Saturday, January 18, 2014

A VISION OF CAMERAS GONE BY

There are guys who are car guys. Car guys may make their living off or with their cars or they are just guys who love cars. These kinds of guys will go through cars in their life, sometimes lots of cars. Sometimes they may have multiple cars at the same time. Other times, they may have cars that no longer run but they can't bear to be parted from them.

These kinds of guys may write posts about their cars, old and new

Well, I once posted about my new car but I am not a car guy. I am, however, a camera guy, a video camera guy. I used them to make a living and I use em just for fun. And over the years I have owned several of them

This past week I began to own a new one

The first camera I owned was a Hitachi VHS camcorder. You remember VHS don't you, video tapes that produced an image that was oversaturated, fuzzy and carried the audio mixed in with the video .. wait, you don't even know what "tape" is  .. Um, move on. That cam was a huge clunky thing that recorded to tapes the size of a dictionary but at least it used CCDs (chips) instead of tubes, as did the cameras that learned to shoot with.

I went a lot of places with that big old camera, including Collette and mine's first vacation together, to Quebec City

Quebec City 1992 from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.
VHS was a consumer format, both to watch and to record on. Pros in those days where using 1" tape for broadcast and cams that shot on 3/4" tapes for field recording. The first "prosumer" format was probably S-VHS. This was a format used by wedding guys, corporate producers, even cable stations and some smaller TV stations. My second cam was a Panasonic SVHS-C cam. It was considerably smaller than the Hitachi, not quite a palmcorder but very manageable. It had a great lens on it and three CCDs to the Hitachi's one. It also had a superior mic

I liked that Panasonic but the problem was with the format. SVHS-C was a smaller tape which led to that smaller cam. A full size SVHS tape was capable of recording two hours .. the SVHS-C tapes were around 30 minutes. And the image, although better than VHS could produce a decent image in well lighted exterior conditions but pretty much sucked everywhere else. Still, the smaller size of thing opened up a lot of possibilities. I took that cam on our trip to Belize.

Mayan Cities of Belize from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That camera eventually went the way of the dinosaurs as did its format. Mini-DV would my next flavour in video formats. These were little tapes that could hold up to an hour of footage and although still compressed, were definitely superior to S VHS

I bought a little consumer mini DV Sanyo from a local guy off of eBay. This was a true palmcorder, much smaller than the Panasonic, and I could literally carry it in my pocket. I began to take that cam everywhere with me, including out with the dogs. This was never a camera with professional ambitions but it had a wicked long optical zoom, a flip out LCD monitor and was surprisingly rugged. It was this cam that got me into the habit of chronicling everything .. er .. blame that guy from eBay


The Nautical Festival from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That little cam was fun but it was far from being professional. Mini DV was a decent tape format but the little Sanyo could not use it to its full potential. Enter my next eBay purchase: The Canon XL1. This was another large camera, almost the size of that hold VHS. But it was a true professional camera: A great lens (that was interchangeable), a solid shotgun mic, the ability to input audio on two channels, XLR audio jacks and a full range of manual options. I loved that cam, I still have it, this format has passed us by but I hung on to the cam because it was a truly pro camera .. maybe not broadcast (though it was certainly used for that) but pro.

I shot a lot of video with that camera, there are a lot to choose from so I pretty much picked this one at random


Nuit Blanche Toronto from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

When Collette and I were planning our trip to Iceland I was thinking of taking the XL1 with me. But the thing is damn big and I knew lugging it around lava fields and glacial run offs may not be practical. The Sanyo handycam showed me the advantage of something small that you can take anywhere, but I was spoiled by the Canon's image quality and its pro features.

Collette knew she wanted to buy some camera gear for the trip so I accompanied her to Henry's and I met the Sony HDR, a palm sized cam that boasted two important features that I had never before used: HD video and an internal hard drive. In fact, the HDR has a massive hard drive, 120 gigs, you can fit around 15 hrs of full quality footage on it, and I've never come close to filling it up.

When I bought the cam I envisioned taking it as a backup to the XL1. Luckily I bought the cam advance enough of the trip that I had a lot of time to shoot with it. I was blown away. The Zeiss lens, the CMoss image sensor and the HD format produced images much better than I expected. It did not have the features of the Canon; I can't plug a mic into it, the manual controls are very limited but the image quality is superior the mini DV format in most ways

Needless to say, that little Sony was the one only camcorder I took to Iceland


ICELAND EDITED: DAY THREE from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That cam has come with us on many trips and many adventures. As I said, over the last two years the HDR has shot most of the the videos on this blog, including those I've entered into film festivals. I love the image quality but it is a consumer cam. I've been planning projects where this cam may not be enough. I miss the pro features of my Canon.

DSLRs have come into the video way in a big way. It's not surprising. Their high quality lenses and huge image sensors and full range of manual and automatic controls allows these "still" cams to shoot very high quality HD video images. The lenses and the image sensors allow DSLRs to give you more control over your depth of field, creating sharp foreground images and soft background images, even inside in tight confines, giving a normally flat video image a sense of depth

Collette bought a Nikon D7000 for its improved photographic capabilities but it also shoots video. I do like the quality of the video but for me, it's not a video camera. For one thing, we don't have what Nikon terms VR lenses, or vibration reduction lenses, handholding the thing is a nightmare. I've noticed guys shooting with VR lenses though and they have to use steadicams or huge elaborate rigs just to get a clean shot. That does not suit my cam-in-pocket run n gun style of shooting. And although you can plug a decent mic into the Nikon, the audio capabilities fail in comparison to my Canon.

DSLRs are used by people making TV commercials, even series and small movies, situations where you have lots of time and lots of control over your shots. DSLRS can shoot at 24 frames per second (opposed to the TV standard of 30) and it gives the video a rich, dynamic range that people thinks approximates film. This footage is heavily processed in post. Some day I may make a little movie but I don't stay up at night worrying about it. The Nikon is Collette's cam, she has no problem with letting me use it but I have not been inspired to buy one for myself


St Lawrence Market Neighbourhood from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

So what's a boy to do? I wanted more pro features, I wanted the ability to shoot in other formats but I need something small and steady and easy to use on the move .. well a boy finds a deal on a new cam and he goes and snares it.

Last week I bought myself another Sony palmcorder. The HVR-NX30U is a small HD cam with a hard drive but unlike the HVR it is not a consumer cam.


As you can see from the pic above, the NX is not your average consumer palmcorder. Much like my old Canon it has an audio deck that allows you to record on each channel and set the recording level on each channel. It also used XLR jacks which allows you to use very high end mics and other audio gear. The whole deck, along with the shotgun mic can be removed if weight and space is a concern. Under that deck is another mic, the built in zoom mic, which is pretty good and you can plug in a mic that uses a mini plug, like the nice Rode shotgun I bought for the Nikon

This cam can record a variety of HD video formats, including at 24 fps. One of the things I'm most interested in is the stability you can get with this cam. Besides electronic image stabilization, the Sony features a floating lens; it should give you the ability to shoot very steady shots even when hand held

It has a lot of manual settings. Like the HDR most of its options are electronic and accessed through the touch screen, the problem I found with that cam was going through the long and somewhat clunky menus. The NX allows you to assign three functions (for instance exposure, iris and shutter) to three buttons that live right on the LCD screen, making them easy to access. Even better you can assign another function, like focus, to a physical knob on the body of the cam; I'm an old video guy and I love the feel or an actual dial you can actually turn to bring things in and out of focus .. or whatever you need

It has all the other pro functions that I was trained on: Color bars, audio levels, zebra stripes (to indicate "hot" spots in the shot), time code and much more. Very much like the XLR but in a tiny package and with the advantage of HD and digital recording

I can definitely do pro work with this cam, promo vids to web for instance and more film festival work. It's also small and light and steady and great for taking on trips with Collette .. or rambles in the park with Terra

So here is the first of many adventures to come

G Ross Lord Park: Sony HXR-NX30U First Shoot from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

THE LAZY PERSON'S GUIDE TO SUBMITTING TO FILM FESTIVALS

Film festival season is once again upon us. All over the world wannabe movie makers are grabbing their DSLRs and homemade steadicam rigs and shooting oblique angles of their friends with lots of focus pulls .. you have to have focus pulls.

Or, you could be like me, old and cranky and lazy. And go through footage you shot a year ago and pull that into something that closely resembles the brief of the festival. Or be even lazier and just re-edit an existing video

Case in point, two videos I've recently submitted to two different festivals. These are 69 second film festivals, which is fairly self explainatory. I like the 60 second format, I actually like anything that puts restrictions on my film making, my professional career made me deadline oriented and I tend to work better when someone provides me with parameter to work within.

Freedom .. scary.

The 60 Second or Less Film Festival comes out of Washington College in the US and was open to both students and non students. By the time I found the festival, the entry deadline was just a few days away,  so to wiggle myself off the hook, there really wasn't time to create a new video. There is a special award in the festival for films with some kind of social awareness. I decided to recycle the video I made last year for the Amplify Me festival in Florida, that festival's brief was to create a video that addressed interpersonal communications in modern society. My original video won third place at that festival so I thought, what the hell, let's see what I could do.

The original video had a running length of two minutes and forty three seconds, a short video but still far too long for a 60 second film fest. So it had to be recut. Yay. I like editing things. Comes with being an editor. I especially like to edit my own stuff, I am definitely a less is more kind of guy.

Are You There, the name of the original film, was a lot of shots of people on the street, original music, information screens, layers of sound effects and voice over segments. I built the video step by step, and as is my way, worked very hard to pare off any "fat" but now I would have to just hack the thing to pieces. Here's the original video


My original thought was to was to cut out a lot of the people shots and maintain the data screens. As I worked, it was clear that that would not be possible. So then I had to decide which info screens had to go in order for the film still to work. I had to go through them and decide: Which of these screens point the viewer to the message I'm trying to convey; in this case, which screens (and which shots for that matter) told the story of how cell phone technology may actually be pulling us apart rather than bringing us together. Here's the 60 version that I submitted, I think  it was successful


The second film festival that I cannibalized a video for was one that I had entered before. Matt Lawrence runs an annual film festival out in Vashon Washington. I submitted a film to the festival last year and Matt invited me to do another one.

The deadline for this one was tight but not impossible. Last year I had submitted a kind of creepy little video and I wanted to do something different this year, something more fun. I had just thrown together a little video for fun, just for the heck of it and I thought it may fit the bill. It was, of course, too long for the festival.


So once again I had to go through the video and cut out the fat. Not from Terra, she's lean and mean .. but you know what I mean. Again, I had a video with images and info screens .. are we getting the hint that I perhaps disdain dialogue or voice over? Anyway, the challenge was to take this 3 minute video, cut it down to one minute and still get my point across. First step was to cut out some of the pics for each "section", so instead of having three shots of Terra for each info screen have one or two.

That still left me way over the target length. After some time of wasting my time (and let's be honest, if you're going to waste your time, you'd rather do it yourself) a lightbulb flickered on over my head. OK it's a dim light bulb, coated in dust but it still goes on .. for a while. It became obvious: Instead of having the "dialogue" screens on black, as separate shots, super them over the pics. And of course just tighten up the pics, trimming a couple seconds off each. This pretty easily got me to my target length; each one of this white on black screens was 3 to 4 seconds, but superimposing them, I cut out a lot of time without much altering the nature of the video. Here is the final product.


There is another 60 film festival on the horizon but for this one, I may actually have to get off my lazy ass and create something original.

No wait, by re editing or recycling existing videos I'm not being lazy, I'm being environmentally aware.




Thursday, May 3, 2012

TORONTO URBAN FILM FESTIVAL: A CANNIBAL VIDEO

If you've ridden the Toronto subway system in the last few years you have probably noticed the large monitors that hang from the ceiling on every platform. The screens display train info as well as news headlines etc. They also serve as the venue for the Toronto Urban Film Festival.

TUFF is an open call festival for videos. It has only two restrictions: A 60 second length limit and due to the venue (a subway platform) they have to be silent.

I enjoy the 60 second time frame; I tend to be more creative when I have restrictions. Sixty seconds is actually a long time, most TV commercials are 15 or 30 seconds and pay attention to the amount of information packed into one of those.

The silent thing intrigued me as well. I've never made a silent video. So much of my personal style is tied into using music as an important expressive element in my videos. I enjoyed the challenge and it also bypassed the issue I often have of needing to create music to which I have licensing rights.

Content wise the festival really didn't have any restrictions, the only guideline was to create a video that would "appeal to an urban audience" Um, right.

I quickly realized that I had a work in progress that may be suitable for this festival. I've been working on a video, ostensibly for an architectural film festival in Argentina with an emphasis on the city. That deadline is still a couple of months away so I've been taking my time with the video, basically creating a love song to Toronto. That seemed to work for the TUFF; the original video currently has a running time of just over five minutes but I thought I could probably use it as the basis for a one minute silent video.

So I cannibalized that longer video for this one. The original video has many layers of audio; voice overs, ambient sound, sound effects, music. It also has a lot of keys, that being titles superimposed over images. I knew I had to ditch the audio of course and I knew I had to be careful with titles as well. People standing on a platform waiting for a train aren't going to be inclined to do a lot of reading so I knew I had to keep any titles short and to the point.

A lot of my work is cut to a beat or more precisely, cut to a rhythm. You don't need music to appreciate a rhythm. Or at least that's my theory. This video has a rhythm or perhaps it creates a rhythm, without music, at leas that's the intent.

Now for the purpose of this viewing I have striped in some music, part of the soundtrack from the cannibalized video. There is a part of me that just needs to do that I guess. If so inclined it may be interesting to watch the video once with the audio then watch it again with the audio off, as it would be shown on the subway, if it gets that far


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NEW YORK CITY: ALIVE AT NIGHT

When we went to New York City I brought the handycam to record out holiday there. Now that I've posted those videos as a series that begins with this one I'm looking at the footage with a different perspective in mind.

I like having stock footage of New York City that I of course have total license to and I'm sure I'll be using it in ways I never anticipated in videos that I never knew I'd make ... if that's confusing think about how I feel. That came out of my head

I love cities at night. I have a lot of night time footage of Toronto but nothing specifically shot to be turned into a video. Let's put that on the list .. damn, that's a long list

The footage I shot in New York wasn't really what I would have chosen to shoot for a video that reflects that city's incredible night life. Well some of it is but I would have shot more, and different angles, and would have brought an tripod; I would have shot more detail shots, more extreme close ups that I like to use to contrast against wider shots

Still, I was happy with the footage I got. Most of it was shot at ground level in Times Square, 42nd Street and the Broadway area. Then we were up on the Empire State Building after the sun went down, some pretty strong shots I think

So I decided to cut together a little video of night time in New York City. I don't have specific plans for this video, I was at one point going to enter it into the National Geo Traveller Storyteller contest so license free music was a necessity. I chose another video for that competition but I decided to stick with my own music, just to have something on the shelf I could enter into contests

As I tend to do I layer a lot of audio here. Ambient audio is the sound associated with a shot, so when I put in a clip of people in Times Square I kept its audio. But I also have wild audio here to; wild audio being sound recorded on site but not necessarily belonging to the shot. So I have sounds of sirens and traffic from another clip that I stripe under the Times Square footage. I use pre recorded sound effects too; I have some open license studio sound effects of generic traffic etc that like to bed under the ambient and wild sound, keeping the volume low but using it as a deep background

I definitely need some new original music. I'm continuing to try to build songs in Garageband and Soundtrack Pro; they are great tools but I'm no musician. And I'm spoiled. I'm used to using songs from the best musicians in the world to cut to and use as background. May be time soon to start begging

At any rate, here is New York City: Alive at Night. Feedback is always welcome


Thursday, March 29, 2012

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STORYTELLERS COMPETITION

This is a competition hosted by National Geographic Travellers magazine and their corresponding online presence. Obviously the emphasis is to be on travel and "telling a story" The competition has several categories including Video, Photo and Blog. Naturally I decided to submit a video

For an earlier competition I had created a video that contrasted the stone and water environment of Georgian Bay Ontario with that of Iceland. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the outcome, partly because I had to tailor the video to the specifications of that competition

But I liked the original idea. Both areas are defined by the interaction of stone and water; the Canadian Shield of the Georgian Bay and volcanic rock of Iceland. In both cases one is impressed by the power of water that has carved and shaped the stone of thousands of years. This is the story I wanted to tell

I already had the shots I wanted so I fiddled around with the structure of the video. At first I was thinking of traditional travel videos that use narration to tell their story. I wrote and self recorded some voice over but was not satisfied with the result.

I have always been about, when possible, letting the visuals tell the story and use music as the structure. For a competition like this one must have the rights to the music you use; and although I think Moby is a terrific guy and he was generous to permit some of his music to be used for the Vimeo competition last year, I didn't want to test said generosity. So I created my own soundtrack in Garage band

Music bed goes down, video gets edited to it; nothing terribly complex here, just contrasting the two locations. But it still needed a little something. So instead of using narration I just created a few simple title cards: White lettering on a black screen. I decided to work with a black screen instead of superimposing or "supering" the titles over video. I wanted to keep a good pace to the video, I wanted to keep it moving, and white on black is less distracting, the titles can be quickly and easily read without disturbing the rhythm of the music.

The soundtrack is more than just music. When not using a voice over, I always feel you have an opportunity to layer the audio, to use that soundtrack as a kind of narration. So along with the music I have ambient audio, that being the sound associated with a clip, like the sound of the waterfall. I also striped in (an old old video editing term that means inserting sound under a clip) audio not tied to a clip; there are boat sounds and general water sounds recorded elsewhere that I blended in with the song itself

I was not satisfied with my first interpretation of this concept but I'm happy with this one (as happy as I ever am with a video) I have no idea if this video will be successful in the competition. I know they will be receiving thousands of entries and frankly I find the brief of "tell us a story" to be incredibly vague. So when I enter something like this, I just try to make the best video I can by my own standards within my interpretation of the brief.

Officially entered now, we'll see what happens.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

ONE MINUTE FILM FESTIVAL

My little video Forever was selected as one of 60 films shown at the festival du film minute de lille in France on Dec 3

I don't know the total number of entries but I do know that the 60 were paired down from something ...

No idea how the video has fared, but it was shown at the festival live in front of hundreds of people and for a panel of judges

I'll keep you tuned

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO MY OWN VIDEO

Thursday, pretty much on a whim, I decided to do a video for the One Minute Film Festival. No, it was not the video that will feature various version of me, that's still waiting on logistics.

I was mulling over a concept and realized I could do it using stock footage from my Moby video and some shots I could do right here at the house.

I wanted to do a video addressing the idea that you can capture and preserve memories or images or ideas ... like a video maker may do. We can record something and preserve it but that very act aren't we already altering? It's an old concept, about the very fact of observing something already removes it from that moment.

So I decided to use some of my footage of Moniquea, record a little voice over of an obsessed video maker and lead up to a shot or two expressing the futility of making something unique.

That was the idea but when I was done, I think I came up with something different. Now, I could have considered this a failure and gone back to the drawing board, so to speak, but I kind of liked what I had. The one minute time constraint is very interesting. I imagined that it would require a great deal of discipline but at least in this instance, it became something organic.

This particular video festival allows you to enter five different films so I thought What the Hell, let's go with it. I would appreciate feed back on this one; after all, it surprised me as much as it may you.

"Forever"