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planning

Locked and Loaded


Yep, another blog about leaving the safety of my cubicle to work with a client.
Why so much emphasis on this? Because it is good for business to have your, er, stuff together!

Many people have a checklist for a shoot:

- batteries
- lav mic
- xlr cable
- bnc cable
- monitor
- hdmi cable
- 20 blank tapes or 6 p2 cards
- headphones
- gaffer tape
- etc

Likewise I certainly make a checklist for a week long trip:

- suit
- sportcoat
- 2 pair knakis
- 6 pair black socks
- 2 polo shirts
- 4 dress shirts (white, grey, blue, pinstripe)
- 4 favorite ties
- dress shoes
- bathing suit, flip flops (assuming they have a pool)
- etc

So why wouldn't you have a checklist for a non-shoot, non-convention trip out of the office?

The particular meeting described below was for an important project we are working on. The editor of the project and I have been meeting at his office on and off since November. In each meeting, we review the script and current images and video, look for new images and video, keep a tally of images and video we need to acquire, and then revise or re-write portions of the script (narration and on-screen text). Sounds easy enough. There are over 400 screens in the Flash program, 100 videos and at least 150 photographs. We also have a list of illustrations or animations to create.

The experience is taxing on the brain, and educational. I am not a surgeon, yet over the course of such a project, I learn much of what the target audience of surgeons will be expected to learn.

A few years ago I picked up one of these Swiss Army laptop backbacks. I don't know if these are affiliated with the Swiss army knife, or if the actual Swiss army uses these in the field (doubtful) but what I do know is that it is the best backpack I have ever owned. The only negative is that it holds a lot of stuff (heavy) which is good and bad. It is good because I can take whatever I need with me. It is bad because I have a spine and back muscles!

Below is a representation of the major components needed for this trek. Not shown are such essentials as blank DVD's, thumb drives, power supplies, phone charger, herbal tea bags, mints and a small flashlight.


Obviously the computer is the essential business tool. While this laptop, as described in earlier posts, has the full CS4 suite installed, useful for long plane trips and the occasional on-site edit session, in this case it is simply a web browser and word processor, perhaps a few Photoshop manipulations for good measure. It is essential to have an organized set of scripts, images, videos and other assets, and make sure this is backed up in multiple locations. Whenever a major script revision is completed, I e-mail myself a copy for safe keeping. Google and Yahoo share this task.

A fairly new acquisition is the Zoom H4N recorder. This little gizmo is great for recording temp narration tracks, or in some cases final narration with either a video's author or myself. Another handy gadget is a Canon HD camcorder, recording to SD cards. While not broadcast quality, what if I am sitting in an office and someone says "hey, you want to come see someone with a knife in their skull?" - a little camera that shoots video and decent stills is great to have for these occasions, or more likely if we need a quick shot of an instrument, piece of equipment or even just to photograph a thumbnail sketch as reference for an illustrator or designer. You never know.

While bus powered USB hard drives are cheap and getting cheaper, we have a library of eSATA drives ranging from 350GB to 1.5TB. While I may not use it, having it with me along with a portable USB interface is handy.

A USB mouse is much easier to work with for long periods of time than the laptop's touchpad. And sometimes the best technology of all is a sheet of lined paper.

And finally, do not discount the importance of reliable writing implements.

So, to summarize, any time you are going anywhere, whether for a video shoot, editing session, tradeshow or simply the all-important sit-down meeting, know what you need to do and have what you know you need in order to do what you know you need to do. Whew.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:52:03 pm travel, workflow, planning, organization, alliteration

A Photo Blog


On this week's journey, I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Well, perhaps a bit of commentary to tie it all together.

The title card is from the Philly Airport. I had just enough time between flights to grab a bag full of food for the 4 hour trip out to Denver. I ate it all, and got a lot of work done on the plane. Sometimes I think I should install an airplane seat at my desk!

Let's backup a bit. The planning for this trip was interspersed with another time consuming project. I suspected there might be some last minute work to do before leaving town, so I packed my bag days in advance.


As predicted, the night before the flight, I had a request to help create a powerpoint presentation matching the design of the video graphics, and including some video clips from the edit. To avoid a late night in the office I decided to take the computer home and do the rendering at night while I did some other chores to prepare my wife for a few days alone:

Clean dishes to eat...

...a pasta casserole with vodka sauce, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives.

Media Encoder seems to move slowly when a deadline is looming. The files finished at 11pm. I set the FTP upload going and went to bed. When I woke up at 3am, the files were ready and i could email my client.
No time for breakfast, gotta hit the road.

One nice thing about such an early flight is I can get to the airport in less than 45 minutes, security is a breeze and the terminal is deserted.


I have to admit I was a bit bleary eyed.




You know it is an early flight when the sun is just rising while making your connection.

I spent the flight primarily reviewing the detailed shot lists prepared by my colleague. being familiar with the shots and formulating questions for our contacts on the ground would be helpful in the meeting scheduled a few hours after landing.

Back in the Denver airport, underground to the choo-choo, luggage, pickup curbside by another co-worker already in town, and to the hospital for pre-production.




After a long flight, airport food, car ride, meeting and running on vapors, we all decided to get grocery store food and dine in our rooms. But we were not done yet. After getting the gear charging and self-nourishing, it was time for a final planning session, going shot by shot, deciding upon the schedule and division of labor. Teamwork is vital.



Next morning, get to hospital, change into scrub attire and get setup. Specifics of the shoot are, as in many cases, proprietary and not able to be discussed in detail. However it is the teamwork and the process that is important to talk about here.

Lunch break arrived around 1:30pm for me. The break room had one of those automated coffee machines - you select decaf or diesel, mocha or regular, small or large and hit GO!


Back to work. The afternoon was spent getting a lot of stills with the 7d and various action shots in and around the OR. Follow the shot list, work the system, get your shots, think on the fly, stay motivated, think creatively, give directions, explain things, show peole what you need and make your moves.





Finally at 5pm it is a wrap for the day. It's a weekend, people have plans. Our plans are to find a restaurant, eat, maybe see some daylight, and have another planning session to make sure we get what we need on the final day.




Here are a few interesting shots from the day.







Overall, despite the earlier hours, cheap coffee and dry air, a satisfying way to spend the weekend. The material captured over two days will help to complete several important projects over the coming weeks. For now, thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen








Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 6, 2010 at 9:09:21 pm travel, production, planning, teamwork

Measure Twice, Cut Once



This old adage is often repeated by the likes of Norm Abrahm and my dear departed Uncle Ted (you know they named a school after him - no joke). It is wise advice indeed. Just as relevant to production as it is to carpentry and limb amputation.

Planning for a video shoot can range from client meetings, detailed SOW's or as simple as basic preparations the night before - usually a combination of long-term and short-term tasks.

The night before a shoot, whether in a hotel room or my living room, follows a typical ritual for me:



1. Eat a healthy, hearty, bland meal. The last thing I want to be doing mid-shoot is wanting to leave the room. Pasta with a little butter and grated cheese often fits the bill for me. Fish or poultry sans a rich sauce is another good choice. Carbs and protein is a good combination in advance of hours of standing in one place.



2. Top off the camera batteries. Thankfully, Sony Lithium Ion batteries last for many hours and have little memory effect. Thus I use every available plug in my living room and kitchen to top off both cameras, the clam shell deck and the still camera battery.

3. Lately I have gotten into the habit of pre-labeling blank tapes. You never know when you are going to be rushed in the morning. The worst thing you can do is stick an unmarked tape into a camera and start rolling. Inevitably you will quickly change tapes and forget to label the first load - not good. I take more than enough tapes on a typical shoot. You never know, aliens could invade and wouldn't you know it, we would have yet another UFO landing shot with a cell phone camera. Well that will never happen to me.

For the typical surgery shoot, knowing the type of surgery I can anticipate how many tapes I will need, and then pre-label a few extra as well.


Another reason to pre-label tapes is the mini-DV tapes we use have two inserts in the tape case - a label sheet and a "precautions for use" sheet, both of which tend to be stuck to the back of the tape via static cling - most inconvenient when changing tapes in an austere environment such as the OR. Thus, these annoyances are safely left behind along with the cellophane wrappers.



I lay out the blanks in symmetrical pattern, remove the tapes and label them with the date, camera name and tape number. There is a 99.9% chance that this will be the only shoot on this particular date, so no further naming convention is needed:

4/13/09
V1U_1



Location, Location, Location

If I am driving to my location, chances are I have been there before. However believe it or not, there are a few hospitals that even I have not been to - yet. Back in the day, circa 1997, I would print out directions from Mapquest or Yahoo Maps. The only problem with these services, and to some degree with Google, is the preponderance for silly directions, just to save distance, not taking into account logic or actual driving experience. For example:

Take Left on Main St. South for 1.5 miles.
Take Right onto I-84 West for 18.5 miles.
Exit right onto Mill Plain Rd. for .02 miles.
Enter I-84 West and continue 100 feet to Exit 23a, NY City.
Take Slight right onto 684 South for 1 mile.
Exit right onto Middle Road Turnpike for 1.2 miles.
Enter 684 South for 152.5 miles to Philadelphia.

Etc.

See what I mean.

Enter the 21st Century and Google Maps(or GPS). Now it is ever so easy to find your own directions, print out your own maps in as much detail as you like, and of course you can not only see satellite images that would make Jake Ryan jealous:



But you can in many cases get a street-level view of your exact destination.



Amazingly this exact hot dog cart was right where it was supposed to be. I was disappointed to see that the price of a pretzel has gone up $1.50. Must be the economy!

With my batteries charged, my maps printed and my ghrelin levels satisfied(look it up), it is off to bed for a few restful hours dreaming about what I always dream about the night before a shoot - going to the wrong location!

It's only a dream. I planned ahead!

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 13, 2009 at 7:25:18 pmComments (1) planning, travel



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!




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