Saturday, September 22, 2012

Filming and post processing a theatre production

Recently I was in a play - a musical. Yikes. I also did an edit of two video tapes (from the same show) onto DVD.

Here are some notes.

First the disclaimer

I work for Apple. It's a big company. I have nothing to do with Final Cut Pro or iDVD or any of that. Anything I say here is not authorized by Apple and does not in any way represent a company opinion. Further, nothing I say here can't be found by searching for it from other public sources.

Also, I'm a total amateur.

The equipement

Two MINI DV camcorders, consumer grade, were used for filming. One was duct taped (yup) to the top of a ladder in the back of the theater. The other was in front of stage-right on a tripode. The front one was panned and zoomed throughout the play. The back one stayed put on its perch.

For editing I have a late 2008 MacBook Pro and access to Final Cut Pro X, iDVD.


Video and audio quality is obviously direct relationship to the cameras we used. Also, we used audio from the cameras. The audio clearly has noise from the camera's internal mechanisms throughout. It's not horrible, but it's there.

Filming the show presents difficult challenges with lighting. The optics of these cameras can't really keep up. When the lights are bright, cast member's faces are washed out. When the scene is dark, the whole scene is jaggy from JPG artifacts.

Two cameras isn't really enough. There should be two more. One each side of the stage to capture cast member's faces, or front sides more accurately during dialog etc. Also, with more cameras there is a better chance that one will have good footage of a particular moment. All too often during editing I had to choose between two bad shots at the same moment. Usually the fixed back camera won.

Also, multiple cameras would likely help with another problem we had. The front camera has huge gaps in footage (even a couple seconds of shooting the ceiling!). The back camera did not. It was set to 1.5 hours per tape and was able to capture complete footage of both acts.

It turns out MINI DV audio settings are crucial to working in Final Cut. I got very lucky, both cameras were set to 16-bit audio.


Importing from MINI DV, the second act suffered from audio drift. This was due to the back camera getting started and stopped at the start of the tape. This caused Final Cut to break the tape into multiple scenes and it doesn't seem to do this very well. It took me four tries to get a full "good enough" copy from this tape. I assume that Final Cut will get better at this. Better cameras are said to help in this area.

I might have used the front camera for audio but could not because the camera was right next to the orchestra and suffered from lots clipping. I was lucky that the back had good enough audio and had complete copies of both acts.


I did not have complete information for the credits. Yes I could have asked but didn't leave enough time before the DVDs were due. So, the whole orchestra and who knows who else did not get into the credits. Sigh.

Opening title sequence

Things always break down when rushed. The opening title sequences as a typo! I mentioned I'm an amateur  right?


iDVD is a strange program to me. But I got it done. I still don't know how to get chapter markers where I want them. Time was short, and adding them every 10 minutes was good enough.

Disk Utility is also strange - or at least the help online is (to me). Searching for how to deal with iDVD's img file output and burn it to disk the instructions people wrote were generally terse. With good reason. It is actually just simple. Open Disk Utility. Click the .img file. Click the Burn icon. It does the right thing.... Nice.

Burn speed? I have an 8x drive. I chose 4x just to be safe - rather have a good copy than not... Every disk save one came out just fine. The one that didn't did not look great going into the burn. I blame that disk.


I need a faster computer if I'm going to do this more often (which I'm not). 

Final Cut Pro X's mutlicam editing is awesome. It lines up clips based on audio content with ease. Loved this tool. Rough it in as it plays in real time - or even 2x/4x speed. Go back, adjust on the timeline and you're done. So much easier than other editors I've used.

Cameras matter. Get or rent the best you can. Use a tripod meant for smooth movement or don't move the camera and expect to use the footage. Zoom in/out SLOWLY. Fast zooms aren't useable.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just So - Elephants

I'm in this play. It's not really my thing but I've had a lot of fun learning new things and meeting new people. Who knows, maybe I'll do it again next year (fat chance).

Here I've recorded my recollections of what I need to know about Elephant's songs and stage directions. With just two days to go I'm hoping that writing this down will help me finally remember it all. All the lyrics are here.

Just So elephants songs and stage directions

BOLD text - a scene with elephants
Skip text - a scene without elephants
Purple text - stage directions

  1. Just so 
    1. Come in during end of EM's intro
    2. As chorus begins, king and queen get bags
    3. Show "Elephant" to the audience
    4. leave and change fast into suit as chorus begins (90 seconds)
  2. Another Tempest
  3. Skip - There's no Harm in Asking
    1. Move up stage (away from audience)
    2. act disturbed while EC sings
  4. Silly Questions
  5. The Limpopo River
    1. Kit and Mike B build the Boat
    2. Leave when around when the boat leaves
      1. stage left box moved to center stage, remove cushion
      2. Queen takes planter from tree box, 
      3. and MIKE B takes the top from the tree box and turns on the tree
  6. Skip Living on this Island
  7. Skip Thick Skin
    1. GET READY with Hawaiian shirt, take off jacket, put Hawaiian shirt on over grey under shirt.
  8. The Parsee Cake Cake Walk
    1. Freeze at the end. 
    2. Fall down if Rino passes near you
    3. leave stage
  9. Skip The Crime
  10. Skip The Chase
  11. Skip We Want to Take the Ladies Out
  12. Skip Pick up Your Hooves and Trot
    1. GET READY: need jacket and grey hat, and leave for trees
  13. Jungle Light / Just So (Reprise)
    1. COME in when "That's right you know it must have been shadowy..."
    2. put down leaves soon after IT's Brash It's BOLD it's Daring…
  14. Limpopo River (Reprise)
    1. Cross stage from left to right on first chorus
    2. Sing the round with KK and other prey animals

  1. Skip Just So (Reprise by EM)
  2. Skip The Argument
  3. Skip Wait a Bit
  4. Skip Aboriginally I Came
  5. Leaps and Bounds
    1. Need outback hat instead of grey hat
    2. Come on at start when Rock Concert music starts (clap to the beat)
    3. Leave after "You can say that again...."
  6. Ripe Bannanas/Just So Reprise (KK on BBQ)
    1. Come in as BBQ leaves for Just So Reprise
  7. Skip Does the Moment Ever Come
  8. Skip Please Don't Touch My Stove
  9. Little One Come Hither
    1. Starts back stage : when piano plays LIMPOPO tune: speak:  "GREAT GREY GREEN …rest… LIMPOPO RIVER"
    2. Ends with back stage : sing "SILLY QUESTIONS" repeated…3 times
  10. IF - the Crab
    1. Come on while singing "PAU AMMA PAU AMMA PAU AMMA PAU AMMA" x2
    2. Leave 5th (after wildebeests), PUT BACK the STAGE to LIBRARY

Friday, July 20, 2012

Batman Massacre

As I'm sure everyone knows, there was a huge massacre yesterday. At a movie premier for a comic book super hero. Super heroes need villains and villains do exists. Why must comics be copied in real life? I can't make any sense of it really - it's just too mind boggling.

But amid all the grief and cries of why I'm thinking of how much energy and wealth we spend on military vs. spending on science, education, health care, and general well being. I'd refer us all to this video

Not because the "good ol' days" were better. Only to illustrate the thinking I have on the killings - people invested in their social group don't usually turn on the group. Inspiring people, setting bold goals (that by the way employ people), and working towards a common greater good, can only help get more people invested/included.

May the victims rest in peace. May the injured recover. May their friends and relatives find ways to peace. May we all find ways to stop bullying and aggravating each other, ways to inspire all to be productive, and ways to let things that bother us go. 

A little bit goes a long way.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


My grandmother Annie passed away today. She was and always will be an inspirational figure in my life. She chuckled easily and listened intently. Very sharp and witty. She will be missed. Here is a video I took just a couple days before she passed.


A great spirit to the last.

I'm fortunate that I went to visit this past weekend. I received (and gave) hugs and kisses. She was delighted to see me. As I was her. So many memories of holidays in her warm house on Long Island. Playing on that property are some of the best times I had growing up. She always had tots and fudgsicles  in the freezer. Makes me smile even today recalling those fun snacks.

Rest in peace Annie.

Update: if you have a memory of Annie you'd like to share please do add it to the comments. I'd like to have a collection of them. When I have some time, I'm going to collect some of the things people have posted on Facebook here as well. Especially the photos and videos.