Video software that works for me

Digital imaging software programs, like the cameras I use, solve a given set of problems. Nothing more, nothing less. Lightroom, for example, is one of many options for software to turn RAW files from my camera into TFF or JPGs for my paying clients to use. In video, there are similarly a myriad of choices. The choices I use to edit my video/ sound and to make my time-lapse animations don’t make me taller, smarter or sexier. They solve my problem most efficiently and inexpensively.

I have been thinking about this because I will be teaching a workshop this summer on narrative video storytelling, through Momenta workshops. We will using all of these software programs in the workshop, where every student will discover and document a story to help grow their portfolio of storytelling videos. To learn more about the workshop in greater depth, go to Momenta and sign up for this summer’s workshop. We have limited space but you will learn 10 times as much from this workshop then you will learn in these short blog posts. The workshop is different than all my others and you can’t miss it because I only teach this video class once a year.

The video editing software that I use is called ScreenFlow from Telestream. They offer a trial download. They also list more of what ScreenFlow does.

ScreenFlow is ostensibly for recording high quality screen capture. I started using it to record my computer screen when I was making podcasts for The Wells Point. I would take the MOV file that I had made of my lap top screen and then I would edit it in Final Cut Pro 7. I became pretty good at video editing in Final Cut Pro 7, though I never particularly liked the software. Over the years the folks at Telestream kept adding features and a couple years ago I realized I could do ALL my editing in ScreenFlow and I stopped working in Final Cut Pro 7. (An upgrade, Final Cut Pro X, has been released, but most of my concerns have not been resolved with this newer version of Final Cut Pro.)

As they say on their site: “ScreenFlow lets you easily add zoom & pan effects, trim clips, add drop shadows & reflections, adjust audio levels, etc. The intuitive interface makes editing your screencast easy and intuitive, so you can focus on the creative work of telling your story. “

Like Final Cut Pro, ScreenFlow features “… multi-layer track editing, powerful titling, a myriad of transitions, adjustable clip speed, freeze frames, nested clips, callouts, video/audio filters and multiple options for export of the video into formats for YouTube, Vimeo, Windows Media, Flash, etc.”

Yes, Final Cut Pro 7 does more than ScreenFlow. But what ScreenFlow does is about all I need. Yes, I can make an elephant come out of my daughter’s eye seamlessly in Final Cut Pro, something I can not do in ScreenFlow, but would I want to do that?

What ScreenFlow does that Final Cut Pro 7 does not do easily is even more important.

In Final Cut Pro 7 you have to go out of that program into another program called Live Type, to create the type that you want to overlay on top of the video. In ScreenFlow, it is built right into the program. Yes, in Live Type you can have the text dance the Macarena across the screen. In ScreenFlow the same type can move all around quite gracefully but it can not ”dance” quiet the same way.

In Final Cut Pro 7, after you make change to an edit you have to “render” the change, meaning the computer has to do some work to process the edit you made in order to show you what those change looks like. Rendering takes time and every time I render a change I seem to lose three minutes. Calculate it this way: Three minutes of rendering times twenty changes means the time I lose while Final Cut Pro 7 renders adds up to an hour. ScreenFlow never requires rendering since the original movies and sound tracks that I am working on are duplicated and become part of the complete ScreenFlow file. My originals are untouched but the final ScreenFlow file has copies of the audio/video/stills and all the edits I have made.

Oh yes, ScreenFlow 4, their latest version costs $99 vs Final Cut X which is $299. (I do not make any money on sales of ScreenFlow.)

One piece of software that I use that is an industry standard is the audio editing program, Audacity. As they say on their site, it is “..a free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds.” It is not the most elegant interface ever made but it works well. I mostly use it to extract pieces of sound from larger recordings, to use some of the program’s filters to clean up the sound, etc. The audio filters in ScreenFlow do most of this but Audacity gives me more options without being as complex and hard to use as Apple’s Soundtrack Pro. Since Audacity is free, it should be on every video maker’s laptop.

One Apple product that I use a great deal in my video work is QuickTime Pro 7, which costs $29.99 and is older (though more useful) than the current QuickTime Player 10. QuickTime Pro 7 enables me to do two things that seem to end up part of everyone of my video projects.

In QuickTime Pro 7 you can scroll to any point in a video clip and make that moment the poster frame. A poster frame is the image that shows up when you are looking at the icon for that video on your desktop (when it is NOT playing.) I do that so I can see the key moment in each video clip, which is the section of that video which I will be using in the final video. The poster frame also shows up when I am looking at the various videos in media browsers such as Media Pro (which I will describe below) and putting them in the order that I want them to appear in the final video.

QuickTime Pro 7 also enables me to take a series of still images that I have captured as a time-lapse sequence and turn them into an actual time-lapse movie. QuickTime Pro 7 is unusual in that it creates the movie version of that animation first, then lets you save it as a movie next, that is, if you like it. My routine is to keep making and remaking the sequence I am working on at different frames per second settings till I get the pace of animation and the length of the final video to be just where I want. Then and only then do I save it as a video.

Most other programs that take a series of images and turn them into a finished time-lapse movie require you to make that final, processed movie before previewing the pacing of the animation and the duration of the final clip. If I have to try an animation five times to get the pacing right and if it takes me six minutes per movie just to make each final movie before I can preview it, again, I am wasting half an hour.

QuickTime Pro 7 has one drawback, which is that the frames per second settings are fixed and not infinitely variable. When I need to make a final movie using a frames per second setting that is outside of the range offered by QuickTime Pro 7, I turn to Time Lapse Assembler, which is paid for by a donation so the cost is pretty low. It works well, though I find the final movies are not quite as well rendered as they are with QuickTime Pro 7. It also requires me to make the final, processed movie before previewing the pacing of the animation and the duration of the final clip.

The final and arguably most important piece of software I use in making my videos is Phase One’s Media Pro.

As they say on their site:

“Media Pro is professional photo management software that makes it easy to manage your photo and video assets. Built to be fast and intuitive, it is a powerful photography assistant that will supercharge the way you find, organize, and share your images and videos wherever your files are stored. Even when your originals are offline, you can browse, search, and annotate your images. “

You can read more about how and why I use Media Pro in an article I wrote.

I use Media Pro to organize/name/catalog all of the media that will be part of my final project, whether audio, video, still images, time-lapse pieces, etc.

I use Media Pro to initially view and listen to my video and audio clips.

I use Media Pro to put the same clips in the order that I want them to appear in the final video.

Then I make and rename a duplicate set of video clips in that final order using Media Pro.

When I find a video clip with great sound but bad video I can strip the video out and save the sound as an audio WAV file using Media Pro.

After I have set the poster frame for my various clips using QuickTime Pro 7 (as explained above,) I use Media Pro to make still images of those poster frames for promotional purposes.

If I want to do a quick and dirty conversion of a video clip from one format to another, I can do that through Media Pro.

But the most important thing that I do with Media Pro is to preview my time-lapse animations, by making a Media Pro catalog of the images that I previously captured in a sequence. Media Pro is unique in making Quick Time still image of each frame in that time-lapse sequence that is then saved within the Media Pro catalog that I create for each Time-Lapse project. Once Media Pro has made and saved those same Quick Time still images, I can rapidly scroll through the catalog and see how the images will look as a time-lapse movie. Virtually all the other image browser /viewing programs like Lightroom or Photo Mechanic need to pause, even if just briefly, to build or rebuild the preview images, so scrolling through them to see a series of images as a time-lapse piece can be bumpy at best.

None of these software programs make me cooler, better looking or more of a creative genius. They all enable me to do what it is I want to do with my videos more quickly and efficiently. And that, after all is what a good software program is supposed to do.

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