Captioning for Amazon Video Direct (using Adobe Premiere)

I have previously written about Amazon Video Direct (AVD). It’s an awesome opportunity for indie filmmakers to get your content in front of a large potential audience, and it pays better than Youtube. For stand alone or episodic content, it’s a great outlet.

One thing might slow you down as you start to publish your videos on Amazon: Captioning.

Amazon Video requires that all content be captioned before they will publish it. Period. That can be a bit scary. A few years ago I paid about $2500 to a captioning/delivery house to caption and deliver 10 episodes (22:30 each) to a TV network. Now, they captioned the shows in both 708 and 608 captions, and delivered the files in HD to the network and gave me copies of the .scc 608 files so I could use them later. But still, $250 per episode. I’m making indie films with budgets less than that.

Luckily, Amazon suggests a few online captioning services which are much less expensive. One, Rev.com, offers captioning for $1 per minute and delivers in various formats. They can provide captions that are AVD compliant. They even have a free caption converter, should you need one. That means my 22:30 shows would cost about $23 for captioning for AVD.

Still, $23 is money you may not want to spend. What if you want to make your own? You can, but Amazon is very finicky about their files. I will share what I have learned. I have 1 season (10 episodes) of a show and 2 short films available right now, with 1 more short film in review. (Now published)

Adobe Premiere has the ability to create and export closed caption files. But getting a caption file that AVD likes is not simple. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Create a 608 Caption file. Premiere will do 708 files, but Amazon does not seem to like these 708 files. I have only had success with 608 files exported from Adobe for Amazon. Premiere can even import existing .scc files, allowing you to edit them.

Export .scc or .srt. When exporting your video file for upload, export a sidecar caption file as either an .scc or .srt. If you have content that is 29.97 use the .scc format, otherwise use the .srt. AVD says they will take an .stl file, which Premiere will export. But I’ve not had any luck using that format.

If you’re lucky, that’s all you need to do. Just upload and publish.

For my last short film I was not lucky. I was exporting a 23.976 fps file using .srt, and I could not get AVD to accept it. It was exactly like a previously accepted caption file for a previous short film. What was the problem? After trying multiple files over multiple days, I was frustrated. I turned up this post in the Adobe Community Forums. Scrolling through I found 2 solid things to try.

1. The timecode of your captions cannot overlap the same frame.

In Premiere you can see where one caption ends and another begins. Here’s a screen shot from premiere of my latest short film:

If the 1st caption you see ends at 00:00:20:08 and the next captions starts at 00:00:20:08, AVD has a problem with that file. So you need to go through all your captions and make sure none of them overlap.

2. Remove extra content.

During the exchange in the post in the Adobe Forum “Joshb88988268” says, “open the .SRT file with notepad and do a search for this: or the word font color. Delete any that pop up.”

As a mac user I found a free program called Brackets and was able to open the .srt file. Sure enough there were 2 lines with the tag and some extra info about “font color”. I deleted those lines and hit save. My captions in the code editor looked like this:

No extra tags or words. Just number of caption, timecode, and caption content. Brackets should also be able to open a .scc file.

So far that seems to have worked. At this point I have to ask myself, if I’m uploading a 4 minute short film, is it worth spending $4 to bypass all this effort? It might be. But since I have the captions done, I would like to be able to use them.

[Update: while I was typing this post, Amazon has begun approving my video. Looks like the latest captions with these changes worked.]

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Selling Final Cut Pro 7

I have left the Apple professional editing software ranks. To be honest, I left over a year ago. I had already been dabbling in the Adobe CC ecosystem. So when I joined the team at my church, it was an easy transition to Premiere.

I realized that I had this copy of Final Cut Studio sitting in my garage. I know many people still like to edit in FCP 7, so I am making it available:

Final Cut Studio 3 for Mac

If you or someone you know needs a copy… Free shipping. Make me an offer.

A Quick Pluraleyes 2 Review

So, since I’m in post production on my show with a truncated timetable, I wanted to get a program to speed up syncing all the video with audio. I had heard great things about Pluraleyes.

So I snagged a fully functional trial version. (I used Pluraleyes 2 because 3 wasn’t out yet. Looks like they released version 3.)

In a word: Awesome.

When I shot the pilot it took me 3 days to sync all the cameras and audio by hand. I synced 5 entire episodes in a day and a half. Really, it was more like 8 or 9 hours. I cannot tell you what a big deal this is. I can now be about the business of actually editing the scenes together.

I will be buying the retail version.

My workflow: Shoot with two HDSLRs and record audio to a Zoom H4n. Convert the h.264 raw files from the HDSLRs to Apple pro res 422 in Mpeg Stream Clip (trim and label each clip as I go). Import into Final Cut Pro 7. And now use Pluraleyes to sun two cameras and the Zoom audio.

Couple of warnings: You can push the program too far. If you have a lot of similar sounding clips, it can confuse the program. I had a few clips it just couldn’t sync. but they are easily placed by hand. It takes a lot less time to place a couple clips than to place them all.

Also, make sure your audio guy is rolling before the cameras start, and after they stop. If the audio is shorter than the video clips, you will end up with two synced videos and an unsynced audio clip. You can go back and placed the two video clips by hand, but it’s simpler if you just make sure the audio is rolling before and after each take. Plenty of pre- and post- roll on your audio tracks will help Pluraleyes do its job.

The “Bow Tie” Ending and Christian Film

I don’t make films, but I watch them, and I do try to use media to tell stories.

Have you ever noticed that we Christians have a hang up about loose ends? About story lines that have not been resolved? We cannot just let something remain unresolved. We have to tie it all up in a bow before the end credits. but fils that are not tied to a Christian message don’t always seem to have that rule?

I remember watching a pretty good Christian film. It was almost over, and the main character had not been reconciled to his mother. I actually thought that the film makers might not have time to properly resolve it, and would leave it hanging. But no, tacked onto the end was the tearful hug. It felt like an afterthought, and to be completely honest, I wondered if in the same situation I could forgive so easily. It didn’t ring true. In my opinion, it detracted from an otherwise great story. That sub plot needed more than 60 seconds to be resolved.

It’s obvious that the main story line has to be resolved. That’s the point of telling the story in the first place. But why does every nuance of the plot have to explained? Can we not leave people wondering?

Maybe we think that if we don’t resolve the story we are signaling that the issue at hand is not important? Or that we don’t think it’s an issue that should be resolved? It’s easier in a series or sequence of films, I guess. People know there is something coming later. It actually becomes imperative to leave significant plots open to be resolved later. But why do we have to tie up all the loose ends in a story?

I think part of it is that we put those sub plots in for a reason. We want to tell that story. Sure, it’s not the main story, but we wanted to show that issue; that conflict, and we want very much to resolve it. But often we rush to resolve the issue, and it feels wrong. Unnatural. Fake. Not like real life. In real life there is rarely a time when all of life’s sub plots are tied up at one time. Life is messy. It’s complicated.

No, that’s not real life, but neither is a movie. If we are just telling a story, then it doesn’t matter if it’s all clean at the end. But when the conflict is teaching a biblical principle, then the principle must be taught. Maybe that’s our problem. Maybe not every issue in film should have an ultimate purpose in teaching a biblical principle. Maybe it’s just a part of the story.

I would like to see us feel the freedom to move away from “bow tie” endings. If we want Christian film to have broader appeal (read- seen by more people…) then we need to make really good films, with really good stories. Sometimes that means we will just have story elements that are not part of some additional message. That conflict with the main character’s mother is not something to be resolved, it simple gives information about the main character.

Or at the very least, if an issue that must be resolved is introduced, make time to do it in a way that feels natural.