… for Random Weirdness

Tip #460: 5 Tips to Improve a Boring Documentary

If your doc is boring, look to your story first.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. The primary goal of any good documentary is — first and foremost — to inform. However, to inform an audience well, you have to put something together that has all the elements of compelling entertainment. If you find yourself working on a documentary project that’s starting to get boring, here are some quick tricks to help you get back on track.

Work on Story and Structure. Whether you’re just starting out on your project or are deep in the editing process, you should ask yourself the following: If you were to sit down with a pen and paper, could you write (or sketch) out the entire story and structure of your film? If not, why not?

Animate or Illustrate When Needed. Adding custom illustrations or animations to a documentary project can be very appealing to documentary filmmakers. However, overusing animations or illustrations is something to avoid — and it can become expensive and time-consuming, depending on the number and quality of the illustrations and animations.

Add Movement and Transitions. In addition to animating or illustrating B-roll or specific scenes, other smaller editing tricks can actually be quite helpful for speeding up sequences and making the general tone and style a bit more appealing.

Alternate Means of Exposition. Consider letting the mystery of your story develop in some areas. Sometimes, all you need to make a compelling documentary is a few sentences over a black screen to provide all the exposition you actually need. Other things like lower thirds, narration, or interviews can provide the rest.

Make Those Tough Cuts. Documentaries are notorious for requiring tons and tons of filming and footage. At the end of the day, you’d much rather someone watch your film and say “I wish that was longer” than “I wish that was shorter.”

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… for Random Weirdness

Tip #461: 3 Tips to Shoot a Conversation in a Car

There’s a direct correlation between believability and dollars and/or time.

(Image courtesy of Pexels.com.)

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This article first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt. There’s something about the cinematic road scene that is deeply embedded in American film and culture. However, from a DP’s perspective, it can be one of the most difficult and taxing set-ups to tackle.

Green screen. This method involves the least amount of moving (parts, and in general) but the greatest amount of post-production. Leaving the car stationary and setting up a green screen will allow you to control the scene as much as possible. However, it will require some serious editing chops to fill every mirror and window reflection in a believable way that looks natural.

Camera Mount. The car mount method (dash cam, side mount, etc…) would be your best DIY small-production option. It’s also the riskiest in terms of possibly damage to your camera or gear. The small dashboard cam might be the safest shot possible, but it’s also one of the most used. Unless you’re project is embracing a practical DIY approach, it would be worth it to invest time or money into other options.

Tow Car. This is the professional method of choice. The tow car gives you maximum control of your car “set” while in a natural, uncontrolled environment. Tow car production still requires a production team and solid coordination (especially for filming scenes multiple times from multiple angles). But if you can afford a tow car (or makeshift trailer), you’ll get the most authentic cinematic look.

… for Apple Motion

Tip #467: Render Settings Improve CPU Performance

These render options allow us to avoid overloading the CPU.

Render options in the Render menu of the Canvas.

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(This is an excerpt from the Motion Help files.) Choose the render quality and resolution of the canvas display, and enable or disable features that can impact playback performance. When an option is active, a checkmark appears beside the menu item. If a complex project is causing your computer to play at a very low frame rate, you can make changes in this menu to reduce the strain on the processor.

The Render pop-up menu displays the following items:

  • Dynamic: Reduces the quality of the image displayed in the canvas during playback or scrubbing in the Timeline or mini-Timeline, allowing for faster feedback. Also reduces the quality of an image as it is modified in the canvas. When playback or scrubbing is stopped, or the modification is completed in the canvas, the image quality is restored (based on the Quality and Resolution settings for the project).
  • Full: Displays the canvas at full resolution (Shift-Q).
  • Half: Displays the canvas at half resolution.
  • Quarter: Displays the canvas at one-quarter resolution.
  • Draft: Renders objects in the canvas at a lower quality to allow optimal project interactivity. There’s no anti-aliasing.
  • Normal: Renders objects in the canvas at a medium quality. Shapes are anti-aliased, but 3D intersections are not. This is the default setting.
  • Best: Renders objects in the canvas at best quality, which includes higher-quality image resampling, anti-aliased intersections, anti-aliased particle edges, and sharper text.
  • Custom: Allows you to set additional controls to customize rendering quality. Choosing Custom opens the Advanced Quality Options dialog. For more information, see Advanced Quality settings.
  • Lighting: Turns the effect of lights in a project on or off. This setting does not turn off lights in the Layers list (or light scene icons), but it disables light shading effects in the canvas.
  • Shadows: Turns the effect of shadows in a project on or off.
  • Reflections: Turns the effect of reflections in a project on or off.
  • Depth of Field: Turns the effect of depth of field in a project on or off.
  • Motion Blur: Enables/disables the preview of motion blur in the canvas. Disabling motion blur may improve performance.

Note: When creating an effect, title, transition, or generator template for use in Final Cut Pro X, the Motion Blur item in the View pop-up menu controls whether motion blur is turned on when the project is applied in Final Cut Pro.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #468: How to Add Lens Flares

Lens flares add life to a scene.

(Background image courtesy: Editstock.com. Lens flare courtesy: Rampant Design Tools.)

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Lens flares occur when the sun, or a light, gets too close to the same level as a lens. In production, we try to avoid them because they can be unnecessarily distracting; and impossible to control. But, adding them later in post, where we can control them, adds life to an otherwise bland scene. The good news is that lens flares are easy to add, regardless of what editing software you are using.

There are two ways to create lens flares: using the computer, or shooting actual light with a camera. My preference is flares shot with a camera look more complex and believable.

Companies like Rampant Design Tools specialize in creating flares, fires and other visual effects in the camera. To add a flare:

  • Put the playhead in the background image.
  • Import and place the flare video on a layer above the background.
  • Select the flare clip and change the Blend mode to Screen.

That’s it. Use standard effects controls to rotate and position the effect to your liking. The screen shot illustrates a before-and-after example of a lens flare.

… for Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Tip #404: 6 Tips to Crop Images More Effectively

Settings for the Crop tool in Premiere Pro CC.

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This article, written by Logan Baker, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt.

The Crop tool is an important tool in the video editor’s toolkit. Here are six tips to help you get more out of it.

  • Add a Crop. The Crop tool is located in Effects > Video Effects > Transform > Crop – or just search for “crop”. Then, drag it from the Effects panel onto your clip. You can crop using the Left, Right, Top, and Bottom parameters. These parameters are also animatable using keyframes.

NOTE: You can also crop using Adjustment Layers.

  • Wide screen. Add classic wide screen bars to the top and bottom of your image. (An adjustment layer will do this to your entire sequence.)
  • Text. Animate a crop to imaginatively reveal your text.
  • Create a split screen. Stack the clips you want to see, then apply the crop to the top clip.
  • Create a spicy transition. First, make sure the upcoming clip is atop the tail end of your current clip. Then, add the crop effect to both clips. For the bottom clip, enable the zoom (in the crop effect), then raise the bottom by about fifteen percent, with your keyframes set toward the end of the clip. This’ll stretch out the video downwards. Then, for the top clip, animate the bottom from one-hundred percent to zero percent. This’ll bring the clip down, following the first clip.
  • Reveal effects. Apply effects to your clip, then nest them. Duplicate the nest and stack it above the clips with the effects. Remove the effects from the clips in the top nest. Then, wipe between the two nests.

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #455: Audio Compression Settings for YouTube

YouTube always recompresses media, so send it a larger-than-normal file.

Audio compression settings for a stereo MP3 file for YouTube.

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Last week, in Tip #451, I presented compression settings for audio you were posting for a podcast. YouTube and other social media settings are different, however. Here’s what you need to know.

YouTube, and other social media services, always recompress your data. This is necessary to support all the different playback devices, software and codecs in the real world.

If you send YouTube a perfectly compressed file, it will still recompress it – because it has to convert it to all these different codecs. In doing so, because there is not enough data, it will damage the quality of your audio.

To prevent this, we need to create a “mezzanine,” or middle, compression file so that when YouTube recompresses the file it has some bits it can throw away. MP3 is an excellent choice for audio-only files. AAC, which is part of H.264 compression, is a good choice when you are compressing audio with video.

Here are the settings:

Setting Mono Stereo
Codec for audio-only MP3 MP3
Codec for audio with video AAC AAC
Sample rate for audio-only 44.1 KHz 44.1k Khz
Sample rate for audio with video 48 KHz 48 Khz
Bit-depth 16-bits 16-bits
Data rate 160 kbps 320 kbps


Tip #458 explains video compression settings for YouTube

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #458: Video Compression Settings for YouTube

Compensate during compression for social media recompressing your files by adjusting bit rates.

Social media compression defaults in Apple Compressor.

Topic $TipTopic

YouTube, and other social media services, always recompress your data. This is necessary to support all the different playback devices, software and codecs in the real world.

If you send YouTube a perfectly compressed file, it will still recompress it – because it has to convert it to all these different codecs. In doing so, because there is not enough data, it will damage the quality of your audio. To prevent this, we need to create a “mezzanine,” or middle, compression file so that when YouTube recompresses the file it has some bits it can throw away. H.264 is an excellent choice for this intermedia codec, provided you use a high-bit rate. Higher bit rates won’t hurt, they’ll just create larger files which will take longer to transfer.

NOTE: Both Apple Compressor and Adobe Media Encoder have default compression settings for social media. In most cases, their defaults should be fine.

Here are the settings:

Compressed Frame Size Bit Rate
720p At least 10,000 kbps / 10 mbps
1080p At least 15,000 kbps / 15 mbps
4K At least 20,000 kbps / 20 mbps

NOTE: These settings work for all frame rates up to 60 fps.


Tip #455 explains audio compression settings for YouTube

… for Apple Final Cut Pro X

Tip #437: Secrets of the Skimmer

The skimmer has a hidden feature.

Type Control – Y to reveal the skimmer info panel.

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The Skimmer in Final Cut Pro X allows us to quickly review clips in the Browser. But, did you know it has a hidden feature that’s just a keystroke away? It does.

Type Control – Y.

This displays the skimmer info panel, displaying the name of the clip and the timecode location of the skimmer. This makes controlling the skimmer much more precise.

… for Apple Final Cut Pro X

Tip #438: Secrets of the Precision Editor

The Precision Editor is a great way to learn about trimming clips.

The Apple Final Cut Pro X Precision Editor.
An edit point opened for trimming in the Precision Editor of Final Cut Pro X.

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The Precision Editor in Final Cut Pro is an incredibly useful teaching tool in Final Cut Pro. If you haven’t played with it, you are missing a treat. Here’s what it does.

To access the Precision Editor, double-click any edit point in the timeline. The Out-going clip is displayed on top.

The darkened portions of each clip are the “handles,” extra media that we need for trimming and transitions. Trimming ends when we run out of handles.

  • To trim the Out, drag the top white line.
  • To trim the In, drag the bottom white line.
  • To roll trim both clips, drag the middle white line.

This is the best illustration of trimming I’ve ever seen, making it understandable even to people who are new to editing. I use it in every class.

To close the Precision Editor, press the ESC key.


The reason I don’t use the Precision Editor for my own trimming is that it does not allow me to trim audio separately from video; which is a technique I use all the time.

Still, from a teaching point of view, the Precision Editor is unequaled.

… for Apple Final Cut Pro X

Tip #439: Tips on Using the Position Tool

The Position tool allows you to move any clip anywhere – even to leave gaps.

The Tool palette in Final Cut Pro X.

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When Final Cut Pro X was first released, editors were aghast that the Magnetic Timeline prevented them from leaving gaps in the timeline. Leaving aside the issue of why you might, or might not, want to leave gaps, the answer is that since the beginning, FCP X has had the ability to create gaps in the timeline. It just isn’t obvious. Here’s how.

To access the Position tool, click the small arrow to the right of the Arrow tool at the top center of the Timeline. You can also use the keyboard shortcut of P.

With the Position tool:

  • When you drag a clip, the clip doesn’t spring back. Instead a media block of black video, called a gap, is inserted between the end of the previous clip and the one you are moving.
  • When you trim clips, it leaves a gap.
  • When you drag one clip on top of another, the edge of the new clip overwrites the old clip.
  • When you move a clip, any opened space is filled with a gap. This means that using the Position tool does not change the overall duration of a project.

Over the years, as I work in both Final Cut and Premiere, I’ve learned that the Position tool emulates older editing interfaces where dragging creates gaps and one clip overwrites another.

Final Cut gives us the ability to choose how our clips behave when we move them.