Category: Review

Top 5 Free NLEs for the Guerrilla Filmmaker

Like a lot of people these days, I have drunk the Adobe CC kool-aid. I love the way Premiere, just works. As far as workflow, the dynamic link library is a godsend: the way you can embed After Effects clips, and jump out to Audition, Speedgrade and Prelude just makes my professional life that much simpler and well worth the price of admission. I do understand that $60 a month is a bit rich for some and there are now some great options if you don’t want to spend a dime/penny.

When I was starting out your choices were pretty limited (I struggled with Microsoft Movie Maker for more time than I care to remember) but now there are some great, fully-featured options. Some are free versions (cut down versions) of NLEs you can buy (the freemium model); some are standard freeware offerings. All of the following will get you up and editing your footage for no money. These are my top 5 recommendations: Click for more

Surface Pro 3 as Creative Tool (part 1): Introduction

I was at Adobe Max this year when  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came on stage to talk about the Surface Pro 3 and their deepening collaboration with Adobe. His speech featured this video:

Although a lot of the applications and features showcased in the video were prototypes I, like many others in the room, was just starting to think that maybe I should look into a Surface device when Nadella announced that everyone in the room was getting a Surface Pro 3 to take home. It took a couple of seconds to sink in and then the room went nuts. It was like a geeky version of Oprah’s car give away: “You’re getting a Surface, and you’re getting a surface. We’re all getting a Surface!”

This wasn’t the first time this year that Microsoft has given away thousands of these machines to get them in the hands of influencers and out on the street: they’ve given them to journalists, analysts and techies but this was the first time they’d targeted creatives. It’s a pretty bold move on their part because the creative field has long been dominated by Apple. I’d guess that 9 out of 10 laptops I saw at Adobe Max were MacBooks and, at work, where I prefer to use a windows desktop, I am the anomaly. Microsoft want this to be a machine that’s all things to all men. They want it to be accepted in the corporate world as well as on university campuses, worldwide, coffee shops and in creatives’s designer messenger bags. They also want it to replace both your iPad and your MacBook Air and their TV ads are challenging the Macbook Air’s dominance in the ultrabook category. Click for more

A Corporate Guerrilla Video Producer’s Reading List

Although no one wants to read anything anymore, there are books that are still worth your time. Here’s a quick list of books I think you should have close at hand while you’re working:

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player
by Robert Rodriguez

Rodriguez is the patron saint of guerrilla filmmaking; part of the holy trifectorate of independent filmmakers, along with Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino – with Jim Jarmusch as the first prophet. The story of how he broke into the industry has become legend (sells body to science, makes movie with proceeds, reinvents Hollywood) but it is worth reading this firsthand account. It is inspirational and well worth reading whenever you feel like one man can’t do it, or make a difference. If you don’t feel inspired to work after reading this book, you’re in the wrong profession. The trick is how to apply the contents of this book to the corporate video world. They may seem like different worlds but, in this day and age, they’re closer related than you might think.

Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today’s Talking Tech host by Jefferson Graham

There are a lot of books about small crew production and there are several on video marketing (usually one person on a iPhone camera or similar low-end production values). There aren’t many books on the one-man-crew style of production, which is becoming much more common in the corporate video world, and elsewhere. This is one of the few books that goes into the practical details of being a one-man-crew while keeping your production value high.

This is a great book if you’re just starting out, but, if you’re more experienced, it contains a lot of great information too. Mr Graham’s day job is producing video content for “Talking Tech” so his emphasis is on that kind of video production. That is, interview capture, with consumer-gear that emulates higher-end, TV-type productions. This is bread and butter in the corporate video world and so is directly applicable to my day-to-day work. As a corporate guerrilla video producer, it will be relevant to you too.

Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors by Blain Brown

There’s a trend that everyone who shoots video on a DSLR calls themselves a cinematographer. They’re not. Most of them are hardly camera ops. What is true is that the first thing people will notice about your work is the visuals. The way you will stand out is the visuals so it was worth getting a little schooling on the subject.

Mr Brown’s book is one of the most recommended on the subject and not without reason. This is a book worth owning as a hard copy, rather than an ebook, as the illustrations are central to the content and they are not an after-thought. This book might be a bit too much for beginners, but you do not need to aspire to be a cinematographer on a big-budget movie to find much of value here. Even if all you do is capture interviews and b-roll, there’s a lot here that you need to know and can help you up your game.

The Guerilla Film Makers Pocketbook: The Ultimate Guide to Digital Film Making by Chris Jones

There was a time that the small Guerrilla Film Maker’s series of books were THE go-to reference for anyone starting out in filmmaking but side-tracking film-school. They are targeted at anyone who hasn’t made a film before, but wants to. But that was the 90’s and naught-ies; as we roll through the teens of the century, these books are getting forgotten, which is a pity. They may still talk about tape-based acquisition but if you put camera technology aside, they are side very relevant.

The pocketbook is the last published in the series and lives up to it’s name, but don’t let it’s diminutive size fool you. It’s chocker-full of great information and there’s a reason that the series has sold more than 100,000 copies. The book’s style is conversational which helps make it very accessible, with lots of interesting asides and stories. Each subject and point is validated by people in the filmmaking industry. It’s a great book to read cover to cover, but it’s also useful to have close at hand, to dip into as and when you need information. Like many other fans of the series, I just wish they’d release a new book more relevant to our time. In the meantime, everyone should read the pocketbook.

Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don’t teach you in design school, but should by Michael Janda

I’ve mentioned this book before, but there’s a good reason it turns up again in this list – it’s that good.

As mentioned before, this book is targeted more at graphic designers than filmmakers but 90% of the content is as relevant to the world of video production as it is to graphic publishing. Both are collaborative efforts: even if you’re a one-man-crew you have a manager or client you are working for and with. No one works in a vacuum and the most valuable parts of this book, for me, are concerning how to work in a creative and collaborative way. It gives great advice on managing clients and egos and how to get the job done.

This book may come at the end of the list, but it would be my number one recommendation.

These are my recommendations: if you disagree or have further suggestions please leave me a comment below.

Review: Manfrotto 701HDV

Manfrotto 701HDV

If you are are photog, or you know one well, you will know that, after cameras and lenses, their gear obsession is often directed at finding the perfect bag and the perfect camera support. You will also know that it is an unending quest that results in a closet full of more bags than Carrie Bradshaw, although significantly less stylish in design. It also results in a stack of sticks and heads that can be combined in an infinite number of combinations depending upon the, the situation, the subject, the camera and if the capture is for still or moving images.

It’s that last issue that trips up many photogs who start playing with making movies. In general, their existing camera, lenses, camera bags and tripod legs will all be adequate for video but their existing tripod head will not be useful for anything other than locked off shots. Still tripod heads often have an infinite number of movements to get the camera’s viewpoint exactly in the position the photographer wants but no smooth way of getting there. Video heads are generally limited to 2 axises but they can move very smoothly within them to create gentle pans and more complicated camera movements all film makers want.

A dedicated movie tripod may be the ideal for video work but they can be heavy and expensive and not always what the combination still/movie creator needs. One tripod is heavy enough – who wants to lug around two? Better to maybe take your favorite still tripod legs and head and a fluid head in addition in case you need it.

Manfrotto 701HDV with Sanyo FH1 & Canon 5D II

This is where the Manfrotto 701HDV seems to come in. It’s a head that fits on a standard tripod legs 3/8″ screw rather than a video tripod bowl. This in itself is both an advantage and a disadvantage: it’s an advantage in that it will mount on your existing tripod’s legs but it’s a disadvantage in that, without the bowl, it’s a lot more tedious to get level. A dedicated video tripod has the head mounted in a bowl so you can set the legs and then level the head ready for use. The head must be level if you want to avoid slipping of an axis during a pan. With a video head on still legs you have to set the legs and head level at the same time by altering the relative height of the three legs independently which can be fiddly. The 701HDV does have a built in bubble level to help in this task.

Once the legs are set the next job is to get the camera on and balanced. This is achieved through setting the included quick-release plate in the correct position on the head. The 701HDV’s plate has enough travel for most circumstances; if you need more travel a longer plate is available as an accessory. It has a screw lock on the right side of the head to set it’s position and it has a red release button on the left when you want to remove the plate from the head. This means you should accidentally drop your camera when setting it up. The plate only exits from the rear of the head which is different from my other video quick release plates that can be removed from the front of back of the head.

This is a true fluid head and the drag is locked via a prominent lock screw for the up/down axis and a less obvious finger screw for the left to right movements. The drag itself is fixed but seems balanced for HDSLR use. A nice, long, adjustable handle to provided for controlling your camera’s movements and it can be fitted to either side of the head depending upon your preference. You can fit 2 handles at once if you prefer that configuration and an additional handle is available as an accessory. It takes a little practice but you can achieve nice, smooth and steady camera movements with this head.

There are cheaper alternatives to the 701HDV but not many and very few with this build quality. The little Manfrotto is manufactured in Italy and is very solid with no plastic components that I could see. It is finished in the Monfrotto standard black with with red accents from the Monfrotto logo and the quick release button. Its street price is about $150 which is very reasonable. If you’re a still photographer just getting into video this is on piece of equipment you won’t outgrow very quickly. Even when you do get a dedicated video tripod you can still use the 701HDV for your second camera or when you want to travel light.

Highly recommended.

Reviews: 4 YouTube Marketing Books

There’s a bit of a contradiction going on, if you acknowledge that video is the only way people want to communicate, but you want to read a book about YouTube. Then again, you’re currently reading a blog about video so perhaps I should shut up. However, I’ve got to acknowledge the inappropriateness of the medium and the following quote, if you substitute ‘video‘ for ‘architecture‘ seems appropriate:

Writing about painting is like dancing about architecture.”

So, what’s so inappropriate about a print copy of a book on the subject of YouTube? The most obvious thing is that, the net moves pretty fast; by the time a book on some interweb subject leaves the presses it is, most likely, already out of date. These  books include features that have changed and restrictions that have being removed. Why read something that is wrong?

Then there’s the amount of fluff you have to wade through. All books include a description about what YouTube is and how to navigate your way around. If you’ve gone to the expense of buying a book on YouTube, then you probably already know what it is and how to navigate around it. And why do we need to read a long-winded history of YouTube when a paragraph would suffice? Or how to upload a video when YouTube’s own ‘help’ is a better resource? You just get the feeling that the authors are unthinkingly following a publishers template for technical books.

Putting the inappropriateness of the print medium aside (maybe you’re reading it on your Kindle or tablet), let’s take a look at a four examples:

YouTube for Business: Online Video Marketing for Any Business

The author of this example, is Michael Miller; a self-proclaimed prolific writer, with more than 100 non-fiction books to his name in the past two decades. I’m all for generalists but YouTube marketing is a subject that warrants a bona fide expert not someone who has written the Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting and Windows 8 PC for Seniors. Mr Miller is a nice guy, but shouldn’t this course be written and led by someone who lives and breathes video marketing, not someone just cutting another notch in their bookshelf?

A lot of the information in the book is very general and basic and not really about marketing at all. The whole of Part 2 of this book is about producing videos and Part 3 is about managing your YouTube videos – both are things you should know but the information is basic better described elsewhere, and this book is supposed to be about marketing. I could only really recommend this to someone just starting out using YouTube.

YouTube Marketing (Video)

To call this a video is a little generous: it’s more like a PowerPoint deck with audio laid over the top for much of the time. Again, we’re talking about the power of video on YouTube and this doesn’t really hit the bar. It’s really a subset of the above book, read to you.

YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day

Marginally better than the above efforts but suffers from many of the same faults. One of your first daily hours is taken up by a “A short History of YouTube”. Month one is about video production again: there are better ways to spend a month learning video production. Chapter 4 has you watching popular YouTube videos for a month – few of which were created for marketing purposes.

Chapter 10 includes some case studies that are worth reading but apart from that I didn’t get much out of this book.

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts

This book is getting a bit long in the tooth now as it was first published in 2008, but, at least it was written by two YouTubers who have had some success on YouTube and it wasn’t made to fit some technical-book template. It’s not written from a marketing perspective but, rather, from a perspective of people who have (or want to) ‘make it’ on YouTube. As such, it has a lot of useful information but you will have to pick and choose what you can use. There’s nothing very deep to this book, and you do have to get over the authors’ constant self-promotion, but it wasn’t such a chore to read, compared to the two previous books.

Beyond Viral: How to Attract Customers, Promote Your Brand, and Make Money with Online Video

The best of this bunch: still not perfect but at least the author is proven both as a YouTube personality and marketeer. Nalts recognizes that most businesses using YouTube think they want a video to go viral, but that there’s many people who successfully use YouTube to market their company without getting millions of views. There’s a bunch of useful case studies included and a lot specific information about implementing a practical, marketing strategy that incorporates YouTube. Working out how to apply this information to your own business is the tricky part but isn’t that usually the way?

The book is the most detailed, entertaining and thoughtful of this bunch and so it is my “Must Read” recommendation on the subject

… if you still want to read about YouTube marketing.


Book Reviews of the Month

Audio for Single Camera Operation by Tony Grant

Tony Grant is a knowledgeable cameraman, with many years of experience working for the BBC. This book aims to educate the professional cameraman about sound considerations, but it was published in 2002, so it does feel a little dated at times. DAT is referenced as a new technology, and when he talks about taping, he really means with a tape and everything. With that said, sound recording technology, beyond formats and medium, hasn’t advanced quite as much as video technology in the intervening years, so there still much of value to the one-man production shop within these pages.

Microphone technology, concepts and techniques, in particular, haven’t changed that much, so the chapters on mic placement and use for specific, common video situations remain pertinent and useful today. What I found especially useful is the series of practical exercises Mr Grant includes for getting to know mics, placement, mixing and track recording. For the visual person we sometimes neglect to train our ears and get familiar with our specific equipment – these exercise help you learn to listen and to get familiar with your specific, equipment combination.

Despite being in need of an update, there is little fluff here, and lots of useful information on a subject which is often neglected.

Photocine: Digital Filmmaking with DSLRs by Lou Lesko, Michael Britt & Snehal Patel

Although there is a plethora of sites, articles and videos on the subject, on the interwebs, if you are of a certain age and background, it is sometimes nice to be able to go to one reference tome for all information on a subject. That is what Digital Filmmaking with DSLRs sets out to be. To some extent it succeeds, but it is hard to compete with the whole of the internet, especially in a field that is moving so fast. The book dedicates too much time to a single camera, the Canon 5D mkII; an important camera, yes, but, yesterday’s news. It also attempts to educate us on a couple of important figures and works in the field but it’s view is a little skewed.

Some excuses can be made, in that, this book is already two and a half years old which, in DSLR video years, is about a decade. In the end, you might want one book to replace all those sites, links and bookmarks that you have but you quickly feel the shortcomings of the print media, and find yourself returning to the chaos of the web. If you’re starting out, and are playing catch-up, this book could be a good way to get up to speed, but, for the the more experienced, I’m not sure it offers that much.


Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don’t teach you in design school, but should by Michael Janda

So here’s the star of this month’s books. You might think that a book aimed at graphic designers is not going to have a lot pertinent to video and filmmakers, but you’d be wrong. Their industry is creative and ruled by clients and project management and collaboration just like ours. The advice Mr Janda gives is immediately,  practically useful. I’d estimate that less than 10% wasn’t applicable to the video creation business but why should that be a surprise? The overlap between graphic design and video bleeds in through animation and titles and infographics, etc.

It’s an easy and fun read and it’s a book you can go back to for refreshers and tips over and over. It’s as useful for a new graduate as it is for an old-hand. This book is a little-known gem but don’t just take my word for it – check out the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon from experienced graphic designers. If you’re a filmmaker who considers themselves, or aims to be, a professional, do yourself a favor and skip reading one technical book this weeks and read “Burn Your Portfolio” instead.