When we were asked about feedback on how we would rate and/or improve the 160MC module, I pointed out we don’t get enough technical training. Most colleagues disagreed with me, but I think the People to People films came to prove my point.
I think that before we are left to deal with expensive equipment and the problems it (and our using it) cause, we need some more training, step by step instructions and ‘What if’s covering the most common mistakes.
Below is a list of the most common problems I had to deal with, and also noticed other people struggling with:
First of all, sound. Of course, sound is widely neglected, so I wasn’t really surprised that very few of the films had decent sound. Still, there were a couple of films where the quality of the sound hindered the impact of the film – it was hard to understand what the interviewee was saying. Another problem was that some films had a stereo sound track with only one channel recorded – resulting in lack of sound when played in the lecture theatre with a broken left channel. There is a way around it – even if the raw files have a single channel, it can be fixed in post – either by forcing to mono, or copying the left channel onto the right one.
Next comes white balance. There were films where the interviewee was wearing white clothes and the balance was still wrong. Even if that is the case, most (not to say all) editing software have some kind of colour correction tool or filter, so it can be fixed (or at least improved) in post-production.
Shaking camera and focusing/zooming while recording was also very common. As well as too long and intrusive close-ups. Again, I am guilty of that myself, but thankfully it was only in a small bit of the footage we had, and we ended up not using it. I think this is the good side of using two cameras at this stage even though we were advised against it – if one operator gets too excited and starts zooming in and out, focusing and shaking, you at least have the other camera’s footage as back up.
Another problem, which my group faced as well (we had to deal with almost all the problems mentioned here), was recording and editing in HD. In my personal opinion, it is too early for most of us to work in HD. Of course, there are some people on the course that have previous experience with both standard and high definition video, but the majority of us (including myself) need to first understand the concept of video recording and editing, before we start to strive for crystal clear picture quality. The basic rules about lighting, composition, recording, colours, etc., are valid for both standard and high definition. However, encoding / decoding HD footage, working with it and playing it back often creates more problems than it solves. My group even decided HD was more important than our interviewee, so we had to decline one of her invitations to go and film her, because all the HD cameras were taken…
Which brings me to my other observation: the default period for booking equipment is 24 hours. From the cables to the cameras. With the high demand on cameras, why not make the default period one hour? Then everyone would think twice before booking it for a whole day when they only need it for 3 hours (I am guilty of that myself, too…). Even if we are allowed to book a maximum 24-hour period, it would make a big difference if the default period is shorter. People rarely edit this period. Plus, while you have taken out the camera and someone else is trying to book it, the system has no clue you will return it in two hours, and thinks it is unavailable until tomorrow. Which puts more obstacles in other people’s projects.
Next comes cross-platform, cross-software, cross-format and cross-whatever-you-can-think-of compatibility problems of all the various file formats, codecs and settings. The options we have at every stage are mind-boggling: mono or stereo sound, single or double channel, 8 or 16 bit, uncompressed or compressed, Windows or Mac-native (and that is only for sound…); Standard or High definition, Interlaced or Progressive, 4:3 or 16:9, various bitrate settings and sizes, lossy or lossless codecs, and all the compatibility problems of software versions and operating systems. Plus, there are less than 30 computers with Final Cut Pro installed (that I know of), while the people that are expected to use Final Cut Pro are 70+ just on our course, just First Year’s. Then comes the availability of these computers – because the room is often used for lectures/workshops that don’t need computers, let alone Final Cut Pro, leaving the students out. The only computers that are usually available (the ones in the Avid room), don’t have anything else than Avid (what’s wrong with Premiere?), and can’t work with HD.
So I ask: Why are we encouraged to use the HD cameras before we can get a decent result of an SD camera? And if we do need to film in HD, why do we get little to no training?
If it is up to me to choose, I would go for a PDX-10 for the next project I need to work on. It is smaller, has less settings (which decreases the risk of messing something up), its case is not that bulky (making it more mobile), and its footage can be played back on more systems; recording the final piece onto a DV tape is also easier. So instead of dealing with numerous technical problems, I would probably be able to focus on the production itself.
This post is a result of a one week battle with all these (and many more) problems while trying to deliver our documentary on time, in a reliable file format. I do believe our piece is decent on the technical side, but lacks depth in terms of content, because we weren’t able to focus on content while dealing with all the technical issues.
I am aware that this course is a practical one, with focus on ‘learning by doing’, and I respect that. I think I am amongst the people that actually know their way around most of the equipment, but I am facing all these problems. From the colleagues I spoke with in other groups this week, I know lots of people struggle with the equipment as well. It is obvious from the final pieces, too – including the one I worked on. So I think I am not alone in this, and would love to read your comments!