Production Power

As a start-up video production company, we had just finished our first commercial product, a 70-minute boating "how-to" tape. We were happy with the quality and content but knew if we were going to be cost-effective and productive, we needed some more production tools to help us. Rather than search for and invest in video-production specific software, we turned to the productivity-suite tools we already had installed on our computer, the Microsoft-Office applications.

Most PCs delivered today have the Microsoft Office products already installed. But there are a host of other products available. The ones we use are MS-Access, a database, MS-Excel, a spreadsheet, MS-PowerPoint, presentation software and MS-Word, a word processor. All of the principles taught here will translate to whatever similar applications you work with on your PC or Mac. Since we were already familiar with the operations of these software packages, we were able to adapt them to our video needs quickly, and we found that it was quite advantageous.



Labels, Logs and Content

That first production of ours used up the better part of 28, 60-minute Mini DV tapes. We soon realized that we would need to label and track all of our tapes. The first step was to generate the tape labels for our DV tapes. We found that a standard address label would just fit on the plastic DV case and, best of all, we already had these on hand.

We set up a spreadsheet in MS-Excel to print the labels. The label consisted of two bordered boxes with the tape ID printed both horizontally and vertically. Borders made a nice frame while we generated the tape numbers using a simple formula based on an arbitrary starting number entered outside of the print area. We placed the labels on the exterior of the plastic case with the same number written on the much smaller DV tape label.

We then used MS-Access to build a tape log database containing the tape ID, the tape type (VHS-C, Mini DV, etc.) and the date we recorded using the tape.

Once we had numbered all of our tapes, we could then begin tracking the contents. We shoot our video in the order we are doing the work, not necessarily in the sequence the final tapes will appear. Without keeping track of the tape contents, we risked missing scenes, in editing, that we shot or possibly reshooting existing shots unnecessarily. We built the tape contents log using MS-Access database software. It’s a simple database that contains the tape-log number and a brief description of its contents.

When we had several different topics on a tape, we made a separate entry in the database for each topic. We tried to keep the descriptions of the projects the same, so "Replacing Ports," for example, might appear on three or four different tapes. By using the Sort function in Access we could then get a listing of all tapes with "Replacing Ports" shots. This saved us precious time when we began assembling the shots for editing.



Edit Decision Lists

Sitting there with 28 hours of video, we had to decide how to put it all together. Once again, we turned to MS-Access to build our Edit Decision List (EDL) database. This database was a bit more complex, though. In addition to the Tape ID, it also contained Start Time, Stop Time, Sequence, Description, EditDV File Name and Segment fields.

Lets discuss our editing process so these fields make some sense. We capture clips from our Mini DV camcorder. We edit on a PC with two 20GB hard drives, so space is usually at a premium. To help save space, we preview all of our tapes and only capture the clips we plan to use. As we preview and select clips, we enter the tape ID, the starting and stopping points and the description in the database. We try to review tapes as often as possible; ideally the same day we shoot the footage.

Now this next step really starts saving us time. Once we’ve got all the shot information for a batch of tapes entered into our database, we print out a capture report. This report lists all entries in our database with a blank filename. The report is sorted by tape ID and start time, which gives us a complete list of the clips we need to capture in the session. The report tells us where the clip will start and stop and they’re all in sequential order by tape.

We open up our capture utility and begin capturing the clips we want. As we capture each clip and save to disk, each is assigned a filename, which we write down on the capture report. When we have finished our capture session, we go back and enter the filenames in the database. This will notify our MS-Access database that we have already done the capture and not to print that entry again.

We use MS-PowerPoint to do our titles, PC-screen prints and graphics (more about this later). Each PowerPoint page is saved as a .jpg and the filename is entered in our EDL database.

Then, once we’ve captured all of our clips, titles and graphics to disk, we are ready to start editing. We start by assigning each entry in our database a sequence number. This is simply the order in which the clips or titles will appear in the final presentation. We break each production up into a number of smaller segments. We enter the segment number back into the database.

With our printed EDL report and list of filenames on the PC, we simply go down the filename column, add those files to our project bins and begin editing.



Titles, Screen Shots and Graphics

While our editing software has many titling functions, we like to use MS-PowerPoint to build our titles. PowerPoint allows us to easily build logos, custom color schemes and import pictures and graphics. Each individual page is then saved as a .jpg file and imported directly into our editing interface.

We also use PowerPoint to develop cover art for our videocassette cases. We can set the print margins to exactly the 10 1/8-inch-by-7 3/4-inch size required for our full insert cases. This is especially good for small runs or demo tapes, as it lends a professional look.

We use screen shots, particularly from spreadsheets, in some of our productions. It is a simple process of hitting the print screen key (command-shift-3 on an Apple), which captures the PC screen to the Clipboard. By pulling up a graphics application,, you simply use the "paste" function to copy the screen shot into the application. From there, you can save it as a .jpg or import it into PowerPoint. Play around with your screen resolution to get the quality you want.

We often pull a screen shot of a spreadsheet into PowerPoint and then use the "Autoshapes/

Block Arrows" symbols to point out specific areas on the spreadsheet.



Scripts

The videos we do are primarily "How-To" projects and don’t require elaborate scripts. We have found that a rough script is worth its weight in gold, though. For one thing, it forces us to really think about what we want to shoot. One of the reasons our first production spanned 28 tapes of raw footage was that we didn’t have a script or a clear idea of what we were after. We sort of wandered around, shooting what we thought we would need.

We now use MS-Word to do our scripting. A 3 inch left hand margin provides plenty of room for notes and comments, while a 1 inch top margin allows room to put the script in a clipboard. We’ve adopted a few conventions for our scripts. All caps and bold headings signal PowerPoint titles or graphics. "CUT TO" in the right hand edge signals a change in scene. The first line of a scene indicates scene location and the talent involved. We do write out most of the dialog, but we use it mainly as a guide for what we want the scene to convey.

We also put a copy of the script in a three-ring binder, with a copy of the main title on the cover. This works wonders when we go out to scout locations. It gives us instant credibility with the location owner, as well as conveying to them what we are interested in shooting.



Summary

These are a few of the tools we have developed for our video business. They really didn’t cost us anything as the software was already on our PC. If you aren’t familiar with the Microsoft Office applications or if you don’t have office, there are a host of other affordable, office-productivity suites available that you can use to achieve the same goals. So start using them in your video productions today!


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