Friday, December 18, 2009

Love and Hate

I have a love/hate relationship with the Lowel lighting fixtures that are in my kit.

Good in some situations, bad in others, especially when you need a lot of control.

But they sure do make it easy to buy spare parts.

More companies should be like that.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Title Safe

I recently edited a project with multiple outputs, and the biggest headache was getting title graphics and keys to conform to everyone's specs. The most difficult was the SD 4:3, which meant that the titles ended up essentially centered on the screen. 16:9 versions had a heavy left justification.

Through all of this, I kept mulling over the relevance of action safe and title safe. Are they just leftover working practices from the tube monitor days? Given the percentage of people who A. receive their television via cable or satellite, which delivers a stable image and B. the percentage who watch their television on some kind of non-tube-based device, should we really care anymore?

My kids love the new "Electric Company" series that PBS is producing, and they watch a SD down-conversion of my local affiliate's HD feed. A high percentage of the graphics lose a letter on one side of the frame or the other. Shots are clearly composed for 16:9, which no "4:3 Protect" going on. The show is still highly entertaining.

If PBS has moved on, can't the rest of us?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Profits In The Era Of File Sharing

This post about Comcast's COO playing the "Damn Kids" card kinda misses the point:

"An entire generation is growing up, if we don't figure out how to change that behavior so it respects copyright and subscription revenue on the part of distributors, we're going to wake up and see cord cutting."

The comments set the story right, especially "Schmoker":

"It has long been established that once a network broadcasts a show for free over the airwaves (and cablewaves) it is fair game. You could videotape it and share it to your hearts content so long as you did not charge for it. That's been the law ever since the VCR was introduced. Now, thanks to the internet making modern "tape sharing" so easy and widespread, they want all sharing to be made illegal."

Schmoker then goes on to cite the dozens of cable strips that make money both when broadcast and on DVD. (BSG anyone?) He nails it in his close:

"They simply want the laws changed in order to try and recreate a scenario that is never coming back: being able to make money off of failure."

Audiences will pay for quality. Online exposure through piracy can help you if you are smart.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


I think recognizing a music cut on ESPN as one you have used in your day job defines one as a loser.

Guilty as charged.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why is a Center Cut so hard?

I'm working on a project for a client that uses 16:9 source material. They need a 4:3 output.

On a PC Avid Newscutter that is pretty much an impossible task.

The path of least resistance is actually to export 16:9 Same as Source, import into After Effects, and let AE do the math. You export whatever size raster you want.

Amazing that the market leader falls down on something that seems that simple.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Word is working its way down the chain that Avid will soon (if not already) sell tech support for Final Cut Pro in addition to the myriad of Avid tools. I think this is smart and long overdue.

First, since nobody really does paid support for FCP, its a market waiting to be exploited. While we all have had our complaints about Avid Tech Support, the do have the infrastructure to take on another line of service. Hire some experts and away you go.

Second, I think it is a smart strategy to take with a product that had been eroding your market share. You become a one stop shop for all of those facilities that have both programs in house. You may even develop ways for the two programs to work together.

The biggest advantage to the new service (besides cash) may be in product research. Providing tech support for a product will give you tremdous insight into what it does well and where the weaknesses are. You will gain an intimate understand of how users apply FCPs features, and you could develop your Avid product line in the long term to take advantage of those weaknesses. You can build a product that competes with FCP head-to-head if you want to, or at least understand where your tool is "Pro" and where theirs is "Toy" if you want to market that way.

Both programs have much to learn from the other. For the consumer, Avid Tech Support is a good option, considering the alternative.


Saturday, August 22, 2009


It should go without saying, but anyone who can do NASCAR race coverage using a jib has serious, serious skills.

Example #384 of how average I am.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sign of the Times

One of the trade mags I receive gave me the following choice: Pay us $20 to renew your print version, or let the electronic version fill your in box for free.

Another step forward in the decline of print.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Right Tool

I feel like I need to give a tip 'o the hat every single day I edit to whoever thought up the "Fit To Fill" tool. It gets me out of so many editing corners. Nice work, anonymous software coder!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Marketing FAIL

I'm sorry, but to me every ad in Microsoft's current campaign says:

"Our products aren't as sucky as you think they are."

Plus, the whole "Find what you need for less" angle pretty much cedes the high-margin segment of the market to Apple. I'm sure PC makers are psyched about that pitch.

Full disclosure: I use several Microsoft products at work each day, including an Avid on XP. But bad marketing is bad marketing.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Period MJ

A nice live performance of Thriller, and a very tasty period video wipe.

Probably used as the second encore.


Live Shot

How did ESPN get a live shot of Dick Vitale from Mackinac Island, MI?

They don't allow vehicles on the island, especially sat trucks. Portable kit? TV Geeks want to know!



I was reminded again today that life isn't fair.

Sometimes dorks and hacks and schmucks rise to the top of the pile.

Sometimes serious, hard working, talented people get pushed to the curb with yesterday's coffee grounds.

Normally, I believe in karma, in getting what you deserve.

Tonight, I'm taking a hiatus from that. On the rocks.

Tomorrow it's back to work, trying to make my own luck.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'89, Batman, and the Film Business

An excellent analysis of Batman and its influence on Hollywood.

Sometimes you realize you a watching something important at the time, and sometimes you don't. Batman was fun, but I certainly didn't see the ripples it was casting.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


I must tread carefully to protect the innocent:

A friend repeated a conversation he had with the fellow who runs his unit. There is a couple of layers of management between my friend and Important Man.

Important Man: "How long does it take you to do that thing you normally do?"

Friend: "It varies, but 3-4 hours is a good average."

IM: "I really don't understand why it should take more than 10 minutes. 20 if you are adding music."

Obviously, it's hard to continue the conversation at that point. When the person who signs your paycheck- whether that person is your boss or your client- has no understanding of what you do, you have to wonder how they establish value to your work. If they think your job can be done up to 1200% faster than how you do it, you have to assume there is a bit of wage pressure on your salary or day rate, to say the least. Is a 91% pay cut far behind?

I see and hear it all the time in our business, that managers and clients somehow expect Hollywood quality work to be done in the time it takes to order a cup of coffee, and for the same $4. Yet they fully understand the reason different restaurants, autos, lawyers and houses are priced the way they are. Is the problem that they don't buy enough "video" to understand the range of the market? Are they conditioned by the low cost of the video that flows from their TV?

But my biggest concern is the apparent lack of interest of the Important Men of the world to learn why projects cost what they do. They can fully explain why they drive a Lexus and not a Corolla, but video is and should remain another commodity to be purchased by the 5-gallon bucket at the lowest price-per-pixel.

Client expectations is always a struggle.


Instant Stats

As a low-level stat geek, I would argue that the biggest step forward in TV sports is not HD, but graphics packages that can update stats in real time.

I was highly entertained by an ESPN game this week that would list the hitter's batting average in each situation of the pitch count; .312 when it's 2-0, but .235 at 2-1, and then .215 at 2-2. I assume that the system is adding data with each pitch, so if a batter sees his third 2-0 pitch of the night the previous outcomes will be reflected in the data.

Not being a graphics person, I don't know if features like that are more or less work in the truck, but they certainly add to the quality of my viewing experience.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just Say No

There is a whole lot to like in this blog about saying no to dropping your fees.

Amen, brother.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Color Correction

I know these rants get old, but here goes:

I'm watching a baseball game, and on comes a 15 second spot for an alcohol-branded drinking/drinking facility attached to the home stadium of one of the teams. Big time sponsor here. The exteriors look fine, and then they go inside.

You guessed it- it's a bit blue. Not-Oh-My-God-Everyone-Is-A-Smurf-Blue, but blue enough that:

a) it looked odd by itself
b) it looked horrible intercut with properly colored exteriors

I never know if I should be relived or appalled that the clients approved such a spot, or that the folks who produced the spot presented it to the client without fixing the color issue. Which is worse?

Should I be happy that the bar is so low, increasing my confidence in finding future work, or be frustrated that someone got paid despite negligence?



Monday, May 18, 2009

Good, Fast, Cheap

There is an old joke that you can get something done, good, fast and cheap as long as you only pick two options. The third is always impossible given the other two. Good and fast is never cheap. Cheap and good is seldom fast. Fast and cheap is rarely good. it applies to most things in life.

I chuckled today as I read the ad for a local video production company. The bottom of their ad reads: "Fast- Easy- Inexpensive" which is dangerously close to: "Fast- Good- Cheap".

So either this company has somehow overcome one of the constants of the universe, or they are setting up conflicts with clients when the results- in this case, the "good" side of the equation- don't meet client expectations. Perhaps it is really just a teaser ad, "The first taste is free" come-on, where the buyer ends up paying dearly in the end. But it raises a bigger question- what kind of client is this ad going to attract?

If I have learned anything in my career its that the last client you want is the one that is price sensitive. The price sensitive client only came to you from someone else because they percieve a lower cost or greater value, and will just as quickly abandon you for the next guy willing to deliver the same product for less. Margins will be wafer thin, and the client will be constantly beating you up over price, hacking away at that tiny margin. You will be busy and barely keeping yourself fed. Sounds like fun.

When you put the word "Cheap" in your marketing materials you immediately cede the advantage to the client; you can never submit a bid with any kind of decent margin because you have already labeled yourself as the low-cost provider. You had better have serious capacity in place because you are going to need to run insane margins to pay the bills.

You can be Good, Fast and Cheap, but only two things at once. Nobody can be all three.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Captive Ads

One of the few places that advertisers have a truly captive audience is the movie theater. While waiting for Star Trek to start (worth all of the praise, BTW) I had the choice of either playing with my phone or watching the ads. I chose the latter.

My only complaint is that some advertisers choose to run their regular TV ad, which sometimes improves on the big screen, and sometimes does not. Like advertisers who do not submit an HD ad to an HD program they have bought into, I am surprised that companies don't present something unique in the theaters.

The movie ad can still present the marketing message of the day, but an ad that only appears in the theaters will have added impact of being new to most of the audience. Take another step forward and utilize the large screen to ad impact to the message. Try a longer or shorter legnth than you normally do.

Do something for gosh sakes. I am a captive audience- show me something new. Entertaining me would be a bonus.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Marketing Brilliance

The right way and wrong way to market a new product:

Panasonic doesn't get it.

Canon does.




I'm probably the only person who would use it, but I would find an Excel-like auto-fill function handy today.

I am logging a bin of a couple hundred clips and find myself entering the same kind of information over and over. While I can cut and paste if I have a series of clips in a row, a random group that needs the same six descriptions gets tiresome. The auto fill would speed things up.

I know, yet another thing to bog down the Avid software.


Monday, April 27, 2009


Today I recaptured a project I worked on two years ago, and I was struck immediately how foreign my work looks. It's a fine project by itself, but it just looks so different from what I made last week in a general sense.

It's easy to get wrapped into a bubble of the moment, so it is good to see that my work is evolving into something that I think is better.

This comes a few days after watching the effects demo reel for a local production house, and feeling that I have no bloody idea how to create effects outside of your basic green screen gag. It was really humbling, and further confirmation that my experience and skills cover a very narrow slice of the production universe. You can only know so much, I suppose, and the only way to gain new skills is to work on projects that take you in new directions. It's a bit of a chicken/egg situation.


Monday, April 20, 2009

AE options

AfterEffects can be insanely handy for some jobs that can be otherwise clumsy. Today I had to do a simple resize of some QT files that were produced by a third party, but were delivered incorrectly.

Resizing each in AE was straightforward: Create a project at the resolution you wish to output, inport the bad file, and run some scaling tests until you find the result you need. Our issue was a bad square/round pixel relationship.

My discovery of the day? Once AE works on something in the render queue, if you need to make a small adjustment to one of the settings so you can run it again, simply highlight the render in question and duplicate- you get a nice fresh item in the queue, ready to be adjusted. Nice.

This fixed a problem another editor had been banging his head over for a few days. It's fun being the hero rather than the goat.

Stay busy.



Thursday, April 16, 2009

Avid Naming

I did a major housekeeping of the Avid that is not on shared storage, and thus not on Interplay, so media deletion is a more manual affair.

As I was digging about the media folders looking for orphaned clips I was glad that Avid added less cryptic naming conventions to their software. I am old enough to remember the time when every file in the media folder would be named something like:


At least now the files are named something like:


It's the little things.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Catch It While You Can

A few months ago I sampled Guiding Light, which had switched from the traditional soap production format to a handheld, small format, shoot everything in the field kind of storytelling. I thought it looked underlit, and, well, cheap. (Note: I would only attempt this with a DVR. Catch it while you can.

Unfortunately, the producers didn't really exploit the small cameras by radically evolving their style- the show still cut like your traditional soap. Perhaps they were limited in what they could try by the unions, writers, producers, or the fear of losing the 35 viewers they had left. Perhaps it was a decision made by an accountant who picked up a "Broadcast Quality at 10% of the price!" brochure at Best Buy.

Whatever margins the lower production costs drove were not enough to save the series from cancellation.

I hate seeing folks lose their jobs, but I am relieved that the strategy of making your show look worse than the competition, with no benefit for the viewer, was not rewarded.


Saturday, March 21, 2009


I sent some tapes I shot this week to a post house, and I don't envy their position. They hadn't encountered DVCPro HD tapes shot in 1080 30P.

One of the advantages of my one-man-band-world is that I can learn what I my gear does and leave it at that. A post house has to learn every possible format that material can be sent and figure out how to ingest it into their edit system. In today's 57 format universe, that has to be dizzying at times.

That was one advantage of the 3/4 U-matic and beta days- passing tapes about didn't require an electronic Babel Fish to make them all work together.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tipping Points

My research on Adobe Premiere is leading me in this direction:

1. Premiere has issues with DVCProHD, which I work in and will soon distribute;
2. Since hardly anyone uses Premiere, it is very hard to hire freelancers to edit in it, which we do on occasion.
3. Reports of bugginess, especially when you start tying a bunch Photoshop, Illustrator, AfterEffect and Premiere bits into one project.

For some things Premiere sounds like a handy tool, especially if working in a non-TV aspect ratio. If I ever get a free day to experiment, I may break out a demo.

Much thanks to the forums at Creative Cow.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Avid QT Export

Does anyone else have difficulty exporting a QT file that doesn't have washed out gamma? I'm still trying to find a decent workaround for that one.



Avid has released keyframable color correction to the Newscutter. I can now solve some problems with the lousy amateur video I must deal with occasionally.

That was going to be a "Missing Avid Features" post, so they beat me to the complaint. Nice job! Perhaps in another decade or so this will be a solid tool.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adobe Premiere

I'm searching for reasonable pros and cons of using Adobe Premiere in an HD broadcast environment.

DVCProHD, P2, shared storage, and output to everything from HD tape to YouTube and flash.

I can find stand alone reviews, but not comparisons of AP to FCP and the various Avid platforms. Personal experience a plus. I assume a few things have changed since I last used it in 2K.

The one feature I recall from an NAB demo was auto updating of other Adobe projects in the Premiere timeline. That's some nice engineering, but I need more to consider it a viable option.

My biggest issue is finding freelancers to work on it.



Saturday, February 28, 2009

OS Progress

The upgrade of the OS on my mac has had another surprising downside: I can no longer map Avid keyboard commands to keys F5-F9. The Mac OS has uses for them now.

I mapped my various Avid toolsets to those F keys and could rapidly bounce between them depending on the job I was doing at the moment. I find using the pull down much less convenient.

Its the little details that make a difference in useability.



I was reminded this week how limited my AfterEffects skills are. I'm a three-trick pony in AE, which doesn't get me very far.

That is the frustrating aspect of my industry- the skill set is so wide, the requests are so broad, that it is challenging to be competent at everything you are asked to do. Specialization is most effective, but those of us who in the One-Man-Band role have a tougher nut to crack.

There are lots of jobs where technique takes a back seat to getting the job done. But if you have bad AE skills it is really obvious. I'm exhibit A. I see tutorials in my future.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Data Loss

I've been playing catch up this week due to data loss.

An upgrade of the OS went off as scheduled, but it unfortunately erased about two years of projects that were stored on that computer. When the system was added to the shared storage array, the projects were still being stored locally. Pilot error that didn't kick in for about 18 months.

The primary effect was losing the bin data on a half dozen projects that are in production, but it will also mean that if asked to make changed or simply recreate an old project I will be starting from scratch.

In the old CMX days there would have been pages of notes and perhaps a paper EDL to work from on the rebuild, but not anymore. Digital does have drawbacks, and I'm living them this week.


Friday, February 20, 2009


Personally, I'm appalled that one of my local affiliates, which chose to delay their DTV transition to the new date, is marketing their actions as a "looking out for you, our viewer, and not wanting you to be without our signal" public service.

The fact that their main competitor went ahead and made the switch is merely a coincidence.

I guess their definition of "public service" is pretty broad, and includes the Billy Grahmn specials that sometimes blow out their prime time lineup and the infomercials they run on Saturday afternoons.


Sunday, February 8, 2009


I digitized several hours of content this week, and took that time to thumb through the pile of industry trades that had piled up on my desk the last few months.

Despite consolidation within ownership of the trades, thin margin have forced one group of magazines to recycle content across many of their titles. I saw the same article verbatim in four different magazines, pictures and all.

The trades are more and more a mirror of the industry they cover.

One of the trades I had found interesting, Studio, if only because it focused on "How To" articles on creating looks using specific software tools has now gone all-digital, with no printed version. I am curious if their business model will be more successful by bypassing the printer and USPS.

If they are, my employer has some lessons to learn from Studio.


Saturday, January 31, 2009


As a point of reference, the BBC needed over 20 years to turn off their Black and White transmitters after turning on their (non-compatible) color transmitters in 1964.

Our own DTV transition will take a while. Politicians fear noting more than little old ladies who can't watch their Matlock.

Our SD transmitters will be on for a while.



I have noticed this month a number of network shows that have abandoned the whole "protect for 4:3" workflow. Both The Office and SNL have had scenes with characters with speaking parts scattered across the 16:9 frame, like they were shooting a Robert Altman film.

The question moving forward for those who will be watching downconverted HD content on legacy 4:3 screens- will you watch the full frame image and lose some characters, or use the letterboxed view and tolerate the slightly smaller image?

If you get local channels through cable or satellite, like I do on a couple of TVs, will you have a choice?


Friday, January 16, 2009

Timeline Frames

Another missing Avid feature: when using frame view in the timeline, the head frame is the only that can be used, which isn't of much help when you have a transition of some kind on that head frame.

In a perfect world, the user could choose exactly what frame of each clip is displayed, like you can in the bins.

When I'm King.....


The Freelance Mentality

The company I work for laid off around 9% of its staff last week, and that resulted in an odd couple of days. While no one in my corner of the org chart got the axe, a few I new in other units did. I understand the math behind it- revenues have fallen off a cliff, and cutting loose those salaries will help margins for a quarter or two moving forward. But it still is no fun.

The hardest art to accept was that many of the layoffs had less to do with the quality of work and more to do with the part of the building you worked in. Some dead wood was cut away, but some high performers were let go because they had become a luxury from a financial standpoint.

I had a conversation with a freelance friend of mine who called to check up on me when the layoffs hit the news. He and I agreed that we each need to adopt more of the other's view of the working world- I need to approach each day as if that day's performance will determine if I get to come back the next, much like a freelancer faces each time he reports for a gig. My freelance friend needs to put energy into the long-term relationship he has with each of his clients, and lessen the "what-can-I-do-for-you-today" mindset that is easy to develop when you work for someone one day at a time.

At the base of it, we're all day-to-day, so we might as well act like it.