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sole event videographer compared to TV news show manpower and equipment

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Pat McParland
sole event videographer compared to TV news show manpower and equipment
on Mar 21, 2014 at 1:00:12 pm

I would sincerely appreciate any thoughts you can offer on the below:

I recently started working for an employer (local Govt) for whom I'm to produce short videos featuring interviews and cutaways during the interviews.

My self-taught background is in wedding videography and short videos for small businesses.

The employer keeps reminding me how they worked for a large news television show for a number of years as a journalist, and how they 'turned around' news reports very quickly, edited on the same day they were filmed.

The employer applied pressure for me to complete a 2 minute video of an event in a matter of a few hours, and wanted it done "quickly" and told me to pretend I was working for the employer's previous TV news show. I completed the edit, but with more time it would have been of a much better standard.

I would like to put to the employer the following:

That in comparing my skills (background is in wedding videography and short videos for small businesses) and supplied equipment to those of trained crew and editors from a TV news show, they are not comparing like for like.

I'm not too 'up' on the equipment and staff used on such TV news shows but any info would be a huge help! --
What speed advantages in terms of equipment and manpower might a TV news show have over a guy using a cheap/awkward camcorder with no headphone socket for monitoring sound who has to transport the footage back to the office to edit on an iMac?

For example, is a large TV news show using lightning quick $500,000 editing systems that hardly require any importing/rendering/processing/encoding/uploading time with one guy doing the assembly edit then someone else working on sound, and then someone else adding graphics/captions?

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Mark Suszko
Re: sole event videographer compared to TV news show manpower and equipment
on Mar 21, 2014 at 2:51:27 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Mar 21, 2014 at 3:07:53 pm

I have been exactly where you are. The times were simpler in my era, in some ways, because our editing systems were linear, tape-to-tape, using a pair of tape decks and a controller between them, or in some cases, one of the decks was also able to control a slave deck as well.

The linear editing process was good for editing discipline, in that it's limitations forced you to think fast and smart about how to build up the edit. Most everything had to be cuts-only. You assembled the shots like assembling cars in a freight train, and having to change one "car" ( a scene) in the middle of the train meant breaking the train, removing all the cars past the edit point, to add the one new car, then adding back all the follow-on cars, one at a time.

in a news environment, with super-tight deadlines, a way of working evolved that was brutally fast and efficient, but not always very "creative". You would lay down a master track, then go in over it with video-only b-roll inserts, timed to cues in the narration. Structurally, it was a pyramid, with the audio track and key VSOT interview tracks as the base, then a layer of cut-away video-only b-roll layered over the top. Graphics were usually left off and added later, live, by the control room.

Linear editing was unforgiving of mistakes. You could preview an edit before committing to it, and adjust the in and out points, but once you hit the button to execute, you were committed. So you did a lot of the work in your head first, and you tended to "edit in-camera' a lot, meaning, shooting in such a way that you were already building the image sequence in the camera, shot by shot, before even getting to actual editing. And not shooting things that were extraneous or very far out of chronological or story order, to keep the tape shuttling down to a minimum.

As recently as 7 years ago, I had opportunities to cut DV broadcast news footage in the field, outdoors, under the open lift gate of a cargo van, using an Apple laptop with FCP3, a deck, and monitor, all running off an inverter, powered by the van's engine. I had to remember to park with the van facing downwind or I'd be breathing exhaust fumes while editing. We cut together the story packages that way in an hour's time, sometimes less, sitting on a camera case and hunched over the rear bumper. Back in the shop, with better decks and controllers, I could slap together a 90-second package, with or without graphics, in about fifteen minutes.

When we moved to non-linear editing systems, I had to modify my technique a bit, but my usual method was to do one big capture and then hack away at it on the timeline, removing what I didn't need, leaving just the story. As I got better, I used the "batch" capture process to pre-mark and then grab only the clips I was sure to need, along with some "handles" on either side of the clip. I could then lasso and drag-drop those clips onto the timeline and essentially have the entire edit rough-cut right there, from the capturing stage, leaving only some precision trimming to be done.

There are two main styles of editing in my opinion: additive and subtractive. In europe, editors were called "joiners", for splicing clips together to build up the montage. In America, editors were called "cutters", and their main approach was to whittle away the unneeded frames to leave behind only the story. This is like sculpture: you can build it UP from adding clay, or you can chisel away from a solid block. My approach today is to be additive for the first round, then subtractive, then additive again, then more and more subtractive. When speed is needed, you cut almost exclusively in "subtractive" mode. Additive mode is very much more time-consuming, and I get the impression from how you describe your boss/client's issues, you are editing everything in an "additive" style. Which makes sense since wedding and event coverage is documentary, and great docs are built-up from careful assembly of pieces that aren't always linear in time.

I watch and work alongside news shooters today on a weekly basis. Their technique is dominated by two things; deadline pressure and a lack of storage space on their memory cards. The journalistic choices they make, I'll bloviate about at another time, but what they DO is this: They don't shoot an entire event anymore. They show up and "spray the room" to get wide establishing shots and wide versions of a few shots of people speaking, they usually only use shotgun camera audio, just to have a burbling track in the background, which a narrator will speak over later. Then they wait until the event is over, or if they arrived before it started, they buttonhole the person about to speak, and get them to regurgitate the essence of their point in two or three, 60-second sound bites. Then the shooter leaves, if they can, even if the event hasn't actually started, having condensed the hour-long event into no more than five minutes of footage. At the shop, or in their van, they lay down enough establishing shot for the reporter to lay his audio track over, they play one of the three quotes they got, and add more b-roll, with a wrap-up audio overlay by the reporter, to complete 90 seconds of "story". It is a brutal execution of "editing in-camera" and subtractive editing of the master. We can argue that it isn't really documenting what happened at all. But they get it done on time, and that is EVERYTHING in that business. "It's better than Good: IT's DONE". People get fired for not making deadlines.

You, as a one-man-band, have an advantage in that you the shooter already know what you the editor are going to want and need for the shots. For you, the edit begins as soon as you decide to power up the camera. Choosing to shoot or not shoot IS AN EDIT. Only shoot what you absolutely need to. Have the shot list for the edit in your head, or even on a post-it note stuck to the camera. Know you need a wide shot for coverage, reverse angles and b-roll, as well as ambient audio room tone. Know how to shoot interviews with instant camera angle changes done in the little pauses between breaths and paragraphs, and at the point where you sense a "wrap-up" statement is coming. Don't let the camera grind on a long time at and for nothing.

I sense you have gear issues and the client is insensitive about it. To do news-magazine or ENG work "right" requires a bare minimum of a camera that has professional XLR audio inputs, a combination on good on-camera shotgun AND either a hand-held omni mic, held within a foot of the speaker, or a wired or wireless lav on the speakers, and some minimum lighting gear of at least one softbox for the on-camera subjects. For the edit, any modern NLE will do, from imovie and windows moviemaker, on up to Avid, FCP, Premiere, Lightworks, Vegas, etc. as long as it has fast and ample storage.

But more than the gear, doing news-style "packages" well and fast is an acquired skill, built by repetition under real deadline pressure. Now you know the shape of it, the formula, as it were, and some of the rules, you should be able to deliver what the client wants.


For example, is a large TV news show using lightning quick $500,000 editing systems that hardly require any importing/rendering/processing/encoding/uploading time with one guy doing the assembly edit then someone else working on sound, and then someone else adding graphics/captions?

Network guys and gals may use Avid Nitris or similar rigs, but local news cutters don't usually have more than what you might own at home. Local TV News budgets are famously low and cheap, so they are as likely to cut on a laptop or budget PC tower system running FCP or Premiere as they would be on Avid. The price range for minimum system would be under six grand, maybe less. So no, you don't need a half-mil system to do what your boss wants. You need an NLE system with fast storage, and the minimal field gear I listed, but most of all you need to understand the workflow, which has been alien to you until now.

I'll entertain any questions you have, and I wish you success.

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Pat McParland
Re: sole event videographer compared to TV news show manpower and equipment
on Mar 22, 2014 at 11:16:15 pm

Brilliant post and info Mark, thank you so much!

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