There's a clever production trick in City Of God, Fernando Meirelles' hauntingly vivid masterpiece that dares to document the crispy Rio de Janeiro slums using both actors and actual dwellers. The camera sweeps around its soccer-playing protagonist as a boy and finishes with him playing soccer as a teenager come of age ... without your having realized the change until the end. The shot uses a circular, miniature trainlike "track" so the camera moves at a precisely even angle and in a precisely clean circle.
For fun, we recreated this effect in a half hour with a single camera, no track, and no Rio ghetto. Instead, we skipped over to the Orlando Convention Center armed with a copy of the Avid edit suite on a beat-up, 3-year-old HP laptop. We haven't taken it to Sundance or Tribeca or Cannes, but you can find it on our Web site.
And the "we" is relative. I'm a 16-year veteran of the IT media industry, writing and editing and killing trees for years, helping build our company's "magazine" Web sites, and launching face-to-face events.
When I took over the Web video business for our company almost two years ago, all I had was enthusiasm and curiosity. The business did have a couple of longtime video producers with almost 35 years of combined experience. We owned some know-how and very little of our own equipment, and we relied on a video publishing system that comes with Microsoft Windows Server.
In two years, I've introduced a new video publishing platform, bought and operated professional-grade cameras, learned to edit video in Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro, hauled lights and audio equipment on airplanes, directed documentaries, and appeared on camera hundreds of times. I am by no means an expert at any of these things and in fact work with a staff that runs circles around me in each discipline. But now I know, and now I can.
And I know something most of you don't know: You can, too. Sure, it takes money (the proprietary P2 memory cards for our cameras alone run $1,500), but not as much as it used to. It takes know-how, but some of that can be learned and observed, and what can't be is easy to find from the many production studios around the world. Most of all, it takes will and the belief that video is the most effective form of communication on the Internet today. Believe it.
BEYOND THE SKUNKWORKS
I don't want to give you the wrong impression. There's the stuff we still shoot with professional production houses, which come with $100,000 camera kits and $15,000 tripods, enough lighting to turn night into day, and sound engineers with field mixers strapped onto their backs and around their waists like they're entering combat.
We film these productions and send the tapes to professional editors sitting in studios with high-end editing suites. They'll spend an hour getting just right something that you didn't even think was wrong in the first place, and they'll hit keyboard shortcuts that involve finger movements that are illegal in some Southern states.
We'll publish this video using a third-party hosted publishing system for which we have a six-figure contract. The system involves streaming video, serving ads, tracking stats, and working with content delivery networks, or CDNs, to ensure a quality stream. And I haven't even talked about lengthy rendering and encoding times, and understanding bit rates and aspect ratios and color corrections and audio synchronization, or managing multicamera shoots. The gap between that and the shaky, grainy home-porn look you see so often on YouTube is night and day. But make no mistake: Even some of the most hideous claptrap on YouTube, the stuff that makes even me look like a long-lost Coen brother, can often get thousands more page views than even the best stuff I produce. Like anything else, you start with the content.
The "right" approach to video is somewhere in between for most of us, and the Internet, the great equalizer, has made it possible and affordable for anyone. Companies like Sony and Panasonic have made huge strides in crafting three-chip, high-quality cameras for less than $10,000. The Panasonic HVX200 was a game changer. Accoutrements like the (unfortunately) proprietary 16-GB and 32-GB P2 cards and the FireStore (100 GB) hard drives mean that you can simply move files from magnetic storage directly into a cost-effective editing system and publish straightforward video within an hour of recording.