Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Our Work: Boys and Girls Club - A Home for Children

CLIENT: The Boys and Girls Club, a non-profit that inspires and enables all youth, especially those who need it the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.

GOAL: To film and produce a video for the The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston to highlight over 40 years of service to children and to honor its founder, Mrs. T.A. Robinson, Jr.  In order to capture the powerful mission that The Boys and Girls Club holds true, Swagger Media directed the video, conducted numerous interviews, and produced special motion graphics. Finally, the editing department shaped the video’s overall narrative to tie all of these pieces together and created the final 4-minute video that was showcased at the 2011 Heritage Award Dinner in Houston, Texas.

SPOT: Boys and Girls Club: A Home for Children

Monday, 22 December 2014

5 Things You Shouldn't Wait to Fix in Post

The entry period for SwaggerFest is open and competition is heating up! We're so excited watching the submissions come in from up-and-coming filmmakers from around the Houston area, and it got us thinking about some advice we wanted to share with our fans.

Every new filmmaker is bound to make mistakes. You've probably been on set before and it's been a long day, your crew is tired, the lights are hot, and the creative juices are drying up. You're on your last camera set up and you just can't get that last bit right so, instead of dragging out the day, you say, "We'll fix it in post!"

That's a mistake. It's a lesson learned universally by all filmmakers,

The more things you can do perfectly in production, the easier your life will be. 

There's no feeling worse than getting to the post room, ready to make the magic happen, and realizing that something you ignored on set has become the downfall of your entire project. Here are 5 things that great post work just won't fix as well as on set attention.

1. Shaky Camera Syndrome - "I'll just stabilize it in After Effects!" 

Wrong. True, After Effects will help smooth out your shot some, but it's just not the same as a good tripod. If you're going for that "unrehearsed, in the moment" feel, then great. But don't just shoot without a tripod because you're lazy. Professional filmmakers will spend thousands of dollars for a fancy tripod to get the right shot; who are you to disagree? Now I know your funding may be limited, so if you don't have a tripod, learn how to make one. The point is, relying on a software effect to completely counteract your natural movement will result in a lower quality product and a headache for your editor and your audience.

2. Bad Lighting - "I'll just up the exposure, no worries!"

Wrong. Whether your footage is too dark or too light, you're going to have your work cut out for you in post. Lighting is often overlooked as an on set essential, but any professional will tell you it's the key to doubling the quality of your footage. Oftentimes, amateur filmmakers just use the lights they have available, be that natural or fluorescent. If you're really wanting this project to stand out, take some time to experiment with lighting options. Don't worry about buying a big fancy light kit just yet, try a few DIY tips and tricks first. If you're not sure you're getting the full picture from your tiny camera screen, pop out the memory card and check it out on your laptop. I promise, this will save you SO MUCH time and pain later.

3. Bad Sound - "I really don't think that AC sound will be a problem, I barely hear it!" 

WRONG! That's right, this one is in all caps and let me tell you why. You could shoot the best film ever made, high quality picture, future Oscar winning actors, and the most innovative cinematography techniques ever seen! But, if your audio sounds like it was capture on an iPhone, you're entire project is ruined. Nothing is more offensive to me personally than bad sound quality. Sure, you can fix a lot in post, but only if you're an audio software pro. That's why, anytime you shoot, anywhere you shoot, you should always capture room sound, always balance your audio levels, and always continue to check in on your audio gear to make sure your initial settings are still holding up. I also highly recommend using 2 audio sources, that way if something happens to one, you have a backup. Again, you don't need a bunch of fancy, top of the line equipment to make your audio sound good, just follow a few basic rules and you'll be covered. An audience can forgive a hiccup or two but won't forgive having to strain to hear clear dialogue.

4. Crystal Clear Focus - "Autofocus gets it perfect every time!" 

Wrong. If you're new to the business then you may not know just how the autofocus setting on your camera works. Let me break it down for you. Your camera's autofocus setting is likely center-weighted, which means it will focus on whatever object is taking up most of the middle of your frame. "Well, if my subject is centered in the frame, what's wrong with that?" Let's say you want to add a little composition to your shot so you decide to pan a little to the left. Well, your focus will shift too and now your once crystal clear shot is blurred out. "Ok, but I don't think I trust myself to keep the focus clear. What do I do now?" Study. Learning how to focus your shots is very very important if you intend on making a career out of filmmaking. We recommend using a few cheat sheets and shooting multiple takes of any shot. You're bound to get one right!

5. Getting Enough Coverage - "That take was perfect! It's a wrap!" 

Wrong. Sure, that take may have been absolutely perfect. But, what if you were so wrapped up in the scene, you missed that slip of the boom pole in the top of the frame? Without a backup take, you're out of luck! Always always always make sure you've gotten enough coverage of each scene. This means multiple takes and multiple angles. If you can, try a two-camera setup. This will allow you to cut seamlessly between two cameras and will ensure that you'll have at least one decent shot to use in the editing room. Never leave yourself without a plan B because, even if you can get the location, crew, and actors all back out in the field again for a reshoot, it's very likely it won't match up as perfectly as it would've if you had just gotten that 4th take on set the first time.

What you should've learned by now is...

So, the next time you hear someone on set say, "We'll just fix it in post!" respond accordingly. For you visual learners, here's what an appropriate response looks like:

Can you think of anything else that is absolutely necessary to get on set? Do you disagree with something I've mentioned here? If so, leave me a note in the comments below! 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Our Work: Your Business Needs APS Commercial Services

CLIENT: Assurance Power Systems, a network of franchise partners specializing in commercial standby and emergency home generators.

GOAL: Script and produce an animation that presents statistical information all small business owners should know about power outages, while demonstrating the services Assurance Power Systems offers to combat those issues.

SPOT: Your Business Needs APS Commercial Services

Monday, 15 December 2014

Top 5 Gift Ideas for the Editor You Love

It's that wonderful time of year again. It's time to spread joy and cheer. It's officially "the Holidays". Here at Swagger, we are extremely excited for the Holidays. We've selected our Secret Santas and little elves are dropping little pieces of Holiday Happiness around the office daily! Speaking of which...

'Tis the season for gift-giving!

It goes without saying that purchasing the latest Game of Thrones box set or the latest Apple gadget is a surefire way of winning with that lovely video editor in your life (face it, every creative person uses at least one Apple gadget, if not all). In my opinion, though, that's the easy way out, and that's what most will expect.

That's why I've decided, out of the kindness of my heart (wink wink), to compile a list of the top 5 gifts to give a Video/Film Editor. You can thank me in the comments below. :-)

1. Red Giant Color Suite 11
Regular Price $899. Sale Price $399 | Windows & Mac | Compatible with most editing software.

Every editor will tell you that color correcting can be extremely time consuming. So help alleviate the pressure by purchasing them this incredible color correcting plugin suite. This will get them home from the studio in enough time to enjoy the latest episode of Agents of Shield, and for a limited time, it's on sale.

2. Element 3D
$199 | Windows & Mac | Compatible with After Effects

Each year there is something our Post Supervisors want us to learn. This year, it's learning 3D. Element 3D extends what AE can do, giving you the ability to create "big budget-looking animations" that generally would require a 3D app (with a moderately high learning curve). The best part about this gift is there are additional plugins and packs that can be purchased, so around birthday time you can gift an additional pack. Two gifts in one!

3. CoreMelt Complete Pack
$200 | Windows & Mac | Compatible with Premiere Pro, After Effects, FCP7/X, Motion

Using the transitions that come with your non-linear editing software gets boring. Help the Editor that's dear to your heart impress his or her clients by purchasing this sweet set of plugins. CoreMelt Complete is a bundle of 8 plugin packs that contain 220+ video editing effects. It includes 2 packs of Transitions (Filmic & Grunge) that are particularly useful, as clients often want modern-looking transitions beyond what the stock transitions can do. Happy clients make for a happy Editor.

4. Hard Drive
$154.99 on Amazon - http://amzn.to/1w0fXaF 

You can never go wrong with gifting a hard drive. A hard drive always fills up, or crashes right when we are in the middle of the biggest editing project of our lives. (And by now you know - every editing project is the biggest editing project of our lives.) A few things to keep in mind when purchasing the hard drive for your wonderful video editor.

  • - Make sure it's at least 7200 RPM Drive
  • - USB, Thunderbolt, ESATA... the more options to connect the better.

They will always remember the time that Zeus (all editors have a thing for naming hard drives after Greek/Roman gods) started sputtering, turned off, somehow turned itself back on, and they were able to reach for your drive to move footage off of Zeus, saving the project, and SAVING THE DAY.

5. Gaming Mouse
Varied cost | Should have at least 9 buttons | Windows & Mac compatible

$22.99 from Amazon - http://amzn.to/1BEER2B

Just about every video editor I know also moonlights as a gamer. What better gift, then, than a gaming mouse that can suit both their gaming AND video editing needs? I know, you're thinking, "Gaming mouse for video editing??" Yes, they can program their preferred video editing software shortcuts to each button. Now marking, splicing, and moving their footage can happen in just 3 clicks. I promise you, they will be forever grateful.

Honestly, I would die for any one of these gifts. (Hint hint to any of my family/friends reading this blog post.) I'm certain the editor in your life would love them too.

To all my editing friends out there, what's on your list for the holidays? Comment below and let me know what I missed!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Our Work: Karli's Bear

CLIENT: Neighbors Emergency Center, a network of 24/7 emergency care centers staffed by board-certified physicians located in Houston, Austin, and Beaumont.

GOAL: Produce a :60 video that shares the incredible story of a young patient who, after her visit to Neighbors, made and donated a number of tutus to accompany the bears that are given to young patients at Neighbors Emergency Center.

SPOT: Karli's Bear

Monday, 8 December 2014

How to Finesse Your Videos in 3 Easy Steps

Being an editor is much more than just “cutting”, it’s about storytelling. It’s about the right cut at the right time; it’s about the perfect color temperature, the audio balance, the pace… Here at SWAGGER Media we have a “not-so-secret formula”, one that has proven to be a key part of our workflow. And today, I’m going to share that Swaggeriffic not-so-secret formula with all of you. We like to call it: the finessing process.

Finessing means refining, polishing or handling something with great skills. We believe that finessing is essential, especially in the post-production department, where stories are assembled, enhanced, wrapped up and delivered to our clients.

So, how exactly can you finesse your videos?

1. Work your color magic!

Questions you need to ask yourself: What color temperature/style are you looking for? Are you looking for a natural look (warmer or cooler, depending on the location or intention of your piece), or are you looking for something more complex?

Adobe Premiere has some standard color correction effects that can help you adjust and enhance the basics: brightness, contrast, lighting (shadows, mid-tones & highlights), temperature, saturation, etc. Our go-to effects are usually the Brightness & Contrast, Color Balance and Three Way Color Corrector.

After the basic adjustments are done, we also love to use other color correction plug-ins, especially when we’re searching for further looks and possibilities. FxFactory is one of our favorites suites; it works on Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere, and After Affects.

Here are some of the FxFactory effects we like to work with when finessing color:

-Lumetri Looks: This set of filters includes several Cinematic looks, special Saturation and Desaturation effects, Style looks (Sixties, Seventies…) and various temperature filters that can be easily applied and adjusted to your convenience. They come with a pretty cool sample guide to the right as well. 

-Vignette: We love to use soft and wide vignettes on some of our interview footage, to give it a bit of texture and center the attention on the subject(s).

-Vibrance: This one makes colors pop! But be careful; it needs to be well balanced with your saturation to avoid pixel issues.

-Bleach Bypass: We use it when we’re looking for a grungy, edgy, washed-out style.

Now, when the standard filters and other color plug-ins are not enough, we recommend using a color correction software like DaVinci Ressolve, especially when working with Black Magic footage.

2. Master your audio!

-Level your tracks: Is your volume balanced throughout the entire video? Are there any involuntary inconsistencies, high peaks or very low portions? Are the audio channels panned correctly? Our recommendation is to monitor your audio to make sure it stays between -6 & -12dB, always avoiding unnecessary peaks or low patches.

-Play with your music: What’s the purpose of your music track? Is it your main and only audio track or is it the background piece of a voice over/subject? Do you want to use the entire track or just a fragment? Music is a remarkable tool if you use it in your favor. Listen to it, look for the right beat and time your cuts to it. Play with its levels (turn it up during your intro, outro or climax moment; turn it down when you need it as a subtle background), add a music break or even even re-edit the track if needed.

-Pauses are ok: Intentional silences or pauses are very powerful. Don’t be afraid to pause or fade out your audio if you need to focus on a clip/image, or if you want to go to black and keep it silent for a couple of seconds. Use pauses wisely.

-Avoid rough audio cuts: We tend to get room tones on set so we can insert them in-between audio cuts. This helps us get a smooth and even tone throughout our audio tracks, which can also be improved by adding a quick 5-10 frame crossfade between the cuts. -It’s all about the details!

3. Check your timing!

-VO timing: If your piece has a voice over or narrator, use it as a guide for where to cut. You can cut per sentence, per statement, or just follow the voice over’s pace to accomplish a natural rhythm.

-Music timing: If your project has music, cut your clips to the beat or the many beats of your song. Adding markers to your track or timeline is always helpful.

-Action timing: Forget about the 3 seconds cutting rule. Cut with intent! For example, cutting right in-between the same action from a wide camera to a tight camera is usually very effective (same thing from tight to wide). Cutting in and out of a clip while a camera movement is going on, could make your video flow nicely as well. Also, avoid cutting to a clip before the action or the camera movement starts.

This is it: the 3 basic steps of our finessing process! Don’t forget to also keep an eye on your transitions and effects, if you have any. –But that is material for another blog post!

So tell us, what do you do when you’re finessing your own videos or projects? Is there any tip or recommendation you can add to this finessing guide? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the section below or tweet @swagger_media!

¡Hasta la próxima!