Archive for category Video

It takes an artist…

I was speaking with one of the cattle drive organizers this week. In the course of the conversation about building our footage into a movie, she said, “It takes an artist…”   …to do this. To build the movie. To tell the story. To connect to an audience.

Building this movie is not about stringing a series of video clips together.

Building this movie is about finding that “hook”. What will “hook” a viewer? What will “grab” an audience and make them want to stay along for this journey?

What story do you tell? How do you start? How do you end? What happens in between?

What do you include? What do you discard?

Building this movie is a process that is the complete opposite of any of my other normal work patterns. If I write a mystery, then I know all along what the end will be. If I take an original song and go into the recording studio to build a complete full instrumentation final track, then I have a pretty good idea what I am aiming for. If I am rehearsing a piano performance or a vocal performance, then I have an end result that I already know. The work involved is about getting it “up to snuff” so that the end result is what I want it to be.

On this project…we went in with no expectations. The story evolved as the cattle drive evolved. We were not shooting “to” any particular script.

It is only now…now that the cattle drive is over, that we can start to contemplate what the movie might be once it is done.

And for me…this is so contrary to my normal process, it feels like I am blind. The vastness of the unknown tends to overwhelm.

How do you take this footage that was shot – and build it into a piece of art?

Have you ever watched a movie, and for the entire movie, You Just Don’t Get It? You sit there and kinda stare with a puzzled look on your face, and when it is over, you can go, “I don’t know what happened?” or…”What were they thinking?”

I don’t want that to happen here.

Right now, I am still going over the footage.

On Wednesday, I had a couple of (tiny) ideas about where to take this project and where to go.

We are working with the possibility of using this footage to build three movies. Each will be different. Finally on that Wednesday, I gleaned an idea of how to start Movie #1.

It was about finding that perfect shot. This shot was filmed to the east against a morning sunrise. A cattle drive participant is in the foreground, in silhouette. I have been playing with a guitar line in my head for weeks now. But when I saw that shot, my head automatically played that guitar line.

Then you drop the video of that shot off into a complete fade out to black. Then grab another shot. Hold it for the same amount of time, then do the same fade out. Then a group shot, again in silhouette. Fade to black. Finally, and by complete accident, I have a shot once the sun is up, and it made a beautiful lens flair. The sun is on the horizon. The air is golden, and there is this perfect lens flair. One of the wagon drivers is in the foreground, holding the reigns of two horses, which are not yet hitched to the wagon. I didn’t plan that shot. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

On each shot, you have this same plantive guitar line.

Then boom!

The movie takes off.

If I am going to start it its way, then I will take movie #2 and start it completely different. That is still up in the air, but I thought up how to end movie #2.

Movie #3 will be built to educate and entertain young children – say ages eight and under. We know we can’t keep and hold their attention for long, so this movie will be very short in duration. But we have a great premise, and once we came up with that idea, which was about midpoint through the cattle drive, then we started to look for opportunities to film to that.

On Wednesday, when these ideas are starting to percolate around in my head, I wrote a good bit of the dialog for this children’s movie.

Speaking of how these shots came out (such as the lens flair sunrise shot above)…what is the status of the footage so far?

Well, what blows me away is – of the stuff I shot for the first week – what I thought was good…was probably 90% crap. I knew I was “shaky” on days 1 and 2. I don’t mean shaky camera footage, but I knew that mentally I was not dialed in. On that Wednesday, it felt like I finally “got it”. Out there in the field, it felt like I was finally “on”.

When I looked at that footage. Wow. Not good.

Therefore – what I thought was good – was not.

What has surprised me about the footage? Well…it was when I thought I only had “average” shots and things were rather on the boring side – those are the moments that are leaping up at me, in post production.

In this editing process, what are some of the problems? Well, for starters, I do not possess the face recognition gene. They call it face blindness.

I knew perhaps five of the cattle drive participants before the drive. For the rest, I met them out on the trail. And my head is already full of all the movie details, cinematography, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, etc. Under normal circumstances, I can meet someone. When I see them the next time, I am probably not going to recognize them.

On this cattle drive, the problem was amplified. I know that on day twelve, I said to one of the drovers, “I don’t think I have met you yet.”

When I look at the footage…well…now… he and I had a nice conversation on day three!

To all of the drovers, I apologize.

Now that we are editing…it’s the same problem. I am having to vidcap (capture one frame of a video) a still image and email it to find out who is who.

This has become a major problem that I did not foresee.

What else happened out there? On a few occasions, people might take it upon themselves to saddle their horse and ride along. If we filmed this, then we need to be aware of who is who and not edit that person in the movie.

Yes, it’s fun to go out and cowboy. If someone had a horse in a parade, and if that person rode along behind the drive…then …I can maybe comprehend that.
But when people rode their own horses, uninvited, onto private property, and inserted themselves, unauthorized and without permission, into the process…then that offends me.

Another issue: audio.

Yes. I have talked about audio issues for months now. When we were out there, and if the wind was blowing, then I had a “level” of gain at which I would set the microphone.

It turns out that that level worked. We cut the wind noise. But the audio signal was pretty doggone low. I hate it that it is so low. I will have to look at ways to “boost” that audio signal, and then reintroduce that audio line back into the video software. I haven’t worked this problem yet, but I probably don’t have the software nor technology here to do so.

As with everything else in the field of moviemaking, video editing, and audio production…it is all about trial and error. There is no one way to work. There is no one way to do this. There is no one process. There is no one answer.

And to continue along that line…there is no “one” movie. You can take the material we have, and material yet to be acquired (music production, external interviews) and use that data to make a movie. Or a million movies. The choices of possibilities are endless. The permutations are endless.

There is no right. There is no wrong. What you can do…hopefully…is find a way to…tell a story. To connect to a viewer. To capture an audience.

To entertain…

It takes an artist!

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What happens next?

The cattle drive is over.

The active filming is “in the can”.

I took (and desperately needed) some down time. (And in truth, I am still not bounced back from that level of fatigue. Wow – that shoot was intense!)

Now comes the really hard part: post production.

If you are a big studio – with funded financial backing, then you have a full staff to execute post production. What happens when you are a tiny, independent film company?

Answer: You do ALL the work yourselves.

So, we log the footage.

We make notes. We see what is viable and what is not – both from a video standpoint and an audio standpoint.

We went into the project without preconceived notions. We did not have a script. We did not have a storyboard. If we had done that, then we would have been shooting “to” a particular story. In this case, we wanted every option to be open. This is a documentary approach to filmmaking. We didn’t want to “affect” the story. We wanted to “capture” the story – as it was happening.

We could have gone in and asked the participants…do this, do that, make this happen, go over here and do that. Instead, we tried to create the least amount of influence as possible. Yes, I did ask participants to do something for the camera. But it was usually something they had just done – of their own accord, and if there was time and if it was convenient, I might ask them to do it again. Usually, if I made that suggestion, it was something that someone said, but I’d say, “Come over here and say that for the camera!”

After we log the footage, then we need to create whatever external audio that we need. We knew, going in, that audio would be our biggest problem. Shooting outdoors, without an external sound crew, without any control over the production, was our biggest challenge. When your “live” audio is not viable, you need other things to lay over the video track.

We can do external interviews with participants (in a controlled environment). We can do narration. We will record music. In that instance, we will either use old time cowboy songs – that are in the public domain, or we will compose and record new songs – that sound old, but would be created just for this production.

Our plan – at least thus far – is to create at least two different movies. We want to create a documentary for the cattle drive participants. They can show it to their families and friends. They can use it as a teaching tool at schools and civic organizations. It is important to remember history and how things used to be. The 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is both an illustration of history, as well as a modern event. Both of those aspects will be covered in the documentary.

But, as filmmakers, we intend to create a second movie with a much more artistic approach. This will be for our film company, to enter at film festivals. After all – how many other cattle drive movies are going to be out on the circuit in 2018? Um…I’d guess, not many?

What happens next?

Work. Work. More work. And…then some work. Post production isn’t for the faint of heart. Ah, heck. Expand on that. Moviemaking isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of guts and grit and determination to go do this. We do this because we love it.

Moviemaking does not have to be about: making non-union talent work 20 hours, giving them 5 hours to sleep, and then making them work 20 hours again. It doesn’t have to be about servicing grown adults and their overblown egos. It’s not about treating the latest wunderkind movie star with kid gloves so that you make back your $250,000,000 investment.

No…for us, it is about getting that camera and using that piece of equipment to tell a story. It’s about the satisfaction of arriving at a location, knowing that you have a very limited time to evaluate and set up, making the best plan you can, splitting up, going to your location with your camera, and doing your best to get the shot.

Then after the moment has passed, and after the cattle drive has moved on, you meet up with your partner again, and one of you asks the other, “Did you get the shot?” There is a tremendous satisfaction in hearing the words (regardless of who said them,) “Yes, I got the shot!”

As my partner Don said, “Anybody can make a bad movie with a big budget.”

In the case of a big Hollywood production, you have staff. Each person has their own duties. The director carries the load on his or her shoulders. The producers are responsible for making the production happen. But when you have staff – a significant portion of the work load is divided.

But then Don continued, “It takes somebody with talent to make a good movie with no budget.”

Time to dive in!

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Modern conveniences

We are lucky, in 2017 to have a lot of modern conveniences to make this journey much easier.

We are so lucky to have escorts along the trail. These law enforcement and highway crews keep us safe.

I personally saw one incident where a driver was not going to obey the law. This driver was going to go around an emergency vehicle and drive – way too fast – into the cattle. That officer stopped that driver and protected us! These good people escorting us have kept us safe! Thank you!

What else do you need for a modern cattle drive?

Food!

The cowboys of old ate beans and biscuits, and maybe some dried beef jerky.

But in 2017, we are lucky. One of the support vehicles is a trailer with a refrigerator and freezer. It is powered by a generator. The drovers have had wonderful meals prepared in the open air over a campfire.

No day old beans and stale biscuits here!

What is another essential?

Down in the middle of the picture, you can see porta potties and blue stock tanks.

Each campsite has had these provided on site. They have hauled in hay and feed for the horses, cubes for the cattle and firewood for the fire.

Every single detail on this drive has been planned for and executed. There are a whole bunch of people – behind the scenes – who have made this once-in-a-lifetime event possible.

But who pulls this together, and keeps us all going? Who is the one out there taking care of business?

That’d be the cow boss:

Carmen Schultz.

Friend. Neighbor. A True Horsewoman!

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Visit the cattle drive!

Come visit the cattle drive!

This is a rare opportunity to see how things were and how things used to be.

The purpose of the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is to educate, celebrate, and commemorate the Chisholm Trail.

This is a chance to see history – live – right before your eyes.

This is the schedule of the Cattle Drive.

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Panic!

The Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is getting closer.

Computing the issues of the sound parameters seemed so daunting – mentally – it was like a giant hill to climb, and it seemed to be too huge to even take that first step.

But Monday, I dove right in.

We are a tiny crew. We will be outdoors working with cattle and horses in a completely uncontrolled environment. There are no do-overs. And when you in Oklahoma, the wind never stops blowing.

I am recording sound on-board the camera. We don’t have staff or resources or equipment to record sound on its own – which would be added into the video feed in post production.

Nope! We’ve got to use the equipment we’ve got and make it work. They call this guerilla filmmaking!

I’ve got the 1) in-camera microphone – which seems to pickup tons of external noise. 2) camera shotgun microphone – which is powered. 3) donated wired microphone, omnidirectional, unpowered 4) donated wired microphone, hand held, unpowered, 5) wired lavaliere mike, powered, 6) wireless, powered lavaliere.

I put a sound meter ap on my cell phone.

Then you have to compute decibels of ambient sound; decibels of designated sound (what you are actually trying to record); distance from the object from which you are recording sound; wind; wind gusts; and who knows what else? Your eyes stayed glued on the on-board camera sound meter. Then you start adjusting gain. You want the gain to be down enough to cut out the background riff raff. You want the gain to be up enough to give you viable sound of the designated thing that you are recording. You need to have a computation for each mike, at different levels of ambient sound, at different levels of distance.

And – when we are out there on the cattle drive, these decisions have to be made in split seconds.

There are no do-overs!

I actually made some progress. This is all trial and error. Which piece of equipment – at which settings – at what distance??? Then you cross your fingers because there is a whole lot of luck involved!

The title of this post reads: Panic!

Where does the panic come in?

I took the camera – with my test audio – to the computer to download footage. I need to hear the sound – in the software – to see where we are at.

I could not get the camera to connect to the computer!

Panic.

The last time I downloaded footage was for the Chisholm Trail Scroll Ride video that we produced in May. I know the computer has the same settings and configuration now as then. I haven’t changed computer settings. Perhaps I changed something in the camera programming?

I tried three different computers – two different PC cards – three different softwares – (by now the panic is about to make me lose it). I called my partner to bring his camera. Since I hadn’t been adjusting the programming on his camera, it should still be in the last setting in which we used it.  Then I tried to get the computer to recognize the second camera.

Nope!

The only thing left that I can think to try – is perhaps the firewire cable which connects the camera to the computer has become damaged or compromised. It is the only component that was the same on all of these experiments. We’ve had the cable for awhile, and maybe a pin broke? Or who knows what?

I ordered two new cables and now I have to have enough patience to wait for them to come in.

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Kansas

Today I went into Kansas scouting locations for the cow camps for the Chisholm Trail Cattle drive next month. Along the way I saw the Country School Museum.

 

None of these photos are of the actual cattle drive locations, (one prairie field looks pretty much like another…), but these were some fun shots I took while I was out.

 

We are gearing up and making plans. All along the drive today, I was (in my head) editing video for the shots that we don’t even _have_ yet.

I love westerns. This isn’t a western movie per se, but it has horses and cattle and saddles and cowboys & cowgirls wearing boots and chaps. It has people cooking over a campfire.

It evokes the mental image of a cowboy playing a guitar under the stars, as the cattle are lowing nearby.

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The Trail

The Trail

This is a youtube link to a video about the upcoming Chisholm Trail Cattle drive this September.

The governors of Kansas and Oklahoma signed proclamations about the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive. Riders have ridden down (south) the Chisholm Trail, taking the ceremonial scrolls with them.

This past Monday, they rode a segment, and I got to go along to film.

[Do you remember that episode of M*A*S*H where they are going to watch an old western movie for movie night – I think it’s “My Darling Clementine”, and Colonel Potter uses the line, “It’s got horses, cowboys and…horses!”]

I smile as I remember that, because on Monday we filmed horses, cowgirls and horses! The ride was approximately eleven miles. It was a nice day, but the wind was high.

When you film something such as this, for a documentary film, as the person with the camera, you take what you can get. You scramble on the fly to find the shot, and you set up and get the shot. Or…not. This isn’t studio filmmaking, where you control every aspect of everything. No…on this one, you try to be as unobtrusive as possible and stay out of the way. Meanwhile, you hope you get some decent shots to use, but there is no guarantee. With this particular shoot, with no environmental control whatsoever…you know you’re going to have wind noise. The audio track from the shoot will be virtually unusable.

Conclusion: we had better come up with something else to use, then.

Tuesday, early, I started working on an idea for the cowboy poetry: The Trail. Cowboy poetry is something I want to explore. I’ve been doing a lot of writing this spring – novels, songs and poems, but not cowboy poetry.

The poem is entitled: The Trail.  It came off pretty good. (See previous blog entry.)

Tuesday, I needed the highway shots, so I called a friend who has a utility vehicle that would be much easier to film out of than my car. He was kind enough to help me get the shot I needed, then we drove around in the country, looking for additional shots I wanted.

Wednesday, putting this video together seemed like too big a hill to climb. You know those days…taking on a big project it just too much. I went to lunch and on the way home, I thought of the shot of the Chisholm Trail marker. I drove out to get that, and got a few more shots as well.

Then I started editing it together. Got about 1/3 of the way through, and needed a break. Went to get a coffee and drive around, just as a way to clear my head. Came back, nose to the grindstone, and got the bulk of the video together. It came off well – better than I had hoped. Of course, you always want it to be more. I want more, better, fancier shots. This was what I had, and I utilized it the best I had. I cut the video to the rhythm of the cowboy poetry. I decided I needed some acoustic guitar over the end title cards.

Thursday we had storms. I wanted to run the video by the organizers of the cattle drive. When the first wave of storms went by, I took the computer and we went over the rough cut. I made notes on changes. But, we need more shots. They drove me out to get a shot of some longhorns. In the meantime, the next wave of storms are brewing, and you can see lightning in the background.

We got back before the storms hit, and I didn’t want to be on the computer.

Friday morning, I am not sleeping as usual, and in my head I am going over the list of edits to make. I went to the software and worked on that, and worked to get a render.

This is day five of actual work on the project, but there were perhaps three days before Monday, when I was thinking it through and trying to figure out how to film this.

We will gear up to film a documentary about the Chisholm Trail 150 cattle drive in September. Can’t wait!

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