Scott Link Blog

6 things I Learned Shooting My First Short Documentary Film

I’ve been working on a short documentary about my son’s last speech and debate tournament, specifically focused on the Team Policy debates in which he competed. It was a guerrilla style shoot. I had permission to shoot his teammate, but no one else. I could not disrupt the competition any more than any parent with a camera might. No extra lights. No extra people. Just capturing the event in real time with my Sony a6000, 3 prime lenses, and a Rode Smartlav+ microphone recorded into my phone. It was a true Run & Gun situation. Here are a few things I learned…

Story. Doing an actual documentary is different than most of the work I’ve done. I know how to shoot and edit a testimony video, but that’s not a documentary. Before the tournament, I spent time mapping out the structure of the short film. While I didn’t know what would happen, I did know the sequence of events, so I laid out the possible plan and tried to capture the actual events as they happened. As the tournament progressed, I could see how things would fit into my traditional story structure.

Pack Light. Because I was a one man crew, everything I needed was with me, all the time. I had gone through my gear, and left much of it at home. But I was still carrying around a medium sized camera backpack. And I still had gear I didn’t need. In order to grab my camera for a quick shot, I had to take off the backpack lay it down somewhere, open it up and pull out the camera. To downsize a bit more, and make access to gear a bit faster, I just ordered a camera sling bag. It’s large enough to carry a camera and a couple of lenses, etc… But smaller than a back pack and you can sling the bag around to the front, and access the gear on the run.

Invest in a zoom. Lens swapping is a pain. And real life doesn’t wait.

When shooting on a set, there is always time to swap out a lens. In between takes, you can switch over to a different focal length of the super fast prime you have. But in a documentary shoot, people aren’t waiting. Life is happening, the event is going on. Not only do you have a chance to miss the shot, but you might also disrupt the very event you’re trying to capture. During one debate round I was using my 19mm lens, and wanted a tighter shot. I was so nervous that opening my camera bag would be noticed by the competitors. I hope that didn’t happen, I tried to be so quiet. With a zoom, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Which zoom? On the Sony E Mount system, the reach and quality of the 18-105 F4 G series (SELP18105G) would seem to be a good fit. The longest lens I had with me was a 50mm, and I was wishing for longer options. It’s a constant aperture. I wish it was a bit faster, but it would only be a problem in the most dim rooms. I found that most of the time I was shooting f3.5 to 5.6. Of course the ISO was almost always at 1600 in the classrooms. Assuming I can continue to push the ISO that high, losing a couple of stops of light might be a decent trade off for the extra length. But at $500+, it’s out of reach for now.

Another option would be to adapt an older zoom of similar reach. You can often find vintage 35-105mm zooms for cheap. Just read the reviews on each one and make sure you have the proper adapter. Of course, you give up all automatic functions with these. I just ordered a Vivitar (Made by Koburi) 35-105mm f3.2-4 Macro lens for $26, shipped. I already own the right camera mount adapter. It won’t be as sharp or easy to use as the Sony 18-105mm. And I wish it was a constant aperture, but I’m hopeful it can fill the gap until I can swing the money. I’m sure I will still carry the 19mm and 35mm primes I have, but the 35-105mm could be my go to glass for future shoots.

A shotgun mic would help. Prior to the event I though I had worked out how to use a small shotgun (Rode VideoMicro) and record it into my phone. My goal was small footprint. I did not want to call attention to myself. I didn’t want to set up a full size shotgun with an external recorder. I tested the small shotgun, and would have sworn that I had the cabling worked out. But the day before the event I was charging batteries, and set up the mic to test it once more, and discovered that it was not passing signal. I needed a special cable to convert the TRS connection to a TRRS for the phone input. (Rode sells one: the SC7). I didn’t have time to get the proper adapter, so I punted. I ended up using the omni directional Smartlav+ to record audio. And, while it’s not as good as… pretty much any directional microphone at a distance, it was a lot better than the on camera mic. With some post work, some of the audio will be usable. But a shotgun mic would have been a huge help.

A camera with an audio input would help. My a6000 is a solid mirrorless camera. But it isn’t perfect, and one of the flaws is that it lacks an external audio input jack. While I would probably still use the Smartlav+ with my phone, having an on camera shotgun, recording directly into the camera would be good. Even if the small shotgun had worked, mounting the mic to my camera and then extending the cable to my phone would have been awkward at best. A much simpler solution would be to shoot on a camera that actually has the ability to record external audio. Of course the simple solution costs hundreds of dollars.

Get permission. I mentioned that this was a guerrilla style shoot. I got verbal permission from the judges in the room, and competitors. But the competitors are minors. So in order to actually use the footage I shot I cannot show any faces of minors since I don’t have permission from parents. They cannot be recognizable. I won’t identify the location, or even the organization. I knew that going in, so I shot accordingly. It would have been infinitely better to have the written permission from the event organizers, the location, and every parent of every student in each round. That wasn’t feasible for this project. In the future, I want to do more to get permissions, so I won’t be as constrained on the shoot.

As I’m closing in on the final edits of the project, I’m fairly well satisfied with it. Assuming I do similar projects later what I’ve learned with help make them even better.

[Image courtesy of Greenleaf Designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

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The Promise of Christmas: Rod and Root of Jesse

[2nd and last part in a series called “The Promise of Christmas” that looks at less well known prophecies about Jesus’ birth.]

When is the last time a small child ran up to the manger in your local nativity scene and exclaimed, “Look, dad, it’s the rod that came from the stem of Jesse!”?

I’m guessing it doesn’t happen very often. In Isaiah 11 we find this prophecy about the coming of the Messiah:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Is 11:1 ESV

rodstumpThe KJV says “rod” from the “stem” of Jesse. The word for stem is “geza” and it means stump. The rod or shoot is a sapling. You may have been walking in the woods and seen a stump of a tree that has been cut down. Sometimes, from that stump, new trees will spring up.

In it’s most basic sense, the prophecy is fulfilled in the genealogy of Jesus, found in the first chapter of Matthew.

Matt 1:6
“and Jesse the father of King David.”

Also see Acts 13.

Acts 13:22-23
“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”

Jesse was father of King David. Jesus was a descendant from the line of David.

But what does it mean? A new tree springing from the stump of an old tree? To understand it, we need to look back at how Israel got its first king.

In 1 Samuel 8 Israel demanded a king. It had never been part of God’s plan for them to have a king. At the end of the time of judges, the elders of Israel complained to Samuel that his children were not fit to be judges. They took bribes and perverted justice. So they rejected the judges and asked for a king. One of the reasons given was so they can be “like other nations” even though Israel was never supposed to be like other nations.

After Saul, it was David who became king. He was the greatest king Israel would ever have. But the monarchy that came through Jesse failed. By the end of Solomon’s reign, things were going downhill fast. Israel split, and Rehoboam ruled Judah like a dictator, and the Northern kingdom never had another godly king. A little over 700 years before Christ’s birth, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians. Around 600 years before Christ, Judah fell to the Babylonians.

2 Kings 24 records how Jesse’s tree was cut down, leaving a stump. God protected a remnant, and from this remaining part of Israel, Jesus comes.

Why is it a stump? We know that’s what did happen, but why? Why not from a healthy tree? Why was the kingdom of David’s line destined to fall?

Part of the reason is because the Law leads to death. People are imperfect, and we cannot live the life required of us without Christ. Paul talks about this in Romans 7:

Romans 7:10-11
” I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.”

So is the Law bad? Paul answers this as well in the same chapter. and ends up describing the war within ourselves, as sin and holiness fight.

Romans 7:21-25
” So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

No matter what happened to Israel as a nation, humanity would always need a savior. Not just Israel, but all of humanity. Imagine what would have happened if the kingdom of Israel had stood. The Messiah would have come, and literally been born into the earthly throne of David. Jesus Christ isn’t the king of Israel, he is the King of Kings and Lord of all. (Revelation 17:14) His purpose isn’t to rule and earthly kingdom, but to make a way for humanity to be reconciled to God.

Look later in Isaiah 11:

Is 11:10- 12
” In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush,from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.”

The Messiah is also the root of Jesse. Jesus was born a man in the line of David, Jesse’s son, but he has always existed, and as Col 1:16 reminds us, Jesus created all things, including Jesse and his line of descendants. Revelation 22:16 also shows Jesus referring to himself as the root and offspring of David, Jesse’s son.

In verse 11 of Isaiah 11 the Lord reclaims his Remnant. It’s through the work of the Messiah that the people of Israel can be reclaimed. The Hebrew word for “reclaim” can also be translated “redeem”. It refers to something you pay for, or get in exchange for labor or payment. Jesus Christ is the redeemer.

From this rod of Jesse, a branch that bears fruit. Think about the cycle of plant life. Seeds grow into a plant, the plant reaches maturity and fruit is produced. Within that fruit are more seeds. It’s the beginning of new life.

The Old Covenant, the Promise of Christmas, the Promise made to Abraham, matures in the coming of Christ. And in him are the seeds of new life, the New Covenant.

The Law is the measuring stick that lets us know we have sinned. Because the Law exists, we know we need a savior. The Law shows us the no earthly kingdom can succeed in fulfilling the purpose of Christ’s coming. It is not through allegiance to Israel or a king on earth that salvation comes. Jesus is a different kind of king.

Make no mistake, the coming of Christ seals the fate of those who refuse to follow God. It is the fulcrum upon which everyone will be judged.

Matthew 25:31-33
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.”

And he is judging the people of every nation, not just one. God didn’t plan for Israel to need a King, but they wanted one. They didn’t understand God’s plan. Centuries later when the Messiah finally came, most of Israel didn’t recognize him because he did not come as an earthly King, but as a spiritual one. The wise men went to Herod first because kings are never born in smelly stables. His birth doesn’t make sense if we expect him to be an earthly king.

Why was there a sapling from the stump of Jesse? What is the purpose of Christ’s coming?

Luke 19:10 says it plainly-
” For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”

It is this action that fulfills the promise we talked about in the first part of this series. It is his nature that enables him to do the work, and accomplish his purpose. No one else could do it.

The Messiah is not an earthly king, he does not act like we expect kings to act. This king came to earth in a manger, in a smelly stable. His kingdom will not pass away, but will endure for ever and ever.

The King of Kings humbled himself:

Philippians 2:8
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

The King of Kings- who will sit on his throne and judge us all, the greatest of all rulers, through out time- humbled himself, and did the work that only he could do. Fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, he made a way back to a right relationship with God. Only he is the root and the rod of Jesse.

Merry Christmas indeed.

The Promise of Christmas: Seed of Abraham and Isaac

manger-hero-980x380[This post is more ministry than media related, but I hope you will enjoy it.]

If you have been around church at Christmas time you always hear about the virgin birth, and being born in Bethlehem, etc… But when was the last time you heard some one point to the manager and exclaim, “Look, it’s Isaac’s seed!” It’s not often that churches focus on prophecies that describe Jesus as the Seed of Abraham, Seed of Isaac, and Jesus being the way that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.

To be honest, normally when I think about biblical prophecies surrounding Jesus, whether from birth or life, I normally focus on the part where Jesus fulfilling them helps to prove he was who he said he was, and is who we believe him to be. But, while the prophecies do that, they are made for a reason, and in a time period. They have meaning and context. They have significance that spans eternity . I thought it would be interesting to see what the significance of some of these other, less well known Christmas prophecies were.

1. Seed of Abraham.

I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you.  And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:7-8
 In blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed… Genesis 22:17-18

On the surface, this prophecy is fulfilled in the 1st chapter of Matthew that records the genealogy of Christ, and lists Abraham as an ancestor. Galatians 3 goes further:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed who is Christ. And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise.  For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise. Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. Gal 3:16-19a

This was a promise made by God to Abraham. A promise made before the Law was given. God is establishing the Covenant here. This is the Old Covenant in the Bible. He promises to multiply Abraham’s descendants, and he promises that a seed from Abraham would bless all the nations of the earth.

In many ways the Bible is the story of how God kept this promise to Abraham.

Before this, there was no Israel, no Jewish religion. Abraham didn’t join an existing organization. He heard God’s voice, and responded. Through this man’s line of descendants God eventually brought Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus, who truly blesses every nation by offering a way back into relationship with God. It is the Seed of Abraham that fulfills God’s promise.

2. Seed of Isaac.

“Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. Genesis 17:19

Again,  Matthew 1 provides the surface fulfillment of this prophecy.

At first I didn’t think much about this. It seemed like a simple continuation of the promise God had made to Abraham. God promised Abraham would have descendants like the stars. That promise is continued through Isaac. Then I remembered that Abraham had another son…

He first had a child called Ishmael through Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was clearly saying that it was through Isaac, not Ishmael, that the covenant continued. Paul wrote in Romans about this:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9

Though Abraham’s “ill conceived” (bad dad joke) son had his blood, Ishmael was not the line from which God would bring the Messiah. For the very first time, God is saying that it is not blood that maintains the covenant. It’s not simply a physical thing. There is something more to the promise.

(On a side note, Abraham and Sarah did not trust God, and tried to do things their own way. Then when God worked according to his own timing and Isaac was born, they cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Islam, one of the fastest growing religions in the world, claims the seed of Ishmael. They reference Genesis 21 where God said he would make a nation out of Hagar’s child, and trace their start back to Abraham’s first born son. What if Abraham and Sarah had fully trusted God? Would Islam still exist? Or if it did, would it be a different sort of faith? Those are questions we can’t answer. But we do know that sometimes our decisions can have impact for generations.)

Why is this prophecy important? This is the first time we see that the relationship with God is not tied to the physical blood in our bodies. Romans specifically says it’s not about “physical descent”. Not every person with Abraham’s blood is included in the “promise”. And conversely, as we see in the New Covenant, the promise given to Abraham is not limited to just Jews. Jesus. who is the Seed of Isaac, makes a way for people to be included in the Promise, regardless of blood.

3. Blessing to all nations.

Referenced in Genesis 22, but earlier mentioned here:

Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham?  Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” Genesis 18:17-19

The book of Acts records how this was fulfilled:

 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.  Acts 3:25-26

This prophecy happens right in the middle of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. God wants to tell Abraham what he is about to do to those sin filled cities. Both the Genesis and Galatians passages reference the behavior of those who will come after Abraham. How will the promise be kept? The children of Abraham will follow God’s ways. How will nations be blessed? Each person will turn from their evil ways. And in Genesis 18 God is about to wipe out two cities to make sure this happens.

We look at this through the glasses of a modern history where Jesus has already come and changed the world. It offends our sensibilities to think that anyone could just decree such death, but God is the only being that has the right to do it. God is the judge of who lives and who dies. He can judge everyone because of who he is. Even so, God relented when Abraham asked him to spare the cities if he could find just 10 righteous men. But there weren’t even 10 righteous men.

So why did God do this? Because Sodom and Gomorrah were sinful. But also, because God wanted to keep Abraham and his children on the right path. God obviously doesn’t destroy every haven of sin in the world. Look at Chapter 19. Lot had already begun to slip away, moving from the outskirts of the city to being a city leader. Later in the chapter, the influence of Lot raising his family there can be seen when his own daughters chose to get their father drunk, after the fall of Sodom and death of their mother, and lay with him (so they could bear children), rather than trust God would provide.

Throughout history God has taken extraordinary measures to preserve Israel until the birth of Christ. God protected his people, the line of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac. Even in exile, there was always a remnant. Why? Because through this line the salvation of the entire world comes. The entire world, all nations. Not just Israel, not just those tied to Abraham by blood. But all nations will be blessed by the promise God made to Abraham.

God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and protected Abraham’s descendants throughout history, so that they could keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, and the promise would be fulfilled.

ALL the nations of the earth. Jesus is for all, the GOSPEL is for all.This is the first time we see that God desires that every person in every nation be reconciled to God. This is only a prophecy related to Jesus birth because it is through Jesus that all have the opportunity to be saved, to be blessed. All families of the earth can be blessed if they will turn from their evil ways.

How serious is the “All” ? Christ’s return will not happen until all nations have heard.

Matt 24:14″This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.

So here are these 3 prophecies, all tied together. All made thousands of years ago. Look at the progression:

  1. The fulfillment of the great promise God made to Abraham is the coming of Jesus Christ. (The Seed of Abraham)

  2. Being part of the promise God made is not tied to a physical relationship (bloodline), it is a spiritual state. (The Seed of Isaac)

  3. All people can be a part of the promise God made to Abraham through the work of Jesus Christ, if you will turn from your evil ways. (All nations will be blessed)

Has God kept his promise to Abraham?

There are 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. There have been billions who have come before now. As that kids song says, father Abraham truly did have many sons. But there are more “nations”, more people-groups to be reached.

Are you a part of the promise? I’m not asking if you’re Jewish, or a member of a church. That’s not what the Bible says is required to be a part of the promise:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal 3:26-29

The only determining factor: Do you belong to Christ?

How can we be part of this blessing? Belong to Christ. That happens by acknowledging that your sin has separated you from God, and that there’s nothing you can do to fix that relationship. But, if you believe that God sent the Seed of Abraham and Isaac down through the centuries of time to make a way back to himself, through his son Jesus Christ, and you are willing to accept that and turn away from your evil ways as described in Acts 3, then you can be a part of the promise, you can belong to Christ.

3 prophecies made thousands of years ago, foretelling the coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham. And we can be blessed, and be a part of it.

Will the Karma be the Death of GoPro?

Last week GoPro recalled all 2500 of its Karma drones because they might randomly lose power and fall to the ground. There’s no doubt that a recall of this magnitude on it’s first attempt at a new market is bad.

Is GoPro doomed because of this? Massive recall. Major embarrassment. Major hit to the brand.

GoPro makes small HD sport cameras and tons of accessories. That’s what they are known for. They are like Kleenex or the defunct Flip camera. Their product name defines the device class. People buy cheap “GoPros” from China. No matter who makes the sport camera, people call it a “GoPro”.

GoPro owns the small sport camera market.

Unfortunately the recall comes shortly after other bad news:

“It was the second negative announcement coming out of wearable camera maker: a few days before GoPro reported declining sales and immense underperformance. Sales were down 40% compared to the same time in 2015.”

Flip died because they saturated the market and never really improved on their product. Other cameras/phones ate up what little market they had. My iPhone 5 was a better Flip camera than Flip ever made.

You can see GoPro trying to break into this new market as well as trying to improve the main thing they sell. That’s great for cameras and maybe even stabilizers, but the drone market is really full right now. it’s very competitive.

When the Karma was announced many people thought it would be “the” $1000-ish drone to buy. It had some cool features and you could take the stabilizer off and use it hand held.

Then DJI dropped the Mavic Pro announcement. And reports  Karmas were having issues started to surface. The reviews of the drone were not great. Drifting, gimbal tilt and other complaints began to circulate.

Turns out, people who buy a drone want it to work as advertised. The stabilizer and ability to use the camera on other things is great, but if the drone doesn’t work right… and now is recalled… It’s bad.

What’s next for GoPro?

According to their website they still plan to sell the Karma after they fix things:

“GoPro is committed to providing our customers with great product experiences. To honor this commitment, we have recalled Karma until we resolve a performance issue related to a loss of power during operation. We plan to resume shipment of Karma once the issue is addressed.”

It’s important to note, this isn’t a “send it in and get it repaired” recall. This is a “return for full refund” kind of recall. This is also a “We will give you a free Hero5 Black for your trouble” kind of recall.

They are serious about getting these back and giving everyone a Hero 5 Black. A free GoPro camera will go a long way to soothe hurt feelings. But it won’t fix the trust issues with the drone. And if the financials indicate the market for GoPro’s main product are slowing, they need a new market fast.

They can’t just fix the Karma, they need a new Karma that’s a “Mavic-killer” out within a year. Or they need some other new product. Otherwise, GoPro might become the next Flip.

Getting Paid via Amazon Video Direct

IMG_7243I got my first very small payment from Amazon Video Direct. It’s small because of my content, not because of anything Amazon did. I see people complain about the $75k limit Amazon imposes on their payments. I would love to have the problem of hitting that limit. If you have a film that is generating that much revenue, you don’t need to be on Amazon Video Direct, you need a different (larger) distribution option. But for most of us, this is just fine.

But I got paid. And I got paid more than I did on Youtube. On Amazon I have a total of 13 videos, all dramatic content. No DIY or how to videos. I have over 100 videos on 2 accounts over at Youtube. Those 13 videos in the month of June earned more than the 100 on Youtube. The next month was even better, so I will see a “larger” small payment. The July payment will be larger than any month ever in Youtube payments. Part of that is because this content is new to a new audience.

The evidence from these past few months is that the Amazon outlet has the potential to bring in more even than Youtube, in general. If you can generate short content on a consistent basis, you could see a steady stream of small payments. The video that has been watched more than any other in my library is a 2 minute comedy short. I have no idea how people are finding it. I have promoted the others to my network more than this one. But it is, organically, doing better.

It’s a bit of a hassle to jump through the hoops to get content on AVD, but it looks to be a real outlet to get your content in front of another audience, and to get paid something for it.

Ross Carbonite Switcher 12.3 Software and Touchscreen Custom Controls (aka-Macros)

IMG_7552At work we have a 2ME Ross Carbonite Video Switcher. It’s a work horse. Perfect for many church video switching environments; 4 keys per ME, 24 input panel, DVE, 8 Aux, 6 frame syncs built in. For basic IMAG and Stream/TV/Record switching it works really well. Of course, there’s always other options out there, but we have been really happy with our Ross.

We had been running version 10.0 of the software since I’ve been here. The computer based Dashboard software was very handy for setting up and changing switcher configurations, but I didn’t use it for much else. The Ross is capable of recording and recalling macros from the control panel, but I have to admit, I spent way too much time trying to figure out how to do it. A macro is a function that allows you to record multiple button pushes and switcher states and recall them with the push of a button.

So we used the Ross to do the what we needed, but didn’t use any of the advanced featured. Then lightning struck. Or some sort of power surge, we don’t know what it was. The surge was strong enough and fast enough that even though the switcher was on a UPS with surge suppression, the frame lost connection with the control panel. When we reloaded the settings, not everything was exactly the way it was before. Since I was about to tweak some things anyway, I decided now was the time to update the software.

The update process is simple, but a little scary. There’s a big warning on the Ross download page about not being able to downgrade below version 11.0 of the software once you update. Version 12.3 had only been out for a few weeks. I tried the basic update, but I think going from version 10 to 12 was too much for that. It froze during the update process. I ended up having to do a Forced Update which erased everything. In order to do a Forced Update you need a fat32 formatted USB drive of 2GB or larger with only the new software on it. (Make sure you save your settings BEFORE you try to update.) On the frame, power down the switcher, insert the USB. Hold down the “Update” rocker switch and power the frame back on. Keep holding how the rocker switch for a 10 count, then release. A few seconds later the control panel will see the USB and start the update. To go from 10.00 to 12.3 it takes a few minutes. At one point the screen will say Critical Update. That’s normal. Once it’s finished, reload your saved settings. We had to do this twice. For whatever reason, some of our settings didn’t come back the first time.

Now, we were back to basic operation. And could keep using the switcher just like we always had. But I wanted to use the new features in 12.3. In order to do this, we needed a computer on the network near the switcher control panel. I snagged an unused Touchscreen HP we had that used to be a lighting computer. You don’t have to have a touchscreen, but if you have one it is so very sweet.

Ross’s macro functions are call Custom Controls, and the 12.3 software has a very easy to use interface. Their beta editor has worked flawlessly for me. You simply open the editor, select a bank of macros, and select the macro you want to create or edit. On the screen you hit record, and then start punching buttons on the control panel. Once finished, hit stop recording. You can edit the name of the macros if you want. Exit the editor and your new Custom Control is listed in the bank of “shot boxes”. To recall the macro, just select it.

You can also go deeper. I created a macro that tells all 4 keyers on both MEs to turn off. Not just to autotrans all for keyers. That’s something I can program do on the control panel. I was able to go into the editor and tell the switcher to turn the state of the keyers to off. And recall that as a macro.

The media store is also pretty powerful and easier than ever to use. Each file in the media library has a number. In the Custom Control editor you can tell the switcher to select and load a specific numbered file, and then display it. Since our panel is pretty full of inputs, we don’t have all 4 of the media stores quickly available. This little feature allows me to load any media, and fire it at the touch of a button. (One thing to note, in Ross world, if you are keying an image via the media library, the media stores 1 and 3 will be used together. 1 to hold the image, and 3 to hold the alpha information. Same for 2 and 4. This happens automatically.)

In just a few days I’ve programmed 17 Custom Controls. I’m sure I will add more as time goes on. I’ve programmed macros that range from foundational (reset all auxes, keyers and DVEs back to our Sunday morning settings, set up for a weekly Bible study we record in the WC) to functional (fade both MEs to black or the bail loop, clear all keys, transition the background animation and key lyrics on the IMAG ME) to specific (load and key 1 of 7 icons we use that coordinate with our new kid’s worship journals). We used it this past Sunday. Everything worked. I found a few things to tweak, and will do that this week.

Overall, the upgrade to 12.3 and used of the new beta Custom Control editor has been really great.

“Click, Click…” Casting Call

Short Film Casting Call
Paid (Very Low Pay)
Time Commitment: One Saturday morning. (Approx 3 hours)
Title: “Click, Click…”
Premise: Cindy discovers her boyfriend, Brad, has found a new way to read social media clickbait articles. She takes matters into her own hands after it’s clear that Brad has become addicted to social media.
Cast– Young couple. (The couple can be in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Age may vary depending on who auditions, I will match the best pair up)
Brad– Intense, smart, loves his girlfriend, but is addicted to social media “news”, expressive face a plus.
Cindy– Spunky, smart and willing to fight for her man, but not willing to be a runner up in his life.
Script– It’s very short, just 3 pages. End product will be about 3 minutes.
The shoot is one scene in one location, will be shot in a few hours on a Saturday morning. Shot in a home in east Longview, TX.
Pay– A stipend of $25 will be given to cover gas and expenses. (It’s low, basically minimum wage.) Film credit given. Clips can be provided for your reel.
Wardrobe– You will need to provide your own wardrobe. Just one outfit.
Water and snacks provided.
Auditions will be via video. Contact scott@scottlinkmedia.com with headshot, film/acting experience. You can submit a video of a piece you choose or tape yourself performing a side I provide.
Outlet- The finished video will be made available online on Amazon Video and Youtube, possibly some festivals.
About me- I’ve done several personal short films, and short films for my real job making video for Mobberly Baptist in Longview. You can see examples of my work at www.scottlinkmedia.com.

The Quality Ramp

rampHave you ever watched something you did several years ago and cringed at how bad it was?

I had this experience recently. When the pilot episode of my show became available on Amazon Prime, I watched it with my family. Ug. That was hard to do.

It wasn’t the worst video I’d ever seen. I mean, the story was basically solid. The core structure worked OK. But the lines, it’s obvious this was one of my first scripts. I kept having the actors tell the plot instead of show the plot. (Really, this is a problem in many of the episodes of the series…)

We didn’t know what we were doing. Production quality was subpar. I mean, I knew how to run a camera, but I’d never shot a dramatic scene. I’d read a book, so I knew to get coverage with a master, some over the shoulders and close ups. We had some decent (for the time) equipment, but not nearly enough lighting tools. I think we had about 3 lights, with varying color temps. We had a Sennheiser 816 shotgun, a really long microphone, and a couple of lav mics. Many times the shotgun was just too far away from the source, capturing quiet dialogue and loud room noise. I spent way too much time in post trying to fix it. And of course, it didn’t get fixed. And many of our actors were first timers. Or they had stage experience with no film experience. In post, I was in love with every line. I don’t think I cut any of them.

There were so many ways it could have been better. But the end result was still a decent story that set up a 10 episode series. A series that won awards, not because it was amazing, but because there weren’t many people even trying to do anything like it back then. A series that dealt with real issues facing Christians today. Something, that even now-3 years later- is still being seen.

I knew even back then that the quality wasn’t very good. I almost didn’t release it. I actually went and watched the first attempts of other filmmakers, and compared my work to theirs. I realized two things:

1, Everyone has room for improvement, and some successful filmmakers started out as bad as I was.

2, If you wait until you’re an expert to do anything, you’ll never do anything. You have to start where you are, and work to improve.

It’s the 2nd point that’s the most important.

How did a volunteer cast and crew spend under $9000 to produce an award winning 10 episode series that was shown on 4 different networks (JCTV, NRB, Parables, The Walk), tons of different local channels, satellite around the world, translated into another language in Romania, is still available on the internet and now a VOD streaming platform? We didn’t know we couldn’t.

I know people who are smart, talented and have an amazing idea just waiting to be produced. And that idea just keeps waiting. But part of the point of independent film is the freedom to try to make your idea. You don’t have to wait for a big studio to come by. And if you are a filmmaker who has never made a film, then you’re caught in a Catch 22- You won’t make your film because you want it to be good, but no studio will help you make your film because you’ve never made a good one.

For Christian TV producers, there is no hope (at this point) of ever getting the funding to make your episodic, dramatic show from one of the religious networks. Thats not how the model works. They exist because content creators (namely preaching/teaching/talk shows) buy time from them. They do not pay to have programs produced, and they normally do not pay for existing programs. There are exceptions, but generally this is the rule. So the chance of getting your grand episodic idea funded through a big Christians network is just about zero. You can get your show on the air for free, but even if they give you any money, it won’t be enough to cover the cost of production.
If you want to see your idea become reality, you are going to have to do it. You’re at the bottom, and you have to start moving forward to move up in quality.

That means starting with your script idea and writing it, even if it is horrible. And then keep writing and writing, and creating and creating. Read, learn, study. Get better. improve. Shoot short films. Do projects. Create, and try and keep trying. and keep improving. One day you’ll look back and go, wow, those first things I did were awful. But if you never did your terrible projects, you wouldn’t be able to do your better ones now.

Everyone starts at the bottom of the quality ramp, and if you want to get better you have to keep moving forward.

Releasing Your Episodic Content on Amazon Video/ Amazon Prime

IMG_7243My low budget Christian sitcom Peculiar is now available on Amazon Video! (also my short film BRKN, if you’re interested.)

Since the first episodes started broadcasting in late 2012, I have wanted to see the show available on a major streaming service. Until recently the best (only?) route was to hire an aggregator to try to place your content in iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and anywhere else with a VOD distribution pipeline. Most of those were several hundred dollars up front, no promises. A few would try to place your content for a percentage of what you might make off views/sales.

I’ve never tried to cash in on Peculiar. It wasn’t a huge financial success. Not only did I not have several hundred dollars to spend on this, I didn’t expect to make back any investment that large.  But I do want this series to be available to as many people as possible. After my amicable split with my traditional distributor, I contacted one of the percentage based aggregators. He replied honestly, and not surprisingly, that he felt he could place my show on Amazon, but nowhere else. But I would need to rework the closed caption files. At that time, costs of captioning was a huge hurdle.  I did find a way to get the content onto Amazon Video myself. But, the files would be Standard Definition, not HD. and I could not submit episodic content. I actually questioned an Amazon Create Space representative pretty hard about why this was the case. I never received a satisfactory answer. Any episode I uploaded to Amazon would be low resolution and would stand alone. The only way to get Amazon to group all of the episodes from your series together was to use an aggregator. So I tabled the idea.

Enter Amazon Video Direct. (AVD)

In May of 2016 Amazon announced it’s new service.  Open “to any video creator, the e-commerce giant will compete head-to-head with Google’s YouTube for video-ad dollars and views as well as other big Internet video distributors like Facebook and Vimeo.”  What that boils down to is a way for independent content creators to upload their video creations to Amazon and make them available through the streaming site. You can upload any short, feature, series, documentary… anything, and make it available to Amazon’s streaming audience. The company shares revenue for purchases and pays similar to Youtube for free Prime streaming. You could even set up a subscription service through AVD, but I don’t know much about that.

So, how do you use it?

  1. Got Content? First, of course you need content that you have permission to, or own the rights to distribute in this manner. I don’t yet know how content ID is going to work, but you can bet that like Youtube, computers will be scanning this library to find copyright violations.

  2. Set up your account. You will need to add your bank and tax information before you can publish your content.

  3. Prep your content. AVD supports Pro Res 422, MPEG-2, and h.264 (in certain wrappers. h.264 in a QT .mov wrapper is not supported.). I uploaded my files in a Quicktime Pro Res 422 file. These files are huge. But they are also pretty much lossless, when compared to the MPEG2 or h.264 formats. Plus I had my series stored in this format. But upload speed is critical. Try to find a commercial connection you can use. It would take me days to upload just one file if I tried to do this at home. If you have 5.1 surround audio, then you will need to use either the MPEG 2 or h.264 file format.

  4. Prep Your captions. You must have closed captioning. Period. The end. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to get captions for your content. You can pay, but if you use Adobe Premiere CC, you can create them inside the editor. I already had .scc files from when my show was broadcast. But they were 608, roll up captions, and timed for a 28:30 show with 2:00 breaks. Adobe CC imported them like a champ, and allowed me to make edits as needed. I exported the 608 captions to a “sidecar” .scc file and we were good to go. AVD can take 608 or the much nicer 708 captions. Both can be created in Adobe CC. This is the single biggest hurdle for publishing videos on AVD. I gave up on a 708 caption file I created myself for a standalone short film, and I am still having issues with their process. I have only been able to get an .scc 608 caption file to work for content with a 29.97 fps, so far. Even 608 captions for 24p content with an .xml caption file have been rejected. [Update: In the end a 608.srt file worked with 24p content. In my experience 2 file types that Premiere can create that work with AVD: 30fps can use .scc 608, 24fps can use .srt 608.]

  5. Prep Your Graphics. Before you can publish your videos, you need a graphics package. This is what Amazon shows people when they look for your content. There are key graphics and a background graphic. Follow the image size requirements, and choose something that will catch the eye of your audience. I had a set of promotional images I’ve used for the show for years, so I adjusted them to fit these sizes. Episodic content requires both a 16×9 key image and a 4:3 Key image. (Standalone content requires 16×9 and a 3:4 image.)

  6. Upload. If you have a series, you don’t have to upload every file at the same time. You will need to have all the metadata filled in, cast and crew, graphics, etc… and then select the video files and captions, select the availability of the content. If you want to sell a season pass, you need at least 3 episodes uploaded. You can select when you want the content to be available, but I just chose as soon as possible.

  7. Publish. Once you think you have everything ready, hit Publish. If you forgot anything, you will have the chance to correct it. Then be prepared to wait. It takes Amazon a few days to look at your content and publish it. You will see small green circles for the areas the content will eventually be available. They should be half full and green. Once everything is approved and live, they will be all green. I published episodes over a period of time. My “circles” would still be half full, but episodes would already be available for viewing. Once every video file has been approved, then it will show completed. What if you want to change something? Then just go back into the dashboard of AVD, re upload the file, change the txt, etc… and hit save. Then wait several days again for the changes to take effect.

  8. Promote. Amazon has instructions on how to link to the streaming page for your content, and some “Watch on Amazon” graphics. And of course, you will want to let your existing audience know about this new outlet.

So far over 350 minutes of content have been watched. That will pay me… less than $1.00. But that’s OK, I’m not trying to get rich on Amazon, I want people to see the projects I’ve been a part of. If you can navigate the tricky caption requirement, making your content available on Amazon Video open it up to a whole new, pretty large, audience.

[Update: 8 months later, I consistently make 4-5 times more for views of the 12 videos I have on AVD vs the 60+ videos I have on Youtube. I’ve done nothing but make it available, no advertising, very little promotion.]