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My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?

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David See
My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 6, 2005 at 1:50:44 am

Hi there all,

I guess there could be some of you out there that will know what I mean by my dilemma:

I have been shooting and editing since 1984. I consider myself as a competent and creative camera person and editor, but, you know, when I look at my current productions - after all these years - I am just not happy with the overall look or feel of them.

I produce mainly in-house corporates and short promotional and documentary-style films, now being shot on DVCAM (DSR 570WSP) and edited in FCP 5.02.

I have the gear, the knowledge and experience, but have trouble nailing that polished, broadcast look.

Now I admit, through all these years I have never had formal training in any aspect of video production and I feel that because I don't do things by the book, that this might be why I am not 100% satisfied. Could someone tell me if there is a good book or manual filled with "rules of thumb" for editing that might teach (force) me to do things the right way. For example:

1) When should I fade music in and out working with a voice-over

2) How long should a dissolve or fade to/from black be in different circumstances?

3) How long should a title be on the screen for?

4) At what speed should a title roll or crawl?

5) Should a dissolve between two panning shots start before or after the pan stops/starts?

6) What EXACT settings should I use in, say, final cut pro to get a certain "look"?

You know, a Handbook/Rulebook of sorts for the video producer/editor is what I am after.

Look forward to some replies to help me over this hurdle.

Then again, perhaps it is just because I spend so much time on a project, by the end of editing it loses it's freshness and there are no surprises for me, unlike watching someone else's work...

Thanks

DS


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Matt Sowder
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 6, 2005 at 3:33:02 am

David,
All good rules are meant to be broken... Maybe they aren't rules so much as guidelines (to steal a phrase).

I've known a few "non-tradional" video people. I feel like I learn new reasons for doing something when approached from a differing viewpoint. Maybe NOT having a tradional viewpoint is okay... Not tying yourself to tradion isn't bad.

You can break down what you've asked and get some "formula" answers. Me? I go by feel and intent of the script. I stay consistant to what I do so that if I need to break for dramatic emphasis I have it. Music, fades, timing all come from the bones of your work. Maybe others have more specific responses, and you ask for some, I believe that you have be able to keep whatever you do consistant AND that it serves the story/program. If it doesn't then you need to adjust.

I offer this as food for thought this Friday evening. I think you picked a good place to pose your question...


Matt Sowder
Fiddler's Ridge Productions


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Mark Suszko
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 6, 2005 at 8:09:13 pm

I think every dedicated editor/director/producer feels like that about most of their projects, they are never 'finished' so much as finally abandoned to the client's care at some point... I think you are asking some very good questions in your post, but people can give you many differnet answers to most of them, like Matt says, so much of it has to come from your own self and what the specific material needs, that a hard and fast rule most often is a poor fit for variable situations. Over time, you pick up or invent many of your own rules, or you absorb them unconsciously from work you admire. Writing them down or expressing them to others for critique may help you find a new appreciation for them.

One example: One of my personal rules for keying thirds is, leave it up long enough to read it thru at a normal speed, two times. A corollary to the rule is, if you're supering it while someone is simutaneously saying that information, hold it until a beat after they finish saying it, or you're distracting the viewer's eye from the person speaking, dividing their attention so neither the spoken words nor the key can have their full effect. I think my rule can be expanded to rolls and crawls, that is, each name you pick out from the bunch should be readable two times before it leaves the screen. OTOH, often some other factor drives the speed of title rolls at the end of a show.

I don't really know enough about you or your work to be making too many pronouncements, but I daresay, the day you can't learn something new about lighting is the day you should leave the business. Really great lighting direction will make even corporate lectures shot with a cr@ppy camera look like network quality. And the best camera in the world is useless without good lighting. Get some books or tapes on technique and actually practice some setups. Challenge yourself to add one new (but appropriate) twist to the things you shoot already, each new production.

Since none of your training is formal, I think you would find some good value in skimming a used college level TV textbook from Amazon or the like. Zettl is a perennial favorite. Also check out the web site for Michael Weise Productions, he's got books there on direction and camea technique that really break it down for you, show you how the pros do it. "Cinematic Motion" I think is one of the better ones I read.

You might look into what your local community college or learning Annex offers in the way of film appreciation courses... learn to look for what really makes a film effective, then look for ways to bring the same concepts to your own work. I know sometimes it's a stretch to find links between John Ford and your next powerpoint-to-tape lecture, but you know..... After I read a little on Joe Campbell and the power of myth and that stuff, I was able, in an abstract sense, to apply "The Hero's Journey" ideas to things as short as 30-second Tv and radio spots, and to very prosaic, longer training type pieces - and darn if they didn't improve. You just need to get your head around the new concept and enhance your perspective a bit. Read the Cow articles on creative burnout and how to revitalize your muse, they will help.

Finally, there are an awful lot of tutorial links here on the cow that can give you ideas for how to improve many aspects of your look.

The fact you're asking these questions says to me you have the right attitude about what you're doing. Best of luck to ya.



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mickavid
slickness through lighting
on Aug 7, 2005 at 4:14:26 pm

Hi,

sorry to hear about your feelings of inadequacy. probably nothing you are doing in particular. i do have a suggestion that may revolutionize your life in video tho....

on your next production hire a lighting designer who has cinema background. let him decide the equipment needs and take total charge of the "look" and do not skimp on the budget. in fact: take a hit financially if you have to. i know it will be hard to sit back and let him/her take control, but relax and let him work. in fact, give him/her some control over framing and work together to design the shots.

when you screen the footage you will get very excited and even ansy to begin the edit so...

go into the edit suite and do everything exactly the same. dissolves, cuts, music cue fades, levels - keep it all the same. then sit back and enjoy the difference professional lighting makes to any given project.

once you have achieved change with lighting, draw up new rates for clients that include this feature and then start looking at different aspects of the gig. maybe start working with a composer or a sound mixer.

maybe experiment with adding contrast to shots or boosting the saturation. this does wonders for typical video productions.

maybe later start employing a jib operator or steadycam. basically, involve other specialists in aspects of your day to day. this will be an experience that is hard to duplicate as a small operation.

trust me - i know where you are coming from. but change brings renaissance. and renaissance brings growth and renewal and vigor. and you clients will notice. and your reel will show new clients.

but the one person who will be most pleased is yourself.


good luck,
mick


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Walter Biscardi
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 8, 2005 at 11:55:06 am

Hi David,

For all of your questions there really is no answer as everything is predicated by the project you're editing. There's a cadence, a pattern, a "feel" to a project that will be different for just about everything you do. And as others have noted, rules are generally being re-written on almost a daily basis anymore.

For instance, jump cuts were completely frowned upon during my college days. Woe to the student who jumped in their work or even in my early network news days, jump cuts were really really really bad. Now you see them employed all the time and it's just a look that works.

What I think sets projects apart as "polished" are three things. Clean, professional graphics treatment. Good audio mix. Clean, well color corrected video.

It's the graphics treatment that really seems to make most of my clients especially happy and give them the feeling of "polished" pieces. I use animated backdrops, photoshop and after effects in combination with Final Cut Pro to really create a nice motion graphics package for each piece.

That graphics treatment also carries over to the digital compositing side of things too. Instead of simple box on box to show a split screen or video during a talking head, I'll create frames in photoshop and matte the videos over the frames and then put the whole thing over an animated backdrop.

A good audio mix will always make your project stand out. And I don't just mean in terms of levels, I mean in terms of music and sfx selection. Too often I'll hear pieces where not only does the music compete with the voice track, but the music choices are just all wrong for the message.

Good looking video is essential too. Final Cut Pro's 3 Way Color Corrector is a very powerful tool that I'm using for a broadcast series and the coloring is just fantastic. Spend that extra time to really color correct your footage to make it the absolute best it can be. And remember, color correcting isn't just for fixing footage, you can also color a film to get a particular style or look.

One of the things that has really caught on with my shop is helping producers and independent videographers get that "finished" look by simply finishing their projects here. They will edit the entire project in final cut pro at their location and then when it's ready for graphics, coloring, etc... they just bring the harddrive here and we add whatever touches they want and then master it. They save money by cutting the project themselves and then I just enhance it a bit.

I know there is a book out there my Walter Murch who is one of the top film editors in the world so you could do a search on Amazon.com for it. Other than that, just have fun and always remember, if the client is really happy with your work, then you're doing really well.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Creative Genius, Biscardi Creative Media
http://www.biscardicreative.com

Now in Production, "The Rough Cut," http://www.theroughcutmovie.com

"I reject your reality and substitute my own!" - Adam Savage, Mythbusters


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Charlie King
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 8, 2005 at 5:42:51 pm

David,
I have beuilt a 43 year career from scratch. I never had any formal training, just watched what I liked about others work, and built my own style around what I liked best from a mixture of everything I had seen. The main point is that I just did what I felt at the time. I feel any book is just what that person does and you can't copy what someone else has done, you need yourself in every project you turn out.

I have never been 100% happy with any project I ever did. I always felt if I was happy then my standards of quality had gone down the tubes and it was time to get into something else. YOu can always see something you feel you could have done better, but if you strive for that ultimate perfection, you will spend your entire life tweaking that one project and never finish anything. A very good quote I heard once, "Perfection is only a goal, it cna never be achieved." Another you might ponder from the Scottish grandfather of an old friend of mine. "There are a thousand ways to plow a field, don't knock the plowing til you check the harvest."

You will never be 100% happy with what you did, but go into the next project with the attitude it will be better than the last. YOu can knock yourself out thinking about how each project needed to be changed, but don't. Once you turn it over to the client, if he is happey you should feel good about what you did, and move on.

I could keep going but anything else would only be repeating myself.

Charlie


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AVID_CHUMP
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 8, 2005 at 10:17:10 pm

Hey Guys

Charlie nailed it on the head i think. Im never happy with everything in my edits but the day i am is the day i need to stop doing it. I think its always easier to think someone elses work looks different to yours its a natural thing because to tend not to look below the surface of an edit that you've not invested your time into, look harder though and you'll see plenty of things about other peoples work that you dont like either. Editing is a tough gig because often the editor is the harshest critic, all in the name of stiving for perfection.

Appease your client on every edit, so what if that cuts not what you envisioned as long as they pay the cheque at the end who cares, take the lessons to your next gig and develop.

And most of all keep smiling, it is after all a great job !!


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Pixel Monkey
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 9, 2005 at 12:47:35 pm


[Charlie King] "I have never been 100% happy with any project I ever did."

The few who have been 100% happy with their work are usually the self-appointed Producer/Director/Editor/Sound Designer/Grip/Caterer/Desktop Foley/Assistant Hairdresser to the Stunt Coordinator/Rendering Supervisor/Publicist/Web Designer/Lava Lamp Repair Specialist/Gaffer and Sheep Wrangler...

...and who'thahell wants to watch that short student film???

______
/-o-o-
`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey
`(___)



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Pixel Monkey
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 9, 2005 at 12:42:25 pm

Google search this:
"walter murch transitions"

Read everything you find. It's a great start. There'a also a fabulous, stupendous, awesome article on transitions in the spring/summer ACE magazine... again by Murch. (http://www.ace-filmeditors.org/newace/mag_Main.html)

Everything else your asking needs to be discovered by actively mingling your style with others. Go to NAB. Join a local user's group or film club. Watch movies with the sound off. Drink lots of Yuengling and watch The Corsican Brothers backwards.

______
/-o-o-
`(=)`/...Pixel Monkey
`(___)



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Tim Kolb
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 9, 2005 at 1:54:27 pm

I've read your post and have taken some time to formulate an answer...it's not a straightforward question.

Keep in mind if you're at all worth your salt, you've been improving the entire time you've been in the business and the "if I knew then what I know now" thing affects your past work. I look back at some of the stuff I did 20 years ago as a rank beginner in the industry and marvel that someone actually paid for it. Absolutely unbearable to watch.

So much of what we use as evaluation standards against our own work in this industry is based on comparisons to other work that we see as something we can aspire too. The catch is we all appreciate different techniques so there isn't one standard. We don't all aspire to create the same kind of work. Therefore there really isn't a "manual"...thank goodness because I'd be getting out of the business if we were all producing work indistinguishable from each other.

We each build our own version of a mass of expertise and sensitivities. Many editors have a sort of procedural pattern that serves them well, but tend to edit by feel to the greatest extent myself...each to his own I suppose.

The bottom line is that you need to think in terms of the audience receiving the message in the best way possible.

Good luck on your quest. It's the same one we're all on...make the next project better than the last one...take pride in the work we create.




TimK,

Kolb Syverson Communications,
Creative Cow Host,
2004-2005 NAB Post Production Conference
Premiere Pro Technical Chair,
Author, "The Easy Guide to Premiere Pro" http://www.focalpress.com
"Premiere Pro Fast Track DVD Series" http://www.classondemand.net


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Charlie King
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 9, 2005 at 3:28:49 pm

[Tim Kolb] "So much of what we use as evaluation standards against our own work in this industry is based on comparisons to other work that we see as something we can aspire too."

Good example, off topic a bit but philosophy is the same. As a musician I was playing Trudy Heller's Versaille in Greenwich Village opposite a New York Band. Alternating every 30 minutes in the evening. I was totally amazed with the guitar player in that group and stood in the doorway of the kitchen and watched every move he made. I was totally mesmerized. One evening he came to me and said, I want you to show me that thing you do in so-and-so song. I love the way you southern boys play guitar, I've been watching you every night.
We all seem to be fascinated with other peoples work and consider our own inadequate, so if you are mesmerized with other people, you might just be pretty dang good yourself.

Charlie



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David Rowan
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 16, 2005 at 11:58:34 am

David,

I know what you mean, whenever I put a demo reel together I can't help but think "Wow, everything I've ever done sucks." No matter how much I liked it at the time. Your just in a rut.

If your a one-man band part of the problem is cross-polination. When you can bounce ideas off other people, see their work and have them critique yours then your work won't seem so stale. Local users groups can provide this, plus you could try freelancing at a local TV station, or on someother project where you are part of a team. Teaching can also do this, even if its the local boyscouts or highschool. The idea is that your communicating with other people in new ways. Just explaining your own techniques to someone will help you discover your own identity. Judging contests also exposes you to a lot of new material in a critical environment.

Experiment. I just had a co-worker tell me that he had never seen someone in the TV business work so hard on their home movies. I'm not much of a "film-maker" in terms of coming up with my own movies. I like helping other people realize their visions. But I make some pretty good home movies, and I experiment with storytelling, pohotography and editing techniques there. I see lots of ads for would be movie makers looking for camera men and editors (and others), and in the end its all on spec...no pay. Pro Bono work may not be a waste of time if it is different enough from your regular stuff to inspire, challenge at teach you.

Do domething different. Learn to Scuba dive. Research your genealogy. Shake up your life. If you have a dedicated hobby outside of work, try a new hobby. If you don't have a dedicated hobby outside of work...get one! For your own sake.

Summary: Meet new people, try new projects, learn new things.

DWR


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mark harvey
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 18, 2005 at 11:55:04 am

First off, sorry for not being around lately....I seem to say that a lot lately.....

I know the feeling of not aprreciating one's work and one's talent. For years I was telling myself that I was just lucky that my projects worked out. The heavy composited piece that I did, well that came out well because I was lucky. It has only been the last few years that I have actually been confident in my work. The 2 Promax gold awards from this years competition helped me to confirm this confidence. Also the fact that I am booked solid, and the other editors are not.....the fact that when I take vacation the other editors do nothing, and then when I come back I am swamped, these are all things that tell me that I am doing something right.

I still look at other people's work, people who post demos, and sure there are some that look kind of amateurish, but there are other's that blow me away. I ask myself, am I a hack, my work doesn't even come close to that.....but then I take a step back and try to evaluate the situation. I work for a sports broadcaster here in Montreal. We are very limited on time, and have a very heavy work load. I can put out a very tight, composited 30 second spot in anywhere from 2-4 hours. That is from start to finish. You see, what I am trying to say, is that comparing one's work to someone's else is not always a good idea. Now, I try to look at my work on it's own merit. Could I have done better within the timeframe alloted. What could I have done to make the project better....Did I learn anything ???


I can honestly say that I am now very happy with my work. I am not a long form editor, although I do the occasional show. My strength is short pieces, pieces that involve music, beat, feeling...especially excitement (Sports). I like to make the hair on people's arm stand on end, I like to evoke excitement, I want people to feel the message that I am trying to convey.

So you say your projects are not slick or polished. Ask yourself, what is missing. Pick up a design magazine, look for color schemes to treat the images. Buy magic bullet and film look a spot or two. Add a little blur to a super. Try soft cuts intead of cuts or dissolves...if you must dissolve, try directional dissolves(really really soft wipes that follow the action). For me, the most finished projects are usually cuts, heavy, heavy super text treatments, color effected shots and intense music mixes. I love letting music drive my edits. I love say cutting to beat, but then unexpectedly going to the off-beat......man is this job great or what.

Mark




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Walter Biscardi
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 18, 2005 at 12:27:09 pm

[mark harvey] "man is this job great or what."

And ultimately that's the key to our work. At the end of the day I always remind myself that I'm getting paid to have fun.



Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Creative Genius, Biscardi Creative Media
http://www.biscardicreative.com

Now in Production, "The Rough Cut," http://www.theroughcutmovie.com

Now editing "Good Eats" in HD for the Food Network

"I reject your reality and substitute my own!" - Adam Savage, Mythbusters


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Alan Bell
Re: My finished productions do not look "slick" or "polished" to me...or am I just sick of them when completed?
on Aug 21, 2005 at 5:03:28 am

This is a great job!

Here are some tricks I use to keep a fresh perspective on my sequences, especially when I've been working on them for awhile and putting them through different versions.

btw I mainly cut feature films.

1) I always take a deep breath before I sit back and look at something.
2) I remind myself not to aticipate the cuts I've made.
3) I when I feel something isn't right but I'm not sure what it is. I pay deep attention to the feeling. For me it's often the cut before I noticed.
4) I pay attention to where my eye tracks from cut to cut. (this is something I usually think about while I'm choosing my cuts.

5) Take a rest from it.

We have jobs that are 100% objective. It's all a matter of taste when you think about it. What was slick 10 years ago may look old today. I my opnion if your piece reaches the audience on an emontional level then it has a better chance of standing the test of time.

Just my two cents.

Alan Edward Bell
Editor


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