The CHIFCPUG lecture from March 24, 2010

For many of you regular readers, some of this blog entry may not make sense. I was honored to be invited to speak at the March meeting of the Chicago Final Cut Users Group this week, hosted by one of the top Chicago Advertising Agencies, DDB. Years ago, I was one of the co-founders of this great users group, and I don’t return nearly enough to keep in touch and share the wonderful information that is available at these informative meetings. It was great to be back.

Because 45 minutes, while a long time to speak, is sometimes not enough to cover everything in detail, here are some of the highlights, including some of the slides from the presentation for those who couldn’t write everything down as I moved through it rather quickly.


I’ve been both a film editor and photographer professionally for over 15 years. More and more recently, I’ve also been requested to direct. It’s been a lot of fun to be able to be creative in so many visual fields and I consider myself very fortunate to be making a living this way.

I am on staff at a boutique editing house in Chicago called The Colonie where I edit on both Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer. I’ve been using Media Composer since it came out over 15 years ago. I began using FCP when version 1.0 arrived more than 10 years ago.

I prefer FCP for a number of reasons, but to sum it up briefly, FCP allows me so much more flexibility as an editor to mix content from the multitude of sources and formats that arrive with each project these days. Avid has made some strides recently in this area, but I feel Media Composer is still playing catch up and has quite a way to go before it reaches parity with FCP as far as ease of multi-format editing.

Plus, I just prefer FCP because it feels like software really created with the editor in mind. I can edit more efficiently with FCP. It’s the little things I do a hundred times a day and FCP simply does them better. The Media Composer software on the other hand, continues to frustrate me on a daily basis whenever I have to use it.

Of course, at the end of the day, editing software is just a tool and so I can achieve what I need to do on either. It’s just a much happier day when I’m cutting on FCP.

Where Can I Help

Although I wear many hats these days, I cannot stress enough the importance of an editor’s Fresh Eyes. When the chaos of the production is finished, it is the editor who culls through the mayhem and begins to bring order to it. For that reason I welcome another editor to take material I have shot and let him have his or her way with it. As a director, it’s important to step back and let the editor do his thing.

When I traveled to New Orleans last year for several photography exhibitions I was a part of, on one of the trips, I asked a local photographer to take me to the Lower Ninth Ward to see the progress that had been made in the three and a half years since Katrina.

I was both surprised and saddened to see that the neighborhood was very nearly as it was in the weeks after the hurricane and storm surge hit. Boarded up homes and businesses as we walked the streets.

I brought the photographs back with me and fellow Colonie editor Joe Clear asked me if he could cut something with them. I gave him no direction and he came up with this spec PSA called “Where Can I Help?” for the Red Cross. Colonist Lyndsay McCully designed the end graphic animation.

Fresh Eyes. The most important thing an editor can bring to a project.

Center Cut Safe

It’s been our experience at The Colonie that we never know how a 16:9 HD commercial will be presented on the various television and cable networks. Even when we create separate 4:3 SD masters, there is no guarantee that a 16:9 master will make it through to all televisions without some of the information being cropped off on the sides. In other words, many times, a 16:9 master is center cut to 4:3 during broadcast.

For anyone who watched the SuperBowl in HD, the game and commercials were presented in their original 16:9. However on some stations and cable systems, the entire telecast, including commercials, was center cut to 4:3.

Because of this, for the foreseeable future, we recommend to all our clients that 16:9 commercials be created in what is called “center cut safe.” In other words, don’t put any critical picture action or graphics outside of a 4:3 center window on your 16:9 commercial.

Here is an example of a Verizon commercial currently running that has some critical picture action cut off from the left side of the screen when it is center cut on some television systems to 4:3.

(Ignore the graphics at the bottom of these screen grabs. The commercial is not currently available on YouTube, but I was able to create an example still from a casting company website that was involved with the production of the “More Cocoa” spot.)

You’ll notice that during the last live action scene, on the  16:9 version, you can see the actor burning his lip on the hot cocoa he is drinking.

However, on the center cut version, which is currently running this month, it’s difficult to see what he is reacting to because you can’t see his cup.

It’s important for editors who are creating content for broadcast to communicate with the production company to remind them to shoot with the idea in mind that some of their picture may be cut off on the sides of the screen if a television station or cable company takes the 16:9 master and chooses to air it in a 4:3 format.

Editors and graphics designers should also keep this in mind when creating graphics for television commercials.

It’s sad that we have to basically ignore so much of the beautiful widescreen space in 16:9, but no one wants to get a call from a client that their commercial “looks funny” on the air. At least not on purpose.

Billy Sheahan Photography iPhone App

I briefly discussed a new way I’ve been promoting my photography, editing and directing with my Billy Sheahan Photography iPhone App. It’s been available for free through the iTunes Store since November and the last report I got showed it has been installed on over 10,000 iPhones worldwide.

When we created version 1.0, we had no idea how many people would be interested in it. We are continuing to create updated versions and an iPad version of the Billy Sheahan Photography App is also in the works.

I promoted it in a smilar way to advertising for a movie release, with a Coming Soon promo released two weeks before it was available and a Now Available promo we put out the minute is was available on the App Store.

A link to the promo video we created for it is here.

Jillian Ann “Confess” Music Video

The CHIFCPUG meeting was the first time I presented a behind the scenes look at the making of the Jillian Ann “Confess” music video that I directed, photographed and edited last December and January.

Principal photography took place over two 20 hour days just before Christmas using the Canon 5D Mark II. All editing and finishing was done on Final Cut Pro, with Color Grading by Kelly Armstrong of ColorPlayground on Color.

Shooting with the 5D continues to be a joy for me… for the most part. There are many things I absolutely love about it and a few things that need special care when shooting.

First and foremost, it creates absolutely stunning images. The chip on the 5D is actually larger than on the RED One camera.

Because I can use all of my Canon lenses, I have many choices in how I can compose my shots.

It photographs in full HD 1920×1080 square pixel space.

With the new 2.0.4 firmware update released last week, it now can shoot in true 29.97p, 25p and the holy grail. 23.98p fps.

And as an added bonus, last Friday, Canon released the new EOS MOVIE Plugin for FCP, which allows ingestion into FCP using the time of day as timecode and allowing the user to create reel names for more professional editing capabilities.

It’s small enough to carry in my backpack and shoot wherever and whenever I see something interesting.

However… there are still some issues with the 5D when shooting HD footage. It records in the very compressed H.264 codec. This results in a great deal of picture information being thrown out as it records to the card. It’s more noticeable on very complex scenes.

It’s a bit of a tricky form factor to shoot with because the viewfinder requires you to remove the camera from your eye, eliminating a point of contact (your head) that would normally be used to stabilize it. There are many third party rigs available for it from local Chicago manufacturers Zacuto as well as RedRock Micro. But they are very very expensive. More than the price of the camera in many cases.

For the Jillian Ann video, I instead chose to go with the GlideTrack HD and two Manfrotto tripods and one Manfrotto fluid video head to create a rig I could use to dolly around the performance. The entire rig would retail for less than $1000.

For still shooters used to using RAW to capture their still photographs, it’s critical to know that there is no RAW when shooting video on the 5D. Unlike the RED and other cameras that actually do capture with all the RAW data, shooting HD on the 5D is more akin to shooting a JPG. Everything is baked in. Exposure and white balance need to be dead on to prevent headaches in post.

Another issue with the 5D is the Rolling Shutter or Jello-Effect. Because the 5D’s shutter collects the picture information as the shutter moves to expose the image, any severe panning or shake results in part of the picture image “bending.” It’s something that’s fairly manageable in most instances if you are careful about how you shoot, but it can be a problem if you are not aware of how to minimize it.

Also, once you begin shooting, the autofocus is disabled. Not really a problem especially if you are used to pulling focus on other cameras, but it takes a bit of practice.

White Balancing To Get You Close

Having to make sure your White Balance is correct can actually be something positive when shooting. In these example frames from the Confess raw footage, it’s the same time of day (middle of the night), same set and same single light source, the Calumet StudioLight SL855 (although it was moved to the other side of the set in the picture on the right).

The only difference is the White Balance I chose to give the image on the left a cool night time look and the picture on the right a warmer sunrise look.

I like to get my color tone in the ballpark for the colorist so she didn’t have to jump through as many hoops to get the final color grade we were after.

The Equipment, Crew and Location List

The weekend before Christmas and all through the shoot…. getting a production crew together that close to the holidays is a challenge. So I designed the production to be as bare bones as possible. Here you see a list of the entire equipment package, crew and the three locations we chose to maximize our production efficiency.

Our original location scouting resulted in about eight locations, but I decided to cut it to three. But moving a production through Chicago December winter traffic is always challenging and I narrowed it down to three.

“When we’re moving, we’re not shooting,” was the mantra during production.

Getting Canon 30P to 23.98P for Editing and Mastering

Although the Canon 5D Mark II can now shoot in a variety of frame rates, at the time it was a 30P only camera.

I came up with a method that would allow us to edit the 30P footage “natively” in 23.98 and still keep the audio in sync.

By playing back the audio track at 125% and having Jillian sing slightly faster, when we conformed the footage with Cinema Tools to be re-flagged in the file headers to be 23.98, the footage was slowed down to match the original speed of the audio track.

Plus we had the added benefit of the motion being slightly in slo-motion, because it was slowed down in edit from 30fps to 23.98fps which added a nice look to the video.

I used FCP to create the 125% playback track clip with a large timecode burn, pitching it back down to the correct key so Jillian was singing in the key it was recorded in and used a MacBook Pro on set as our playback and smart slate.

I had never tried this method before, but it worked great. And even though I now can chose to shoot in 23.98 on the 5D with the newly released firmware, I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t use the same method again if the project called for it.

You can see the final video here and on Vimeo.

The rest of the presentation involved me going through a demonstration of the process of the multicam edit rough cuts and workflow in FCP which I can’t show here. As I mentioned above, moving from director to editor is challenging in terms of keeping fresh eyes. I spent four days before I actually began the edit, live switching the 12 scenes individually in FCP multicam in 12 individual early rough cut edits, learning what scenes worked best with what verses and what choruses.

By spending this extra time separating myself from the directing process, it made it easier to make the hard decisions of what scenes worked best and what I could leave on the cutting room floor. I ended up cutting two scenes entirely, even though I really liked them on the shoot.

Fresh Eyes win out every time!

Thanks to Sue Lawson, Fred Pfeifer and everyone at the Chicago Final Cut Pro Users Group and DDB for making me feel very welcome on a long overdue homecoming!

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2 thoughts

  1. Huge, huge, unmitigated thanks to you for coming back “home” to the Chicago Final Cut Pro Users Group! To say that you’ve been missed is, indeed, an understatement. Your work is amazing, and thought-provoking and absolute artistry. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to you, and the other founders of Chifcpug, for sharing your time, talent and vision with us. Welcome back, Billy!

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