BEHIND THE SCENES
A PEEK IN THE DAY-TO-DAY AT WORKLIGHT PICTURES.
WORKLIGHT HOW TO: HOW TO REPLICATE THE VHS LOOK
WORKLIGHT’S FIRST VIDEO TUTORIAL GIVES YOU A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO MAKING THE GNARLY RETRO VHS LOOK ON SQUEAKY CLEAN DIGITAL VIDEO.
Is it just me or is video cool now? The old “video tape” look has found a resurgence in movies, TV, music videos — there are even some smart phone apps that apply a “VHS look” to the videos you take on your phone. You can blame nostalgia, or maybe it’s just hip to be retro, but either way it’s a great excuse to get acquainted with the old format.
If you’re trying to get that authentic VHS tape look, you’ve got a lot of options. There are countless filters and plugins you can use that replicate the old tape look, but if you ask me nothing beats the real thing. And it’s not impossible or ridiculously expensive to make it happen. If you’re like me you probably already have a couple old tapes lying around.
For the purists out there, the best way to achieve the VHS look is to actually shoot on tape. But you probably don’t have an old videotape camera, or it’s likely you’ve already shot the thing on your digital camera and now you want to go tape. I’m here to tell you exactly how to do that.
What we want to do is record your digital footage onto a tape (dubbing it), and capture it back into your editing software of choice as a digital file that you can edit and manipulate like any other footage. Let’s start with that first step, dubbing.
HERE ARE THE INGREDIENTS YOU’LL NEED TO DUB YOU FOOTAGE TO TAPE:
1) A VHS TAPE
Like I mentioned I already had a bunch lying around my house, but you can typically find these things dirt cheap at thrift stores. It’s OK if the tape isn’t blank, but some tapes have a built-in protection that prevents them from being recorded over. You can bypass this protection by covering the record tab with a little piece of scotch tape as shown below.
2) A VCR
I bought my VCR for 10 bucks at a thrift store, but I’m sure if you asked Grandma she might still have one.
You need the right cables (composite, coaxial, firewire etc.) to connect your computer to your VCR and vice versa, and the way I do this is through the help of
4) CAPTURE DEVICE
This guy takes a digital signal from my computer and spits out a composite analog signal that my VCR can take. The capture device I use is the Canopus ADVC 110, and there are many like it. Your best bet is probably eBay, though there are many devices still being made today for Mac and PC. You want to avoid things like converter cables or adapters – what you really need is a capture device that has both composite In/Out and DV In/Out.
I use Adobe Premiere for dubbing and capturing tapes so this “how-to” will be catered towards Premiere, but I have used Final Cut Pro 7 for the same thing, and I can’t imagine Avid would be any different. Some of the terms may change, but the concept with be the same regardless of the editing software you use.
It’s probably not a bad idea to get everything plugged in and connected BEFORE you open up your editing software of choice. By that I mean you first want to connect your workstation to the capture device. In my case I’ve got an old Macbook Pro with a firewire port and I connect to my Canopus capture device with a firewire cable into its DV In/Out. Then I run some cable from the composite Out of the capture device into the composite In on my VCR and make sure my VCR is set to LINE input. This means whatever digital video signal I send into the Canopus will spit out as a composite analog video signal right into my VCR. I like to connect a TV to my VCR’s output just as a way to monitor the video signal that my VCR is receiving. Don’t forget to put a VHS tape into the VCR.
So after you’ve got that all connected it’s probably safe to open up Premiere. To dub your digital footage to tape we’re going to record it onto tape as it’s playing back. We want to playback the digital footage onto an “external monitor” and in Premiere the way to do that is to navigate the toolbar Premiere > Preferences > Playback and select Adobe DV under Video Device.
This next step might be optional, but I have run into problems before so I’ll go ahead and include it here. You want to make sure your Sequence Settings match NTSC DV, which is ultimately the format we’ll get after capturing the dubbed video at the end. Here’s the settings I use:
So once you’ve got your sequence set up you can bring in your footage. It’s very likely your video format is not going to match up with NTSC DV. In my case I most often shoot video with the aspect ratio 1920×1080 and frame rate of 23.976 frames per second. You’ll see how your footage reacts to the NTSC DV setting and probably want to resize your footage. I scale and stretch the image to fill the output frame so that I preserve the entire image.
It’s smart to put a countdown leader at the beginning of your footage to help you find the start of your footage when you’re rewinding and fast-forwarding during dub and capture.
You should render your sequence so that playback is smooth, and be sure to monitor at Full quality. If you’ve made it this far you might as well hit record on your VCR and start playback of your footage. When your footage has reached its end you can stop recording on your VCR.
Now you’ve got a cool taped version of your digital footage, you can rewind it and fast-forward it and play it back, but what you really want to be doing is editing it and to do that now we must CAPTURE the tape.
Again, FCP7 and Avid can do the same tricks, but in Premiere specifically you want to go ahead and open the Capture window (Window > Capture or command+8). In the Capture window you can select what you want to capture (Audio, Video, or both) you can control what the captured clip will be named and how it will be logged and there’s even more things to consider under the Settings tab, but I’ll just show you a screenshot of what I do.
To start capturing you want to find the start point of your footage on your tape dub (this is where the countdown leader comes in handy) and when you’ve got it and you’re ready to go ahead and play the tape back. Once it’s rolling you can hit Record in the Capture window and enjoy the ride. When the tape dub footage ends don’t forget to Stop the capture in the Capture window. The premiere will ask you how you want to save the clip. You can name it and whatever, then click OK.
You’ll find the new digitally captured clip in the Project window and you can start playing around with it. If you had to scale and stretch your footage earlier, you can scale and stretch it again now to revert it back to its original look.
And BOOM you’ve done it – you’ve achieved the authentic VHS tape look.
A couple things to note. Every time I’ve dubbed to tape, the resulting footage is always obviously lower quality. On top of this, the color of the image seems to dull. You may want to experiment with coloring your footage before and after to see what works best for you. Additionally, you should be aware that when dubbing to tape your footage is being recorded at 29.97 fps, so if you start with footage shot at 24 fps (as I’ve mentioned is common for me) you’re gonna get what’s called the 3:2 pulldown (for more info on 3:2 pulldown check out good ole Wiki).
DEAR SET PEOPLE: TIPS STRAIGHT FROM THE EDITOR’S MOUTH
A FEW WISE TIPS FROM OUR FAVORITE EDITOR ON WHAT NOT TO FORGET ON SET.
1. DON’T HATE THE SLATE
Film crew members are always in constant communication. Meaning they are always talking. But respect the slate, make sure the AD quiets the crew during slating. You don’t want to have someone near the boom (cast or crew) blabbering over the important slap of the sticks.
Also, take the time to clearly and legibly mark the correct scene, shot, and take information on the slate. Even for shots that seem “obvious” or have no dialogue, it’s important for the editor to know for what scene the shot was planned.
Don’t have a physical slate? Technology bails us out yet again! There are a bunch of smartphone application slate options – some even have timecode capability.
Slating correctly is also very important, and often a skill that is overlooked. Obviously, the information written on the slate must be accurate, and you must “call it” correctly or else it’s all your editor will be quite peeved in the cutting room. The ProVideo Coalition’s “Art of Slating” has some useful techniques and tips for proper slating.
2. CALLING IT QUITS
This one is for the future Soderberghs and Spielbergs – don‘t call “cut” immediately after the scene is over. Let that puppy breathe for a bit. You never know what little moments you might find if you let the take last a few seconds past the end of the scripted action.
And this applies to DP’s and camera operators, too. Some of the most surprising and honest moments can come in the moments after “cut”.
There are a few important documents that make the editors’ job a little less hell and a little more heaven. The assistant editor, who is brought in at the beginning of post to help set up the project and footage for the editor, needs to receive camera reports, sound reports, and script supervisor daily reports. The editor should have the script supervisor’s lined script and facing pages to help review the coverage for each scene.
It’s important that the scripty on set takes precise and detailed notes on their lined script, and that the camera and sound departments also make meticulous notes on their respective reports. These details definitely streamline the work for the assistant editor and editor as they go through the mounds of footage.
You can make and customize your own reports, or your editor may have their own preferred versions for each department to use – check with them first to be sure no important info is neglected.
But also, here are a zillion film production document template options from No Film School.
4. STEP BY STEP, INCH BY INCH
Reviewing and giving notes with the editor is an important part of the director’s job in the cutting room. But there is a difference between giving feedback and…ahem…”frame f*cking”. Which is leaning over the editor’s shoulder nudging their every cut frame by painstaking frame.
Trust your editor’s timing decisions. It’s why you’re working with them in the first place!
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give your input on the pacing and shot selections the editor makes. Give your notes freely and openly, but the editor is not just a pair of hired hands to do the dirty work of editing. A good editor is there to sift through the footage and find the story with the director.
5. DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME
Don’t be shy, set folks! Just because the editor works solo in a dark room somewhere in an office/cave out of sight, doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the team. Stay in communication with them throughout the shoot. They should be receiving call sheets, script rewrites, “Casual Friday” office memos, and an invitation to the wrap party.
Have a question about the work flow, preferred slate formatting, or the dailies assembly? Contact your editor! They don’t bite!
EASY DOES IT DIARIES:
LINDA HAMILTON IS CAST IN ‘EASY DOES IT’
…AND WE ALL HAVE HEART EYES
We’ve been dreaming about filming our first movie for a long time. We drooled over our favorite films as kids and adults and daydreamed at our desks in film school, fantasizing what it would be like to roll on our first feature.
But not even our daydreams could compare, and I mean that in more ways than one.
We have never worked so hard, been so stressed out, and spent so much time on a single project. We’ve also never felt such victory looking back over the footage and seeing how the final cut is coming together, and we realize now that we have accomplished a task greater than we could ever have imagined in the beginning.
We spent the entire summer shooting Easy Does It, and were lucky enough to attract the talent of the absolutely amazing and generous Linda Hamilton (of Terminator franchise fame). I think it was the first moment we could look at each other all wide-eyed and admit…wow, this is really happening.
Variety had the exclusive to officially announce Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor, you guys!!) joining the cast as lead antagonist, King George. Linda is quoted in the Variety article saying,
“I love working with new talented directors, and seeing works that are personal and so hard-won come into full bloom.”
And you know what. Linda is right.
Easy Does It is our hard-won effort, and we are reaping the outcome of hundreds of hours sown developing, writing, rewriting, fundraising, and crafting the perfect team to get the job done. Looking back, the years of hard work and the dozens of patient and skilled people lending their talents and services to this film are what made it happen.
We are happy to be example of New Orleans independent filmmakers who are making steps to be a part of the industry that refuses to die out, despite the obstacles.
Stay in touch for more updates on Easy Does It.