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.