My workload at the Pentagon is kind of erratic. When we’re busy, I can barely come up for air. Some days, however, I don’t have any official tasking, so I always have a side-project in production. This piece was one of those. I did it for my command’s daily product All Hands Update (AHU).
Side-projects are cool because they give me a chance to use work hours to put something out with as little interference as possible. I did call Naval Supply Command’s strategic communications office to see what kind of messaging they would be interested in seeing, but other than that, I didn’t have any public affairs to worry about. The messaging that NAVSUP was looking for was “an experienced CS bringing knowledge back to the ship to train fellow CSs.”
I shot this over 2 days, plus one afternoon interview. I guess that’s a lot of shooting for a 2-minute AHU, but like I said, this is a side-project and I can take the time to do it the way I want, because I’m working on days when we don’t have other “official” tasking.
One of the critiques that I got on this piece was that the noise of the kitchen fan was too much. I agree. I wish I could’ve turned off the fan when we did the interview after hours, but we couldn’t. And until the recent firmware update, my Canon 7D had auto gain, so when the interviewee would stop talking, the mic would start turning up the volume on the kitchen fan. Yea, it sorta sucked.
Overall, I’m happy with the piece. It’s just a short little AHU, but I think I told a fairly honest and entertaining two minutes while mixing in some messaging.
Picking My Subject:
We (Defense Media Activity) had been getting the message that Navy leadership wanted to put a spotlight on Culinary Specialists. So, when I was looking for a side project, CSs seemed like a visual topic that would also scratch a Navy public affairs itch. Working in the Pentagon, there are a lot of top-notch military chefs/cooks, so I just had to find one to highlight.
I bumped into CS1 Reia Davis in the hallway one day. Later that week, she took me around to all the kitchens in the Pentagon and introduced me to a lot of CSs. She didn’t really want to be the subject of my piece, but after spending the day with her showing me around, I really felt comfortable with her. I also liked her pedigree. Let me explain that. Working in the Pentagon is a “special program” for CSs. A lot of the CSs in the Pentagon have been working in the special programs community for most of their careers. They are extremely good at what they do, but they are a little out of touch with the Fleet. CS1 Davis, on the other hand, is a Fleet Sailor. She comes from the amphib community, and after this tour at the Pentagon, she’ll probably head back to an amphib. She isn’t one of these super-chefs who has been to all the schools and competed in all the cooking competitions her whole career. She’s just a shit-hot Fleet Sailor who was good enough to get into special programs. She was a good, honest fit to illustrate one of the messaging goals that NAVSUP was looking to communicate ( “an experienced CS bringing knowledge back to the ship to train fellow CSs.”) The ability to tell a little more of an honest story is one of the reasons I love doing side projects, so whether she liked it or not, Davis became the subject of my story. (Thanks Reia!)
Shooting in the Secretary of Defense’s kitchen requires jumping through some hoops. I won’t bore you with the process.
I spent two days shooting the b-roll. The kitchen is pretty small. I tried to use a tripod as much as possible, but I had to go off-sticks for most of the shots. Luckily, After Effects 5.5 has a bad-ass stabilizer that works wonders for reasonable hand-held shake. I’ll talk some more about that in post production.
“Throwing a new lens on a camera in the middle of a shoot is like getting a fresh shot of creativity right when you think you’ve shot everything you can shoot.”
I used the Canon 7D and the Nikon D3s. The Canon is mine. It shoots 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second. The picture is beautiful and I love it, but I only own two lenses. The Nikon is my command’s. Its video isn’t so hot (1280 x 720 at 24fps) but I have a great quiver of lenses for it, so it comes in really handy. Being a legacy JO and a bit of a video specialist, I never really got too familiar with dslr cameras until they started shooting video. So I never realized how awesome it is to have multiple lenses. Throwing a new lens on a camera in the middle of a shoot is like getting a fresh shot of creativity right when you think you’ve shot everything you can shoot. In a tight spot like the kitchen, the fish-eye lens was a god-sent.
I shot the interview with the Canon as the main cam. I used the D3s with a telephoto lens to get that alternative 45% angle. I like shooting an interview with two cameras for two reasons. First, I just like the way that alternative angle looks. Second, having two angles on an interview lets me chop up a soundbite without creating a jumpcut and without laying b-roll over it. It just gives me more options in post production. One disadvantage is that it can be tough to match up the look of the two different cameras. I end up having to muck-up the 7D image to match the D3s. The two cameras just see light in different ways (not to mention that the D3s shots have been resized to full HD.)
The post production on this one was a pretty straight forward edit job. The three main things I’d like to point out are: 1. The tri-fold shot at the start 2. Working with sound 3. Stabilizing shots with After Effects.
“I totally didn’t realize that I hadn’t gotten a solid opener”
The three-shot split-screen at the beginning of the piece is pretty cool, right? Wrong. I had to resort to that trickery because I wasn’t smart enough to shoot an opening shot. I really feel like you have to open with a cool shot. Usually my openers are visually-interesting long shots. In that kitchen it was pretty tough to get a decent long shot, and I totally didn’t realize that I hadn’t gotten a solid opener. On the same note, I really didn’t get a decent closer.
I think the split screen is pretty cool, and I think it worked out well. But I think what really made it work was the audio. The audio is the second thing I want to talk about. I always pay a lot of attention to audio in post production, but in this piece I had to pay a little more attention because of that ever-present kitchen fan.
Most of the audio under the opener isn’t actually the audio from those shots. The water faucet audio is legit, but the chopping audio is actually me tapping a pen on a desk, and I recorded the sizzling frying pan audio at my house. There are two reasons why I didn’t use the actual camera audio. First, the chopping and the frying were shot from relatively far away, so my mic didn’t pick up the best sound. Second, that kitchen fan was in every shot, so if you layered three shots over each other, the fan’s sound would start to compound and overpower all the other sound.
Just another note on sound: if you take a listen to the piece, I think you’ll see that I try to weave the nat sound though out the piece. You’ll also notice that I use nat sound to signal to the viewer that the piece is coming to a close. Davis says something like “order up,” or whatever. I did this because, like I said, I was too stupid to shoot an actual closing shot.
The last thing that I want to talk about is stabilizing shaky shots with After Effects 5.5′s Warp Stabilizer effect. I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of how to use the tool, but I’ll tell you what it does. If you’ve got a shot that is a little shaky, Warp Stabilizer moves the shot around to counter the shake. Since the effect is moving the shot (to keep the shot still … crazy, right?), it has to resize the image so that the viewer doesn’t see the edges of the shot moving within the visible frame. The reason I mention the resize is that if you’re working with poor footage or footage that has already been resized ( like my D3s footy) then you’re going to see the degredation that you typically get from resizing footage.
Alright, so that’s that. I appreciate you reading, and I hope you’ve got something from this. If you want to contact me, feel free to friend me on facebook, and if you are into geeking out on media stuff, you should follow me on Twitter for a couple of cool links a week. Thanks again,