Monday, September 27, 2010

Tangled up in multimedia blues

I used to have to have only a notebook and pen.

Now, I need a video camera, an audio recorder, Blackberry, and various headphones and battery chargers. My desk is a mess, and I sometimes find myself tripping over wires and tangled up amid the mess that is my desk.

Shuffling papers is one thing. Untangling wires consumes my time.

Anyone have ideas for controlling my tangled life?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking a chance: recording audio and video separately

For the past year, I've been trying to find the best way to get decent audio from the courtroom for my video blog.

I thought I'd get a free lesson earlier this year, when the murder trial of a local abortion doctor drew national attention. I asked the audio experts on the production crew for CNN/Court TV their secret. The answer: they wire the courtroom with a dozen microphones. So much for that.

Even local broadcasters complain about the bad acoustics in our courtrooms, so I had been experimenting with various microphones. If you go back and listen to the episodes, you'll hear differences.

Finally, I decided to try a variation on what the real pros do -- recording audio and video separately, then synch them up later.

I'd been thinking about this for a while, but I'd been afraid the work flow would chew up all my time.

Turns out, it's easier than I thought. All you need is a sound, or a cue, to capture both on the camera's mic and the audio recorder. Then you have a mark to synch. That's where the clapboard comes in that we've seen in movies. It's to synch the audio and video.

You can use your hands to clap. But that doesn't work in the courtroom (although I know some judges who might like people to applaud when they enter). Too bad they don't use those gavels anymore.

The first time I tried it, the judge walked in, sat down, grabbed some files and then stapled them together. That was the sound I needed. I put the audio in Audacity, the video in Final Cut Express and started each clip with the click of the stapler.

I put them both in Final Cut as one clip, then export as a Quick Time Movie. That gives me a large file I can then bring back into Final Cut.  I edit the final clip from that file.

I've used doors snapping shut and people popping their "p's" as cues, setting the scrubber to the exact moment.

For video, I'm now using my Kodak Zi8, and Edirol R09 for sound. The stereo microphone on the Edirol is so clear, it picks up everything in the courtroom without the need for an external mic. I can pretty much set it anywhere in the room and let it go.

Another advantage is I can massage the sound separately, using various filters to blend out hums and the annoying sounds of the heating and air that fill courtrooms. It's not perfect by any means, but it's better.

And both the Zi8 and Edirol fit in my pockets. If I wanted, all I'd have to carry would be the tripod.

I don't always need to always sync the sound, either. The Kodak has an external mic jack on it, if I want to use it, but the built-in mic works surprisingly well, as I found when I did clips of a recent political debate.

Don't be afraid that something may be too difficult or complicated. Often, it's easier than you realize.