Figure 60.1). ITVS offers producers feedback during the creative process (including
programs which apply, but are rejected for
financial aid), content development assistance, funding options and an extensive
marketing and publicity package in conjunction with Community Connections
Project (CCP—a network of community
Content Confab: Programming
What are PBS and ITVS looking for and
how do you know if your program is right
for them? The most obvious question is
often the most overlooked: Do you want
to produce a program or a series? If your
long-range goal is theatrical release, PBS
is probably not the proper venue for your
project. Some films, however, do get additional play after a public TV release, for
example, in educational distribution, at
festivals and in home video and foreign
broadcast markets.
Though the guidelines and needs vary
for each program and funding initiative,
it can be said that PBS and ITVS seek
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
innovative, adventurous, compelling stories told in distinctive, contemporary and
engaging formats. Of special interest are
projects that provide interactive opportunities for community participation. No subject is taboo, though projects too narrow in
scope may not have many market options.
Wide-market appeal creates more programming possibilities, but success is not
strictly about raw ratings in public broadcasting. You should also avoid controversy
for controversy’s sake. Journalistic integrity
in research, documentation and development is expected.
Is it easier for emerging or established
videographers to break in with a one-off or
with a series segment? ITVS Executive
Director, Sally Jo Fifer explains, “It’s always
difficult to get funding because the competition is so fierce. The one essential is to
have a great idea and tell it in a creative,
thorough, smart proposal. Tell a great
story in a unique, ‘the viewer can’t stop
watching’ way.”
ITVS offers several initiatives for producers
seeking financial support for completion of a film, although it actually funds
less than five percent of proposed projects. Open Call accepts proposals in any
genre and funding rounds occur twice
yearly (in February and August). LinCS
(Local Independents Collaborating with
Stations) provides matching ITVS funds
for producers who pair up with a specific
public television station and is perfect for
programs with a more local appeal.
PBS is currently implementing a program, called In The Works, to support
production on a limited number of projects
for use with its series, POV as funding
becomes available. An excellent way to
keep abreast of developments is to subscribe to the Beyond the Box newsletter
(see Figure 60.2). Available funding and
application procedures vary for each
program and initiative.
Public television is commercial-free, but
other outside opportunities exist for acquiring financial assistance. Corporate and
minority consortia funds are available for
resourceful producers, as are grants from
state and national arts councils.
Getting the Green Light
ITVS uses a peer-reviewed process to
screen applicants for funding. ITVS
selects juries based on diversity of ethnicity, vocation, religion, geographic region
and other demographic criteria. The jury
considers each application on its own
merits, individually evaluated and scored.
The screening process has three levels,
with weaker proposals eliminated at each
stage. The panels often request additional
application materials from producers who
advance to the next level during the
review process. At the full panel meetings,
members advocate for their favorite projects
until they can arrive at a consensus on
which proposals to fund for that round.
Criteria the panel may consider when
reviewing your project:
Is the project accessible, relevant, formatted in the most effective manner?
Is the treatment thorough, concise, written with passion? Does it clearly show
the project trajectory and structure?
Is the audience easily identifiable? Is it
broad enough? Does it represent ITVS
and PBS mission statements?
Is the producer or the team experienced
enough to complete the project on budget
and on deadline?
Ms. Fifer warns that producers frequently do not read the application guidelines carefully enough. She also suggests
that producers weigh the appeal of their
projects, “Programmers tell us repeatedly
that they don’t need six shows on one
subject. They especially don’t need six
Figure 60.2 An excellent way to keep abreast of developments is to
subscribe to the Beyond the Box newsletter.
okay shows on one subject. What they
need is one great show on that subject.”
Sample materials and written treatments must outshine their competitors.
There are not nearly enough programming
hours available for the number of submissions received by PBS and ITVS, of
course, and top-notch productions often
do not make the cut the first time around.
You may find the keys to the public programming kingdom in the feedback you
get even if your proposal is rejected. But
remember, not all venues are suited to all
programs. Keep reevaluating your project
to determine where it fits best.
format that most effectively showcases
your subject matter or the one that is most
readily available. In the end, however, the
final video must be digitally mastered and
must meet all of the very rigorous PBS
technical requirements, as set forth in the
Technical Operating Specifications (TOS)
(see Figure 60.3). This handbook and the
ITVS Production manual are available for
purchase online. Standard program lengths
for PBS/ITVS are 26:40 and 56:40. Feature
films of non-standard length are considered
on a case-by-case basis.
Ready, Set, Video
Technical Specifications
Almost any shooting format is viable
for PBS/ITVS programming. Choose the
You’ve set your sights on PBS and chosen
the appropriate funding initiative. You’ve
studied existing series strands and talked
with producers who have worked with
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 60.3 Your video must meet all of the
very rigorous PBS technical requirements, as
set forth in the Technical Operating
Specifications (TOS).
PBS. Your sample and treatment are flawlessly prepared and you can meet all of
the technical specifications. The story
you’ve chosen to tell is unique, passionfilled and appeals to a broad audience
while remaining interesting and diverse.
Now what?
Once you mail your application, the
review process may take up to six months.
If your proposal is selected, you must
typically complete the project within one
year of acceptance. Should ITVS license
your film, they may offer it to stations
directly, without benefit of a time-slot or
an airdate. The film could be distributed
over PBS Plus or on a soft-feed, which
allows member stations to fit the program
into available airtime. It might even earn a
spot on the National Program Service
(hard-feed) or another subscription services such as Independent Lens or POV.
It takes perseverance, persistence,
resourcefulness and a dedication to vision,
voice and mission, but dozens of independent video producers share compelling
stories and unique perspectives via PBS
every year. This could be the year the spotlight shines on your work.
Sidebar 1
Electric Shadows
ITVS is breaking ground with digital technology. If interactive media and Web release is what
you crave, check out Electric Shadows, an extraordinary blend of digital audio, video, interviews and still photography, enhanced with feedback forums and lesson plan suggestions.
Sidebar 2
Stay current with the needs of PBS. PBS updates their Web site frequently with content
priorities. Preview the strands you are interested in producing for before submitting your
film or applying for funding. Does your format, vision, style and subject matter fit within the
program’s parameters? If not, consider another strand or funding source.
Sidebar 3
ITVS Information
Independent Television Service
501 York Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: (415) 356-8383
email: [email protected]
Sidebar 4
Online Resources for Producers
Producing for PBS
Online Version of PBS Redbook
PBS Production Guidelines
Beyond the Box Online Content:
ITVS Funding Applications and Guidelines
Paths to Broadcast Television
Mark Steven Bosko
See video clips at
Let me relate to you the story of a fellow
videographer who “made good.” John
started like most of us, goofing around
with his parents’ film equipment. Though
just a child, the creative art of cinematography really clicked for him. He created
one film after another to the delight of his
family and friends.
Though the passion for this “art” festered inside John, he became frustrated
with the what seemed like a wasting of his
time. The whole purpose of producing a
movie was for an audience’s enjoyment.
After five years of basement screenings,
family and friends hardly qualified as a
legitimate audience anymore. John knew
there just had to be a better way, but didn’t
latch onto it quite yet. Much later, in college, John enrolled in the school’s teleproduction class. He knew a little bit about TV
production, but was still mainly a “film”
guy. It was here that he discovered what
would later “rule” his world—videotape.
Even with excellent marks, John still
yearned for that elusive “audience”.
Luckily, he was outspoken about this
need, and a professor took notice. The
professor, as it happens, was on the board
of the local public television station. He
was primarily responsible for development
of new local programming.
Thinking of John’s desires, and some of
the super productions the students were
showing, the teacher came up with a
“Young Filmmaker’s” showcase program.
The show would give aspiring film and
videographers (now John’s medium of
choice due to cost and time considerations) a place to present their programming to a potentially large viewership.
Happy ending: John got his audience,
the station got quality programming, and
viewers got some alternative shows to
Not all stories involving broadcast TV are
so inspiring, and sometimes PBS networks
are the hardest nuts to crack. But the example above does point out the many opportunities that exist for videographers looking
for distribution of their productions within
these “hallowed halls.” For some reason or
another, broadcast television stations have
Paths to Broadcast Television
the image of an “insider’s club.” You’ve got
to know someone or already work there in
a lower capacity to get an in. If you weren’t
a part of the community’s filmmaking
“elite,” your chances for broadcast were nil.
Maybe ten or so years ago that was true, but
today, this is simply not the case. Especially
for dedicated, experienced videographers.
One of the reasons for this “opening”
may be attributable to the increase in
number and types of broadcast outlets on
the map. Before everyone in America had
cable, there existed a strong distinction
between broadcast and cable fare. Broadcast programming was free, contained a
some locally produced programming (created at the station, not by independents),
and carried the network shows as they
“came down the line.” Cable, on the other
hand, carried new movies and other, nontraditional television material. It was also
perceived (rightly so) as being very costly.
As the years passed and more media
moguls developed, the number of cable stations quadrupled, the cost for the service
plummeted and the demand by consumers
who “wanted their MTV” skyrocketed.
This led to the confusing mix of cable and
broadcast stations that currently exists on
your channel selector. This influx of new
entertainment choices spurred a huge void
in the supply of programming able to fulfill
the scheduling needs of the stations.
Another reason broadcast stations
unlocked their doors to outsiders was the
fact that now they wanted to compete with
the trendy and popular cable networks.
The old, stodgy rules of operation were
changing, and any new face that had something to add to the party was welcome.
And, in recent years, a new broadcast
outlet, Low Power Television (LPTV)
became popular. The limited signal put
out by these stations reaches a relatively
small, geographically close audience. The
LPTV stations tend to be carriers of downloadable national satellite programming,
mixed with an unusually high amount
(for broadcast) of local fare.
While all of this is certainly encouraging
(if not educational) for the future of aspiring
videographers, what real opportunities
exist now, in the present, for those of you
who can’t wait a lifetime for their dreams
to be fulfilled? What does broadcast television offer you in the form of distribution?
You’ve got a job (that you like) and possess
some fine-tuned production abilities. You
own a little equipment, no Industrial Light
and Magic, but a respectable “studio” on
your own right. You’ve made some industrials, a whole slew of weddings, even an
instructional tape on gardening for your
spouse. You got some good ideas for programming that you think will go over big
with the locals, but how do you get it on
the tube?
Time saving tip number one: skip the
VHF channels in your broadcasting area.
VHF slots, usually reserved for network
affiliates, offer the independent videographer little in the form of finding an
audience. The stations are network controlled, meaning they have mega-bucks
at their resources. They’re not rude, but
why would they want to mess with your
$1.98 Talent Show when they can program a re-rerun of Who’s the Boss? It just
doesn’t make sense for the big boys to play
with you.
About the only exposure you may
achieve through a VHF outlet is sale of
news-type footage. And this comes from
personal experience. My town was literally burning down. A huge fire started in
the historical district, and I happened to be
at the right place at the right time with my
camcorder. I got some great shots before
any of the large news crews showed up.
They were aware of my presence and
asked to buy the footage for inclusion in
the coverage of the story. I was only too
glad to succumb to their wishes. But don’t
plan on getting rich from selling news
footage. These deep-pocketed network
guys could only scrape together $50 for the
whole 30-minute tape. And then I didn’t
even get an on-air credit!
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
If you’ve seen the Weird Al movie of the
same name, then you are aware of the possibilities available for independent programming to air on these channels. While
it’s not quite as zany as the Weird Al film,
opportunities do exist (especially in
smaller markets) for videographers to find
an audience.
Many UHF stations are becoming network
affiliates (FOX has conquered quite a few),
so the chances with these stations are slimming. If you live in a large TV city (one
with more than four or five UHF channels),
then you should be able to locate a willing
outlet. In the Cleveland-area, a late-night
television host on a UHF channel hosts a
viewer’s film’s series. It’s a great show comprised of shorts (one shot-on-video feature
has played) broken up with interviews of
the videographers. There is no pay
involved, but the audience is pretty big,
and loyal. The program is also popular
with local advertisers who recognize the
local customer base tuning in.
If there is a late-night gig in your city,
why not hit up the host with this idea? It
makes his or her job infinitely easier, and
becomes attractive to sales personnel at
the station.
Sunday morning talk and “city” shows
also seem popular with UHF channels.
Easily produced, these programs focus on
community events and personalities.
Often, the production may center on one
specific area, and the show is a submission
from a freelance videographer.
Fairly new to the broadcast arena, Low
Power Television Stations are basically
UFH stations, only with less signal amplification. These stations function much
like their big cousins, only with a greater
concentration of the local goods.
Cashing In
Knowing that there’s some distribution
avenues available in UHF and LPTV is good
news, but, you’d like some compensation
for your efforts, right? Well, just like the
VHF networks, these stations pull in the
reins when it comes time to pay. In fact, you
may be the one paying them to show your
WAI-TV, part of a three-channel LPTV
network in Cleveland and Akron, offers airtime for sale. Going for $250 and up per halfhour (depending what day and time you
buy) the channel is a natural for independents. “We have space for sale just like
every other television network. It just happens that ours is available to the independent,” says Bill Klaus, owner of the station.
Klaus makes it clear that the reason an
independent can buy time from his network is because it is affordable. “Sure,
someone with a home-grown production
could go to their local VHF station and buy
a half-hour of time to broadcast the show,
but they’d probably have to mortgage their
house to do it. My network makes it affordable, and we often barter time as well so the
videographer can actually make a buck.”
Bartering, as Klaus mentioned, is
another favored option of UHF and LPTV
programmers. What this means is that you
retain some of the commercial time allotted within your programming block. As
an example, let’s say you buy a half-hour
of air time for $200. That’s the flat rate.
With that price, you are the owner of all
8 minutes of commercial space. You can
deal with the station, letting them keep
4 minutes of ad time, dropping your payment to $100. And, it also works in
reverse. If they want to buy your show
(yes—that actually happens sometimes),
they may offer you the commercial time
in exchange for any payment. This way
they don’t have a cash outlay, but fill their
schedule. You, on the other hand, have
found a profitable distribution outlet.
The large, network-affiliated stations
will not likely be interested in your bargain broadcasting, but many independent
stations will take a look. Local interest,
interview shows, documentaries, community affairs and sporting events are all
good ideas to present to any small broadcaster in your neighborhood.
Paths to Broadcast Television
When you go door knocking, bring
an attractive demo and a professional
presentation package outlining your programming ideas. This packet should
present your work in its best possible light.
While you may think you are the only
indie out there (or at least the only one in
the neighborhood), the fact is that programming managers deal with many proposals from many people. “It’s probably
hard to believe, but I get at least a proposal a week from independent video
producers,” states Klaus. “Most of the production ideas have no substance. If I got
one backed by a demo, or put together in a
professional manner, I might pay more
attention to them. But too many of them
look like a half-hearted effort to get a show
on the air.”
“I don’t mind working with independents,” Klaus continues. “In fact I like it,
but they just have to be more professional
in their approach. If a videographer wants
to make some money by getting his programming on the air, instead of spending
it to buy time, he should prepare the idea
as completely as possible. That would
be the type of producer I would look to
work with.”
There are no set rules here. Just remember that it’s the fact that people are able to
view your production through their television sets for free that’s important, not
the amount of bills you have wadded in
your pocket.
The multitude of small and low-power
broadcasting outlets has created a void of
original, low-cost scheduling alternatives.
There are only so many stations that can
broadcast The Andy Griffith Show at any
one time, and it’s that fact that opens up
the audiences to you.
Promotion Strategies:
Fame and Fortune on a Budget
Mark Steven Bosko
See video clips at
If you don’t tell people about your video,
they won’t even know it exists. The more
aware the public is of your work, the
greater fame and fortune you’ll eventually
You can promote your work in many
ways—from buying expensive full-color
magazine advertising to sending out a
simple press release. Full-blown promotional plans practically guarantee increased
video sales, but they’re often too expensive for the first-time videographer.
But there are less expensive ways to
promote your work. In this chapter, we’ll
survey a selection of promotion strategies
that will cost you little more than the price
of pen and paper—and some hard work.
The Press Release
The press release is the most widely
used and abused promotional technique.
This one-page synopsis tells the media
what you want them to know about your
video. Media outlets such as newspapers,
magazines and broadcasters receive
hundreds of these daily; to make sure
yours receives proper attention you need
to (a) submit it in regulation form and
(b) make it stand out from all the others.
Press releases follow a standard format.
Deviate from this format and no one will
read it. This sounds harsh but it’s true. If
you want the press to read it:
● Keep it short. You don’t need 10 pages
to communicate your message. One page
is best, two is the maximum. If it is longer,
re-write it; include just the basics.
Title it. Without a headline, they won’t
know what the release is about. Trust me:
they won’t take the time to read it to find
out. The best headlines are short and to the
● Say who sent it. The upper left-hand
corner of the page should set out the
following information: your company’s
name, address, telephone number and—
most important—a contact to call for further
information. You’re the best contact; if
Promotion Strategies
you can’t do it make sure you choose a
contact well versed in all aspects of your
Provide a release date. Write “For
Immediate Release” on the press release;
this tells the press that they can use the
information revealed in your release right
now. If you don’t want the information
released until a specific date, then provide
this “embargo date” in place of the usual
“For Immediate Release” (i.e., “For Release
October 10, 2003”).
● Use
the standard form. Type the
release, double-spaced with ample margin
areas. Check for any errors in spelling,
punctuation, grammar or content; this kind
of mistake screams amateurism.
Now you think your press release is going
to look like all the others—and if the format is correct, it probably will. But Joe
Reporter down at the Daily Globe doesn’t
care about fancy formats; he’s looking for
interesting content. Write your release so
it not only answers the stock journalism
questions—who, what, where, when, how
and why—but also leaves the reader
wanting to know more. Appeal to the natural curiosity of the reporter—without
getting cute—and no doubt your video
will see some press.
Mail, fax, transmit electronically or
hand deliver your release to every possible media outlet. The wider the distribution, the better your chances of getting
Radio and TV Interviews
Turn on the radio. Flip through the stations. Listen. You hear a lot of talk, don’t
you? Radio stations live on music and
talk; they have plenty of music, but they
need the talk. That’s where you come in.
More than 80 percent of the 11,000
radio stations in the United States air
some sort of interview program; getting on
one of these interview shows is easier
than you might think. Best of all, it’s free.
Call the stations you know that air
interview programs and ask how they
book their guests. Send the person in charge
of booking a press release, some data
sheets naming the subject, cast, crew, locations and length of your video and a cover
letter. The cover letter is important; think
of it as a sales letter selling you and your
video. This letter should persuade the
booking manager that your video is an
ideal choice for the program—due to its
exploitative elements, controversial theme,
local interest or whatever “hook” will prove
irresistible to the station.
With any luck, someone will give you a
call to find out more about your project
and determine if you would make a suitable guest for the show. When you get the
call, be sure to answer all queries with
confidence and grace; you want to prove
you’re a coherent, interesting individual
who won’t freeze up during the program.
Interviews are great promotional vehicle, but they do offer one distinct disadvantage: lack of control. You don’t have
the benefit of complete pre-planning. You
can’t predict what the interviewer will
ask you or what part or parts of the interview will air. With live, call-in formats,
you face the additional challenge of fielding questions from the listening public,
who may or may not approve of you and
your video. Two suggestions for handling
radio interviews:
1. Restrict contact with the media to yourself or one or two other people associated with your production. You should
coach these people—talent, director,
producer—on appropriate responses to
possible questions. You certainly don’t
want to hear your cameraman giving
out details that contradict your press
2. Listen to the radio program before
appearing on the show. Observe how
the DJ deals with guests. By listening,
you’ll discover if the host and callers
are friendly or abusive, the show is live
or taped and whether the focus is
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
straight news or fluff. Prepare your
answers based on your observations.
Now that you’ve successfully conquered
radio, turn your attention to the other half
of the broadcast spectrum: television.
Compared with radio, the market for TV
guests is small; the chances of landing an
interview are smaller still. To boost those
chances, approach the TV station about an
interview in the same way you approach
the radio stations, but do more follow up.
Don’t wait for someone to call you; make
those return calls yourself. TV people are
always busy, and they believe that if you
want to book yourself on a show you
should do all the work.
You do have one advantage: you’re promoting a video. Videos are visual and naturally lend themselves to the medium of
television. Include a trailer of your best
scenes—those most visually compelling—
with your press release. This way the person in charge will know you have
something unique to offer.
Most local television interview programs are not overwhelmed by low-budget
video producers trying to land spots as
guests on a regular basis. You’re one of a
kind; play up the glitz and glamour you
bring to your hometown.
Tell the show’s producers about any
publicity stunts you plan and ask that
they cover it to air with your interview.
Keep the subject exciting and visual, and
you shouldn’t have any problems.
“We want to see the video.”
That’s what you can expect to hear hundreds of times while promoting your project. The press wants to see a screener.
A screener is a full-length, promotional
copy of your tape, provided free of charge
to media personnel upon request.
They need to see first-hand what your
video is all about. Screeners allow
reporters to check out such considerations
as budget, acting, effects and production
values. Now your video must live up to
the expectations you’ve created for it. Did
you exaggerate too much in your press
The press uses screeners most often for
reviewing purposes; media outlets occasionally request them as well, primarily to
check out authenticity. Nobody wants to
devote space to a “phantom” video, especially national magazines.
Providing these screeners for everyone
who asks becomes an expensive proposition. There is, however, a low-cost alternative: the trailer.
Short compilations of your best scenes,
trailers can accomplish all a full-length
screener can—at less than a third of the
A general rule of thumb: use screeners
for press outlets that want to review your
program and trailers for those who just
want to “take a look.” Some suggestions:
Use a disclaimer on screeners. When
duplicating screeners to send to media
outlets, superimpose or key the words
“For Promotional Use Only” over the
video during its entire duration. Not
that the press is dishonest, but if your
video lands in the wrong hands, nothing will stop those hands from selling
the video as their own. The practice of
using a disclaimer offends no one; it’s
always better to be safe than sorry. This
tip comes from a video newsletter in
California investigating a small cable
station making illegal dupes to sell in
Mexico. So protect your property!
Duplicate screeners and trailers on
B-grade tape. Most of these videos will
be viewed only once or twice, making a
high-grade tape unnecessary. The press
outlets can handle a little dropout.
Use a copyright. Place a copyright
notice prominently on all screeners and
trailers. Put a notice physically on the
tape and within the program itself.
Limit trailers to 5 minutes or less. This
is adequate time to show your tape’s
highlights. Keep it “lean and mean.”
Promotion Strategies
Make your trailer available in broadcast
formats. Some broadcast press outlets
may want to include your trailer as
part of the story on your project. Don’t
miss out on this free advertising by
not having the proper tape available.
Most stations can work with threequarter-inch format. It’s cheap and widely
Include any televised press on distributors’ screeners. Tag a mini-trailer of any
televised news stories about your project onto the beginning of the screener.
How impressed will that distributor be
when he sees your story as it appeared
on Entertainment Tonight? A lot more
impressed than he’ll be when you just
tell him about it. Be sure to check with
news agencies concerning legalities of
duplicating such stories.
Press Kit
It’s now time to compile all of the press
you’ve received thanks to your promotion
strategies and organize it into a press kit.
The most useful weapon in your promotional arsenal, a press kit represents
the culmination of all your efforts. Its purpose: to show the attention your project
has received, proving that your video is
worthy of further coverage such as newspaper space and TV airtime.
Some people say to include only the big
“headline” stories. I say include everything—from that one-paragraph blurb in
your local new paper to the full-page
story in Variety.
Press is press. The more you can show a
media outlet, the easier it is to get more
Some tips on putting together a decent
press kit:
1. Use a high-quality bond for reproduction of the originals. The heavier
weight paper lends a classy look.
2. Check the clarity of copies, especially
when articles include photographs.
3. Place articles in descending order of
importance, starting with the most
prestigious—usually national media.
4. Articles buried in the editorial section
should be shown with the cover or
masthead of the publication; copy it
and place it on the reproduction with
the article.
5. Allow for only one article per page,
unless the articles are extremely short
and from the same publication.
6. Use the proper tape formats when
including televised or radio coverage.
7. Put all the print elements along with a
cover letter into a slick folder.
The press release P.R. strategy alone
should garner enough press for a substantial press kit. And if you’ve employed the
other promotional strategies as well, you
may find you cannot include everything—
your kit would be so thick, you’d go broke
on postage. So choose only the best of
your material for your press kit.
Publicity Stunts
Publicity stunts can be a great low-cost
promotional technique, attracting both
media and public attention to your video
Used with great success by the film
industry, publicity stunts have traditionally accompanied the release of new
movies. The “golden age” of publicity
stunts was the 1950s, when the following
tactics drew big crowds:
Nurses in theater lobbies, placed there
by smart promotional men asking viewers to sign medical releases, in the case
of heart attacks brought on by the
shocking subject matter they were about
to see. A particular favorite of science
fiction and horror film promoters.
Bogus pickets, carried by “protesters”
hired by a film company’s publicity
department to demonstrate against a
film’s sex and violence quotients.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Film “banning,” which implied that a
movie’s subject matter was so offensive
it should not be shown in certain areas.
Your own publicity stunts don’t have to
be so melodramatic, however. Try setting
up a live magic act in the video stores
stocking your Magic Made Simple video.
Or, celebrate the release of your Keep Our
Town Clean video with a litter collection
contest for local school kids; offer the
winners some free production time. Any
stunt you can think of that involves the
public and creates interest in your video
makes for good publicity.
To ensure success: keep the press
informed and keep it legal. Check out all
local laws that may apply to your particular
9 Ways to Cut Promotion Costs
Mailing and distributing press kits and
screeners can prove expensive. Still, there
are ways to economize:
1. Don’t use envelopes when mailing
press releases. Tri-fold the paper and
staple the bottom.
2. For big mailings use pre-printed postcards—they’re cheaper to mail and
cheaper to produce.
3. Order return address stickers bearing
your company name from one of the
many mail-order catalogs that offer such
merchandise. They look good and cost
substantially less than printed versions.
4. Shop for supplies and copy services at
a large office supply store. Many of
these places duplicate the same document for as little as two cents a page.
5. Mail screeners fourth class. Fourth
class costs less than half the first-class
rate and takes only two to four more
days to deliver.
6. Save on postage by using air bubble
envelopes instead of cardboard VHS
tape mailers for screeners.
7. Put together a trailer instead of mailing
out full-length screeners; this reduces
postage and duplication costs.
8. Save big on phone bills by using tollfree phone numbers when calling
distributors, TV/radio stations and
publications. You’ll find them listed in
the toll-free directory at your local
9. When making long-distance toll calls,
place them when it’s most cost effective;
keep time zone changes in mind.
Contact your long-distance carrier for
The Bitter Fruits of Publicity
Execute a proper and thorough lowbudget video promotional campaign, and
your life will drastically change.
The good news is people will see your
work. The bad news is more complicated.
First, you’re apt to lose much of your
leisure time to your publicity efforts.
Sure, it is great to come home, pop open a
beer and settle in to watch Divorce Court.
But you’re not going to get on any magazine covers that way. Not that you must
devote every waking minute to the promotion of your video—we all need some
time to relax—it’s just that sooner or later
the marketing machine you create will
take on a life of its own. Instead of playing
cards with the guys or hitting the mall,
you will probably find yourself fielding
phone calls and writing letters. If the
process threatens to consume you, write
“free time” right into your work schedule.
Promoting your video does not have to
alienate you from friends and family,
though this often proves the case. So go
shoot hoops with friends or spend some
quiet time with your spouse when you can.
The second source of grief that accompanies promotion efforts: reviews. Reviews
are a necessary part of the marketing
process; you’ll need to develop a “thick
skin” to survive the nastier negative criticism. Remember, you are sending out
your video to literally hundreds of outlets,
Promotion Strategies
hoping to generate publicity and resources
for a press kit. Among all these people
watching your tape there will undoubtedly
be some who don’t like your work, for
whatever reasons.
Who cares? What do critics do, anyway? They sit in front of a monitor all day,
pointing out faults in something they
never had the guts to try to do themselves.
These people make their living by proclaiming what—in their own minds—is
good and what is bad.
At least this is what you must tell yourself when bad reviews come in. You will,
on the other hand, admire the intelligence
and good taste of the reviewer who raves
about your show.
There’s one sort of criticism to which
you should pay special attention—that of
your fellow videographers. Send your
video around to other producers who
have “made it” in your field. Suggestions
and insight from such individuals are
very valuable, often saving you time and
money on your next production.
A final thought: prepare yourself for the
fame that will haunt you after your name
begins to appear in the media. No longer
will you be able to venture out into the
world a nobody. You’ll become a local
celebrity and if your video is a big hit,
national fame will follow. Standing in the
limelight is fun, but it can be dangerous.
If you’re flitting around like some selfimportant media butterfly and your project
takes an unexpected turn for the worse,
your fall from grace will hurt all the more.
Promoting your video should be a fun
and exciting experience. Be sure it stays
that way!
Tell ’Em and Sell ’Em Again
With the right promotion strategies, fame
and fortune can be yours. The key is persistence. It takes time to create and execute
a promotion plan, but it’s worth it.
If you believe in your video’s success,
as you surely do, nothing can stop you.
The Demo Tape
Mark Steven Bosko
See video clips at
With so many of today’s ideographers
relying on their video skills and equipment
for income, marketplace competition is
keener than ever. To succeed, these courageous entrepreneurs (or hopefuls) need all
the help they can get.
A good demo tape should be your number one marketing tool. There’s nothing
like it to showcase (and sell) your videography talent. A well-done demo attracts
new clients, creates good public relations,
and can even lure competent employees.
Unfortunately, a good demo is not that
easy to make. In this chapter we explore
elements of the demo tape—its reason for
being, its creation, its uses. Once you see
what a demo can do, you’ll wonder why
you never got around to making one before.
Why You Need One
Say Uncle Bob, the dentist, needs a marketing video. He wants to feature basic
information on his facility—friendly staff,
low prices, after-work appointment hours.
He’ll show the tape around to factories
and large corporations. The vast numbers
of employees within these companies
permit him to offer attractive discount
In production terms, the video sounds
easy. Some interior shooting. A couple of
staff interviews. You’ll finish it off with
narration and graphics. You’re a member of
the family, so getting the job’s no problem,
But during your meeting with Bob, he
asks to see something you’ve done. A representation of past work. Some evidence
you’re competent to make a video to his
Uncle Bob wants a demo. You have one,
don’t you?
If you’re like many small video companies and independent producers, the
answer is probably no. But it takes more
than smooth talk to convince clients—even
Uncle Bob—that they can trust you with
their money. Videos aren’t tangible things.
Until a camera comes out of the bag, they’re
just talk and writing. Investing in someone’s
The Demo Tape
videography skills without having viewed
his work is like buying a car based on nothing but a sales pitch.
Videos often record those once-in-alifetime events. A potential client must be
certain you’ll get it right the first time. He
can’t stage his daughter’s wedding again
because you forgot a microphone. He
needs a good look at your “credentials.”
The demo also is a simple way to attract
new business. It shows off the power of the
medium. It gets your foot in the door.
As a fund-raising tool, a demo can’t be
beat. Whether you hope to make a lowbudget feature, a social issues documentary or an instructional tape, it takes
more than expendable income to pay for a
To paraphrase, “Demos talk. Bragging
walks.” Investors must see proof of your
abilities. No amount of pipe-dream description will get you the cash you need.
Low-budget producers often shoot a
couple of scenes of the planned work, and
present this “demo” to potential investors.
J.R. Bookwalter of Akron, Ohio, is the
definitive real-life example. He admired
the work of Hollywood producer Sam
Raimi (Darkman, The Evil Dead), and
pegged him as a possible backer. Raimi
screened the novice filmmaker’s previous
efforts. He was so impressed by the badly
exposed Super 8 “demos” he agreed to
finance a low-budget film.
To the tune of $125,000.
“Raimi told me that of all the proposals
he’d received at that point, only mine was
accompanied by a representation of my
experience,” Bookwalter says. “I’m sure if
I hadn’t screened my films, the deal
would never have gone through.”
This isn’t a common scenario, but it
proves the demo’s potential.
Just remember: No demo has more
impact than a bad demo, while a great
demo pays the bills.
Creating a truly effective demo tape
takes more than some assemble edits
and a blank tape. Careful planning is the
first step.
Consider the Content
You want to show off only your very best
work in your demo tape. Scan all your
videos, noting outstanding shots, imaginative camera-work and good production
values. You want to show a broad spectrum
of abilities.
If a particular vacation video looks good,
include it. Earmark for use any wedding
footage that came out better than normal.
Sporting events, community functions and
film-to-video transfers all provide raw
material for a demo.
Don’t be impatient. Getting the best
possible footage may mean scanning three
entire weddings to find that gorgeous
sunset kiss sequence. Any extra effort
invested at this point will only make the
demo that much more powerful.
Let’s say your video services have just
become available. Let’s also say that you
really haven’t had any legitimate (paying)
jobs yet. Sure, you’ve goofed around with
camcorders for a couple of years. But until
now, videography wasn’t something you’d
considered a career choice. How can you
put a demo together without footage?
By creating what you need.
For example, to target the wedding and
event video market, you’ll need footage of
a wedding or two. Check nuptial schedules of area churches and get permission
from some couples-to-be to shoot some
footage. You don’t have to cover the entire
wedding. Just get a few shots good enough
to convince a prospective client you can
handle the job.
Nobody wants to be your first client. If
you include wedding footage in your
demo you’ll appear to have experience in
this area.
One caveat. Be certain you really can
adequately produce a wedding video.
Acquiring a few stray shots and actually
shooting and editing a cohesive and attractive ceremony are two very different things.
You don’t want to misrepresent yourself.
Which leads us to another option for
acquiring demo footage: Shoot it for free.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Don’t cringe. I realize making money is
the whole point. But we all should pay a
few dues. Free production work is one
way to do this.
Hundreds of organizations gladly accept
the donation of video work. Any nonprofit
entity (your local food bank? SPCA?) is
a good place to start. Call. Explain your
situation. Make your offer of free service.
Beyond getting demo material, this philanthropic practice increases your working experience. And it’s not bad for your
reputation, either.
Inform local press of your charitable
video “donations.” This is great free
advertising. Doesn’t it feel good to help
out others?
A Manual of Style
How you edit your demo can have as
much impact as its contents.
First, set an appropriate length for your
tape. Your projected audience pretty much
determines this. A 3-minute demo isn’t
really long enough to warrant an award
of cash.
Nor would you want to solicit a commercial account with a half-hour production. The client wants a 30-second spot,
not a TV series.
Rule of thumb: Keep it short. For the
general production market, 5 to 10 minutes
is about right. It’s not so long the viewer
gets bored but not so short a potential
client will question your experience. There’s
ample time to display your best work,
professionally and courteously.
Applying the term “courteous” to a demo
tape may seem odd, but your customers
lead busy lives. They have better things to
do than sit through your 30-minute extravaganza. Like anyone else, they want to get
their information as quickly as possible.
(You can always include supplemental
materials with tapes you send to major
You’ve decided on a 5-minute demo.
Now you’re ready to edit footage, right?
Wrong. We’re not done planning:
Determine the order and style for presenting your experience before you start cutting. And it’s a good idea to create a
detailed script. Map out the order of each
segment of footage.
Now consider style. Who’s your target
market? How can you reach them most
If they’re serious business people, try a
straightforward presentation—interspersing
your footage with defining graphics and
augment it with a clean voiceover. The
key here is quick-paced editing with a
clear demonstration of your abilities.
Perhaps you plan to approach several
markets using a single demo tape. Intersperse interviews shot expressly for the
demo—remarks from enthusiastic past
clients—with cuts of your footage.
Taping these interviews means a little
extra work, but it’s well worth it. The boast
of a satisfied customer impresses potential
clients more than any claim you can make.
The testimonial is popular for all facets
of advertising—just check out the commercials during network prime time. Using
this technique in a small-town framework
pays off especially well.
Business people and ordinary citizens
see neighbors and friends—familiar faces—
on the tape. If a prospect’s competition or
friend up the street is using you, chances
are good you’ve found a new client.
The truly motivated may want to host
their demos. The hosted demo is an innovative approach most smaller production
companies seldom take advantage of.
If you’re not a smooth talker, find someone who is. Create a script and have the
emcee introduce each clip or segment.
You can structure this many ways, for a
serious, comedic or down-home feel.
Take care, though, if you’re going for
laughs. Your sense of humor might not be
that of the general public. It’s less risky to
be serious.
Consider your host’s setting, wardrobe
and narrative. All these play a big part in
the presentation’s effectiveness.
The Demo Tape
Experiment. You may want to combine
styles. Try a hosted demo that includes
interviews with satisfied clients. Voiceover
client comments while rolling footage
from a particular job. Incorporate shots of
your equipment in the demo.
Interview yourself—talk about customer
satisfaction, your state-of-the-art gear, your
sincere goal of creating the best possible
Shameless self-promotion adds a personal touch, and it’s as popular as the testimonial. Again, just take a look at any
network TV program for abundant proof.
Technical Concerns
Planning and assembling a slick demo does
you no good if the tape itself is defective.
This sounds obvious, but it’s a legitimate consideration. When putting your
production together, work with the lowestgeneration tape available. If you use a wedding shot, pull it from the original footage.
This applies to any material included in
the tape.
If raw footage isn’t available, be sure
your editing set-up allows for the cleanest
possible dub. Remember—you’ll dub the
demo again for client copies. If you use a
second-generation shot, it will be fourthgeneration when a client views it.
Seen much good-looking fourthgeneration footage lately?
Keep a quality-control check on footage,
graphics and narration recorded specifically for the demo. Your amazing shots
won’t impress if they’re book-ended by
amateurish on-screen intros from an inexperienced host. Be sure graphics and
voiceovers complement the rest of the
tape. It may seem funny to have your voice
talent talk like Elmer Fudd, but does this
really show you in a professional light?
Distribute your demo on VHS. Other
video formats are gaining popularity, but
VHS is still most widely used. Businesses,
organizations and individuals welcome this
tape size. If someone requests a different
format, make it available. Conversion
services are plentiful and cheap. It’s worth
the expense if you get the job.
Packaging affords you another chance
to get a jump on the competition. True,
you can’t judge a book by its cover. But it
doesn’t hurt to impress when theres a
chance to. Most demos I see come in plain
cardboard or plastic sleeves. Boring. Why
not take advantage of those nifty fullsleeve insert shells? Create a cover or
design with photos from your business,
high-tech images or even your logo. The
8-1/2 by 11-inch layout facilitates low-cost
color copies. Slip your custom cover in
the sleeve and you’ve got a package that
really stands out.
Or you can print professional face or
spine labels on colored stock. Consider
dubbing onto tapes with colored shells. It
costs a bit more, but it separates you from
the masses.
Mail your demos in bubble-lined
envelopes—they cost less to mail than
cardboard shippers, and they allow you to
insert additional materials. Always include
a cover letter, a short note informing the
recipient of your intentions.
If you’re sending the tape in response to
a request be sure and point this out.
Enclose any press you’ve received. Letters
of recommendation are good, too. Praise
from past clients impresses potential ones.
Show It Around
There are a surprising number of additional ways to get your tape to roll where
it counts most:
Event videographers should keep a tape
available for loan at photography studios.
Drop a couple at local bridal and tux
Film-to-tape transfer specialists might
leave a copy at film shops.
Attend county fairs, business expos or
video industry trade shows with demo
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
in hand. These functions are tailor-made
to sell your business. You’ll meet business owners and potential clients faceto-face.
Present your demo to church, school
and community groups. These organizations always have some sort of function
in the works. Allow them to witness the
advantages of having videotape recording
of their event.
To do just that, keep a few key ideas in
Include only your best work. Don’t be
impatient when scanning your videos
for footage. You want to show a broad
spectrum of ability. If necessary, create
the footage you need.
Set an appropriate length. Rule of Thumb:
Keep it short. Five to 10 minutes is about
Plan order and style before editing
your footage. Keep in mind your target
market. When possible, create a detailed
script. Try incorporating testimonials
and self-promotion. You may even want
to host your demo.
If you need funding, shoot a couple of
scenes of your planned work. Present
this “demo” to potential investors.
Work with the earliest generation tape
available. Remember, it will be about
fourth-generation by the time your
client views it.
Distribute your demo on VHS. If someone requests a different format, make it
Package your demo creatively. Use fullsleeve insert covers and colored spine
labels and tape shells.
Mail demos in bubble-lined envelopes.
Be sure to include a cover letter and
supplementary materials.
Follow up your demo presentations
with a personal sales effort. Dispel the
high-cost myth. Explain how your
videos will benefit your client.
Following Up
People can be lazy. Your demo may pique
their interest, but you’re dreaming if you
think it’s enough to inspire every viewer
to make the call. It often takes some additional sales effort to get the job.
Back to tooth-man Bob. As he considers
a marketing plan, he gets your demo tape
in the mail. Until now, direct mail, print
ads and weekly shoppers had seemed the
way to go. They require little effort on his
part, pricing is reasonable, and audience
delivery is good.
But now he’s struck by the impact of
live, talking images. Potential patients can
“tour” his high-tech facility. Nurses and
staff can show their friendly faces. Bob
himself can make an earnest plea for
healthy teeth. Done well, the demo may
intrigue Bob enough to give you a call.
Or you could call him. Dispel the highcost myth associated with video production. Explain how the video will attract
clients just as it attracted him to your
work. Let Bob know he can be as involved
as he wants in making the tape.
Putting together an effective, professionalquality demo is not something you do
one afternoon out of boredom. It takes patience, planning, creativity and hard work.
You want to show yourself at your best.
Rely on these key ideas and you’ll create a
demo impressive enough to convince even
Uncle Bob.
Internet Distribution
Getting your videos seen on screens all over the World Wide Web.
The Web:
Little Screen, Big
Carolyn Miller
Natalie MacGowan Spencer produced her
first video for the Web just a few months
ago, but by Internet standards that makes
her an “old timer.” It’s been plenty long
enough to convince her that the Web is a
viable and exciting new medium for up
and coming video producers. “It’s allowed
me to spread my wings and fly,” she
declared recently. “All the video editors I
know want to try it out, to play with it. We
don’t know what it can do yet, and we want
to check out its creative possibilities. We’re
all stimulated by it and tickled by it.”
Before discovering the Web, Londonborn Natalie had made short films and
done hair and makeup for music celebrities and commercials. Her debut piece for
the Web was a music video of the British
band Olive. Created specifically for the
Web, it was made for Eveo (www.eveo.
com). Its bold, assertive style swiftly
attracted a great deal of attention and it
became one of the hits of the site.
“When you’re making something for the
Internet,” she said, “the screen space is so
much smaller that you want your visuals
to be extremely strong, so they really pop
out at you, almost like a 3-D effect. And
when you’re shooting on video, you
should build on what video does best and
not try to imitate film. Film is soft and
subtler, but video is very literal and the
images are very striking. In my opinion,
you shouldn’t fight it, you should go for it.”
Developing a Distinct Format
Eveo, the site that Natalie made her music
video for, is one of many Web sites that
feature shorts. However, the site is of special interest to videographers because of
its emphasis on pieces created on video.
Most of the other sites feature shorts first
made on film, often for the film festival
circuit, and then transferred to video.
Alan Sternfeld, Chief Content Officer of
Eveo, explained recently that the goal of
Eveo is to give videographers a forum for
making and showing short, self-expressive
pieces, “little movies.” Sternfeld says
these original pieces, each termed an
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
“eveo” (short for “e-video”), “can be made
by anyone about anything.” He sees Web
shorts as a distinctly new format and said
they are being introduced at his site much
in the same way music videos were first
developed and promoted by MTV. Eveo
has an open-door policy and solicits work
“from people who just got a camcorder for
Christmas right up to the pros,” according
to Sternfeld.
Eveo’s library contains a large portion
of non-fiction pieces, an area that often
appeals to video hobbyists operating
on lower budgets or with less experience.
The subject matter is wildly diverse—
everything from true stories about homeless people to a love triangle involving
three kindergartners (see Figure 64.1). To
create a successful non-fiction video for
the Web, Sternfeld advises that videographers do something based on personal
experience. “Use this as an opportunity to
reveal something about the world you live
in,” he recommended.
Sternfeld believes working in this new
arena can be a tremendously liberating
experience and unlike television, with its
rigid formulas and set program lengths,
the Web offers uncharted creative freedom.
He also applauds the fact there are fewer
human roadblocks. “The Internet is a great
disintermediary phenomenon,” he asserted.
“It cuts out all the middlemen and gatekeepers.”
Charting New Territory
One team of creators who has benefited
by the Web’s freedom is the small group of
friends who made a startling short called
Sunday’s Game (see Figure 64.2).
According to David Garrett, one of the
short’s two producers, the group deliberately set out to make something that
would both shake people up and showcase
their sensibilities. The short tells the
story of a seemingly bland quintet of
elderly ladies who spend Sunday afternoon playing a lethal game of Russian
Roulette. Although the four creators of
Sunday’s Game had shot it on film and
envisioned it as a calling card piece to be
shown at film festivals, every festival they
Figure 64.1 Take your pick—eveo offers a wide selection of
categories for submitted videos.
The Web
Figure 64.2 Sunday’s game—a video that
breaks new ground and takes risks—a recipe
for success on the web.
Figure 64.3 Billy Jones—A Web short that won
top honors in Yahoo’s online film festival.
approached rejected it. It wasn’t until
executives at the Web site Ifilm (www.ifilm.
com) recognized its merits—and saw its
strong subject matter as an asset, not a
liability—that the short got its chance.
When the piece debuted on Ifilm, it
received so much positive attention (as well
as stirring up heated controversy) that
members of the team now have various TV
and motion-picture deals at top Hollywood
Their story is real-life rags to riches: at
the time they made Sunday’s Game, they
were unemployed. One of them even had
his car repossessed before success hit.
None of the team had gone to film school;
Garrett, for example, was an attorney.
“Our school was the school of hard
knocks,” he commented recently. “We
broke a lot of rules. The pace of Sunday’s
Game was really slow, especially for MTV
fans, and it had a lot of old lady talk. In
fact, it broke three taboos: against using
old people, against guns and against
suicide.” Garrett believes that one of the
main reasons Sunday’s Game was so successful on the Web was because it was
unique in both viewpoint and subject
matter. His advice for making shorts for
the Internet? “Make something you can’t
see anywhere else,” he said.
A New Place to Shine
Like David Garrett, Christopher Bell is
convinced that content is critically important. He, too, originally set out to make a
film to be shown at film festivals, but his
quirky labor of love, Billy Jones, took him
three years to complete, and by the time
it was finished, the Web had matured
enough to be a desirable venue (see
Figure 64.3). Like Sunday’s Game, it
made its debut on the Internet site, Ifilm.
And it seems to have brought Bell the
kind of attention that would be hard to
attract in the film festival world: he won
top honors at the first annual Yahoo
Internet Life Online Film Festival, and
he’s had a flurry of meetings at top studios
and talent agencies.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Billy Jones is a dark comedy about a
12-year-old smoker, and not only contains a
strong anti-smoking message, but is done in
a highly original visual style. Bell said that
he was inspired to make the film because a
good friend of his was hooked on smoking.
“It’s a story I really wanted to tell,” he commented recently. “And I got other people to
believe in what I was doing, too, and to do
top quality work on it… sometimes for
free.” Though produced on a small budget
by Hollywood standards, Bell paid close
attention to every detail. “Everything in a
frame should have a reason for being,” he
stressed. “Especially on the Internet, you
need to avoid visual clutter.”
Another director whose work unexpectedly found a home on the Internet is
Rafael Fernandez. His short, Oregon, is a
minimalist, chilly sci-fi story that has
received glowing comments from viewers
who have watched it on the Web. Made
on film, Oregon debuted simultaneously
on Ifilm and at the prestigious South by
Southwest Film Festival.
Like a number of other Internet success
stories, it was Fernandez’ first production. Before making Oregon, he had spent
five years working as a computer programmer. Though he had studied writing
in college, he had no other skills relating
to making a film. So, to make up for his
lack of production experience, he assembled a “kitchen cabinet” of friends and
acquaintances that were experts in various specialties. He was still working at his
day job while shooting the short. “It
almost killed me,” he confessed recently.
Like Garrett and Bell, Fernandez believes
that to be successful on the Internet, you
must first start with the subject matter. As
for shooting, he advises keeping the real
Figure 64.4 Post it—think you’ve got the next big Web title?
Post your work at a site like ifilm.
The Web
estate—the small screen space—in mind,
and avoiding such obvious pitfalls as
giant establishing shots or shots of tiny,
intimate details. Overall, though, he
believes it isn’t necessary to worry about
the technology or the limitations of the
Internet (see Figure 64.4). “You can get
around the limitations,” he asserted
recently. “And the technology is going to
catch up, anyway. I think of the story I
want to tell first, and the venue second.”
Although he was initially hesitant
about putting Oregon on the Web, it
proved to be a good move for him. It led to
numerous professional contacts and
opportunities. Overall, he feels that the
gamble he took in making his short
has more than paid off. Currently he has
a contract to make music videos and a
possible deal with the Sci-Fi Channel.
“It’s been a life-altering experience,” he
Sidebar 1
Creating Your Own Web Calling Card
Do you want to make a video that will shine on the Web? The experts offer the following tips,
which apply equally well to non-fiction and story based pieces:
1. Choose a strong concept. A concept that’s original or has a surprising slant—especially
something that is meaningful to you. Don’t be afraid of a controversial theme, as long as it
doesn’t involve gratuitous violence or explicit sex. Craft your topic so it can be explored in a
short span of time.
2. Don’t sacrifice production quality. The higher the production quality, the better it will
look on the Web.
Remember that strong visuals, close-ups and extreme close-ups work better than wide and
long shots on the Web. If you’ll be streaming your production, keep your backgrounds simple
and avoid rapid camera movements, moving backgrounds transition effects and quick cutting.
3. Pay attention to lighting. Keep things on the bright side; dark scenes tend to be hard to
see on the Internet, and any grain, caused by low light, will be interpreted as motion when you
encode your video for streaming, making your files more complicated and harder to stream.
4. Don’t neglect your sound. Use good mikes and avoid shooting where there’s background noise. Sound is especially important on the Web, since visual quality and small
screen size make images more difficult to “read.”
5. Select a catchy title or “log line” (short description). These can help put your short in
the limelight.
Sidebar 2
Sites to Check Out
The following list of sites, while by no means exhaustive, is a good starting place to investigate some of the many venues for shorts on the Web. Be forewarned, however: the fortunes of
Web sites rise and fall like the tides.
Ifilm ( largest venue for shorts on the Web; extremely democratic,
inclusive polices.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
AtomFilms ( smaller library than Ifilm; highly selective; prides itself
on top quality offerings.
Eveo ( specifically designed for videographers; open-door policy; good
venue for non-fiction shorts.
MediaTrip ( highly popular destination; showcases some of the
biggest hits on the Web.
RealNetworks ( home of major streaming media tools; also shows
shorts and offers useful information.
Cinemanow ( specializes in independent films; offers free homepages for directors and others to promote their own work.
Sidebar 3
Three Elements of Success
David Garrett, one of the producers of the Web hit Sunday’s Game, believes there are three
keys to maximizing the potential benefits of having your short on the Internet.
1. BUZZ. For your short to stand out, it needs to create buzz. The pieces that generate buzz,
he feels, are the ones that are highly original and that are top quality products.
2. ACCESS. Buzz gains you access to places you couldn’t go before—to top talent agencies,
studios and money people.
3. IDEAS. Even though buzz will open doors for you, this access is of little use unless
you come in with good ideas, Garrett believes. You need to be prepared to discuss new
projects in order to take advantage of your moment in the sun.
Eleven Easy Steps to
Charles Mohnike
Whether your pet video project is Exposing
The Chattanooga City Council or Baby
Timmy Makes a Mud Pie it’s likely you’ve
been tempted by the possibility of streaming it over the Internet. Putting video
on the Web is a great way to show your
work to others, whether you plan to offer
sample clips that might lead to a lucrative
sale of your tape, or to just display your
work to friends, relatives and admirers. If
you’re new to the Web, you might think that
getting your video into streaming formats
requires lots of tricky mouse-jockeying and
a hefty wallet, but that’s no longer the case.
The latest crop of streaming-media
packages makes it easier than ever to
incorporate streaming video into your
existing Web site—whether or not your
Web provider runs a video-streaming
server. In the following 12 steps, we’ll
show you how to start with a standard
Windows movie file (.avi) and turn it into
a streaming video presentation.
Our example uses RealNetworks’ RealProducer Plus, one of the most popular
streaming video tools, but by no means
the only one. The concepts in this example also apply to stream-building packages such as Sonic Foundry’s all-in-one
Stream Anywhere, Terran Interactive’s
Media Cleaner Pro, the native Macintosh
application QuickTime Pro as well as
Microsoft’s Windows Media Tools.
The Process
On launching RealProducer Plus, you’ll be
asked a series of questions to find out
what type of video you want to create and
what to do with the thing once it’s created.
Step 1: Select Recording Options.
Turning this feature on will allow others
to “record” your streaming video by saving it to their hard drives as it plays. If
you’re working with copyrighted material
or have worries about others stealing your
thunder, it’s best to turn this feature off.
Step 2: Choose a Recording Wizard.
Fortunately, RealNetworks has followed
the lead of many software providers and
ditched the animated wizard characters.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Instead they use the term to describe a
series of dialog boxes that guide you
through an otherwise tooth-gnashing
process. There are three to choose from.
Record from File. Allows you to convert an existing .avi, .mov or MPEG-1
movie file into streaming RealVideo.
Record from Media Device. Allows you
to record video directly from an input
device such as a VCR, camcorder or
WebCam, but you’ll need the necessary
capture hardware installed in your computer if you intend to record from an
external source/device.
Live Broadcast. Sets up your computer
to serve streaming video to a compatible
RealServer elsewhere on the Net for a
live Webcast. This method might be
used to broadcast a meeting, a television
newscast or even your appendectomy if
you’re so inclined.
Step 3: Choose a File. When you
choose the “Record from File” option,
RealProducer prompts you find the movie
file on your hard drive using a standard
dialog box. Again, this example assumes
that you’re working with a single existing
movie file. In most cases, an edited project rendered to a single .avi or .mov file
(see Figure 65.1).
Step 4: Supply RealMedia Clip
Information. RealProducer next prompts
for details to include in your video file.
It’s a good idea to include things like copyright information (to thwart the thunderstealers), a description and some pertinent
Step 5: Select a File Type. The selection you make in this Window determines
Figure 65.1 Take your pick—you can encode footage from
a file on your hard drive, from tape or from a live camera.
Eleven Easy Steps to Streaming
the type of file RealProducer will create
from your video.
Multi-Rate. If your Web site host uses
RealServer G2, count yourself among
the truly privileged. G2 servers automatically detect the user’s connection
speed and then serve up an optimized
video, meaning that your users always
see the best quality video for their connection whether they’re on a cable connection next door or a budget modem
somewhere in the Himalayas.
Single Rate. If your Web host doesn’t run
RealServer G2, you can still serve streaming video on any standard Web server
with this method. With Single Rate, you
have to create one or more video files
optimized to different connection speeds,
and then allow your users to choose one
that suits them (see Figure 65.2).
Step 6: Select your Target Audience.
We’ll assume that you don’t have access
to a RealServer G2 and that you’ll serve
your video from a standard Web host.
When you select “Single Rate” you’ll be
prompted to choose one or more “target
audiences” that will view your file. If you
choose more than one, RealProducer
will create a separate video file for each.
For example, if you choose 28.8k modem
and ISDN RealProducer will make two
files, one with smaller file size and lower
video quality to serve over 28.8 modems,
and one with larger file size and better
video quality to take advantage of broader
Step 7: Select an Audio Format. RealProducer next asks you to select the audio
quality for your video. Lower selections
like “Voice Only” mean smaller files and
more room in the stream for better-looking
video. The trade-off is that lower rates can
also make certain audio sound like someone with a mouthful of enchilada shouting into a tin can. In general, it’s best to try
the lower-quality options first and use the
Figure 65.2 The right rate—select multiple file types for viewers
with various connection speeds.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 65.3 Sound off—select lower audio quality in favor of high
quality video.
higher rates only if your resulting audio is
unintelligible, or if your project has a
more complex audio track with music and
sound effects (see Figure 65.3).
Step 8: Select a Video Format. Like the
Audio Format dialog, this screen allows
you to choose the quality of your resulting
video. In practice, we have found that
“Smoothest Motion” delivers pretty fair
video quality, but “Normal Motion” occasionally makes actors appear as if they’d
been painted during Picasso’s Cubist
period. Sorrenson video compression used
in products like Media Cleaner Pro has a
Developers Edition that uses Variable Bit
Rate (VBR) to dramatically smooth out
some of these artifacts. Experiment to find
the best rate and product for your content
(see Figure 65.4).
Step 9: Choose an Output File. RealProducer next prompts you to specify a
filename and location to save your RealVideo file. It supplies a filename based on
that of your input file, but if that title
doesn’t grab you, choose the “Save As”
option to customize it.
Step 10: Encode your Video. Finally,
RealProducer provides a summary of the
options you’ve chosen and returns you to
its main screen. If you need to make any
last-minute changes to the encoding
options, this would be the time. Press the
Start button to begin the encoding. You’ll
see your video whiz by in the display, letting you know that RealProducer’s magic
fairies have begun their handiwork (see
Figure 65.5).
Step 11: Publish Your Video to the
Web. You now have a properly encoded
RealVideo file on your hard drive, but it’s
not doing you much good there. You’ll
need to create a Web page to announce
your clip to the world. To begin, choose
“Create Web Page” from RealProducer’s
pull-down Tools menu. The wizard will
prompt you for the name of the video file
and ask whether you want users to view it
in their browsers (Embedded Player) or in
their stand-alone RealPlayer (Pop-Up
Player). Finally, the wizard asks you to provide a caption for the Web page and a location to store the page on your hard drive.
Eleven Easy Steps to Streaming
Figure 65.4 Looking good—experiment with video quality to make
the most of your bandwidth.
Figure 65.5 Ready to roll—review your settings, then press start to
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Once the Web page is saved, you can
upload it and your video file to your Web
host using standard methods such as an
FTP program, or you can choose Publish
Web Page from the Tools menu to have
RealProducer automate the process with
another nifty Wizard.
That’s it. Your streaming video is now
publicly available and it’s likely you’ll soon
be contacted by eager fans around the
globe, assuming you put your actual e-mail
address into your video’s information
boxes instead of using [email protected] as you
do with all those Web forms. Good luck.
Sidebar 1
Five Tips for Better-Looking Streams
1. Balance encoding rate with image quality. The higher the encoding rate or “target audience,” the larger the video file that will be stored on your server. If your Web host is stingy
with the storage space, you can get more bang for your buck by using lower encoding rates
at the expense of video quality.
2. Avoid Stereo. Even if your source video contains stereo audio, it’s best to avoid the tempting “Stereo Music” option unless it’s absolutely required by your content. At lower encoding rates, mono audio will usually sound better than stereo because the single track won’t
require as much compression.
3. Let your content drive quality. When choosing a video quality, consider your program’s
content. For example, if your presentation contains mostly still images, definitely choose
“Slide Show”—your users will see extremely clear picture quality even if their modems
date back to the Reagan-Bush administration.
4. Filter to reduce artifacts. If your resulting RealVideo contains artifacts like interlacing or
noise, choose Preferences from the Options menu and select the Video Filter tab. There
you’ll find some optional filters that may help you pull your picture and audio out of the
5. Capture the best quality you can. It’s usually best to first capture your video using the software that comes with your capture card and convert it to RealVideo later. Capturing
directly from RealProducer saves you a step, but if your computer’s processor can’t cut the
mustard you’ll get ugly glitches in your final RealVideo.
Squish! Shooting for
Bill Davis
In order to get your video creations to fit
within the bandwidth limitations of Netdelivered streaming video (and storage/playback media such as VCDs), your video
is going to be subject to compression.
While the “data pipes” available to the
general public are getting bigger, in order
to use them for something as data intensive as streaming video, you’ll want to
condense your video data stream as much
as you possibly can.
The Holy Grail
The overall goal of video compression is
to reduce the bandwidth requirements of
your data stream so that it can travel
quickly and efficiently through the copper and silicon that make up today’s computerized video systems.
It’s the electronic equivalent of making
sausage. You take a big bunch of stuff
(data) and figure out a way to squeeze it
into its smallest possible form.
But don’t get me wrong. Compression
can be a good thing. In fact, every digital
video format that enjoys widespread popularity already incorporates some form of
video compression. But how much, and
what kind of compression can have a big
effect on how your video will look.
Of course, the ingredients of digital
video are numbers—and without a doubt,
data compression is a lot less messy than
making sausage. But as I learned watching
my mother-in-law in her kitchen, trying to
stuff a lot of something into a little space,
no matter what type of compression you’re
contemplating, isn’t likely to be pretty.
The Basic Concept
The root concepts behind most data compression schemes are easy to understand.
Imagine that you and a friend are sitting at a
table in front of 100 coins. Set up in 10 rows
of 10 coins each; they create a simple grid.
Your job is to tell your friend how to make
patterns in the coins. You could develop a
pattern from the coins by describing them
one at a time. You could say, “Make the first
coin heads, the second one heads, the third
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
one tails,” and so on. And continue along
for each of the 100 coins.
And that’s similar to what an uncompressed digital signal represents. The
information describing each separate
pixel is stored, transmitted and translated
into the picture raster separately.
Since each pixel has to have enough
code to represent the required levels of its
specific color and brightness, you end up
with a whole lot of descriptive numbers,
i.e. a whole lot of data.
But what if you could simply tell your
friend, “Make the first 50 heads and the
rest tails.” Bingo. In one simple instruction, you can describe a whole range of
Most compression schemes take a similar approach. They look for repetitive patterns in the data and instead of describing
them in discrete steps, they attempt to
express them in condensed mathematical
shorthand (see Figure 66.1).
If your goal is to shoot footage that will
compress well, the first step is to pay
close attention to how much detail your
shots contain.
If you put your subject in front of a
flatly lit, solid color wall, your software
will have lots of excellent compression
opportunities (see Figure 66.2).
But there’s a danger here. Putting every
subject in front of such a flat background
can make for pretty boring video. So, the
challenge is to learn about how to create
shots that are both compression-friendly
and visually interesting.
On the opposite extreme, putting a subject in front of a large, leafy tree on a
windy day is a classic example of footage
that will compress poorly. Your poor pixels try to portray millions of leaves alternating between light and dark, and as the
breeze blows, nearly every pixel in every
frame changes. The result is that there’s
hardly any chance for your compression
software to find repetitive patterns from
frame to frame.
Combine that kind of compressionhostile scene with a video system that
applies a large amount of compression to
Figure 66.1 Intraframe
compression is accomplished by
averaging pixels. In this example,
four pixels of information are
averaged and stored as a single
piece of information.
Figure 66.2 Solid-colored backgrounds
compress better than complex or busy
Squish! Shooting for Streaming
the signal and you can be left with some
pretty ugly footage.
The results are often described as “compression anomalies” or “compression artifacts,” convenient shorthand terms for a
range of picture problems, including
blockiness, which can result from poor
compression results.
Spare Change
Since the object of making compressionfriendly video is keeping the intraframe
(between pixels within a given frame) and
interframe (between adjacent frames) differences to a minimum, anything that
makes one pixel different from the preceding one works against you. This includes
such simple camera moves as pans and
zooms. Think about it; when you zoom
into a scene, the view constantly changes.
And the same holds true for pans and
tilts. Under certain circumstances, these
moves can decrease the ability of your
software to compress your scene. Even the
slightest camera move can cause compression problems. Thinking of shooting
handheld? Forget it! A tripod is essential
when shooting video for streaming.
But Not Always
Consider a shot of a white wall with a
solid black square on it. Simply panning
across the scene won’t change the ability
of your software to compress it. After all,
the differences between the elements
aren’t increasing, only changing location
on the raster. And if you zoom-in on a
similar scene, the compression penalty
will also be small. The black square gets
larger, but with only two simple colors (or
two regions to describe), your software
will still be able to do a good job of
decreasing the size of the data stream.
So, if you’ve established a compressionfriendly scene, it’s not always necessary
to be super-conservative with your camera work. Make your own judgment. And
Figure 66.3 Complex moving backgrounds,
such as the plants shown here, do not
compress well. The first order of business
when you’re thinking about compressionfriendly shots is to look at your landscape
with an eye to detail.
understanding how compression works
will help you make better judgments.
The Devil’s in the Details
If a major obstacle to compression is
scene detail, it stands to reason that simply removing some of the fine detail from
your scene will help increase your ability
to compress it (see Figure 66.3).
If there are busy patterns in paintings,
wall hangings or light and dark details,
such as narrow window blinds, try to reframe with an eye on minimizing and eliminating compression-unfriendly material.
A good example might be a shot that uses
a large bookcase as a background. Row
upon row of colorful book jacket spines,
with contrasting type, is another type
of scene that would typically compress
Moving the subject in front of a
plain background would make a big
Plumbing the Depths
If, however, you’re faced with a scene
where background detail is unavoidable,
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 66.4 Clever us of depth of field to
create a soft focus on the background can
also improve compression.
Another great compression trick (if
you have the technical capabilities) is to
shoot your subject against a blue screen or
green screen and matte in a still photo
instead of a “live” background. Then no
matter how complicated the background
image, the complete lack of motion
between frames will make it easy for your
computer to compress the interframe
The key here is to keep a sharp eye out
for anything that will lead to large interframe changes.
Compress the Future
one of the easiest ways to improve your
compression results is to use the tricks of
depth of field to throw the background
out of focus (see Figure 66.4).
If you’ve been reading Videomaker for
long, you already know about controlling
depth of field, leaving your subject in sharp
focus while allowing your background to
go soft. Because soft backgrounds have less
detail, they will compress much better than
sharp backgrounds.
If you have ample camera-to-subject-tobackground room available and can keep
your scene’s light levels low enough, open
up your iris or increase your shutter speed
to make your depth of field shallow,
throwing your background out of focus.
As video migrates from television sets to
the Web, VCDs and other cutting-edge
storage media such as Flash memory
cards, memory sticks and more, compression is going to be an increasingly important part of video content delivery.
A part of effective video production in
the future could be the ability to judge
how well a scene will compress for streaming. As with most other video skills,
trial and error is a good teacher. So, as
you start to prepare your video for these
new delivery technologies, pay special
attention to the effects of compression on
your work. Keeping your eye tuned to
shooting compression-friendly video is a
skill you’ll likely be using for a long time
to come.
Sidebar 1
A Compressionist by Trade
As compression gets more and more important in the delivery of video content, there is a
growing trend of individuals who are specializing in this field.
The video compressionist is an individual who either understands how to deliver the
largest amount of content in the smallest stream of data, or who understands the best type of
compression to employ in order to get the best looking video playback on a particular system.
The fact that there are specialists doing this work is a good indicator of how complicated
the underlying technology can be. But don’t worry, for the vast majority of us, the hardware
and software tools we use do an excellent job of compression without the need for any
human input at all.
Squish! Shooting for Streaming
Sidebar 2
Be Afraid of the Dark
Well lit shots cut back on grain, making the image easier to compress, easier to send and easier on the eye of the Web viewer. As strange as it may seem, you will want to use bright lighting for roughly the same reason as limiting movement in the frame. Grain (also known as
noise) in an image is seen as motion by compression programs, eating up file space and
resulting in degraded images. A simple, stable, grainy image can be as difficult for a compression program to work with as a complicated image with lots of motion. Good looking
streaming video requires that you shoot well-lit raw footage.
A Step-by-Step Guide
to Encoding for the Web
John Davis
When you started your production, you
had a vision; you may have had a simple
message to communicate, a joke to tell or
a story to share. After shooting, you spent
time editing your footage and making
your masterpiece come to life. Finally,
your work is at an end and your finished
production sits in an .avi file on your hard
drive. Now what do you do? The only
thing left is to output your production so
you can share it with others.
How can you share your project with all
the people that you want to see it? You
could output your project to tape and
make duplicates to send to your friends.
Or, you could put your finished program
on the Web, either as a downloadable file
or as streaming media for the entire world
to see. In this article you will learn how to
take your video file from your hard drive,
create a streaming media file and then
post it to a Web site.
Although the specific mouse clicks
may vary depending on the software you
use, the basic steps are the same. Using
this article as a guide, you’ll be able to
get your project ready for your audience
to view.
Video on the Web
You can post video files on a Web site and
make them available for downloading just
like you can any other type of file.
Because video files can be quite large,
with correspondingly large download
times, many people choose to offer their
video as streaming media. Streaming
refers to media files that can be viewed as
they are downloaded. Since viewers
watch streaming video on the fly, they
don’t have to wait for long downloads.
Only a small part of the file stays on your
computer while you are watching the
The first thing that you must do if
you’re going to stream your video is to
convert your video file into a streaming
format (see Figure 67.1). There are several
different software programs that will perform the necessary file conversions; some
Encoding for the Web
Figure 67.1 A Complete video—once you’ve finished your production,
it’s ready to be converted, to a streaming format.
will also help you clean up your project
and tweak it for the smaller format
and ower quality that’s required for the
Web. Before you go out and buy encoding software, you might want to check the
editing software you now have. Some of
the newer versions, such as Sonic
Foundry’s Vegas Video, have encoding
options built into their output choices.
Similarly, encoders from both RealMedia
and Microsoft Windows Media are available as free plugins to popular editing
packages like Adobe Premiere and even
Microsoft’s PowerPoint. For more products you can see a detailed list in
the Streaming, MPEG and QuickTime
Encoders Buyer’s Guide, on page 9 in this
We have selected one of the products
featured in that buyer’s guide, Media
Cleaner Pro 4 from Terran Interactive, to
illustrate the necessary steps to get a
video from your computer to the World
Wide Web. Although other programs will
operate differently, the concepts will be
universal and consistent.
Getting Started
First, make sure you have your finished video project and the encoding software. For our example, we will encode a
60-second video for a project that we shot
and mastered on the Mini DV format. The
final edit of the video resides on our hard
drive as a 720 480, 30-frame-per-second,
32-bit color .avi file with 16-bit stereo
audio, sampled at 44.1 kHz. Sound complicated? Don’t worry. These are standard settings for video captured to a computer
from a digital camcorder using an IEEE
1394 (FireWire) cable. Your settings may
differ, but that doesn’t matter. You simply
need to have the video you’d like to stream
on your computer’s hard drive to begin.
When you start the encoding program,
you will likely have two choices: you can
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 67.2 Capture it—load your video into the Batch window to begin
the encoding process.
use the program’s wizard to help you customize your project or you can specify all
the advanced settings yourself. Choosing
the wizard is a good way to start, as it
walks you step-by-step through the
encoding process. For this article we’ll
discuss the advanced settings option.
When you’re ready to begin encoding,
you first need to load the video that you
want to encode into the encoding program. You can do this by dragging the
actual .avi file you’ll use into the Batch
window or you can choose Add to Batch
from the File Menu (see Figure 67.2). If
the Batch window is not available, simply
select New Batch from the file menu.
Once you have your production in the
Process window, you can then go to the
Advanced Settings dialog by selecting
Advanced Settings from the Windows
menu. It is here where you will tell the
software how you would like to encode
your streaming media file.
Output Options
The first settings in the Advanced Settings
window are on the Output tab. The most
basic decision is the output file format: do
you want a Real Video, QuickTime or
Windows Media file? Or do you want all
three? Although there are significant differences in the way that each format is
encoded, the image quality of each is on
par with the others. You may end up choosing one format over another out of personal
preference or due to where you will ultimately post your file. Some formats have
features that the others don’t, so be sure to
read up on each of the formats. Depending
on the encoder you use, you may not have
many choices. Not all encoders output all
of the file types. We are using Media
Cleaner Pro for this example because it
handles all of the common file formats.
The output options that follow depend on
the format you’ve chosen (see Figure 67.3).
Encoding for the Web
Figure 67.3 Focus on format—the output window is where you
decide what type of format you’d like to use to stream your video.
If you choose RealVideo, for example, you
will see choices for RealPlayer compatibility. You can also choose to encode using
SureStream, which automatically adjusts
to the viewer’s connection speed, or you
can choose to encode to a single stream.
Next, you need to choose the frame size
(see Figure 67.4). You do not want to use
720 480, as the file size would be enormous and take forever to view. Often, to
ensure speedy delivery, Internet video is
quite small, sometimes less than 100 pixels wide and/or tall. Generally, the
smaller the frame size, the smoother the
stream. For our project, we chose to create
a streaming file at 160 120 pixels.
Now it’s time to consider frame rate.
Each frame adds to the total size of your
file and slows down the whole streaming
process. The human threshold for discerning motion happens to be 12 images
per second. Anything less than that
(roughly) will appear as a fast slide show.
With this in mind, many streaming media
files are lowered to 12 FPS. This reduces
file size so that viewers are able to watch
your video with less pauses, glitches and
Keeping in mind that both audio and
video travel down that same narrow
modem line, let’s turn our attention to the
audio portion of our project. Some file
formats support different codecs than others. The RealVideo format, for example,
allows you to adjust audio gain, low pass,
high pass, noise removal, dynamic range
(difference between highest high and lowest low frequency), noise gate, notch and
oddly enough, reverb. Play with these settings to find what works best for your project (see Figure 67.5). Because Internet
audio tends to be low quality, you may
choose to cut some corners with the
sound quality so you can preserve precious bandwidth for your visuals (see
Figure 67.6).
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 67.4 Size matters—choose a frame size that will ensure
speedy delivery of your video over the Internet. The smaller
the better.
Figure 67.5 Sound it out—work with the audio settings to get
good sound without compromising the video image.
Encoding for the Web
Figure 67.6 Review it—the summary tab allows you to verify all your
settings options before you encode the video file.
Encoding the Output File
Once you have set all the options, go back
through and verify them. Many of these
programs have a setting’s summary which
you can view before you encode. In Media
Cleaner Pro, the summary is always
available as another tab in the Advanced
After you verify your settings, click
Apply. It is here that you might consider adding alternate outputs, like
QuickTime and Windows, so that you can
walk away and come back to find several
output files finished. For our project,
however, we selected RealVideo as our
only output file and pressed Start.
It took 10.5 seconds to create the output
file for this 60-second project. Encoding
speed depends on several factors, including processor speed. Media Cleaner Pro
has a cool feature that lets you watch a
split-screen view of the before (source)
and after (destination) (see Figure 67.7).
This can be especially helpful to see what
you have selected, if you are making
adjustments such as cropping or color
After you have encoded your file, you
should view it before you put it on the
Web. Make sure it looks okay on your
computer before you send it to someone
else. This step can save you time and
trouble later. If everything looks good, you
can now upload your file to the Web.
Publishing to the Web
The last step in this process is getting your
encoded file to your Web host. You can
send it electronically from your computer
via the Internet to your Web host, you can
send a floppy disk with the encoded file
via snail mail or you can send the edited
project on tape and have the Web host
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 67.7 Before and after—media Cleaner Pro has a split-screen feature that allows
you to view the original as the new file is created.
encode it (see sidebar). For more information on hosting services, check out “Web
Hosting,” in this special guide.
When you publish to the Web, you’re
really just storing your file in a folder or
directory on a host computer. That computer runs specialized server-software
that allows it to share files to users all
over the world. Getting your streaming
media file to the server is the same as
moving it to another folder on your computer. The main difference is that the
folder where you are moving your files
might be 3,000 miles away!
Some programs that encode media files
also help publish your finished products
to the Web. Depending on who your Web
host is, you may have some online uploading aids or step-by-step instructions available to you. In either case, consult the host
site’s technical support for directions.
Typically, you will upload the file via FTP
(file transfer protocol) to your Web host
(see Figure 67.8). You can almost always
accomplish this by using a shareware FTP
client such as Cute FTP (Windows) or
Anarchie (Mac).
Once you have uploaded your file to
your host, you will need to make it available to your viewers. Follow your encoding software’s directions for serving and
embedding your streaming media files in
Web pages, as the directions will vary
between formats.
Surf’s Up
Once you’ve invested your time and effort
into a production, you want it to be seen
by as many people and as easily as possible. Getting it onto the Web can accomplish that. By learning to encode your
original project into a streamed file, you
can make it happen in a way that will get
more viewers to your show.
Using encoding software can be extremely simple. These encoders can take
your finished product and squish it down to
the size of a postage stamp, if need be. Their
Encoding for the Web
Figure 67.8 Post it—an FTP shareware program can upload your
encoded project to your Web host.
specialty is keeping your carefully-wrought
images intact when they squish the file.
If you haven’t already experienced the
thrill of publishing on the World Wide
Web and having people from all over
watch your productions almost as fast as
you can make them, you do not know
what you’ve been missing!
Why and How Would
I Get a Streaming Server?
Larry Lemm
To provide video over the Internet, you
need to have a server. Hosting your own
streaming server is a good idea only if you
already have a Web server with at least a
T1 line running to it. If you have a Web
server with no more than phone or ISDN
lines you will not be able to stream video
Many people who create video content
would rather spend their days shooting
and editing video than maintaining an
ordinary Web server, much less one that
streams video. For them, a remote server
hosted by someone else is a good idea.
If you do have your own Web server,
you can provide a hyperlink to the video
hosting company’s Web site. Alternately,
you could keep all your Web content—
including your video content—on a
remote video streaming server and avoid
the need for maintaining a Web server of
your own. Another advantage of enlisting
a remote host: a large video serving company could also draw more people to your
video than you could draw to your own
web page alone.
There are many considerations to keep
in mind when choosing a streaming
server. The first and foremost is how many
“streams” you are allotted. A single stream
would allow only one viewer to watch one
video clip at a time. The more streams that
are available, the more viewers can be
watching at one time. For many Web sites,
10 streams would be plenty. If you had
20 minutes of streamed video on demand,
10 streams would allow up to720 people
to watch that video in a 24-hour period.
Some servers charge you by the number
of streams you want available to potential
viewers, while others charge you by the
number of streams they actually served to
viewers of your video.
If you are going through the trouble of
having someone else host your video, you
should choose one of the multiple protocol streaming software packages. Along
with choosing a server, you will need to
decide what software you want to use to
serve your video. Each package has its own
features and drawbacks. Some programs
require clients to download browser
Getting a Streaming Server
plug-ins to watch the video; others do not;
still others cram a plug-in into your
browser with the power of Java.
The streamers that don’t require a plugin transmit video through the Web’s HTTP
protocol. These are convenient for the
user because they are easiest to setup and
use. However, they do not take advantage
of alternative protocols that are designed
to deliver video more quickly and accurately. Non-HTTP software packages use
“non-reliable” protocols to send everything but the control information and are
thus inherently faster.
When shopping for a streaming server
company, consider the amount of bandwidth that it makes available for your
content. The more bandwidth you have,
the faster and better your video will
stream to viewers. Some servers may use
a process known as multicasting. Multicasting sends only one stream of video to
a collection of servers. Those servers then
re-transmit the video to viewers in their
area. This process saves bandwidth on the
backbone of the Internet, and allows for
more video to be streamed without clogging the ‘Net with video. The downside is
that multicasting eliminates the ondemand aspect, you can watch a multicast
only while it is being transmitted; you
can’t initiate one on your own.
Choosing the right server is the most
important decision you make after deciding that streaming video is for you. If the
idea of setting up a high-bandwidth video
server makes your head spin with unknown
acronyms and arcane nerdspeak, then
choose a remote video hosting company
to stream your video for you.
Slide into “Thin Streaming”
Larry Lemm
See video clips at
Someday soon Internet video-on-demand
will democratize video distribution,
allowing everyone the opportunity to distribute video to a worldwide audience
without having a multi-billion dollar
television-broadcasting studio.
But what is there to do in the meantime? How can I put my productions on
the Internet today?
The answer lies in the slideshow. I
remember the first time I watched videoon-demand via the Internet. “Amazing,” I
thought to myself as I clicked on the button that started the video. Having already
downloaded and installed the utility that
allowed this technological miracle, I
was ready to experience “click-and-watch”
video. What a letdown.
The video was tiny, roughly the size of a
saltine cracker on my 17-inch monitor.
The picture was barely discernible, with
large digital-artifacts appearing where
the software’s compression utility hadn’t
quite done its math correctly. The
most obvious problem was the lack of
motion. The video sputtered along at two
or three frames per second. I had almost
given up hope for Internet video, when I
remembered how I was connected to the
Internet: through an old, slow, copper
phone wire.
Then I imagined the super-fast connection the phone companies are promising
over the next couple of years. If they
can transmit almost-video over my
ancient phone line now, full-motion, fullscreen video-on-demand will be a reality
when the super-fast Internet connection comes. Until then, I can distribute
my work on the Web in the form of a
Internet slideshows are a fast and inexpensive way to get your ideas out to
a mass audience, without having to
resort to slow, chunky and tiny video.
By using the basic story-telling concepts
of a storyboard, you can easily turn any
video into a multimedia web-based
slideshow. Slideshows also play great on
a television, opening your Web slideshow
to a wider potential audience of Web TV
Slide into “Thin Streaming”
Making Slides to Show
There are two basic ways to create digital
slides. First, you can use a still camera.
Your still camera can be either a standard
film-based camera, in which case you
would have to use a scanner to digitize
the photos, or a digital camera that saves
stills on a disk in an Internet-ready format. Or, you can use a video camera, and
take stills from video (Figure 69.1).
The first method requires little or no
special equipment, save a scanner if you
are using a film-based still camera. If you
have a FireWire based digital camcorder it
is easy to create stills that are transferable
to your computer through a simple connector. If you want to use existing analog
videotape taken from a standard camcorder, making digital stills requires a
special piece of equipment called a digitizer. This can be either a special videocapture board that you install into your
computer, or an external device like Play
Inc’s Snappy (Figure 69.2), that plugs into
the ports in the back.
Either way, you can use these tools to
capture “still frames” from your video.
These devices will usually save the still
frames in any of the standard digital
photo formats including .gif, .jpg, .bmp,
and .tga. After you have selected the stills
you want to use, you’ll need to put them
in an order that tells a story. For example,
if you are making a how-to slideshow
about organic gardening your first slide
could be of your untilled garden. The next
could be a slide of tilling the garden, followed by slides of rebuilding the soil with
compost, planting the garden, chemicalfree pest control techniques, harvesting
and so forth. After you have selected your
slides, you can create an audio track that
explains each step, and match the changing slides to your audio track.
Tools to Slide the Show
Now that you have slides to show, you are
ready to put them on the Internet. For
Figure 69.1 Your camcorder is all you need to
gather images for your Internet slideshow.
Figure 69.2 Video stills can be captured
using an inexpensive device like Play, Inc.’s
those of you who aren’t experienced in
HTML Web programming, I’d recommend
using an existing video streaming program
like the Real Video Producer (Figure 69.3)
or a special slideshow program such as
InMedia’s Slides and Sounds.
To make a slideshow in Slides and
Sounds (Figure 69.4), simply place your
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
e-mailed to family and friends, or select the
“save as HTML” option from the file menu.
This will create a Web ready HTML file
that will play on most browsers (in Internet
Explorer, you might have to go to the
“view” menu, “options” section, “security
level” button, and select the medium security setting to permit a small file to be temporarily used to play the slideshow).
Getting Your Slideshow on the Web
Figure 69.3 RealVideo allows you to make
streaming slideshows by showing a video
frame every four seconds.
Figure 69.4 InMedia’s Slides and Sounds is
designed to make creating Internet slideshows
selected slides in order in the slideshow
creation menu. Captions and sound effects
can be added to each slide by simply clicking the “add sound” and “add caption” buttons. Transitions between slides can then
be selected from the F/X menu. Blank
slides can also be created to add simple
titles at the start or finish of your
slideshow. It’s that easy. To finish the
slideshow, save it as a file that can be
Now that your slideshow is ready for the
web, you’ll need to publish it to your Web
page. There are numerous Web hosting
companies, and each offers its own package
of options for your site. Users of InMedia’s
Slides and Sound who don’t want to host
their own Web site can have a slideshow
served by InMedia.
If you plan to use a video-streaming
package to create your slideshow,
make sure that the hosting company you
choose supports the streaming package
you plan on using. There are some sites on
the Web that will even give you a free
web site to display your slideshow.
Geocities ( and Tripod
( will host a small site
for free as long as it is a not-for-profit
endeavor. (See Figure 69.5.)
Until the majority of the wired world has
a high-bandwidth Internet connection that
streams video full-size and full motion,
slideshows are the low-bandwidth alternative of choice for camcorder enthusiasts.
Making a Slideshow in HTML
It is easy to make a series of Web pages act
like a slideshow is you already know the
basics of HTML. To perform this feat of
coding magic, simply use this tag above of
your HTML header (make it the first thing
listed in an HTML source).
META HTTP-EQUIV “Refresh” content=“5;
Slide into “Thin Streaming”
Figure 69.5 An easy way to get your show on the Web (if you’re a
non-profit outfit) is to utilize a free host like Geocities or Tripod.
In this example, the refresh call is the
“slideshow” command, the content number (5 in the example) is the number of
seconds the page will wait before cycling
to the next page in the slideshow, which
is the URL listed in the tag. To use this bit
of HTML magic, replace the sample URL
with the URL of your next slide, and
replace the 5 in the content call with the
number of seconds you want your
slideshow to be displayed.
Create your web pages for the
slideshow with the images and text
you want displayed, as you would create
any web page. If you use an HTML generator such as Pagemill, you can create the
pages normally, then add the MetaRefresh tag above any other coding. An
example of this style of slideshow is available at
slideshow/ index.html.
Using RealVideo to Make a
Video streaming software such as
VivoActive or RealVideo can also be used
to make an Internet slideshow. The downside of this method is that viewers will
have to download a special player plug-in
to watch your slideshow. On the upside,
the streaming packages allow for a continuous soundtrack of narration or music to
be added to your slideshow.
The RealVideo encoder, for example,
has a pre-defined slideshow setting that
will take a video clip, and stream it with
high-quality sound, and a single frame
from the video is shown every four seconds. This is the easiest way to make
a slideshow from a video. Another way
to use RealVideo to make a slideshow is
to make an audio-only RealMedia file.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Then you create a series of web pages
holding the images you want shown
in your slideshow. The next step is to
make a text file that will list the web
pages you want synchronized to the
audio with a time marker next to each,
and it will begin loading that page at that
point in the audio file. As the audio file
plays, the web pages are automatically
A stellar example of a RealVideo
slideshow is at
dewback/index.html. Here you will see
George Lucas explain some moviemaking
magic while his Web site employs some
Web-Jedi tricks.
Put MPEGs on Your
Home Page
Joe McCleskey
See video clips at
MPEG (emm-peg): Moving Picture Experts
Group 1) A working group of digital video
experts who meet regularly under the
auspices of the International Standards
Organization (ISO) and the International
Electro-technical Commission (IEC) to
develop standards for compressed digital
video. 2) A compressed digital video clip,
often found on the World Wide Web or in
multimedia CD-ROM products.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the
World Wide Web, you’re probably familiar with the MPEG acronym by now.
That’s because MPEGs are one of the main
types of digital video files available
on Web pages, some of the others being
Microsoft’s Windows Media (formerly known as Video for Windows),
RealNetworks’ RealMedia and Apple’s
QuickTime. MPEG compression is the
older brother to MPEG-2 compression
which is used to encode video for DVDs
as well as DSS. MPEG compression
has been designed to compress digital
video to manageable size while retaining
picture quality.
“Okay,” you say, “that’s all very well
and good, but how do I get these MPEGs
onto my home page?”
Glad you asked. What follows is a concise guide to putting your own short
video clips onto the World Wide Web.
We’ll cover the shooting and digitizing of
these clips in somewhat less detail; what
we’re really after here is the simplest way
to 1) compress your digital video files
using the MPEG-1 CODEC, and 2) post
these files to a Web page using the storeand-forward method.
When you’ve finished with the article,
you’ll be able to put the entire Web audience just a few mouse clicks away from
viewing your short video clips.
Store and Forward
Currently, the most popular method for
distributing digital video on the Internet
is known as the “store and forward”
method. The concept is pretty simple: a
videographer makes a digitized video clip
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
available on his or her Web page, where
the Internet public at large may download
it onto their own computer and play at
their leisure. It’s nearly identical to the
shareware concept of computer software
distribution, with one condition: the
shared software is a video clip instead of a
software package or application.
There are some drawbacks to this
method. The biggest problem is time;
video files tend to be rather large, so it
takes some time to download them on a
typical (56.6 kilobaud) modem. A thirtysecond MPEG clip, for example, can easily
occupy 1 MB of hard drive space—which,
in turn, will take approximately five minutes to download on a 56.6 Kb modem.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the
process a little bit more palatable. Common
practice is to place a single frame of the
video clip onto your Web page near the
location of the MPEG itself; this gives
potential viewers a look at what they’re
getting before they commit some of their
valuable online time.
Before you get ready to start digitizing
your favorite video clips, you’ll need to
consider the method that your audience
will most likely use to view your MPEGs.
Most multimedia systems offer only a
small, low-res window for viewing digital
Brand-new computer systems can handle bigger window sizes and better resolutions, but you can’t count on everyone in
your potential audience having a brandnew computer. For this reason, we suggest
offering your MPEGs in a 320 240 format or smaller, and 15 frames per second
or less. This tiny window will place limits
on the kind of video clips you can use.
The most obvious limit is size; if you
want to show a stunning wide-angle shot
of a mountain range, for example, it won’t
look like much once you’ve reduced it to
fit, stutteringly, into a tiny little box on a
computer screen.
These and other factors will unfortunately make most of your existing video
footage difficult to watch in a small window. The solution: either sort through the
footage you have for the appropriate
shots, or start from scratch and shoot a
video project with the above-mentioned
concepts in mind.
Another problem with MPEGs is audio.
Many software MPEG encoders won’t
handle MPEG audio, and just as many
software MPEG playback applications
won’t play MPEG audio even if you take
the time and effort to include it in your
video clip. For this reason, MPEG video
artists might find themselves operating in
a visual-only medium. (The easiest way to
get around this? Go with the standard .avi
or .mov formats instead of MPEG.)
Shooting Video for Multimedia
Once you decide on what footage to use,
you’ll have to get the video into the computer with a video digitizer. Digitizers are
available in a wide range of performance
levels and prices. Note that a 60-field-persecond, full-screen video digitizer is not
necessary to produce a suitable digital
video clip. Many of the older low-cost
digitizers were designed with the small
multimedia video presentation in mind,
so if you’ve got one of these, you’re set to
go. If you’re in the market for a new video
digitizer, however, and you’re willing to
spend a little extra, it’s a good idea to get
the best model you can afford. A better
digitizer will not only give you a better
overall image (even at these small sizes);
it’ll be there for you when you’re ready to
upgrade your DTV workstation.
One more thing to look for if you’re in
the market for a video digitizer: check to
see if the model you’re interested in comes
with MPEG encoding software bundled.
Many of the newer video digitizers come
complete with software for nonlinear
editing, 3D animation, photo enhancement
and other applications. For our purposes, a
software-only MPEG encoder is a direct hit.
Put MPEGs on Your Home Page
Software MPEG Encoding
Now that you’ve digitized your shot-formultimedia footage, it’s time to use MPEG
to bring your video files down to a more
manageable size.
You can accomplish this by two means:
through a hardware MPEG encoder, such
as might be integrated with your capture
card, or by using a software MPEG solution. An hardware encoding solution is
usually faster (real-time or better), but
generally costs more, while a software
solution might leave you waiting, but
with more money in your wallet.
Once you’ve successfully encoded
them to MPEG, your video clips should
occupy a much smaller space, requiring
less online time for your audience to
download. Now it’s time to post it to a
Web page. In order to do so, you’ll either
have to pay someone who knows how (i.e.
an Internet service provider or consultant),
or roll up your sleeves and get friendly
with HTML, the language of the Web.
Post It
Don’t panic: the basics of HTML (hypertext markup language) are quite easy to
learn. For a primer on Web production
fundamentals, take a look at “A Beginner’s
Guide to HTML”. (
html.) An alternative would be to use one
of the WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What
You Get”) Web page editors, such as
Microsoft’s FrontPage or Adobe’s PageMill,
which handle all the “coding” for you.
There are also shareware and even freeware editors available for download, so
don’t feel compelled to learn HTML.
Besides knowledge of the basics of
HTML (or at least a method of creating it),
you’re going to need access to the right
kind of Internet service. Specifically,
you’ll need the type that allows users
to create and post their own Web pages.
The major online service providers
(AOL, CompuServe, etc.) offer limited Web
pages to their clients, but the large number of individual pages this creates makes
it necessary to severely limit them in size.
For this reason, your best option for Web
publishing is likely to be one of the many
free web-hosting service providers, such as
iDrive (, Driveway
( or K-Turn
Here’s how it usually works: you create
your HTML files, then “post” them to
your assigned site, either through FTP or
through the HTML editing program you’re
using (e.g., Microsoft FrontPage allows
you to manage your site through an
Explorer-like interface, with folders and
file icons).
Students who are lucky enough to
attend schools that offer them Web space
can take advantage of this opportunity,
but bear in mind that you’ll probably be
on your own for the actual posting.
Consult your campus information center
to find out how your school handles
student Web pages.
For those who already have some experience producing Web pages, here’s a tip:
posting MPEGs (or any other kind of
video file, for that matter) is easier than it
may seem. Just link the MPEG file
(video.mpg, for example) the same way
you would create an internal link to
another Web page. The HTML might look
like this: Click a href”video.mpg”
here/a to download my latest MPEG.
When you do this, a person viewing
your page has only to click on the word
“here” to download your video clip.
(Note: in the above example, you’d have
to make sure that the file “video.mpg”
was in the same directory as the page listing the link. Otherwise, you’d have to put
the directory information ahead of the file
name, e.g. “mpegs\video.mpg”.)
Confused? Don’t worry; a visit to
the above-mentioned HTML tutorial
should help to sort things out a bit. And if
all else fails, you can always bribe one
of your computer-nerd friends with a
six pack of Jolt Cola; this always works
for me.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
What For?
Now that you know how to post MPEGs
on the Web, what will you do with this
knowledge? Here’s a short list of applications you might consider: Illustrate a
process. Provide talking-head narration.
Make a preview of a longer work. Create a
weekly 30-second Internet TV show.
Advertise a product. Smile and wave to
your Web audience. Give the Web a “virtual” tour of your backyard. Introduce
your pets. Expose a scandal. Sell your car.
Create a video personal ad. Or anything
else you might think of.
Authoring DVDs and CDs
Burning video onto discs that will play in DVD players and computer drives.
Getting Your Video
Onto a DVD
Matthew York
DVD players were the only category in
consumer electronics hardware that
showed major growth last year. At least
three factors have fueled this rapid adoption. First, the quality of DVD-video is far
superior to VHS, especially the sound
quality. Second, most video rental stores
carry a wide selection of DVD titles for
rent. Third, the retail price for a DVD
player has plummeted below $100, so they
are quite affordable. This is important to
people who make video because we now
have another distribution medium to use.
VHS videotape has been the standard
video format for distribution for years
because nearly every home has a VHS
VCR connected. Now, there are enough
DVD players in use for everyone making
video to consider making duplicates of
their videos on both VHS and DVD. The
price to duplicate DVDs has dropped dramatically within the past year. Individual
copies made at home might cost as little
as 70 cents per disc and the cost to professionally duplicate 1,000 copies of a DVD
is about the same as 2-hour VHS tape.
DVD is clearly becoming the new standard video format for distribution. But
what does that mean for video producers?
DVDs can be played back on personal
computers or living room DVD players.
When played on a personal computer,
other information can be included like
still images, games, software applications,
documents and even Internet links. These
bonus features are something that all
videographers should consider when they
have the chance to use DVD to distribute
their work.
The most important aspect of using
DVD for video is navigation. With a VCR,
the remote control is the only navigation
tool available. The menu choices are
crude and inaccurate: pause, stop, rewind,
play and fast-forward. The content creator
has no control over the navigation and,
therefore, it is assumed that the viewer
will simply play the video from the beginning to the end. Since videotape is a linear
medium, this is a good assumption. It is
impractical to instruct the viewer to press
the fast forward button on their VCR’s
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
remote to simulate random access of the
video. Besides, the fast-forward button is
imprecise and the TV screen may be blank
while the tape is fast-forwarding to
another spot on the video.
DVD, on the other hand, is nonlinear.
This means that the viewers can jump to
any point of the video at any time. DVD
menus, when properly designed, are a
boon to multimedia presentations. This
one seemingly simple capacity actually
transforms the entire video production
(and viewing) experience.
From the outset, video production has
really just been an extension of radio.
Early TV shows where comprised of cameras pointed at radio personalities as they
did their radio shows. These shows were,
in turn, an extension of motion pictures,
theatrical plays and Vaudeville acts.
Collectively, it is all really story telling,
which is in turn largely what being human
is about. Stories are linear. They start with
a beginning, have a middle and conclude
at the end. Since most videos are stories
on a TV screen, the linear nature of videotape is perfectly suited for this purpose.
Of course a series of loosely related short
stories can be collected together in a single
volume. The Bible is a good example of
this. The Bible is not one long story, but is
instead a series of short stories arranged in
books and chapters. Vaudeville acts were
also comprised of short individual live
performances. Variety shows (on the radio
or TV) are also collections of short stories.
This fundamental idea of making a
video that is, in essence, a series of short
stories is enhanced by DVD. DVD authoring will challenge all video producers to
consider the idea of a nonlinear presentation. Creating this type of video is an
entirely different endeavor right from the
first stages of planning.
Burn Your Own:
A Guide to Creating Your
Own CDs and DVDs
Loren Alldrin
See video clips at
Been to a video store lately? If so, you’ve
probably noticed that you can rent movies
on something other than good-old VHS
tape. More and more releases are now
available on DVD, a shiny disc that holds
moving images and sounds in a digital
format. DVD delivers excellent audio and
video quality plus the potential for interactivity: viewer-selectable camera angles,
alternate edits, multiple languages and
much more. Intrigued? As a videographer,
you should be!
Unfortunately, due to the high cost of
hardware putting your own videos onto
DVD has been an unaffordable dream for
most. But this is rapidly changing—hardware prices are dropping to the point
where burning your own DVD (or CD-ROM
or Video CD) isn’t outrageously expensive.
What it still is, though, is confusing. Many
videographers have tried to burn their own
video discs but found themselves lost in a
maze of acronyms, technical jargon and
fast-moving standards.
Sound familiar? If so, you’ve come to the
right place. We’ll do our best to explain the
basic concepts of recording to DVD-Video,
CD-R video and Video CD discs.
The Big Picture
When you boil it all down, there are two
main issues at work when it comes to
recording video onto a disc. First, you
have the physical disc format itself. There
are just two to consider—CD and DVD.
Both use tiny pits in a reflective medium
to represent digital data, but the newer
DVD technology packs much more data
on the disc. You can think of both as simple storage devices that store any type of
data without bias.
The bigger issue is what type of data a
given disc holds and how that data is
structured. DVD-Video, for example, is
simply a DVD disc with MPEG-2 video,
audio and a file structure that makes sense
to a DVD player. A Video CD’s medium is
just like that of an audio CD, but the video
and audio files are saved in the specific
format a Video CD player expects.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Keep in mind that CD and DVD can
store any type of information, not just the
latest DVD Video movie or Microsoft
Office 2004. This means you can use a CD
or DVD to hold digital video and audio
that’s not formatted for a specific hardware device (such as a DVD player). Since
this is sort of like a cross between the
strictly data and strictly video applications, you’d use a computer to read and
play back these files. It’s just good to
remember that DVD Video, for example,
represents just one way to store digital
video and audio on a DVD.
If you’re reading between the lines,
you’ve probably already figured out the
good news—computers that have a CD-R
drive are physically capable of writing a
Video CD, and those with a DVD-R drive
can write a DVD Video disc. When it
comes to burning 1s and 0s into that shiny
silver disc, you’re already equipped.
But as we mentioned above, the physical format of the disc is only half of
the equation. The other half is getting
your video and audio files in the correct
format—and in the right place—for playback in a stand-alone player. This is where
specific software comes into play to
encode and author.
Blend, Pour, Bake
Whether you’re making just one copy for
yourself or creating a master to send off
for duplication, the DVD and CD-ROM
creation process is essentially the same:
digitize, encode, author and burn. (See
Figure 72.1.)
The encoding step converts digital
video and audio files from one format to
another, usually reducing their size dramatically along the way. Encoding for a
DVD Video, for example, involves compressing video files with the MPEG-2
standard. The software then encodes
audio files into any of several formats
(surround, 5.1 surround, stereo, etc.) recognized by DVD players. The encoding
process is similar for a Video CD, but software uses lower-quality MPEG-1 compression for the video and audio.
At the encoding stage, DVD makers have
numerous parameters at their disposal for
controlling image and sound quality, as
well as the amount of video that will fit
on the disc. Good DVD encoding fits the
required amount of video on the disc at
the highest-possible quality, with no
wasted space. For a major motion picture,
this might equate to roughly two hours of
Figure 72.1 1) Transfer your video from tape to hard drive. 2) Apply the appropriate
compression/decompression (codec) scheme to your video. 3) Design the operating
interface for your video. 4) Copy your finished video to a disc.
Burn Your Own
video. Drop the quality down to the VHS
level, and you could fit 10 or more hours
of video on the smallest-capacity DVD. Be
forewarned: depending on quality settings, the software you use and the speed
of your computer, encoding MPEG-2 can
be a lengthy process.
Authoring software then takes the
encoded video and audio files and formats
them according to their intended purpose.
For DVD, the encoding software records
various special codes required for correct
playback, as well as such optional goodies
as chapter points, navigational aids, menus
and overlayed graphics. Because capabilities of the Video CD aren’t as advanced,
Video CD authoring software is simpler
and less costly than DVD authoring software. Some software packages combine
encoding and authoring into one step.
The final step is to actually burn the
audio, video and other special files to a
blank DVD-R or CD-R disc (about $30 and
$1 respectively). Everything is just a series
of numbers at this point, and the recorder
will lay these bits onto the disc as fast
as the burner hardware (or the operator)
will allow. Since DVD and CD-R burners
range in speed from 2x to 12x and beyond
(CD-R), the process doesn’t happen in real
time. If your hardware is very fast, for
example, you may be able to burn a full
74-minute Video CD in about 5 minutes.
DVDRW and DVD-RAM) are available
and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Compatibility with existing home
DVD Video drives and computer DVDROM drives is one of the hottest topics, so
be sure to check for late-breaking news
before you purchase a drive.
Folks wanting to burn their own Video
CDs have it easy. They may already have
everything they need, provided their CD-R
bundle included the correct software.
ABCs of Acronyms
One of the first obstacles to get over when
moving from a video cassette to a silver
disc is the mountain of acronyms that
seems to pile up with every new technology. Here are some of the key acronyms
and terms that you need to know:
CD (Compact Disc): a digital “bit bucket”
that can store any type of data, be it audio,
video or computer software. One CD holds
roughly 650 megabytes (MB) of data.
CD-R (CD Recordable): a CD you can
record your own data on. You can’t
erase or re-record a CD-R.
CD-ROM (CD Read Only Memory): a CD
pre-recorded with computer data that
can’t be changed or erased.
CD-RW (CD Rewritable): a CD you can
write and re-write to thousands of
Burning For You
Is everything rosy in the world of homecooked DVDs? Not entirely. DVD-R drives
record permanently on a disc, offer the
best compatibility with home DVD players, but still cost several thousands of dollars. Most professional DVD authors use
DVD-R drives.
Rewritable DVD drives have dipped
below the $1,000 mark, and may be available for less than $500 by the time you read
this. Unfortunately, the rewriteable DVD
market is in the middle of a bitter format
war. Three competing standards (DVD-RW,
DVD (Digital Versatile Disc): like a CD,
holds digital data of any kind. Today’s
DVDs hold roughly 5, 9 or 13 gigabytes
(GB) of data on one, two or three data layers. A 13 GB DVD holds the equivalent to
about 20 normal CDs.
DVD-R (DVD Recordable): a DVD that
you can record your own data onto only
one time. DVD-ROM (DVD Read Only
Memory): a DVD pre-recorded with
computer data that can’t be changed or
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD RW: competing rewriteable DVD standards embroiled
in a heated format scuffle.
DVD-Video: a DVD disc that holds
MPEG-2 video and any of several different types of audio. When you rent a
DVD, this is what you get.
MPEG-1 (Motion Picture Experts Group,
first standard): a highly efficient way of
compressing digital video for lower resolutions (i.e. 320 horizontal lines).
MPEG-2 (MPEG, second standard):
offers better quality and higher resolution than MPEG-1. DVD players use
MPEG-2 with a horizontal resolution of
720 lines.
VCD (Video CD): just like a regular CD,
but holds MPEG-1 video and audio for
playback in reasonably fast CD-ROM
and DVD-ROM drives and currentgeneration DVD video players; as well
as Video CD players not readily available in the U.S.
Figure 72.2 Rewritable/recordable comparison.
For a look at the physical differences
between a rewritable CD and at recordable
CD, take a look at Figure 72.2.
Keeping up with digital video is all
about learning new technology and new
techniques and the latest trend away from
tape and toward DVD is no exception.
Someday soon, a silver disc may be
the final destination for all your video
When that day comes, you’ll be ready to
Web Links
The Internet is one of the best places to
stay abreast of rapid-fire changes in the
DVD and CD-ROM markets. Visit these
informative Web sites for the latest news
and product information.
General Info
DVD FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Burn Your Own
DVD for Not-so-Dummies
Creative Labs
MPEG Home Page
MPEG Pointers and Resources
Fast Multimedia
Vitec Multimedia
DVD Authoring Software:
Special Buyer’s Guide
D. Eric Franks
A year ago, we were excited, but conservatively optimistic about home DVD
authoring. High prices and compatibility
loomed large in our thinking. With second and third-generation recorders dropping below $300 and blank media dipping
well under $1 a disc, price is no longer
prohibitive. Software is also entering a
new generation, with fewer bugs and
greater stability. Fierce competition has
also meant better quality, more features
and lower prices. This is good news for
the would-be home DVD maker, as it
means that you can concentrate on the art
of making DVDs, and not the technology.
Easier than Editing
DVD authoring software typically performs three functions: encoding video,
menu authoring and burning the disc.
Perhaps surprisingly, almost all basic
applications support all three functions, but some of the more advanced,
professional and specialized authoring
applications only author and do not encode
or burn.
● Encoding. Most people do not want
to deal with the complexities of encoding,
so you’ll want to make sure that your
authoring app has an encoder (which is in
most products from Main Concept). For
those of you who are interested in the art
of the compressionist, there are advanced
applications such as Canopus ProCoder or
Discreet Cleaner, as well as MPEG specialists like the Tsunami encoder (TMPGenc).
Burning. Burning is even less interesting than encoding and should probably
not be any more complex than clicking
the Burn button. You should make sure
your authoring application can burn if
you need it, however. Most do have burning capabilities.
● Menu authoring. DVD authoring applications are primarily about creating
attractive and functional menus. A typical
menu will have a background image, a
title and smaller thumbnail images that
DVD Authoring Software
represent the various chapters or movies
on the disc. The focus of authoring is layout and design, which is really pretty fun.
For those of us who do not have degrees in
layout, many programs offer professionally designed templates. Not only are
attractive templates a boon to the artistically challenged, but they can also be huge
timesavers. The only potential downside
to templates is that they might limit your
freedom. For DVD novices, we really like
applications like Apple iDVD and Sonic
MyDVD that start you out with templates,
but also give you the freedom to change
anything you want later. Another approach
we like, used in applications like Dazzle
DVD Complete, is a software Wizard which
can walk you through the DVD menu creation process step-by-step.
the disc. But we must admit that it sure is
cool and it is an optional feature we like.
Background music. Background music
can also be annoying, but not if it is done
well. It can be tricky to get the music to loop
properly (making the end transition seamlessly back to the start of the music), but
most Hollywood DVDs have a music bed.
● Start up splashes. When you first pop
that disc in the player, wouldn’t it be neat
to have a logo swoosh in? This is called a
“first play” movie and, again, is completely
optional. You should make sure that you
don’t have a horrible intro before or
between every menu. You may personally
think it is cool, but trust us: like Web sites
with annoying Flash Intros (“Skip Intro”),
your viewers will be vexed if they repeatedly have to see your extreme cleverness.
Seeing it once as a “first play” is enough.
Bells and Whistles
We’re not going to tell you how to create
your DVD (in this article), but we will
suggest that once you have a single attractive menu with thumbnails to navigate to
the various chapters, that is probably all
you need. When you design your disc,
always keep your view in mind, especially when you consider the extra bells
and whistles offered by some programs,
such as Ulead DVD Workshop or Sonic
Submenus. Complex DVDs might
need submenus, but you should always
count the number of clicks it takes users
before they can actually play the movie.
Also consider that your viewer isn’t you
and a complex disc structure might result
in people getting lost or confused when all
they really want to do is watch your video.
● Animations. Many authoring applications allow you to animate the background
and the individual menu thumbnails
(referred to as motion menus and backgrounds). These features typically add
rendering time to the disc creation process
and often add nothing to the actual information, content or ease of navigation of
Advanced Features
We consider the previously mentioned
Bells and Whistles to be fun but optional
extras (unless your client or boss
demands them). The following list highlights a number of important advanced
features that that might not be a part of
more basic authoring applications. Some
reasonably priced applications that support some or all of these more advanced
features are Apple DVD Studio Pro,
Pinnacle Impression and Sonic Reel DVD.
● Subtitles. If you need subtitles (and
widely distributed productions should
have them to accommodate the broadest
audience), make sure your chosen authoring application allows you to insert them.
Subtitling is an extremely labor-intensive
task, so you should carefully consider your
subtitling needs beyond simply finding an
application that supports this feature.
● Audio compression. DVD audio compression is more complex than it should
be. Uncompressed PCM audio is officially
a part of the DVD specification and is
widely supported, but this type of audio
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
takes up inordinate amounts of precious
disc space. A more efficient solution is
MPEG-1 Layer 3 audio and you should look
for this feature if you decide you want it.
Although it is not officially in the DVD
specification, it is widely supported in
Asia, which is where almost all DVD players are manufactured, which means that
most DVD players here in the US also support this type of audio. But it isn’t universal.
Dolby surround. Many applications
support AC-3 Dolby audio, but (as of this
writing) only a few actually encode Dolby.
Even stereo Dolby encoding is rare and
still slightly expensive, but this is changing very quickly (see sidebar). 5.1 Dolby
surround encoding is even more rare and
also needs an application that can mix six
channels (5 1) to take advantage of this
very cool DVD feature. Dolby AC-3 is a
very important technology, since basic AC-3
stereo audio takes up much less room on
your disc than uncompressed PCM audio
and is more widely (and officially) supported than MPEG-1 layer 3 audio.
● Alternate video tracks. Part of the
original hype of DVD was that you could
include multiple video streams in a single
track, which would allow the viewer to
press the Angle button on the remote to
see the same scene from a different angle.
While this is only rarely used in Hollywood
DVDs, it is an advanced feature you might
be interested in for multi-camera shoots at
concerts, weddings or plays.
Multiple languages. Like multiple
video streams, you can also place multiple
audio streams on your DVD. This is most
often used for multiple languages, but is also
frequently utilized for director’s comments.
DLT output. If you need to massproduce your DVD, duplication houses
often require you to submit your project
on digital linear tape (DLT). This may
change as time goes on, but the reason for
this is at least partially pragmatic: homeburned DVDs are limited to 4.7 GB while
dual-layer professionally stamped DVDs
can hold 9 GB.
Almost Perfect
Home DVD authoring is here and now.
From a small handful of first generation
products a year ago, DVD authoring applications are now maturing and diversifying.
Independent professionals may be disappointed to learn that while we have seen
almost every sub-$1,000 application available, we haven’t found one that does
everything described in this article.
Novices and home hobbyists will be
pleased to hear that there are many excellent programs for putting your video on
disc to share with your family, friends or
small organization (see the figures below).
Our recommendation: get the hardware,
try out the included software and troll the
Web for free trial versions before you
decide. Perhaps the best news about home
DVD for jaded video veterans: DVD authoring is (relative to shooting and editing) fun
and easy. Nothing since the invention of
the Star Wipe has generated so many
“wow, cool” responses from our viewers.
DVD Authoring Software
Figure 73.1 Ahead Software: Nero 5, $69.
Figure 73.2 Dazzle: DVD Complete, $100.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 73.3 Apple: iDVD 2.1, $20.
Figure 73.4 Mediostream: neoDVD plus, $50.
DVD Authoring Software
Figure 73.5 Pinnacle: Expression, $50.
Figure 73.6 Sonic: ReelDVD, $999.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 1
During the past year, we’ve learned that compatibility, while important for authors, is largely
out of their control. Some DVD players play home-burned DVDs and some don’t, and there is
very little you can do to change this. In our tests, we’ve found that the particular piece of software used to create the disc is mostly irrelevant to the final compatibility of the disc.
Sidebar 2
The short answer for the relationship of authoring software and the DVD format war is that it
is irrelevant. Most authoring software just doesn’t care what kind of media you are using. Just
make sure your burning software supports the particular drive you want to use (e.g. Pioneer
DVR-A05) and you are good to go.
Sidebar 3
Dolby Encoding
Until recently, Dolby Laboratories was charging premium fees for encoding licenses. By “premium” we mean that you could not find end-user Dolby 5.1 surround encoding software for
much under $1,000 and even simple stereo encoding was at least $100. Fortunately, that
appears to be changing, with Dolby charging roughly $50 per unit to the software manufacturer (this is still a huge licensing fee per box). As of this writing, proper surround mixing
starts at around $350 for Sonic Foundry ACID, plus another $200–300 for the Sonic Foundry
5.1 encoding plug-in.
Burner Basics:
An Introduction to
DVD Burners
Charles Fulton
When the first CD burners hit the market,
the equipment was very expensive,
but prices fell rapidly and, today, most
entry-level computers come with a CD
burner. One could safely expect that this
will soon be the situation with DVD
Times were simpler back when the
first CD burners came out, though. There
was really only one standard with two
types of discs: the write once discs
(CD-R) and the rewritable discs (CD-RW).
DVD is a little more complex. The first
recordable DVD formats developed by the
DVD Forum were DVD-R, DVD-RW and
DVD-RAM. The DVDRW Alliance, led
by Philips and Sony, created a different
format: DVDRW and DVDR. Both
the DVD Forum (-R) and DVDRW
Alliance (R) claim better compatibility. For the consumer, this can seem
confusing. Rest assured, this format war
shouldn’t cause the end user to lose too
much sleep.
Will It Play in Peoria?
Naturally, both the proponents of the
DVDR/RW and those of the DVD-R/-RW
formats claim that their discs are the most
compatible with the installed base of living
room DVD players. Who’s right?
Many factors contribute to whether a
given disc will play in a given player. For
the home DVD author, the hardware
burner, the authoring software and type of
blank media are all part of the equation.
In the end, however, we’ve found that the
bulk of compatibility problems are with
the player. In our tests, living room DVD
players that play DVD-R discs also tend to
play DVDR discs, and vice versa. This is
a broad generalization and is not 100%
true across the board.
That said, it is our responsibility as content creators to do everything we can to
make the most compatible discs possible
and the material on the disc itself is sometimes the problem. Many complex projects
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
must be tweaked and re-built before the
project can be widely distributed. We’ve
experienced this firsthand when building
our own Basics of Videography DVD. It
can take a lot of patience (as well as a tall
rack of DVD players and an intern to do
some quality assurance tests) to find all of
the problems that might crop up in a disc.
Who Makes ’Em?
The big players to watch are the manufacturers of the drive mechanisms, primarily
Pioneer for DVD-R/RW mechanisms and
Ricoh for DVDR/RW mechanisms (and
Panasonic for DVD-RAM mechanisms).
There are a wide cross-section of computer peripheral manufacturers that
are offering branded-DVD burners, including Verbatim, TDK, Memorex, Pioneer,
Panasonic, Toshiba, HP, Sony and LG. (See
the DVD Burner Manufacturer Listing
sidebar for the entire gamut.) There are
also companies who repackage drives in
their own enclosures, and bundle them
with software and cables to create a convenient and consumer-friendly single-box
DVD authoring solution (such as Pacific
Digital, QPS, EZQuest, Fantom Drives and
LaCie). Shop around and you’re sure to
find something that meets all of your
needs, whether it’s a complete kit or a
bare drive.
Speed Demons
Need that disc yesterday? Drives get faster
every day, with the fastest Pioneer
drive currently burning at 4x. (This drive
initially had a firmware problem that
has since been corrected. If you have
an older drive with a Pioneer mechanism, be sure to visit Pioneer’s Web
site at
Confusingly, 1x for DVD (1,321 KB/s) is
not the same as 1x for CD (150 KB/s). In
other words, 1x DVD 9x CD. DVD burners, whether R/RW or -R/RW will burn
CDs also, although they can’t burn CDs
as fast as some of the newer CD burners on
the market.
A Bigger Buffer is Better
A feature to watch for when buying a DVD
burner is the size of the internal buffer.
The buffer is a bit of RAM on the drive
that temporarily stores data before it is
burned onto the disc. The disc-mastering
program that you use will try to keep the
buffer as full as possible. There is an
important reason for this: DVD burners
(and CD burners, for that matter) need a
steady flow of data. The buffer on the
burner compensates for a certain amount
of variability in the data stream, with
larger buffers able to handle more difficulties. Most DVDR/RW drives have a 2 MB
buffer, while newer DVD-R/RW drives
generally have a more generous 8 MB
buffer (we’d expect this to change very
rapidly). Buffer underruns were a common cause of CD-coasters a few short
years ago, but modern technologies can
easily deal with interruptions in the
data flow, using such tactics as throttling
down the drive to a lower speed when
the buffer level falls below a specific
Among internally mounted drives, IDE
(ATAPI) drives are by far the most common. Only a handful of SCSI drives exist
anymore, although they once were common. Externally, FireWire is the interface
of choice, but a number of drives using
the fast USB 2.0 standard also look very
promising. Several companies that market
off-the-shelf drives in custom enclosures
offer external drives with both FireWire
and USB 2.0 connections.
Laptop DVD burners are not common at
this point. If the trailblazing CD-R drives
have taught us anything, it’s that DVD
drives will become faster, smaller, less
expensive and more available. Currently,
Burner Basics
Toshiba and Apple offer recordable DVD
drives on laptops, but we fully expect that
other manufacturers will have this feature
in the near future.
The War is Over
At the beginning of this article, we told
you not to worry about the DVD Forum
vs. DVDRW Alliance format war too
much. In a very real sense, the war is over
for consumers, although a winner has not
been declared. TDK and Sony now offer
writers that burn both DVD-R/RW and
DVDR/RW discs. We’d expect more
manufacturers to offer more format agnostic burners over the coming year. These
drives are a little more expensive, but if
you are concerned about compatibility,
this is the way to go. You’ll still have to
decide on the media you use, but at a dollar or so a disc, the cost of burning incompatible discs is not high.
The Future
Recordable DVD is still a young technology, although second and third generation
devices are making it to market as we
write. We expect the combination of
future drives and future software to yield
discs that are even more compatible than
discs authored with today’s drives and
software. Prices will also continuing to
fall somewhat, although not as rapidly as
they did over the last year. Of course, better living room players are also coming
out, and that should help home authors
as well.
Witnessing the rapid rollout (and rapid
price drop) of recordable DVD technology
makes us wonder what will happen when
the recordable version of the next highcapacity optical format comes around.
We’re brimming with excitement to see
what the future will bring, but we are
also very happy with the state of today’s
technology (see the figures below).
Figure 74.1 Memorex: DVDRW/R Internal Rewritable Drive, $380.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 74.2 Sony: DRU-500A, $349.
Figure 74.3 TDK: Indi DVD AID420N, $349.
Figure 74.4 Pioneer DVR-A05, $299.
Sidebar 1
No Computer? No Problem!
One of the latest consumer electronic products to hit the shelves is the standalone living
room DVD burner. Externally, these devices look exactly like the DVD player already connected to your TV. Functionally, they work more like your VCR: just press Record. All have
inputs for analog video, but we are especially excited about the recorders that have FireWire
input. While prices may be a bit high this year, with so many products from so many
Burner Basics
manufacturers, we expect standalone DVD recorders to be the next must-have product for the
living room, and a neat extra for videographers who want simple DVD-recording functionality. Would-be DVD authors should note that while these standalones will record video to
disc, they do not offer a means of creating custom menus or fancy navigational structures.
Sidebar 2
General vs. Authoring Media
If you’ve ever shopped for blank DVD-R discs, you’ve undoubtedly seen references to authoring discs (as opposed to general purpose discs). These discs are written with a different laser
wavelength (635 nm, as compared to 650 nm for general discs). Authoring discs can’t be
burned in drives meant for general media, and vice versa.
So why in the world are there authoring DVDs, anyway? Authoring DVDs were originally
designed for professional use, and can hold information that general discs can’t. For example, an authoring DVD with standardized Cutting Master Format (CMF) data can be submitted to a duplication house instead of a DLT (digital linear tape). Authoring burners are, of
course, significantly more expensive than the general burners discussed in this article.
Sidebar 3
Don’t Call it “Minus!”
When the burnable DVD world consisted solely of DVD-R drives, everyone just called them
“Dee Vee Dee Arr.” When the first DVDRW drives came out, a distinction had to be made.
Many people instinctively said “Dee Vee Dee Plus Arr Double-You.” And, logically, theopposite of “plus” is “minus” and many people began talking about DVD-R as “Dee Vee Dee
Minus Arr.” The DVD Forum folks in charge of marketing DVD-R are not terribly fond of
the negative connotation of “minus” and would respectfully request that you call it “Dee Vee
Dee Dash Arr” instead. We suppose you could refer to it as “Dee Vee Dee Hyphen Arr,” but,
officially, it’s a dash.
DVD Flavors:
What’s the Deal with
DVD Compatibility?
Roger B. Wyatt
Good-bye, stretched tapes and dropouts—
hello, pristine digital images, generation
after generation. With the right hardware
and software you can simply burn an
edited project to DVD with the click of a
mouse. Sound like a dream? It’s not. The
first affordable DVD recording devices are
already in stores, in mail-order catalogs
and on the Net. While first generation
units were in the $5,000 range, today’s
recorders list for under $1,000, with street
prices below $800.
Unfortunately, there is more to DVD
than meets the eye. When DVD manufacturers told us that the initials “DVD”
stood for “digital versatile disc,” they
weren’t kidding. The recordable standards vying for your dollars are DVDRAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVDR and
DVDRW. The good news is these are
all very exciting technologies, some excelling at high capacity data storage and
some offering convenient distribution.
The bad news is they aren’t all compatible
with each other, and most won’t play in
the DVD player you have in your living
room. Before you commit to a DVD format, you’d better know the difference. To
help you understand these emerging formats, we’ve developed this handy guide
to bring you up to speed on all of the
The standard that started it all was DVDVideo (and DVD-Audio, too), those discs
you pop in your DVD Player to watch
feature films and interactive productions.
The standard supports a capacity extension up to 8.5 GB per side, but this is not
available at this time. DVD-Video is a
playback-only format.
DVD standards (including DVD-Video)
have been developed over the years by the
DVD Forum (, which is
composed of over 220 companies including Hitachi, JVC, Matsushita, Mitsubishi,
Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Thomson, Time
Warner, IBM, Intel, NEC, Samsung, Sharp
and Toshiba, among others. It’s a veritable
DVD Flavors
who’s who of consumer electronics. When
it came to DVD-Video, this broad consortium spoke with one voice, and an
industry standard was born.
Somehow, that group unity on the
playback-only standard fractured when
recordable DVD standards were developed.
With this feature, you can shoot and edit
without the tedious step of capturing;
assuming you had a DVD-RAM drive or
hybrid DVD drive on your computer.
(However, see the MPEG-2 Cams—Not the
Ultimate Sidebar for an important caveat.)
DVD-RAM is a recordable and rewritable
standard that the DVD Forum supports
(see Figure 75.1). The current secondgeneration discs store 4.7 GB per side (for
a total of 9.4 GB), and cost as low as $20,
although other sizes and capacities are
available. DVD-RAM discs come in a plastic cartridge or housing that makes them
physically incompatible with non-DVDRAM drives and therefore can only be
played back in DVD-RAM drives.
An interesting variation on DVD-RAM
is the small 80 mm (8-centimeter) disc.
Those little discs hold 1.46 GB per side
and are used in the new MPEG-2 digital
camcorders, such as the ones from Hitachi,
and in some digital still cameras from Sony.
Figure 75.1 DVD-RAM; (a) best for multiple
rewrites, (b) good for data and files, (c) often
needs a cartridge, (d) DVD-RAM: $12. DVDRAM discs act similar to a hard disk, allowing
you to write and rewrite with random access.
DVD-R is a write-once format, fully supported by the DVD Forum (see Figure
75.2). It is single-sided, has a top capacity
of 4.7 GB and is rapidly extending into the
emerging DVD-RW format. Like DVD-R,
DVD-RW (the format formerly known as
DVD-R/W) is optimized for video, but can
be written to numerous times. Clearly, this
format is very significant to videographers.
These formats strive to be analogous to the
now standard CD-R and CD-RW formats.
DVD-R discs are rapidly falling in price,
approaching the $6 per disc range, while
DVD-RW disc prices are also falling, but
remain more expensive at about $16 per
disc. The first DVD-R/ DVD-RW drive,
Figure 75.2 DVD-R and DVD-RW; (a) best for
sequential writes, (b) good for large files, such
as movies, (c) claimed compatible with DVD
video players, (d) DVD-R: $4, (e) DVD-RW:
$13. The DVD-R/RW format is touted as the
logical extension of CD-R/RW technology we
are all used to.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
the Pioneer DVR-A03, is very reasonably
priced. Expect to see a number of competitors and a corresponding drop in price
soon. DVD-R and DVD-RW discs are
designed to work with DVD-ROM drives as
well as standalone DVD players, provided
the disc is correctly formatted. There are,
however, occasional compatibility problems mostly associated with older devices.
These issues will disappear as the format
matures. The DVD-R and DVD-RW format
is good for creating standard DVD-Video
formatted discs as well as long format data
such as video files.
DVDRW is the rewritable standard that
Sony, Philips and Hewlett-Packard originally developed to compete with DVDRAM (confusingly, not with DVD-RW,
although it is now a competitor of that format as well) (see Figure 75.3). Note the
use of the plus sign () instead of the
hyphen (-). Philips and Sony (both members of the DVD Forum) argue that their
non-DVD Forum-sanctioned DVDRW
format is more compatible than DVDRAM, largely because DVDRW discs
do not use a physically incompatible cartridge. They are right, but the compatibility argument was largely rendered mute
by the DVD-RW format, which also use no
cartridge. At press time, we couldn’t find
any DVDRW discs for sale, but we
expect the price to be competitive with
DVD-RW. DVDRW is designed for
greater compatibility with existing standalone DVD-Video players, but this claim
is impossible to test at this time.
The DVDRW camp has also announced, a bit backwards chronologically perhaps, that it will support a DVDR format
that will allow write-once capabilities. The
DVDR and DVDRW formats are theoretically good for creating standard DVDVideo formatted discs (although, at press
time, there were no DVDRW units on the
market to be tested) as well as long format
data such as video files.
RAM vs. RW
Figure 75.3 DVDRW and DVDR.
(a) best for sequential writes, (b) good for
large files, such as movies, (c) claimed
compatible with DVD video players,
(d) DVDRW: $14, (e) DVDR: unavailable,
The DVDRW format is the newest format
and claims to be more compatible than
others. DVDR has not yet been rolled out.
The RAM in DVD-RAM stands for random access memory. DVD-RAM discs read
and write much the same way as your
hard disks. This is an important aspect of
this format and differs from the other
read/write DVD formats (-RW and RW),
which are optimized for sequential recording. In other words, DVD-RAM is a data
storage format that is perfectly happy scattering thousands of tiny files (and parts of
files) here and there across the entire disc.
This allows for faster access times and
yields a more robust rewriting and erasing
format. DVD-RW and DVDRW, in contrast, do not offer random access in the
same way, are not as robust as rewriters
and are not designed to act like a hard
disk. They are, however, optimized for
long, sequential reads/writes and occasional rewrites of large chunks of data,
which is exactly what videographers need.
DVD Flavors
Standards Shmandards
Do multiple standards guarantee trouble?
Not really. The DVD Forum came up with
a plan to prevent conflicts among DVD
formats and assure compatibility between
DVD products. They call it DVD Multi, a
set of hardware specifications that enables
disc and manufacturer compatibility for
virtually all DVD Forum consumer electronics and personal computers formats.
Look for a logo identifying DVD Multi
products. The specification covers many
formats including DVD-Video, DVDROM, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, DVD-R
and DVD-RW.
You can measure these discs’ capacities
in two ways. First, for finished productions, MPEG-2 DVD-Video can have a duration as long as two hours. MPEG-2 video
is compressed, often resulting in compression artifacts, which can range from unnoticeable to debilitating, depending on the
quality of the encoding. Compressed video
is not suitable for editing, mastering or
storage purposes. Second, capacity can be
measured in terms of data storage and
expressed in gigabytes. At S-VHS quality,
each minute of video data might occupy
120 MB of storage (although it could
be much more). So, 4.7 GB works out to
almost 40 minutes of recording capacity,
per side. DV data occupies roughly 216 MB
of space for a minute of video, or approximately 22 minutes per side, per DVD disc.
New hardware devices are hitting the
market almost every day. The first DVD-R,
DVD-RW drives, such as the Pioneer DVRA03 or the Panasonic LF-D311, are widely
available at less than $500. Also, watch
for hybrid DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM
combo drives (called DVD Multi) that can
read and write the three DVD Forum formats. One model from Panasonic (LFD311) sells for just under $500. This drive
allows you to avoid much of the format
war controversy, writing and rewriting to
DVD-RAM for your personal use and writing DVD-R discs to play on your television. We are extremely excited about this
technology and hope that is does not suffer from the compatibility problems that
plagued the first CD-R drives.
The DVDRW camp, on the other hand,
is aggressively marketing recordable and
rewritable DVDRW drives. Other computer manufacturers, like Apple and
Compaq, are shipping boxes with DVD-R
drives built-in.
Early Adopters Only?
Is it time to move to DVD optical recording? For data purposes, permanently saving your video projects, media and all,
has become a distinct possibility for the
first time. And burning your productions
to DVD for playback on standalone DVD
players gives you a very high quality way
to conveniently distribute your work. At
$500 for a recorder and $6 per disc, DVD
recording is at a very tempting price point
for the home video enthusiast, although
we certainly expect prices to fall over the
next year. With the right purchase, you
can enjoy recordable DVD products that
will play on all your gear.
Sidebar 1
MPEG-2 Cams—Not the Ultimate
Are they the best things since sliced bread? Probably not. While the quality of DVD-Video is
very high, it is nonetheless MPEG-2 compressed video. As such, it is very problematic to edit
and you should not consider it for mastering, archiving or editing purposes. A good digital
strategy is to shoot and capture at the highest quality (e.g. DV or MJPEG), edit at highest quality, master at highest quality and finally, distribute MPEG-2 on DVD.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Sidebar 2
Yes, Master
One undeniably exciting aspect of the latest multi-format hybrid DVD recorders is the possibility of burning DVD-Video discs to send high-quality versions of your movies to your
friends and then burning a DVD-RAM disc (two-sided 9.4 GB) of the project as a master. How
many times have you watched a movie you created two years ago and cringed, wishing you
could fix it up? Although burn speeds and transfer rates mean taking some time to backup
and restore a project, it is undoubtedly faster than recapturing and recreating a project from
Sidebar 3
The Media
720 480
720 480
60 mins tape 2 hrs
352 240
74 mins
480 480
35 mins
720 480
15 mins
216 MB/min 30–70 MB/min 10 MB/min 10–20 MB/min 30–70 MB/min
DVD Player
Table by Scott Anderson.
Great (2/3) Good (1/3)
Step by Step Guide
to Making DVDs
D. Eric Franks
More and more of this magazine is being
devoted to DVD each month. DVD gear,
DVD media, DVD software, but we’re
afraid we are missing the forest for the
trees. If you’ve been reading the magazine
and have a good grip on what you need,
here is a path through the trees: our Step
by Step Guide to Making DVDs.
video. This process can be one-click easy
or hardcore technical and tedious.
XX Author. Authoring is what we call
the process of actually designing and creating the DVD menus. This is the fun part.
XX Burn. Yawn. This process should
definitely be one-click easy.
First, a little encouragement: DVD creation on a computer is considerably easier
than editing video. The entire process can
be summed up in four steps (but see the
sidebar for a One-Step Solution).
XX Capture. You need to get video onto
your computer. How you edit it is entire
up to you and is not what this article is
about, so we are going to assume that you
have a tape with video on it that you want
on DVD.
XX Encode. Once your video is on your
computer, it needs to be transformed
and encoded into DVD-friendly MPEG-2
So you have a video tape that you’d love
to distribute on DVD. What is the easiest
way? We have two answers for you, one
for digital video and one for analog tapes.
First, for those of you with digital video
(DV) source material, you should use your
FireWire port on your computer to dump
your digital data to your computer. You
don’t need a fancy computer or expensive
editing software, but you will need a ton
of hard disk space, about 20 GB for an
hour of video for a complete DVD project.
On a Windows XP or Mac, the capture
tools you need are included with your
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
DV is so easy because the video is
already in a format your computer can
handle. If you have analog video tapes
(such as VHS), you need to convert that
video into digital data for your computer.
To do this, you’ll need some kind of capture card, otherwise known as a digitizer.
Some computers come with analog capture cards (e.g. an Ati All-In-Wonder card),
but most do not. If you are not interested
in hacking about inside of your computer
to install a new card (and who is), there
are a few devices that digitize your video
and then send the data to your Windows
computer via a USB 2.0 connection. ADS
Tech’s Instant DVD 2.0, Adaptec’s VideOh!
DVD and Pinnacle’s Dazzle Digital Video
Creator 150 are three competitive products
(all less than $200) worth researching. The
most convenient aspect of these boxes
is that they digitize straight to MPEG-2
If the video on your computer is not DVD
ready, you will need to encode it to the
MPEG-2 format. This is what you will
need to do with FireWire-transferred DV
video and DV video projects from your
editing software. The encoding process
(also called compression or transcoding)
can happen immediately when you finish
editing, although most DVD authoring
programs now automatically encode any
video of any format that you use on your
DVD. In your editing software, you’ll usually be able to find an Export or Render As
option that will open an encoding dialog.
In this dialog, select a DVD MPEG-2
encoding template and render away.
Encoding is very computationally intensive, so get ready to wait a long time for
the process to finish, typically twice as
long as your video’s duration. We usually
start encoding before we go to bed at night.
Of course encoding can be much more
complicated. There are entire applications dedicated to the task (e.g. cleaner,
ProCoder, Squeeze), books explaining the
technology (like the ones from Ben
Waggoner) and experts in Hollywood who
are Career Compressionists. For this article, it is only important that you know
that all of your media (video, audio and
stills) needs to be in DVD-compatible
MPEG-2 format before it can be put on
a disc. Hopefully, your authoring software
will take care of it for you.
Authoring is the fun part of creating
a DVD. The process requires some organizational skills, a little design talent and a
dollop of artistry, but you can usually get
by even if you aren’t particularly gifted in
these areas.
The first step is to start a new project and
collect your media together. This will of
course include your video, but also might
involve stills for a slide show and music
for menu backgrounds. Again, everything,
even stills and audio, will end up in
a DVD-compatible format, but for now you
only have to organize the pieces and parts.
The next step involves designing the
navigation of your disc. Like the Web,
DVD discs have buttons that you can highlight and click, although you use your DVD
player’s remote control to make the click.
DVDs are much simpler than Web pages,
however, and you basically need only
a Play button to allow folks to watch your
movie and maybe a Scenes button to allow
them to jump to the various parts of your
movie that they want to skip to. You can
have more complex navigation schemes
and special features, but work conservatively and cautiously so that you don’t
overwhelm and confuse your viewers. The
dozens of Hollywood discs you’ve rented
can serve as examples, both good and bad,
for you to emulate or at least learn from.
The final part of authoring is the best
part: designing attractive menus. From
backgrounds to buttons, the DVD menu is
going to be the first impression your viewers will get of your project. Most DVD
authoring programs come with a bunch of
Step by Step Guide to Making DVDs
templates that can be used as-is or that
can be used as jumping off points for your
own unique discs. In our reviews of DVD
authoring programs, pay careful attention
to what the writer says about the templates and how much they can be customized. If you only need a quick disc
and aren’t very interested in authoring,
templates may be all you need. If you are
a production house with a talented design
professional onboard, make sure your
software lets her do her thing.
We call the actual process of writing a DVD
“burning” and it is just about as boring as
can be. Usually, it involves inserting a blank
disc into your DVD drive and clicking a
button or, at most, selecting a menu item. It
either works or it is broken. Fortunately, it
almost always works nowadays.
Compatibility with stand alone, living
room DVD players is a serious issue. In
almost every case, compatibility problems
are not caused by the burning process. In
fact, almost all compatibility problems are
caused by the DVD player and not by the
DVD authoring process outlined here. It
doesn’t much matter whether you are
using an HP 300i or a Pioneer DVR-105, or
whether you are using DVD-R or DVDR
(don’t use rewritable discs for distribution). The discs are designed to play back
in the same players. Once you find a DVD
player that plays one kind of disc, you’ll
find that it plays back most kinds. Of
course we are skimming over many issues
here that are covered in much more depth
in other articles in this magazine (such as
the Winter 2003 issue).
As far as media goes, there are two
approaches. You can play it safe and go
with a branded media, like Verbatim or
TDK (or even Ritek) or you can get a spindle of generic discs. The advantage of
going with a branded disc is that you get a
guarantee from the company and can be
assured that there was some quality control during the manufacturing process.
Generic discs are cheaper, of course, and
can be of very high quality, but the problem is that you just don’t know until you
have some experience. Some blank media
companies offer sampler packs of various
kinds that you can test. As of this writing,
we look for 4x certified media, which is
required for newer burners. Ultimately,
you shouldn’t sweat the media too much:
if it is going to fail, it’ll fail during the
burn process.
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Capture, encode, author and burn. That’s
all there is to it. Sure, each step warrants its
own article and that’s part of Videomaker’s
goal each month, but we hope this article
has encouraged you to give DVD a shot. It’s
not nearly as hard as other computer video
tasks. Durable blank discs cost less than
a dollar, postage costs less than a dollar
and nearly everyone you know has a DVD
player in their living room. Home DVD
authoring is the best thing to happen to us
since the advent of digital video.
Sidebar 1
One-Step DVD Solutions
OK, we hear you: four steps are too many, especially the part about capturing video. If you
can operate a VCR, we have a one-step solution for you. If you haven’t already seen them, go
down to your local electronics store and check out the standalone living room DVD burners
on sale. Prices have dropped significantly below $600 on many models and they work just
like a VCR. Pop in a blank disc, hook up your camcorder and press Record. The menus usually aren’t very attractive, but they get your video onto a disc and you don’t even have to
think about capture/encode/author/burn.
Video Out:
MPEG-2s for Me and You
Larry Lemm
In the last year, DVDs have really taken
off in popularity. Consumers are embracing them at a pace faster than they ever
embraced VHS or any other video format.
As a videographer, you’ll soon want to
burn your videos into DVDs, lest you get
left behind as the one guy who still uses
videotape. Not only that, but there is so
much more you can do with a DVD than
you can with videotape. It opens new levels of creativity for the video artist.
DVD Basics
Most of you are probably familiar with
DVDs by now, but just for the record, let’s
run down some of the advantages and disadvantages of the format.
First, DVDs are digital. This is both an
advantage and a disadvantage. For the most
part, the picture on a DVD will blow the
doors off of VHS (see Figure 77.1). It is
much sharper (400–500 lines of resolution
for DVD versus 200ish for VHS) and it has
brighter colors. If there is a disadvantage to
DVD, it is that an improperly compressed
DVD can have visible artifacts. Many of the
early Hollywood-released DVDs were not
compressed properly, and you can see their
artifacts in scene after scene. However,
when done right, the format’s picture is
sharp and clean.
Second, DVD offers more sound.
Instead of the hi-fi stereo of VHS, you get
Dolby™ Digital AC-3 audio. This allows
you to output five separate channels of
audio, just like a professional filmmaker.
Unlike the mono “surround” channels of
“Dolby surround” the rear “surround”
speakers of AC-3 are themselves stereo.
Third, and here’s where you get into
features of DVD that you may not have
known about: you can make your own
interactive menu systems and provide
several different versions of the same
basic movie on the same disc. You can
make a director’s cut of your video without having to record the whole second version on the disc. You can just have the
different scenes and have the DVD piece it
together seamlessly as it plays by, skipping
Video Out
Figure 77.1 Crystal Clear—DVD nearly doubles the resolution of VHS,
and it reproduces richer color and sound.
certain chapters and including others.
This makes the DVD disc an option for
non-linear video entertainment because
you don’t have to store your video on the
disc in the order in which it will play.
With these options, DVDs are a whole
new world for video creativity.
Harnessing the Power
If you want to make your own DVDs,
you’re in luck these days. Easy to use,
consumer-oriented, DVD-creation tools
are already on the market. They all aim
toward the same basic goal of creating the
necessary introductory menu system and
allowing you to include whichever additional multimedia files that you want
such as graphics, text, sound or video
files. Most of these software packages
even come bundled with newer MPEG-2based capture boards. This way, if you
buy the capture board that captures video
into the MPEG-2 format, you’ll already
have the software necessary to make those
MPEG-2s into DVD files.
The bundled programs include titles
such as Minerva Impressions, Sonic Solutions’ DVDit! and Spruce Technologies’
DVD Virtuoso. These aren’t the only fish in
the sea of DVD, but they are some of the
big ones. You’ll be in good company if you
choose one of these programs because they
have established themselves in this first
wave of consumer DVD authoring packages
(see Figure 77.2).
Minerva Impressions comes bundled
with hardware from Pinnacle Systems.
Impressions competes directly with the
Spruce DVD Virtuoso, which comes bundled with Canopus’ Amber DVD hardware.
You don’t have to buy hardware to get these
DVD authoring software, however. Sonic
Solutions’ DVDit!, for example, isn’t bundled with hardware, but it offers discounts
to owners of other hardware/software packages. This way, you can afford to use this
other software, even if you’ve invested
most of your available DVD-authoring cash
into MPEG-2 capture hardware.
If you get MPEG-2 hardware, you won’t
have to perform a lengthy re-encoding of
the video from whatever format you’re
using into MPEG-2. Having the hardware
will usually result in a better picture than
using software alone, and it will be a lot
faster to output onto disc. Even if the software isn’t bundled with the hardware, you
won’t pay much more for DVD-creation
software than you would for editing
You don’t use these DVD software packages to edit video. For editing, you still
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 77.2 Author, Author!—DVD authoring software is becoming
more common and less expensive. In the near future price will no
longer be an issue.
use the same video editing software that
you’ve grown to know and love. Once you
have a final rendered edit of your video,
complete with titles, trailers and whatever
else you want to include, you’re ready to
create a DVD. These packages can make
your DVDs play like Hollywood’s or you
can add even more interactivity than most
of what Hollywood offers up today on
DVD (see Figure 77.3).
First, you take all of your clips and
make them into “chapters” on your disc.
This way, the viewers can freely fast forward and rewind through your video, like
using the track markers on a CD. If you
plan on making several different versions
of the same movie on the same disc, pay
special attention to where you mark your
chapters. The order of these chapters will
let you include and discard certain clips
in the video when you play it back,
depending on the version of the video the
viewer has chosen to play.
After you’ve specified the chapters of
the video, you’ll want to create the menu
system that your DVD will use to let viewers navigate through the disc to see
exactly what they want. You create your
menus in a program like PhotoShop and
import them into the DVD-creator program. Then use the DVD-creator program
to link together the hot spots you want.
These links act much like hyperlinks do
on a Web page. This way you can build
a computer-like multimedia page that you
can use from a standard DVD player. This
is exactly what you are looking for in
DVD-creation software.
Basically, you keep adding clips to the
disc and create a menu system that allows
you to access the clips in whatever order
you specify. Normally, this would include
putting the clips of a movie in a linear
order, but seeing as this is a new medium,
and most videographers are not making
two-hour feature films, this approach to
DVD may not be appropriate for you.
Make full use of the options that DVD
offers because the first people to use these
options in a creative fashion will be the
vanguard of the DVD generation.
There is also a language option available on DVD that lets you include several
different versions of the soundtrack. Many
Hollywood discs include a soundtrack
that includes the director, producer and
Video Out
Figure 77.3 DVD Video—VHS may soon be abandoned by video
editors in favor of DVD.
actors talking “behind the scenes” about
the production of the movie. You could
also use this type of approach to allow
your video to be “kid-friendly” and omit
any adult language, if that’s what you
want to do.
Getting it on Disc
Once you’ve completed your DVD file,
you’ll have to take it to a DVD-duplicating
house (making your own discs is still
expensive). Many duping houses will
accept masters on DVD-RAM. Find one
that does, then copy your project to a DVDRAM cartridge. A DVD-RAM cartridge is a
bit expensive (about $40 a pop) to use for
making simple copies, but its great storage
capacity makes it great for making masters
to send to the duplicating house. You can
get DVD-RAM drives from companies like
Panasonic for around $500.
Once you’ve finished creating your master disc and the graphics for your cases,
you’ll be ready to have your productionrun of discs. Then it’s up to you to get
enough people to buy them. Or you can
just get your DVD-making skills down pat,
and in a year or so, the tools to duplicate
your own discs for mass production probably will have dropped enough to make it
cost-effective to do from your home or
When that price shift happens, you can
be sure that burning a DVD will be as
common and as easy as burning a CD is
today. Think of how exciting it will be to
watch your own multimedia creations
right on your television set. DVDs are the
wave of the future for video. Get ready to
ride it.
Burning Down the House:
Creating Video on CDs
Don Collins
My brother, who lives in Europe, shoots
almost as much home video as I do. For
years, we’ve wanted to send each other
family videos, but we haven’t been able to
get past the PAL/NTSC barrier. The two
broadcast formats, PAL in Europe and
NTSC in the U.S. are incompatible. I
looked into transfer services that convert
NTSC signal to PAL, but the cost was
exorbitant. We even tried sending each
other video e-mails but the files were
huge. Then it hit me. What if I recorded
video onto a CD-ROM and sent that to my
brother? After all, CD-ROMs are universal. They’ll play in any computer: PC or
Mac. We wouldn’t have to fiddle with
tapes or try to open humongous e-mails.
I had created a few audio CDs before, but
I never tried to put video onto a disc.
I decided to go for it and send a home video
on CD-ROM to my brother for his birthday.
Guess what? I found that it’s easy, fast and
best of all, I already had everything that
I needed on my new computer. In this article, you will learn the basic steps it takes to
put your own video onto CD-ROM.
Virtual Studio in your Computer
If you already edit video on your computer, chances are you’ve already got
everything you need. Here’s a quick
checklist of hardware and software that
you’ll need to create a video CD.
Video input: You’re going to need to be
able to get your video onto your computer either through a digital FireWire
or USB port or through a digitizing card
or external device.
Editing software: You need to edit your
video for length and size. The software
can be as basic as Windows MovieMaker
or as complex as Adobe Premiere.
CD-R/CD-RW drive: Of course, you’ll
need a CD-R or CD-RW drive and CDrecording software.
CD-R discs: Discs are cheaper than VHS
tapes. As far as I can tell, the biggest difference in the cost of CD-ROMs is the
jewel cases that come with them.
Burning Down the House
Getting Started
First, you need to edit your video. If you
already have a video project that you’ve
created you can open the project and
make a new movie to export. If you
haven’t already done so, render your project and watch it to make sure you’re
happy with the way it plays.
We’ll Adobe Premiere to illustrate the
basic steps required for editing video for
CD. Though every editing program is
unique, the basic steps will be the same.
Creating a Movie for CD
Once you’ve loaded your project and rendered your video, you’re set to export
your movie. In Premiere 6.0, go to the File
menu, select Export Timeline and choose
Movie. A settings dialog window will
open to show you the current settings (see
Figure 78.1). Click the Export Settings
button and then click on Load. This will
open another dialog window with a list of
settings. Choose Multimedia Video for
Windows, which has a 320 240 frame
size and a frame rate of 15 frames per second (fps). You can customize your settings as well. I chose to work with 15 fps
so it would run smoothly on an older (and
slower) machine and a newer Pentium III
or 4. If you know your audience has a fast
computer, you may want to choose 30 fps
for a smoother picture. Experiment with a
few different settings and see how they
look to you.
One thing to remember, the larger the
frame size and the more frames per second, the larger the final .avi file size will
be. At 15 fps, one minute of video will
take up about 24 MB of CD space. Since
most CD-ROMs hold about 650 to 700 MB,
you can fit 25 to 30 minutes of video on
a CD-ROM. Audio takes up significantly
less space than video, so don’t be too concerned about space (see Figure 78.2).
Burning Your Video to Disk
If you’ve got a CD-burner on your computer
or if you recently bought one, chances are
Figure 78.1 Finishing touch—in Premiere 6.0, finish your project by
going to the File window, then choosing Export Timeline and saving it to
a folder.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 78.2 Compression scheme—in the Settings window choose
Multimedia Video for Windows to compress your project so it fits nicely
on a CD and can be played back in most computers.
it came with some kind of CD-creation
software. This software makes the process
very simple. It’s basically a drag-and-drop
operation. You choose the files you want,
record them and seal the disk. My computer came bundled with Adaptec Easy
CD Creator 4. This application copies
data, image, audio and video files to disc.
But since this was my first go at this, I
wanted to keep it simple and record only
one .avi file to the disc.
Open your CD-creation software (see
Figure 78.3). With Easy CD Creator, you
simply launch the program and choose
Data from the opening dialogue window.
Open the folder where your .avi file
resides. Select the file and drag it to the
CD Layout window. Easy CD Creator will
then automatically indicate how much
space is left on your targeted CD.
Once you’ve loaded all the files that
you want to record to disc, hit Create CD.
The CD-creation Setup window will open.
It is here you can indicate drive, record
speed, and whether you want a test
file or not. I first selected the CD-R drive.
Then I selected a moderate recording rate
of 8X 1200 Kb/sec to ensure a quality
With CD-RW (rewritable) drives and the
proper CD, you can record over the same
CD as many times as you like. With CD-R
drives, however, you can only record to
a disc once.
Sealing the Deal
The final step for recording to a one-time
only CD-R disk is closing the session or
sealing the disc, indicating that you like
what you’ve got and don’t want to add or
delete anything else. If you’ve got a CDRW drive, this step won’t apply.
In the CD Creation Setup, you can
choose to close the session after the software records to the disk or you can
choose Test, which puts the file on the
CD but does not close the session (see
Figure 78.4). Since I was happy with what
I had, I chose create Disc-at-Once method
so that it would automatically close my
session, thus sealing my CD and my
video fate. I hit OK and in less than five
Burning Down the House
Figure 78.3 Ready to burn—from inside the CD-creation software,
open the file of your finished movie and drag it to the CD layout
Figure 78.4 Creation theory—when you’re ready to finish your CD, the
Creation Setup windows allows you to select the destination of your
finished movie.
minutes, I had my very first video on
When I first told my brother I was going
to create a video on CD, he sounded a little
skeptical. But after he received the CD and
played it in his Mac, he was amazed. It was
the first time his family got to see and hear
my family. When I outlined the basic steps
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
to him, he practically dropped the phone
to start creating his own video on CD.
If you’ve got a CD-R drive on your computer or if you’ve been thinking about
buying one to make video CDs, go for it.
It’s one of the easiest, least expensive,
most efficient and universal modes of distribution. CD-R drives have come down so
much in price, it doesn’t make sense not
to own one.
Sidebar 1
CD-R Versus CD-RW
CD-R (recordable) drives can record once to a CD-R disc. Once you’ve finished recording
files to the disc, you have to close the CD so that you can later play it in a CD-ROM drive.
CD-RW (rewritable) drives and discs allow you to record to a CD as many times as you like.
In many ways, CD-RW has become even better than Zip disks, with much larger storage
Originally, CD-RW drives were far more expensive than CD-R drives. But that’s changed.
Although they still cost more, the difference is nominal. CD-R drives can be found for about
$100 while CD-RWs typically cost around $250.
Sidebar 2
Five Tips for Creating Video for CD-ROM
1. Select 320 240 Frame Size. This half-screen-size option seems to be ideal for computerbased playback of video. It balances screen size with file size. If you want to fit more video
on the CD you can save space by choosing a quarter-screen (160 120) setting.
2. Plan your recording session. If your CD-creation software offers it, look at the available
space total. You will encounter an error if your clip’s file size is larger than the space
3. Edit for the computer. If you’re taking an existing video and editing it for CD, take the time
to delete any unwanted or unnecessarily complicated scenes. Complex your scenes
(including transition effects, etc.), can slow your computer down and impair playback.
This is particularly noticeable on older computers.
4. Shoot Tight. If you’re shooting with CD in mind, it’s best to frame your subject large in the
frame. Since your video will occupy a small part of the viewer’s screen. In order for viewers to see details, you’ll need to shoot in closeup. Also, limit your camera movement.
Avoid excessive zooms and pans.
5. Keep it Short. When the file size is smaller, it’s easier to handle and less likely to undergo
problems while playing back on a computer. Hone your editing skills and make less more.
An added bonus of keeping it short: your audience will be left begging for more, not turning your video off because they get bored.
Video Out:
Make Your Own
CD-ROM Videos
Joe McCleskey
Now that CD-R (recordable compact disc)
drives have become affordable and a
blank CD-R disk costs about the same as a
blank VHS videotape, isn’t it time to think
about putting some of your videos onto
CD-ROM? It doesn’t take a super-powerful
computer to get the job done; all you really
need is a video capture card that’s capable
of recording video at 320 240 resolution
or greater, some sort of video editing software, a sound card and a CD-R drive.
The benefits of recording video onto
CD-ROM are many. Though the size and
resolution of CD-ROM-based videos are
not as good as videotape, CDs are a better
archiving medium than tape. Also, making multiple-generation copies for family
or friends is a snap, and results in perfect
duplicates with no generation loss. It’s
also easy to incorporate your home videos
into your own CD-ROM multimedia presentations, using the right software.
So if you’re interested in making your
own CDs full of home video, fire up your
camcorder, buy some blank CDs and get
ready to burn some home movies.
Planning and Shooting
Before you begin shooting your CD-ROM
video masterpiece, take some time out
before hand to plan the production.
The most important thing to remember
when you’re planning a CD-ROM-based
video production is that whatever else
your video is going to be, it’s certainly
going to be small. The typical resolution
used for CD-ROM video is somewhere in
the range of 320 240 (or, if you’re working with DV video, 360 240). This resolution is handy because it’s one-fourth the
resolution of a typical full-screen digital
video file (640 480, or 720 480 for DV).
At such small resolutions, it’s difficult to
make out any kind of detail, so the most
important things to remember are: get
close and keep it simple (see Figure 79.1).
Imagine, for example, that you’ve shot a
lineup of 50 or more people at a family
reunion. If you simply set up a wide shot
of the whole group, you might be able to
pick out Aunt Louise when you later
watch the videotape on a TV monitor.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Time to Edit
Figure 79.1 A. Shoot close-ups and keep
movement to a minimum. B. Avoid busy
clothing and background patterns.
Digitize the footage at 320 240 resolution, however, and you’ll be lucky if you
can tell the men from the women. A good
solution for this kind of problem would
be to get closer and shoot a slow pan or
handheld dolly shot of each face.
Also, when shooting for CD-ROM
video, be sure to keep the camera moves
to a minimum. The small size of the video
makes it more difficult to follow busy,
confusing shots. As always, you should
move the camera only when you have a
good reason to do so. The above example
of the pan or dolly shot illustrates a good
reason to move the camera; even better,
however, might be to get a succession of
static shots with only a few people in the
frame for each shot. This will make it
much easier for the viewer to keep track
of who’s who and what’s going on.
What you’re aiming for here is simplicity, and that includes the location you
shoot in as well as the patterns of the
clothes that people wear. When advising your talent what to wear, stick to
solid colors, and avoid busy patterns like
paisley or plaid.
Once you’ve finished shooting your CDROM video footage, it’s time to capture
those clips onto your hard drive and
begin editing. Probably the most important thing to remember when capturing
your clips is to set the resolution to what
it will be when you output the finished
video. This will help you to avoid the horrible artifacts that sometimes result when
you re-size a clip. If you find that you
must capture at a higher resolution than
you plan to output (this may be the case
with some FireWire capture cards), then
plan to output your video at a resolution
that’s an exact multiple of the capture resolution. So if you capture DV at 720 480, set your editing software for output
at 360 240 (exactly one-fourth the resolution of 720 480).
The rules for editing pretty much follow
the rules outlined above for capturing:
keep it simple. A few effects might be nice,
but highly complicated, high-resolution
filter effects may not be visible in the tiny
screen that CD-ROM video relies on for
When choosing titles, be sure to use a
font that’s relatively large in comparison
to the overall size of the video, or else you
may have a readability problem. Also,
resist the urge to use complex patterns
with your titles, and choose a color that
contrasts well with the background video
(see Figure 79.2).
Rendering Issues
When you’ve made all of your editing
decisions and it’s time to render your
final movie, it’s important to consider the
most limiting factor in CD-ROM video:
space. There just isn’t that much room on
a CD-ROM (around 650 megabytes) and
what space there is gets taken up fast by
digital video.
Of primary importance is the type
of codec (compression/decompression
scheme) you use to compress the video.
Video Out
someone else’s CD-ROM drive. This means
that although your lightning-fast 44x speed
CD-ROM drive plays your video just fine,
your friend’s old-school 12x drive might
not be able to keep up. So before you render, decide what speed you’d like to be
able to play the CD-ROM at, and then
adjust your compression accordingly.
In general, video that’s more highly
compressed will play better on slower
CD-ROM drives. If your MPEG compression software or video editing software
allows you to dictate the playback data
rate you desire, use the following formula
to determine the rate you want:
Desired data rate target CD-ROM playback speed 150 Kilobits/second
Figure 79.2 A. Keep titles and graphics large
and simple. B. Use basic colors and avoid
complicated high resolution effects.
For maximizing space at the expense of
resolution and overall quality, MPEG-1 is
hard to beat. Remember, too, that your
production won’t have to be output to
videotape, so you don’t have to worry
about using hardware-assisted codecs
(like MJPEG and DV) when you render the
video. This may make rendering times a
little slower, but it’ll result in a video that
can be viewed on anyone’s computer.
Don’t hesitate to try several test renderings of your video, just to see what it
looks like and how much space it takes up
at several different compression ratios. If
you have a lot of video you’d like to fit
onto one CD, and you can squeeze the
video a bit more without a major drop in
quality, then go ahead and crank up the
compression ratio a notch or two.
Conversely, if you don’t have that much
video to fit onto the disc, then ease back
on the compression a little and get the
best quality you can.
One final note about compression and
rendering: it’s important to bear in mind
that the CD-ROM drive you use to play
back a video may be faster or slower than
If, for example, you want your CD-ROM
video to be viewable on a 12x CD-ROM
drive, then your finished video should
play back at something under 1800 Kilobits per second. Note that the desired data
rate should be less than, and not equivalent to, the target CD-ROM’s playback
rate, because the listed speeds for most
drives are maximum speeds, not sustained speeds. If you shoot for half or
maybe three-quarters of the listed speed
of the drive, you shouldn’t encounter any
playback problems.
Burn Baby Burn
Before you begin to burn your videos onto
a CD, consider your options. Would you
like to present your videos in an organized graphical format, like a CD-ROMbased Web page or a Microsoft PowerPoint
presentation? Or do you prefer to conserve
space and simply burn a list of video files
onto the CD, with maybe a text file to
describe the contents of each clip? The
choice is yours.
If you know a little HTML, or if you have
access to an HTML editing program, then
building a simple CD-based Web page
with links to your videos is a good way to
organize your project (see Figure 79.3).
Almost all computers nowadays have
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
Figure 79.3 If you know a little HTML, or if you have some
Web-page creation software, you can create a simple index of your
CD-ROM videos.
Web browsers, so all a potential viewer of
your CD-ROM-based videos would have to
do is double-click your index.html file to
launch a Web browser and begin viewing
your clips.
Now that you know how to create your
own CD-ROM videos, go ahead and give it
a try for yourself. It’s much easier than it
looks, and it’s a great way to share your
videos with friends and family.
A Glossary of Videography
.asf Active Streaming Format
.avi Short for Audio Video Interleave,
the file format for Microsoft’s Video for
Windows standard.
.gif Graphics Interchange Format—a bitmapped graphics file format used by
the World Wide Web, CompuServe and
many BBSs. GIF supports color and various resolutions. It also includes data
compression, making it especially effective for scanned photos.
.jpeg Joint Photographic Experts Group
image format. A popular Internet compression format for color images.
.mov File extension used with QuickTime movies.
.mov File extension used with Quicktime,
a popular file format for video on a computer developed by Apple.
.rm Most common file extension used
with RealMedia files.
.wav A sound format for storing sound
in files developed jointly by Microsoft
and IBM. Support for WAV files was
built into Windows 95 making it the
de facto standard for sound on PCs.
WAV sound files end with a .wav
8mm Compact videocassette format,
popularized by camcorders, employing
[See Hi8]
A/B roll editing Two video sources
played simultaneously, to be mixed or
cut between.
A/V (Audio/Video) A common shorthand
for multimedia audio and video.
action axis An imaginary line drawn
between two subjects or along a line of
motion to maintain continuity of
screen direction. Crossing it from one
shot to the next creates an error in continuity. It is also referred to as the
“180-degree rule.”gree rule.”
ad-lib Unrehearsed, spontaneous act of
speaking, performing, or otherwise
improvising on-camera activity without
aDSL Asymmetric (or Asynchronous)
Digital Subscriber Line. A ‘fat pipe.’
New technology to carry high-speed
data over typical twisted-pair copper
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
telephone lines. ADSL promises be up
to 70 times as fast as a 28.8 modem.
AFM (audio frequency modulation) The
analog soundtrack of the 8mm and
Hi8 video format. [See PCM.]
AGC (automatic gain control) A circuit
on most camcorders that automatically adjusts a microphone’s gain
(volume) to match environmental
sound levels.
ambient sound (ambience) Natural background audio representative of a given
recording environment. On-camera dialog might be primary sound; traffic
noise and refrigerator hum would be
amplify To magnify an audio signal for
mixing, distribution and transducing
analog An electrical signal is referred to
as either analog or digital. Analog signals are those signals directly generated from a stimulus such as a light
striking a camera picture tube. You can
convert an analog signal to a digital
signal by using an analog to digital
animation Visual special effect whereby
progressive still images displayed in
rapid succession creates the illusion of
aperture/exposure A setting that manipulates the amount of light falling onto
the camera’s CCD(s). This control
adjusts the size of the camcorder’s iris.
apps (application) Software that performs a specific function.
artifacting The occurrence of unwanted
visual distortions that appear in a
video image, such as cross-color artifacts, cross-luminance artifacts, jitter,
blocking, ghosts, etc. Artifacting is a
common side effect of compression,
especially at lower bit rates.
artifacts Unwanted visual distortions
that appear in a video image, such as
cross-color artifacts, cross-luminance
artifacts, jitter, blocking, ghosts, etc.
artificial light Human-made illumination not limited to “indoor” variety:
fluorescent bulbs, jack-o’-lanterns and
a car’s headlights all qualify. Typically, it
has lower color temperature than
natural light, and thus more reddish
qualities. (See color temperature, natural light.)
aspect ratio Proportional width and
height of on-screen picture. Current
standard for a conventional monitor is
4:3 (four-by-three); 16:9 for HDTV.
assemble edit Recording video and/or
audio clips in sequence immediately
following previous material; does not
break control track. Consecutive edits
form complete program. [See edit,
insert edit.]
ATV (amateur television) Specialized
domain of ham radio, transmits standard TV signals on UHF radio bands.
audio dub Result of recording over prerecorded videotape soundtrack, or a
portion thereof, without affecting prerecorded images.
audio frequency modulation (AFM)
Method of recording hi-fi audio on
videotape along with video signals.
Used in VHS Hi-Fi Audio, and also the
analog soundtrack of the 8mm and
Hi8 video formats.
audio mixer The piece of equipment
used to gather, mix and amplify sounds
from multiple microphones and send
the signal on to its destination.
automatic exposure Circuitry that monitors light levels and adjusts camcorder
iris accordingly, compensating for
changing light conditions.
automatic gain control (AGC) Circuitry
found on most camcorders that
adjusts incoming audio levels automatically to match environmental
sound levels.
available light Amount of illumination
present in a particular environment:
natural light, artificial light or a combination of the two.
AVI (Audio Video Interleave) One of the
oldest file formats for digital video
on PCs.
back light Lamp providing illumination
from behind. Creates sense of depth
by separating foreground subject from
background area. Applied erroneously,
causes severe silhouetting. (See fill
light, key light, three-point lighting.)
balanced line Audio cables that have
three wires: one for positive, one for
negative and one for ground.
bandwidth A measure of the capacity of
a user’s data line. Video looks its
best on a high-bandwidth connection,
like DSL, cable modems or satellite
modems. Conversely, trying to download or stream video on a low-bandwidth connection like a dial-up modem
can be a frustrating experience.
bandwidth compression Reducing the
bandwidth that is required for transmission of a given digital data rate.
barndoors Accessories for video lights;
adjustable folding flaps that control
light distribution.
batch capture The ability of certain computer-based editing systems to automatically capture whole lists or “batches” of
clips from source videotapes.
Betamax More commonly known as
“Beta,” half-inch videotape format
developed by Sony, eclipsed by VHS
in home video market popularity. [See
ED Beta.]
bidirectional Microphone pickup pattern whereby sound is absorbed
equally from two sides only. [See
omnidirectional, unidirectional.]
black box Generic term for wide variety
of video image manipulation devices
with perceived mysterious or “magical” capabilities, including proc amps,
enhancers, SEGs, and TBCs.
bleeding Video image imperfection characterized by blurring of color borders;
colors spill over defined boundaries,
“run” into neighboring areas.
BNC (Bayonet Fitting Connector aka
British Naval Connector) A durable
attaches to VCRs for transfer of highfrequency composite video in/out signals. Connects with a push and a twist.
boom Any device for suspending a
microphone above and in front of a
booming Camera move above or below
subject with aid of a balanced “boom
arm,” creating sense of floating into or
out of a scene. Can combine effects of
panning, tilting, and pedding in one
fluid movement.
C See chrominance.
cable/community access Channel(s) of a
local cable television system dedicated to community-based programming. Access centers provide free or
low-cost training and use of video production equipment and facilities.
cameo lighting Foreground subjects illuminated by highly directional light,
appearing before a completely black
Cannon See XLR.
capacitor The part of the condenser
mike that stores electrical energy and
permits the flow of alternating current.
capture card A piece of computer hardware that captures digital video and
audio to a hard drive, typically
through a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port.
cardioid A microphone that picks up
sound in a heart-shaped pattern.
CCD (charge coupled device) Lightsensitive integrated circuit in video
cameras that converts images into
electrical signals. Sometimes referred
to as a “chip.”
character generator A device that electronically builds text which can be
combined with a video signal. The text
is created with a keyboard and program that has a selection of font and
chroma Characteristics of color a videotape absorbs with recorded signal,
divided into two categories: AM (amplitude modulation) indicates color intensity; PM (phase modulation) indicates
color purity.
chromakey Method of electronically
inserting an image from one video
source into the image of another
through areas designated as its “key
color.” It is frequently used on news
programs to display weather graphics
behind talent.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
chrominance Portion of video signal
that carries color information (hue and
saturation, but not brightness); frequently abbreviated as “C,” as
in “Y/C” for luminance/chrominance.
[See luminance.]
clapstick Identification slate with hinged,
striped top that smacks together for oncamera scene initiation. Originally
used to synchronize movie sound with
picture. [See lip-sync.]
closeup (CU) A tightly framed camera
shot in which the principal subject is
viewed at close range, appearing large
and dominant on screen. Pulled back
slightly is a “medium closeup” while
zoomed in very close is an “extreme
closeup (ECU or XCU).”
CODEC (compressor/decompressor) A
piece of software that converts a raw
stream of uncompressed video to a
compressed form. The same piece of
software can also play the compressed
video on-screen.
color bars Standard test signal containing samples of primary and secondary
colors, used as reference in aligning
color video equipment. Generated
electronically by a “color bar generator,” often viewed on broadcast television in off-air hours. [See test pattern.]
color corrector Electronic device that
dissects the colors of a video
signal, allowing them to be adjusted
color temperature Relative amount of
“white” light’s reddish or bluish qualities, measured in degrees Kelvin.
Desirable readings for video are 3,200 K
indoors, 5,600 K outdoors. (See artificial, natural light.)
comet tailing Smear of light resulting
from inability of camera’s pickup to
process bright objects—especially in
darker settings. Object or camera in
motion creates appearance of flying
fireball. [See lag.]
component video Signal transmission
system, resembling S-video concept,
employed with professional videotape
formats. Separates one luminance
and two chrominance channels to
avoid quality loss from NTSC or PAL
composite video Single video signal
combining luminance and chrominance signals through an encoding
process, including RGB (red, green,
blue) elements and sync information.
compositing Superimposing
layers of video or images. Each layer
may move independently. Titles are
a simple and common example of
composition Visual make-up of a video
picture, including such variables as
balance, framing, field of view and texture—all aesthetic considerations.
Combined qualities form an image
that’s pleasing to view.
compression An encoding process that
reduces the digital data in a video
frame, typically from nearly one
megabyte to 300 kilobytes or less. This
is accomplished by throwing away
information the eye can’t see and/or
redundant information in areas of the
video frame that do not change. JPEG,
Motion-JPEG, MPEG, DV, Indeo,
Fractal and Wavelet are all compression schemes.
condenser mike A high-quality mike
whose transducer consists of a diaphragm, backplate and capacitor.
continuity [1:visual] Logical succession
of recorded or edited events, necessitating consistent placement of props,
positioning of characters, and progression of time.
contrast Difference between a picture’s
brightest and darkest areas. When
high, image contains sharp blacks and
whites; when low, image limited to
variations in gray tones.
control track A portion of the videotape
containing information to synchronize
playback and linear videotape editing
Control-L A two-way communication
system used to coordinate tape transport commands for linear editing.
Primarily found in Mini DV, Digital8,
Hi8 and 8mm camcorders and VCRs.
(See Control-S, synchro edit.)
Control-S A one-way communication
system that treats a VCR or camcorder
as a slave unit, with edit commands
emanating from an external edit controller or compatible deck. Primarily
found on 8mm VCRs and camcorders.
(See Control-L, synchro edit.)
cookie (cucalorus) Lighting accessory
consisting of random cutout shapes
that cast patterned shadows when
light passes through. Used to imitate
shadows of natural lighting.
crawl Text or graphics, usually special
announcements that move across the
screen horizontally, typically from right
to left across the bottom of the screen.
cross-fade Simultaneous fade-in of one
audio or video source as another fades
out so that they overlap temporarily.
Also called a dissolve.
cucalorus (cookie) Lighting accessory
consisting of random pattern of
cutouts that forms shadows when light
passes through it. Used to imitate
shadows of natural lighting.
cue [1] Signal to begin, end, or otherwise
influence on-camera activity while
recording. [2] Presetting specific starting points of audio or video material so
it’s available for immediate and precise
playback when required.
cut Instantaneous change from one shot
to another.
cutaway Shot of something other than
principal action (but peripherally
related), frequently used as transitional footage or to avoid a jump cut.
cuts-only editing Editing limited to
immediate shifts from one scene to
another, without smoother image transition capabilities such as dissolving
or wiping. [See cut, edit.]
D1, D2, D3, D5, Digital-S, DVCPRO,
DVCAM, Digital Betacam Entirely digital “professional” videotape recording
decibel (dB) A unit of measurement of
sound that compares the relative
intensity of different sound sources.
decompression The decoding of a compressed video data stream to allow
deinterlace To convert interlaced video
into progressively-scanned video, for
use with computers.
depth of field Range in front of a camera’s lens in which objects appear in
focus. Varies with subject-to-camera
distance, focal length of a camera lens
and a camera’s aperture setting.
desktop video (DTV) Fusion of personal
computers and home video components for elaborate videomaking capabilities rivaling those of broadcast
diaphragm The vibrating element in a
microphone that responds to the compressed air molecules of sound waves.
diffused light Indistinctly illuminates
relatively large area. Produces soft
light quality with soft shadows.
diffuser Gauzy or translucent material
that alters the quality of light passing
through it to produce less intense, flatter lighting with softer, less noticeable
diffusion filter Mounted at front of camcorder lens, gives videotaped images a
foggy, fuzzy, dreamy look. [See filter.]
digital audio Sounds that have been
converted to digital information.
digital video effects (DVE) Electronic
analog-to-digital picture modification
yielding specialty image patterns
and maneuvers: tumbling, strobing,
page turning, mosaic, posterization,
solarization, etc.
digitization The process of converting a
continuous analog video or audio signal to digital data for computer storage
and manipulation.
digitizer Device that imports and converts
analog video images into digital information for hard drive-based editing.
directional light Light that illuminates
in a relatively small area with distinct
light beam; usually created with spotlight, yields harsh, defined shadows.
dissolve Image transition effect of one picture gradually disappearing as another
appears. Analogous to audio and lighting cross-fade. [See cross-fade.]
distribution amp (distribution amplifier) Divides single video or audio
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
signals, while boosting their strength,
for delivery to multiple audio/
video acceptors. Allows simultaneous
recording on multiple VCR’s from the
same source, especially useful for tape
DivX ;-) A recent codec for MPEG-4
video, developed on the Internet.
dolly dolly Camera movement toward or
away from a subject. The effect may
seem to be the same as zooming, but
dollying in or out results in a more
dramatic change in perspective than
using the zoom.
dollying Camera movement toward or
away from a subject. Effect may appear
same as zooming, which reduces and
magnifies the image, but dollying in or
out maintains perspective while
changing picture size.
dongle A device that prevents the unauthorized use of hardware or software.
A dongle usually consists of a small
cord attached to a device or key that
secures the hardware. The term is also
used to signify a generic adapter for
download and play A way of viewing
Web video that requires a user to
download a video before playing it.
Download and play files are usually
higher quality than streamed video.
dropout Videotape signal voids, viewed
as fleeting white specks or streaks.
Usually result of minute “bare spots”
on a tape’s magnetic particle coating,
or tape debris covering particles and
blocking signals.
DTV Desktop video.
dub [1] Process or result of duplicating a
videotape in its entirety. [2] Editing
technique whereby new audio or
video replaces portion(s) of existing
DV (Digital Video) With a capital “D”
and a capital “V,” DV is a specific
video format; both a tape format (like
Hi8) and a data format specification.
DVE (Digital Video Effect) Electronic
special effects and picture modification yielding specialty image patterns
and maneuvers, such as tumbling,
strobing, page turning, mosaic, posterization, solarization, etc. [See F/X.]
dynamic mike A rugged microphone
whose transducer consists of a diaphragm connected to a moveable coil.
ED Beta (extended definition Beta)
Improved version of the original halfinch Betamax video format, yielding sharper pictures with 500-line
resolution. [See Betamax.]
edit Process or result of selectively
recording video and/or audio on finished videotape. Typically involves
reviewing raw footage and transferring
desired segments from master tape(s)
onto new tape in a predetermined
sequence. [See assemble edit, in-camera editing.]
edit control protocols Types of signals
designed to communicate between
editing components, including computers, tape decks and camcorders.
Allows components to transmit
instructions for various operations
such as play, stop, fast forward,
rewind, record, pause, etc.
edit controller Electronic programmer
used in conjunction with VCRs/camcorders to facilitate automated linear
videotape editing with speed, precision and convenience.
edit decision list (EDL) Handwritten or
computer-generated compilation of all
edits (marked by their time code in
points and out points) to be executed
in a video production.
edited master Original recorded videotape footage; “edited master” implies
original copy of tape in its edited form.
Duplications constitute generational
editing appliance An self-contained
machine, essentially a small computer,
which only edits video. Editing appliances usually contain most features
found in standard computer-based
editing systems.
EDL (edit decision list) Handwritten or
computer-generated compilation of all
edits (marked by their time code in
points and out points) planned for execution in a video production.
EFP (Electronic field production) Filmstyle production approach using a single camera to record on location.
Typically shot for post-production
application, non-live feed.
EIS (electronic image stabilization) A
process of limiting shaky camera shots
with digital processing within a camcorder. [See OIS.]
electret condenser Microphone type
incorporating a pre-charged element,
eliminating need for bulky power
sources. [See condenser.]
electronic image stabilization (EIS) A
process that limits shaky camera shots
with digital processing found within a
camcorder. [See OIS.]
encoder Device that translates a video
signal into a different format—RGB to
composite, DV to MPEG,etc.
encoding The actual process of compressing video for streaming or for
ENG (Electronic news gathering) Use of
portable video cameras, lighting and
sound equipment to record news
events in the field quickly, conveniently, and efficiently.
enhancer (Image enhancer) Video signal processor that compensates for
picture detail losses and distortion
occurring in recording and playback.
Exaggerates transitions between light
and dark areas by enhancing high frequency region of video spectrum.
EP (Extended play) Slowest tape speed
of a VHS VCR, accommodating sixhour recordings. [See LP, SP.]
equalization Emphasizing
audio or video frequencies and eliminating others as signal control measure,
usually to produce particular sonic
qualities. Achieved with equalizer.
equalize To emphasize, lessen or eliminate certain audio frequencies.
essential area Boundaries within which
contents of a television picture are
sure to be seen, regardless of masking
differences in receiver displays. Also
called the “critical area” or “safe
action area,” it encompasses the inner
80 percent of the screen.
establishing shot Opening image of a
program or scene. Usually, it’s a wide
and/or distant perspective that orients
viewers to the overall setting and
extra Accessory talent not essential to a
production, assuming some peripheral
on-camera role. In movie work, performers with fewer than five lines are
called “under fives.”
f-stop Numbers corresponding to variable
size of a camera’s iris opening, and thus
the amount of light passing through the
lens. The higher the number, the
smaller the iris diameter, which means
less light enters the camcorder.
F/X Special effects. Visual tricks and
illusions—electronic or on camera—
employed in film and video to define,
distort or defy reality.
fade Gradual diminishing or heightening of visual and/or audio intensity.
“Fade out” or “fade to black,” “fade in”
or “up from black” are common terms.
feed Act or result of transmitting a video
signal from one point to another.
feedback [1:video] Infinite loop of
visual patterns from signal output
being fed back as input; achieved by
aiming live camera at receiving monitor. [2:audio] Echo effect at low levels,
howl or piercing squeal at extremes,
from audio signal being fed back to
field Half a scanning cycle. Two fields
comprise a complete video frame.
Composed of either all odd lines or all
even lines.
field of view Extent of a shot that is visible through a particular lens; its vista.
fill light Supplementary illumination,
usually from a soft light positioned to
the side of the subject, which lightens
shadows created by the key light.
(See back light, key light, three-point
film-style Out-of-sequence shooting approach, to be edited in appropriate order
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
at post-production stage. Advantageous
for concentrating on and completing
recording at one location at a time, continuity and convenience assured.
filter Transparent or semi-transparent
material, typically glass, mounted at the
front of a camcorder’s lens to change
light passing through. Manipulates colors and image patterns, often for special
effect purposes.
filter effect Digital effect added to colorize or otherwise alter a clip in postproduction.
FireWire (IEEE 1394 or i.LINK) A highspeed bus that was developed by
Apple Computer. It is used, among
other things, to connect digital camcorders to computers.
fishpole A small, lightweight arm to
which a microphone is attached, hand
held by an audio assistant outside of
the picture frame.
flare Bright flashes evident in video.
Caused by excessive light beaming
into a camera’s lens and reflecting off
its internal glass elements.
flat lighting Illumination characterized
by even, diffused light without shadows, highlights or contrast. May
impede viewer’s sense of depth,
floodlight Radiates a diffused, scattered
blanket of light with soft, indistinct
shadows. Best used to spread illumination on broad areas, whereas spotlights focus on individual subjects.
fluid head Tripod mount type containing viscous fluid which lubricates
moving parts, dampens friction.
Design facilitates smooth camera
moves, alleviates jerkiness. [See friction head.]
flying erase head Accessory video head
mounted on spinning head drum,
incorporated in many camcorders and
VCRs to eliminate glitches and rainbow noise between scenes recorded or
edited. By design, all 8mm-family and
DV-family equipment has flying erase
focal length Distance from a camcorder’s lens to a focused image with
the lens focused on infinity. Short
focal lengths offer a broad field of
view (wide angle); long focal lengths
offer a narrow field of view (telephoto). Zoom lenses have a variable
focal length.
follow focus Controlling lens focus so
that an image maintains sharpness and
clarity despite camcorder and/or subject movement.
foot-candle A unit of illumination equal
to the light emitted by a candle at the
distance of one foot. One foot-candle
equals 10.764 lux. (See lux.)
format Videotape and video equipment
design differences—physical and technical—dictating compatibility and
quality. In most basic sense, refers to
standardized tape widths, videocassette sizes. [See Betamax, D1/D2, 8
mm, three-quarter-inch, VHS.]
FPS (frames per second) Measures the
rate or speed of video or film. Film is
typically shot and played back at
24 fps. Video is recorded and played
back at 30 fps.
frame 1) One complete image. In NTSC
video a frame is composed of two
fields. One 30th of a second. 2) The
viewable area or composition of an
framing Act of composing a shot in a
camcorder’s viewfinder for desired
content, angle and field of view.
freeze frame Single frame paused and
displayed for an extended period during video playback; suspended motion
perceived as still snapshot.
frequency Number of vibrations produced by a signal or sound, usually
expressed as cycles per second, or
hertz (Hz).
frequency response Measure of the range
of frequencies a medium can respond to
and reproduce. Good video response
maintains picture detail; good audio
response accommodates the broadest
range, most exacting sound.
friction head Tripod mount type with
strong spring that counterbalances
camera weight, relying on friction to
hold its position. More appropriate for
still photography than movementoriented videomaking. [See fluid head.]
full-motion video A standard for video
playback on a computer; refers to
smooth-flowing, full-color video at
30 frames per second, regardless of the
screen resolution.
gaffer Production
responsible for placement and rigging
of all lighting instruments.
gain Video amplification, signal strength.
“Riding gain” means varying controls
to achieve desired contrast levels.
GB (Gigabyte) Giga- is a prefix that
means one billion, so a Gigabyte is
1,000,000,000 bytes. Most commonly
used to measure hard disk space.
gel Colored material placed in front of
a light source to alter its hue. Useful
for special effects and correcting mismatches in lighting, as in scenes
lit by both daylight and artificial
generation Relationship between a master video recording and a given copy of
that master. A copy of a copy of the
original master constitutes a secondgeneration duplication.
generation loss Degradation in picture
and sound quality resulting from an
analog duplication of original master
video recording. Copying a copy and
all successive duplication compounds
generation loss. Digital transfers are
free of generation loss.
genlock (generator
Synchronizes two video sources,
allowing part or all of their signals to
be displayed together. Necessary for
overlaying computer graphics with
video, for example.
ghosting Undesirable
screen image caused by signal reflection or improperly balanced video circuitry. “Ringing” appears as repeated
image edges.
giraffe A small boom that consists of a
counterweighted arm supported by a
tripod, usually on casters.
glitch Momentary picture disturbance.
grain Blanketed signal noise viewed as
fuzziness, unsmooth images—attributable to lumination inadequacies.
grip Production crew stagehand responsible for handling equipment, props,
and scenery before, during, and after
group master fader A volume control on
an audio board that handles a subgroup of input channels before they
are sent to the master fader.
handheld mike A microphone that a
person holds to speak or sing into.
hard disk Common digital storage component in a computer.
HDTV (high-definition television) “In
the works” television system standard
affording greater resolution for
sharper pictures and wide-screen
viewing via specially-designed TV
head Electromagnetic component within
camcorders and VCRs that records,
receives and erases video and audio
signals on magnetic tape.
headroom Space between the top of a
subject’s head and a monitor’s upperscreen edge. Too much headroom
makes the subject appear to fall out of
the frame.
hi-fi (high fidelity) Generalized term
defining audio quality approaching
the limits of human hearing, pertinent
to high-quality sound reproduction
Hi8 (high-band 8mm) Improved version
of 8mm videotape format characterized by higher luminance resolution
for a sharper picture. Compact “conceptual equivalent” of Super-VHS.
[See 8mm]
high impedance A characteristic of
microphones that have a great deal
of opposition to the flow of alternating current through them and therefore must have short cables; they
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
are less likely to be used in professional situations than low impedance
hiss Primary background signal interference in audio recording, result of circuit noise from a playback recorder’s
amplifiers or from a tape’s residual
horizontal resolution Specification denoting amount of discernable detail across a
screen’s width. Measured in pixels, the
higher the number, the better the picture
IEEE 1394 (Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers) Pronounced
“eye-triple-E thirteen-ninety-four” the
institute establishes standards and
protocols for a wide range of computer
and communications technologies,
including IEEE 1394, which is a specification FireWire data transmission
widely used in DV. Sony refers to the
ports on its products with the proprietary term, “i.LINK.”
image enhancer Video signal processor
that compensates for picture detail losses and distortion occurring in recording
transitions between light and dark
areas by enhancing high frequency
region of video spectrum.
image sensor A video camera’s image
sensing element, either CCD (charge
coupled device) or MOS (metal oxide
semiconductor); converts light to electrical energy. [See CCD.]
impedance Opposition to the flow of an
audio signal in a microphone and its
in-camera editing Assembling finished
program “on the fly” as you videotape
simply by activating and pausing camcorder’s record function.
incident light That which emanates
directly from a light source. Measured
from the object it strikes to the source.
(See reflected light.)
indexing Ability of some VCRs to electronically mark specific points on
videotape for future access, either during the recording process (VISS: VHS
index search system) or as scenes are
played back (VASS: VHS address search
input channel On an audio board, the
control into which a microphone, tape
recorder or other source is plugged.
insert edit Recording video and/or
audio on tape over a portion of existing footage without disturbing what
precedes and follows. Must replace
recording of same length.
interlace To split a TV picture into two
fields of odd and even lines. Under the
interlaced method, every other line is
scanned during the first pass, then the
remaining lines are scanned in the second pass. All analog TV formats (NTSC,
PAL and SECAM) use interlaced video.
interlaced video Process of scanning
frames in two passes, each painting
every other line on the screen, with
scan lines alternately displayed in
even and odd fields. NTSC video is
interlaced; most computers produce
a noninterlaced video signal. [See noninterlaced video.]
iris Camcorder’s lens opening or aperture, regulates amount of light entering
camera. Diameter is measured in fstops. [See f-stop.]
jack Any female socket or receptacle,
usually on the backside of video and
audio equipment; accepts plug for circuit connection.
jitter Video image aberration seen as
slight, fast vertical or horizontal shifting of a picture or portion of one.
jog/shuttle Manual control on some
VCRs, facilitates viewing and editing
precision and convenience. Jog ring
moves tape short distances to show a
frame at a time; shuttle dial transports
tape forward or reverse more rapidly
for faster scanning.
jump cut Unnatural, abrupt switch
between shots identical in subject but
slightly different in screen location, so
the subject appears to jump from one
screen location to another. Can be
remedied with a cutaway or shot from
a different angle.
Kelvin Temperature scale used to define
the color of a light source; abbreviated
as “K.” [See color temperature.]
key light Principal illumination source
on a subject or scene. Normally positioned slightly off-center and angled to
provide shadow detail. (See back light,
fill light, three-point lighting.)
keyframe A complete image, used as a
reference for subsequent images. To
keep the data rate low, other frames
only have data for the parts of the picture that change.
keystoning Perspective distortion from
a flat object being shot by a camera at
other than a perpendicular angle.
Nearer portion of object appears larger
than farther part.
Killer app An application of such technological importance and wide acceptance that it surpasses (i.e., kills) its
lag Camera pickup’s retention of an
image after the camera has been
moved, most common under low light
levels. Comet tailing is a form of lag.
lapel mike A small mike often clipped
inside clothing or on a tie or lapel.
lavalier A small mike that can be worn
around the neck on a cord.
Commonly used in digital watches,
camcorder viewscreens and laptop
computer screens, LCD panels are
light-weight and low-power display
LiIon (Lithium Ion) The most common
battery type among new camcorders.
More expensive, but has a higher
capacity and fewer memory rechanging problems.
linear editing Tape-based VCR-to-VCR
editing. Called linear because scenes
are recorded in chronological order on
the tape.
lip sync Proper synchronization of
video with audio—lip movement with
audible speech.
long shot (LS) Camera view of a subject
or scene from a distance, showing a
broad perspective.
LP (long play) Middle tape speed of a
VHS VCR, accommodating four-hour
recordings. [See EP, SP.]
LTC (longitudinal time code) Frame
identification numbers encoded as
audio signals and recorded lengthwise
on the edge of a tape, typically on a
linear audio track of VHS or S-VHS
tape. (See time code, VITC.)
luminance Black-and-white portion of
video signal, carries brightness information representing picture contrast,
light and dark qualities; frequently
abbreviated as “Y.”
lux A metric unit of illumination equal
to the light of a candle falling on a surface of one square meter. One lux
equals 0.0929 foot-candle.
macro Lens capable of extreme closeup
focusing, useful for intimate views of
small subjects.
master Original recorded videotape
footage; “edited master” implies original tape in its edited form.
master fader The audio volume control
that is located after all the input channel controls and after the submaster
matched dissolve Dissolve from one
image to another that’s similar in
appearance or shot size.
media player A program that plays back
audio or video. Examples include
Microsoft Windows Media Player,
Apple’s QuickTime Player, and
medium shot (MS) Defines any camera
perspective between long shot and
closeup, viewing the subjects from a
medium distance.
memory effect Power-loss phenomenon
alleged of NiCad—camcorder batteries, attributed to precisely repetitive
partial discharge followed by complete recharge, or long-term overcharge.
for “voltage depression” and “cell
MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) System
between digital electronic instruments
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
allowing synchronization and distribution of musical information.
mike (also “mic”) short for microphone.
mix [1:audio] Combining sound sources
to achieve a desired program balance.
Finished output may be mono, stereo
or surround. [2:video] Combining video
signals from two or more sources.
model release Agreement to be signed
by anyone appearing in a video work,
protecting videomaker from right of
privacy lawsuit. Specifies event, date,
compensation provisions, and rights
being waived.
monitor [1:video] Television set without
receiving circuitry, wired to camcorder or VCR for display of live or
recorded video signals. Most standard
TVs have dual-function capability as
monitor and receiver. [See receiver.]
[2:audio] Synonymous with speaker.
monopod One-legged camera support.
[See tripod.]
montage A sequence of shots assembled
in juxtaposition to each other to communicate a particular idea or mood.
Often bridged with cross-fades and set
to music.
mosaic Electronic
whereby individual pixels comprising
an image are blown up into larger
blocks—a kind of checkerboard effect.
MPEG (MPEG-1) A video compression
standard set by the Moving Picture
Experts Group. It involves changing
only those elements of a video image
that actually change from frame to
frame and leaving everything else in
the image the same.
MPEG-2 The highest quality digital
video compression currently available. MPEG-2 is less blocky than
MPEG-1 and is used in DVDs and DBS
satellite TV systems.
MPEG-4 A recent data compression format that can get better quality out of a
given amount of bandwidth. MPEG-4
can compress a feature film onto a CDROM disc with VHS quality.
natural light Planetary illumination—
from the sun, the moon, stars—whether
indoors or out. Has higher color temperature than artificial light, and thus
more bluish qualities. (See artificial
light, color temperature.)
neutral-density filter (ND) Mounted at
front of camcorder lens, reduces light
intensity without affecting its color
qualities. [See filter.]
NiCad (nickel cadmium) Abbreviation
coined and popularized by SAFT
America for lightweight camcorder
battery type designed to maintain
power longer than traditional leadacid batteries. Rare among new camcorders, supplanted by Li-Ion and
NiMH (nickel metal hydride) Battery
technology similar to NiCad, but more
environmentally friendly, with higher
capacity and fewer memory recharging
editor/editing) Hard
drive-based editing system defined by
its ability to randomly access and insert
video in any order at any time. This is in
contrast to linear, tape-to-tape editing
which requires rewinding and fast forwarding to access material.
noise Unwanted sound or static in an
audio signal or unwanted electronic disturbance of snow in the video signal.
noninterlaced video Process of scanning complete frames in one pass,
painting every line on the screen,
yielding higher picture quality than
that of interlaced video. Most computers produce a noninterlaced video
signal; NTSC is interlaced. AKA
progressive scan.
editing Digital
access editing that uses a hard drive
instead of tape to store video.
Random access allows easy arrangement of scenes in any order. It also
eliminates the need for rewinding and
allows for multiple dubs without generation loss.
nonsynchronous sound Audio without
precisely matching visuals. Usually recorded separately, includes
wild sound, sound effects, or music
incorporated in post-production. [See
synchronous sound.]
nose room The distance between the
subject and the edge of the frame in
the direction the subject is looking.
Also called “look room.”
NTSC (National Television Standards
Committee) U.S. television broadcasting specifications. NTSC refers to
all video systems conforming to this
525-line 59.94-field-per-second signal
standard. [See PAL, SECAM.]
Off-line Until recently, the low quality
of computer video images limits the
DTV computer to “off-line” work. That
is, making the edit-point decisions
(EDL) for use in a later “on-line” session, using the original tapes to assemble the edit master. Today’s editing
systems are capable of on-line quality
output by themsleves, relegating this
term to history.
OIS (optical image stabilization) A
process of limiting shaky camera shots
with mechanical movement of the
optical system within a camcorder.
[See EIS.]
omnidirectional A microphone that
picks up sound from all directions.
outtake Footage not to be included in
final production.
over-the-shoulder shot View of the primary subject with the back of another
person’s shoulder and head in the foreground. Often used in interview situations.
PAL (phase alternate line) 625-line
50-field-per-second television signal
standard used in Europe and South
America. Incompatible with NTSC.
pan Horizontal camera pivot, right to
left or left to right, from a stationary
PCM (pulse code modulation) A popular method of encoding digital audio.
[See AFM.]
pedestal A camera move vertically lowering or raising the camcorder,
approaching either the floor or ceiling,
while keeping the camera level.
phone plug Sturdy male connector compatible with audio accessories, particularly for insertion of microphone and
headphone cables. Frequently referred
to by their sizes, usually 1/4-inch and
1/8-inch. Not to be confused with
phono plug.
phono plug (RCA) Shrouded male connector used for audio and video connections. Frequently referred to as
RCA plugs, they only come in one
size. Not to be confused with phone
pickup [1] A video camera’s image sensing element, either CCD (charge coupled device) or MOS (metal oxide
semiconductor); converts light to electrical energy. [See CCD.] [2] A microphone’s sound reception.
pickup pattern Defines a microphone’s
response to sounds arriving from various directions or angles. [See omnidirectional, unidirectional.]
PiP (picture in picture, p-in-p, pix in pix)
Image from a second video source
inset on a screen’s main picture, the
big and small pictures usually being
playback Videotaped material viewed
and heard as recorded, facilitated by
camcorder or VCR.
playback VCR Playback source of raw
video footage (master or workprint) in
basic player/recorder editing setup.
[See recording VCR.]
point-of-view shot (POV) Shot perspective whereby the video camera
assumes a subject’s view and thus
viewers see what the subject sees.
polarizing filter Mounted at the front of
camcorder lens, thwarts undesirable
glare and reflections. [See filter.]
post production (post) Any video production activity following initial
recording. Typically involves editing,
addition of background music,
voiceover, sound effects, titles, and/or
various electronic visual effects.
Results in completed production.
posterization Electronic special effect
transforming a normal video image into
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
a collage of flattened single-colored
areas, without graduations of color and
POV (point of view) The apparent position of the observer in a shoot that
defines the camera’s position.
pre-roll [1] Slight backing-up function
of camcorders and VCRs when preparing for linear tape-to-tape editing;
ensures smooth, uninterrupted transitions between scenes.
preamp An electronic device that magnifies the low signal output of microphones and other transducers before
the signal is sent to a mixing board or
to other amplifiers.
proc amp (processing amplifier) Video
image processor that boosts video signal’s luminance, chroma, and sync
components to correct such problems
as low light, weak color, or wrong tint.
Progressive scan A method of displaying the horizontal video lines in computer displays and digital TV
broadcasts. Each horizontal line is displayed in sequence (1, 2, 3, etc.), until
the screen is filled; as opposed to
interlaced (e.g. first fields of odd-numbered lines, then fields of even-numbered lines).
props Short for “properties,” objects
used either in decorating a set (set
props) or by talent (hand props).
Small, sensitive condenser mike, usually attached to a metal backing plate.
Senses air pressure changes in tiny gap
between mike element and plate.
Trademark of Crown International.
Generically, “boundary microphone”
is preferred.
QuickTime Computer system software
that defines a format for video and
audio data, so different applications
can open and play synchronized
sound and movie files.
rack focus Shifting focus between subjects in the background and foreground so a viewer’s attention moves
from subject to subject as the focus
RAID Acronym for Redundant Array of
Independent Disks. Hard drives
installed in multiples that are accessed
as a single volume. RAID 0 systems
(stripe sets) are common in higher-end
video editing systems, as they allow
for faster access to video. Other RAID
configurations are used in some
servers to keep important data accessible and protected, allowing access to
data even after one of the hard drives
RAM (Random Access Memory) The
short-term memory of a computer
which temporarily holds information
while your computer is on. Distinct
from storage, which is more permanent and is held on hard disks or some
other media, such as CD-ROM.
raw footage Pre-edited footage, usually
direct from the camcorder.
RCA plug (Recording Corporation of
America) A popular cable connector
for home audio as well as video components. The standard connection for
direct audio/video inputs and outputs.
RCTC (rewritable consumer time code)
The time-code format used with 8mm
and Hi8 formats.
reaction shot A cutaway to someone or
something showing their facial response to the primary action or subject.
real time Occurring immediately, without delay for rendering. If a transition
occurs in real time, there is no waiting;
the computer creates the effect or transition on the fly, showing it immediately. Real-time previewing is different
from real-time rendering.
real-time counter Tallying device that
accounts for videotape playing/recording by measure of hours, minutes and
RealNetworks Developed the leading
streaming technology for transmitting
live video over the Internet using a
variety of data compression techniques and works with IP and IP
Multicast connections.
RealPlayer A program developed by
RealNetworks to play live and
on-demand RealAudio and RealVideo
RealVideo A
developed by RealNetworks for transmitting live video over the Internet.
RealVideo uses a variety of data compression algorithms.
recording VCR Recipient of raw video
feed (master or workprint) and
recorder of edited videotape in basic
player/recorder editing setup. [See
playback VCR.]
reflected light That which bounces off
the illuminated subject. Light redirected by a reflector. (See incident
reflector Lighting accessory helpful for
bouncing light onto a subject. Often
made of lightweight reflective material.
remote Video shoot performed on location, outside a controlled studio
render The processing a computer
undertakes when creating an applied
effect, transition or composite.
render time The time it takes an editing
computer to composite source elements and commands into a single
video file so the sequence, including
titles and transition effects, can play in
full motion.
resolution Amount of picture detail
reproduced by a video system, influenced by a camera’s pickup, lens, internal optics, recording medium and
playback monitor. The more detail, the
sharper and better defined the picture.
[See horizontal resolution.]
Rewritable Consumer (RC) Time code
sent trhoug Control-L interface permitting extremely accurate edits. Each
frame is assigned a unique address
expressed in hours:minutes:seconds:
RF (radio frequency) Combination of
audio and video signals coded as a
channel number, necessary for television broadcasts as well as some
closed-circuit distribution.
RF converter Device that converts audio
and video signals into a combined
RF signal suitable for reception by a
standard TV.
RGB (red, green, blue) Video signal
transmission system that differentiates
and processes all color information in
separate red, green and blue components—the primary color of light—for
optimum image quality. Also defines
type of color monitor.
ringing Undesirable faint double screen
image caused by signal reflection or
improperly balanced video circuitry.
“Ringing” appears as repeated image
RM (Real Media) A popular file format
used for streaming video over the
roll Text or graphics, usually credits,
that move up or down the screen, typically from bottom to top.
rough cut Preliminary edit of footage in
the approximate sequence, length and
content of finished program.
rule of thirds Composition theory based
on dividing the screen into thirds vertically and horizontally and the placement of the main subject along those
S-video Also known as Y/C video, signal type employed with Hi8 and
S-VHS video formats. Transmits luminance (Y) and chrominance (C) portions separately via multiple wires
(pins), thereby avoiding the NTSC
encoding process and its inevitable
picture-quality degradation.
S/N Ratio Relationship between signal
strength and a medium’s inherent
noise. Video S/N indicates how grainy
or snowy a picture will be, plus color
accuracy; audio S/N specifies amount
of background tape hiss present with
low- or no-volume recordings.
safe title area The recommended area
that will produce legible titles on most
TV screens; 80 percent of the visible
area, measured from the center.
scan converter Device that changes scan
rate of a video signal, possibly converting it from noninterlaced to interlaced mode. Allows computer graphics
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
to be displayed on a standard video
scan line Result of television’s swift
scanning process which sweeps out a
series of horizontal lines from left to
right, then down a bit and left to right
again. Complete NTSC picture consists of 525 scan lines per frame.
scan rate Number of times a screen is
“redrawn” per second. Computer displays operate at different scan rates
than standard video.
scene In the language of moving images,
a sequence of related shots usually
constituting action in one particular
location. [See shot.]
scrim Lighting accessory made of wire
mesh. Lessens intensity of light source
without softening it. Half scrims and
graduated scrims reduce illumination
in more specific areas.
script Text specifying content of a production or performance, used as a
guide. May include character and setting profiles, production directives
(audio, lighting, scenery, camera
moves), as well as dialogue to be
recited by talent. [See storyboard.]
SECAM (sequential color and memory)
625-line 25-frame-per-second television signal standard used in France
and the Soviet Republic. Incompatible
with NTSC; PAL and SECAM are partially compatible. [See NTSC, PAL.]
SEG (special effects generator) Permits
video signal mixing from two or more
sources—cameras, time-base correctors and character generators—for dissolves, wipes and other transition
selective focus Adjusting focus to
emphasize desired subject(s) in a shot.
Selected area maintains clarity, image
sharpness while remainder of image
blurs. Useful for directing viewer’s
sepia Brassy antique color effect characteristic of old photographs.
shooting ratio Amount of raw footage
recorded relative to the amount used
in edited, finished program.
shot Intentional, isolated camera views,
which collectively comprise a scene.
[See scene.]
shotgun A highly-directional microphone used for picking up sounds
from a distance.
signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) Relationship
between signal strength and a
medium’s inherent noise. Video S/N
indicates how grainy or snowy a picture will be, plus its color accuracy;
audio S/N specifies amount of background tape hiss present with low- or
no-volume recordings. Higher figures
represent a cleaner signal. Usually
cited in decibels (dB).
Skylight (1A) or haze (UV) filter
Mounted at front of camcorder lens,
virtually clear glass absorbs ultraviolet
light. Also excellent as constant lens
protector. [See filter.]
SMPTE Time-code
addresses every frame on a videotape
with a unique number (in hours,
minutes, seconds, frames) to aid logging and editing. Format used for film,
video and audio. Named for
the Society of Motion Picture and
Television Engineers, which sanctions
standards for recording systems in
North America.
snake A connector box that contains a
large number of microphone input
snoot Open-ended cylindrical funnel
mounted on a light source to project
a narrow, concentrated circle of
snow Electronic picture interference;
resembles scattered snow on the television screen. Synonymous with
chroma and luma noise.
solarization Electronic special effect
distorting a video image’s original colors, emphasizing some and de-emphasizing others for a “paint brush” effect.
[See DVE.]
sound bite Any short recorded audio
segment for use in an edited program—usually a highlight taken from
an interview.
sound effects Contrived audio, usually
prerecorded, incorporated with a
video soundtrack to resemble a real
occurrence. Blowing on a microphone,
for example, might simulate wind to
accompany hurricane images.
soundtrack The audio portion of a video
recording, often multifaceted with natural sound, voiceovers, background
music, sound effects, etc.
SP (standard play) Fastest tape speed of
a VHS VCR, accommodating two-hour
recordings. [See EP, LP.]
special effects F/X. Tricks and illusions—electronic or on camera—
employed in film and video to define,
distort, or defy reality.
special effects generator (SEG) Video
signal processor with vast, but varying, image manipulation capabilities
involving patterns and placement as
well as color and texture: mixing, multiplying, shrinking, strobing, wiping,
dissolving, flipping, colorizing, etc.
spotlight Radiates a well-defined directional beam of light, casting hard, distinct shadows. Best used to focus
illumination on individual subjects,
whereas floodlights blanket broader
stabilizer Video signal processor used
primarily for tape dubbing to eliminate picture jump and jitter, maintain
star Filter Mounted at front of camcorder lens, gives videotaped light
sources a starburst effect. Generally
available in four-, six-, and eight-point
patterns. [See filter.]
stereo Sound emanating from two isolated sources, intended to simulate
pattern of natural human hearing.
stock shot Common footage—city traffic,
a rainbow—conveniently accessed as
needed. Similar to a “photo file” in the
photography profession.
storyboard Series
sketches illustrating key visual stages
(shots, scenes) of planned production,
accompanied by corresponding audio
information. [See script.]
Streaming Playing sound or video in
real time as it is downloaded over the
internet as opposed to storing it in a
local file first. Avoids download delay.
strobe Digital variation of fixed-speed
slow motion, with image action broken down into a series of still frames
updated and replaced with new ones
at rapid speed.
Super VHS (S-VHS, S-VHS-C) Improved
version of VHS and VHS-C videotape
formats, characterized by separate carriers of chrominance and luminance
information, yielding a sharper picture. [See VHS, VHS-C.]
superimposition (super) Titles, video or
graphics appearing over an existing
video picture, partially or completely
hiding areas they cover.
sweetening Post-production process of
adding music and sound effects or otherwise enhancing the existing audio
with filters and effects.
swish pan Extremely rapid camera movement from left to right or right to left,
appearing as image blur. Two such pans
in the same direction—one moving
from, the other moving to a stationary
shot—edited together can effectively
convey passage of time or change of
switcher Simplified SEG, permits video
signal mixing from two or more
sources—cameras, time base correctors, character generators—for dissolves, wipes, and other clean
transition effects.
sync (synchronization) Horizontal and
vertical timing signals or electronic
pulses—component of composite signal, supplied separately in RGB systems. Aligns video origination (live
camera, videotape) and reproduction
(monitor or receiver) sources.
synchronous sound Audio recorded
with images. When the mouth moves,
the words come out.
talent Generic term for the people assuming on-screen roles in a videotaping.
tally light Automatic indicators (usually
red)on a camera’s front and within its
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
viewfinder that signal recording in
progress—seen by both camera subject(s) and operator.
telecine converter Imaging device used
in conjunction with a movie projector
and camcorder to transfer film images
to videotape.
telephoto Camera lens with long focal
length and narrow horizontal field of
view. Opposite of wide-angle, captures
magnified, close-up images from considerable distance.
(prompter) Mechanical
device that projects and advances text
on mirror directly in front of camera’s
lens, allowing talent to read their lines
while appearing to maintain eye contact with viewers.
test pattern Any of various combinations of converging lines, alignment
marks, and gray scales appearing on
screen to aid in video equipment
adjustment for picture alignment, registration, and contrast. Often viewed
on broadcast television in off-air
hours. [See color bars.]
lighting Basic
approach employing key, fill and back
lights to illuminate subject with sense
of depth and texture. Strategic placement imitates natural outdoor lighting
environment, avoids flat lighting. (See
back light, fill light, key light.)
three-quarter-inch (U-matic) An analog
video format utilizing 3/4 tape. Very
popular in professional, industrial and
broadcast environments in the past,
though beginning to be supplanted by
digital formats.
three-shot Camera view including three
subjects, generally applicable to interview situations.
three-to-one rule A microphone placement principle that states if two mikes
must be side by side, there should be
three times the distance between them
that there is between the mikes and
the people using them.
tilt Vertical camcorder rotation (up
and down) from a single axis, as on a
time base corrector (TBC) Electronic
device that corrects timing inconsistencies in a videotape recorder’s
playback, stabilizing the image for
optimum quality. Also synchronizes
video sources, allowing image mixing.
[See sync.]
time code Synchronization system, like
a clock recorded on your videotape,
assigning a corresponding hours,
minutes, seconds, and frame-number
designation to each frame. Expedites
indexing convenience and editing precision. [See SMPTE.]
time-lapse recording Periodically videotaping a minimal number of frames
over long durations of actual time.
Upon playback, slow processes such as
a flower blooming may be viewed in
rapid motion.
editing A
method of editing, in which bars proportional to the length of the clip represent video and audio clips are
represented on a computer screen.
titling Process or result of incorporating
on-screen text as credits, captions or
any other alphanumeric communication to video viewers.
tracking Lateral camcorder movement
that travels with a moving subject. The
camcorder should maintain a regulated distance from the subject.
transcode To convert analog video to a
digital format, or vice-versa.
tripod Three-legged
offering stability and camera placement/movement consistency. Most are
lightweight, used for remote recording. [See monopod.]
turnkey DVD authoring system Any
computer system designed to author
(and usually burn) DVDs right out of
the box, needing only trivial changes
in its configuration.
turnkey nonlinear editing system Any
computer system designed to edit video
right out of the box, needing only trivial
changes in its configuration.
turnkey system Any computer system
which is considered ready-to-use
right out of the box, needing only trivial changes in its configuration.
two-shot A camera view including two
subjects, generally applicable to interview situations.
U-matic An analog video format utilizing
3/4 tape. Very popular in professional,
industrial and broadcast environments
in the past, though beginning to be
supplanted by digital formats.
umbrella Lighting accessory available
in various sizes usually made of textured gold or silver fabric. Facilitates
soft, shadowless illumination by
reflecting light onto a scene.
unbalanced line Audio cables that have
two wires: one for positive and one for
both negative and ground.
unidirectional Highly selective microphone pickup pattern, rejects sound
coming from behind while absorbing
that from in front. [See bidirectional,
variable bit rate (VBR) A way of coding
video to maximize image quality over
a connection’s available bandwidth,
usually provided by more recent
VCR (videocassette recorder) Multifunction machine intended primarily
for recording and playback of videotape stored in cassettes.
vectorscope Electronic testing device
that measures a video signal’s chrominance performance, plotting qualities
in a compass-like graphic display.
vertical interval time code (VITC)
Synchronization signals recorded as
an invisible component of the video
signal, accessed for editing precision.
[See time code.]
VHS (video home system) Predominant
half-inch videotape format developed
by Matsushita and licensed by JVC.
VHS-C (VHS compact) Scaled-down
version of VHS using miniature cassettes compatible with full-size VHS
equipment through use of adapter.
[See Super VHS.]
video card The PC card that controls
the computer’s monitor display. Don’t
confuse the computer’s video (VGA,
SVGA, Mac monitor and so on) which
is non-interlaced, with NTSC video. PC
cards for DTV are also called capture,
overlay or compression cards. Most do
not generate NTSC video output.
video prompter A mechanical device
that projects and advances text on a
mirror directly in front of a camera
lens, allowing talent to read lines
while appearing to maintain eye contact with viewers.
videocassette recorder (VCR) Multifunction machine intended primarily
for recording and playback of videotape stored in cassettes.
vignette Visual special effect whereby
viewers see images through a perceived keyhole, heart shape, diamond, etc. In low-budget form,
vignettes are achieved by aiming camera through a cutout of a desired
vignetting Undesirable darkening at the
corners of a picture, as if viewer’s peering through a telescope, due to
improper matching of lens to camera—
pickup’s scope exceeds lens size.
VITC (vertical interval time code)
Synchronization signal recorded as an
invisible component of the video signal, accessed for editing precision.
[See LTC.]
VOD Abbreviation
Demand. Usually only heard in the
context of delivering full-frame, fullmotion video to a television; since
most video on the Internet is provided
voiceover (VO) Audio from an unseen
narrator accompanying video, heard
above background sound or music.
Typically applied to edited visuals
during post-production.
waveform monitor Specialized oscilloscope testing device providing a
graphic display of a video signal’s
strength. Plus, like a sophisticated
light meter, aids in precise setting of
picture’s maximum brightness level
for optimum contrast.
The Videomaker Guide to Digital Video and DVD Production
WebCam Abbreviation for Web Camera.
A small camera connected to a computer, usually through a USB port.
Webcams usually produce small,
progressive-scanned images.
whip pan (swish pan) Extremely rapid
camera movement from left to right or
right to left, appearing as an image
blur. Two such pans in the same direction, edited together—one moving
from, the other moving to a stationary
shot—can effectively convey the passage of time or a change of location.
white balance Electronic adjustment of
camcorder to retain truest colors of
recorded image. Activated in camcorder prior to recording, proper setting established by aiming at white
wide-angle Camcorder lens with short
focal length and broad horizontal field
of view. Opposite of telephoto, supports viewer perspective and tends to
reinforce perception of depth.
wild sound Nonsynchronous audio
recorded independent of picture ie.
rain on roof, five o’clock whistle—
often captured with separate audio
recorder. [See nonsynchronous sound.]
windscreen Sponge-like
shield, thwarts undesirable noise from
wind and rapid mike movement.
wipe Transition from one shot to
another, where a moving line or pattern reveals the new shot. In it’s simplest form it simulates a window
shade being drawn.
wireless mike A microphone with a
self-contained, built-in miniature FM
transmitter that can send the audio signal several hundred feet, eliminating
the need for mike cables.
workprint Copy of a master videotape
used for edit planning and rough cut
without excessively wearing or otherwise jeopardizing safekeeping of original material. Also called “working
wow and flutter Sound distortions consisting of a slow rise and fall of pitch,
caused by speed variations in
audio/video playback system.
XLR (ground-left-right) Three-pin plug
for three-conductor “balanced” audio
cable, employed with high-quality
microphones, mixers and other audio
Y Symbol for luminance, or brightness,
portion of a video signal; the complete
color video signal consists of R,G,B
and Y.
Y/C Video signal type (also known as
S-video) employed with Hi8 and S-VHS
video formats and analog output -on digital camcorders. Transmits luminance
(Y) and chrominance (C) portions separately via multiple wires, thereby avoiding picture quality degradation.
YUV (y luminance, u B-Y or blue and
v R-Y or red) Video signal used to
compose a component NTSC or PAL
signal. [See RGB.]
zoom Variance of focal length, bringing
subject into and out of close-up range.
Lens capability permits change from
wide-angle to telephoto, or vice versa,
in one continuous move. “Zoom in”
and “zoom out” are common terms.
zoom ratio Range of a lens’ focal length,
from most “zoomed in” field of view
to most “zoomed out.” Expressed as
ratio: 6:1, for example, implies that the
same lens from the same distance can
make the same image appear six-times
closer. [See focal length, zoom.]
List of Contributors
Dr. Robert G. Nulph
Dr. Robert G. Nulph is an Associate
Professor of Communication Studies and an
independent video/film producer/director.
Joe McCleskey
Joe McCleskey is an instructional media
Larry Lemm
Larry Lemm is a freelance writer.
Charles Bloodworth
Charles Bloodworth is a video hobbyist
and DV enthusiast.
Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson is the author of animation
software and a book about digital special
Jim Stinson
Jim Stinson is the author of the book Video
Communication and Production.
Robert J. Kerr
Robert J. Kerr is a consultant, teacher and
writer in the video industry.
Loren Alldrin
Loren Alldrin is a freelance video and
music producer.
Michael Rabiger
Michael Rabiger teaches filmmaking at
Columbia College, Chicago. He is the
author of Directing the Documentary.
Bill Rood
Bill Rood is an engineer at KTXL Channel
40 in Sacramento, CA.
William Ronat
William Ronat is the owner of a video production company.
Stray Wynn Ponder
Stray Wynn Ponder is a writer and producer of television commercials and
industrial training videos.
Stephen Jacobs
Stephen Jacobs is an English and data processing instructor at National Technical
Institute for the Deaf at RIT.
List of Contributors
John K. Waters
John K. Waters is a freelance writer.
Mark Steven Bosko
Mark Steven Bosko is a freelance writer and
an independent video and film producer.
Randal K. West
Randal K. West is an award winning director of Broadcast television and is a Creative
Director with Hawthorne Direct, Inc.
Bill Fisher
Bill Fisher is a documentary video producer based in Portland, Oregon.
Mark Levy
Mark Levy specializes in patent, trademark & copyright law and has won numerous awards in film and video festivals.
Brian Pogue
Brian Pogue is a news videographer/editor
at KTXL-TV in Sacramento, CA.
Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is a twenty-year communications veteran, teaching electronic
media and producing independent video.
Michael Loehr
Michael Loehr is a foreign documentarian.
Hal Robertson
Hal Robertson is a 20-year audio/video
production veteran and owns Sound
Foundation - a consulting firm specializing in media production.
Michael J. Kelley
Michael J. Kelley is a freelance media production consultant in Kenwood, CA.
Carolyn Miller
Carolyn Miller is a Hollywood-based
scriptwriter and journalist who specializes
in New Media projects.
Tim Cowan
Tim Cowan is a freelance writer specializing in video and computer subjects.
Norm Medoff
Norm Medoff is a university professor,
author, and video workshop instructor.
Bernard Wilkie
Bernard Wilkie designed special effects for
the BBC for over 25 years.
Don Collins
Don Collins is a freelance writer and video
Bill Davis
Bill Davis writes, shoots, edits, and does
voiceover work for a variety of corporate
and industrial clients.
Janis Lonnquist
Janis Lonnquist is a writer and producer
with clients including Intel and America’s
Funding Source.
Bill Harrington
Bill Harrington has been a professional
video producer for over ten years.
Armand Ensanian
Armand Ensanian is a professional videographer, photographer, and former columnist for Video Review.
Sofia Davis
Sofia Davis has been a leased access and
public access producer for 18 years.
Sheldon I. Altfeld
Sheldon I. Altfeld is a freelance writer specializing in leased access.
Alessia Cowee
Alessia Cowee is a freelance writer, editor
and mother of three.
Charles Mohnike
Charles Mohnike is a technology writer
and co-owner of a web development firm.
John Davis
John Davis is a writer and video producer.
Matthew York
Matthew York is the Publisher-Editor of
Videomaker and Smart TV magazines.
D. Eric Franks
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker’s Technical
Charles Fulton
Charles Fulton is Videomaker’s Associate
Dr. Roger B. Wyatt
Dr. Roger B. Wyatt is a partner in McLellan
Wyatt Digital, a new media company, and
on the board of directors of the Saratoga
Media Arts Institute.
A/B roll, 257
advertising, 133, 284, 294
aperture, 4, 23, 44, 278
arc, 165, 169,
artifact, 10, 330, 386
ASCAP, 149, 217, 269
audio, 189, 194, 243, 263
audio mixer, 67, 257, 267
audio/video mixers, 69
BMI, 149
boom, 60, 68, 127, 190
broadcast television, 217, 294,
budget, 124, 308
burning (disc), 363, 366, 385, 391
buttons (DVD), 384
cables, 81, 192, 245, 265
character generator (CG), 257, 259
charge coupled device (CCD), 13,
17, 24, 36
chrominance, 8, 14, 40, 82, 83, 245
commercials, 135, 136, 283
community access (see public
compact disc, (CD), 361, 390, 395
composition, 155, 167, 255
compression, 51, 330, 333, 396,
copyright, 147, 268
costume, 208, 210
cut, 219, 253
DVD, 359, 361, 366, 373, 378,
383, 386
depth of field, 24, 39, 44, 278
desktop video (DTV), 53, 269
dialogue, 108, 111
digital versatile disc, 363, 378
digital video disc, 359, 361, 366,
373, 378, 383, 386
diffuser, 182
directing, 142, 198
dissolve, 238, 250, 257, 258
distribution, 283, 306, 359
dolly, 32, 88, 165, 217
dub, 7, 284, 317
edit controller, 214, 275
edit decision list, 257
electronic image stabilization, 33,
35, 40, 161, 162
encoding, 330, 338, 362, 366
f-stop, 4
filter, 42, 187
FireWire, 16, 48, 84, 374
fluorescent lights, 43
generation loss, 7, 20, 82
gaffer, 127, 278
grip, 126, 218
HDTV, 18, 41
headroom, 156
indoor lighting, 39, 177, 187
Internet video, 147, 341, 348
interview, 102, 114, 137, 173, 309
iris, 3, 34, 39, 182
LCD, 20, 159, 163
leadroom, 156, 164, 256
leased access, 288, 293
lens, 17, 22, 43, 275
lighting, 43, 173, 177, 181, 277
lighting effects, 177, 178
lip sync, 217, 266
location, 97, 143, 203, 218
low-power television, 289, 305,
luminance, 77, 82, 245
medium shot, 118, 206
menus (DVD), 360, 366
metal oxide semiconductors
(MOS), 38
microlens (CCD), 40
microphone, 21, 57, 63, 189, 195
mixer, 67, 264
monitor, 80, 247, 264, 271
MPEGs, 353, 361, 379, 386
music, 67, 148, 216, 265, 268, 367
neutral density (ND) filter, 44, 45,
noise, 189, 196, 198, 266
noseroom, 256
optical image stabilization, 34
outdoor lighting, 144, 181
pan, 87, 257
pedestal, 193
permits, 127, 145
pixels, 18, 33, 37
post-production, 125, 236
public access television, 290,
pre-production, 91, 143, 217
promotion, 290
proposal, 129, 300
props, 95, 122, 125
public domain, 147
reflector, 168, 182
resolution, 7, 77
rule of thirds, 155, 255
scheduling, 97, 126
script, 97, 107, 111
sets, 202
shutter speed, 5, 38
sound effects, 268
soundtrack, 224, 268
special effects, 222
sponsor, 133
storyboard, 118, 217
streaming video, 327, 333
talent, 137, 198
tape, 7, 14, 19, 71
telephoto, 26, 32
tilt, 87
time code, 9, 14
titles, 103, 259
transcoding, 384
treatment (script), 91, 130, 218
tripod, 86, 160, 163
truck, 164
viewfinder, 20
voice over, 103, 117
weddings, 202, 254
wide angle, 26, 31, 46
wipes, 69, 248, 257
Y/C, 8, 83
zoom, 4, 23, 159, 165
Was this manual useful for you? yes no
Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Download PDF