Monday, 20 October 2014

The First Two BIME Videos: Wizzybug @ the Bath Pageant of Motoring

The main problem was not so much the short notice, but the fact that this was the first public filming and interviewing I had ever done. Furthermore, I had the added delicate subject of interviewing parents about their disabled children, the same disabled children I had to film at the event... so no pressure.

A screencast overview of this post (3:38).

In this post I discuss all of the scathing mistakes I made while producing the first videos and, ultimately, how that experience has gone on to greatly benefit my overall filmmaking practice. 

This post has an emphasis on:

  • how to go about finding your observant eye and working with uncertainty.
  • advice for making yourself and your filming subjects feel comfortable. 
  • being vigilant with your time management.
  • using the right equipment.
  • not cutting corners.

Filmmaking outside of the box greatly nourished my overall skillset and this is why I have presented my good and bad experiences of being the videographer for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, from June to October, 2012, as testimony to encourage other filmmakers/videographers who are starting out to exercise themselves likewise - be a film-doer, not just a film-dreamer!

For a more detailed overview of the BIME (pronounced "buy me") video producer position I undertook during my time as an undergraduate student and the videos I produced as a part of it, see: BIME a Bullet to Bite on: Videography, Volunteering, Making Mistakes and Maintaining Momentum.

Filming at the deep end 

Let's be clear from the start, I am not happy with the first two videos I produced for BIME, not by a long shot!

In my interview, BIME had invited me to a family fun day they were holding as part of the Bath Pageant of Motoring. The event was primarily being used to promote their Wizzybug motorised wheelchair for children. They were very keen for a video to be produced and they wondered if I would be willing to film this event.

The Wizzybug - designed to look like a toy, not like a wheelchair. This is one of Designability's mascot products.

Basically, they were offering me the pageant as my trial assignment, If they liked what I did, I was in.

However, between having my interview, getting the filming brief a couple of days later and the actual event that weekend - it did not give me much time to prepare. Plus, my time management was atrocious and, looking back on it, I could have been vastly more effective with the time I had that week.

"Our idea about what we would like you to do on the day is to get some footage of the kids using the wizzybug course and perhaps some testimonials/interviews with the families and just some general footage of the pageant to 'set the scene' if it were to be edited up into a video." 
- the brief BIME emailed to me. 

The main problem was not so much the short notice, but the fact that this was the first public filming and interviewing I had ever done. Furthermore, I had the added delicate subject of interviewing parents about their disabled children, the same disabled children I had to film at the event... so no pressure.

I prepared as best I could and took my lead from Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger, the documentaries I had been watching, the technical experience of filmmaking I already possessed and the inclination of my own photographer's eye.

The Bath Pageant of Motoring at the Bath Racecourse. Photo: Day 176 of my 366 Project 2012.

The filming permissions had already been secured by BIME, so I just went around filming unhindered; most people probably just assumed that I was a big motor enthusiast, which is ironic because I could not care less. However, capturing general footage might sound simple in practice, but when it actually comes to it, you can find yourself asking - what footage should I get?

How do I break this up and capture all of the essential footage I need in order to present an overview of the Pageant event?

I had never filmed a live event like this before and I had no script to follow, so basically I just shot everything. Literally, I started at one end of the pageant and filmed my way back to the BIME stand at the other end of the pageant. 

From one end of the Pageant...
... to the other end of the Pageant.

This is my advice to any videographer who is starting out, if you are unsure what to capture and if you have a large enough memory in your camera, just find your observant eye by capturing numerous things, even the uninteresting stuff. It's like carving a statue, you start with a huge lump of marble and slowly chip your way to the essential figurine. 

The more you do this, the more selective you will become and then eventually you get to a point where you will intuitively be able to say: "this is what I need to film, this is what I do not need to film," and you will save yourself a great deal of time and harddrive space.

This is exactly what occurred to me while I was filming the pageant, because I realised this selective temperament was something I had already developed... in my photography. 

My 366 Project was about being very selective, even though I had captured over 6,000 photographs when it was all said and done, for each of the 366 days of 2012, I had to pick one photo a day that held a special significance or was representative of that day.

All 366 photographs of my 366 Project 2012.

Therefore, I adopted the same principal with the filming of the Bath Pageant of Motoring and the shots I captured. I aimed to capture as much as I could, but to hone in on the really interesting stuff. 

By the time I had captured various general shots of the Pageant and worked my way back to the BIME stand, I was in a vastly better position to capture the interesting footage of the children using the Wizzybug and their parents mulling about. 

Ultimately, BIME requested that two videos be produced from this footage.

Two videos plagued by problems

The first video is a general overview of the Wizzybug promotion event at the Bath Pageant of Motoring (3:01).

The second video provides testimony for the Wizzybug (5:04). 

As you would have seen with the two videos, they are both of a very low quality and there are a number of factors contributing to this:
  1. The footage is standard definition, not high definition.
  2. The sound is incomprehensible, hence the subtitles.
  3. The image quality (colour grade) is just bad and the standard definition does not help this.
These are the reasons, why I am not happy with the first two BIME videos.

From the get-go I should have loaned out one of the university's Sony Z1 Camcorders, the camera I had been trained to use as part of my filmmaking module. The Z1 would not have provided a high definition image, but it would have provided a very high sound range quality to play within the edit. 

However, due to the short notice and my own incompetence with my time management, I ran out of time and had to use my own JVC harddisk camcorder.

Me and my trusty JVC 30GB harddisk camcorder.

While this has always been a reliable camcorder (it still works to this day, 7 years after I originally purchased it), if it has to capture dialogue in a noisy room, you are not going to hear that captured dialogue!

Problem 3, we'll come back to that one. 

Let's get back to the families. 

Filming families and interviewing parents

Okay, so unlike filming the pageant itself, filming the families and the children on the Wizzybugs was a little more challenging. 


Because it was very akward, for the families and for me. You have to remember this was my first public filming. I had well and truly been thrown in at the deep end and I am not the best of swimmers!

BIME had already sorted the filming permissions by informing all of the attending families and informing them that there would be filming taking place; additionally, there were 'filming in progress' notices put up at the event. 

However, the rule was that I had to go around to all the parents, introduce myself as the videographer and just double check that it was okay for me to film the children. The problem with this was that not all the families arrived at the same time, so there was a lot of back-and-forth between filming and double checking with the parents.

Furthermore, I also had to convince a few of the parents to be interviewed by me, as this was something BIME had not arranged before the event. So I really had my work cut out.

However, when approaching someone for an interview or permission to film them or their children the rule of thumb is:

Friendly and informative trumps defensive and desperate.

This was a mistake I managed to avoid as I had already covered similar advice in Directing the Documentary, so I just took a deep breath, said 'to hell with my nerves', put a smile on and got on with it. 

It is daunting approaching someone to ask them if they can be filmed or if their children can be filmed, but the simple truth is:

  • If you can do it with a smile on your face
  • with a positive energy radiating from your body language
  • while providing a clear and concise overview of the project you are working on and why their participation will greatly nurture the value of what you are trying to achieve.

Basically, you can't lose.

Occasionally, you will encounter someone who, for whatever reason, will just refuse outright; in instances like this, just let them be, say "thank you anyway" and find someone else.

After the first two interviews, you start to get into the buzz of things and really start enjoying the whole process.

All of the parents I asked were hesitant, but I managed to convince all but one to say "yes" to filming their children and/or "yes" to being interviewed.

Classic mistake here - filming against an overexposed background, which in this case was a window on a bright summer's day. This was the first parent I interviewed and the reason why there is a different background in the following interviews is because I noticed the window would cause this problem while I was listening to one of her responses. Mistakes happen. Solution? Adjust accordingly and keep going.

Likewise with the interviewing, I took my lead from Directing the Documentarythe information pack BIME had given me and the responses of the parents themselves. I remained positive, friendly and interested while I was interviewing, even though it was phenomenally hot that day. I just steered the questions and replies by what intuitively felt right.

While preparing for the interviewing, I did not have a great deal of time to go through all of the material BIME had given me, so I approached the interviews from the most logical point of view - I did not have a clue! This greatly benefitted the quality of responses I recieved because I was asking the questions a respective parent would be asking of BIME if they were considering the use of a Wizzybug for their child.

Improved lighting with a better background, but the sound is still an issue.

Ultimately, the whole process of filming the children, interviewing the parents and jumping around for permissions was compressed into a number of hours and was incredibly tiring, but it was hugely gratifying. At the end of the event, I knew I had acquired knowledge that would benefit me in the future.

And it did, 7 months later, when we were filming my final year Fencing documentary project, I found myself in a very similar situation...

...Interviewing parents...
...about their children, who we also filmed... and had to get permission from their parents to do so.

With interviewing the parents, I took over because, Tom, the documentary's co-creator (pictured above) found it too uncomfortable, my reply: "I can handle the parents, I've done it before."

What I had not done before was edit two very similar videos side-by-side and with two different editing programs. 

Basically, BIG MISTAKE! 

Do not repeat my mistake - you have been warned!

Postproduction problems and terrible timing

Going into it I knew using two different editing programs would be a huge mistake because I would lose access to the original video elements. 

Basically, when I exported the original edit from Final Cut Pro 7, imported that export into Avid, trim/tweaked it in Avid, exported from Avid and then imported the Avid export back into Final Cut Pro 7, back and forth, etc, etc.

Yeah, it's just one long headache!

Editing in the Gatehouse at university, the editing suites have since moved to the new Commons building. Photo: Day 193 of my 366 Project 2012.

Why did I hop between two editing programs even though I knew it would be a huge mistake?

Because I had two videos to edit and not a lot of time in which to edit them.

I had become proficient at using Final Cut Pro 7 earlier in 2012 when I had edited One Door Opened with the Director; likewise, I was very keen to edit all of the BIME videos on Final Cut so as to be highly proficient at using it when I started my final year.

In addition to not becoming stale with Fina Cut Pro 7I wanted to use the Macs at the university as they were more reliable

However, I also wanted to make full use of the time when I was not in university, so I elected to do some editing on my laptop, which is not a Macbook, so I was not able to use Final Cut Pro 7.

As I had not used it before, I thought I would give Avid a try on my laptop. Photo: Day 190 of my 366 Project.

Basically, from prior experience, I knew it would be a headache locking myself off from the original elements on the Final Cut Pro 7 timeline, but I thought I would try to be really clever by cutting corners and, ultimately, saving myself a great deal of time.


Using Avid on my 4 year old laptop taxed the system so much that the insides became damaged because the unit overheated too much - my laptop was dead for the rest of the summer. Not even the Sonic Screwdriver could get me out of that one. Photo: Day 219 of my 366 Project 2012.

Another valuable piece of knowledge I acquired from this experience is in regards to your agreement with a client, from the start be VERY clear:

  • what your guidelines are.
  • how much time you will devote to each video.
  • how much control or say the client will have in regards to the final cut.
  • you are willing to negotiate your terms.

Obviously, I did not know this when I started with BIME, because I had never made a video for a client before, but it would have saved me a great deal of time in the editing of the videos

I am not going to get into the full breadth of it, but there were quite a few rough cuts and a great deal of back-and-forth between myself and BIME. There was videography inexperience on both sidesso it was a very amiable process, but it would have been vastly more time efficient if I had been clear on my terms and if I had been properly organised from the start.

However, after there had already been a number of rough cuts for BIME to critique and following the highly time consuming death of my laptopI went back to Final Cut Pro and fixed up the videos as best I could

Using Final Cut Pro continuously through the summer enabled me to learn the keyboard shortcuts, which made the process of editing in my final year much more like writing and much more enjoyable as a result. Photo: Day 194 of my 366 Project 2012.

The technical problems I have already breifly outlined were one of the major issues I had to contend with in the postproduction period

Standard definition imageThe fact that the image was only a standard definition image was not something I could do anything about and, at the time, it was an issue that did not even occur to me. I have only pointed it out now because unless you are intentionally filming in standard definition to create an old school effect, just film in high definition

I am currently assisting a friend figure out the logistics of integrating video production into his business plan. This explanation of high definition and the importance of using it as standard comes from one of the screencasts I made for him (4:53).

Basically, times have changed and high definition has become the new standard definition, do not put yourself at a disadvantage by not using it!

Bad audioThe audio was something I could tweak and I did in a few of the rough cuts, but the problem with raising quiets elementswhile compressing other more prominant elements of a soundtracksuch as a room full of nattering parents and screaming children, is that it actually results in an overall reduction of the quality of sound. Yeah, you can hear what is being said, but the presentation comes across as very damaged.

Therefore, BIME requested that I subtitle the audio which took very long and was very tedious, but it was my own fault.

Subtitles kind of defeat the purpose of making a video.

The subtitles are not ideal, but it was a better fix than the alternative

Colour gradeYeah, this looks like ameateaur hour, probably because it was done by an ameateur in two different editing programs. 

I had done some colour grading on One Door Opened, as there were a few shots that had not been white balanced (blame the cinematographer, not me). However, more complicated colour grading always proved to be a headache. Photo: Day 95 of my 366 Project 2012.

One of the reasons I graded the footage of the two videos so much was because it injected a bit more life into the rather dull colour pallette that my standard definition JVC camcorder and the sometimes overcast weather of the day provided. The problem with my grade is that it is perhaps a bit too oversaturated and there is a lack of consistency of colour grade between the different shots (because I graded it in two different programs, do not go there).  

The process of editing and attempting to fix the first two videos caused my technical knowledge to grow formidably, but I was still not happy with the final cuts. However, with the material and knowledge I had to work with at the time, they were the best I could deliver.

It took over a month to get to the final cuts and I was glad to see the back of them. Photo: Day 228 of my 366 Project 2012.

Victory at the shallow end

After the poor quality of the first two videos, I was incredibly ashamed of them and felt like I had failed. I had already been quite irritated by the mediocre outcome of One Door Opened, the submission film for my filmmaking module and really did not want to keep producing duds. However, one of the key lessons I had learned from my filmmaking module and One Door Opened is that the best way to acquire new long-lasting knowledge is to screw up!

The first two videos had that going for them, but I still felt like I had let BIME down and, in my mind, that was unacceptable!

Therefore, I kept studying and maintained my focus on improving my filmmaking skillset.

A daily habit, reading Directing the Documentary in the evening sun, building of knowledge and Vitamin D all in one - I miss that back garden. Photo: Day 232 of my 366 Project 2012.

Success is achieved by nurturing a repository of good habits and habits are only formed by consistently hammering away at them, day-after-day - you need consistent momentum to form strong productive habits. 

However, failure is a feeling that can stop momentum dead in its tracks - when something bad happens and you feel as though you just want to give up altogether - but this will only happen if you choose to see failure in a pessimistic way.

If you are not willing to fail, then you are not willing to succeed.

I have learned that your mindset determines everything and, increasingly, while at university, I had been engineering  myself to see failure for what it actually is - a reminder, a reflection and an incentive.

A reminder of why I had started in the first place, an opportunity for reflection in order to work out where I had gone wrong and, ultimately, an incentive to keep going.

Persistence is key. 

I knew I could do better, so I did...

The Third BIME Video: The Nightlight Tray

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