The Moving Picture: Ode to a Boxx
Posted Sep 5, 2006

As you've probably guessed from reading past installments of this column and the vast majority of my experience in wedding and event video is on the non-wedding "event" side of the aisle, primarily concerts, ballets, music festivals, and similar performances. All that said, I shot my first "professional" wedding last month. This column isn't about that experience-though your condolences are gladly accepted. Rather, it's about an idea that was planted into my head while editing the footage.

I've worked with EventDV editor-in-chief Steve Nathans since 1995, when he actually edited the first video-related article that I ever wrote at EMedia Professional. I'm responsible for some of Steve's most critical learning experiences-such as how to deal with cantankerous authors-courtesy of my exalted status as "teacher's pet" of the editor that he ultimately replaced. Since then, Steve has been getting back at me, usually through some subtle subterfuge designed to look helpful, but really a put down. The latest example was sharing a seamless Same-Day Edit video produced by Frogman Productions' Philip Hinkle the same day I shot my wedding (see A Day on the Job with . . . Frogman Productions). Sure, show me the work of a guy on top of his game after I muddled through my first wedding shoot. I couldn't convert my sophomoric efforts into that kind of result if Spielberg appeared in Galax and volunteered to spend a day or ten with me in the editing bay. If that's his idea of helpful, I'm not sure how much more of his help I can take.

Anyway, there was a silver lining in Steve's dark cloud, specifically the concept of the Same-Day Edit. The next week, the mother of a local marimba artist, Larissa Venzie, asked me to record Larissa and a colleague playing and produce an audio CD. The money wasn't grand, but Larissa is sweet and talented and my family was out of town, so spending a few hours shooting and editing on a Wednesday evening seemed kind of tidy.

Still, the only way to really make it work financially was to produce the CD at the recording session. Fortunately, I had on hand a very hot loaner notebook-the AMD Athlon 64 X 2-powered GoBOXX 1402 from BOXX Technologies. I had tested the 1402 for another magazine, and it had proven faster at video rendering (Premiere Pro and Sorenson Squeeze) than a dual-core Pentium desktop and even a dual Xeon workstation. With a 17" 1920x1200 GlassView Active Matrix Display, PCI-Express graphics, and 200GB of RAID 1 storage, the GoBOXX truly is more of a mobile workstation than notebook, though at 14 pounds with battery, it's also pretty hefty.

Now, the only audio recording gear I have for studio work is the same gear I use for concerts--Sony FX1 camcorder, Shure SM57 microphones, and the BeachTek DXA-8 to input and mix the XLR feeds and send stereo audio to the camcorder. I considered some alternatives for capturing audio only on the computer, but each had a downside. So I decided to capture video from camcorder to notebook in real time.

Specifically, I planned to capture each song live in Premiere Pro, then export the audio file to Audition using the convenient right-click command, Edit in Adobe Audition. For each "keeper" take, I could trim the heads and tails as necessary, drag it to Audition's CD View, and when complete, burn the CD.

I tested the setup in my office, which worked fine, then traveled off to the recording studio, which happed to be the Venzie home in neighboring Independence, Virginia. Their living room, to be precise, which housed the marimba and a piano that would accompany Larissa for one song.

The setup paid immediate dividends during the sound check. I captured about 60 seconds of music and imported the audio into Audition, which showed a helpful waveform and enabled fast, simple playback for the musicians.

Then the session started in earnest, and I recorded about 70 minutes of audio, in chunks up to 20 minutes in length—again, simultaneously on the FX1 and notebook, which performed like a champ. Any keeper takes I immediately sent over to Audition, while discarding the flubs. When the session was through, I burned the CD and handed it over to a very impressed client.

Interestingly, though this wasn't part of the deal, the same workflow made it simple to produce a DVD of the experience once I returned to my office. Basically, I had all the usable tracks in the Project Panel; I simply trimmed them, dragged them to the timeline, picked a menu in Premiere Pro, and started burning. This is a workflow I'll consider for all my single-camera projects going forward.

Note that you don't need a GoBOXX 1402 to support this workflow, just a reasonably current notebook and sufficient hard disk space. Many other programs, including Final Cut Pro, can capture a live camera feed, so you don't even need Premiere Pro, though the integration of the Adobe Production Studio does streamline the process.

As an aside, the first time I shot Larissa several months ago, country music from a local AM radio station worked its way into my microphone feed, appearing just after dark. On the advice of Jay Rose, DV magazine columnist and author of Producing Great Sound for Digital Video, I had upgraded to star-quad cables which I wrapped around ferrite chokes.

As it got dark, both Larissa and I kept checking for similarly intrusive music, but none appeared. So, in one night, I vanquished the demons of a recording session gone bad and produced my own Same-Day Edit. Take that, Steve Nathans!