How to (and How Not to) Edit a 38-Camera Project: Part I

Guest post from Jacob Stone, Founder & Creative Director of Punch Drunk

PREAMBLE

When I was 23, I shot and edited KMFDM’s 20th Anniversary 2xDVD set. It was a monumental undertaking at the time, working with something like a $10,000 editing budget plus a week on tour at 22 years old — and being given full creative and directorial control. I shot it with a Canon GL2, one-man-band style, and then slaved over the edit and DVD authoring process for 3 months to get it perfect.

The result was my masterpiece: 8 live videos I shot and edited plus 8 sister videos shot by the fans (via the Fankam project) and edited by me. Plus tons of extras and behind-the-scenes footage

compiled onto a 2nd disc. We had a sanctioned release and the project was sponsored by the record label. I even buried an easter egg on the main disc. Our first replication batch was 10,000 discs, surely just a starting batch — and then it happened.

We discovered there was a copyright snag with one of the samples in one of the songs. Legal turmoil ensued. The result: there would be no more discs printed. Our “initial” batch of 10,000 copies would be the only copies ever pressed. Project closed. My aspirations to be a platinum-selling concert DVD director were quickly extinguished.

30TH ANNIVERSARY

Fast forward to 2013 — it is one year before KMFDM’s 30th Anniversary, and I realize it’s time for another live concert video: a 30th Anniversary live concert to follow my early work. The wrinkle? Zero budget. No label support. No money to hire equipment and crew, much less even compensate myself for the time.

So instead of approaching the project traditionally, I suggest to KMFDM founder, front-man, and long-time friend Sascha Konietzko that we try another option. I would gather all the cameras and gear I own, meet the band on tour, and travel for their last week of tour shooting the shows and conducting interviews. I would create a video-on-demand product at the end and me and the band would sell it together and totally circumvent traditional distribution channels. And we would crowdsource the interview from their 109,000+ Facebook fans. Sascha agrees, and so sets into motion the project.

ONE-MAN-BAND

Shooting five concerts in a week doesn’t seem like much of a challenge, but I wanted to squeeze the absolute most I could out of these five shows and provide myself with a huge amount of shot variety for the edit. So I assembled all the random cameras, clamps, and magic arms I owned at the time and rented a couple lenses. All told the arsenal comprised:

  • (1) Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5k
  • (1) Canon EF-S 17–55mm f/2.8 IS
  • (1) Canon EF-S 10–22mm f/3.5–4.5
  • (1) Canon 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS
  • (1) Canon G20 camcorder
  • (2) Canon Vixia M41 camcorders
  • (1) GoPro Hero 2 Silver
  • (2) GoPro Hero 3+ Black

A motley collection of random camcorders, cameras, and recording formats if I’ve ever seen one.

I chose a primary camera for each concert — either handheld or on a monopod. Then I mounted the other cameras wherever I could, on the drummer’s head, on the singers’ chests, on the necks of the guitars. All over the place. I figured that even if half the shots were crap, I’d have enough material remaining to cut something pretty decent together.

Those seven cameras shot each of the five concerts, yielding 35 takes of about 90 minutes each. In Seattle we had three additional volunteer shooters making the total editing volume 38 takes, each take spanning the entire 90-minute set.

THE EDIT: MEDIA MANAGEMENT & SETUP

After everything was shot, I had an enormous pile of media on my hands. Close to two terabytes of raw camera data. And in multiple formats: ProRes from the Blackmagic, AVCHD from the Canons, and mp4s from the GoPros. I enlisted master engineer and Punch Drunk IT guru Brian Koepke in the media management process at this point. We decided on the following workflow to concatenate and standardize the footage:

  1. Extract and concatenate all the Canon AVCHD footage using ClipWrap. Although Premiere (and probably other NLEs) can natively handle AVCHD footage, it’s inherently split into multiple files, so we wanted to maintain continuity of data as much as possible, and ClipWrap can rewrap AVCHD into a MOV wrapper without transcoding.
  2. Manually combine all the GoPro mp4s into cohesive clips. There are some tools available now to do this automatically, but I’ve had mixed results with these, where you can lose a frame or two at the junction between clips.
  3. Transcode everything into ProRes 422 masters. We chose ProRes 422 because it’s fast to read/write, very high quality, and exceeds the native bitrate of most of our footage, so we knew there would be little to no loss going into this format as the master.
  4. Create proxy transcodes in ProRes LT (and later proxy) to use for the actual edit. Originally we kept them in 1080, then dropped to 720. When we were really looking for more speed in playing back and editing multiple clips via multicam we dropped again to 640×360.

For storage we used a Drobo 5D to store the initial batch of media, but not for any editing. For the actual editing, Brian created a 3-SSD RAID over thunderbolt that achieved just over 1000 MBps read/write, which was damn impressive. Throughout the process several other spinning-platter RAIDs were built for various pieces, we used the HighPoint Thunderbolt dual RAID which worked very well.

All the edits were performed on either a late 2013 or late 2014 high-performance Macbook Pro Retina 15″ on Adobe Premiere CC. Brian assembled a huge master edit project to sync all the live video takes with a master live audio track, and then handed over the ready-to-edit files back to me.

The “edit suite” was the conference room in our office, windows blacked out by furniture pads. Inside was a Pyle loudspeaker and a 39″ Vizio TV from Costco.

NEXT WEEK: PART II

Find the original article linked here on the Punch Drunk website.

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