Video editing on a shoestring

When you go to a church like Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio, or St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ellisville, Mo., it’s easy to get overwhelmed with their video productions. They produce slick, professional, grabbing pieces that wouldn’t look out of place on broadcast TV.
Then you go look at their production studios, and feel overwhelmed. I know one of the computers St. John’s uses cost $10,000. That’s not counting the video decks and cameras. You can spend $50,000 to get the stuff you “need” to get serious about making movies.

I don’t have 50 grand and I don’t know anyone who does. If I were getting into this today, these are the things I would buy:

1. Computer. Get an IBM-compatible. All the critical apps for editing are available on PCs, and you can get a PC for next to nothing. Yes, you can edit on an iMac. I wouldn’t want to. At Faith Lutheran Church in Oakville, we edit on a P4 1.5 GHz. I can’t remember if it has 128 or 256 MB of RAM. It does have two 10K RPM SCSI drives. I suggest buying a PC with a gigahertz-plus CPU, DDR memory to be sure (yes, SDRAM is cheap, but speed of memory seems to be more important than quantity–you should be perfectly happy with 256 MB of DDR), and a couple of SCSI drives. Today’s IDE drives are fast enough for pure DV work, but you might not always have DV sources. Use some of the money you save by not buying a Mac to buy SCSI drives. A pair of 36-gig drives was sufficient to produce a 22-minute documentary with room to spare.

Hint: Get your SCSI drives at www.hypermicro.com. Fast delivery, good prices, great customer service. They don’t give me any freebies or any money and I have no affiliation with them. They just have the best prices on SCSI stuff I’ve found.

The budget varies. A $1,000 PC will suffice but you might want more power.

2. Pinnacle DV500. This card is very finicky, so go to www.pinnaclesys.com and look at their installation guides. Buy a motherboard or system they have a guide for. Follow their instructions precisely. I got the DV500 to work on a motherboard Pinnacle didn’t test, but it took me a week.

There are other boards from Matrox and Canopus. The boards look good on paper. I’m not familiar with them. If you compare them with a DV500 and their offerings look better, feel free to get one of them. I haven’t looked, because I was in the market a year ago and at the time the DV500 was the best. I don’t look now because I might be tempted to buy.

Whatever you get, make sure it comes with Adobe Premiere or Sonicfoundry Vegas Video at a minimum. Most boards throw in some titling software and other extras. You want them. Titling isn’t Premiere’s forte. Pinnacle’s titling app is so simple to use, it’s frightening. Remember, Premiere costs mosre on its own than these editing boards, and these boards accelerate some of Premiere’s functions.

I like Premiere but it’s what I leanred. Some people tell me Vegas is easier to learn initially.

The other thing these boards give you, besides acceleration of some video functions, is firewire ports and composite and S-Video inputs and outputs, which you’ll need at the very least for video preview, and for taking video input from analog sources.

Budget $500.

3. Monitors. A dual-head display isn’t a necessity but it’s nice if you can afford to do it. I use a 19-inch NEC Multisync (the model I have is discontinued), and Faith uses the same monitor. A pair of NEC or Mitsubishi monitors would be nice. Get a 19 and a 17 or two 17s if your budget is tight. But we survive just fine on single 19s. Budget at least $200.

A video monitor is a must because your video will look different on TV than it does on your SVGA monitors. A $70 13-inch TV from a local discount house will do fine as long as it has composite inputs, as most do today. I use an old Commodore 1702 monitor (the standard-issue monitor for the Commodore 64) and it’s fabulous, but those are in short supply today. A monitor with S-Video inputs would be nice, but I like to look at my video on lowest-common-denominator equipment. If the device has both types on inputs, hook them both up and check how your work looks both ways. Budget $99.

4. VCR. You’ll need one. The nicer the better, of course, but if all you can afford is a $60 discount house model or a hand-me-down, that’s fine. You’ll be asked for VHS copies of your work, and sometimes you’ll have to use VHS as a source. Budget $75.

5. Camera. I learned on JVC cameras so I’m partial to them. Digital-8 is cheaper, but MiniDV is the emerging standard. If you shop around, you can find a MiniDV camera for under $500, especially if you’re willing to buy a refurb. Nice extras are image stabilization and inputs for an external microphone. You can live without those, but it’s best if you can get them. And you definitely need a tripod. Get one with a fluid head for smooth motion. I bought the cheapest Bogan fluid-head tripod ($130 at a local camera shop) and love it. Budget $650.

6. Lights. Talk to a photographer. We haven’t bought any yet, and it shows.

Assuming you already have a suitable PC and monitor, you can get going for under $1,500. Later, you’ll want to add Adobe AfterEffects and a good sound editor, and more cameras, and more lights, and you’ll work your way towards 50 grand. But the most important thing is to have stories to tell. Tell great stories, and people will find money to fund your video work.

4 thoughts on “Video editing on a shoestring

  • September 8, 2002 at 5:02 pm
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    comment I wish Tim O’Reilly would sign you to do an Essentials of Video text – would fit nicely into the Essentials series.

  • September 9, 2002 at 9:04 pm
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    Thanks for the info Dave.

  • September 9, 2002 at 9:55 pm
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    Thanks, Clark. I’ve been thinking I’d like my next book to be about video editing, but I want to use another publisher. Maybe I need to have lunch with Tim Wesemann sometime and ask him if he can introduce me to an agent and/or an editor.

    The Christian media market doesn’t follow the economy like other markets. Christian books and music just keep on rolling. You can’t give computer books away right now.

    Plus, if I aim for the Christian market, I can cover storytelling and basic journalism, and not just the technical stuff that’s sometimes mind-numbing to write. That’ll be fun. And it’ll frighten the living daylights out of some of my former professors and classmates.

    Dang it, now that means I have to write it.

  • September 10, 2002 at 12:33 am
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    commentDon’t know how much you want to cover but I have seen an awful lot of bad PowerPoint animation for the sake of animation and clip art for the sake of clip art in Church.

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