Category Archives: N.E.J. Stevenson Ltd

The Transcribinator

Transcribing is the kind of frustratingly labour-intensive task that makes me realise humanity still has a ways to go before being at risk of being enslaved by sentient AI overlords.

However, I’ve come to realise that is a necessary part of the editing process. For those of you who are unaware, transcribing is the process of converting speech into text. When faced with large chunks of footage, such as after shooting a series of interviews like I recently have, figuring out how to go about editing it all can be a daunting task.

Transcribing helps because it allows you to edit before you even import your footage into your timeline. Known as a paper edit, having the words written out in front of you makes it much easier to figure out how you’re going to structure your interview. This is because it’s faster to read two sentences next to each other than having to scrub back and forth in the timeline to hear if your cuts work.

On top of this, if you have the time and patience to do the transcribing yourself, the words will be seared into your brain via repetition-based monotony. This might not seem like too much of an advantage until you’re actually editing and your nice clear text become ambiguous clips in the timeline. Trust me, it helps.

Transcribing is a fairly time-consuming process (please see previous comment about lack of robot overlords). So even though there are a few tips and tricks to speed up the process, be aware of this when planning your project. The biggest tip I can give you to help reduce the workload is to run your interviews through a speech-to-text converter. This allows you to go through and make corrections rather than writing it out from scratch; the better your audio quality, the less changes you have to make.

There are loads out there, but my software of choice is VoiceBase. Although you have to pay for it, you get $60 free credit which I’ve only used about $10 of in the year I’ve been using it.

So, to recap, transcribing is a painstaking but necessary part of editing which, when done properly, will end up saving you time in the long run.

 

It’s All About Tone

Colour correction is a skill which I’ve been slowly getting to grips with. My biggest challenge yet has been matching the footage from my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMC) with my Canon camera. This is because the two cameras capture information in very different ways.

The Canon records in a .MOV file format, with H.264 encoding. Don’t worry if you don’t what that means, what’s important to know is that it allows the camera to record HD video with a relatively small file size. This comes at the cost of being less flexible when it comes to colour-correction in post-production. A smaller file size means less information captured, which means you can’t manipulate the colours as much before it affects the image quality.

The BMC uses ProRes. This captures much more information and therefore creates a much larger file size, so when it comes to colour correction you have a lot more range to work with.

Think of it like taking notes in a lecture. The Canon notes down the key points, so that by the end you’ve got a general but clear idea of what the topic was about. The BMC covers all the points of the lecture in detail, with cute little subheading’s and the occasional highlight.

More notes = More paper                   SO                More information = Larger file size

What this means visually is that the Canon footage looks much closer to a finished product, while the BMC is a blank slate, devoid of any striking tone or colour.

With the help of a course on the amazing Lynda.com (please sponsor me), I began the process of matching the BMC’s footage to the Canon’s. The first step was to set up a workflow where the two could be compared side by side, which I did by cropping both shots and placing them next to each other, making sure they had similar framing of the subject (which in this case is the dashing Jonathan).

Next was to match the tone, which is shown by the Luma waveforms below. As you can see, the waveform on the right (which is the BMC) is more compressed and a different shape to the one on the right.

To match the tones, you use the Basic Correction settings in Premiere to match the shape of  the BMC’s waveform with the Canon’s as shown below. The BMC footage on the far right now has more depth to it than it did before.

After matching the tones of the two cameras, I then moved on to colour. This followed a similar process of matching the waveforms, this time using a RGB Parade:

As you can see, the three pairs of waveform are similar in size and shape. This is done using the curves you see on the right hand side of Premiere (the green line in this screen grab). The two are now much more closely matched:

Jeff Sengstack, the author of the Lynda course I watched, said that there was both an art and a science to colour correction, with tone being the science and colour being the art. Understanding this was key to my understanding of the skill – it was easy to match the tones of the two shots, but matching the colours was a much more subtle and subjective process.

 

Interviews Done!

So, two weeks and 17 interviews later, I’ve finally finished interviewing the staff at NEJ.  Some people dropped out or didn’t sign up to begin with,  which was something I hadn’t had real experience with before – people are nervous about getting in front of a camera. Having always done university projects with other media students who were pretty used to it, I underestimated The Fear of the Lens (cheesy horror movie anyone?).

This also affected people who had done the interviews – it was a challenge to get them feeling comfortable enough to give natural answers. There was a really magic moment when one of the guys, who was extremely nervous about being on camera, just for a moment forgot that he was and delivered one of the best lines of the week. That was a great feeling.

You’re very aware that these people are placing trust in you to show them in a good light, overcoming their own fears about being in front of the camera. It’s a humbling responsibility.

My ingest and file management has also greatly improved. Having never handled content on this scale before, I made sure to set out folders and a workflow for getting the footage ingested into Premiere.

The scale of this also meant I’ve had to transcribe all the interviews and do a paper edit prior to actual editing, a skill which I gained from my time with Atlas of the Future doing Meaning Conference transcribings. Quickly seeing the benefits of being able to go through and highlight the best parts and more easily visualise how they can fit together. It is melting my brain though.

And because I love a gif, here’s some of me setting up and then packing up in the workshop:

 

Foiled by a spindle moulder

Sooo, some stuff went wrong and I had to change my plans.

I spent the whole of yesterday setting up for the workshop interviews, only to find out the machine right next to my set would be being used until Tuesday. How I only found this out after hours of prep I don’t know, but its been an excruciating lesson in Sod’s law – ‘If it can go wrong, it will’.

My contingency was to interview the office employees, which meant finding a new location and all the challenges that posed.

I’m going to say this now, and until experiencing it myself I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it:

SOLO SHOOTS ARE REALLY HARD

Like the animals on Noah’s ark, my kit came in pairs. Having to set up a  camera, mic and light by yourself is not ideal at the best of times, but when each is multiplied by two it pushes you to the limits of your skill set. Nevertheless, I’m really grateful for the opportunity it has provided me to push myself. It’s a challenge having your motivation coming from the same source as your frustrations and problems, the overcoming of which is invaluable in all aspects of life.

One of my favourite tasks of the day was having the sound-proof the cupboard behind my camera which, after getting the guys in the workshop to turn their music down, I discovered housed a large and rather noisy server.

To get an idea of the noise prior to my handywork, hum moderately loudly until someone nearby smacks you.

Eventually I managed to get Ed, one of the managers from upstairs, to come down and be the guinea pig for my first (ever) solo interview. It was a really good run, by which I mean I found out a lot of the problems I hadn’t known about before I hit record.

Watching the footage back, I’m really pleased with how it turned out. My next challenge is going to be matching up the colours of the Canon and Blackmagic footage (which I *think* involves something to do with LUT).

Watch this space!

Workshop interviews

Having found a good location in the workshop, today I did a test setup to figure out any issues before the actual run. The first, I discovered, is that its quite very difficult to frame an interview shot without a person sitting in the chair. Not wanting to disturb the employees, who all looked very busy and were often holding something sharp, I was forced to run back and forth from the camera to the chair to make adjustments. I got there in the end and the resulting GIF which you see before you outlines my process of tightening up the shot, adding props to fill out the background and bringing in some lighting. (I apologise for looking so bleak, probably just sad that all the bees are dying)

This will change slightly from person to person as I adjust the lighting and focal length to accentuate their features, but it’s been really useful to get a feel for the space. It’s also allowed me to block out tripod and lighting positions like so:

Here’s a pic of the setup minus your’s truly. Hoping to start the interviews tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes!

The silence of the tools

So now I’ve been with N.E.J. Stevenson Ltd a few weeks, I’m ready to start prepping for interviews. Most of the work I’ve done prior to this has been action based – filming around the workshop and an installation in London.

I wanted to hold off conducting interviews with the employees because I feel it’s important to establish a rapport, allowing the interviewees to feel more comfortable with me behind the camera and so able to give more natural answers.

I also wanted to wait a few weeks because I was still getting to grips with my kit (tools don’t tend to laugh at you when you mess up, unlike their human counterparts) and the complexities of solo- shooting.

Last thing before I start is to consult the fountain of knowledge that is Lynda.com on how to conduct professional interviews. A good tip I picked up from the course is a simple list of things to tell your interviewee before turning on the camera:

  1. Don’t look into the camera, this is just a normal conversation between the two of us.
  2. Include the question in your answer using full sentences.
  3. It’s okay to restart questions or rephrase your answer.
  4. Can I get you anything before we start?

If you’re interested in learning more about interview techniques, you can view the Lynda course I’m using here.