In February of this year, myself and a few of my Vancouver friends visited Seattle to enjoy a concert and a weekend away. We stayed at the Coggins’ place, a family that my wife and I are close to and enjoy visiting. Their one daughter, Emily, has played me songs on various occasions that she had written. I’ve always encouraged that in her, because music it is a place that one can speak in such a way that words can’t do justice to. She always struck me as being genuinely authentic in her music, and this is something I enjoy seeing in an artist, sometimes more than the art itself.
While there, we hung out for the majority of the day with her (which included an epic photo adventure at Gasworks park in Seattle), and she played us some more of her music. Throughout that day, I think my buddy Luke, from Truthmedia Films, and I both caught glimpses of Emily’s ‘art.’ By art, I mean not just a cultural artifact that person produces, but I include the nature of that person; the hidden, deeper parts of the person’s soul from where the visible art comes from.
It was fun to encourage her that in day, to tell her that we believed some of the things she dreamed about could actually happen, and that her art is meaningful to another person. Before leaving that evening, Luke and I threw around ideas of filming a performance piece of one of her songs. As it turned out, all of us were pretty excited about the idea, Emily was scheduled to visit us in Vancouver during her spring break, so I decided to make it happen. I have a great friend who had a contact at Armoury Studios near False Creek, and he helped me out securing that location for the shoot; after all, every piece of art deserves a gallery to do it justice. It is a beautiful place, all of which was a part of the gift we wanted to give her.
It was a really fun shoot, but it was a solid bit of work as well. The original concept was just a multi-camera, one-take video. The idea here was that because Emily wasn’t quite skilled at playing to a click track, and we had no playback track, sync between different takes would be problematic. However, on the shoot day, we ended up shooting multiple angles, all of which were beautiful, but of course none of the takes were at all able to be synced. More on that later.
Crew-wise, Nick AD’d it for us and kept us on schedule. Josh operated B-cam on our RED Scarlet and set up lockoff insert shots on our Sony FS-100, and Luke operated A-cam on his RED Epic. I generally produced the day, and made sure Emily was having a good time. Also have to thank Nick’s wife, Laura, and my fantastic wife, Juli, who both came along for the day and hung out with Emily during takes in the control room.
Truthmedia Films provided a lot of equipment – the RED Epic, the Kessler crane system, a number of Kinos, and a set of Zeiss CP.2 lenses with EF mounts that we used on all three cameras.
The studio provided a sound engineer who recorded all the takes, and simply gave me the individual tracks for each take (one vocal, two stereo close mics, and two stereo room mics) on a USB drive.
We clap-synced each take after the control room and all three cameras were rolling to make sure each take was in sync.
Post production took me the better part of the following three days. I was aiming to be done within two days, but the sync problem we created for ourselves made it a more difficult post-production process than I would have hoped!
All editing was done in Premiere Pro CS5.5. The RED footage was edited natively, while I transcoded the FS-100’s native AVCHD files to Prores. Grading was done in Davinci Resolve 8.2, so all footage needed to be prepared ahead of time to be in a format that Resolve could manage. I synced each take individually in their own timelines.
The main difficulty in post was the sync issue that I mentioned previously. Because there was no sync between takes, cutting to another angle proved incredibly difficult. What I ended up doing was cutting in a master timeline along to the best audio take. When I knew I wanted to make a cut, I’d feel out which shot would work best – wide jib, closeup, reverse, etc., and find that take in another sequence. Then, I’d copy that shot to the master sequence and manually sync using an an obvious auditory cue, such as a certain note, or a syllable of a particular word. Most often a short would stay in sync for at least five seconds – long enough to get my use out of it before cutting again!
Once I’d done a couple passes on the edit, I opened up the sequence in Redcine-X using XML. Obviously the Prores files from the FS-100 were offline at that point, but I only needed to copy/paste metadata settings between the Scarlet and the Epic to make sure those shots were exactly the same – might as well make it as easy to move grades around in Resolve between shots as possible. I love me some RAW! I also did a small bit of one-light grading in Redcine. Save the RMD’s and that step is finished.
Because all the footage shot on both RED cameras had movement, the lock-off shots on the FS-100 looked a bit jarring. So, I sent the sequence to After Effects, made compositions out of each FS-100 shot, scaled up the shots ever so slightly (about 105%), and used the Wiggle expression to give the shot a bit of a smooth handheld look. I rendered out each shot and replaced them with the originals in Premiere.
I sent the sequence to Resolve via XML. I was going for a bit of a warm, cross-process look, and I’m pretty happy with the results I managed. A lot of time was spent in the curves on this one. I also made massive use of Resolve’s shot stabilization – I smoothed out many of the Scarlet handheld shots, and took out any and all bumps from the jib on the Epic shots. Because we finished in 1080p, I had tons of room to punch in a bit after the stabilization, or to tweak the frame a bit. Rendered out, sent an XML back to Premiere, and rendered out.
The project was a lot of fun. Big lesson learned: make a solid decision about how you are going to shoot and what sync solution you’re going to use and stick to it! Other than that, it was a blast giving that as a gift to a young friend of ours. I know she enjoyed the production a lot and had a lot of fun – but more than that, I hope she knows how much she is loved, and how much people can be moved by what she has to give.