Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Editing Tricks for Amateur Vacation Video #145 - Pisac, Peru

Peru 1999: #3 of 5   PISAC  (edited in 2012):

This is a short video montage of a days' travels in the Peruvian Highlands.  There are some interesting shots of "walking haystacks", Shirley MacLaine's extraterrestrial lake, and a traditional marketplace.  Opening music is live recorded Andean harp, finishing off with some royalty-free comic music from SmartSound.

There is no real story here, or explanatory narration.  It's less than two minutes; nothing compelling, but nothing repulsive either.  Not likely to go "viral" unless I add some cat video to it!  

So what we have here is a pleasant memory for those who joined us on the trip.  It's of marginal interest to other friends, but there's not much here for people who don't know us.

  • I'm disappointed that YouTube seems to have trouble playing my soundtrack for the second half of this video.  In fact I am becoming quite disillusioned with YouTube, and beginning to regret that I have used them to host the media for this blog.  In particular, YouTube is allowing a company named "The Orchard" (owned by Sony) to place improper copyright claims against much of the royalty-free music that you hear in my videos.  Seems like a reversal of constitutionally guaranteed due process since when The Orchard/Sony places a claim there is no audit for correctness.  The Orchard is the accuser, judge, and jury!  The Orchard steals the monetization rights to my video; I have to prove to them  that I have the rights to use the music.  If they reject my claim, I can appeal to The Orchard.  YouTube has a vague final appeal process that carries a stiff warning:  my account may be suspended if the final appeal is not upheld.  
  • Dozens of my productions have been saddled with Sony's incorrect and unproven copyright claims.  SmartSound seems unable to enforce our rights as licensed users.  The giant corporation can unilaterally accuse and convict me of violation.  Since my honesty is blatantly disrespected, should I feel guilty if I use unlicensed music?  Perhaps someday I can participate in a class-action lawsuit, and recover the hundreds of dollars I have ethically wasted by purchasing "Royalty Free" music.


Lessons Learned:
Know your audience.  If the video is of little public interest don't expect a great Internet response form strangers.

Tough ethical questions are posed regarding copyrighted music.  No suggestion offered.


Copyright Considerations:
I do not encourage improper use of copyrighted material.  I often use Royalty-Free music with license that I purchased from SmartSound.  
Yet major corporations like "The Orchard" (Sony) often abuse the Millennium Copyright Act, by falsely claiming that I do not have rights to use this music.  YouTube (Google) is implicit in this fraud; they assume that Sony is always correct and assign the burden of proof to me.  If I appeal, guess who is the judge?  SONY!  Wow, I'm not a lawyer but that sure sounds unconstitutional.
I am in favor of protecting the artists' rights, but this nonsense is all about corporate greed.  If I had to do it again:
(1) I would not put my videos on YouTube; I would consider other options like Vimeo which has a more reasonable appeals process.
(2) I might do what most other non-commercial video makers do … use whatever music I want and not worry about copyrights. 
I am not offering advice here.  If you are editing home video you will certainly reach a point where you want to put some music on the soundtrack.  Make your own decision, based on your own sense of ethics,morality, and frustration.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Editing Tricks for Amateur Vacation Video #144 - Nazca, Peru

Peru 1999: #2 of 5   NAZCA  (edited in 2012):

Extraterrestrial Production Assistance?
I normally offer a short description of each video before analyzing the editing technique.  This one, however, deserves a longer explanation.

When I was in high school, Erich Von Däniken published Chariots of the Gods?  The author hypothesizes that aliens once visited earth and were worshipped as Gods.  Däniken's evidence includes the extensive drawings formed by excavated channels in the parched sand near Nazca, Peru.  Rod Serling narrated a 1973 television production titled In Search of Ancient Astronauts that featured aerial photography of the "Nazca Lines".
(A popular television series was spun off;  In Search Of enjoyed a five-year-run and was narrated by Leonard Nimoy following Serling's death.)

Our 1999 vacation in Peru included a sightseeing flight over Nazca.  I remembered the book and found the Rod Serling video on YouTube.  Thirteen years later I decided to merge my vacation footage with some scenes from 1973 broadcast television.

Searching for good vacation video among all this alien stuff?
As you might imagine, I have hours of footage of the Nazca Line fly-over.  The unedited video is impossibly boring; but my edited vignette is only three minutes long.

It begins with twenty seconds of establishing shots and titles.  They make only marginal sense, some of the analog video is flashing -- obviously damaged.  Perhaps this should have been cut from the final version.
Once Rod Serling starts talking, it's a flashback to the Twilight Zone.  We're on a small propeller aircraft.  My grainy and shaky video mixes well with the old television footage (I did some color matching within Final Cut Pro X.)   Some cheesy animated effects were borrowed from a 1950's sci-fi movie and are good for a laugh.
Details of the line drawings are easily seen, and the tiny "alien" toy on the pilot's dashboard is cute.  My two favorite things are:  The alien visitor in a Far Side cartoon resembles one of the Nazca figures; and the out-of-tune Thus Spake Zarathustra by the Portsmouth Sinfonia.


Lessons Learned:
Technically speaking, this video production is pretty horrible.  But it provides four solid laughs in 2-1/2 minutes.  Strip off the unnecessary introductory scenes, and I'd consider it a success!
Don't be afraid to try something crazy!  In this case it mostly worked.

Once again, "too much ownership" prevented me from ruthlessly cutting stuff that didn't work.  I think a trusted advisor needs to be called upon for constructive criticism before the final edit.
Take some time to learn your software's basic color correction tools.  FCPX allowed a one-click fix to match my footage to the faded colors of the old Rod Serling video.

More about Chariots of the Gods?
Much of Von Däniken's evidence has been debunked.  But the whole concept of prehistoric alien visitors still captures the imagination.
By coincidence, my vacation videos have previously documented two other "alien technology" examples cited in Chariots of the Gods:
  • The Iron Pillar of Delhi, a non-rusting wrought iron column found in India
    (Check out HENBC Blog #33 an early edit that includes a glimpse of the Pillar at the 2:00 minute mark.)
  • The Moai, monolithic human figures found on Easter Island.
    (Check out HENBC Blog #27 for a primitive edited look Easter Island.)
  • A third example would be the Stonehenge in England.  But we haven't been there yet!

Copyright Considerations:
This original audience for this video was friends and family who would view the DVD in my living room.  It contains identifiable material that is regrettably used without permission.  
Today, with digital distribution, artists' rights deserve more attention.  Since this video is intended for non-profit illustration and educational purposes only, I believe that valid arguments can be made for its "Fair Use" in this situation.  Please understand that I do not encourage improper use of copyrighted material.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Editing Tricks for Amateur Vacation Video #143 - Lima, Peru

Peru 1999: #1 of 5   LIMA  (edited in 2012)  "...there's a lot to learn from this video!"

"There's a lot to learn from this video"  (and most of it's not good!)

I was actually becoming a somewhat decent video camera user by the time we left for Peru and the Amazon in 1999.  I videotaped scenes that are fairly steady, and occasionally used manual controls for focus and lighting.  That doesn't mean that this stuff is 100% fabulously interesting, but technically usable footage is a big help when editing.


United Airlines' crew played Frank Sinatra's Come fly With Me as we boarded the aircraft.  The lyrics are perfect: "…in Lama-land there's a one-man-band and he'll toot his flute for you!"  Maybe we'll meet that guy?

Our friends' young son, Alex, was keeping a daily journal as part of his schoolwork.  My movie opens with a computer voice reading a page from Alex's journal where he describes our upcoming trip.  I think it's a pretty humorous introduction, that gives way to Sinatra's music and scenes that introduce the travelers.  The spinning globe is some stock footage, picture-in-picture of the bus was a technical challenge but doesn't really add much to the story.

An authentic-sounding band plays El Condor Pasa to accompany a photo and video montage that is of little interest until the tale of a police incident is told.  The movie ends with the clinking of glasses and a toast to a wonderful trip.

Although some parts of this movie are not bad, I am not at all thrilled with the production.  The introductory moments are edited fairly nicely. Then there's a picture-in-picture effect that makes no sense and the montage is confusing.  If I re-edited, the PIP would disappear, the montage would be much shorter and have some explanatory lower-thirds titles.  And I would test some voice-over narration to see if it helps the audience to understand what's going on.


Lessons Learned:
Test your movie in front of some trusted friends before releasing it to "the public".
Try new editing tricks to practice your skills.  For example, I remember working pretty hard to figure out how to create a nice picture-in-picture effect with Final Cut Pro X.  (I'm now fairly proficient with FCPX).
Although I worked hard to create it, that picture-in-picture does not add value to the final production.  But I was really proud of it, so it's still part of the movie!
Shorter is better (e.g. the montage).

Learn how to manually control your camcorder.  Then don't be afraid to switch off the automatic function.  Some otherwise good video clips from this vacation suffer from being too dark.  I knew how to open the aperture and slow the shutter, but it was too easy to leave the camcorder in automatic.
Ask the question, "Can a stranger appreciate this movie, or does it need a lot of in-person explaining?"
I feel a bit guilty about using Sinatra's recording without permission.  Since this is an educational blog, an argument might be made that it was "Fair Use".

Music Copyright Considerations:
This original audience for this video was friends and family who would view the DVD in my living room.  It contains identifiable music that is regrettably used without permission.  
Today, with digital distribution, artists' rights deserve more attention.  Since this video is intended for non-profit illustration and educational purposes only, I believe that valid arguments can be made for its "Fair Use" in this situation.  Please understand that I do not encourage improper use of copyrighted material.

Monday, March 9, 2015

I've Got A New Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6

UPDATE: Panasonic has announced an update of this camera.  DMC-G7
The G7 has many new and improved features, including 4K video capability.  I'm considering returning my G6 and waiting release of the new model

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6

It's gotten more and more affordable to own a quality video camera!  Several years ago, Canon gave DSLR owners the capability to capture video files.  Suddenly the Canon's still lenses enabled remarkable compositions for cinematographers on a budget.  Saturday Night Live director Alex Buono began using Canon DSLRs for its "Film Unit".   Vincent LaForet, Shane Hurlbut, and others put Canon DSRL footage on the big screen.

A new style of camera also became popular.  These are interchangeable lens camera without mirrors.  Though they may have electronic viewfinders in addition to LED monitor displays, they lack the characteristic penthouse hump you see on a mirrored reflex camera.  Some of these cameras utilize a sensor that, while huge compared to a point n' shoot, is smaller than the sensors found in most DSLRs.  I've been intrigued by the class of mirror less interchangeable lens cameras called "Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT)".

Panasonic's GH2 camera is in this class and won a now-famous shoot-out conducted by Zacuto in 2012.  That camera and its successors have remained a bit out of my price range (~$1,500 + lenses).  A year ago Panasonic introduced the GH2's cousin, the G6.  It's got the same sensor and many of the same capabilities, winning praise from many video enthusiasts.  Of course there are compromises -- for instance the GH2, GH3, and GH4 have magnesium housings and resist mechanical and weather abuse.  The G6 has a good sturdy feel, but it's case is plastic.

I'm Now the "Proud Owner" of a Panasonic G6

Anyway, I just bought the DMC-G6K kit from Costco.com ($480 as of the date of this post.)  It came with a fair-quality 14mm-42mm kit zoom lens that produces the equivalent of 28mm-84mm medium zoom lens on a standard rig.  I also picked up a used 45mm-150mm used from Amazon.

This beast arrived last week and I've been trying to figure out all the buttons since then.  It's 350-page manual comes on a CD that I printed and placed into a binder.  (Plenty of room for lots of red-ink notes and Post-Its.)  So far I'm impressed with the camera.  If my skills and knowledge grow they way I hope, I'll reward myself with a new fast wide-angle prime lens.

I wish you Happy shooting & Happy editing!

Coming up … we take a look at vacation video that I edited in 2012.

Browse through the BLOG ARCHIVES over here ----->>>

Saturday, March 7, 2015

(It's a little late but…) Happy New Year!

I have admittedly fallen out of the groove of writing a weekly blog post.  Lot's of excuses:  health issues, preparing taxes, etc.  But the bottom line is there's plenty more good stuff coming.

I've already planned the next twenty articles that will help you add creative punch to your vacation videos.  Coming up is a look at the 2012 edits of 1999 raw footage from our vacation in Peru.

Click the BLOG ARCHIVES to read past articles ---->>>

Meanwhile, don't forget to get your taxes filed!
The IRS needs your money!