Together, We Are More

Many months ago I mentioned an impending trip to Joshua Tree with Round Table Companies. That desert week has come and gone, and after months of editing smaller/secret-er projects I have an overall trip video to show you.

This was one of the more challenging and rewarding edits I’ve worked on since leaving VisCom.

The original assignment from Corey read: “We have so much great footage from Joshua Tree. I’d love to work on … some more general pieces that would show potential clients the love we have for one another.”

I had a few gut reactions on what to include in such a video, though in order to get going I had to log all of the footage in a meaningful way. There were three videographers: Ben Clyde, Joshua Woollen and myself. Together we created 1,610 video clips with different styles that had to be blended together. Add to that the fact that we were camping, with few-and-far-between opportunities to charge batteries, ingest dailies, and communicate with each other. Make no mistake that logging footage was by far the most time-consuming and eye-opening part of this entire process.

Morning, Power Station. Black Rock Campground at Joshua Tree State Park.
Morning, Power Station. Black Rock Campground at Joshua Tree State Park.

Audio was a situation all it’s own, since each of us had a different audio recording set-up. Between the desert wind, campfires, and new friends chatting excitedly where-ever we tried to record, I knew I needed to base the entire edit on what soundbites I could salvage.

Case in point, I fell in love with this sage quote from fellow camper Tivonaw Johnson. The quote is succinct, powerful, and fit perfectly with both the activity footage we gathered and the message that Corey asked that the video convey.

Here’s the original, in which you hear the crackling of our campfire and the hiss of two kerosene lamps needed to make visuals possible.
Trust quote - before

Now I’m no audio wizard, but I use Adobe Audition‘s Noise Removal like I know what I’m doing. In order to take out that constant hiss, I also removed the part of her voice on those wavelengths. The edited clip sounds clean but far away.
Trust quote - after

My entire storyboard was based on what audio I thought I could salvage. Once I began the process, the story arc morphed to exclude everything I was forced to reject (until such time as I become an audio wizard) and include what new quotes were simply cleaner and more powerful that the stuff I had originally picked. RTC approved my first draft of good quotes & clips and from there I was able to spend all of my energy polishing that edit.

First draft (in Adobe Premiere), just look at the shapes of things:
Initial Edit – June 29 (2:49)

Final draft, exactly the same shapes with only music and titles added:
Final Edit – July 20 (2:55)

Before adding the finishing touches of background music and intro/outro text provided by RTC, I smoothed out all of the transitions to match similar motions, moods and sounds.

I edit for two reasons only: The first and most important is the euphoria of that first epiphany, when I figure out what the footage is trying to say to me. “Every story is trying to be bad,” a professor once said to me, “and it is our job to make it good.” It’s like finding a needle in a haystack and the missing piece of the puzzle at once when I can take a mass of footage and distill it down to the correct story for the correct audience. It’s bliss. The second and more technical reason I edit is for the glory of a beautiful transition. When one clip follows the motion of the previous clip is my favorite but any transition that stands out as beautiful or blends in seamlessly is an equal achievement of skill and grace. So when I say I spent hours watching each transition over and over and over it is not tortuous but beautiful and zen.

More frustrating was my final step of color correcting each of our clips to match. The men used 5D Mk II and I a D800 — all good gear but all in different color spaces with different settings. I always forget I expose for blacks until I see someone else exposing for whites. Luckily I recently took a class in Adobe SpeedGrade (it’s not the best option but since I already subscribe to Creative Cloud, it’s perfect) and was able to pick my favorite clip and match each and every other clip to that. That took more time than I had patience for, but the end result is as vibrant as real life, and I hope makes us look like a team of shooters rather than three individuals doing our own thing.

See first this straight-from-camera frame. It’s legal color that to my eyes seems 100% accurate:
Lava - before

However, another shooter in the same scene shot much more vibrantly (still legal color that to my eyes seems 100% accurate). When I graded the duller clip to match the more vibrant clip, it looked cheaply edited. So I made the vibrant clip a little more vibrant and added that grading to what I did to the duller clip earlier and came out with this. The single frame doesn’t do the change any justice, but trust me for now.
Lava - after

The end result, in my opinion, makes the transition between clips smoother and helps me forget who shot what. Take a look, the video is just under three minutes and if you know what bits to look out for, it goes by even faster:

Don’t let a finished project fool you. Watching it now, there are definitely changes I would make. I know I need to let go and allow edits to fly or fall on their own. I take the lessons that I learned and the epiphanies that I gained to allow the next edit to be more fun than the last. From here I learned that regardless of how much I am prepared to shoot, there will always be obstacles (such as power or fire) in my way; that no matter how diligently I log footage, I will not be 100% prepared to take those clips into battle on the timeline, yet to take the clips I love and edit them with calculated risk because the entire journey is exciting when you love your craft.

A calculated risk: taking my first rock-climbing experience before everybody else in order to film Corey coming up. Photo by Katie Gutierrez.
A calculated risk: taking my first rock-climbing experience before everybody else in order to film Corey coming up. Photo by Katie Gutierrez.