Video boot camp: The hands-on bits
Reading over my previous posts about the Travel Channel Academy video boot camp, I realized I have not given you a clear idea of what we did. So I’m going to delay the Day 4 summary and tell you about the work.
On Day 1, we got cameras about noon and went out to shoot. There were a variety of video camera models, some big and serious-looking, and others were little Sony HD models. All used Mini DV tape — no hard drives, no memory cards. No one had an external mic of any kind. No one had headphones. No tripods. We went out with naked cameras.
The trainers had compiled a list of locations for us. Most (or possibly all) were small local businesses, such as a cake bakery and hair salons. I chose a bicycle shop. Many were within walking distance. For locations that were a short drive away, students with cars were asked to give rides to other students who would be shooting someplace nearby. I don’t recall exactly when we finally got out with our cameras in hand, but we were supposed to be back by 4 p.m., and we needed to get lunch too.
The idea was for each one of us to find a story at the location. I thought it would be easy to find something in a bicycle shop (I spend a lot of time in bike shops, paying other people to fix my flat tires), but the shop was really dead on a Thursday afternoon. I shot a lot of bike mechanics making repairs, but I didn’t really have a story.
I was in the shop for close to two hours. I shot about 10 minutes of tape (I was supposed to shoot at least 20 minutes). I talked to everyone in the shop but still failed to cook up a story. But I felt pretty good about my footage because I was following the shooting instructions we had gotten in the morning, and that was a lot of new stuff to practice.
When everyone was back in our workroom, we screened everyone’s tape.
Day 2: Editing
On Day 2, we had lectures in the morning and started learning Final Cut Pro after lunch. We received two good handouts about FCP. The initial instruction was just how to capture (from the tape to the computer). After everyone had finished capturing, we got very basic instructions on how to mark in and out points and put clips on the timeline. Since I had used Adobe Premiere in the past, this was enough for me to start editing.
Others, who had no video editing experience, received one-on-one instruction from one of Rosenblum’s four trainers, who I found to be very good at providing just enough information, very clearly, whenever I hit a snag and asked a question. The trainers also walked around every so often and checked in with everyone to see if each of us was doing all right.
We had to finish editing that night (including recording narration and putting it on the story) and also screen everyone’s final piece. We didn’t leave until 9:30 p.m.
Day 3: Shooting Again
Day 3 started with lectures in the morning, but we were cut loose at 11 a.m. and told to try to be back by 4 p.m. to begin editing (as Day 4 would have to end early). Armed with all we had learned from the first project, we were to go into D.C. and find a new story — preferably one that was travel oriented.
I took the Metro down to the Columbia Heights neighborhood, close to where I used to live in D.C. I knew the neighborhood would have changed enormously because the Metro station there opened in 1999, about two months after I moved to Florida. The area used to be run down, old, and mostly Latino. I expected it to be a lot different — and it was.
My idea was to find a “character” (as instructed) who had lived there since before 1999 and find out about to changes in his or her life since the Metro station opened. I figured I could find a Latino shopkeeper or someone shopping in a Latino shop. Well, the Latino shops are gone. There’s a huge new Giant supermarket with a parking garage on top. Big office buildings and condos are under construction. Houses on streets where I used to walk have been completely renovated, sporting fresh new paint and fancy front doors, with elaborate landscaping in the tiny front yards. Those windows used to be boarded up with plywood, those yards choked with high weeds. Wow.
As I walked west, toward my old neighborhood (Adams Morgan), I saw a sign in front of a church that said “Youth Boxing.” The hours on the sign indicated that the boxing would be going on then. Trying to find the boxing (a story?), I walked into an open doorway on the ground floor and found a massage studio run by a fascinating man from Colombia. We had a chat, and I thought he would make a fantastic character — but he didn’t have any customers (no visuals!). I reluctantly left him and finally found the door to the boxing gym, but it was locked and empty.
I trudged on, and as I crossed 16th Street, I decided to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants (from my past life there). It was a very small Salvadoran place in a basement, hardly bigger than the kitchen. I was delighted to find it was still there, and doing very well — they had expanded into the building next door.
Just as I was finishing off my pupusas and platanos in the restaurant, my story walked into the room — a Salvadoran singer in full mariachi dress. What a relief! I had been feeling pretty sorry for myself, imagining that I would have to go back to the classroom empty-handed. (I’m relating all this so that my students will know that I feel their pain when I make them go out to “find a story.”)
So I shot for about 90 minutes. I got 11 minutes of tape. I interviewed people with my rudimentary Spanish (no one in the place spoke English) by speaking directly into their ears — the canned accompaniment to the singer was deafening, and it never stopped, even when he stepped outside to have a break. I took notes, shot, got signed releases from the singer, his sound man and the restaurant owner. I didn’t ask anyone else for a release because there’s no telling how many of them were illegal or “undocumented,” and I didn’t want to freak anyone out. (Bad enough I was pointing a large camera in their direction.)
I got back to Discovery HQ in Silver Spring about 5 p.m. and started editing. I had a rough cut by about 7 p.m. and showed it to one of the trainers, Tim. He gave me some great suggestions. I worked it over again and then left, got some takeout, and went back to my hotel. I stripped off all the audio and patched in a two-minute song I had recorded on my Edirol R-09. Then I roughed in a narration with the Voiceover tool in FCP. I reworked the narration about six times, finally quitting and going to bed about 1 a.m.
Day 4: Editing and Wrap
My mission on Day 4 was to write a good narration, record it, and edit it in. I think the morning lectures were over by about 11 a.m. About 1 p.m. I showed a fine cut (well, maybe not) to Lisa (another trainer) and got lots more suggestions, all of which required me to make changes in the video track. That was quite a challenge, as I had both my audio tracks finalized (in my opinion) and I really didn’t want to mess around with them anymore.
In my efforts to make the changes, I learned a lot about swapping clips in and out, uncoupling tracks in the timeline, and rolling edits. All good practice, I guess.
About 2 p.m. I looked around for a free trainer, but they were all heads-down with other students. I saw that Rosenblum looked sort of free, so I asked him to give my piece a look-over. He gave me a couple of tips but said go ahead and print it to tape. Whew! Our deadline was 3 p.m. I would have time to grab some lunch.
Right after I finished outputting it, Pat Younge (president of the Travel Channel) came over and asked if I was finished. Yes. He asked to watch the story. He actually went around the room and watched everyone’s story before the final screening. He gave each student his comments one-on-one. I thought that was remarkable. He told us on Day 1 how important he thought this effort is to the Travel Channel, but hanging out with us for several hours on a Sunday afternoon? That probably means he was serious.
The screening started a little after 3:30, or maybe it was 4 o’clock. Rosenblum made a lot of helpful comments. It was rather amazing to see how different everyone’s second video was from the first one. Everyone improved. Many people improved a lot.
The combination of instruction (mornings) and practice (afternoons) is quite effective.
Doing two projects is probably about 100 times better than just doing one. I think everyone left with the confidence that they can do the technical parts.
The number of hours across all four days was probably close to 50. Some people probably spent even more time, because some people definitely stayed up much later than I did.
Having all the trainers as experienced professional video editors made a huge difference. Even when I had to wait to get help, I didn’t have to wait very long. I could see that the people with the least experience were getting a lot of one-on-one help. In most workshops I attend or conduct, we do not have the luxury of having so many hands-on people in the room, and it’s rare to have so many people with extensive experience in the exact thing you’re learning.
Screening everything for everybody was awesome. (It reminded me of the summer I had an unpaid internship at The Village Voice and had free entry to all the revival movie houses in New York. This was in the dark ages before VCRs, so being able to see multiple movies in one day was not the norm. I saw 101 movies in about 10 weeks, most of them classics, many of them foreign. I swam in a sea of plots and cuts and shots.)
The compressed time (four days) was hard on everyone, but I think it worked very well. Stretching it out would make it more expensive and wouldn’t necessarily yield any better results — unless you went all the way out to, say, 15 weeks like an average university semester. Making it any shorter would likely render it useless, because I don’t see how you could get people to finish two projects in less than four days and still have time for instruction.
Categories: training, video