My video editing ephiphany

Something I learned yesterday. And it was entirely a happy accident. But many things that appear to have artistic quality are nothing but happy accidents.
My copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0 had a second disc in the jewel. I had assumed it was just tryout versions of other Adobe software, or a tutorial disc, so I never really paid much attention to it. It turned out to be a disc titled SmartSound QuickTracks for Adobe Premiere. It’s awfully cool, in reality. Install it, and then you can go into File, New in Premiere and select QuickTrack. Click Launch Maestro, and up pops a wizard-style interface. Pick a few options that describe the nature of your piece (style, mood, etc.) and tell it how long you want your audio clip to be, and it’ll loop musical bits in its library to give you one or more sound clips as close to your specifications as possible. Play them, and if any are satisfactory, it’ll generate a file and drop it into one of Premiere’s bins for you.

Very slick. And professional films almost always have a soundtrack to them. The reason is pretty simple. Music can heighten mood, and changes in the soundtrack can delineate segments of the film.

But I learned another reason. The video, with Luke speaking, had a lot of room noise in it, and I found it distracting. I tried filtering out the noise, but that’s hard to do if you don’t have any experience doing it. By the time I was done, his voice was crystal clear, but he sounded like a speech synthesizer. Imagine an old Texas Instruments Speak ‘n Spell with intonation and mood, and you’ll have a pretty good idea how Luke sounded. So I left the noise in there. (With pro equipment, you record room noise with one mic and the subject with another mic, so you can turn down the room noise at will. But I didn’t use pro equipment.)

What I found, after inserting a loop of Mozart being played softly on piano, was that Luke sounded clearer. The music covered up the distracting elements of the room noise, leaving just enough that you could still tell Luke was recorded in a living room, not a sound room. But the distracting element was camouflaged. And Mozart made me concentrate on what Luke was saying.

Steve DeLassus tells me this discovery qualifies me as a scientist.

I tried a couple of other pieces and found they didn’t work so well, so some experimentation is usually necessary. But it made the video look a whole lot more professional and a whole lot more polished. I won’t impress people in the audience who have Premiere and have loaded the same disc (I recognized a few of the more contemporary pieces as very commonly used stock music footage, mostly from low-budget commercials) but impressing people isn’t the goal anyway.

Of course once you get sick of the freebie tunes or if you can’t find an appropriate one, you can buy bigger libraries at $295 a pop. And that’s something I’ll probably do at some point.

If you happen to have Premiere (and if you don’t, I recommend you pick up a Pinnacle DV200 card, which sells for under $300 and includes Premiere, SmartSound QuickTracks, Photoshop LE, Pinnacle’s very nice DVTools for automatically scanning and cataloging your tapes, and plug-ins for titling and transitions–you get more functionality than Apple Final Cut Pro delivers, and Final Cut Pro costs $995), adding a musical score is a good way to spice up your home movies. I’m sure that someday the RIAA will determine that the use of commercial music in people’s home videos is the cause of declining record sales–since it can’t be the economy or the declining quality of new releases–but until that happens, private use of the music in your record collection will be covered under fair use. So I’m sure I’ll have to license rights to use U2’s “Kite” in the video I want shown at my funeral service in 2101, but for the time being, if you want to integrate Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” into your vacation video, no one’s going to stop you.

Speaking of which, not to sound morbid, but give “Kite” a listen if you happen to have All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I can’t think of a cooler song to play at a funeral. “Who’s to know when the time has come around / Don’t want to see you cry / I know that this is not goodbye.” Although, admittedly, I misunderstood the line “I’m a man / I’m not a child” as “I’m a man / I’m out of time,” which has considerably more finality. But, as is often the case, I digress.

Elementary video. This guide is very basic. But if you follow its rules to the letter, you’ll always look competent. If you’re wanting to make your home movies look better or learn the basics of video editing, it’s a good start, and considerably less expensive than the route I took. Someone else paid for my initial training, but it sure wasn’t cheap.

The other thing to remember about rules: Eventually you’ll develop a sense for when to break them. And eventually you’ll give in to that sense, and you’ll discover that some shots look great even though they stomp all over the rule of thirds. Don’t worry about it. That’s the difference between breaking rules intelligently and non-intelligently. I’m sure there are sentence fragments somewhere on this page too. Most of them are there for some reason, albeit probably sick and twisted.

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