Tag Archives: DINFOS

My Video Workflow

I’ve been doing this Navy video production thing for about ten years now. Over that time, I’ve developed a workflow that streamlines my production process. There isn’t anything magical about what I’m doing, but it works, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you’re new to the rate, or if you’re venturing into video/multimedia from a still or print background, I invite you to check out my workflow, and see if you can find something useful.

Here are the basic overall steps of my workflow:

  1. Create a “roadmap” of soundbites to help guide you through the interview.
  2. Interview after the event.
  3. Go through your interview footage and create a phat interview sequence.
  4. Slice down and rearrange the phat interview until you have a solid skeleton of soundbites that tell your story.
  5. Lay down your music track.
  6. Edit in the pictures and photos.
  7. Mix your audio. Start by leveling out your soundbite track with the other tracks muted. Then, turn on your nat sound and level it. Then turn on your music and level it.
  8. Adjust the color of your video tracks.

The Interview:

If possible, I usually shoot my interview after the event. I do this for two reasons:

  1. After witnessing the event, I have a better understanding of the event and the story arc. I know the important parts, the visual parts, and the parts that can be left out without hurting the story.
  2. I know what shots I’ve got. Even if I haven’t had time to review my imagery, I’ve got a good idea of what I captured on video and in stills.

Interview Roadmap:

I take a couple of minutes before an interview and jot down what I call a “roadmap.” My roadmap is a list of soundbites that tell the story of the event. For example, if I was doing a piece on Navy divers working with some Guatemalan navy divers, I would imagine the completed multimedia piece in my head. I would think about the soundbites that would make a complete piece, and I would jot those soundbites down. Here’s a bit of what my roadmap might look like:

  • We are in Guatemala working with the FEN (Guatemalan special forces).
  • This week we worked on searching signals in the classroom, then we practiced them on dry land, and finally we did them in the water.
  • Searching signals are a way for a diver to communicate with the surface by pulling on a line attached to the diver.
  • We all took turns diving and “driving” the diver.
  • It was a really great engagement, and I’m really impressed by the way they operate.

“I use it as a cheat sheet to guide me through my interview”

Once I have my roadmap jotted down, I use it as a cheat sheet to guide me through my interview. While I’m interviewing, I look at the roadmap and ask questions to elicit the soundbites I need to tell the story. My roadmap usually has more soundbites than I end up using in the final product.

Here is a photo of one of my actual roadmaps, and a link to the video that came from this roadmap.


interview roadmap


Here’s the video that I produced from this roadmap:

As you can see, my roadmap is just jotted down in chicken scratch. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. For years, I wrote down a meticulous list of questions for every interview; that was too much wasted time/work. I also went through a short phase where I was just freestyling questions with very little preparation; my OCD wouldn’t allow that to continue. The roadmap method I use now is a happy medium that works well for me without taking up too much time or energy.

(On a side note, here’s a link to a post I did on simple interview-lighting techniques: https://milcdigital.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/rembrandt-lighting-video-interview-techniques/ )


At my current command, I work in Adobe Premiere, but my basic workflow is universal to whatever editing platform I’m using.

The “Phat Interview”:

The first step in my editing process is to chop up my interview. I create a new sequence and I chop up my interview into small, manageable soundbites. This serves two purposes:

  1. I get to listen to my entire interview while I’m chopping it up. This gets me familiar with the soundbites I have to work with.
  2. I have all my soundbites on one sequence in my timeline, and, because they’re chopped up, I can use my keystrokes (up and down arrows in Premiere) to jump through the interview when I’m looking for a particular soundbite.

I call this my phat interview.

phat interview timeline


The “Skeleton Interview”:

My next step is to create a skeleton of the story I’m going to tell. This is the most important and most difficult step in my workflow. This is where I create the story’s framework (or skeleton). This is the structure on which the rest of the story is built. It doesn’t matter how many great sequences I shot, if I don’t arrange my soundbites in a way that tells a cohesive story, then I’m not going to have a solid multimedia piece.

For the skeleton, I duplicate my phat interview. I move all my soundbites to the right.  This creates an open space on the left-hand side.  In that open space I start bringing over the soundbites I’m going to use, and I start arranging them into a story skeleton.

In the example below, the green clips are my skeleton, and the purple clips are the leftover soundbites that I don’t plan on using.


skeleton interview


Drums Please:

My next step is to lay down some music. For me, music determines the rhythm of the piece. So, I want to have that rhythm there when I start editing video and pictures over the skeleton I’ve created.

By the way, I HATE digging through production music to find the perfect song. If I find a piece of music that’s cool, but isn’t right for the for the particular multimedia I’m working on, I will download it anyway. I’ve been doing that for about a year, and I’ve created a little library of quality tunes. My library is the first place I look before I resort to searching online.

“The Navy currently has an account with a music library called Killer Tracks”

The Navy currently has an account with a music library called Killer Tracks.  If your command doesn’t have access to it, ask your chain of command to get in touch with the folks at Navy Visual News in the Pentagon, or the Navy Production department at the Defense Media Activity.  Someone at one of those places will be able to point you in the right direction toward getting access to some music.

The Fun Part:

Editing video and photos over the interview is my favorite part of the process. Beyond the basics of sequencing, matching action, and having your pictures match what your soundbites are saying, I don’t really have any tips for this part.

Audio Mix:

Good or bad audio will separate the pros from the chumps. There are a million ways to get an acceptable audio mix. Here are the steps that I follow:

  1. I turn off (mute) all my audio tracks except for my soundbites (which is usually my “Audio 1”)
  2. I set the levels for my soundbites. I go through each of the soundbite clips and make sure the levels stay between -12 and -6. These numbers aren’t written in stone, but I’ve found that if the soundbites peak at -6, it gives me enough room to work with once I turn the nat sound and the music tracks back on.

audio levels

  1. After I’ve leveled the soundbites, I turn on the nat sound track (the audio from the b-roll video). I leave my soundbites on, too. I go through every clip making sure the nat sound isn’t overpowering the soundbites. I am also raising the nat sound during spots where there are no soundbites. I’m doing this step by ear, but I’m making sure the audio levels don’t peak out into the red.
  2. Next I turn on the music and follow the same steps: make sure it’s not overpowering the soundbites, make sure the audio levels aren’t peaking in the red, raising the music levels where it makes sense to do so.

Color Grading:

The last major step in my workflow is enhancing the color of my video. This can be memory intensive and require a lot of rendering. I do this step last so I don’t have to re-render my color effects a million times while I’m editing the video.

I don’t have a set technique for color grading. I’m always trying new things. Sometimes I’m drastic with it; sometimes I’m subtle with it. I just went on a little kick where I was working in contrasty black and white.

“Shout out to NPASE East’s MC3 Andrew Schneider for turning me on to Premier’s RGB Curves”

Right now, I’m using RGB Curves and Color Balance (HLS) to get a slightly over saturated and contrasty look. Both of these effects are found in the “Color Correction” section of Premiere’s video effects. Shout out to NPASE East’s MC3 Andrew Schneider for turning me on to Premier’s RGB Curves.


color grading


The basic adjustments I’m into right now are:

  1. Creating a slight “S” curve on the Master channel of the RGB Curves
  2. Bumping up the Saturation a bit in the Color Balance (HLS)

NOTE: I’m having a hard time using this technique to get a consistent look in my underwater shots.


Shooting is a whole topic by itself, but I just want to make two quick points here:

  1. A. B. S. Always Be Shooting. (https://milcdigital.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/putting-in-work-on-deployment/)
  2. You’ve got to be comfortable shooting stills and video (and writing print stories, and creating graphics.) We are no longer “still guys” or “video guys.”  In my experience, the customer is not  impressed by “focused excellence.”  The customers expect an MC to be all things media.

In Conclusion:

Once again, there is nothing magical about this workflow, but it works for me, so maybe parts of it can work for you.  Thanks for reading, and, as always, please feel free to contact me on facebook or email.



Putting in Work on Deployment

I’m about six weeks into a five month deployment.  This is my first deployment as an underwater photographer.  Right now, I’m in Belize, Central America, attached to a company of divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2.

I’ve been working on improving my still photography — both underwater and topside.  I’ve got a couple gems in my portfolio now, but not enough to write a post about what I’ve learned so far.

In this post, let’s look at some video pieces that I’ve released on this first leg of the deployment. I chose these videos because they each illustrate a point I’d like to make about the work we do as Mass Communication Specialists.  So here we go …

The Divers — Putting in work

The first leg of this deployment is Belize. I wanted all the Belize pieces to have a consistent look, so that if you saw one and liked it, it would be easy to recognize later pieces.  I chose to work in black and white. Some people will say that black and white is like an effect and an editor should have a reason to use it. My reason was I had never done it, and I wanted to do it. Good enough reason?

The color barrier: I didn’t want to make the underwater shots black and white. For the transition shots I went into After Effects with a color copy and a black and white copy of the transition shot.  I used a mask set to “subtract” and went frame by frame adjusting the  mask to match the water line. This was a really long and arduous process for a few seconds of video, but it was totally worth it.

“The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it”

The black and white: Instead of just desaturating the video to create the black and white effect, I used the “calculations” effect found in the “color correction” section of the “video effects” list in Adobe Premiere.  Here is an example of what one of my clips looked like:


I would play with the “Input Channel”, the “Second Layer Input Channel”, “Second Layer Opacity”, and the “Blending Mode” until I got the look I wanted.  I also added a “Brightness and Contrast” effect to the clips.  I like to make the video really contrasty; I like the whites to be white and the blacks to be black. Once again, putting in the time to get the black and white just the way I wanted it was time consuming, but it was totally worth it.  The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.

EOD — The message

The exercise that I’m on is called Southern Partnership Station.  I’m the only Navy combat cameraman on the deployment.  The other MCs on the deployment are from Naval Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) East, because this is basically a public affairs mission. Like all public affairs missions this one has certain messages that the Navy would like us to promote.  One of the messaging guidelines here is that we — the U.S. — are not “training” or “teaching” the host nation military units. We are, instead, sending in our “subject matter experts” to talk to their “subject matter experts.”  In a lot of situations here in Belize, this just isn’t the case. Our vast military budgets and 13 years of war have made our guys experienced in a way that a lot of other military units aren’t.

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs were obviously “teaching” the Belizean SEALs, but I had to be careful not to use any soundbites that actually said “teaching.” I was also on the lookout for moments that could show the local forces sharing some of their knowledge with our guys. I found that moment at around 1:13 where a Belizean SEAL was explaining a certain terrain feature to the U.S. EOD tech.

The message is the main reason the Navy has us (MC’s) doing what we do. If the Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists. You’ll know you’re level-26-grand-ninja when you can make the message entertaining.

A note on style: Something about black and white video makes me think of styles from the late ’60s and early ’70s. This video definitely reflects that retro influence. The music, the opening tri-fold, the wipe transitions and, of course, the porn music.

The Marines — Always. Be. Shooting.

There’s a scene from the movie Glen Gary Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin is a motivational speaker talking to a group of salesmen, and his mantra is “A-B-C: Always Be Closing.” Look it up on YouTube; it’s pretty rad. Anyway, my mantra is, “Always Be Shooting.” On deployment, I always stay busy even when I don’t have to be busy. That’s how I came into this Marine side project.

The Marines had built an obstacle course on the base here. If I hadn’t been busy with the Navy units I was assigned to, I would’ve done a longer piece on them building the course. On the last day of construction, I got up at 4 in the morning to get some photos of the last bit of welding.

I did this shoot as a favor to the Marines who weren’t really getting any attention for the good work they were doing.  I thought I was gonna wake up early, scrape out enough stills and video to make a short multimedia piece, and that would be all there was to it.  But I ended up getting one of the best still photographs I’ve ever shot.  I will probably end up submitting this shot to the contests at the end of the year. So, I ended up getting a lot more out of the shoot than I expected. That’s why I say “Always Be Shooting.”  My schedule said I could’ve taken the day off, but by staying busy, the benefits ended up outweighing the cost.  Always Be Shooting.

The Pressure Chamber — Making something out of nothing

The first week we got into Belize we weren’t really doing anything exciting, but I was itching to start putting out products. In this job, sometimes you’ve got to turn unappealing events into appealing multimedia. This multi’s entertainment value relies completely on style and basic sequencing. If you’re paying attention, there is no real story here.  The piece just talks about the recompression chamber, but it doesn’t really tell a start-to-end story.

Sometimes, the event you’re covering isn’t really exciting.  Sometimes it’s just a few dudes setting up a piece of equipment. This is when it comes down to you as the shooter/editor to make the piece entertaining.  In this piece I fell back on the basics of sequencing, I shot a lot of close-ups, and I glossed over it all with that retro style I talked about earlier.

In Conclusion …

I’ve done a couple more pieces since I’ve been here, but these are the ones that highlight the major points that I really want to make:

  • Sometimes you’ve got to make unappealing events into appealing multimedia
  • A-B-S: Always Be Shooting
  • The messaging is the main reason the Navy has us doing what we do. If Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists
  • The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to get in contact with me if you have any questions or feedback.