Did we ever think that we would write a headline that included naked swimming and Final Cut Pro X? No we didn't, but this story from Matt Holder gave us the ideal opportunity to do exactly that. Essential reading if you shoot and edit quick turnaround edits for social media. An FCPX user story au naturel!
I shoot and edit a lot of live events. Music festivals, surfing, windsurfing, stand up paddle events and adventure races. Usually they are for fast 48 hour turnaround edits to social media. These are a lot of fun to cover as the good vibes and excitement are usually infectious.
I thought I would share with you some shooting and editing tips that help create all the building blocks for an engaging edit to leverage the client’s event.
This February (2015) I covered the successful Skinny Dip World Record in Australia. I had covered the attempt last year which fell short by 60 skinny dippers so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it did it actually fall?
This is the background concept to encourage client spend on covering events. If the event just ends up being talked about by a handful of people that were there on the day, then the spend on the event was probably wasted. However with a relatively small media budget to leverage the event (via an engaging edit that is virally shared ) the event’s success, to some degree, can be measured.
Or put simply - spend a little more by adding video production to your event and get a lot more return on awareness.
Take 1 event
1 back pack containing
1 Gh4 - mode switch set for 4k and 96 fps slo motion as well as 2 sec interval time lapses
1 Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 IS lens with Variable ND for wide open shots/ time lapse motion blur (add optional fast prime if shooting a night event)
1 Go Pro + Gorilla pod set up for time-lapse - 1 shot every 2 seconds is nice
1 Video mic Pro
1 Lav mic / H1 Zoom
1 Iphone + Hyperlapse app
1 Fluid head tripod
Hopefully some low fast moving cloud or a nice bright sunny day for time lapses
Smile a lot on the day and have fun shooting interviews, timelapses, hyperlapses and key action (Pre plan when and where key events are happening and be there 3 minutes before they occur)
Go forth and create the building blocks of your story!
The Recipe for Coverage
Shooting live events solo means that getting the shot trumps setting up for perfection and missing the shot. You will be chasing action while simultaneously switching modes, shutter speeds, adjusting NDs and juggling tripods, monopods (or dumping the lot and running for a handheld shot).
For this shoot I ran with my Panasonic GH4 with the 12-35mm/f2.8 IS lens. A variable ND was on the front to go shallow depth of field in daylight should I want the option (I didn't really shoot wide open much for this event.) Keep in mind that backlit sun flares usually happen more dramatically when you are wide open too.
The value of image stabilisation is not to be underestimated for live events - you often have to run and gun fast to catch moments, often hand held or ideally with a mono pod. Without IS, micro jitters will prevail in your footage. It's a problem I see with a lot of HDSLR footage lately and it needs to be avoided as much as possible. (You can still spot some jitters in the edit if you look closely)
Another strong suit of the GH4 is the battery life. it's just stupidly long. I rarely do more than 1 battery changeover in a 6 hour shoot. Panasonic have got some voodoo magic happening there!
On top of the GH4 I run the venerable VideoMic Pro from Rode, straight into to camera. I had a Rode lav mic + in my pocket connected to a Zoom H1, but luckily didn't have to use it on this shoot as setting up the lav mic takes up time that you normally dont have. Had it been a windier day this may have been a different story…
Running a shot gun mic off the top of the camera is ok, but I advise all my interviewees pre roll that I am getting in close for audio. A small camera and mic lets me get in close to get into the sweet spot of the mic’s pick up, without putting the talent off too much. But I like to make a joke of how close in I am to set them at ease. Anything to get the interviewee on side quickly is gold. The Video mic pro is like a vacuum cleaner for sound and I REALLY like the solid presence of dialogue audio that it delivers. I’m often surprised when I get the audio back to the office at how good the audio is that I thought would be completely washed out.
(Right click for full screen image)
Sound Bites - The backbone of the edit.
Speaking of sound, being both the editor and cameraman brings massive efficiencies to the production process. The back bone of these pieces are usually interview and dialogue audio. With cutaways and B roll over the top. Shooting for the edit (which I am often building in my head as the event unfolds) I have a feel for sections that need more content, or that I have already covered.
At bare minimum I try and get intros and outros by spokespeople (sponsors & organisers) and attendees. And then pepper the edit with various comments about the feeling of the event or background on cool little side shows that will happen during the day. So sound is really driving the piece.
Without good human stories and content you just have a montage of the day and the video will have very little traction.
I believe most of us started out fascinated with images but now realise that it is the audio that really brings the power to a story.
Key to extracting this audio is establishing a rapport with people quickly to make them feel at ease and deliver their stories. Sometimes I will just drop in on a situation unannounced, but usually I will try and have a chat with my people first and tell them what I'm after.
You would be surprised at how many people are natural on camera once you build a rapport. Some people will still get self conscious, but its just a numbers game. In the last third of the day I recommend mentally reviewing your interviews and comments and shoot more if you think the edit will need them.
If there are live music performances, record the best ones and consider using them for your background music. It's usually license free and delivers an authentic record of the day. I struck up a good relationship with the band that played on this day and am super happy with the music I captured. (Watch your levels though!)
The Social Media Artist
The organisers had a stroke of genius by engaging a social media artist. In this case Peter Sharp of “The Liberators”. Peter was behind a few virals - such as the “Train Party” which has nearly 2 million views. And the “Blind Trust Experiment” which is at nearly 100,000 views. For this event Peter was the MC, but was also creating mini events with his team like walking around with big hearts signs and “ spreading the love”.
This played a huge role in shaping the vibe of the day and uniting the crowd. This also created some excellent material for my edit as I followed the hearts around for a while. Expect to see a lot more of this at events in future.
Shooting For Edit -Flexibility
I shoot at 4k 80% of the time. The GH4 100 Mbs 4k codec is simply an underrated piece of magic. Somehow you get faux 10 bit color when you resize to 1080p on the FCPX timeline. If the client wants a decent photo of moments during the event, I can supply them. With 25 8 MP shots per second to choose from, the magic moments can quite easily be obtained.
The ability to reframe when you are working live and dangerous is gold. It also means you have a fake 2 camera set up to cover edit umms ahhs and stumbles.
Also the codec isn't processor intensive, my 27 inch iMac from 2014 edits it all day long like butter. The other mode that I use is 1080 at 96fps. With the flick of the mode dial I can go from glorious 4k to super fluid slow motion. The slow motion is a tiny bit soft if you REALLY pixel peep. But for me the emotion and feel totally hides any softness in the image. And don't forget, a little bit of softness does wonders for skin tones and texture…
The 96 fps lets you do little fake handheld slider shots, without the set up time or hassle of carrying a tripod and slider around. GOLD!! Simply run the object of interest through the guides on screen and I challenge anyone to pick that they were done handheld! (A planned steady hand shot at 12mm and the IS really helps for this) This is great for objects about 1- 2 ft out from the lens in the foreground letting the back ground create the parallax.
Time lapse and Camera Support
For camera support I run a tripod or increasingly, a monopod. If I didn’t do tons of time lapses I would get rid of the tripod altogether. And there is another golden advantage of the GH4, a built in intervalometer and 4k video builder! If I am setting up a time lapse I will usually try and shoot 2 of them at once, whipping a GoPro out of my back pack to shoot an alternate angle. Usually a low angle off a Joby gorilla pod. 1 shot every 2 seconds for around 6-8 minutes usually does the trick nicely.
While those two are running, and if I feel like the gear is safe I will do some Hyperlapses off my iPhone. The Hyperlapse app is like a steadicam built into your iPhone that uses the accelerometer to counter adjust for camera movement. Under good light these look fantastic and its free!!!
So in the 7 minutes or so that I will spend getting time lapses I can generate 3 decent shots.
I will usually animate the time lapses in post to generate a little bit of movement in the shot to create just a touch more interest. Although sometimes you have to learn to exercise restraint and just go for a locked off time-lapse.
The Naked Truth
One of my roles was to supply evidence to the Guinness Book of World Records. This meant that I had to provide a continuous locked off shot of all the (clothed) contestants being counted as they entered the beach area (I dedicated my GoPro and mini tripod to this task, taped up to a pole) as well as another continuous shot off the tripod of the actual skinny dip (The GH4 covered this in 4K).
The excitement on the beach was building and I learned from last year that there would be a large roar as the dippers ran into the water. So I paid attention to my audio. I was pointing into the wind (which was around 12 knots) so I just held my hands around the Video Mic Pro to create a make shift blimp. A reasonably effective trick on top of the “dead cat”.
For this event we had an aerial drone company contracted in to cover the event. This was more for the Guinness Book of World Records documentation than for cinematic effect. The Aerials (GH4 airborne) were ok but the shots delivered could have been shot off a long pole. I would have been much happier with some epic track throughs of the crowd and event.
Often aerial shooters come from a tech or radio control background and don't have a cinematic vision. This was an opportunity lost and I should have briefed the company on what I was after. The aerials made for an a nice angle switch up, but could have been so much more!
Moving On to Post
FCPX being the magical software that it is, makes the import and organisation process a doddle. Not having to build image sequences with my GH4 timelapses saves a lot of time. The GoPro time lapses need a little bit of love. I usually build and animate them in Motion as you can just point Motion at a file of folders and it will interpret them as a single image sequence.
I will usually Keyword timelapses, interviews, action and sub events that occur on the day. So in this case I also had keywords for speeches, my various captured music audio from the band, evidence shots for Guinness and aerials.
I have a ton more to learn about FCPX metadata and roles, but for these short form pieces I feel like I am getting great productivity from FCPX. I can quickly get to a shot as I build the edit, allowing the creativity to flow.
In terms of the edit, I like to experiment with non chronological story structure. I went chronological in this particular edit but usually I will jump around a little bit to keep viewer interest.
I generally lay down my intros, outros and interviews first. And then I run action montages (with live recorded band audio) between them. Next is B roll, cutaways & relevant footage to go over the talking heads. And thats pretty much it. Simple!
It goes without saying that Apple’s FCPX “synergising” with my iMac 27 inch makes the edit experience flow like butter allowing me to experiment with edits and be creative in a very organic fashion. Clunky timeline performance kills creative flow, but I am so stoked with my production pipeline from start to finish. Of course a Thunderbolt connected GRAID kills all hard drive speed excuses and allows me to work fast and turn around projects very quickly.
This synergy occurs when you have a dedicated company developing both hardware and software together and its benefits are not to be underestimated. The fact that I can smoothly edit 4k timelines off my Macbook Air when I’m on the road is further testament to this.
With the fast edit turn arounds and often lower budgets with these kinds of events, it's much better to go for a nice look in camera than shoot flat and spend hours grading in post. I will do some basic colour correction to even up exposure as much as possible. Your time is better spent working on sound at this stage. I will run some compressors and noise reduction over my interviews.
What did I learn ?
Now you would think that covering this many naked people would be weird, but the vibe on the day was liberating and very “feel good”. In many ways this event was also a statement against the over pursuit of perfection that media drives into society. Ironic considering that I am part of the problem and hopefully in this case, the solution.
I often see photographers and videographers at events and they can seem a bit cold and detached. Perhaps these roles attract more introverted characters. I’m not sure. However, by getting into the spirit of the event that you are covering, smiling a lot and enjoying yourself, I guarantee that you will get better coverage as your interviews and sound bites will come easily.
You can be as technical as you like, but as with so many things in life, people skills are at least 50% of the job.
Pixel peepers out there will pick up that some of the shots are a bit rough, and I take that on board. Effectively live events are a bit “newsy” in the way that they need to be covered.
Now I know what you are thinking! Did I go nude as the cameraman? Sadly not. The fact is I needed pockets for batteries, ND filters and lens caps. Thats my story and i’m sticking to it!
Well thats about it for now, the video is currently at over 30,000 views on Facebook and is creating brand awareness for the sponsor (The Fig Cafe Group) and the cause (The Butterfly Foundation). And for us shooter/editors, it was an absolute blast to shoot and edit.
Matt Holder runs Reflex Films Australia in Perth, West Australia.
Like many of you is a freelance shooter and editor. Through Reflex Films Matt creates video productions for business and local government organisations as well as those all important personal projects. You may find him editing a multicam TV Pilot, chasing 50 motorbikes across Australia or dodging waves on a surfing shoot.