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Old January 20th, 2006, 05:29 PM   #1
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Hip Hop's Dead: The making of an HDV Music Video

In August 2005, I was contacted by Marisa at HDFEST. She asked me if would be interested in serving on a panel discussion during the New York City stop on the HDFEST tour . She also asked if I would be willing to give a lecture on the subject of the new HDV format. I agreed to take part in the panel discussion “Filmmaking at the edge of the HD transition”. And I also agreed to give a lecture that I titled, “HDV: A Cinematographer’s Point of View”. I chose to call my lecture “a cinematographer’s point of view” for two very specific reasons. First and foremost, because I am a cinematographer. Since I am not a writer, director, producer, editor, or what have you, I cannot speak with authority or experience on the qualifications of the HDV format in any other terms, other than how it can be used to capture and create images. Secondly, as a cinematographer I strive to maintain a “format neutral” position. In other words, I believe that a cinematographers priority is to responsibly choose an acquisition format based on its merits and appropriateness to the project at hand. I don’t believe in the pretentious, elitist perspective that 35mm film is the best and only format with which to create images. Nor do I feel that HDV is the indie filmmaker’s savior.

With the stage set for an HDV discussion that focused on its merits as a medium to create imagery, I obviously needed to have footage to screen as an example.

Since my my first outing with the JVC HD10 and then the Sony FX1 a year later, I had shot a handful of small projects on the HDV format. With each one I was able to learn what worked and what didn’t. So I set out to shoot a project that played specifically to HDV’s strengths.

Now, let me take a moment to re-iterate the point I made in paragraph one… I am not a writer, director, producer, or editor. However, since this was my lecture, those jobs fell on my shoulders. So if nothing else, let this experience serve as a testament of what can be accomplished with a little experience, a lot of favors, and a ton of determination!

Shortly before Marisa had contacted about HDFEST in August, I had shot a Music Video for Hip Hop artist Buddha Monk and Director Joshua Freeman entitled, “Change is Now Comin’”. I had come up with a visual approach to the video that Josh and Buddha both vetoed. Although we did end up shooting two shots from that visual approach (that did make it into the video), my idea remained virtually unproduced. Upon reflection, I realized that this idea would be perfect for HDV! Now all I needed was a Hip Hop artist with a track who be willing to let me shoot a video for them…

I contacted my good friend Adrian Richards who had shot an excellent music video for his friend Uni, and asked if he knew of any Hip Hop Artists who fit the bill. Adrian put me in touch with Elus. I met up with Elus’ manager, Unique who provided me with a CD of Elus’ tracks. Now I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of today’s Hip Hop. While I can dig some old school stuff, I personally don’t care for the current Rap scene. So when I sat down to listen to Elus’ tracks, I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was. It was both modern and unique, and yet had a bit of old school flavor that really appealed to me. Not only is his delivery excellent, but his lyrics are pointed and relevant without being obscene or too “du jour”. Best yet, I found the ideal track for my HDV Music Video; a track called, “Hip Hop’s Dead”!

My concept for the video was simple… It consisted of a variety of locked off shots from all around the artist as he delivered his rhyme. A single key light, black white image, and dark non-existent background rounded out the look. This was ideal for HDV. Since extreme movement and fast action can stress HDV’s MPEG compression, the locked off shots with a dark non-existent background virtually eliminated the possibility of compression artifacts showing up in the GOP. And the black and white image further aided in lightening the load on compression.

At the time, the Sony FX1 and the JVC HD10 were the only HDV cameras available. I chose to shoot the video with the Sony FX1. The Sony FX1 offered me two major features that were invaluable to me on this project. The first being complete manual control. And the second was the ability to pull the color out of the picture for a black and white image in camera. It would have been impossible for a camera’s auto exposure to expose the high contrast single key light image properly. And the ability to eliminate color for a black and white picture in camera not only eased the amount of data that needed to be compressed, but it also eliminated the need to render the black and white in post!

Adrian Richards is not only a good friend of mine, but he is also a DP himself. And he has work with me as my 1st AC, Camera Operator, and even Second Unit DP on many projects. I invited Adrian to Camera Operate for me on this project since he introduced me to Elus and I needed a skilled colleague to assist me in getting the video shot as quickly as possible. Joe O’Brien at Shadow Studios in Manhattan graciously allowed us to use his sound stage and G&E gear.

I arrived at Shadow Studios at about 1:00 in the afternoon and got to work. I pulled a couple 4x4 solids, a few C-stands, and pair of 400W Zip lights. I set up my Sony SD monitor and PowerBook on a small folding table and started to pre-light. Adrian, Elus and SKY-O (who is also featured on the track) arrived shortly thereafter and we went about finishing the set up.

I positioned Elus in front of the 4x solid and lit him with a single Zip at a traditional 45 degree angle. The FX1 was set up with the Cinema Tone Gamma on, and the color was turned off with a setting of -8. All other custom preset settings were left at default.

I used my PowerBook with iTunes for playback. I set the FX1 to output a downconverted, letterboxed image through the RCA cable, and connected it to my 13” Sony WEGA CRT monitor. And as I’ve stated before, everything worked flawlessly!

My only complaint is the short RCA cable that ships with the FX1. Since we were working with a lock off camera and I had a table to set up video village, this wasn't a huge issue. But in the past, working with this restriction has proved incredibly difficult. I've devised various workarounds on other projects I've shot with the FX1. But I really shouldn't have to. Sony, either supply a longer cable with the camera, or lose the proprietary connection on the camera!!!

We set about shooting the various angles of Elus and SKY-O using the same 4x solid background and single key zip light. It took Elus a little to warm up. But since this was his first Music Video, and (god bless him) he had to perform in such a small space, I can’t blame him! Can you imagine showing up for your first Music Video and being told, “OK so we’re really close on your face and the camera is locked off, so don’t move too much”??? Not being a director, I probably went about describing that the wrong way! He finally warmed up though and gave an excellent performance, despite the “stiff” restrictions!

It only took about an hour to get everything set up and about 2 hours to shoot everything. Which was incredibly speedy for only having two guys and the artists’ working on the video! If it weren’t for Adrian’s assistance, as well as Elus and SKY-O being on time, very professional, and very prepared, there’s no way we could’ve accomplished everything so quickly.

Last edited by Jon Fordham; January 21st, 2006 at 10:17 AM.
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Old January 20th, 2006, 05:30 PM   #2
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Once I had the footage in the can, I was now faced with the daunting task of cutting it together. For anyone that knows me, you know that post is the one area of production that I absolutely loathe! There’s nothing I hate more than sitting at a computer editing. My hats off to anyone who can edit and enjoy it, as I find it to be the most tedious and boring task ever!!! It’s all I can do to keep my sanity whenever I have to sit in a telecine bay or in a DI suite to color correct or manipulate my images. So when it came time to edit the Music Video I was not looking forward to it at all.

My saving grace was my new PowerBook! I travel so much that when it came time to invest in a new computer, the PowerBook G4 was the obvious choice! And yes, I was a little excited to see how Apple’s latest version of Final Cut performed. Final Cut Pro 5 boasted native HDV editing. Native post support was one of the many issues I had with the HDV format. And I now had the opportunity to venture into native HDV post.

Capturing the footage via Firewire was just as easy as it is with MiniDV. And thanks to Final Cut’s 1080/60i HDV preset, configuring the project was elegantly simple. Fortunately, this project was a Music Video. Which means that cutting was as simple as finding the best shot/performance and laying it onto the sequence in sync with the track. My only complaint with Final Cut’s native HDV editing is that you can’t view the project live via Firewire. With MiniDV, I can have any MiniDV camera or deck connected via Firewire, and view the project live on an external monitor. This is invaluable if you need to apply filters, fx, or color correct. I was lucky, in that I was working with a project that was black and white, and had been carefully shot and monitored in a controlled environment. So color correction or any other image adjustment wasn’t required. But it was still a very handicapped way of working for someone used to seeing a true representation of his work on a calibrated CRT monitor.

Actual editing time only took about 8 hours total. But upon finishing the cut, I was faced with the single greatest issue that I’ve raised with HDV since it was introduced… A very interlaced, very video looking piece! 60i is just too “real” to sell a narrative project. And even though this particular project looked great, it still moved with the tell tale motion signature of video. So I turned to Nattress to eliminate that movement and restore the narrative polish that is 24 frames per second!

A little history: In the summer of 2003, I shot a 20 minute film with a Sony DSR-500WS. At the time, the DVX100 had only been on the street for about 6 months and was still somewhat unproven as a quality 24P camera. The budget did not allow for 24P HD. And ultimately I was forced to shoot 60i NTSC with the Sony DSR-500WS strictly for budget reasons.

After an exhaustive post schedule the film was finally completed in the spring of 2005. And while I was plenty satisfied with the quality of the image, the 60i motion signature was a huge detractor from the cinematic look. Many colleagues stated that the film looked great, but that the movement gave it away as digital.

After discussing post options like Magic Bullet, to manipulate the motion signature, an editor suggested that we try Nattress. I took a look at the demo results and was very impressed. The plug ins were so incredibly affordable that the producers had nothing to lose. So the editor ran the final cut of the film through the 24 frame conversion. I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

That was a year ago… Ever since, I have been wondering how Nattresss FCP plug ins would fare with HDV. And this project was the perfect test subject!

I contacted Graeme Nattress and informed him of my intention to use his plug ins on this music video. Not only did he send me full versions of both his Standards Conversion and Film Effects plug ins, he stated that he would be happy to assist me in any way possible! Talk about customer support! I first applied the infamous G-Film filter to the 1080/60i HDV sequence. The G-Film filter works by smart de-interlacing the video into 24 frames and then applies a pulldown to get it back to 60 interlaced fields conforming to NTSC. It took about 2 hours on my 1.67Ghz G4 PowerBook (with 1Ghz of RAM) to render the 60i to 24 frame pulldown to the 5 minute HDV sequence. The G-Film filter seemed to render a lot faster with the last project that I had used it on. So I suspect that the only reason it took two hours to render five minutes was the combination of my single processor laptop and the GOP compression string of the HDV format.

As I understand it, since HDV’s GOP string relies on the first frame of the GOP to establish a base, cutting into that GOP involves a whole new render of the video. This is why you can’t view a live Firewire output image in Final Cut. Because FCP has to re-create the images that been have cut into during the editing process.

Regardless, once the render was done, the 1080/60i HDV sequence played back with the movement of a 24 frame project with a proper 3:2 pulldown! The 24 frame motion was very convincing, dare I say, flawless!

I then output my HDV opus via Firewire to the Sony FX1 and had a 1080/60i HDV piece that moved just as if it had been shot with a 24P camera. The output, or “Print to Video” as it’s called in FCP, took a few minutes to perform. Cause even though I had rendered the sequence, FCP then had to re-order the GOP before it could play it back through the Firewire. This was a minor annoyance. Just as I thought I had finished the damn post production process, I had to wait another 20 minutes while FCP re-ordered the GOP and was ready to output! This is not an issue I’ve ever faced with MiniDV. Though it’s a minor one to deal with for such an easy and familiar app like FCP. Hopefully as faster processors are introduced, FCP will be able to re-order and display native HDV footage live via Firewire, just as with MiniDV.

I now had my 1080/60i HDV master ready to screen during my lecture at HDFEST! However, I now had to deal with a harsh reality of delivering HDV. Fewer than 10% of US households have HDTV’s. And fewer than 1% have access to any form of HD-DVD. So I needed a way to deliver the Music Video to Elus, in a format that he could play and distribute. I turned to Nattress Standard Conversion for the answer. With Nattress Film Effects filters, the footage gets smart de-interlaced and pulled down. But it stays at the native 29.97 frame rate. So if you want to output a 60i project to a straight 24 frames, you’ll need a different workflow than simply applying the G-Film plug in. While applying the G-Film plug in works for 90% of the projects out there just looking for the 24P motion signature, the Standards Conversion package will give you the universal mastering ability of frame rate and standards conversion.

Using the Standards Conversion plug in, I was able to nest the 1080/60i HDV sequence in a 480/23.98 DVCPRO50 sequence. Nattress Standards Conversion works by using an “image well”. The image well is a little box that allows you to “drop” the original source file from the browser into the filter. What this does is points FCP to render from the source clip instead of rendering from a reference clip. The results are far superior to simply rendering a clip by switching the settings around.

Again, my render time was the same, about two hours. But I now had a letterboxed DVCPRO50 Standard Definition version of my Music Video! And DV50 is something that FCP can do live. So I was able to view the DV50 version live via Firewire on my desktop monitor. With a 24 frame SD version of the Music Video I could now output the piece and author a true 24 frame DVD for distribution.

Hip Hop’s Dead made its World Premiere at HDFEST 2005 as part of my lecture “HDV: A Cinematographer’s Point of View”. It screened in full resolution, directly off the native HDV master from the Sony FX1’s component output. It was definitely a huge success!

I would like to offer my most sincere thanks to Adrian Richards, Unique, Elus, SKY-O, Joe O’Brien, Shadow Studios, Joshua Freeman, Graeme Nattress, Rachel Rabinowitz, and Heath McKnight for their assistance in making this project possible.
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Old January 20th, 2006, 05:37 PM   #3
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Hey Jon, any production photos to go with this?
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Old January 20th, 2006, 06:20 PM   #4
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I don't have any behind the scenes photos. But I can pull stills from the actual Music Video. Should I email them to you or is there a way that I can put them into the post?
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Old January 20th, 2006, 06:21 PM   #5
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Thanks, email 'em to me and I'll include them in the article.

;-)
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Old January 20th, 2006, 06:23 PM   #6
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Jon.....dude....that was an AWESOME story. Written very well and entertaining. SO well, if you were to publish a book on your cinematography life/stories, I would buy it!
I went to Elus' website and watched the music video.....EXCELLENT JOB JON!

Jon, are you familiar with the XL series cameras as a DP?

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Old January 20th, 2006, 10:14 PM   #7
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Great article! I was able to give a lecture a couple of weeks before at HD Fest South Florida, where I showed off every HDV camera at that time, except the A1, the XL H1 (not even announced) and the HVX200, though I did talk a little bit about that one.

The folks at HD Fest are wonderful and are very curious about HDV, so it was a great opportunity for Jon and I to give some lectures. And I was lucky that Jon showed up in time to answer some crucial questions! (grin)

He and I can't wait to get our hands on the XL H1, but I've heard they're very hard to come by these days.

heath

ps-One last thing, Jon is a great writer and everyone should check out his stuff that he's written for HDV Info!

http://hdvinfo.net/articles/index.php#sonyhdrfx1

http://hdvinfo.net/articles/index.php#jvchd10

pss-I think he got more out of my HD10 than I ever did!
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Old January 20th, 2006, 10:22 PM   #8
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I didn't even know they put the video up on the website. And I must say, I'm a bit disappointed with the way it looks on the site. Perhaps HDVi could host a better looking version...

And yes Shannon, I am very familiar with the XL series of cameras.

Thank you Shannon and Heath for your complements. It's a shame, I have absolutely ZERO interest in writing!
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Old January 22nd, 2006, 08:59 PM   #9
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Is it a good idea to have both an HD master and the SD DV50 master? Why not just convert to 24p and down convert to DVCpro50 all at once?
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Old January 23rd, 2006, 03:43 PM   #10
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Evan,

To address your first question, I do believe it is a good idea to have both an HD master and an SD master for the reason I stated I above. Fewer than 10% of US households have HDTV’s. And fewer than 1% have access to any form of HD-DVD. Furthermore, even though many film festivals (such as Sundance) are accepting HDCAM as a screening format, I would venture to guess that fewer than 2% actually have HDCAM screening capabilities. Most festivals screening digitally originated films are screening them off BetaSP or DVCAM. So in my opinion, yes, it’s a very good idea to have both an HD and SD master of your project.

Now, as far as your second questions goes, the reason I didn’t just downconvert the HDV sequence to DV50 is two reasons… Remember, as I stated above, the G-Film plug in converts to 24 frames and adds a 3:2 pulldown to the sequence. So the sequence stays at 29.97. It does not become 24P. It simply takes on the motion signature associate with 24 frame acquisition.

By using the Nattress Standards Conversion, you can actually get to a “true” 24 frame clip. Because the Standards Conversion doesn’t add 3:2 pulldown. It simply takes you to 24 frames or any other standard you desire).

Yet another reason for using the Standards Conversion to go from HDV to DV50 was the way in which the Standards Conversion works. As I stated above, the conversion uses an image well to point FCP to the original source clips instead of rendering from references. This results in a vastly superior quality image. If you haven’t seen the effects of rending using the image well of Nattress’ Standards Conversion vs just plain old FCP conversion, then it’s hard to explain how great Nattress is. It’s truly night and day.

Finally, having a true 24 frame sequence with which to master the DVD’s from not only conserves the amount of the data that needs to be written and encoded on the disc; but it also gives you the truest most accurate representation of a 24 frame originated project for television and DVD players that support progressive scan.
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Old January 23rd, 2006, 05:10 PM   #11
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Ok, thanks a lot for clarifying that. So I've got to buy both film effects and standards converter once I get my fx1 or z1.
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Old January 26th, 2006, 08:44 PM   #12
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Jon,

Great article. Where can we see the video online?
I'm thinking about buying the FX1 because it fits my budget (cash).

So where's the best place to buy?

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Old January 26th, 2006, 09:34 PM   #13
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Ed,

DVi will be hosting a Quicktime version of the video soon. Chris and I are in the process of getting it up on the site for all to view with the article. As soon as it goes up, I'll post a link.

I couldn't tell you the best place to buy. I don't own the FX1.
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Old January 26th, 2006, 11:02 PM   #14
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Buy from one of our sponsors:

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Old January 27th, 2006, 04:14 PM   #15
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