In March I bought a tiny Panasonic 3-chip digital camcorder, and the next day Ziggy filmed part of my Blue Bear rock concert alongside the professional videographer I hired for the job. Stitching together footage from three cameras (though I used very little from our camcorder), plus audio from the minidisc recorder (mastered by Ziggy), was a tough project. My current software, Final Cut Express, doesn't display timecode, so lining up the shots is very tricky. When Final Cut Studio comes out in a few weeks, I'm planning to upgrade to it; even though it costs $700 academic price, Final Cut Pro 5 has new features to facilitate multicamera editing, which almost certainly would have made the wedding and Blue Bear projects a whole lot easier.
On Tuesday I took my single camera to Ireland's 32 to film my co-worker and friend Al (who played guitar at my wedding reception) perform with his band Phantom City. It was a learning experience, to be sure. I realized rather late that I had only really used the camcorder myself once, on our trip to Southern California, just for filming my friend's baby and geocaching with Ziggy and my grandmother. I had just acquired a tripod and was fairly incompetent even at setting up that simple device. Luckily Ziggy had agreed to come along with me, and helped enormously.
Many problems. The four-hour extended battery I had put a rush order on ran out after one hour; I had failed to charge it for long enough, and had the camera display set to minimal so I didn't realize it was running low until it was almost out. Luckily Ziggy found a power outlet and plugged the camera in quickly, and as he was recording to minidisc I was able to dub in the minute of audio that I lost. He also dashed out to get some lubricant for the tripod as it was stiff and catching when I tried to rotate it. He suggested I set the tripod up on a counter rather than the floor to shoot over patrons' heads, but I could not reach the controls easily from that height and had to use the remote. The wireless remote did not have any control over the zoom speed; had I used the wired remote or stood on tiptoe, the footage would have looked a lot smoother. Also, I had to hold the remote at an awkward angle as I was standing behind the camera and the sensor was in front; I got hand cramps, and hit pause instead of zoom once by mistake, resulting in more loss of footage. No doubt fatigue contributed to some of my problems; I had had an enjoyable soak in zyxwvut and zahraa's hot tub the night before, after seeing Josh Kornbluth read at Black Oak Books, but as a consequence got back to SF and to bed quite late for a weeknight.
But the biggest problem was that it was simply too dark in the club. While the picture looked reasonable in the viewfinder, when I got it on the computer I realized that it would be almost impossible to see. I used gamma correction to lighten the footage by about 20%, resulting in a very grainy look. Fortunately Al was very grateful and understanding; they weren't really planning to use this video for promotional purposes, though it would have been great to get a usable clip or two for the web site. But meanwhile it took 5-10 minutes of processor time to gamma-correct each of the 23 song clips, and the resulting rendered files ate up up a good deal of space on my hard disk.
At least the audio from the camera was usable. If I had to put in all the minidisc audio it would have at least doubled the project time. I only asked Ziggy to dump the first of the three discs to audio because he was about to start with the opera and I didn't want to further abuse him for his audio skills.
Ziggy still wanted payback for being dragged out to a club for four hours, though. On Saturday he was running audio for a showcase by AYPAL, Oakland's Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy & Leadership. He asked me to film it. At first I refused, being still somewhat traumatized by Tuesday's experience, but later changed my mind (what's the saying about getting right back up on the horse/bicycle?) and brought along the camcorder and tripod.
After a rejuvenating teahouse visit I arrived at the large, colorful, nearly new Cesar Chavez Education Center in Oakland. The show was in the "gymnatorium", which had a stage and some lighting, but only folding chairs for seating, and kids playing basketball while I was setting up was somewhat distracting. I at first put the tripod on the sound table, but remembering my Tuesday experience decided to extend the legs to their full length and put it on the floor. Most of the many people who walked in front of me before and during the performance at least had the courtesy to duck.
I turned off digital zoom, but the 10x optical was more than enough to reach the stage. Ziggy thought maybe I should stick to a wide shot as another person was filming with mini-DV and he thought maybe she could get the close-ups, but not knowing who she was I didn't want to count on that. It was a good thing as she disappeared until after the first number, and I would have missed capturing the very cool dragon that danced through the audience had I been focused just on the drummers on the stage. Other acts included various dances, raps, skits, poetry readings, and a well-done and amusing short film about Asian stereotypes.
I also figured out how to get the full display on the viewfinder, which was good as I came dangerously close to running out of tape at one point, but had just enough time to pop in a new one between acts. I used up three 60-minute tapes, all I had left - six in one week counting Phantom City's show (though Al is insisting on reimbursing me for those).
I used the wired remote this time and had much more control over the zoom. The lighting was better but still not great; anyone too close to the lip of the stage was in shadows. I haven't downloaded the footage yet (I need to make sure I'm completely done with Al's project first, as I may need to erase some of it to make more room on my disk). Ziggy was hoping I could get the new Final Cut Studio before working on this, but Apple lists a 4-6 week delivery time right now. We're also planning to get a new DVD burner that can do DVD+R format, as the DVD-R discs I've been burning in my G5 don't seem to work correctly on some older DVD players.
After the show we spent a good amount of time packing up, had a much-needed and delicious dinner at New World Vegetarian restaurant (though tragically, they weren't currently offering the taro root tapioca, a.k.a. saizai-crack per his reaction to that dessert, though the server promised that they were considering putting it back on the menu). Then another half hour offloading borrowed gear at the Mime Troupe, and Ziggy has yet more work to put in between shifts at the opera this evening, returning more borrowed equipment from the gig to the ANSWER Coalition.
Anyway, I could see multimedia production becoming a useful, potentially money-making hobby, though the learning curve and initial financial outlay will be steep. Though my skills are stronger in post-processing than live event production, Ziggy is persistent in teaching me some of the skills that he himself has learned on countless jobs. Who knows, perhaps we will be a husband-and-wife filmmaking team someday.