Blogs aren’t something I’ve usually got time to sit spending my time writing and I don’t find it easy. That and I don’t really find the fact I’m sitting in front of a computer screen meticulusly moving clips around a time line a particularly engaging story to tell. That said I sit here at 14:24 on a Tuesday, my first real piece of spare time in the last 4 months. That said, not only am I using this time to write this particular blog post, I am currently in the middle of listening to Ben Norris on the BBC at the Royal Albert Hall. Ben is someone that I met briefly in Edinburgh whilst at the Fringe in 2013 and ended up having to spend an afternoon together where we discussed many a topic. One of these was his idea for a Fringe show called “Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy”. Ben is a poet and in the short time I’ve known him, we’ve worked together on a few projects and he recently won the UK All Stars poetry championships. It was in a very early stage than, many just a vaguely constructed set of ideas but in the spring of this year he began putting it together after receiving Arts Council funding.
Despite there being filming involved in this project he only asked me to edit it, which was a bit of a challenge as most of the footage was very ‘handheld’ and assisted him on the tech side of things for the performance at the MAC in Birmingham. Bringing me back to this very moment – the free time. I say free time, but it is only by proxy, for it is MOT time and I am currently awaiting the verdict and thought I’d use this time to both blog to the internet and record Ben’s performance at the Albert Hall for his website.
The past few months I have been especially busy shooting the Moseley Festivals, Secret Garden Party, Glastonbury and recently I embarked on a new project that was destined to make me even busier. Goodnight Lenin are a band fronted by Moseley Festival talent booker and organiser John Fell. We had discussed making a video for GNL [Goodnight Lenin] on a fair few occasions but due to the nature of his job and the availability of others (including me) finding the time (and a feasible idea) was proving difficult and the launch of his [their] album was quickly approaching. So, we decided that we had one weekend where everyone was free before they launched their single, “You were always waiting” at the end of September. Oh and never one to make things easier on myself I decided to shoot this in MLraw using Magic Lantern on the Canon 5d mkiii.
The shoot took place in Birmingham in an old semi-burned-out building inside the Jewellery Quarter. I’d like to say I found this building but in reality it found me.
Whilst sitting in the Jekyll & Hyde with a friend, I was figuratively scratching my head over where we could shoot the idea that John and I had conceived only 10 hours earlier, then in walked Hope, quite literally. Hope works for an art dealer and property developer in the Jewellery Quarter, [ and is a friend of my friend ] I vaguely knew hope from “The Site Office” which is a secret bar, again in the Jewellery Quarter ( it’s where it’s at ) where you must be text a password in order to gain access to a building that looks derelict but is in reality quite a little underground candle lit gem, serving cocktails. So I knew that she had access to some pretty good looking buildings and the one we’d settled on was near perfect.
The building had been vacant for some time since being subject to a rather large fire about 3 years ago and as a consequence we were told to ‘try not to fall through the floor’. The joists were all charcoal burned but the floor somehow was surprising intact, it was as if someone had gone in there and took a flame thrower to the ceiling and aside from the rather large hole here and there it made quite an interesting contrast. As soon as I saw this I knew it was the one, so after looking at a couple of other buildings I phoned John to tell him I’d found it.
From conception to wrapping up it took an entire weekend. Wrapping is the operative word here too, as we actually spent most of the weekend wrapping up instruments in brown paper and bubble wrap. Ideally I’d want two days filming but the reality was I got about 8 hours, which is tough going when you’ve got no crew and no story board. MLRaw has its challenges too, it can be incredibly temperamental at times and on the day it was. Despite my many tests beforehand, it just didn’t seem to want to record past 24 seconds that day even when using 1000x cards. So I decided to press on and work around the problem, rather than attempt to psycho-analyse these Gremlins; if the movie taught me anything it’s trying that would most probably be pointless. My suspicion was that the card needed formatting and that ML had corrupted, as not even MLV would record past 6 seconds, even when disabling sound – and later on I found that suspicion to be correct – me 1 gremlins 1 ( or was I winning?). Anyway, without getting lost in my own metaphors back to the story. I started the shoot with the full intention of shooting full 1920 x 1080 16:9 and some of the shots are actually framed for that but due to Gremlins intervention, I ended up shooting in 2.20 instead which ( or other 2.39:1 variants) I think is often over used as a quick short cut to the cinematic, but this appeared to prolong the record time a little and really didn’t spoil the aesthetic much and in fact may have even improved it this time round. Another thing I have noticed with MLraw is that you can afford to expose to the right far more than you think and even though raw is more forgiving when lifting the exposure in ACR sometimes, you get some banding, which from talking to A1ex on the ML Forums, it seems to be a problem in how the algorithms extract the DNG files from the RAWs, but more of this later.
As I think I have mentioned in previous raw posts, MLraw, is not for every project and if I were to try and shoot MLraw all the time or even just lets for argument sake at festivals, I’d soon be screwed.To start with I’d need about 1.5tb of card space of the 1000x variety, which roughly equates to somewhere in the £3000 region [Present day,2014], then add on drive space for editing and you can quickly see how I’d have no money left. So not really a great option for ‘Flâneur Filming’. However, for projects such as this, or even better ones that you have time to storyboard![ahem] it’s pretty much perfect. The amount of detail you can pull from the image is often pretty remarkable for a camera that costs you less than £2000, you just have to learn to understand its rhythms both in shooting and editing and those rhythms can at times be laborious and aggravating. Luckily for me growing up, I messed about a lot with analogue technologies of both the audio and visual kind. I spent my early twenties as a sound engineer in a recording studio and my latter part of my twenties as a 35mm projectionist, so I’m no stranger to laborious technical processes and there is something in the way you have to work with MLraw that has a sniff of analogue about it[when compared to compressed shooting]. It’s not just the colours and tones you can pull from it but the way in which you’re forced to working with it, whether being ‘on set’ or in the edit, they both have that feeling of the temperamental something that could go wrong or run out fairly easily if you’re not paying close attention or don’t understand what you’re doing and not being able to easily review what you’ve just shot is both annoying and strangely liberating. I understand it’s not practical, it isn’t, none of this is, the shooting part being the most practical of the whole process but isn’t that the whole point? I feel it’s something that is regularly being lost in film making at this level.
If shooting the thing in raw wasn’t challenging enough then we come to the editing, which I have to say, is bloody difficult. Before I embark on this section though, I have to mention that I haven’t really used Davinci resolve at all and I hear that it makes things a bit easier, but I think I’m right in reading that it doesn’t incorporate ACR which is really why I do it this way.
However tricky it might be now to use MLraw, back over a year ago it was much worse. Having to make a folder for every, raw and dragging and dropping the excellent “raw2dng” on every raw file to convert to DNG, was quite time consuming. But now there’s MLrawviewer a powerful little program by Magic Lantern develper Baldand . It lets you simply click the raw file to view it in real time and export it using various LUT’s to DNG and if you wish (and exporting them when exporting to .MOV).MOV, making the process so much more manageable as well as creating a new folder for every dng sequence – this is why I really like the Magic Lantern developers they listen to their users and often are shooters themselves and understand what is required from their software to make it more intuitive.
The key of course, as is to most things in life is organisation and finding a process for this part is very important, as I’ve found it’ll save a lot of time in the long run. Each raw file out of the camera will labelled as a number as shown in the picture. What I’ve found helps (if you haven’t got the luxury of someone logging footage on set) is to make folders corresponding to various shots and scenes and then label the actual clips in more descriptive terms.
So with this particular shoot I had an “INSIDE” folder and within that folder there was a “CORRIDOOR”, “ROOM” and “STAIRS” Folder which all contained bot “CLOSEUP” folder and “WIDE” folders and so. The .dng files themselves were then placed into those folders and labelled things like “BASSDRUM_PLACEMENT”, “LIFTING_MANNEQUIN” things like that. It is something that seems laborious ( and it is ) but by doing this you spend a lot less time renaming folders and compositions in the long run and are able to work far more efficiently.
After organising your projects file structure, it’s time to convert the .raw file.There are many free apps out there that can do this.
RAW2DNG was one of the first programs I used when I first started messing with MLRaw. It’s a simple execute file that you drag and drop your file over and it extracts files to that same location.
However, in more recent times MLrawviewer has appeared and as mentioned earlier is my raw viewer of choice.You can now actually double click the .raw file and view it without extracting any .DNG files, it also creates it’s own folder automatically separating its location from the original .raw.
Once you have all the .DNG files the next phase is to make them coherent. You must sequence them up somehow and my program of choice? After Effects. I mentioned at the start of this blog Davinci Resolve which is an editing program from BlackMagicDesign that allows you to import .DNG directly but I not only prefer the results I get from ACR but the bit depth I can achieve in After Effects is much higher. Before importing into After Effects make sure that the default sequence frame rate is set to the frame rate of your project.
This can be done in Premiere pro>Preferences>import>sequence settings (OSX)
Edit>Preferences>import>Sequence settings (win).
Then change you project setting to 16-bit File>project settings
You’re then ready to import your .DNG making sure “import as sequence” is ticked in the selection.
At this point you’ll get Adobe Camera Raw pop up.
Now the only downside to this is that ACR is really only optimised for photos, so like a photo, you’re only able to adjust the your image using that one frame as a reference – bit of a problem. Especially when it uses the first frame of the sequence, which often doesn’t represent a sequence which is constantly changing. This can be combatted however by using Adobe Lightroom. Here you can select any frame in your sequence and then save that metadata and import it into After Effects. Once you’re happy with the look of the sequence you can then use the ADL to import it into Premiere, making sure that you’ve set the sequence to maximum bit depth and to render at maximum depth, found in the sequence settings.
Update !!! At the time of writing this I wasn’t aware that Premiere Pro had recently been updated to allow importing of .DNG sequences and offers fairly smooth playback. Although this is great in terms of time saving, you cannot access ACR when importing which would mean saving metadata from other processes which I have explained above and even if you switch to maximum bit depth within you particular sequence then the question of whether it is 12 or 14 bit is one that at this time I cannot answer and is an issue that, at least to my eye, is important. I haven’t explored in enough detail yet though so I’ll post back at some point. Update !!!
Now this is where the editing process becomes somewhat difficult. As good as ADL is, it still struggles in the video edit arena. It doesn’t play back the clip in full FPS most of the time and requires you to change the way you’re used to editing.It’s a little bit like splicing and taping film together really, for when making small changes it can take a longer process than one is used to digitally, to see the fruits of your labour. I often tend to pretender the clip in the timeline which tends to help a little, but if you move it out of position or change its length in any way then most times you have to pretender all over again. That said, if you’re an experienced editor, then it’s manageable, (I remember the days when this is how editing digital in the early versions of premiere was! ) and if you’re unexperienced, well this will certainly help you understand the art of editing better in every sense in my opinion.
I hope this blog was of some use to whoever you are…… Apologies for any grammar issues.Bye!