Someone on the Online News Association “Talk” mailing list asked which video editing software is most commonly used. Curt Chandler, formerly the editor for online innovation and director of photography at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (and now a senior lecturer at Penn State), wrote an excellent, concise reply. I am reposting it here, with Curt’s permission:
Final Cut Pro is good editing software if you want to capture to a laptop as you record an event, if you work in high-definition progressive format (24p), or if you need to produce .wmv files for streaming from a Mac platform. It costs $1,200.
Final Cut Express ($400) is good for standard definition, but can’t do the three tasks described above. You also can’t upgrade from Final Cut Express to Final Cut Pro. Both Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro are a little daunting to learn, because the programs have so much functionality. They both come with a sound editing program, Soundtrack Pro [FCP] and Soundtrack [FC Express].
On a PC platform, I have found it easiest to teach people Vegas. The full version costs $500, plus $400 to do audio in Sound Forge, but most things you want to do for the web (including HD progressive) can be accomplished with Vegas Platinum for $120, with Sound Forge Audio Studio for $75.
Vegas can be learned by beginners in about four two-hour sessions. Final Cut takes about twice as long. A big advantage of Vegas is [that] it is associated with Sound Forge, which is an excellent audio editing program, even in the Studio version.
Adobe Premiere is more complex to learn than Vegas and about as difficult to learn as Final Cut. Its audio component, [Adobe] Audition, is okay.
At the end, Curt added that the National Press Photographers Association “just produced a Multimedia Immersion program that took experienced photojournalists and made them field proficient in Final Cut Pro in four days. The program sold out in less than a week, and the organizers are trying to figure out whether they want to do it more than once a year.”
Two things Curt did not mention:
Video is a hog. It hogs the computer’s memory, and it hogs the hard disk too. Make sure you have enough RAM and free hard disk space on the computer before you install video editing software.
Video editing is painful with a slow processor (CPU). If you have an older computer (at two years, any computer is starting to be old!), you might want to consider investing in a new machine first, before you invest in the editing software.
In case you don’t know — all of these applications are platform-specific. Final Cut is Mac only. Both Premiere and Vegas are Windows only.
As always, if you have any information to add, it will be welcomed!
The publisher of a popular news Web site (Malaysia Today) was held by Malaysian police and questioned for eight hours yesterday, then released (brief report and comments here).
At issue: A claim that Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of the Web site, is responsible for “postings and articles … [that] were disrespectful to the King and Islam, and that Raja Petra had incited racial hatred through his blog,” according to another Web-only news site, Malaysiakini. In cases in which “inciting racial hatred” is claimed, a person in Malaysia can be imprisoned indefinitely under the country’s laws.
It is speculated, according to the BBC, that the national government wants to intimidate bloggers and other online commentators so that they will tone down their criticism of the prime minister, who is likely to be up for re-election soon.
The primary law that governs the Internet in Malaysia is the Communications and Multimedia Act, which states: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet.” In another part of the Act, you’ll find this: “In general, if something is illegal ‘offline,’ it will also be illegal ‘online.’”
Since I haven’t been able to beat WordPress into submission, I posted the videos on separate page. These were shot and edited entirely by me on-site during the four-day Travel Channel Academy workshop.
I’m not claiming any pride in the videos themselves, but I’m happy with what I learned.
I have not had time to evaluate this yet, but it might save a lot of journalism students from buying an out-of-date textbook this fall! If you’ve given it a thorough examination, please post a comment and let us know what you think of it.
Update (July 26): Ron Sylvester wrote on his blog, Multimedia Reporter: “The guys out there pushing 50, like me, really can benefit from this.”
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.
Day 3 of the Travel Channel Academy video boot camp: This was Saturday; I just couldn’t write a post until now (no time!).
Rosenblum exhorted us to have a story in our heads before we began to shoot. He also encouraged us to aim for a very low shooting ratio. (I was successful at that: For the first one-minute story, I shot less than 10 minutes of tape. For the second, even though I felt like I was shooting forever, I still had less than 11 minutes.)
If you think before you turn on the camera, you’ll always be okay, he said. “Shoot for the cut.”
As one of my readers pointed out in the comments, this is hardly earth-shattering wisdom. But it is important stuff, and people who are self-taught don’t always get all of this.
Rosenblum talked more about narration in this lecture. Get rid of the “broadcast talk,” and just speak naturally through your script. Imagine how you would tell it to friends or family members at home. Then tell it that way.
He urged us to find a compelling character and make that person become the story. Figure out what your character’s quest is (which will be pretty darned simple in a one-minute story). If you deliver a killer opening shot, a clear opening narration that establishes what the story is, and show what the character’s going after (or what her dilemma is, etc.), then you have established the arc of the story. Rosenblum loves this; he said “arc of story” many, many, many times.
And of course, it’s nice to have a conclusion too.
When can you move the camera?
If the movement replaces the edit between two shots, it’s okay to move the camera. Just don’t do it often. Hold the first shot steady for 10 seconds. Move quickly and decisively to the second shot. Do not make any adjustments after you stop moving. Hold the second shot for 10 seconds. If you can’t move it cleanly, just don’t move it.
When people are moving around a lot, if their movements are repeated, figure out where they will end up. Then point the camera there and hold the shot. Wait for them to come to that place. Don’t chase them around. We had a good example of what not to do in one student’s first story. A cook in a diner made a grilled cheese sandwich, and the student moved the camera to every place the sandwich went — over to a plate, up to the steel shelf where the waiter picks it up. We kept hearing, “Don’t chase the grilled cheese!”
When the camera is moving, you get a lot of shots that you can’t cut. If you hold it still and stop recording (push the red button!) after you get the shot, you have stuff you can cut together easily. This was the best thing I learned, because I’ve been very frustrated when trying to edit video I shot in the past. Now I know this was exactly my problem. The stuff I shot during this workshop was so easy to put together, I could scarcely believe it.
I’m going to skip most of what Rosenblum said about interviews because all you journalists know most of that already. The thing you might not know is this: Do not videotape an entire interview. You’ll have too much tape to log. (Remember what I just said about the shooting ratio?) So the trick is to gather your sound bites at the end, after you have shot everything else. But don’t just get random meaningless junk like so many TV reporters — ask the people about the stuff you know is going to be in your story.
To me, this is counter-intuitive. Every bone in my body wants to go and do the interview first, and get it all on tape so I don’t miss anything. But I have logged those awful two-hour-long interviews, and I know perfectly well that it’s a terrible waste of time. You’re making a really short video! Even if you have somebody on tape talking for two minutes, you have more than you are going to use! So — fight your instincts!
It doesn’t mean you have to avoid a proper interview. Just don’t do it first. And when you do a long interview, don’t tape it! After the person is finished, then heave up the camera and ask him/her your two or three questions. You know, the ones that really need to be in the final story. Genius!
More from the Travel Channel
Sue Norton, a senior executive producer for the Travel Channel, was with us throughout the four days of the boot camp. She talked to us on Saturday about her job, her various past jobs in the Discovery network system, and her professional life before that. Now she’s in charge of user-generated content (UGC) for the Travel Channel, which they see as an urgently important new revenue area.
Sue just moved over to the Travel Channel about 18 months ago. She was assigned to develop and produce a new series that would take advantage of the “preditor” model, which she said was born out of the need to quickly shoot, write, edit and transmit back to base from news locations such as Iraq (e.g., Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone). That series was “Not Your Average Travel Guide.” Sue described the hosts on the show using a star-shaped diagram, with the five points of the star labeled producer, writer, shooter, editor and host. Yup, all-in-one.
The model was this: The host would upload a rough cut for a 30-minute episode, get suggestions online, revise, upload a fine cut, and that’s it. The show was aimed at an 18- to 34-year-old demographic. The average Travel Channel viewer is a 50-year-old woman, and that’s got to change (because advertisers want someone else). NYATG wasn’t as successful as had been hoped, but with some tweaks and a slight title change (“Your Travel Guide”), it will get another chance later this summer.
My favorite quote from Sue (who was a great presenter): “It [NYATG] was always meant to be harvested for multi-platform.” Something like grave-robbing in that? Well, not exactly, but it did give me goosebumps.
“The short segments play beautifully by themselves,” she added. Follow the link above and see for yourself. The Travel Channel gets 250 short segments out of the 50 half-hour episodes. These appear on the Web site and on iTunes. They can also be downloaded from a video-on-demand system.
More tomorrow, when I’ll wrap up with my Day 4 report.
We went out yesterday afternoon to find a story to shoot. I’ll write more about that later when I have more time. We started editing our second story yesterday evening. I left our workroom at Discovery Channel HQ about 8:30 p.m., but then I got some takeout and continued working in my hotel room until about midnight. I’m about to go back for our fourth and final day. We are scheduled to end earlier tonight, so I should have time to write a full report then.