Desktop Video: Scripting, Logging and More

Owning a desktop computer won’t help you with standard video production techniques. Computer or no computer, you must still master the basics of camcorders, audio, lighting and so on.

Where the computer is a big help is with any project that 1) requires organization; and 2) lends itself to automation. For example: you would probably want to write your script with a word processor. This puts it in a form you can easily rearrange when preparing shot lists and shooting schedules.

Another example is editing. With a computer, you can now oversee the tasks once performed only by edit controllers.

In this and the next several columns, we’ll explore exactly what your computer can do for your video (see sidebar). We’ll begin with a look at using the word processing, database and other functions of the desktop computer as an aid in scripting, preproduction planning, shot logging and media library management.

Scripts and Sets

Programs like Plots Unlimited and Storyline help you develop and structure your plot line. They force you to:

1) Clarify the premise of a story;

2) Specify your characters;

3) Spell out their actions and conflicts with the other characters; and

4) Control the pace of story development and conflict resolution.

PlayWrite, Scriptor and John Morley’s Scriptwriting Tools make up another class of programs; they help you format your scripts in the standard layouts for Hollywood scripts and/or industrial videos.

Another standard format for presenting script ideas is the storyboard. While storyboarding is often an intrinsic part of a general DTV editing program, you can also buy a dedicated program like Storyboarder. The storyboard facilitates your visualization of the script.

A number of programs assists with this visualization process. Simple slideshow or presentation programs like Power Point, Compel and Astound reproduce the pacing and timing of a piece with a succession of stills, sounds and even captured video.

With 2D animation programs like Macromind Director, you can move around stick or cartoon-like characters. At the high end, 3D animation programs like Infini, 3D-Studio and Virtus WalkThrough create “walk throughs” of sets before you build them. You decide on camera angles and moves in a computer-synthesized environment much like that of virtual reality.

Budgets and Time Management

Beyond scripting and visualization, the computer can assist with the enormous number of details associated with a video production.

Specialized film/video budgeting programs like Movie Magic Budgeting boast massive templates that cover all possible expenses. You fill in those that fit your production. Keep your changes up to date; the program will tell you when and where you’re going over budget.

Almost as bad as running out of money is running out of time. Scheduling programs help you rearrange your shot list, turning it into an efficient shooting schedule. Only rank amateurs shoot a video in the order of the script scenes. With a scheduling program, you can group together those scenes that you’ll shoot in the same place with the same characters and props.

Simulations and Prompters

The biggest use for a computer in production these days is simulation. The computer screen itself simulates the desired effect–from a police department’s record system to a nuclear power plant’s control screen.

You may experience special problems videotaping some computer screens. A black roll bar sometimes appears when the scan rate of the monitor doesn’t match the 30 frames, 60 fields rate of the camcorder. A genlock/overlay card can provide you with a solid recordable signal.

The computer can also serve as kind of a TelePrompter for your on-screen talent. Several low-cost programs will scroll your text in large visible letters; some products come with a half-silvered mirror that in effect turns your computer monitor into a prompter.


Probably the single most valuable thing a DTV computer can do for your video production is track every frame of material you’ve recorded–along with comments that help you retrieve a clip or shot quickly when you need it. This is the logging function, the essential prerequisite to efficient editing.

Most of us start logging after we shoot the footage; but you should know that there are tools that facilitate logging both before and during shooting. In a tightly scripted project, especially short format work like commercials, the director may specify shots in advance to an exact frame duration. When the director knows the shot is “in the can,” he or she “circles” that “take” on the shooting list, which then becomes the beginning of the log.

One program designed to run in a notepad computer like the Apple Newton has a cable that connects to the time code output of a professional camcorder. When the camera starts and stops, it creates a record of the start–in-point–and stop–out-point–times of the shot. This in essence creates a log during shooting.

You can use automatic scene-identifying programs like Dubner’s Scene Stealer to locate these in- and out-points in post production. You play a time-coded work tape; Scene Stealer creates new in- and out-point times whenever the visual scene changes abruptly. This presumably corresponds to when you start and stop the camcorder.

Of course, the most economical way to log your shots is to look at a work tape with a “window burn” of the time-code numbers. You can do this with a home VCR and your word-processing program. Just pause the tape at desired edit points; enter the time codes into a plain text file in a format compatible with your logging and editing software.

However you come by your log list of points, it’s important to add comments that will allow you to retrieve them rapidly later. Hours invested in careful logging are hours saved at the more costly editing stage. These searchable comment fields are the great strength of all the logging programs, even the least expensive like the Abbate Video Toolkit. Other logging programs include: Avid’s Videoshop Logger, Image Logic Log Producer, Pipeline Digital Autolog and Open Eyes Scene Locator.

All of these logging programs come with device control cables to read time code from your tapes and shuttle the decks. The pricier programs use only RS-422 and sometimes RS-232 control protocols. The less expensive, like Video Toolkit, actually offer the widest range of device control, including: Sony Control-L (LANC), Panasonic Control-M, Sony VISCA; and NEC PC-VCR, RS-232 and RS-422 among others.

One excellent use for your logging program is to build a database of clips in any tape libraries or stock footage you might buy. Libraries like those from Merkel Films, Archive Films and Media-Pedia Video Clips often have in-points and out-points in an index.

Enter those values in your log program, and presto! Getting the scene for use in an edit session is as simple as transferring the clip to an edit decision list. This is trivial in logging programs that are also edit controllers like the Abbate Video Toolkit.

Coming Next Month

In next month’s column on edit controllers, we’ll learn what you can do with all those logged clips, now that you’ve got them.

Videomaker contributing editor Bob Doyle runs a desktop video group and Hi8 users group. Send e-mail to 71161,

What DTV Does for Your Video

There are five basic ways in which you can manipulate the video signal with DTV. An understanding of these DTV types should help you visualize what kind of DTV you want to do, and what you need to do it.

1) Edit Control. Video signals bypass the computer and go straight from the source deck to the record deck. You only connect control signals–LANC, Control-M, RS-232, RS-422–to the computer. Your video remains analog; the computer does not digitize it.

Some of the least expensive DTV products are edit controllers, notably the Gold Disk Video Director and Abbate’s Video Toolkit. They do what is now being called analog linear tape-based editing.

2) Titles/Overlays. Video enters the computer, which digitizes and mixes it with computer graphics data. Apart from a slight delay of up to one frame time (1/30 second), the resulting mixed signal outputs immediately for you to record to tape.

3) Switcher/SEG. You connect multiple video signals–A/B, A/B/C and so on–to the card in the computer, which digitizes them, mixes them together and outputs them in real time.

The NewTek Video Toaster is perhaps the best-known of all desktop switcher/SEGs. The Toaster has been joined by products like Fast’s Video Machine and the Matrox Studio, switchers with built-in time-base correctors and edit controllers.

4) Nonlinear Editing. You can edit with just one videotape machine. The computer digitizes your video and stores it on a very large hard disk. The computer mixes video images (transitions) by computing or “rendering” the desired effect in computer memory; it then stores the results on hard disk. You can play back the final program later from the hard disk, for previews and the making of master dubs.

This is the fastest-growing part of desktop video. You can get started in nonlinear editing with low-cost software products like Adobe Premiere and Avid Videoshop. Affordable hardware includes Supermac’s VideoSpigot and the Intel Smart Video Recorder.

5) Computer-generated Imagery. The DTV computer becomes your source of original video material, painting and drawing 2-D and 3-D animations, multi-layer compositing and key framing video moves, and image processing like rotoscoping, morphing, warping, and mapping one video on part of something else.

In the latter two, your edit master is really the digital data stored in the computer, enabling you to make many high-quality videotape sub-master copies.

You will now see, for example, that the popular NewTek Video Toaster is primarily a switcher/SEG (Type 3), with title/graphic overlay (Type 2), plus a paint program and a great 3D animation program, Lightwave 3-D (Type 5). It is not an edit controller (Type 1). The new Video Toaster Flyer is a nonlinear editing option (Type 4).

In upcoming columns, we’ll examine each of these DTV functions in turn. Stay tuned.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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