Monday, April 13, 2009

Video Odyssey

I had this brilliant idea. After watching people with Flip video cameras and cell phones trying to conduct an interview, I realized that there had to be a better way. A tripod mounted camera pointed at the interviewee felt more like an interrogation, to my mind, so I kept thinking about ways to mount two cameras on a tripod.

In hindsight, I don't know why I limited myself to a single tripod. Perhaps it was because I only had one. Regardless, as I thought about ways to mount two small video cameras on one tripod, I remembered my friend L. One of his hobbies is stereo photography. I sent him an email and he said he had what I was looking for and I could borrow it for a little while. It's a custom piece of machined aluminum about a foot long with mount points for two cameras (see picture above).

There are a couple of other hurdles that I had to address. First, what to do if I'm interviewing someone taller than myself (like my PJTV Citizen Reporter interview of Bill Hennessy)? And how do you keep you and your interviewee in the video frame? The simple solution to both of these problems is to sit down for the interview. That worked well for Bill and I. Still, if you're conducting standing interviews, I'd strongly recommend using two tripods to address the first problem, though even that may not work since many tripods are only 5' to 5' 6" tall. For the second problem, I'd get a couple of interlocking foam mats—one for the interviewer and one for the interviewee. Just having a place to stand should do the trick.

I think this is a pretty good hardware setup for conducting interviews. I'm not sure if it will catch on, but one place it might is There's something about the cybernetic headgear commonly seen on that I find distracting, but I think the bigger gain would be the face-to-face exchange that this sort of setup facilitates. I recognize that in many cases, interviews are conducted over large distances. Also, there may be technical reasons for their setup.

Before I talk about the nightmare that video editting can be, I'll mention that you should check your video camera's focal distance. That's the distance at which your camera is in focus. I had not paid attention to this detail and, at 2m (6.5') my cameras are dismal in this regard. Keep in mind, you want to be relatively close to the camera for good audio recording, so I'd look for something at or under 1m. If I were looking to buy, I'd go with the Flip Ultra.

Video editing is still a mystery to me. I've dabbled in it for about fifteen years and I'm always surprised at what a frustrating time sync it is. Once I had recorded my interview with Bill, the process forward seemed simple. Take the two source videos, line 'em up based on the audio, and then dissolve back and forth depending on who's speaking. This is about as simple as video editing gets.

I don't know how many times I rendered/exported the movie from Adobe Premiere. I certainly don't understand why it took two input sources of about 0.5G and created output anywhere from 2.5G to 6G. The 16 minutes of black screen with audio that weighed in at 3.5G... what in the world? How did I solve the black screen and the still image video problems? Simple, I stopped using my Vista box and went to my XP machine. Unfortunately, that did not help with the size of the rendered movies.

The size problem was largely solved with ArcSoft's MediaConverter. Once I got my final render out of Premiere (weighing in at 2.5G), I put it through MediaConverter and got a 70M version. That's the one I put on Facebook, but at 16 minutes it was over YouTube's 10 minute limit. I used Windows Movie Maker to split it into the two parts that are now on YouTube (pt1 and pt2). Splitting the video definitely reduced the quality.

No comments: