Capturing and Editing Video

You've shot your video. You're confident the script was good, the talent well-directed, the lighting gorgeous and the audio impeccable.

Now the trick is to get your footage into a computer and edit your many, carefully shot and logged takes into a clear, cogent and compelling piece that will win you recognition and adulation in cinema circles worldwide-or at least keep your boss happy for a few weeks.

The first job-capturing-ought to be the easier of the two…if your computer cooperates. The best possible scenario would be that you've shot on DV, your computer is one of the new Macintoshes with a built-in FireWire port and you have the capture and edit software that will work with that card.

If your computer--Mac or PC--doesn't have built-in FireWire support, you can install a PCI-slot 1394 card. But even today, anything from the availability of a free slot to installing an alleged plug-and-play card can send you running for the Tums.

Hardware installation woes aside, applications such as Digital Origin, EditDV and Adobe Premiere come bundled with a 1394 card, and Sonic Foundry's new Vegas Video apparently works with any card. All these programs will let you operate any DV camcorder or deck through its built-in 1394 port, so you can search relatively quickly for the clips you want to use, then bring them into the computer. The biggest drawback here is the time needed to shuttle tape back and forth to preview and capture. If your hard disk is big enough, you can batch-capture the entire tape while you're having dinner, then cull the duds from the hard disk, whose random-accessibility eliminates waiting for tape to shuttle.

Non-DV systems require you to convert the analog video on tape to a digital format for the computer, using a dedicated card. These can cost you, and configuring them to control a camcorder or deck is dicey.

Next to shooting, editing the video you've captured is where the fun is. Remember first that you're telling a story and most people will expect it to have a beginning, middle and end. You should also remember to let the images, audio, dialogue and effects each communicate what it's best at: don't try to say what you can show, and don't always show what you say.

The techniques involved in editing video and its attendant audio are simple on the surface: most software lets you drag clips to various locations on a time line, make them shorter or longer and add transitions and effects. But the editor's craft is endlessly deep, and experience is the best teacher. A really fast processor (nothing less than 400mHz) runs a close second, and a huge hard disk and plenty of RAM are not far behind.

Audio has been historically neglected in video, but as Jean-Luc Goddard pointed out, sixty percent of a good video is good audio. Most video editing software offers only rudimentary audio capability, requiring the user to export the audio to such programs as Sonic Foundry Sound Forge (Windows) or Bias Peak (Mac) for tasks requiring more accuracy, power or flexibility. This can be a drain, but pays you back big-time.

It may sound complex, and it is. Fortunately, there's never before been so many capable and affordable tools for the ambitious producer. A little money and a lot of practice can take you anywhere.

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