Would Final Cut Pro X be up to producing a daily Vlog following a participant on the Red Bull X-Alps adventure race? In the first of this two part article, Jonathon Williams tells us his story of how he, his camera kit and his NLE coped with such a grueling task.
Earlier this year I got a phone call from Red Bull athlete, Paul Guschlbauer, asking if I was up for shooting and editing a daily vlog with him while he took part in the Red Bull X-Alps adventure race.
It's an invite-only event and the 32 athletes taking part have to travel by foot or paraglider from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco, zig-zagging across the Alps through 7 mandatory turn-points on the way. The straight line distance is over 1100km but the athletes usually end up hiking and flying more than double this (because it's impossible to actually travel in a straight line in this kind of terrain).
I'd worked on the photography team for this bi-annual competition back in 2015 so I knew Paul and the details of race already. Back then I was stuck in an office for the duration of the race (around three weeks), receiving and distributing images from our photo teams that were on the road following the athletes, and boy did I envy those guys.
So when this opportunity came up - to be on the road, shooting in the mountains, travelling across the Alps - I accepted the job on the spot and started to plan my workflow... It should be pretty straight forward, right? Follow the athlete in our car, film him throughout the day, he films himself when we can't get to him (i.e. when he's flying), collect all the video footage in the evening, edit the video, upload it to YouTube/Facebook/Instagram, publish it the next morning, and repeat! Simple...?
Of course I knew it wouldn't be that easy, so in the weeks building up to the event I went through the process of preparing gear, contacting potential sponsors and testing out my workflow. I spent a full day filming in the mountains with a paragliding friend, and then editing a test-vlog that evening. It went really smoothly and importing, rendering and editing a 5 minute 'vlog' took me around 4 hours. Totally manageable. I could even get a good night's sleep...
The problem was, I did this 'test' in perfect sunny conditions, I was the only one shooting so I knew everything that had been shot, I edited it in the comfort of my house, with a reliable internet connection, and I didn't have to drive anywhere in the meantime. On the road, during the actual race, things would be very different.
That's when I started to realise how much of a logistical ball-ache this was going to be.
- How will I manage my time following the athlete, shooting, editing, uploading the videos every day, distributing the video and posting to social media?
- What will the internet connection be like in the mountains? Would I have to find a MacDonalds every day to do the upload?
- How would I power all my gear and recharge all my batteries?
- What would I do if my gear got stolen/broken/lost?
- Do I have enough storage space for three weeks worth of content?
- Will my (2011) MacBook be able to cope?
- What car would I drive and where will I sleep?
- When would I sleep?!
It was clear I was going to need some help, so I called up my buddy, Jamie Barrow. He's a pro snowboarder that I've done many video shoots with before and he's always up for an adventure (he just recently went snowboarding in North Korea, for fun). Luckily, Jamie said yes.
I looked at other Vlogs for inspiration and guidance (Casey Neistat, Jon Olsson, Ben Brown etc). The music seemed quite important, picking a style to fit your vlog that matched the visuals but didn't distract you from the content. Also, for my workflow, finding and downloading all this music was crucial, so that I didn't have to waste time doing this on the road probably with a poor internet connection and no time to spare.
I needed my own library of licensed music ready to add to the Vlogs. In my research I came across Epidemicsound.com - a music website specifically for YouTube channels. It was perfect and the selection of music was very good. I spent at least a whole day searching, listening and downloading and in the end I had around 50 tracks that I was happy with.
In my editing program, Final Cut Pro X (FCPX), I set up a new Library specifically for the Vlog and created Events by date where I would dump all the video and audio content into from that day.
I decided to name the Vlogs 'Vlog 1', 'Vlog 2' etc rather than saying 'Day 1', 'Day 2' just in case we couldn't upload a Vlog each day. It also meant we could continue the Vlogs after the race where we left off, if we wanted to do the same thing for a different project. Accordingly, I created separate Vlog folders, where the video timeline (called the Project) would live.
It was most likely that I couldn't bring my iMac to edit on, it was just too big. So I would have to use Jamie's new 15" MacBook Pro and my 2011 MacBook Pro. Although I've upgraded the RAM and added an SSD drive, it still struggles with 4K video playback.
Luckily, FCPX can automatically convert videos to compressed 'Proxy' files when importing them, allowing for faster editing especially with slower machine. But this conversion can take a long time, especially with a day's worth of footage, shot on multiple cameras. So Jamie's MacBook would be the main editing machine and I could use mine for everything else like data transfer (it has an SD card slot but the new MacBook doesn't).
Regarding storage space, I got in touch with Drobo and they were awesome enough to kit me out with a brand new 5D3, equipped with 12TB of space on three Seagate IronWolf Pro drives. The plan was to store everything on here, all the RAW video footage, audio files, FCPX Library and anything else like graphics, logos etc. This thing has two Thunderbolt 3 ports so it was plenty fast enough to work from and it has its BeyondRAID technology so the files would be safe. Even so, we also backed up the files on my MacBook and another external hard drive, just to be sure.
I was all set to go right? Wrong.
What about the driving and the issue about powering everything? My trusty Touran was definitely not big enough for two guys to sleep in along with a bunch of camera equipment and a generator. I ended up scouring the internet for a van and found the perfect one. A kitted out Fiat Ducato Maxi 3.0 with a fridge, power sockets, power inverter and plenty of space. I said goodbye to my budget and hello to what turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip.
In terms of gear, we needed to go lightweight, fast and weather proof to cover all the various elements of a 'hike-and-fly' adventure race. There wouldn't be time to set up complicated rigs or lug around heavy cameras in the mountains. So here's what we took:
- Two MacBook Pro laptops
- A Drobo 5D3 with 3 x 4TB Seagate drives
- A 1TB G-Tech ev RaW
- Sony a7RII and a6300 (with around 8 spare batteries)
Zeiss Touit 12mm, 32mm and 50mm
Sony 16-35, 16-50, 55-210mm
- DJI Mavic Pro
- GoPro 5, GoPro Session, GoPro 4 and GoPro 3+
- Manfrotto BeFree Live Tripod
- Feiyu MG stabiliser
- Rode Stereo Mic Pro with Deadcat and smartLav+
- Thule Aspect and Covert DSLR backpacks
With one week to go, I felt quite confident I had it all worked out. I was comfortable with my workflow, we had plenty of gear, I had a good vehicle and an assistant to help me.
How wrong I was... stay tuned for Part 2 to see how it actually all went down when the race kicked off!
I'm a filmmaker and photographer based in the German Alps but originally from the UK. I specialise in outdoor sports, travel and lifestyle.