UPDATED 10/5/05

I will digress from commenting on Post for a while (I haven’t posted a comment in quite some time…sorry) and talk a little about production.

One vital part of the documentary process is the need for viewing copies of your footage (interviews mainly) with visible timecode, usually on VHS or DVD. These are needed for two reasons: a) for the producer to be able to watch the interviews and b) so that they can be sent to a transcription service so that a text document of the interviews can be made. Both of these reasons help the producer/writer write the script and determine what part of the interview they want on screen. The process of sending the masters to a dub facility and getting 1 or 2 VHS dubs struck of each tape is an expensive process….typically averaging about $20 per tape. When you have 20 interviewees, and 2-4 tapes per interviewee, that is a HUNK of cash.

But the camera operator on this production came up with an alternate method that is, in my eyes, very revolutionary, and very high tech. I thought it was so cool and such a money and time saver that I asked him to share it. He was more than happy to:

“Here is the system I used to make downconverts with on-screen time code:

From the Panasonic Varicam, I feed the output to an AJA box (HD10MD3) that takes the HDSDI and converts it to analog composite NTSC out.
This composite out is fed into a horita box, along with a feed of timecode from camera TC out. From the Horita box (old WG-50II), composite video NTSC emerges with time code in a window at the bottom of the screen. Since the picture is 16×9, and the AJA box is set to letterbox it into a 4:3 picture, the timecode is almost completely out of the picture frame in the black lower part of the letterbox. Since the AJA does not extract the audio from the HDSDI, I feed audio from the headphone out of the camera, along with the video with the timecode window, into the Sony DCR-HC32 MP4 camera which records it on a memory stick as MPEG-1 files with muxed audio. 180 minutes of 1/2 size video fit on a 1gig stick. The stick is downloaded into the computer.

For another client, I record onto mini DV camera and give them DV tapes with the downconvert with timecode window.

The only odd thing is that since the video is going through the AJA box, and the audio is coming straight out of camera, the audio is a frame or so ahead of the video. I have not really chased down exactly the offset, as the tapes are used for viewing and logging, not editing.
You could offline with these tapes, but they don’t have the 24 frame flags, and you would have to enter the code from a frame of the video into the system. You also might have to slip the audio back a frame against the video.

The box from Miranda (the DVC-822 for Panasonic, and DVC-802 for Sony) can do all this and put it out over firewire with code, I think. The $10,000 price for the Miranda made us decide to go the AJA route, with the HD10MD3 box costing just under $2000. We tried another box called the DV portal which was supposed to take SDI and give you DV with audio and timecode, but the AJA box does not pass the rp188 code from the Varicam HDSDI, so the portal was not of any real use.

You could feed all this to a firestore unit to go straight to an editable DV file, or use the Sony analog/digital (or a DV camera) to give you a firewire to feed straight to a laptop in the field.”

The producer loves this, as if he needs access to a certain byte, he just loads it up on his laptop and plays away, easily able to get to any point in the tape….rather than loading up and cueing up a VHS tape. Plus, he was able to post them on a FTP server for the translator to download and translate the spanish into english. Very handy.