The Fiddling Frog video is the most ambitious contra video I've made to date, and I couldn't have done this by myself. I'm learning the obvious, that in film production, solo is a harder path.
Michael Baird approached me at Dancing Fool in Seattle last month, with an idea to saturate a dance at the upcoming Fiddling Frog weekend in Pasadena with cameras and specialized gear. He was hoping to really ramp up the production values from the typical contra dance video.
I subsequently decided to attend the dance, and to help manage the production. He had a crew ready to go, and I added my suggestions on how to proceed. I had my 2 Canon 5Ds, one of which I handed off, and a GoPro, which went on a dancer. Michael's colleague Tony had his 2 Canon tape cameras with one on a floor dolly. We gathered footage from several dances on Saturday morning at the Frog, Michael managing one crew, me working alone.
I downloaded all the footage on my MacBook Pro, organized it into folders, and set it to work overnight to convert everything to ProRes (using MPEG Streamclip). I threw everything into a Final Cut 7 sequence, pointed PluralEyes at it, and had a (mostly) synced 2 hour timeline by the time I left. I copied everything (200gb) onto a hard drive for Michael to play with as he saw fit. I was going to see what I could come up with on my own.
I captured sound separately on a Zoom H4N recorder set to 4 channel—2 for a line out from the board, 2 from the onboard microphones. The mix sounded great to my ears, with enough hall ambience to feel the space, and clean capture from the stage. I tossed all the camera sound—it's only used to sync the tracks.
I started with a single timeline with the entire morning's soundtrack. I chopped away all the parts that didn't have video, and the dances that had only one or two cameras on them. Remaining were three dances that had potential. I ended up making a medley of all three.
A contra dance repeats about fifteen times. I only need one or two of those cycles, but I have all the other cycles to draw footage from. Very little of what you see in the final piece is actually in sync with the original music track. What you see in the final is a 3 minute condensation of three and a half hours of footage.
The first task is to cut the music track. I highlight the sequence, turn the volume up, and on every 8th beat I tap the “M” key to leave a marker. A full dance sequence is 8 of those 8 beat marks, and I blade them apart. Then I piece together a music track from those parts, in this case, from six different pieces to make the final track. I'm disregarding the video at this point. At the transitions I tweak down to the single frame level to try and hide the discontinuities.
From there it's a matter of building a believable sequence of dance and music edits in a new Timeline. I edit the footage and throw out everything I know I'm not going to use. I stack the good bits on top of each other in sync and start trimming away Every move in this piece is in the proper sequence in the dance, but none of them happened together. I'm looking for the right rhythm of slow and fast cuts, tight and wide shots, movement that flows from one cut to the next. This is the kind of work where I lose track of time and space, I forget to eat or pee, and I'm about as deeply engaged as it is possible to be. It's my favorite part of the process.
After about four hours I emerge from the cloud with a very rough cut. The next day I refine everything to a final cut, apply color correction, compress, and post.